A year in review (and some thoughts for the coming one)

Welcome 2015

(Picture above taken by me on a visit with friends to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
on a gorgeous day in June that is one of my top specific memories of the past year.)

One of my goals for the next year is to, y’know, update this blog more regularly. I do have a link roundup almost ready to go (and will post it tomorrow, because I like doing them on Fridays). In the meantime, though, a roundup of a few things related to my professional life in the past year.

Below the fold, more about my work and related projects the past year, and some thoughts about the coming year.

My work, this past year: 

We’ve had a number of changes at my workplace, both in terms of the physical space and in terms of staffing, and like most sets of large changes, there are some I’m enjoying more than others. Things I do like, right now include:

Space: We moved our campus tutoring and walk-up helpdesk support into the library this fall, and that (plus a new coffee shop) has meant there’s a huge number more people coming in our doors. That’s really awesome, and the comments on our comment board have been generally fantastic. (There have been a few bugs – like with any big change – that we’ve been sorting out.)

We have a lot of students coming in to use various collaborative work spaces (and others who come in to use our quieter spaces) and for a lot of the semester you had to actively search to find open study rooms at some times of day. It’s also been really interesting to be around other people who are committed to helping students (the staff who coordinate tutoring and seeing more of the IT staff).

I’m currently working Sunday to Thursday (covering hours into the evening and on Sunday when I’m the only staff member in the building during the semester) which means I’ve had a fair bit of time with our student workers, who are great. I really enjoy that, and seeing their excitement about what they’re doing and learning.

We also shifted to having some student-run hours (when the library is open, but there are no staff there.) We have a model where we have three shift leaders, who all work about 3 times the number of hours most of our student workers do, and who have additional training (and time to overlap with staff, so we can keep everything up to date and stay on top of any issues that really need staff help.) It’s been a learning experience all round, but all three of them are great, and I think overall it’s been going much better than some of the concerns we had.

Projects: I continue to keep working on providing training (tech and otherwise) to various groups on campus. Like many other projects of this kind, we’ve discovered that getting people to come to scheduled sessions is really hard (there’s a few topics, like Excel, where we always get takers, but otherwise, not so much) so I’m going to spend the spring looking at more ways to create information online that people can access as their schedule allows.

For that, I’m looking not just at ‘how to do this’ which is often covered by our Atomic Learning subscription, but ‘what is this tool, and how can it make your life easier/why you might care’ which is a lot more complicated to talk about well sometimes. I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations with people on campus about what tools they use, what tools they’d maybe like to use but don’t know about, and so on.

I’ve also had a good solid handful of interesting (or at least very necessary) technology projects, that have included:

  • Getting all of our XP machines out of service – this meant figuring out how to set up a Windows 8 machine for lab use, moving our upstairs lab machines downstairs and setting them up with Windows 7, setting up new machines in the upstairs lab (Windows 8), and dealing with things like our circulation machines. Since that’s something like 40 computers, it took a lot of time in April and May.
  • Figuring out and deploying the kiosk software we’re now using on our catalog terminals (we’re using WebConverger. While it took me a while to figure out how to set up, once I got it sorted out, it’s worked very well. Their support was excellent when I had questions.)
  • Setting up a couple of older spare iPads to be catalog kiosks. We have a bunch more coming out of the general use pool in May, and we’re hoping to set these up at various points throughout the library because they can go anywhere that has a power outlet (as opposed to a computer, which needs more wiring and space.)
  • Teaching a few training sessions on interesting topics (like managing email) or helping other people on campus with specific projects, some of which have been fascinating.
  • Continuing to refine and update our library website (in part to fit with some campus-level changes) and trying to figure out how to best preserve usability for a wide range of users.
  • Learning a lot more about how to set up things in Blackboard (for some of our training), figuring out how to write documentation for some complex situations (like library tech issues when I’m not around) and other related tasks.

Upcoming, I’m going to be spending some time with iMovie in the next couple of weeks (so I can provide better support for some upcoming projects) in between updating our library machines (we do that twice a year, summer and winter.) And as a result of a retirement and other staff changes, I’ve picked up some new classes and subject areas to support, so I’m working on spending time getting more familiar with some of those resources.

Beyond that, I’m looking for ways to make the things I’m doing (and need to do!) work better, and keep looking at methods for not losing track of details. (My current method involves Todoist, and it works great when I remember to put things into Todoist, and not so great when I don’t.)

Related projects: 

In other parts of my life, I’ve also been doing some tech and data management.

Alternity: The biggest one, of course, is that I continue to do the data management for the collaborative fiction project that I did a presentation on about 2 years ago. Since then, we have migrated to a wiki (we use MediaWiki for a variety of reasons.)

Last May, I finished getting all the data we’d already had into the wiki and we are now up to 6,250 pages or so of actual meaningful content.

It includes everything from random passing people we named once, to books written in the project world to pages with collections of links about specific events, and much more. Other player-authors chip in with editing at times, but the bulk of the work (and specifically the day to day indexing) has been all mine.

I’ve also learned a bunch of fascinating tricks about making templates do useful things (for example, I worked out a book template that will autofill the appropriate page categories once you enter things like the subject area and other details.) Concatenate remains my favourite spreadsheet formula, and I use it for auto-generating table code for lists of people.

There’s a lot I love about it (there are days where it feels overwhelming – I’m only human, and I’ve spent at least half an hour a day on this for more than a year now, and sometimes much more than that), but I really love laying out information and figuring out ways to help people find something we mentioned once, three years ago. Working on a long-term project like this, and working with people who are spread out across the US, and with varying amounts of time/energy/interest in very tiny details continues to teach me a great deal about collaborative work and large project management.

(Of course, it does have its rewards and amusements. The recent one involved my looking at something and going “Do I file ‘Dementor-Kissed’ under ‘Dead’ or ‘Not available’?” Problems most other librarians do not have. Coming up with book titles and amusing magical presents, also always fun.)

Alternity will end this summer (sometime between June and September) and at that point we’ll be opening up the wiki for our readers to wander through – there’s a lot of information that never made it to the surface that they can read, and I’m excited to see what they make of it.

Before then, I want to finish the current round of clean up I’ve been working on since May (I’ve done very little of it this fall, due to the various changes at work eating my brain) and also make sure we get a lot of supplemental information (curriculum notes for Hogwarts, the basic writeup of a play that got performed one year, the lists of Christmas presents, some of which are hilarious…) into the wiki.

Other projects: I’ve switched several personal WordPress driven sites over to themes that are more responsive on mobile devices, and I suspect a change to this blog is likely too. I’ve also been doing more to sort through my knowledge of HTML and CSS (much of which I knew how to do things with, but especially with CSS didn’t always know all the ways it got that done), and I’d like to turn my hand to other kinds of simple programming this year.

I’ve continued my longstanding habits of reading widely (Longform.org and Metafilter continue to be great sources for complex, nuanced information about a wide range of subjects I might not search out on my own) but this year I want to be better about reading more about some of my favourite subjects, and also playing with more ways to use technology to make things easier rather than harder.

I have some quirky hangups about talking about what I read, but I hope to talk about some of them here in the not too distant future.

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Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

More about my job and a day in the life

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