Pesky Interview Questions

Interviewing for a job is, at the very least, weird. It’s like dating but professional instead of romantic. You meet people with very different expectations that you; and you hear some very strange things. You might even say some of those weird things as nerves and sheer exhaustion addle your brain.

Some of those weird things are questions (and the answers).

I remember a Skype interview I was on where one of the interviewers asked me, “Do you consider yourself a team player?” There was only one way to answer that particular question. Yes. My one word answer elicited an awkward pause, before the interviewer asked me to elaborate (which I did).

Like the question I was posed, people get strange or strangely worded questions posed to them.

One that I see popping up time and again in interviewing advice is some variation of: “What is your greatest weakness?” On forums and in blog posts (including this one), people puzzle out how to answer this question.

I have decided that this question and others like it are non-questions. People ask them to put you on the spot. And you quickly find that any answer you give 1) sounds dumb or 2) doesn’t really fully answer the question. I’ve decided: THAT’S OKAY. In your interview, you do not want to lie or falsely represent yourself, but you’re also showing your best side. You do not need to self-sabotage.

Plus, it would take a very introspective and perceptive individual to truly know the answers to some of these questions.

So, here are how to respond to these pesky non-questions.

  • “What is your greatest weakness?”
    “I am very hardworking and sometimes it’s exhausting to put so much effort into your work. But I always get the job done – with time to take care of myself and my apartment too.”
  • “What will be your biggest challenge in this position?”
    “[Something entirely innocuous.]”
  • “Tell us about a time you had a conflict with a supervisor, and how you resolved the issue.”
    “I can’t recall a time I had a conflict with your supervisor.”
  • “Tell us about a time you had a conflict with a coworker. How did you handle that situation?”
    “I don’t think I’ve ever had a conflict with a coworker.”

 

On Writing

ghost writing on laptop
By SlimVirgin – Own work, CC BY 3.0.

I remember being in high school (and all the grades before that); and writing was so easy. My mother and I joked that all I had to do was click print. Writing just came that easily to me.

Then, I went to college. I had to spend a lot more time on my writing – developing a topic, thinking about what I wanted to say, finding evidence, writing a draft, structuring my ideas, rewriting, sitting on it for awhile. So, the writing took more effort and more thought. And it was “hard” in certain ways if you were tired or didn’t want to write or got anxious about your grades, how your professor would react, etc.

And then I went to grad school and writing became dumbly easy again. I had developed good habits from undergrad – so I was a bit more thoughtful during grad school than I had in high school. But I wasn’t crying tears of blood or typing my fingers raw. Not in the slightest. I used a writing tutor in undergrad on occasion; there was absolutely no reason to use one in graduate school.

So, now, I have my first professional gig. And it requires scholarly publication.

I’ve learned quite quickly that writing, in this context, is really hard. Like undergrad, I get to pick my own topics…so I start with a fire under me, a passion for what I’m talking about. Unlike my English, Creative Writing, and History classes in undergrad, Library and Information Science literature has a fetish for statistics and numbers – and pretentiousness. I find myself more often analyzing data, statistics, etc. than text. And some times that’s fine: I love me some circulation statistics. Ebook and e-jounal download and view statistics too. But I would probably get bored – and my readers too – if I only looked at circulation statistics in every single article or chapter I write.

Then, there are the soul-crushing reviewers required in peer-reviewed journals. My first attempt at submitting an article turned into a strange flip from “We like this and want this” to “This will never be up to our publication standards.” So, when you eventually pick yourself up and brush yourself off from that kind of rejection, you second guess every edit you’re making.

And then I have the existential crisis of knowing that most library literature is pointless. There are plenty of people in my position – writing peer-reviewed articles in order to keep their jobs and/or make tenure. I do not want to write pointless literature, and yet I know full well that I am likely going to contribute to the mush – because I need to in order to progress in my career. Then I begin to wonder if what I am currently writing is slush or not – and how hard I should work to make it not-slush.

So, in the end, writing has become a lot harder than it once was.

LIS Education Lacking

I came across Gavia Libraria’s post on how many people feel that library education is lacking. The “Library Loon,” as the author calls themselves, complains about LIS professionals in a rough job market complaining how their LIS education has not made them the shiny, gleaming candidate that everyone wants. Okay, I get her point – we can’t blame LIS education for a poor job market (at least not wholly).

But I am a person who recently graduated from a top LIS program (in the United States) – and I was the shiny, gleaming candidate that everyone wanted. I had no trouble getting interviews or offers, and had a job lined up months before I graduated. It might very well look like the poster child for a successful and robust LIS education.

And I still feel that LIS education is quite lacking and isn’t (always) helping us LIS professionals out.

LIS education can be so utterly devoid of intellectualism. I came from undergrad straight into my Masters of Library and Information Science program. And I quite quickly decided that library school was a little more like high school in its demands and intellectualism. For a graduate program, isn’t that unfortunate?

The professors I had were not particularly good. Yes, I had a few stand outs – but the bar was so low (due to the majority of the faculty) that perhaps it was easy to stand out. Yes, I know I was at a research university – and not a teaching one – but I would hope that the majority my professors had more of a passion than they decided to show. And they might have had the classic problem of PhDs not being taught instruction, how to teach, etc. We also had adjunct faculty (who were either librarians in the surrounding community or staff members in other academic departments) who class after class lodged complaints about – and it always seemed that the administration shrugged.

I loved my graduate assistantship, and I can’t say I mind the “oohs” and “ahhs” I get when I say where I went to school. But I still think – if the top LIS program in the country had these “problems” – that LIS education across the country must be lacking in something.

Scholarly Communication

So if you have the (mis)fortune of being a faculty librarian, you probably have some sort of scholarly communication requirements. I do. Peer-reviewed articles are the preferred mode of scholarly communication for my institution and position – but presentations and posters do count (if to a significantly lesser extent). I am working on articles, but presentations put one’s face out in front of people. And they’re a great way to put your name and specialties on editors’ radars.

So, I have had quite a bit of presenting this spring semester. So, on this lovely day at the end of the semester, I thought I would highlight my three presentations.

  • The Library Graduate Assistantship: A Crucial Supplement to an LIS Education
    • While undertaking their graduate studies, many library and information science (LIS) students seek pre-professional graduate assistantships. These assistantships can serve as excellent opportunities to complement student’s education and influence their future careers by providing them with relevant on-the-job education and skills. Graduate assistantships are a crucial to LIS education in helping new LIS professionals develop skills and experiences needed to attain gainful, professional employment.
    • Presented at ALISE 2017 in Atlanta, GA.
  • Setting a Course: Using Google Forms for Navigating Metadata for Digital Projects
    • Working with faculty and staff to create digital projects requires a complex group of skills and activities. Potential collaborators often jump to the end vision without fully grasping the need for proper description & metadata. Using Google Forms & Sheets is perceived as neutral and less frightening than working in a repository platform or using other proprietary productivity software.
    • Presented at ACRL 2017 in Baltimore, MD.
  • The Digital Potential: Making Digital Objects More Than a TIFF Image and a MODS Record
    • Many institutions digitize their physical collections. Unfortunately, once these items are digitized, they reside in a repository and act merely as digital representations of their physical counterparts. I discuss how libraries can make greater use of their homegrown electronic resources through collaborations between scholars, students, and the general community.
    • Presented at ER&L 2017 in Austin, TX.

When Presentations Go Wrong

I have a feeling at least 50% of librarians get performance anxiety. Why so many of us still go to conferences and present is a mystery to me. It’s a mystery to me why I do it – when writing an article would be less stressful. (Maybe because presentations are quicker to do.)

Anyway, most of us with stage fright go up to the podium and give perfectly decent presentations. Except for a few “ums” or a misspoken word (that we quickly correct), our presentations go smoothly and as painlessly as possible.

And there are other times that your presentation…doesn’t go according to plan.

I was recently at ER&L. (It’s Electronic Resources & Libraries, for the 15 people who asked me what it was.) I watched everyone else go before me without a hitch, so I was quite sure that everything was all nicely set up for me to go.

But it wasn’t. For some reason, my slides had not been pre-loaded onto the presentation computer. Luckily, I had sent the slides to myself via email. So, I went to my email and pulled up the message. Unluckily, when I tried to open my PowerPoint file, it crashed the browser. So, I tried again. And it crashed the browser. On the third attempt – and third crash – I decided that I would probably never get the damn thing to open.

So, I asked my audience if they were okay with plain old lecture format. And off I went.

I got about a third of the way through by lecturing and describing what I had meant to show them. Then, the technical support strode in. My audience started pointing at them. It was the reason I realized they were standing awkwardly behind me. So, I paused my presentation and let them work their “magic.” On the second try, they managed to pull up my slides. And…I had to go about trying to find my place in my script again, without confusing myself or the audience. I got a little tongue-twisted for a few seconds here and there. But I did manage to make my way through the whole presentation.

I wasn’t disappointed in myself. But I was quite glad there were only about 10 people watching.

So, that’s a story of when presentations go wrong.

©hat and Copyfraud

For those of us back from Spring Break, welcome back. Some of us were very, very bored without you. And envious.

copyright symbolAnyway, while I was cleaning out an old email account, I found out that the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)’s University Library has started a podcast on copyright called ©hat. I am not in anyway a copyright librarian or copyright lawyer, but I find copyright and licensing to be fascinating due to long times spent 1) thinking someone was going to “steal” my writing and 2) seeing how different e-resources functioned due to different licensing agreements. My director also knows that I’m interested in copyright and licensing and so pushes the occasional copyright question to me. So, when I learned the provider of my graduate education was putting out copyright podcasts, I decided I would take a listen.

The Copyright Librarian at UIUC Sara Benson talks to experts on copyright. For the first episode,  she interviews Jason Mazzone, a Professor of Law (also at UIUC).

In the podcast, Benson and Mazzone discuss the concept of “copyfraud.” Copyfraud is a concept that describes when individuals or institutions falsely claim copyright ownership to content in the public domain. Copyfraud is also used to describe circumstances where publishers, museums, and creators claim rights beyond that which copyright law allows. Mazzone found himself interested in the topic while he was doing historical research and archives that required access agreements that restricted Mazzone from quoting or reproducing archival material that was in the public domain. These agreements and restrictions were, as he says, “bogus”: if the material is in the public domain, as were the nineteenth century documents he was studying, these restrictions cannot be enforced.

And thus, Mazzone decided to vent. It started with an op ed piece. And, as these things apparently go in academia, it progressed into a monograph – Copyfraud and Other Abuses of Intellectual Property Law.

The podcast ©hat was short but interesting for someone who is interested in copyright. Listen to episode one here.

A Few of My Favorite Things, Fantasy, Part II

I had a reader ask me about my series “A Few of My Favorite Things.” Particularly, about my love of fantasy.

“It’s not just plain old Tolkien,” they said.

“Well, it is,” I said. “But I try to say something new. Everybody knows you should read Tolkien.”

So, here it is again: some fantasy novels that are not Tolkien and that you might not have read yet.

Afar by Leila del Luca and Kit SeatonAfar by Leila del Duca and Kit Seaton

For those of you who like graphic novels (I’m usually not one of them), you can pick up Afar. I enjoyed reading this short graphic novel with beautiful artwork. It’s about astral projections, which I was all about. I do wish the book was longer. Because I wanted more astral projections. I wanted to explore the worlds the main character Boetema visited. This would be great for someone who likes fantasy and graphic novels, and wants a quick read. You are welcome to pick up this graphic novel and get entranced…for much too short a period of time.

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski
Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

I don’t know why I didn’t get on this bandwagon earlier, but I did this past January. The Witcher series is a popular video game here in the United States. I first heard about it when reading an article comparing Skyrim to one of The Witcher‘s installations. My brother and my partner also tried their hand at reading the books that inspired the game. It took me several more months to decide to interlibrary loan the first novel in the series (there are short strories proceeding it). It’s an old school fantasy with a good dose of humor; and I want to know what happens with this Child Surprise and Geralt-who-sleeps-with-everyone. This is a good novel for those of us who like old school high fantasies, a la Tolkien.

The Cloud Roads by Martha Wellscloud roads by martha wells

I don’t understand why everyone hasn’t read Martha Wells’s Books of the Raksura. I don’t understand why it’s not famous like Wheel of Time or Mistborn. Perhaps because it is so unlike anything else, it’s hard to compare it to anything to drum up such a large readership. The down low is: the story follows a bunch of shapeshifters (one shape is humanoid form, the other is that bat-slash-lizard thing on the cover to the right) on their journey to find a new home, now that their original home seems to be cursed. Who would I recommend this to? Everyone. It’s really good. It plays on several fantasy tropes as well as gender roles, so it’s all around fun.

“Professor C”

Musing over an empty glass because I had drank all my water and didn’t presume to ask for or go get more, I was sitting on a packed, screened porch with a dozen people who self-identified as “writers” in the middle of the Midwestern United States. As someone who writes fiction, I somewhat self-identify as such. But it always seems pretentious to say “I’m a writer” or “they were writers” – so let’s just call a possum a possum: they were college professors. (And that one chef.)

“I hate going around hearing ‘Professor H,* Professor H,'” said the man sitting next to me. “I just want to go someplace once and be called Carl.”

“Have your students call you that,” I said.

“No, the whole German* department requires our students call them ‘Professor so-and-so,'” he replied. “Otherwise the students get too forward with the female professors.”

***

During grad school, I wanted to make small talk with the one professor I truly admired at the program. So, I asked, “Shauna, did you get time to relax over break? Or did you have to write the entire time?”

My professor gave me a strange look, though she eventually answered.

I think that looked stemmed from wondering why I can called her “Shauna,” and not “Professor Jones.”

***

In the first class of my undergraduate education, my professor asked the class to call her “Ms. O’Neale.” Calling someone “Doctor” or “Professor” sounded too stuffy.

I found that the rest of my professors followed similar – or even more informal patterns. 90% preferred their first names. The others preferred a Ms. or Mr.; one preferred more of a nickname.

***

Now, I will stand in front of classes as the instructor or co-instructor. And the primary teaching faculty will introduce me as “Professor Ciota.” I don’t correct them. Sometimes, I try the moniker on for size. It has a minor thrill to it for a moment.

But I really don’t want to go around being called “Professor Ciota.” “Ms. Ciota” is fine from time to time – it feels more like me. But I really am “Rebecca,” first and foremost. So why shouldn’t students call me by my name?

Like the professor during my first undergraduate class, I find “Professor” too stuffy, too pretentious. I don’t see education as including a “Sage on the Stage” – like a “Professor” or a “Doctor.” (Though, I do think appropriate amounts of either experience or education should be required for professorships.) I want students and faculty to learn alongside each other. Learning is a discussion, not a lecture.

Yes, I want the students (and my colleagues) to respect me and my value as an instructor and scholar. But I don’t particularly care for a constant reminder that I am some lofty being that my students have to crane their necks to loo up to. I want to be alongside them, watching them learn and steering them when appropriate.

I’d rather just be “Rebecca.”

*Names and departments have been changed.

The People’s Knowledge

Earlier this year, the Trump Administration placed a gag order on certain federally-funded scientific organizations, like the EPA and the National Parks Service. While these “gag orders” might be common and temporary, occurring briefly at the beginning of each new administration, there has been a public outcry over censorship.

I’m trying to keep my head about me between hyped up news about “normal” political transition, the more radical leanings of a more radical conservative party, and the outright not-normal political maneuvers – and then craft my responses to each. Plus, there’s the everyday stuff like planning a systems migration at work, or making sure that my horse is happy and healthy. But in light of this “gag order” for scientific organizations, I started to think about what information the public would not be getting.

And I realized gag orders on federally-funded scientific research prevent the public from accessing information they paid for.

I could talk about the various ethical implications for gag orders and other restrictions on the dissemination of information, but that’s for another time. This blog post is about money.

The majority of employed individuals in the United States pay the government a significant portion of their wages or salaries. The government uses that money (idealistically) to fund various public services. Among those public services is scientific research. So, we paid for that scientific knowledge. Now, I understand that certain research might affect national security – but for the majority of research, it should be right in the hands of the citizens who paid for it.

While librarians haven’t been necessarily focusing on governmental gag orders on scientists, we have been considering who pays for information. I worked for acquisitions in a major R1 university; I knew we were paying millions for access to scientific (and humanities and social science) scholarship. And even when we paid millions and millions and had the second largest academic library in North America – we still couldn’t afford everything. Smaller institutions have it much worse. (I know. Now, I’m stranded without even half of what I had at the University of Illinois.)

To mitigate this information gap, librarians (and other education professionals) have been pushing the idea of “open access” – where anyone anywhere can access scholarly information. Several journals and monographs are now widely available online for free. Still, there is plenty of literature trapped behind paywalls.

Librarians push open access with ethical, logical, and pragmatic arguments. Again, these are interesting reasons – but I’m focusing on the money.

As an acquisitions librarian, I am used to paying (a lot of money) for information. And that information comes with lots of DRM. And then, the next fiscal year, you pay more – for the subscription or for database maintenance. I’m so used to the financial aspects of information, this back and forth transaction, that I forget that some of the stuff the library was paying for…I had paid for as well.

I have paid income taxes in Illinois for six years. And those taxes paid for the state universities, which fund researchers. (Plus, plenty of my federal taxes went to those state universities as well.) The research coming out of the Illinois university system, at least for those six years, in part belongs to me: I funded it, I paid for it. So has every other resident of the state. So, now that I’m in Iowa, I’m funding Iowa’s state universities and their research. Why should all that research I paid for be behind giant paywalls?

Maybe it shouldn’t be. (It’s a long argument. I don’t necessarily think all the paywalls should go away. I am, after all, part acquisitions librarian from a large R1 university who is used to paying for the stuff. And open access comes with its own pitfalls.)

But I’m giving a shout out to those publicly-funded institutions that are making their research open and free to the public. NASA gets a special shout out because of their new PubSpace.

Hacking History

Computers in Libraries circulates around the staff at work. I was pointed to Marshall Breeding’s piece on systems librarians. But of course I would not find the article most pertinent to my job to be the most interesting article. Instead, I was immediately paging to Felicia A. Smith‘s “Should Libraries Even Consider Hacking Back If Attacked?” (January/February 2017). (The answer to the titular question is: “probably not.”)

I found her discussion of hacking ebooks to be more interesting than hacking people back. Coming from a giant library (the 2nd largest academic library in North America), I’m used to hackers coming to steal. I experienced one excellently timed cyberattack the day after Thanksgiving where someone with a Chinese IP address broke into our ScienceDirect accounts and downloaded thousands of articles. MIT experienced perhaps the most famous hacking theft in 2013 when activist Aaron Schwarz cracked MIT’s JSTOR archive. Cyberattacks against libraries often have a financial aspect; the bigger it is, the bigger the story.

But cyberattacks against libraries aren’t always for those big ticket database and journal subscriptions. Sometimes they are mystifying. My coworkers and I still can’t explain why a Ukrainian IP address decided to scrape our OPAC for only the MaRC. What they got out of it, is anyone’s guess.

Felicia A. Smith also points out that cyberattacks against libraries can be assaults against intellectual discourses. This could be altering a database to change experimental data; or it could be cracking an ebook in order to change the arguments. What struck me most was the potential for cyberattacks against the historical record.

Libraries and archives keep primary documents. Paper or vellum have their own risks – but in many regards it requires physically accessing a document to alter or destroy it. For born-digital materials, it is plenty easier to manipulate them from a distance. A hacker intent on altering the historical record can potentially access the target documents from any computer. An undetected attack can irrevocably alter what information future scholars have access to.

As I mentioned, I am more likely to think of hacked libraries in terms of people stealing ebooks and journal articles. I never considered that our institutional repository and digital archives might come under attack by hackers trying to change historical or experimental information.

I’ll need to keep watching our systems for security threats.