Someone trying to contract with me to give a keynote in a very cool country (*fingers crossed*) today asked me how many talks/classes/keynotes I’ve given in my career.  I realized I had no idea.  I went back and counted.

I’ve spoken at 207 various events since I started in mid-2002.  That’s an average of 20 or so a year.  And given that the first few years were very slow, you can see how that works out to a lot more than that in the last few years (and indeed my past presentations list demonstrates just that).

People ask me how I do the speaking and the writing and hold down a full time job. I just shrug and make that weird “I don’t know” sound that includes no actual words (sorta like “uh-ah-uh”).  I really don’t know.  I just do it.  I love what I do–and when you’re passionate about something it feels a lot less like work.


After reading that count, I feel rather old.  And rather busy.  I would be off to grab a cocktail as consolation for both if I didn’t have a nighttime City Council meeting to attend………Which I love attending– hello City Council 🙂

The advice I’d share with newbies on the speaker circuit? Pace yourself for ceiling cat’s sake.  You won’t go out of style.  Only take what you can realistically accommodate without sacrificing your sleep, your personal life, or your job.  I’m taking a lot fewer gigs, especially traveling ones, nowadays largely in an attempt to reinvigorate my personal life (here’s hoping) and to have more mental space to devote to being a new director.  So if you’re out there speaking…just be real with yourself, your loved ones, and your employer.  You’ll find a balance as long as you’re consciously thinking about it.  We can’t all be Stephen Abram and fly from place to place being super smart all the time 😉

I have now been in the position of Director at the San Rafael Public Library for seven months, officially permanently the director for almost two.  Before that, I was the Assistant Director for nine months.  For better or for worse, I think it is safe to say that I have made the transition from being a techie-librarian to being, as Nate Hill so aptly put it, ‘The Man.’*

The Hell You Say…

I believe my response to Nate at the time involved the oh-so-mature phrases “shut your mouth” and “nuh-uh, take it back.”   Some cursing likely occurred in between.  I may have even smacked him on the shoulder.  I don’t remember.  I think I actually blacked out from the shock of the epithet, so I’ll trust to Nate’s memories of that conversation instead of mine.

The Man Suit

Suffice it to say that the idea of being in charge, of being an administrator, raises mixed emotions in me.  I’ve always prided myself on being the fighter, the principled one who stood up in meetings and said the thing the person in charge least wanted to hear and took the beatings afterward gladly.  I am the iconoclast, the rabble-rouser, the pain in the behind of pretty much everyone who’s ever supervised me (sorry to David, Pat, Carol, Mary, Jane, the list goes on…).  The idea that I am now a Director still makes me crinkle my forehead and make a little kid pouty face.  The concept that I’m running a library is still foreign to me, it’s still weird, and it’s still a suit I’m getting comfortable wearing.

All of that being said, those same supervisors I tortured would be the first to say that I like being in charge of things.  I believe that my younger brother and sister will echo that sentiment, telling stories about me being just a wee bit bossy even as a seven-year-old.  I admit that I fully enjoy having the ability to say “Yes, we’re just gonna buy those shelves” or “Good idea–try it and let me know in a month how it’s going.”  But that ability comes at the cost of being the person ultimately responsible when things go badly, messes need cleaning up, and when mistakes are made.

How I Became The Man

When I was debating whether or not to apply for the Director position, I asked a dozen or so close friends and colleagues what they thought I should do.  I got the same answer from almost everyone: “You need to do this. We need more public library directors who are tech-savvy, willing to take risks, and who embrace change.”  I thought “Well, grrr to your making me some kind of weird representative of the tech-savvy-librarianship class–it’s not my responsibility to shoulder that burden!”  But it is, just as it is for everyone else who represents a particularly specialty or area of expertise.  So I applied, was offered the job, and accepted.  I am still humbled and grateful to the City Manager for showing such confidence in me.  I will continue to try to be worthy of that confidence.

Which brings us back to present day, and me being The Man.  *shudder* A local colleague thinking of moving from front line librarianship into administration asked me yesterday what I’d learned so far in my recent role as The Man.  It’s weird how everyone keeps using that phrase, and I was reminded of Nate’s postscript (sometime after I stopped hitting him) which was something along the lines of “No, you really are The Man but it’s not a bad thing. You’re good at it–at organizing people, working through bureaucracy.”  Something like that.  Maybe I dreamed that in an effort to pad my ego as I stepped off the cliff into Administration-dom.  Nate will have to chime in 😉

So what have I learned?  Some tough lessons.  And here they are.

7 Lessons Learned While Being The Man

1. Budgets will hamstring your dreams

I have grandiose plans for 3D printers, enhanced item displays, better signage, community outreach and partnerships, multimedia production…the list is endless.  However, when working in a short-staffed situation, it becomes nearly impossible to realize any of those wonderful dreams.  Even if you could get donations for any items with a direct cost, the reality of short staffing in most libraries means that it’s all you can do to keep the doors open and the desks staffed.  Off desk time! What off desk time? When, precisely, do you want your staff producing that weekly digital literacy program for local cable? During their lunch breaks? I am facing a specific budget challenge at present, beyond the year-upon-year-upon-year of regular funding cuts.  And that challenge kept me up at nights, literally wondering how I was going to keep the library open.  When that is the very real concern, 3D printers sound a lot less important.  Sorry, but it’s true.  I think through this crisis I’m learning quickly that when there’s no money to go around, anything “extra” just ain’t gonna happen…and that’s no one’s fault, it just is. I feel badly for losing my cool with managers in the past who said no to my requests for upgraded networks, web hosting, and equipment. It’s possible they were facing similar challenges to mine.  But if so, they never said anything…which leads me to #2.

2. Be transparent

As soon as I realized our budget situation, I started telling the supervisors, then the rest of the staff, the support groups, etc.  One of the things I have had the hardest time with as a librarian has been the obfuscated decision-making processes that I bore witness to, the closed door meetings, the “nobody gets to know this except for us” mentality.  It is my goal to be as transparent as possible about what’s going on with the library, both internally and externally, and I hope I’m walking the walk so far.  I’m really trying very hard to do so, even when I know what I say will make people mad.  Someone asked me earlier this week for a $500 piece of equipment.  That budget line was already well-overspent so I had to say no, but I told the person why I was saying no.  When I send out messages reiterating a particular procedure or asking staff to be careful about something, I don’t leave it up to the vague-rumor-mill to figure out what prompted my email–I say so…in the email.  Transparency is good, period.

3. Not everyone is going to like you–too bad for them

I know this might shock people (not really) but not everyone likes me.  There are people within the organization and outside of it who made their opinions of me very well-known when I was the Acting Director.  There are people whose opinions of me have changed, and people who still think I am the Anti-Christ.  Too bad for them.  I’m the Director and I’m not going anywhere.  I can’t, nor do I expect to, make everyone like me.  In fact, if I’m not pissing somebody off at any given time about something, then I’m probably not doing my job very well.  If you need to be liked, then being in administration is not for you.  I’ve seen too many friendly, good-hearted people get chewed up by the great administration machine.  You gotta have thick walls and clear boundaries, my friends, to do this.

4. Your job is to make everyone look good

Someone makes a mistake? You take the blame. Someone does something truly awesome? She gets all the credit. You do something truly awesome? Tell your own boss, but otherwise stay quiet. I’ve been doing stuff I’m proud of, and part of me wishes I could crow about it but I don’t. It’s not about me…it’s about the library.

5. Small details matter

That little unnecessary extra step people take in a routine process? It matters. Get rid of it. The paint that’s chipping in the hallway that drives someone nuts? Fix it. It’s easy to get lost in the macro issues. Don’t forget the micro issues matter a lot too.

 6. You’re always on

When I go out walking downtown at lunch, people know me as the Library Director.  They say hi, ask me how the library’s doing, some try to give me books to return.  When I am shopping for tomatoes at Whole Foods, I’m still the Library Director.  When I’m pounding back a pint of Guinness at the pub, I’m still the Library Director.  Any time I’m in public, no matter the day or the time, I’m still the community’s Library Director.  This is why that Guinness consumption now always takes place outside my immediate area.  I cannot have a conversation about library policy with you at 11pm on a Saturday night in a bar.  Any time I’m in public, including when I’m taking the garbage out in my jammies at 7am, I have to remember that some people know who I am and anything I do could potentially reflect positively or negatively on the library. Is it fair? Nah. It’s just the reality of being a public servant.

7. The days of sleeping well are over

This one’s hard.  Maybe it’s just me, but since I was appointed Acting Director I lost any semblance of a normal night’s sleep.  Perhaps that will fade with time (hey, more experienced directors–does it fade?).  I wake up at 2am thinking of something I should add to a report.  I toss and turn trying to fall asleep thinking about the 7 mistakes I made in the spreadsheet I drew up yesterday.  I stress out about how to address personnel issues, about whether or not I’m going to say something stupid at a City Council meeting, on and on.  I have a recurring nightmare involving a particularly scary patron.  I’ve always been on the stressier side, but it’s intensified since the new job.  I really hope this goes away, but I don’t expect that it will.

If you’ve made the transition into library administration, what lessons did you learn? What would you share with your colleagues?  What crash-and-burn mistakes did you make that you can help us newbies from making? What helped you succeed most? Do share!

* I don’t want to hear any crap about ‘The Man’ being a sexist or gendered term.  You know what I mean.  If you have a better way of saying it, let me know.

I’ve been puzzling over a phenomenon lately that I’d like to talk a bit about.  I want to put this out into the ether and get feedback from all of you.  Because I can’t make sense of this—and perhaps your superior brains can.

With the rise in digital content, we’ve seen more and more examples of technology being created to enforce the law and/or a company’s terms of service for their product.  And just because technology can do this, does it mean that we as a society should allow it?

In the past, here’s how the law was enforced:

  • the law exists
  • as a member of a society, you are expected to know about the law
  • if you violate the law, in theory someone punishes you

And here’s how the law is enforced now in some cases:

  • the law exists
  • technology is created to make it difficult or impossible for you to break the law
  • if you somehow manage to break through the technology and break the law, you are punished for breaching the system as well as breaking the law itself

Here’s a real-world example of technology-enforced laws to start the discussion.  The Saudi Arabian government developed an RFID chip with a cyanide implant.  These chips were implanted in known criminals (supposedly terrorists) and if their handlers or probation officers or whoever was watching them suspected that they were violating the law again, BOOM – cyanide in the blood…instant death.  No trial, no due process, just a remotely activated death penalty.

In the world of digital content we see this same practice but in a non-lethal incarnation.

The utilization of internet filters in schools and libraries (and on school-issued computers in kids’ homes) is intended as a way to mandatorily enforce laws against child pornography and the display of harmful and obscene materials in public.  Advocates for this technology sell it as a way to enforce these laws without human intervention.  Unfortunately, the technology doesn’t actually work very well, and about 30% of sites that should be blocked aren’t and 30% of sites that should be allowed get blocked erroneously.  The intention is good, but the side effects are not worth the trade off—both access to legitimate information and the false sense of security the technology creates.  Some schools and libraries realize the inherent flaws in the technology and choose, instead, to do what we as a society have been doing for generations—trusting people to follow the law,  and when they don’t we have policies in place for reprimands or punishments (e.g. calling the cops on their asses).

Another key example is the technology used in digital rights management, called “digital restrictions management” by its detractors, including yours truly.  Once again, the technology was created to enforce the applicable copyright law as well as the company-created terms of service for their products and content.  And once again, the technology doesn’t actually work.  Why?

Digital Rights Management technology doesn’t work because it doesn’t do what the companies tell you it does: stop piracy.  If copyrighted content was easy to get legally at a fair price in an easy to access format (read: one not locked down with layers of DRM software), then more people would be willing to pay for it. Why?  Convenience and safety.  It’s why the music industry is selling DRM-free MP3s and still making money.  I’d rather give $7.99 to a band and get a full, DRM-free, legal copy of their album than try to find a complete, high quality, virus-free version on a torrent site.  Ultimately, these failed attempts to decrease piracy and (in theory) increase sales not only fail, but they drive even more users away.  I strongly believe it is the current state of DRM that drives people into the arms of the pirates—not greed, a lack of ethics, or pure evil.  Unless you count DRM as pure evil, which I do.

So…if the idea of the cyanide-laden RFID chip disturbs you, then (following my logic, anyway) the idea of internet filters and digital rights management should equally perturb you.  And if you’re a librarian, then dammit—both internet filters and digital rights management should perturb you as a professional and you should do everything in your power to fight them both—in your own library and in the profession as a whole.  Fight, librarians! Fight!

May is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Awareness Month.  And, as I’ve done in the past, I am using my blog as a place to help raise awareness about this genetic condition.  Why?  Because, lucky girl that I am, have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

You can read my posts from past years (2009 & 2011) for a lot of detail on what the disorder is, how it has affected my life over time, etc.  But in short, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a connective tissue disorder.  EDS causes your body to make jacked up faulty collagen.  And since a lot of your body is made up of collagen (especially tendons, ligaments, skin, internal organs) this is a bad thing.  My primary symptoms are chronic pain in all joints and dislocations in many joints.  There is no cure for EDS and since it is relatively rare there isn’t a lot of financial motivation for companies to research it.  All you can do is manage the symptoms.

I still wake up in pain every morning, hurt all day long, and hurt all night as I toss and turn trying to sleep.  But it’s become a part of me…the pain.  One gets used to it after a fashion, as sad as that may seem.  I don’t think about it as much anymore and it isn’t all-consuming as it used to be.

The biggest change since last year is that I am now successfully off of all pain medications.  None, zero, zip.  This is a *big deal*.  I had been on numerous medications for several years and I swear that they were more harmful than helpful to my body.  I take the occasional ibuprofen now, but that’s it.  I’ve continued a strict regimen of physical therapy and exercise and that is helping a lot.  I also strongly feel that my whole foods, mostly organic, vegan diet has had a lot to do with helping my body do better within its limitations.

So for some happy news, here are three things that I couldn’t do last year because of the EDS symptoms, but now can do:

  • I can now wear high heels without pain (yay for sexy shoes)
  • I can hike on rough terrain without dislocating ankles and knees
  • I can go dancing until the wee hours of the morning with no ill effects (to my joints anyway <insert snark here>)

To learn more about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, check out the Ehlers-Danlos National Foundation , Ehlers-Danlos Network, and the awesome resource list built by the amazing librarian Rick Roche: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome: A Reference Librarian Looks at Consumer Health Reference Sources.

In the early days of being a librarian, I remember when The Urban Dictionary website launched.  I remember some people in my literary and library circles talking about how it was a useless, crappy, sub-cultural icon in the way of many of the other sites at the time they looked down upon—LiveJournal, MySpace, etc.  But I absolutely loved The Urban Dictionary.  Where else could I go to figure out what on earth my students and younger colleagues were saying without looking like a complete dork and having to ask them directly?

The Urban Dictionary continued to be a source of useful information to me, and as a reference source for which many library users over time were very grateful.  My mom even—“Hey, next time someone at work says something you don’t understand, just look it up here.”

And now so many years later I actually have two entries in The Urban Dictionary.  There’s something visceral about knowing that something I wrote, something that came out of my head, is now recorded in the lexicon for all ages (or at least until the interwebs explode due to the zombie apocalypse).  These entries are more meaningful to me than having published my book.  Silly, right?  Maybe yes, maybe no.

The two entries are related: Twitter Glitter and Facebook Fairy Dust.  Both describe the act of marking one’s significant other (or desired significant other) using social media—mentions, check-ins at the same place, comments, likes, etc.  It’s a way to tell the world “Hey! This person is mine. Back off.”

The phrase references the long-standing (somewhat) covert practice of women (and some men) of wearing glitter-laden cosmetics intentionally—so that you can get close to your significant other, spread your glitter, and thereby mark him or her.  It’s a warning to others that this person’s taken.  And if you see your own significant other covered in mysterious glittery sparkles, that’s a good indicator that there’s been another fox in your henhouse.  This is also why strippers never, ever wear glitter.  They know better than to get their clients in trouble at home.

The origin of the phrases was a spontaneous conversation with Sean Casserley and Michael Porter at the Internet Archive’s Books and Browsers Conference.  I had mentioned on Twitter that Sean was saying smart stuff, and his wife immediately replied back that yes indeed he was very smart and she was a lucky woman (or some such thing).  And I said “Did she just Twitter Glitter you?”  And thus the phenomenon was born.  [Please note: I didn’t really think Susan was Twitter Glittering Sean…it was just where the term came from. My apologies to Susan for telling this story kind of flippantly and for being insensitive.]  “Facebook Fairy Dust” is the same thing, just on Facebook.  Alliteration, baby.  And yes, before you get all up in my face, we talked about much more heavy, serious, and inspiring things at the Books and Browsers Conference…this was just one of those hallway break conversations that lives in infamy.

So back to The Urban Dictionary.  Yay!  I am pleased to be a part of this great collaborative work of popular culture.  I hope that you, and your loved ones, never Twitter Glitter or Facebook Fairy Dust each other—but at least now you know what it is.

In case you missed the buzz on Twitter and elsewhere, I have a new job!  Starting officially on May 1st, I will be the Director for the San Rafael Public Library!

I’ve worked as the Assistant Director since February 2011, and as the Acting Director since November.  I am thrilled to have been selected from a pool of extremely qualified candidates.  It’s the town I’ve lived in for over 8 years, and I stayed here even when it meant commuting 1:45 each way to San Jose for work.  I  love San Rafael and am honored to be able to serve as Library Director.   We have an extraordinarily dedicated staff and our support groups (Friends, Board, and Foundation) care about this library tremendously.  I am lucky to have such a great group of people to work with!

You can read more about the new job in the story in our local paper.

If any directors have advice for a newbie, please pass it on!  My ears are wide open!

In December, Ryan Claringbole and I wrote a post about his library’s (the Chesapeake Public Library’s) sub-standard selection catalog from OverDrive: “OverDrive Has Different eBook Catalogs for Different Libraries.”  eBooks that I could see in my library’s OverDrive selection catalog to license were not available in his library’s selection catalog.

I decided to follow up and browse through his library’s OverDrive site and found that those very same authors titles that his library couldn’t even license back in December were in fact now in their catalog for the public to check out.

Kathryn Stockett

Stieg Larsson

Janet Evanovich

Naturally I was confused.  Something had changed.  So I contacted both the Chesapeake Public Library (the Library Director) and OverDrive (email was sent to several contacts).  Strangely, the Library Director never responded.  OverDrive responded (quickly this time) with the following:

At the library’s request, we recently met with an administrator at the Chesapeake Public Library to discuss the issues that led to the initial restriction on their catalog.  We don’t as a policy discuss publicly each partner library’s terms of service, but suffice to say we were satisfied by the discussions and have since enabled full access to the catalog.

What do we take away from this story? What do you think happened here?  Did the negative press and the library standing up for its users make a difference?  Did OverDrive change the terms of their contract with the CPL? Did OverDrive change their policies so that they don’t limit libraries’ access to selection catalogs anymore?  Did the publishers agree to new terms and change their contracts with OverDrive? Did OverDrive make an exception in this case?  I don’t know.  I have my guesses, but I’m more curious to hear what yours are.

So…what do you think  happened?

P.S. A Public Service Announcement: For public libraries, all of our contracts are public record by nature of being public agencies. So it’s fine that OverDrive won’t “discuss” terms of service — but here’s a reminder to everyone…you, as the library, can discuss them. You can share your contracts with the world unless you signed a non-disclosure agreement, which you can’t even legally do.

With yet another publisher announcing today that it’s dropping out of the library eBook market, I decided to put up a new sign in our library in a few different spots to raise public awareness.  The sign lists which publishers won’t do eBook business with libraries and provides contact information for the publishers in question.  I’ve posted about the issue on our library blog and pushed it out on our Twitter accountFacebook page, and Google+ page.  And here’s a direct link to a downloadable copy of my sign on Google Docs. It’s not fancy, but feel free to take it, modify it, use it. And if anybody has better contact info for these companies, let me know. This is what I could glean from Reference USA and the company websites. Update: I have since added a QR code to the sign at the suggestion of several people, pointing people to the library’s blog post with this information.

sign at the San Rafael Public Library

I know it’s a small gesture. It’s just a sign (although I did put three of them up).  I am also writing letters as the Library Director (in many cases, again) to the publishers on the list asking them to try to work with libraries…telling them we’re open to negotiation and suggestion, but that walking away the library market is damaging to all of us.

As a librarian and as a reader, I am tired of publishers walking away from the library table.  I have no problem with them walking away from a particular third party vendor, but only if they have a plan in place to offer up their own platform or be signed with an alternate vendor already.  Gaps in service, gaps in availability of their titles to our patrons equals stupidity in my opinion.  Walking away from the library eBook market makes no financial long-term sense, nor does it continue the positive relationship that publishers and libraries have cultivated for centuries to help bring information and entertainment to people.

I think it’s about damn time we, as library professionals, started getting the public riled up about this too.  We need legislation passed (or copyright law clarified) that states that indeed, libraries can license/purchase and lend out digital items just like they can with physical items.  Fragmentation and exclusionary business practices hurt the people we serve.  As a librarian I feel we must stand up, as a profession, and say “no more.”

As I was putting the signs up today, I got a few questions immediately from library users.  Within a half hour of the Penguin/OverDrive news being announced, I had three phone calls to my desk from concerned San Rafael residents about yet another publisher not being available through their library’s eBook collection.  Now, admittedly we have a mightily active and concerned citizenry here in San Rafael (I love you guys!), but I’m guessing every other community has a good base of people who would also think this is ridiculous and be willing to do something about it.  I’m encouraging users to contact the publishers and tell other book-lovers they know.  This is one of those issues we’ve been dealing with in the library vacuum–an issue 99.9% of the public has no idea exists, and an issue that would invoke at least 80% pissed-off-ed-ness if we tell people about it.

Put a sign up in your library.  Say something to people at your eBooks classes.  Do something.  Because nobody, including ALA, is going to do it for you.

Last night I was honored and privileged to attend the official White House State of the Union Tweet-Up. To read more about how that happened, see Part 1. I am so thankful to @ks44, @macon44, and @brianforde for organizing the event on behalf of the President’s staff and including regular folks in the State of the Union event.  It means a lot to those of us rather disillusioned with politics…gives me hope that things can modernize, change, and be just a tad more inclusive.

50 or so of us met up at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and were escorted to a small auditorium where we watched the State of the Union address live (the super-awesome enhanced version with stats, graphs, etc.).  The experience of watching the speech live with a group of engaged, smart people was really great.  I think it would be spectacular for local libraries to hold SOTU Tweet-Ups (for other major local and national political events too).

The whole lot of us had our phones, tablets, and laptops out and were live-Tweeting the event.  You can see the #whtweetup Tweets. The live stream was fascinating.  The biggest laugh happened after the President made his pretty bad milk joke and was smiling big, and the cameras cut to a row of Republicans looking as sour as all get out.  Whoever was directing the cut-edits should get an award, because that was priceless.  Several of his comments got “oohs” and “aahs” from the audience, some elicited muttered grumbling, and others got full on rounds of applause (e.g. the statement that women should get equal pay).  I just tried to Tweet out what mattered to me, what stuck out in my mind.

After the State of the Union, Macon Phillips (@macon44) served as MC for the event. A dozen or so questions got asked and answered–sent in by either people online or asked by those of us in the audience.  Lots of interesting questions, tons of engaged people in that audience, and some good stuff from people online too.  The event was live broadcast on and you can see the archived version here (and below).  Although I never got picked to ask my question (I raised my hand repeatedly, as did many others), I did get on camera several times (inc. right around the 24 minute mark where the guy behind me asked his question).

If I’d gotten to ask my question, here’s what it would have been (cribbed in large part from the Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Susan Hildreth’s, suggestion):

The President mentioned in his address that local institutions like community colleges and schools are essential to training a successful future workforce for America.  Libraries are also critical to these local efforts because our entire mission is to democratize information and expertise. Nowhere else can anyone in any community get free access to books and periodicals, computers and the internet, and technology and skills training, to either pursue education or find a job.  We librarians have a lot of great ideas about how communities can support and leverage libraries to meet the administration’s goals. How can we best collaborate with you on this?

So hey, if anyone wants to answer that question we’re all still listening. 🙂

There are more live online events with Obama and his administration all week — see the schedule here. You can send in your questions too — so take this chance and participate!

I am writing from Washington D.C. where I just toured the White House and met with the U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, and tonight will be live-Tweeting the State of the Union from next door to the White House and then having a Q&A session with senior officials from the Obama Administration.  You can follow the Tweets of our whole group all day at #whtweetup.  Our Tweets about the State of the Union tonight will also be tagged with #sotu.

A few days ago, I thought I’d be at my library today working on statistics.  Big thanks to San Rafael‘s City Manager Nancy Mackle for letting me take a few days off last minute! So, what happened?  Why am I not at my desk, drinking espresso, and looking at spreadsheets until my eyes cross?

State of the Union Tweet-Up: The White House Twitter account (@whitehouse) posted a contest of sorts for people to be selected to attend this official State of the Union Tweet-Up.  The contest was only open for 24 hours, and you just had to fill out a brief form and describe in 140 characters why you’d be a good people’s representative.  Because of the low barrier to entry for this once in a lifetime experience, I entered.  I wrote something about being a librarian and how libraries are centers for technology access and digital civic engagement.  And then a couple of days later–boom! In my inbox, a message with the White House logo and the following text: “Congratulations! You’ve been selected to attend the State of the Union Tweetup at the White House…” To be frank, I first thought it was spam.  I mean, really…the White House emailing me?  Those of us who were selected can find no common thread in why we’d be picked–different political beliefs, professions, ages, interests, etc. We’re guessing it was either random or that they were aiming for diversity, but in any case–who cares? I’m at the White House!

Getting my California Self to D.C.: I scrambled to get last minute plane tickets and hotel reservations, and then submitted my information to get security clearance (I was a little nervous about that part).  Without even knowing if I had passed the security process, I boarded a plane from San Francisco to DC.  Weirdly, the other Bay Area representative (@darryl_davis from Oakland) was on my same flight (thank you Southwest for your comparatively cheap last minute seats).  Only three people that we know from west of the Mississippi were chosen and were able to come.  @brentpliskow made a nice map with everyone’s locations.  I love my fellow nerds and our use of technology to share information.

White House Tour: This morning we got a tour of the White House.  I’d never been before, so it was super neat to see the rooms and hallways you often see in photographs of official events.  It is indeed much smaller than one might think.  I got to see Bo (the first family’s dog) being brought in the front door (the front door!) presumably after a walk and bathroom break.  My favorite parts were getting to see the White House Library and seeing the hallway that you often see the President walk down before an address (you know…this one).

Aneesh Chopra and Mike Krieger: Soon after that, a smaller group of us got to have a meeting with Aneesh Chopra, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, other technology advisor folks, and a surprise visit with Mike Krieger (@mikeyk), co-founder of Instagram.  Each of them spoke for a while (The administration is doing a ton of stuff with open government which is awesome, and Instagram is building an Android app, thank ba-jeezus), then they took our questions.  I jumped in with the second question and asked how the administration planned to address the failed system of copyright in a digital media age, particularly the restrictive DMCA, and cited how some vendors refuse to sell digital content to libraries.  Chopra’s practiced very political response was that copyright was a macro-policy issue, and then he talked about the administration’s work on sharing and open data standards through leading by example–their work on the Learning Registry and other open education and data initiatives (check out all the stuff at  He did use the phrase “metadata standards,” which literally made me shiver.  I guess I am a true librarian nerd girl at heart (as if there was any doubt)!  Other questions asked about healthcare records, open data standards, SOPA and PIPA, broadband, delegating some of the wireless spectrum to public safety officials, resources for primary education, and more.  It came across as truly practiced messaging.  I suppose that’s to be expected.  Chopra comes off as one of the most laid back, approachable, and excited government officials I’ve ever met.  If only I could muster that much jump-for-joy enthusiasm every day! We did get to hear more about what initiatives are being done by the administration, all good stuff and seriously a departure from the tech-resistant Bush administration.  Open government, open data, and open education are all important philosophies for libraries to embrace and share with their residents and users.

State of the Union: Tonight a larger group of us (we think 50 at this point?) will meet up at the White House Complex (the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to be exact) to watch the State of the Union address, and live-Tweet the SOTU and our reactions to it.  After the address, a panel of senior advisors in the Obama administration will do a Q&A session with all of us Tweet-Up folks, also taking questions via Twitter and Facebook.  Learn more about how to participate at the SOTU website.  I do have to give big props to the administration for using social media in a really useful way.  They’re taking questions via Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and YouTube, and having live interactions with not only the POTUS but also his advisors all week.  Really making themselves accessible is pretty commendable in my opinion.

I’ll try to write more when the SOTU event is over tonight if I am still awake 🙂  In the meantime, I want to say how thankful I am to those who have sent in questions for me to ask, and how thankful I am that I was chosen.  This is truly a surreal experience…just being near people with this much influence into the nation’s direction makes me giddy.  I know that sounds all stupid naive fan-girl and what not, but I’ll put aside my bad ass image for a moment and just admit it–whether you care about politics or not, whether you like this administration or not, being even marginally involved in the democratic process like this is pretty freaking cool.

Below are photos from today so far. I’ll be adding to the set later.