A journey back to the world I know

Most of my adult life has been spent working in academic libraries. In 2005 I took a different path and moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina where I lived the expat life while writing and starting a design studio with my wife. It was a fun eight years. I loved exploring the city of Buenos Aires and many of my experiences there, particularly from 2005 – 2007 are reflected in my blog Buenos Aires, City of Faded Elegance.

In addition to the design studio, along the way I co-founded a company to publish travel guides but that didn’t quite work out for me. I taught myself Objective-C and made a good living developing iOS apps for iPhone and iPad. During that time I also became a father. That was a good life but something was missing: the excitement of being part of a larger profession that I enjoyed as a librarian.

As a librarian in higher education I always felt that I was doing more than just trying to make my way through the world however I could. When my mother passed away last November I returned to the U.S. for the first time in five years. Maybe it was the loss and grief but I felt a sense that I wanted to return to America to live. And if I was going to live and work in the U.S. then returning to librarianship was a natural thought. Upon returning to Argentina I set those thoughts aside.

One Saturday in January I casually checked the job ads for librarians and saw a position about “innovative media” that intrigued me. That triggered the thought process and soon I knew this next phase of my life would be about libraries. I wondered if I could pick up my career again after an 8 year absence. Turns out that it wasn’t difficult at all. After sending out a set of applications I had three interviews scheduled in early March. I flew up to the U.S. and embarked an exciting period of interviews and catching up with colleagues that I had worked with in the past. Last week I started my new job as Associate Dean of University Libraries at Seton Hall.

I’m very excited to be a librarian again. Actually, I always considered myself a librarian even when I did not work in a library. This profession is a major part of who I am. I will always be a librarian.


100 tips for a library technology manager

First posted in 2006 during the first incarnation of this blog. Thought it was time for a re-post. 

A librarian I once supervised is now heading the systems and digital services department at a mid-size academic library. I’ve recently been e-mailing him some suggestions and things to keep in mind for managing technology in an academic library.

Over a ten-year period of managing library technology, I learned some of these the hard way. Some are rudimentary, some are more subtle. I thought that I would share these items (not necessarily listed in any order) for others to take or leave, as they find useful:

1. Hire good people and stay out of their way.

2. Hire for aptitude, the ability to learn new skills and not just based on a person’s current capabilities.

3. Don’t expect every person to work the same way that you work.

4. Don’t make assumptions (remember the first three letters of that word).

5. Encourage systems staff to learn a new skill every 6 months.

6. Ensure that learning time is built into everyone’s work schedule.

7. Have a white board by the department door that staff can use to indicate if they’re out of the office, at a meeting,  working on the 2nd floor, or at lunch.

8. Everything a person needs to know about technology can be found through reading a book or on the Internet.

9. No one is born knowing everything about technology.

10. A Unix wizard (or any other kind of techno wizard) is not someone who knows everything there is to know but someone who knows how to find what he or she needs to know when needed.

11. Make sure there is a backup plan for servers and desktops.

12. Backups of servers should be stored off-site, preferably with a data storage service and not in someone’s bedroom. Test the backups to make sure that files actually can be recovered and loaded onto the system again.

13. Desktop support is a critical function that must receive higher priority than any digital project.

14. Have a multi-year plan for upgrading, replacing computers throughout the library. Not planning this in advance is a huge oversight.

15. Providing the best desktop support will help gain support from others in the library for more exciting digital projects.

16. Occasionally, you may have to remind people that the library is not a hospital; lives will not be lost if a system crashes. But, if the OPAC or Web site goes down, make it a priority over everything else.

17. Follow the lead of the campus IT division.

18. Become friends and supporters of campus IT and not their adversary,

19. Let campus IT handle the core functions, such as security and networking.

20. Encourage the systems staff to meet regularly with their counterparts in campus IT.

21. If campus IT has a standard configuration for desktops, then use it unless the library has extraordinary desktop support staff of its own.

22. But even if you use the campus IT desktop configuration, have your own dedicated desktop support staff who can respond immediately to problems within the library.

23. Use the campus e-mail system rather than an e-mail server managed entirely by the library. (Is any academic library still going it alone with their e-mail?)

24. If the campus has a centralized file storage service, then use it rather than having the library manage its own Windows/Novell file servers. (Is any academic library still using its own file servers? Novell NetWare: now that’s a technology from the past.)

25. Consolidating certain services with campus IT allows library systems staff to focus on technologies specific to the library.

26. Work hard to build collaborations with whatever academic technology center exists on campus.

27. Many academic departments will have a negative opinion of campus IT; the library can be a bridge between those two areas, liked and respected by both.

28. Remember that you are not in a competition. You are not competing with other computing groups on campus or with other libraries in the country. You’re just trying to provide the best library services to the faculty and students at your institution.

29. There are always new users.

30. The systems department exists to support the needs of the library, providing a support function to other library departments.

31. Develop a staff training plan for each person.

32. Find projects where staff can incrementally develop their skills.

33. Setup a developmental server, a sandbox.

34. At conferences spend more time in the exhibit hall speaking to vendors and other librarians than sitting in a dark room listening to a presentation that you can download from the Internet.

35. Invest in your own development, including using some of your own personal funds for travel so that you can attend more events. (Priceline is really useful for hotels).

36. Don’t always stay at the conference hotel; enjoy walking a few blocks from your hotel to the conference hotel so that you have a bit of time to appreciate the town you’re visiting.

37. Learn about project management but don’t obsess over project management tools.

38. Process is important but don’t let a process get in the way.

39. Old but faithful: Treat people the way you want to be treated.

40. Be prepared for your library director to have questions and new ideas whenever he or she returns from a conference.

41. Don’t ever let anyone tell you there is not money; there is always funding if you know how to ask for it. You must justify it within the context of competing needs within the library. Plus, remember, that the library director must justify it before the provost within the context of competing needs within the university.

42. Learn to say no.

43. The library director doesn’t want to see more than a 1 page report. Learn to summarize, write in bullet points, outlines that can be scanned quickly.

44. Don’t bring problems to the director, bring solutions.

45. Three of the most important people in the library: the director’s secretary, the business officer, and the person who orders equipment, software, supplies.

46. Learn the names of the senior university officials and what they look like.

47. Develop plans for strategic accomplishments, think in terms of 18 – 24 months.

48. Have an excellent understanding of the university’s budget cycle.

49. Know in which month the library director makes his or her case to the university administration for the following fiscal year’s budget. (Usually in January or February).

50. June and July is too late to be thinking up ideas for new initiatives for the upcoming academic year. (Prepare those proposals before the budget requests are due).

51. But, sometimes new ideas come along: it’s easier to get funding very early in the fiscal year, but don’t wait too long.

52. Around March always be prepared for the availability of end-of-yearing funding for one-time purchases.

53. In the 2nd half of the fiscal year recognize that the budget is tight, so don’t make many unexpected requests.

54. Understand the difference between one-time and recurring costs.

55. Understand personnel costs, including the fringe percentage that is added to salary (often between 24% – 30%).

56. Prepare for budget presentations to the library management.

57. Present realistic budget requests but include throw aways since administrators always want to cut something from the budget. (Just don’t be extravagant and overload the request with things that are clearly not needed.)

58. Be ready to explain the purpose of every item on a budget request.

59. Realize that your budget requests are not the only concerns of the library; you have to share the funding with other library departments.

60. The objectives and goals of the systems department follows those of the library, which follows those of the university.

61. Read the university’s strategic plan.

62. Try to get involved in the university’s strategic planning process.

63. Become a leader in the library’s planning process.

64. Meet regularly one-on-one (formally or informally) with every department head within the library.

65. Learn to bounce ideas off other department heads and managers before approaching the director (or assistant director).

66. Never make a proposal to the library management group before you already have acquired the support of at least two other department heads.

67. Old but useful: carefully choose which battles you want to fight.

68. Leadership comes from a person’s quality to inspire and motivate, not from one’ position.

69. Practice leadership from below.

70. Don’t lead by intimidation.

71. Don’t refer to people who work for you as my staff. (They have names).

72. Don’t ever refer to yourself as someone’s boss, especially in front of that person.

73. On the first day of work for a new employee in your department, take him or her for lunch to a nice place that is off-campus. You pay.

74. On an employee’s first day give him or her a tour of the library and introduce each person by name.

75. Listening is a very important skill.

76. Ensure that the people in the systems department have a good workspace, good chairs, furniture, and that there are always plenty of office supplies.

77. Reference is a key department within the library; work to keep the head of reference on your side, regardless of your personal opinion of him or her. (Apologies to heads of collection development, cataloging, acquisitions, circulation, and every other department head. You’re important, too.)

78. No library can do everything. Carefully decide which services and technologies that you want to pursue and make those decisions in collaboration with other stakeholders in the library.

79. It only takes a couple of good people for a library to do remarkable things with technology.

80. Encourage the library to develop professional positions that takes the technologists out of the systems office and into other parts of the library.

81. Your authority has nothing to do with the number of people you supervise.

82. Foster awareness of digital technologies through regular seminars, presentations, or discussions to everyone working in the library.

83. Plan for redundant responsibilities among staff (i.e., the in case someone gets hit by a bus scenario).

84. Learn to let go, especially if you delegated a task to someone.

85. Not everyone will do a task the same way you would have done it, but he or she will usually do a good job.

86. Some people just need more structured supervision than others and that’s okay.

87. Even talented employees occasionally need more structured supervision on some assignments than others, particularly if the tasks are in an area that is entirely new to the person. (Don’t fault him or her for that).

88. For some people, working in the library will simply be a job and not a career. Learn to accept that and value their contribution.

89. Help your colleagues understand the possibilities of technologies for developing new library services but also keep their expectations close to what can be accomplished.

90. Look for best practices at other institutions.

91. Work yourself out of a job. You know you’ve been successful when you’re no longer needed.

92. Don’t stress over organizational conflict.

93. Most organizational problems stem from miscommunications.

94. Staff sometimes will need to meet with you in order to vent and express their frustrations with a co-worker. That’s necessary but also encourage the person to think about the work at hand, the objectives and not personality issues.

95. Never make a  decision or take an action based on hearsay; second-hand information is the most dangerous element in an organization.

96.  All of us are always learning how to do our jobs, even library directors and assistant directors. Don’t agonize over every word spoken by a library director. Sometimes, he or she is just thinking aloud.

97. Likewise, the systems staff will pay attention to every utterance you make and may at times misconstrue an innocent remark.

98. When socializing with people in your department remember that they never forget that you are their supervisor. So socialize but don’t expect them to be your buddy.

99. Read the Path of Lease Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life. Read it twice.

100. As a librarian you’re making a wonderful contribution to the world, but remember to find time for enjoying your own life.

Article as the future of TV

Remember that the word TV is used in many ways. This is about how we use TVs: we watch TV & quite often we watch informative, learning channels. is a subscription-based site providing software training through video tutorials structured in courses that are mostly several hours in length. I’ve used the site off-and-on for over ten years, and it’s a great way to learn how to use software from either a beginner level to advanced, in-depth techniques. With over 83,000 videos packed in more than 1,300 courses is truly a fantastic way to learn. Course is not quite the right word. Considering that a topic may be covered in anywhere from 25 minutes to 15 hours the terms class or workshop is more appropriate.

A couple years ago branched beyond software training with additional content that includes creative skills (e.g., design, photography, video production) and even soft business skills (e.g., leading a productive meeting,  becoming a thoughtful leader).  Even more intriguing are the documentaries with typographic artisans, children book illustrators, and other creative topics. has evolved into an entertainment channel, like those specialized channels on cable TV. But with you have the choice of which series to watch & when to tune in. even keeps track of what you watch in case you want to go back and view an episode again. isn’t available through any cable TV package. You subscribe directly on the Website, and it’s not inexpensive with a starting rate of $25 per month. has entered the future of TV without ever promoting itself as such. is a definitive model that can form the basis for other vertical niches. The potential is enormous.

This is the future of entertainment for those who entertain themselves by wanting to learn about the world. Its mixture of educational and documentary programming surpasses anything found on today’s cable TV packages. One step further: is the future of many non-fiction books, particularly the how-to type of book.

Evidence that is onto something big: after many succesful years they just accepted their first round of external funding. With over $100 million to expand, keep an eye on how is transforming online learning into an educational entertainment product.

To get a glimpse as to how plans on utilizing this funding take a look at Robert Scoble’s interview with the founders of, Lynda Weinman & Bruce Heavin.  A few highlights:

Lynda Weinman describes that the new funding will be used in three ways:

  1. expanding content through creating new categories and going deeper into existing categories
  2. improving the delivery platform
  3. expanding internationally

Online learning is a hot market. Lynda says, there are “lots of flavors of online learning….We think we’re in the infancy of this industry & there is a lot of room for a lot of different angles on how to attack the problem, and part of the problem is that we don’t all learn the same way, that we don’t all have the same learning needs. (5:33 mark in the video).

Lynda Weiman had been involved in teaching since the late 1980s. She says it’s all about teaching but now there are different form factors for delivering the instruction. Her partner Bruce Heavin says, “The business model may have changed over the years from writing books, to renting classrooms, to selling VHS cassetts and DVDs, to eventualy making this online library, but the constant was teaching and education.” (23:00)

Note how the starting of rose from Lynda publishing the first book on Web design in 1996, which also was a time when people traveled to attend conferences to learn about new techniques in Web design and development. Scoble describes the quasi-entertainment factor: “Something’s going on here. We used to go to conferences…now we watch TV on our big screens and we can get the same quality. I personally like it a lot better, I have a comfortable seat here, I can stop a video, go get a drink.” Then he glances over to a line of books, “You’re competing with these things. Used to be a I brought a lot of O’Reilly Books.”

Bruce responds, “I don’t know if we’re really competing against books. I think we’re a splinter, kind of like how radio and TV splintered..just splintered different ways to get information….We’re seeing the change where people are going into video and want to see things in their living room and we think that’s huge.” (17:40)

Lynda describes their content that is not training specific, and I suspect this area will get a significant push with their new funding, “Sometimes it’s not the tool at all. It’s how you tell the story, how you make a composition, how you create emotion around something, how you negotiate, how you make something compelling. We’ve actually gotten into these soft skills as well as the tools, as well as inspiring documentaries. We’ve made 30 of them…our members just love that kind of material.” (20:45)

That material fulfills an entertainment need for many us. Learning and entertainment are not incompatible.


Why not tee shirts?

In any talk of books some person in the audience will rise and shout, “No! You’re all wrong. Books are this…” and then proceed to argue for one approach that must encompass all. With a discussion of digital books the argument usually is that all text must be reflowable and that fixed layout is an inherently bad, archaic practice carried over from print. Often inserted is the admonition regarding layout design, “You don’t need it.”

In no way am I ever saying all books should become apps.

In no way am I ever saying that prose is unsuitable.

In no way am I ever saying that reflowable e-books are bad for textual narratives.

In no way am I ever saying that all non-fiction must be comprised of multimedia.

One format doesn’t fit all needs any more than tee shirts fit every occasion.

Sure, a guy with a tee shirt, and likely a beard, is exclaiming somewhere that there’s no reason for anyone to wear anything other than a tee shirt. And, in fact, one could make a reasonable argument that there is absolutely no reason why garments other than tee shirts need to exist. Want to dress up formally? A tee shirt with a fake tux on the front could do. Want a dress? Just wear a long tee shirt. And on and on. But the fashion industry has found a way to carry on and prosper despite the utility and low cost of the tee shirt. The publishing industry will do the same. Likewise, there’s a lot of money to be made in tee shirts; lots of money to be made in reflowable e-books. But we know stories can be told with other garments as well.


Creativity ^ Recording audio with your iPhone

A portable digital audio device is something I need occasionally and have wondered how to use my iPhone for that purpose. Thanks to this week’s free DSLR video tip movie from I learned a couple of quick tips about apps, cables, and external mics for the iPhone.

Plus, I really want to go back and look at all those DSLR video tips from Rich Harrington & Robbie Carman.

External Mics

Audio is only as good as the input. That means you need a good mic. I’ve heard about Blue Mic for a while. The Mikey is customized as a portable mic solution for iPhones & iPads.  It will cost you about $80 – $100, depending upon the retailer. Here’s a detailed review of the Mikey with photos of it attached to an iPhone.


Looks like Pro Audio To Go is the best of breed app for field recording. At $29.99 it’s an expensive app, but an iOS developer myself I can tell you that I’m sure a tremendous amount of work went into that product.  Here’s a review.


Got to have the right cables. I’m always getting confused on line in, XLR and other cable sites. Still looking for a good site that clearly explains what cable to use & when.


a think about | self-publishing like an artisan & an entrepreneur

I’ve not yet read one of Guy Kawasaki’s books but many people have, especially those interested in entrepreneurship & startups. Alan Rinzler over at The Book Deal blog recommends Kawasaki’s latest book: APE, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur . How to Publish a Book.

Rinzler explains that Kawasaki has coined the term artisanal publishing to describe a form of self-publishing where the author lovingly crafts a book without the restrictions of traditional publishing. I wholeheartedly agree with that approach.

I don’t mean for this post to be a promo plug but it’s relevant to this very topic: my wife is a book designer. Her clients are almost exclusively self-published. They all seek her out because they want a particular style cover or page layout. And she stays fully booked (which is why she hasn’t blogged in almost two years). I’ve closely observed the process and interaction between her and the authors. Many of those authors are clearly entrepreneurs and have been successful with their books (as success is defined by them). Others have been a bit naive about the challenges of marketing. It’s clear in their discussions with the designer that these authors really care about making a wonderful book. All of them embrace the spirit of artisanal publishing. And, I have to say, that my wife is pleased and satisfied to give them a lovely designed book.

Any great product takes a team, finally. Often the author, though, isn’t the best person to manage that process. Some authors can’t make decisions or they want to try everything. That brings up where the author needs to act like an entrepreneur. Self-publishing is a process that needs to be managed. Craft your book, be careful about who you hire, but trust the professionals you engage to aid you in the publishing process.

That brings up Rinzler’s lament that Kawasaki doesn’t even bring up the topic of a developmental editor. I totally agree with Rinzler about the importance of a developmental editor. Unfortunately, many self-published authors are so emotionally invested in the manuscript they’ve written that they feel almost offended if an editor suggests changes. Sadly, that’s the behavior of an inexperienced writer (the very kind that most needs a developmental editor). Authors – listen up: an editor simply wants to help you make your book better. Really.


Understanding the possibilities: a key for strategic positioning

Ten years ago I wrote an article titled Understanding the Possibilities: A Key for Strategic Visioning. (The article is behind an expensive paywall if you’re not in academia, but if you’re really interested contact me and I’ll send you the text.)

2002 represented the ten-year mark in my career. I’m now at the twenty-year mark of my professional life, having transferred from managing library technology in a higher education environment to working with Internet-based startups.

That article reflected on the formation of my career as a librarian. My exposure to the early Internet before the Web existed, the days when a young technophile got excited by command-line tools such as Telnet & FTP that offered access to, what seemed at the time, like an amazing set of databases and documents.

I want to quote a couple of paragraphs from that article:

“Catching my attention one summer day in 1991 was a message that came across PACS-L titled “Strategic Visions White Paper: Librarianship, the Profession — Prelude to its Future”. Reading this message that summer while in library school helped me decide what type of librarian to become: one who embraced the challenges of leveraging technology that held the promise of developing new ways of accessing information resources and offering new services that matched the evolving needs of students and faculty. This focus became so ingrained in my thinking that it has defined my outlook on the profession.

“From this point everything I did as a librarian became a manner of understanding the possibilities. Innovative uses of technology come about when people see new ways of using the tools. These insights usually are made only once one understands the possibilities of the technology. An important role for librarians is to help others understand how technology can be used to enhance the spread of scholarship. But librarianship is not about technology. The academic librarian of today and the future can help faculty develop digital resources that offer students new means of utilizing information. Understanding the possibilities of being a librarian requires taking risks, trying something different, exhibiting the courage to fail, and learning from shortcomings in order to improve efforts for the next initiative.”

Though I’m no longer a librarian these thoughts still drive many of my efforts in thinking how digital publishing. Ultimately, my work is never about the technology but the story being told.


The years ahead: 2013 – 2030

Tomorrow, on the second day of the year, my daughter turns two. Like most parents my life is consumed by caring for her, preparing her for life, & thinking of her future. I’m fascinated by the type of world she’s going to encounter, the aspects that won’t change very much, and those that will shift dramatically. Technology, due to its very nature, will be very different seventeen years from now when she’s in college (if colleges, as we know them, still exist then…I have my doubts about higher education). Fundamental to my own professional interests–as a former librarian, as a software developer, as a writer, as a reader–is understanding how we tell and read stories (particularly non-fiction) in digital media. The future trajectory of my daughter’s life is the lens through which I view the changing shape of creativity, learning, and leisure in the early twenty-first century. And that’s the very reason I care deeply about the topic.

Here at the beginning of 2013 is a good point to re-read two posts I wrote in years past. These are guide points for me that I come back to again and again:

In re-reading those posts again I find my professional passion expressed in those words. For 2013 I must dedicate myself to further examining what I described as the real burden upon all of us: ensuring that “tomorrow’s writers & editors understand the elements of style required for creating the publications that will dominate the mid-century“.


The photos we keep

I received an urgent message from my sister on the morning of November 2. I called her immediately and learned that our mother had died from a sudden heart attack.

During the next few nights and after the funeral I stayed alone in my mother’s apartment sorting through the accumulation of materials that are left behind after such times. We had to empty out the apartment, so that meant deciding what to keep, what to give away, and what to toss in the trash.

Going through the family photos I made digital copies with my iPhone, not the best means of digitizing but time & available technology was limited. At least I came away with copies of all the family photos. Of course, I took a fair share of the originals, particularly most of those that included me. The rest were divided among my sister and brother.

However, many, many photos were not in albums but stored in those envelopes that you receive after developing film. Many of these were snapshots taken by my mother, or myself as a young teen, on vacation. They were of nothing special…landscapes, buildings, sunsets and the like. And there were no particular quality to those images. A few older photos captured an aspect of my hometown: a building that no longer stands, a street corner that has changed considerably. Those photos I set aside for preserving. Generally, though, I only kept the photos of people in my family.

Seldom in my life have I wanted photos made of me. Camera shy and before the onset of digital cameras resulted in an explosion of everyday photos of ourselves, there exists only a small number of photographs of myself from the 1980s and 1990s. Many more from the ’70s when I was a boy since my mother often took photos of me. Previously I never understood why people took photos of others or themselves in front of this spot or that place. But now I do. At the end of life those are the photos we cherish. Those are the photos that bring back memories. 


This is not the best photo of my mother but it raises a vivid memory of an all night drive back from Louisiana to our home in middle Tennessee in 1989. In the middle of the night, around 3am, we passed through Memphis. My mom was driving and I was barely awake. Always a huge Elvis fan she saw a sign for Graceland from the highway and decided to take a detour despite the early morning hour. We had even visited Graceland about seven years earlier…done the whole tour..jungle room, museum, gravesite. But this middle of the night stop was more meaningful.

A few other devoted fans had the same idea, and they mingled in front of the gate. My mom and I got out of the car and wandered along the stone fence while reading the thoughts people had written on the wall surrounding Graceland.

That particular trip to Louisiana was not very good, a painful period in our lives. But there existed a few moments outside Graceland that brought a smile to my mother’s face as I took that photograph of her. And a sweet feeling emerges within me as I view photos of her from my youth. That’s the way I shall always remember her.


Defining a startup around Google’s Project Glass

Scoble has another one of his excellent interviews online. This one is with two managing directors of Menlo Ventures. Lots of insights for entrepreneurs. View the video on YouTube.

At just past the 11 minute mark Scoble asks, “Is it too early to pitch a company just for these wearable computers, Google’s Project Glass?”

Considering that the Glass product might now ship till 2014 Shawn Carolan responds, “Here’s what you don’t want to count on: is if the only place to make any money and build intellectual property is once the glasses start to ship. That’s a way’s off. However, you start to think there’s a lot of apps that very clearly can find some market in mobile and then the market will explode when you get to the glasses. You’ll be interacting with it 24/7 rather than when just open up your phone.”