Mass Library System Conference Announced

24 Mar

If you are a Massachusetts librarian who is thinking about innovation and failure, you want to attend the Mass Library Association’s annual conference.  The theme this year is Fail Fast and Prosper.  The focus is on innovators who are not afraid of failure.  Some interesting things are being discussed by keynote speakers.  These are topics I have mentioned here and others I have not yet written about.  For example, Dr. Valerie Young is the morning keynote speaker and she is an expert on Imposter Syndrome.

The organizers are seeking to inspire librarians.  If you are a MA librarian, I encourage you to go.

Learn more and register

Goal Setting: The Rule Versus The Exception to the Rule

9 Mar

I attended a fiction writing workshop this weekend.  Three local writers talked to a group of 10 people about their experience as writers.  It went in an interesting direction.  In my experience with author talks, most people want to know how they succeeded in getting published.  From elements like how often they write and how much they write in a sitting to how they found an agent or editor.  This talk turned into a discussion that focused on two things.  First, how much authors have to be involved in the success of their book.  Second, how these three men saw success.

The more the three men talked about understanding success as an author, the more I connected it to my experiences outside of writing.  All three were local writers.  Of them, only one had ever worked with a major publisher.  Another had become a publisher in order to get published.  He had published work by the other two panelists.  I took away a strong sense in modern times an author who gets picked up by a major publisher is the exception, not the rule.  The small publishers and the self-publishers are seeing volume and quality without high sales.  The publisher mentioned one book he had been very excited about and thought was wonderful, but had only sold 1 copy.

It reminded me that the big success stories we hear about are often the exception and not the rule.  We don’t often hear about the cases where success happened, but wasn’t so big.  We almost never hear about the failures.  As a result we set goals based on the exception.  It creates expectations that are far from realistic.  Yes, it is a goal to want to be the next Stephen King, but is that a realistic goal? How do you take that goal and make it realistic?  For me, I break the goal down and think about what I want.  Then I think about the rule rather than the exception.  What is the benchmark?

Another example, I go up for tenure in the fall.  I am looking at my colleagues in the library who were awarded tenure in the past 3 years.  I want to see what they did for grants, presentations, and publications.  I am looking at the rule, not the exceptions.  I am not looking at people who went above and beyond, people outside of my institution (or even outside of my department), or people who over achieved.  I am looking at what is expected and what has been successful before.  It requires talking to others and asking them questions.  Before I can set my goal, I explore the whole goal.  Why?  So I can succeed.  I don’t need to be the best, I just don’t want to fail.

How do you set goals?  Do you look to the rule or to the exception?

It May Technially Be A Fail: Continued Evaluation of the Edit-A-Thons

23 Feb

As of today I am done with 3 out of 4 Wikipedia edit-a-thons.  I didn’t say anything after the January one because it was still too early to make any judgements.  The thing is, this has been one of the snowiest winters ever for Massachusetts.  There were weeks in the past month when I was at work 1 day a week.  While some things could be done at home, many could not.  The snow started the day before the January edit-a-thon and the it finally seems to be calming down now that the February edit-a-thon has happened.  We have book-ended more than 111 inches of snow in Lowell.  It is crazy.

With that in mind, here is a comparison of the 3 events so far.

1) Attendance

  • December: 8 people
  • January: 7 people
  • February: 5 people

2) New vs. Experienced Editors

  • December: all 8 of us were experienced editors
  • January: 5 of us were experienced editors, 1 new person created an account, 1 new person worked anonymously
  • February: 3 of us were experienced editors with account, 1 of us was the same anonymous user, 1 new person created an account

3) General Public vs. Students

  • December: all of us were general public
  • January: 4 of us were general public and 2 were students
  • February: 4 of us were general public and 1 was a student

4) Local vs. State/Region

  • December: 5 of 8 were not local
  • January: 2 of 7 were not local
  • February: all 5 of us were local

Other observations

  • The students who attended all have experience editing and extensive resumes within Wikipedia
  • In December members of the New England Wikipedia community attended, they have not come to the subsequent ones even though invited.
  • We are getting a good mix of men to women, but more women are coming.
  • Training has been best done one on one rather than as a large group.
  • We have realized that 6 hours may be too much time.  By hour 4 people get tired and want to go.
  • Once a month may be too often to run these.
  • Only a few people came to more than one session and, other than the coordinators, nobody has come to all three.

We are getting the hang of running them, that is the easy part.  It is the promotion and getting bodies.  At this last one we made a local contact who is interested in their being more done in the city to support these efforts.  We talked about how people think Wikipedia is a possible promotional tool.  It may mean some headway in future events like this.  The key is to also connect this to campus.  There is some interest in Wikipedia on campus and I am pretty sure I can be a leader in growing that as well as in shifting it to action (classes working in Wikipedia, teaching students research and writing using Wikipedia, etc.)

The problem is, none of these are our goals.  We wanted to train 20 people to edit Wikipedia.  So far we have trained 3 people.  Yes, those of us with experience are learning new things.  Yes, the local entries are improved, but we are realizing that our goal may have been too big.  We even thought we had lowered expectations.  I am beginning to really see how our difficulty with promotion and outreach is directly connected to this goal of 20 new editors.  It’s hard to set goals like this with any program.  Our group may be getting smaller, but local participation increases with each event.

The fact remains, it is still too early to decide if this is going to be a failure or a success.  It is time for us to think about how this could be a success even if it fails with our officially stated goal.  For now, I have to focus on building interest for our final session.  Hopefully the snow has stopped for a while and I can focus on what has to get done before the end of March.

What do you think about the success of failure of the edit-a-thons so far?

Rejection vs. Failure by Sara

21 Jan

I have been stuck in a rut for a few weeks.  Why?  Rejection.

Rejection is not failure.  Sometimes failure can lead to rejection, but let’s be clear: they are not the same.  So very often we see rejection as a failure.

Failure is typically something a person can own.  You can reflect and see where things went wrong and how to do things differently.  Rejection is on other people and you don’t always know why.

The most common example in libraries is the job rejection.  When I have job hunted in the past I was routinely rejected and often I had to assume I was rejected.  There are so many various reasons why in these cases: over qualified, under qualified, qualified but large candidate pool, you aren’t the right fit, and countless other reasons.

It is hard to control rejection.  If you are lucky, someone may be willing to tell you why and how you could have improved your chances.  Always ask for someone to help clarify, but don’t take it personally if they don’t.  That being said, don’t take the rejection personally (too much).  I add ‘too much’ because even the best of us falter a few steps after rejection.

I have written in the past about my love of a good wallow.  I find I am more inclined to do so after rejection rather than after failure.  I am coming off of three rejections so I have probably allowed myself more wallowing time than I should.  Rejection could be a sign that you are looking in the wrong place for what you want.  For example, one of my rejections was for scholarly publication of an article.  Yes, I was lucky to get feedback from the peer review committee.  I was able to use that feedback to re-think the article.  Other people asked me if I had submitted the article to the right journal.  I certainly submitted to one of the best by most measures, but that doesn’t mean it was the right place for my article.

There are other ways I deal with rejection, aside from wallowing.  In fact, writing this entry has been cathartic in a way.  I often need to put these things down on paper (or blog).  I have editing this entry over and over again – even dumped it a few times.  As I often feel, I don’t want this be all about me (although my experiences are the easiest ones to use).  How does it help anyone for me to simply complain.  By forcing myself to think of the big picture and about what readers may deal with, I found a path to getting out of my rejection funk a bit more.

I am not going to list tips on dealing with rejection.  There are plenty of webpages out there that can do that for you.  My only advice is be angry about it as long as you need to be, but work to move on.

Happy New Year! Look Back at 2014 by Sara

7 Jan

It has been almost a week since 2015 started.  Like almost everyone else, I see the new year as another chance to reflect on what has been going on: successes, failures, and things that can’t be classified as either.  I find that most of the things that happened in the past year can’t yet be classified.  That is OK.  It is in my nature to want to classify everything in some way.  I don’t know if that is my human nature or my librarian nature, but I have been trying to be comfortable with the idea of not having a bucket to put everything into.

What happened in 2014:

  • Rather than getting a full semester sabbatical at work, I was given a year long work load reduction in order to prepare for the tenure process.  This included focusing on getting some type of scholarly article published and a few others written (or simply researched).
  • I travelled extensively for work and for pleasure.  This included a trips to the UK and Portland, OR among others.
  • I presented at a conference about my Wikipedia research.  It kicked started the next round of Wikipedia research.
  • My participation in AdaCamp brought a lot of great topics and issues to my attention related to the work place, feminism, and impostor syndrome.
  • I was able to come back to writing in this blog, which I almost wrote off as a failure.  I am still trying to find the right voice here. A lot of entries get written and discarded when I realize they are not appropriate for this space.
  • I took the a failure (Wikipedia Edit-a-Thons), evaluated it, and turned it into something that may eventually be a success.

What is going on in 2015:

I wish I could create a list of goals and anticipated events for 2015.  My mind so very much wants to do it.  I always have a list of yearly goals.  This year, I don’t feel like I can commit anything to a list.  There is so much I want to happen.  I want to publish an article in a peer review journal; complete my Wikipedia research and write the article about it; apply for tenure confident that I will get it; and present at conferences.  At the same time, my life is in flux.  My priorities shifted a bit in 2014 in ways I have not discussed here.  I had epiphanies I regarding personal issues that require I re-evaluate everything in my world.  Part of this is why I didn’t write this entry before the end of the year.  I keep wondering what it is that I want to do with this blog in 2015.   So, I have come up with one goal related to this blog for 2015:

Write 1 entry a month

That is not to say I won’t write more.  I just want to make sure I share something once a month.  When I started writing here again over the summer I made a list of what I thought I would cover.  I think I got to most of them.  I am thinking about what I want to write about this year.  Hopefully I can do more than 1 entry a month though.  I just don’t want to commit myself to more than I can actually do.

Happy New Year to all my readers though and may this year be filled with more successes than failures.

Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon 48 Hour Evaluation: Was It A Success?

9 Dec

It has been a little over 48 hours since the first of 4 Wikipedia Edit-a-thons ended for my collaborator and me.  We are beginning to review what happened and learn from the experience.  What are the basics?

  1. We had a total of 8 people work all day at the event.
  2. There were at least 80 edits made through the day to entries that were not bureaucratic, user pages, or event pages.
  3. Of those 80 edits, about 34 were to unique entries with one person spending the day getting a new entry developed, but not yet published.
  4. Two people came in, but did not stay to edit.  I spoke with both. Both were local with minimal experience editing.  One came to learn more and help us promote the future sessions (which he hopes to attend) and the other thought it was going to be more conversational.  The later did not want to create an account and was anxious at the idea of people changing what he added.  It is a valid frustration and one that some people struggle to let go of.
  5. We had way too much food.  I have a dozen uneaten donuts at my house.  Anyone want one?
  6. No new editors joined us, but someone did participate remotely.

I know in my last post I thought I may be able to say if the edit-a-thon was a success or a failure.  In many ways I can say it was a success.  My biggest concern was that nobody would attend.  I really was afraid it would be my collaborator and myself (and her husband).  That other people attended (even if not all stayed) was a pretty big deal.  Our goal is not to just get people to attend, but to get the community to attend, create accounts, edit beyond the session, and come back to another session.  In this way,  I don’t think we can evaluate success until the end of the series.  I don’t even know if I can say this session was successful until we run the second session in January.  Will our experienced editors return?  Will our promotion gain more traction and have community members come?

All of these questions can’t be answered until January.

What I can tell you is that I feel successful.  Not only did people attend, but I gained more experience with outreach, community building, editing Wikipedia, and programming.  How so?

Promotion can often be like reaching out for solid footing in the dark.  You hope you are going to find the right step, but you don’t take a lot of risk.  We did all the things we already knew to do with the community: press releases.  I also worked a little with our campus PR office and hoped they could extend our reach.  One connection I took advantage of was to someone who is a local celebrity and social networker.  I asked him to blog about the event (which he did) and to speak about the event at a local social networking conference the day before the edit-a-thon.  Both my collaborator and I went to the social networking conference (I live tweeted it on @sara_marks if you want to see my thoughts).  We met people, gained some Twitter followers, promoted the event, and talked it up in conversation.  While it didn’t stick enough for the next day, it may impact the future session.  The hope is to turn this into a community of editors so the more we talk about it to the same groups of people, the more stickiness the message will get.

My editing at the event started with my typical efforts to connect people to library resources on topics.  I primarily focus on adding a library tool box to entries, but then I discovered Milton Bradley (of the board game fame) grew up in Lowell.  I adopted the entry and focused quite a bit of my day cleaning it up.  I reorganized, added citations, searched for patents, and became a wee bit obsessed with the entry.  I anticipated being free to help train new editors, but since there were only experienced editors in attendance, I felt free to lose myself to an entry.

In the end I think the first edit-a-thon was a personal success, but not yet a full success.  The next session is on January 25th so until then we are going to take some of the things we learned (it’s a long list that I won’t share yet) and apply them to making the January session more successful.

Librarian Fails: Trying Again by Sara

1 Dec

You may recall that one time I failed when I tried to run a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon on campus in 2012.  That was almost exactly two years ago.  The central reason I failed was because I had no idea what I was doing.  I had not understood how to do it and what the campus was ready to do.  I had ideas on how to move forward, but was too immersed in other projects to really make it happen.  Such is often the case with professional failures.  That all changed in January when I met a local public librarian who wanted to know more about hosting Wikipedia edit-a-thons.  I shared my failures and suggested we collaborate.  What came from it has been a dominate feature in the past 6 months of my life and my first real attempt to learn from a failure and use the lesson to be successful.

I will probably share the details of this second attempt over the next few posts.  There have been many aspects of the process of planning that have been helpful at setting us up for success rather than failure.  The heart of that set up has been in the Wikimedia Foundation.  For those who don’t know, the Wikimedia Foundation is the parent organization that runs Wikipedia.  You will often see them asking you to donate money to Wikipedia.  That money is used to fund a lot of amazing programs including edit-a-thons around the world.  We decided to apply for them to fund our edit-a-thons- primarily the food we wanted to have available.  Any good academic knows: if you offer food they are more likely to come.  When asking people to spend 6-7 hours at a library you want to make sure they have something to fuel them.

The grant application process has been one of the most exciting parts of the planning process.  You can actually see our application.  There were two things built into the application and discussion of the project that are designed to help us success.  First, you will see we are actually asked to discuss resources and risks.  Resources are aspects that will help improve our chances of success.  Included is our knowledge of open access, our local connections and community building experience, our involvement in Wikipedia, and resources available.  Risks are reasons we may fail.  We specifically mention our past failure as a reason this may fail.  We give our granting body a real idea of how successful the program will be.

Second, there is a discussion about the grant until a decision is made.  We got support from editors we have met at other events, the WikiMedia foundation members asked questions, and there were requests made.  We were specifically asked to get an experienced Wikipedian to attend the event to make sure we have someone who understood policies and technical things.  In fact, this was the most important request made for us.  The point is to make sure we are able to get repeat public participation in editing Wikipedia and attending the other sessions.

Does that mean we will actually be successful?  I have no idea, but I hope so.  A few people have registered, promotion has been strong and we aren’t pushing the program to the students just yet (finals have started).  Even if session 1 isn’t as successful as we want, we have three more to improve with.  Watch for more next Monday when I tell you how we did and why.


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