Internet Librarian 2013 – Responsive Web Design

Ben Bizzle, assisted last-minute by Jeff Wisniewski

Ben wins for the best slide presentation title so far: Please Web Responsibly.

Ben came to his library, the Craighead County Jonesboro Library, several years ago and the website was pretty friggin’ bad.  Spinning GIFs, different fonts, bad layout, etc.  They started working on a new design for the website immediately – about 4 years ago it launched.  The focus was on simplicity—making decisions easy for users.  The website was designed in Drupal and the mobile site was designed in WordPress.  The mobile site had access to a limited subset of the main website’s information, the calendar, EBSCO databases, staff picks, etc.

They recently launched a new main website that is completely responsive.  They tried to design with the F-pattern in mind.  Their mobile site today has the same content as the main website.  You have to make decisions, though, for mobile about what to turn off, reorder, and prioritize.

Ben emphasized that libraries should have mobile sites, not apps.  Libraries are portals to a whole bunch of resources—apps are self-contained.  A huge benefit of responsive web design: every change you make to your website is reflected in every single user’s interaction with your site, no matter the device.  If you’re using an app for your mobile content, users would have to update their app before they’d see the new content/changes.

The front end of your website has to be fully responsive, clean, elegant, simple, and function as a true information and entertainment portal.  A lot of companies promote themselves backward.  Think of what we do as a series of concentric circles, starting on the outside with the What, then the How, and the very smallest circle in the center is the Why.  Many organizations start from the outside and work their way in.  You should instead start with the Why, and work your way out.

When someone goes to your website and has a bad experience and sees outdated design, they make a judgment about you and your services.   We’re competing with companies, not just libraries.  Is our site competitive with Amazon or iTunes?  If not, fix that.

Responsive ROI for their website – 4 year life cycle, 185,000 visits per year, $18,000 cost, which works out to only $0.025 per visit.  Yay for numbers!

Internet Librarian 2013 – Responsive Web Design from the Trenches

Jeff Wisniewski

Jeff started his session with a definition of responsive web design.  It’s crafting a single site to provide an optimal experience across a wide range of devices.  Responsive design has become popular because of the wide variety of screen sizes, orientations, and operating systems.  There’s this whole range of devices people are using to access our websites.

Who’s gone responsive already? Microsoft, TechCrunch, and some libraries.  A responsive site doesn’t just resize, it changes dynamically.  Some things disappear, other new things appear.  Why not a dedicated mobile site?  People are doing things on mobile devices in a similar way to what they do on a desktop.  Maintaining a mobile site is redundant, and there’s no need to leverage special device capabilities for a library site.  Responsive design is thinking and doing mobile first.  Anything will work on mobile.  You also need to have a content strategy and design responsively.

Designing for mobile first means designing with touch in mind by creating larger targets and having more white space.  All images should add value.  Designing for content first means that all design flows from the content.  Do a content inventory and identify whether items are outdated, need to be deleted or rewritten, etc.  “Writing for the web is now writing for mobile.”  Be concise and clear, chunk content out.

Your site needs to be responsive under the hood too.  It should be a flexible grid-based layout (using percentages, not pixels), use media queries, and if you’re using images or other media to make those flexible and responsive as well.  Flexible grids use relative units (not fixed or absolute).  Media queries are starting with small screens first by setting a minimum width, then retooling.  At a certain width, set the design to remove a column, move something, etc. to optimize it for different screens.  Where you insert these break points depends on the content…don’t set the break point at 320, the width of an iPhone screen, but rather at 300…before it maxes out to popular screen sizes.  Responsive images – serve different sized images or different images entirely according to the platform someone is using.  Avoid simply hiding them since they’re still served, taking up bandwidth.

A responsive redesign process requires adjustment.  The design process needs to be agile, more circuitous than linear.  Part of the reason is that you’re working across form factors—you can’t do that linearly.  Start with a content inventory, then do content prioritization, create content reference wireframes, and rewrite all content (thinking “mobile first”).  Create a breakpoint graph, design fo the various breakpoints, sketch and wireframe, do usability testing (on paper, people…paper dammit!), and functional testing (and repeat), and then create the HTML design prototype.

Staff tend to get nervous with responsive web design because you’re doing so much on paper, so much planning…and only in the last phase is there actual tangible coding going on.   If you can get someone in your organization, higher up, to give you a design directive in writing it makes it easier for you to move forward.

Three cheers for frameworks!  Frameworks are packages (think toolkits, or templates) made up of a structure of files and folders of standardized code (HTML, CSS, JS, etc.) which can be used to support the development of websites as a basis to start building a site.  Most widely-used frameworks – Skeleton, Omega, Bootstrap.  Jeff’s library used Skeleton.

Tips, tricks, and lessons learned…  It was hard to resist the urge to start coding earlier.  Rewriting content was time very well spent. Library websites are all still handing off to many non-optimized sites/services (read: our vendor services are not mobile-friendly or responsive…bah!).  You should focus on design, not devices.  You should design in text.  They successfully used personas to test platform use cases.

Internet Librarian 2013 – Opening Keynote – Inspiration Architecture: The Future of Libraries
Peter Morville

The conference’s opening keynote began with Morville saying that the internet has not improved with time. The internet he remembers is a different internet – we had such big dreams. It was a time of promise and hope. We’ve lost some things along the way. His hometown lost its newspaper and their biggest bookstore. Online we’ve lost the “national park for ideas and innovation.” The internet has become increasingly commercial and we’ve lost our privacy along the way.

Information Architecture isn’t enough, but it’s still important. In the 1990s, we talked about IA as structuring and organizing websites. That definition was right for the time but has caused us trouble ever since. Our community has spent so much time arguing over definitions that we have a hashtag for that process: #dtdt (defining the damn thing). We’ve been moving toward a medium-independent definition of IA. One example: “Where architects use forms and spaces to design environments for inhabitation, information architects use nodes and links to create environments for understanding.” (Jorge somebody-or-other).

Morville has worked with the LoC for several years. He wrote a report that the LoC’s information was fragmented and there was a huge problem with findability. The LoC embargoed his report and wouldn’t allow it to be widely disseminated. As our websites become more core to the work of our organizations, people and politics become a huge part of being able to push forward.

Education is changing. Access to information and research is changing. We need to figure out ways to bring parts into a whole that is larger than the sum. He recommends the book Making Learning Whole by David Perkins and also Disrupting Class by Clayton M. Christensen. MOOCs are an opportunity for collaboration between teachers and librarians.

When students are given a research question, they go to Google (of course). It’s fast, easy, and familiar. But it’s also limited, has inaccurate metadata, and has limited advanced search capability. We’re starting to see the results of our reliance on Google. We’re graduating people into the workforce who don’t really know how to search. Librarians are the only ones who speak Boolean. Someone’s going to solve the single search box problem eventually, maybe the MOOCs will do that…

We have an information literacy gulch.  This huge difference in people’s ability to find, organize, and create resources.  We’re painfully aware of the growing gap with respect to income.  Information literacy widens that gap.  He agrees with Larry Lessig that some of these problems can only be solved by striking at the root—corruption.    But part of the problem is culture—we wear blinders.  There is a limited set of information and ideas that we are open to.

We need to explore the limits of information. How do we effect change when information is not enough.  One of the most effective ways of changing behavior is changing the environment.  Immerse yourself in another culture—that’s a great way to take off those cultural blinders.  The book Nudge talks about using psychology to influence choice.  There’s a lot of nudging going on online.  What does it mean when results are sorted by “featured”?  Willpower is more important for academic success than IQ… (true, that).

The Ann Arbor District Library is in a phase of change.  When the current director (Josie Parker) took over, in order to rebuild credibility she set out to build “a culture of generosity.”  Their branches are beautiful buildings. They have contests with “the forgiveness of fines” as a prize.

Libraries, like national parks, teach us that we all benefit when our most valuable treasures are held in common.  With national parks all we need to do is preserve the wilderness that already exists.  But with libraries we’re talking about creating something entirely new.  For this work, we need information architects.  Somebody’s got to focus on that single search box, but that’s not enough.  We also need inspiration architects.  We need folks who can lift us up and inspire us by reminding us that our ability to create and share knowledge and ideas is truly wonderful and amazing.  For that, he’s counting on all of us.

Decisions, Decisions

September 3, 2013 | Comments (15)

I have a hard time making decisions.


Well, that’s only partially true. I actually make decisions very quickly–sometimes instantaneously when faced with a problem to solve or a strategy question.  Given an either/or decision to make, give me 30 seconds max. I make decisions about people very quickly too. Your friend-potential is judged within a few minutes. You go on a date with me and within about 15 minutes I know where things are going (or not going).

See…the problem is that even though I pretty much know my path of action from the first moment (which you can argue the merits of if you want to), I then start to doubt myself.  I run through the million permutations that a decision could take, then the million permutations of the other decisions I already rejected.  I circle fully back to where I started and reaffirm my original decision.  Then I start to worry about whether I missed something, and I do it all over again.  Sometimes I talk things through with colleagues or friends, and sometimes I just let my own brain run rampant all hours of the night…sometimes about relatively inconsequential decisions.  Impending big decisions mean weeks of poor sleep and anxious waking hours.

I think back to some of the decisions that I put off–at work and at home–and I am frustrated by how much mental energy I have expended seemingly unnecessarily.  I ultimately follow my original impulse almost always (we’re talking 99% of the time), and yet I spend countless hours and Xanax prescriptions worrying that my impulse is wrong.

Part of me wonders if this is normal for people in general.  Another part of me wonders if this is merely a symptom of my Type A personality, my anxiety-prone mind, or if it’s a symptom of people in positions of leadership who still give a damn.

The reason for that last one is that I don’t remember having this kind of waffling on decisions–at work or at home–until I first became a manager several years ago.  Maybe I only waffle now because what I do impacts more people (in theory)? Or a fear that a wrong decision will have negative consequences for my career or my colleagues?  Or perhaps experience in the managerial seat has taught me that you’d darn well better run through all the scenarios before jumping?  Or perhaps the simple experience of time and age has taught me to be more cautious or prudent?  Is this simply a sign of a responsible person? Of someone who still cares about the effects of her decisions?

What’s disturbing is that it has definitely bled from my professional life into my personal life. Those personal decisions are just as hard for me to make as the professional ones now.  That’s not good.

I have no idea where it comes from…all I have are guesses.  I know that the indecision I feel is real.  But I still muscle through and make the decisions, including the really big ones, the really hard ones, and the ones that I know will have negative consequences for someone, including me. Ultimately I take the plunge, but I ruminate far too long.

After reflecting on this issue over the last week or so and writing this post, I am going to make a concerted effort to trust my intuition more. My judgement is pretty good both personally and professionally. Sure, sometimes I’m wrong. We all are.  But my instinct is usually right, despite my self-doubt. I need to stop self-doubting and learn some self-confidence. I encourage you to do the same.

Earlier this week, the Pew Internet and American Life Project released its survey results about broadband adoption in the U.S.  Some of the highlights:

  • 70% of American adults have broadband at home
  • 3% are still on dial-up
  • A person’s age, education level, ethnicity, and household income radically affect broadband adoption
  • 95% of young adults have home broadband and/or a smartphone while only 46% of seniors have home broadband and/or a smart phone.
  • 46% of Americans have both home broadband and a smartphone
  • 24% have home broadband, but no smartphone
  • 10% have a smartphone, but no home broadband
  • and the last 20% have neither home broadband nor a smartphone

Subtracting out for the 3% who are still on dial-up (since they have some kind of [albeit crappy] personal internet access), that’s still a whopping 17% of the U.S. population that does not have any kind of independent, personal internet access.  These individuals might have access at work or school, but looking at the correlation of lack of access to low income, lack of education, and age (read: retired folks), I think that’s doubtful for many of the people in this category.

So who’s left to fill the gap here? Who’s left to provide internet access for the 17%?

Why, the public library of course.

digitaldivideIf you ever doubt that offering computers and internet access in your library is a worthwhile service, read this report again.

If you hear from people, as I do, that “the digital divide is gone,” make your meanest, angriest librarian face and tell them the facts.

If someone tells you that “only homeless people checking email and bratty kids playing games ever use the computers,” take a photo of your computer users some afternoon and then staple it to that person’s chest with a very large staple gun.

The digital divide is alive and well (unfortunately), and the public library is the only thing standing between our users and complete disconnection from the modern information world.

It is with great joy that I report that I will be spending two weeks in October in Poland, touring public libraries and speaking at a national conference (congress).

From October 12-26 I will be in Poland, starting in Warsaw and then visiting the cities and libraries of Zielona Góra, Gorzów Wlkp,  Kraków, Opole, Kielce, and Olsztyn.

This is part of the Embassy’s “America @ Your Library” program, so I will be discussing participatory library services and how libraries are doing amazing things here in the US.  I am thrilled to have this opportunity and am looking to you, my readers, for some help.

  • What should I be sure to cover? What public library programs and services have wowed you completely?
  • If you’ve been to Poland, what should I be sure to visit/see/do/eat/drink?

Look for some interesting updates coming from me in October as I travel to Eastern Europe for the first time. In the meantime, all ideas are welcome!

Monday and Tuesday of last week I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in a Children’s Internet Protection Act Symposium, hosted by the American Library Association and Google in Washington DC.

The first day was pure think-tanking and brainstorming about where to go from here to help school and public libraries better cope with the legislative requirements of CIPA and work toward a future with better legislation.

The second day some of us participated in public Google Hangouts about the issues and our discussions.  Those are archived for viewing at your leisure. I participated in the first Hangout and had a blast explaining how filters (don’t) work, what their effectiveness rates are, and how to get around filters.

Part 1: “Introduction and Overview of CIPA 10 Years Later”

Part 2: “Symposium Themes and Conclusions”

Both videos are absolutely worth watching and I guarantee you will learn something in each!


This post is a summary of my presentation at the ALA Annual Conference entitled “So You Want to be a Director: Fleas, Death Threats, Budget Cuts, and Prison Wardens.”  Good title, right? (Thanks Nicolette!)  Several people asked me to write up my thoughts article-style, so here ya go.  One ginormous caveat: I am figuring out this whole Director thing as I go along, but that was rather the point of this presentation and this post.

In February of 2011 I was hired as the Assistant Director at the San Rafael Public Library, a two-library system for a town of 60,000. I was moving into an administration position after working for a decade in technology and technology management in large system libraries.  The Library’s Director left for another job after I’d been there for nine months (November 2011), and I was appointed Acting Director.  Six months after that (May 2012) I was selected as Director after a recruitment process.  I have now formally been the Director for over a year.

When I first became Acting Director, I had visions of rainbows and pixie dust. Wow, I was finally in charge! This was my home library (I’d lived here for many years but always worked elsewhere). I could make things happen! I could effect change within my hometown! I could guide the direction of an institution and make it one of those kick butt libraries that energizes the community and inspires other libraries!

Then reality hit me like a cement truck.

During my first year, these are some of the challenges I faced. Trial by fire took on a whole new meaning for me:

  • substantial increase in homelessness, substance abuse, and untreated mental illness in our town which unsurprisingly spilled over into the library population
  • 2 written death threats directed at me
  • inability to fill the assistant director position, so I had/have no back-up
  • needing to complete a community needs assessment and strategic plan for the library sans any outside help
  • a 20% budget deficit in our parcel tax budget (which makes up 1/3 of our overall budget)
  • numerous FOIA requests for public records
  • a lawsuit filed against the library
  • a staff member wrote a letter of “no confidence” in me before I even took over as Acting Director
  • a “friend” of the library wrote numerous letters similar to the one above, again before I even took over at all
  • facilities issues ad nauseum, all unfunded and adding to the budget hole, including black mold, more ceiling leaks than I can count, major repairs to the main library’s HVAC system, federally mandated (and unfunded) lighting replacements, and fleas and other pests in and around our two libraries
  • a physical assault from a San Rafael resident while on break and another physical assault from a librarian while at a speaking gig
  • Getting the San Quentin warden upset because our Friends of the Library accidentally listed his direct line as their # in some publicity materials (whoops)
Also keep in mind that this whole time I was in the middle of a divorce. My brain was not in the happiest of places.
I was left questioning my decision to take the job, questioning my decision to become even an Assistant Director, and doing a lot of self-examination in between solitary hikes and weekends of intentional social isolation.
I came up with “10 Things I Wish I’d Known as a New Director” as a way of trying to help people thinking of becoming an administrator realize A) what they’re getting into and B) not to feel as alone or isolated as I did.
1. Fear is Normal
I was terrified as an Acting Director. By the time the actual Director appointment rolled around, a lot of that fear had dissipated. I went into this without enough time with the previous Director for training, without enough time to bone up on management issues and city policy, and (quite honestly) with no career drive to ever be a Director. But I tried it anyway. I reached out to a small network of library administrators whose opinions I trusted, seeking advice as a newbie and help with specific issues when necessary. Everyone was super helpful, especially in letting me know that each of them had gone through a period of fear as well.  Being new at something is usually scary, especially when you have naysayers attacking you from all sides before you’ve even begun the job.  The trick, as with any fear, is to acknowledge the feeling, make a plan to move forward, and act on it.  Everything else takes care of itself.
2. No Money = No Love
I walked into a negative budget situation, as I discovered many new Directors do. I had to say no to pretty much every request and was cutting materials, substitute staffing, and other budget lines from day one. Need a way to make yourself hated very quickly? That’d do it. I didn’t have a choice, but I wish I’d realized ahead of time that there was no winning in this situation. I had hoped that all of our staff would understand that this wasn’t me being mean or stingy for the sake of it, but trying to fix a very real budget problem that had landed in my lap. Most did understand, as did most of our stakeholders and support groups. The few who did not, however, were quite vocal about how I wasn’t as “nice” as the last director, didn’t let people get what they wanted, and was an awful person. I had hoped for universal understanding but settled for almost universal begrudging acceptance.  Also, do not become a Director if you need to be loved. You will be hated by someone for something pretty much every day.  It’s the nature of being in charge.
3. There is No Magic Pill
I had hoped that I would find one magical thing I could do for the public to make them happy. Likewise, I wanted that one magical thing to win all the staff over. There is no magic pill. A thousand things have to be done to appeal to the thousand different priorities and interests of our diverse populations, including staff.
4. Avoid Burnout
I made the mistake of trying to do both the Assistant Director job and the Director job for the first year or so. Big mistake. Working 80 hour weeks burned me out quickly. I did get a lot done and kept the ship floating, but at a great personal cost. My health suffered as did my sanity and my ability to remain mentally dedicated to the job.  I saw myself fast approaching true burnout where I’d need to take an extended leave of absence, and so gradually dialed back my working hours to a more sane 50 or so. I know it’s tempting to just keep going when you’re trying to fix a broken situation.  But I work better in the hours I work now and my mental and physical health are surely improved.
5. Get Ready for the Angst
I’d been a manager for several years before becoming a Director but I truly did not appreciate how much of this job is listening to negativity and being reactive to one negative situation after another.  Personnel issues, complaints from staff and public, things breaking, someone disagreeing with pretty much every decision you make, being the one to ban the really awful patrons, go to court, withstand personal attacks, and the list goes on.  When you’re Director you have a big old target painted on your back. Be ready for the fire and brimstone to rain down. I wasn’t, and the shock of the “Holy Ceiling Cat, isn’t there anything positive right now?” feeling was a lot to handle.  I’ve gradually learned not to internalize as much, though I still do internalize a lot.  As more happens I do find myself becoming desensitized to the smaller issues and feeling free to say to my staff “You know what? You can handle that. You’ll do great.” (instead of jumping in to fix every last problem brought to me).  There are still sleepless nights and panicked moments, but far fewer.
6. People are More Important than To Do Lists
I was so focused on getting things done (balance the budget, write a strategic plan, keep the peace between support groups, go to all my meetings, write all my reports) that I focused less on the people factor at the library. I focused less on individual patrons, on individual staff, and that was a mistake. I am trying to step back and focus on the people in the library more (after all, what is a library but its people!) and finding it challenging with the workload still doubled up as it is. But, hey, at least I’m trying.
7. Morale is Fussy
Just as I was focused on getting things done, I was also overly focused on trying to control my own reactions to things. I didn’t want to paint a rose-colored picture of our budget situation. I wanted to be as direct and transparent with staff as I could be, which I did. But the side effect of that was a whole lot of not-so-great news showering down on all of the staff members…which meant that they ended up internalizing a lot of the same grief I was. I can see pros and cons to sharing information with staff, but I think I may have over-shared. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing I did. I was so concerned about being a good transparent manager and not making the mistake of the silo-ed, closed-off administrators I’ve worked for in the past, that I forgot to pay attention to the morale of the staff at large.  And unfortunately a whole lot of morale-damaging stuff was happening in quick succession. Morale is a hard one. There’s no magical solution, but with some constant attendance and a few key boosters, it can be kept healthy at least. This is another area I’m working on, particularly now that we’ve been able to have a stable budget year looking forward to 2013/2014, and are starting to be able to make some of the major changes staff have waited decades for.
8. Ask for What You Need
Our library was in such a mental state of scarcity that people had ceased to ask for what they needed.  When I became Director, I started asking.  We needed stepped up police patrols.  Check.  We needed freedom to re-allocate end-of-year remaining funds to replace non-ergonomic staff desks and chairs from the 1950s.  Check.  We needed to stop charging for DVD check-outs like we were stuck in the 90s.  Check.  We needed new carpeting to replace the nasty, torn stuff in the library that’s the same age as I am.  Check.  I personally needed support and advice from the other department directors.  Check.  So far, there’s only one thing I’ve asked for from our parent organization and partner departments that I haven’t gotten (and I’m working on that thing too).  Lesson? Ask! (and bring visual aids – they help)
9. Timid Librarians Are Not Allowed
I’ve been called a lot of things as a Library Director.  The nice ones include scrappy, feisty, go-getter-y, and my favorite: “She don’t take no crap from nobody.”  I’m glad that I entered this fray with an assertive personality.  If I’d been timid, I think I would have been eaten alive, spit out, and ended up with a nervous breakdown or abandoning libraries altogether.  You simply cannot and should not be a library administrator if you are timid.  You truly will not be able to do your job well if you’re afraid of conflict, avoid confrontations, can’t deal with raised voices or criticism, and want to be friends with everyone.  It won’t work.  Either you or the institution will break and no offense, but I’d rather it was you, because your institution is more important than any single individual.
10. Do It Your Way
Something I was massively worried about when becoming a Director was having to conform.  I am not good at conforming. In fact, when asked to do so I usually do the opposite and become more non-conformist.  I didn’t want to have to schmooze with people, to lie and smile, to go to events I would hate like the Plague, or to dress and speak like the majority.   I made a conscious decision not to do so from the get-go and in my final interview with our City Manager told her point blank that I would continue being me and doing things my way, and that my “being me” would probably get me into trouble at some point in the future, but that I couldn’t pretend for 10 hours a day to be someone else.  She still hired me (bless you for your openness, Nancy).  So I do my thing the way I do it.  Yes, I meet with council members and the mayor.  But I’m me at those meetings.  Yes, I go to Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce, but I also go to the Community Media Center events, GLBTQ fundraisers, and nerdy local meet-ups.  You know, stuff that’s a natural fit for me and my strengths.  I don’t schmooze and lie, but I do smile. Because when I’m talking about why libraries matter, I automatically smile. I love libraries and it shows.  I dress the way I dress, listen to electronica full blast at my desk, dole out espresso shots to tired employees, and send out irreverent and sometimes funny items in our missives to City Council and our Board of Trustees.  Basically, I’m just me.  I don’t have to put on a mask.  I can be me and still do this job well.  And so can you.
For those of you who are new-ish directors, what lessons have you learned?  What things do you wish you’d known before you started?  Keep the conversation going!!!


For 99.9% of us, working in a library was not our first job. I worked an extremely odd assortment of jobs between high school and finishing my MLIS, each and every one of which has continued to help me in some small way with the work I do today.  Even jobs that are seemingly completely unrelated have yielded some practical skill, knowledge, or experience.  Below are some of the jobs I worked over the years and what each of them taught me that I still use today.

  • Calligraphist: My first job at age 13 was doing calligraphy for an art store on commission. What I learned: A good work ethic is critical to success. You create quality work, you get more work. You turn in your work on a timely basis, you get more work. You treat your employer with respect, he’ll talk you up and get you more work (child labor laws be damned).
  • Hostess: I worked as a hostess at a Chicago-style pizza restaurant. What I learned: The lowest paid positions in an organization often have hidden caches of power. I got to decide which waiters and waitresses got which tables, and how many tables. I got to help the delivery staff I liked and be apathetic toward those who weren’t nice to me. No matter where you are in an organizational chart, you do have control over certain things, which you can use (or abuse if you become cranky and jaded).
  • Waitress: I worked as a waitress a few times. I am not a good waitress.  I lacked the upper body strength and the ability to schmooze with people who were nasty all in the name of getting a better tip. What I learned: Not everyone is good at everything. You think you’ll be good, but maybe you won’t be. And you know what? That’s ok! If you were good at every last thing you’d be some kind of prodigy mutant being and I’d be afraid of you. If you’re not good at something you probably won’t like it, so why keep doing it? Find something else as soon as you can!
  • Bartender: I was a bartender a couple of times at very different types of bars, from the diviest frat bar dive to a splendid dinner club. What I learned: Besides how to make excellent drinks, I learned a lot about how to listen to people.  People at bars often just want to be heard. They might not have another outlet for telling their story and hope that you’ll listen to their girlfriend woes, frustrations at work, and feelings about their best friend’s significant other. Bartending is one job where you learn to listen. It’s like a psychology practicum on steroids. Listening, and especially active listening, comes in handy a lot in libraries. We need to listen to each other and we need to listen to our patrons.
  • Secretary: I have been a secretary (and I was called a secretary – not an administrative assistant) more times than I care to remember…for a car dealership, a small telecomm, Sears, a dot com start-up, etc. What I learned: More than any of the other jobs I worked, my secretary jobs reminded me why I was going to graduate school–so I would not have to do that job forever. Being a secretary works for some people, and I say good for them. For me it was perfect torture. I felt that I was set up as eye candy, was sexually harassed more than once, and expected to perform degrading tasks in addition to “normal” work.  But being a secretary taught me some useful skills too. I learned how to multitask way before it became rote.  I learned basic accounting. I learned business writing. I learned that a smile really does travel over the phone lines.
  • Planned Parenthood Counselor: For a year in college I provided abortion counseling for women. What I learned: Two semesters as a psychology major do not prepare you for the reality of some situations. Theoretical coursework and group discussions cannot and will not prepare you for the reality of the workplace. Being told to “be ready for X” is not the same as actually being ready. Job shadowing, mentoring, internships, and practicum work are really the only way to get boots-on-the-ground experience so you know what you’re getting yourself into.
  • English Composition Instructor: While getting my MA in literature and mythology I taught freshman composition for three semesters at WSU.  What I learned: Teaching people who are learning because they “have to” is way less fun than teaching people who actually want to learn. But this job also taught me a ton about presentation skills, coursework and training organization, student engagement, useful feedback, and how to take criticism gracefully. I taught the first semester as a total hard-ass out of fear that I wouldn’t be respected (I was only a year older than most of the students) and was told to chill out for the next semester. I did, and it worked much better despite my own intuition that it wouldn’t.
  • Flooring Salesperson: This was a job taken purely for the money to pay the bills. What I learned: I learned a lot about flooring! (quick, ask me anything)  I also learned that not only do I not like sales, I am not good at it in the slightest. This reaffirmed for me that working in a job that didn’t have a profit-basis was very important, solidifying my desire to work in education. I have used my flooring knowledge a few times to offer advice on flooring choices for new library buildings, surprising the salespeople with the random vocabulary I can still pull out of my head 15 years later. This is actually a practical set of knowledge now that I’m a library manager. Go figure.
  • Amateur Tequila Shot Contest Competitor: OK, this wasn’t actually a real job, per se, but I did earn money doing this. What I learned: If people underestimate you, exploit it and show them what you can do. A 115 pound woman can drink a 300 pound man under the table and take home $300 as a result. If people want to underestimate me now, I let them. If they choose to believe I’m naive or inexperienced or stupid, I let them. Then I do what I need to do and watch the jaws drop. It’s a very satisfying moment…the jaw-dropping-ha-ha moment.

Think about your own work history and what skills and talents you bring with you that are unique to you.  It is those things that make you marketable, that you should play up during interviews, that you should remember make you so perfectly wonderful as a library staffer.  We love you because you are you!

This will be my last cancer post because…

I am happy to report that yesterday I received news that the pathology reports show that they got all the cancer with the surgery and I am officially now in the “cancer survivor” category. Give me a moment…


saveahorseOK, I’m back.  I am extraordinarily relieved to be done with this. I have more medical follow-up and check-up appointments over the next several months, but as long as I heal okay, this is over. A total knock-out fight and cancer lost. Take that, cancer! I am admittedly a little worse for wear, but all things considered, it was never a fair fight. With all the positive vibes you were sending me, cancer never stood a chance. And I just wasn’t ready to die yet.

I thought that for my final post on this topic, I’d try to answer some of the many questions that I’ve been hearing a lot.

How did you do this so fast? It’s only been a few weeks since you were diagnosed!

We caught the cancer super-early. That only happened because I get regular exams at my OB/GYN. I’ve been so pleased with the number of women contacting me saying they traditionally avoid their yearly exams, but scheduled an appointment after reading what I’d written. Paraphrasing an Australian PSA poster someone mentioned to me: “It’s a few moments of discomfort for an entire year of peace of mind.” Another factor in my speed-cancer-killing is that my doctors were eager to get the surgery done quickly (as was I), and I told them to be aggressive with what they removed…to err on the side of “too much” just to make sure we’d get it all and I wouldn’t have to endure another surgery or radiation, the two likely next steps were this surgery to fail.

Did you really live-Tweet during your surgery?

I did indeed. I had to stop part-way through due to an allergic reaction to the anesthetic, so it wasn’t as “blow by blow” as I’d hoped to achieve, but I did as much live as I could and caught up once my arms and hands stopped shaking violently. I am still somewhat baffled that I was left conscious for this, but apparently it’s standard practice.  I would recommend to others that you may want to inquire about a general anesthetic if you have to do it (which I hope you never do).  If I ever had to do it again, I would mandate a general.  I left out most of the gruesome details believe it or not (my choice), but have openly discussed them with anyone who’s curious or looking at facing a similar procedure themselves. Below are my Tweets from right before, during, and after the surgery. Read from the bottom up.


How did the surgery go?

The surgery was successful and the cancer’s gone–so the surgery did its job. They had to remove far more tissue than they’d planned, which made the procedure take longer. Unfortunately, I had an unpredictable allergic reaction to the cervical block (read: several injections with a BFN (big fucking needle).  I was violently shaking, nearly seizing. But they wanted to go ahead with the procedure so we did. I had two female nurses holding me down to keep me as still as possible (and a female doctor).  And in true Sarah fashion I made a lewd joke to cover my fear and freaked-out-ed-ness. I said “If all three of you were hot naked guys and the doctor was holding a vibrator instead of a cauterizing gun this would be a great porn film.” At least it made the nurses giggle.

What has recovery been like after the surgery?

It’s been difficult.  I didn’t really move much at all for 72 hours. I gave myself one more day off work than I thought I needed, then I could only do a half-day my first two days back and am home working today to give myself more recuperating time. My energy level is low and I get tired super easily. But I suppose that’s to be expected after having chunks cut off of you, being burned and charred, and losing a lot of blood.

Who did you have to help you?

I could not have gotten through this by myself. My bestest friend Carol helped me with the surgery and immediate aftermath (stuffed animals in the car FTW).  I’ve also had help and support from a few other local friends–making or bringing me food, scooping the cat boxes, or simply stopping by to say hi.  But I especially want to thank Michael who’s done much more than he had to.  And really, anyone who gets me out of the house for the first time to see Henry Cavill with his shirt off gets bonus points for life.  For *life* I say!  I have also had remote encouragement and help from hundreds of family and friends, revealing to me a support network that I didn’t know existed.  It’s heartening to think that in the worst case scenarios in our lives we have people to reach out to.  Of my remote “spirit-keeper-uppers” I want to send a special thanks to Nicolette and Andy whose humor and practical advice helped make things tolerable.  To all of you: MWAH!

How are you feeling now? And you’re seriously going to ALA? Are you insane, woman?

At the present moment I’m feeling good, but I’ve also been working from bed all day. I still hurt but it’s tolerable. I’m still weak, but if I pace myself it’s okay.  I was cleared to travel so I am indeed going to ALA for 5 days.  I’m presenting three times, pre-recording one additional presentation because they double-booked me, and competing in ALA Battledecks (I will bring the hurt, people).  I have a ton of parties and evening events lined up as well.  I’m going to see how I do and not push it.  If I can’t stay for your whole party/event, or you see me sitting on the floor in a corner nodding off, cut me some slack and/or bring me a Red Bull.  And yes, I am most certainly insane, but that has nothing to do with this particular conversation.

To close – goodbye cancer and hello future 🙂