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Writing as a new [web] librarian

For someone who doesn’t publish (at least not on work time), I’ve spent a tremendous amount of my work time—and a fair bit of non-work time—reading and writing, lately. I am trying to pull together a plan for my library’s web presence, and because I work with a bunch of librarians, it can’t just be a good plan; it also needs to point to research that backs up its main arguments. (Forgive me for sounding snarky. While it’s awfully tedious finding research to cite, to make some very basic points, e.g. “the site has to be usable by novices,” I actually do think it’s important to use research when making decisions. In a library, especially.)

Earlier this year I had my whole Web Team read Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think and discuss it chapter-by-chapter, which has already made us better advocates for our users. And the library’s Assessment Team, entirely(?) separately from the Web Team, has also started couching their discussions in terms of what the library’s users want and need. The whole organization is getting a lot more friendly to UX-type principles, though there are, of course, still folks who want to rely on their own instincts and think mostly in terms of what they like. (But even in the UXiest places, that happens. I catch myself doing it, too, sometimes.) Maybe more accurately, a number of people still think library websites are different, in some fundamental way, from everything else on the web; they think that they are normal users; and they think that the library website is for them as much as it is for students. The rest of the Web Team, at least, have disabused themselves of all of these notions, and that has helped us have much better discussions.

So, things are good. If there’s ever been a time for me to write down the plan I’ve been following, in developing the web presence—and my intentions for its future—this is it. We’re ready to discuss it. Not only that, but I’m ready to discuss it.

In related news, I’m ready to discuss more web-related stuff on this blog, too.

A confession…

I’ve written before about how my organization has changed in the time I’ve been here. I have also changed—developed, really—and my relationship to the organization has changed.

My position felt kind of awkward and precarious, early on. I came into my current job as a brand new library school graduate (yes, I had shown plenty of competence, working on multi-million dollar projects, before library school; but I had never been a librarian—you know how librarians can be about ignoring non-library experience—and while I had a fair amount of web experience and know-how, I hadn’t technically been a professional web designer/developer before, either). New though I was, I was also in this major leadership position—not just as chair of the Web Team, but as primary architect and construction crew for the library’s web presence, or, as I came to see my role, the primary advocate for the website user. On top of that, the majority of the library faculty is very experienced, and most of them have been at this library for a while; new librarians were, well, kind of new for them.

I want to clarify that I’m not laying this on my coworkers’ shoulders. What I’m describing is my perception of the situation, and I fully acknowledge that my perception may have been wrong. My position may never have been as tenuous as it felt; I’m a worrier, in all aspects of my life, and things are usually better than I perceive them. But it felt as if my coworkers did not trust me or my knowledge of web best practices (even in retrospect, it still feels like I was right about that), and it felt as if there was no room for me to try things and fail (this may or may not be true). With all the collected experience and knowledge around me (and with some organizational history that I won’t go into, here—nothing juicy; it’s just not part of my main point), I felt especially precarious.

I’ve been reflecting on all of this while doing the tons of reading/research/gathering sources necessary to write my Web Plan, because, for one thing, my blog doesn’t look like other web librarians’ blogs. There are all of these folks out there, writing about the things they know and the things they’re learning. And I’ve been reticent to do that, about web stuff. Yes, I write about being a new librarian all the time, but I shy away from writing about being a new web librarian. And, sure, “what have I got to contribute to the field at large?” is one source of my [continued] hesitation. But I have also been afraid to acknowledge what I don’t know or am just now learning, because, honestly, I didn’t feel that I was in a position where I really could.

Maybe I still shouldn’t, but spoiler: I’m going to, anyway. First, it feels disingenuous when I fail to blog about my primary job function and how I’m going about getting better at it. Second, I know more about this stuff than my colleagues (my department head is a former Web Services Librarian, but we hash out our disagreements early in the process, so he doesn’t count). Compared to the rest of the library, I’m an expert, even though, compared to the whole field of web librarianship, I’m very much not. I get that, and I’m OK with it. (I’ll get there; you just watch!) On one hand, I’m not sure whether or not my colleagues are OK with it, you know?

On the other hand, there will be this Web Plan, which will let me show off more of what I know, or at least that I’ve done a ton of research, in the process of formulating my opinion about where the web presence needs to go. Also, I got word back from the library committee about my faculty file, and they rated me as “successful,” which means that at least five of my peers acknowledge my work as being at the level it needs to be, to get tenure. (“Successful” is exactly the rating you need, to get tenure after five years. To get that rating after only three years feels good.)

So my whole point, here, is that I finally feel like there’s enough evidence that I’m good at my job and an expert, relative to the rest of the library, that I have the wiggle room required to publicly say “Hey, I just learned this today!” More succinctly, I finally feel secure enough to share my insecurities. And that’s a nice feeling.

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