What color is your gel pen? Personality quizzes and their place in your library’s engagement strategy

Thanks for joining us at the Library Marketing & Communications Conference!

Download our handout, How to create engaging quizzes & polls in 6 simple steps. We’re also sharing our presentation notes so that you can give your brain and keyboard a break.

Have you created a kick ass quiz for your users? Let us know in the comments!

Trello Strategy: Action-Focused Lists

We have been overhauling a lot of our Trello boards lately. A few of them have been languishing more than others so we've been looking at them strategically, cleaning things up, and figuring out how to make them all function better. Project management system working optimally = we get more stuff done! One thing that has become clear about our work style as we make changes to our boards is that we need our lists to be action-focused, not categorical. Previously, we had some organizational schemes that attempted to categorize our work by area or type - management, research & writing, team tasks - and we therefore had Board setups with category Lists. This caused us to use those Lists more as places to bank tasks or projects and less as ways to facilitate progress. Changing those List headings to reflect actions or project phases forces us to pare down the Cards we keep in a List, encouraging more progress on those tasks. So what did we change the List headings to, and how did it help?

From this:

A screenshot of the "In Progress Board" before it's overhaul.

All those red indicators that Due Dates were long past...eek! We couldn't even get all the excess cards neatly in a screenshot.

To this:

We already had a categorical Label system in place; why weren't we relying on that?

We actually moved to a simpler list structure, returning to the tried-and-true Kanban concept of To-Do, Doing, and Done. It's always fun to come up with a wholly new and exciting way to structure your Trello boards, and sometimes a totally custom solution really is needed. However, in most cases where the board's purpose is to perform task management and track projects a slight customization of To-Do, Doing, Done will work nicely.

Our modifications were to add a list of things to Discuss (either with each other or in an upcoming meeting), and a second Doing list for our biggest project. Research Essentials - the information literacy instruction program we run at our library - makes up such a significant portion of our work that it deserves its own Doing list. Why not a separate board? The Research Essentials Team has its own entire suite of boards. This list is just for the items that don't apply to the rest of the team, to further streamline the the team boards. And our Done list actually resides on our Project Bank board, which serves as an archive of completed items.

So what did we do with all the cards that are no longer languishing in the remaining lists? Well, for starters we were ruthlessly realistic about archiving cards for tasks we never did and project ideas that aren't ever going to happen. Then, we shifted a lot of other items to our Project Bank board (where they really belonged anyway) and created Short Term Hold and Long Term Hold lists there. Finally, supervising and training tasks are conspicuously absent; those all earned their own Supervising board.

All of these changes encourage more movement on our boards. The intention of our In Progress board is to feature only what we're actively working on, making it easier to visualize progress. On the Project Bank board we can shift things from list to list, helping us prioritize upcoming tasks. We see a clear connection between more activity on our Trello boards and more completed tasks.

What strategies have you used to improve your Trello productivity? Do you have a consistent board structure, or do you vary? Let us know in the comments!

Productive is Pretty: Using Trello to visualize project management for effective organizations and fun-loving people

When organizational systems work well, it’s not only useful--it’s beautiful! Academic libraries require dozens of intricate workflows for every facet of the organization. We can help you make your workflows visually coherent, intuitive, and efficient. This session will focus on using Trello to create and implement new or existing workflows for collaborative teams (yay, transparency!) and individuals (take that, to-do list!).

No matter what library department you work in or what organizational problem you need to solve, this session will result in a solution.

  • Your colleagues persistently plan events using a 100-message email thread?

  • You need to track dozens of library instruction sessions and delegate responsibilities?

  • Your student workers are accountable for dozens of recurring tasks every week?

  • You are frustrated that details about past projects reside in your @#$%& email?

We use and love Trello, a free, online project- and task-management system that is visually appealing, easy to learn, fun to use, and powerfully customizable. As a visual organization tool, Trello can facilitate pretty productivity in a variety of ways:

  • To accomplish daily/weekly/recurring tasks

  • To track a project or many projects

  • To help a team communicate

  • To set goals

  • To train new hires

  • To lesson plan

  • To prioritize and delegate tasks

We have spent the last four years maxing out Trello’s capabilities as a project-management and communication tool (we still can’t believe it’s free!), and we’ve learned how to begin with a goal and end with a custom solution. Get ready to create systems that will streamline work, keep projects visible and organized, and improve efficiency.

We are confident that you will agree the beauty of visual organization increases productivity by making work fun again!

Beginning with the Basics

At the core of Trello’s versatility is its basic Kanban-inspired setup of three lists titled To Do, Doing, and Done. This structure is intended to encourage your work to progress through through to completion instead of lingering in the still-dreaming-about-it category.

To Do, Doing, Done is the underlying framework of any intricate, customized Trello workflow. So here's an exercise for beginners:

  • Start with those three lists.

  • Then determine one, two, or three additional phases your work normally goes through, or should go through!

  • Add a list for each of those phases and reorder your board to integrate them after To Do and before Done.

Intermediate Optimization Skills

Identifying and implementing Trello power-ups for customized productivity will not only level up your efficiency, it’s also a ton of fun! Below are lists of our favorite Trello integrations, power-ups, and Chrome Extensions. Oh! And don’t forget to learn Trello Hot Keys--they save time and make you feel like a fast-typing hacker in the movies.

Power-Ups

Browse and filter all Trello power-ups here.

Apps & Integrations

Chrome Extensions

  • Trellius: an alternative to the Calendar power-up, this extension creates a drag and drop calendar that’s embedded right above the lists on a board.

  • Ultimello: a features pack that lets you do things like fancy card sorting and display the number of cards on a list.

  • Trillor: a card mirror to “manage personal tasks from several boards.”

  • Trello External Window: takes Trello out of your browser.

Advancing to Automation

Automating and delegating tasks are two of the most effective ways to free up time. Trello’s was built to make work transparent and collaborative, so it’s a natural fit for delegating tasks and empowering teams. But Trello is also ideal for automation, and the list of possibilities grows everyday!  Use automation to creatively problem-solve and to take workflows to the next level.

The most common way to automate tasks in the digital world is to use If This Then That (IFTTT) or Zapier, services that allow you to create your own recipes for how Trello interacts with other apps.  See Trello-specific examples below!

Alternatively, combining power-ups is another way to automate tasks (note: this does require Trello Gold or Business). Example: Try Card Repeater + Card Aging. Use that in tandem with Due Dates and Calendar View. BOOM.

Automation Tools & Trello Bots

Make Your Productivity Pretty!

Beautifying your Trello experience is not only fun--it also makes you more productive! With Trello Gold, you can add background images to your boards, which helps you identify them quickly.

The Trello blog has some great tips for making your boards pretty. To find images for board backgrounds, we are partial to Pexels and Dress Your Tech, which features gorgeous desktop backgrounds designed by artists.

We also recently discovered the Stylish Chrome Extension along with ALL THESE OPTIONS for Trello themes and skins. I am currently in love with Modernized Trello.

Using Trello in Libraries

This post is a summary of our presentation at the 2017 Collective Conference, We created a Trello Team for participants, along with an Ultimate Idea Board for Using Trello in libraries.

We’d love to hear how you are using Trello for your work, personal life, or in your library! How has Trello made you more productive? What problems have you been able to solve? How has visual project management impacted your team?

Let us know in the comments!

Twenty Five Ways to Use Trello in Libraries

This monster list contains our best ideas for ways that librarians, library teams, and libraries can use Trello to organize their work and information. We use a lot of these in real life! The rest are ways our friends use Trello in their libraries, uses we've invented to recommend to colleagues, or ideas that were ignited by examples on the Trello Inspiration site. Our team has been Trello-ing since 2012 and the longer we use it, the more possibilities we find. We're finally sharing five years' worth of experience and idea-having here because we're facilitating a whole workshop about Trello for librarians at our favorite cheap, super fun conference for academic librarians, The Collective. We created this Ultimate Idea Board: Ways to Use Trello in Libraries as an interactive resource for the workshop. It houses all 25 of these ideas in Trello card form, plus links to suggested Power-Ups, Extensions, and instructions. We're hoping the Ultimate Idea Board grows as our workshop participants (and you, dear reader!) make your own additions to the trove.

A Trello board showing the 25 ideas given in the following list.

Twenty Five! Amazing and Creative Ways to Use Trello in Libraries

  1. Strategic Planning with Gannt Charts
    • Map out long-range strategic or operational plans for your library, department, team, or project. Use the Elegannt Power-Up + Chrome Extension to set dependencies and show project phases in Gannt chart view.
  2. Short-Term Project Board with Kanban
    • Use a new Board to facilitate a workflow for a creative project. Make Lists for project phases like Design, Build, Review, and Implement. Each card is an item (e.g. a video) and moves across the Board to completion.
  3. Long-Term Projects Using Multiple Team Boards
    • Track progress, make assignments, and maintain transparency for your team or library’s long-term projects. A collection of Boards can manage the work of an entire department, or manage the operations of an entire library - especially a small one on a budget.
  4. Committee Work
    • Reduce time spent in meetings and stop losing important information in email threads by setting up an online space for your library committees in Trello. Transparency bonus: if you make your Board public (or share it by link) or your library is using Trello Teams for other purposes, your committee's work will be more shareable than ever.
  5. Research & Writing
    • Meet your professional goals or faculty requirements for conducting research and publishing by using a Board to break down your project into phases, organize your literature review, administrate your experiment, plan drafts, outline, set deadlines and send yourself reminders.
  6. Promotion Portfolio Compilation
    • Be one step ahead when promotion time rolls around by creating Boards in advance where you can align annual goals and projects to contribute to the areas you’re required to develop for promotion. Cards can store associated files and objects that will comprise your portfolio in a clearly organized way - no more dumping documents and emails in a folder to be sorted three years hence.
  7. Knowledge Base/Documentation Board
    • Store documentation for policies, procedures, and workflows in one Board or many Boards. Categorize pieces of documentation by filing them under List headings that correspond to areas of work or type of documentation (e.g. Departmental Policies, Circulation Procedures). Don’t delete cards when old workflows are superseded by new ones, Archive them so they enter your historical knowledge base.
  8. Help Desk Ticketing System
    • Open a Board to the public to allow your user base to submit bugs or tickets, then use an additional Board behind the scenes to process the tickets. Or use a library-visible Board for the same purpose internally.
  9. Recurring Tasks
    • Manage tasks that must be completed daily, weekly, monthly, or annually by establishing templates. Devise template Cards, Checklists, or even Boards for copying. Better yet, use the Card Repeater Power-Up to automatically repeat Cards (with Checklists) at set intervals to ensure each step in repeat tasks are completed on time. Perfect for student worker management.
  10. Department Overview
    • Keep top-level information about your department available in an Overview Board. Membership, leadership, responsibilities, contact information, major projects and initiatives, links to guiding documents. Or arrange information about every department in your library in an Overview Board, including organizational charts, missions, and strategic plans in addition to departmental info.
  11. Library Operations
    • Tap into Trello’s versatility to run an entire small library using Boards for administration, supervising and scheduling, project planning, knowledge base and archiving. Trello is powerful for a free tool, or upgrade to Trello for Business (still a heck of a deal) for more security and administrative controls.
  12. Meetings
    • Continually re-use a single Meeting Board for your library, department, or team as a place to store meeting topics, build meeting agendas, run the meeting, discuss topics, assign action items, and archive minutes or discussions.
  13. New Employee Onboarding/Training
    • Develop a re-usable Onboarding or Training Board template to be copied and customized for each new hire. Introduce new team members to library policies, culture, and teammates. Create training materials once, keep the template up to date, and always be ready to onboard a new person.
  14. Team Brainstorming
    • Make a place on Trello for your team to share ideas, discuss topics, or brain-dump their midnight strokes of brilliance. Brainstorm in real time with the RealTime Board Power-Up (for virtual whiteboarding) or the Google Drive Power-Up (for embedding Docs for concurrent editing).
  15. Scheduling
    • Schedule staffing for your library’s service points in a transparent way that allows your staff to communicate preference and availability, and make trades without generating extra email! Customize a Trello Board to make schedules for the reference desk, circulation desk, opening and closing, student workers, student supervisors, building supervisors, IT help desk...any role that requires a non-standard schedule.
  16. Annual Appraisals/Evaluation
    • Private Boards allow you to add to your appraisal materials all year long, making your life much easier in December when you need to assemble your accomplishments. Create a Label (Labels can transcend Boards and Teams to collect Cards from your entire Trello account) that will gather your Accomplishments when you filter for the Label. If you supervise employees, you can set up Boards only the two of you can see.
  17. Event/Program Planning
    • Create a Board for planning a major event with your team, or a Board that manages the planning and hosting of a program series over time. Generate ideas, store contact information for vendors, assign tasks to team members.
  18. Marketing Campaigns
    • Market a new database, a programming series, a new service at your library...or get  serious about promoting your library year-round on campus. Plan your marketing campaign on a Trello Board, but more importantly, track and report on the success of various messages and media channels so you know what adjustments to make and what works for next time. Why market it if we’re not measuring it?
  19. Social Media Schedule
    • Plan for content, schedule posting, manage processes, point to style guidance, and avoid duplication by scheduling your social media activity on a Board. (See this excellent Tumblr example.) Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, YouTube...use Lists and Labels to keep track of what will go where across each platform your library is using.
  20. Blog Editorial Schedule
    • Manage the direction and content of your library or department blog(s) in Trello. Why not just do it within the blog publishing platform? Visual organization. An Editorial Board in Trello helps lay out content areas, posting schedules, and responsibilities in a location and layout that’s accessible to the whole team.
  21. Instruction Scheduling
    • Organize your library’s instruction by showing it all in one place on an Instruction [Scheduling] Board. Use it to keep track of who’s teaching what, when, and where, or use it to administrate scheduling with faculty and assigning teaching librarians. Make sure a substitute librarian can step in when needed by attaching all relevant details, documents, and lesson plans to class Cards.
  22. Instruction Materials Repository
    • Centralize storage and sharing of instructional materials amongst your teaching librarians. Create Cards with descriptions of how to use the lesson, activity, or learning object, and then attach all related items - files, links, videos. Encourage discussion on the Board about how to use or modify materials, or collaborate on instruction.
  23. Course Management/Class Collaboration
    • Foster collaboration amongst your students (or colleagues) by using a Board to distribute materials, instructions, and assignments, including group work or discussion that can occur right in Trello. Use this with a credit course you teach, with student groups you work with regularly, to share information following one-shots, or to deliver professional development or continuing education.
  24. Professional Reading
    • Harness the power of RSS feeds to send items for reading to Trello. Use Zapier or IFTTT to auto-create cards for new items. Then prioritize your reading by re-ordering Cards, annotate by taking notes on Cards, tag, sort, and filter using labels and descriptions, and keep it all in one keyword-searchable place with Card archiving.
  25. Professional Development/Webinar Repository
    • Crowd-source professional development opportunities for your team on a shared Trello Board. Archive webinars you’ve paid for access to, perennial favorites, and have colleagues add new material they find valuable. Access will be easy, and you can either make assignments for individuals to view/complete items or simply monitor who has done what in the Card activity for different webinars, readings, or courses.

I know there are TONS of Trello users in libraries out there...what ways are you using it that we haven't thought of? Tell us in the comments, or post them to the Ultimate Idea Board: Ways to Use Trello in Libraries. We'd love to hear about your Trello experiences!

Out of your Inbox, Into Trello: More Effective Whole-Team Communication

Nobody wants to be the bottleneck. Email is often the logjam that holds up the flow of progress while everyone waits for a team member to painfully extract a pivotal piece of information from an unfiled, untagged, unfindable email that nobody else has. For teams to work effectively and productively, all team members need access to necessary information without relying on a gatekeeper. Even when email is used with the best intentions and communications are shared widely, the inbox often becomes a barrier to information access simply due to its individualized nature and conversation-centric structure. Only recipients of the email in question can find it and access the information within. Email intends for conversations to remain threaded together, and for information to be shared in the form of letter-like messages. This means that a huge portion of the words included in your email archive are unrelated to the email content, causing searching to be slow and ineffective. Since emails are archived, filed, or saved as conversations we often find ourselves trying to remember who the information came from when searching based on what it was about proves insufficient.

So we got this type of communication out of our inboxes and into Trello, eliminating the silo-ization inherent to email systems.

Why Trello for Team Communication?

There are lots of awesome tools you can use to liberate your team's conversations from the email inbox: Slack, Asana, BaseCamp, Jira/Confluence/Agile, Google Hangouts, Google Docs. Some of them are just for chatting and archiving the chat, and some integrate project management or collaboration with conversations.

We use Trello for organizing our team communication because:

  1. It's free (#thankgoodness)
  2. It's searchable
  3. It organizes our conversations around tasks and projects

Tools for instant messaging and conversation-based collaboration (Slack, Google Hangouts, Yammer) are crucial for keeping a team (especially one with a remote-first mentality) on the same page. We use Google Hangouts for instant contact amongst our team. But we don't want to keep all of our conversation and collaboration there because it's disconnected from the work we're doing. That's why we need a project management-type tool that still allows us all to communicate quickly and transparently. Trello is our place for that.

Trello lets us create cards for tasks and projects, populate them with detailed information, and either assign them to a team member for action to be taken or leave them there for someone to find later when they need them. As a supervisor, I can create a card with project specifics for one of my team members - instructions, a checklist of sub-tasks, a deadline, and attached documentation. I can assign it, or tag the team to let them know the card is up for grabs. Questions and answers about the project occur on the card, too. The conversation can include just me and the assignee, or we can pull in others. All of the project's progress and communication about it are tracked on the card, openly transparent for the team to see. If I get sick before we give the presentation we've been planning, somebody else can jump in and easily scroll back through the card to see where we're at and how we got there. And I don't have to forward them tons of emails from my sickbed. (Gross and gross - the emails and the sickness.)

With a project-focused organizational scheme, we boost the power of searching by keyword and decentralize the importance of remembering who said or did what. Trello also remembers who was assigned to a card and even who completed every task and made every change, so we also have a detailed archive of responsibilities and workflow completion. But because Trello is built around its search capability (auto-filled results populate fast) we never have the same difficulty digging up info that we do when searching within email.

Building a Knowledge Base

We also use Trello like a knowledge base. Completed tasks and past projects are archived in Trello (archiving cards, columns, or boards just removes them from view, keeping them in the background forever retrievable) so that all information recorded can be searched and referred back to. We have three additional methods of recording information that enters it into our Trello knowledge base: Remember, FYI, and Templates.

Remember cards contain information we need to regularly or sporadically access. They're in a Remember column that's like a little Rolodex for tidbits of shared knowledge. Contact information, account information, standards or style guides...that kind of thing.

FYI cards communicate information to our team members in the tradition of the memo. They're like a sticky note on a bulletin board. Individuals read the card, take any required action, and then check themselves off the list. The last person to the card participates and then moves the card to the archive, entering it into the knowledge base.

Template boards, cards, and checklists are standard structures that we implement for new team members (our re-usable, customizable Onboarding board), for periodic tasks (cards for projects that occur annually), and for repeat workflows (detailed checklists that are attached to each instance of a task). We deploy Template items again and again, tweaking the Template as necessary. They contribute to our knowledge base in that they teach new team members established processes.

Shows a sample search for "template" on the "instruction scheduling" board in Trello

Tailored to Your Team

Teams, like families, all look different. Whether your team works in the same building, the same office, is distributed across the globe, or has members who work from home occasionally, all teams need to share information, manage knowledge, and build transactive memory. Our team is embracing a remote-first mentality to ensure transparency and democratization of information. Even when nobody is working remotely we all still have unfettered access to team information, and combining our communication tool with workflow management allows anyone to pick up where someone else has left off.

Over the past five years we've experimented and iterated and hacked until Trello works exactly the way we want it to. (And we're working on a workshop all about it! Coming to a website near you March 2017.) Sticking to the same tool has allowed us to generate an information archive, but Trello's flexibility means that we've been able to keep changing and upgrading our own experience. The better we make Trello work for us, the easier communicating with our team becomes.

We've woven together a little suite of tools that serves the needs of our team to get work out of email and into places that make it easier.

  • Google Hangouts for communicating super fast in real time
  • Zotero Groups for organizing all research-related tasks and projects
  • Trello for managing all projects and tasks
  • Google Drive for collaborative editing in real time

The common denominators in all of those? Transparency and searchability. Because we realized early in our existence as a team the power of getting information out of the dark and into the sunlight. It's nice out here, everybody.

Listen and connect: Our philosophy of librarianship

Our friend Steph Klein is guest-curating the Squeezebox KC Instagram this week, featuring women in the workplace. (Yay!) Squeezebox is a rad organization that tells the stories of people and places in our fair city. As part of Steph's project she asked us to tell her what's important to us about librarianship. We think and talk about that all the time but nothing had ever forced us to define our philosophy. Now we have, and thought you might like to read it.

 The Jess and Dani Brand of Librarianship

  1. Curiosity

  2. Listening

  3. Making connections

I recently stole a colleague’s customer service philosophy: be a good listener. In four words it encompasses so much about what’s important to being a good customer service provider, a good teacher, and a good librarian. We have to listen to what students are saying they need or we can’t help them, and we also have to listen to what they’re not saying or don’t know how to say. That’s the sneaky-detective part of being a librarian. Figuring out a person’s unconscious, unknown, or unarticulated needs. Some librarians just give a student exactly what they ask for without “going the extra mile” to figure out what could really help the student that they don’t know to ask for.

A lot of librarians are really good at imparting knowledge...even when it’s unsolicited. It can be much harder to listen well and then to follow the lead of the student so we don’t waste their time “librarian-ing” the heck out of them. Listen carefully and ask questions. The best way a librarian can answer a question is to help the student make a connection. We connect students to information resources, to experts, to organizations, to other students, to tools they can use to make their lives easier and their work more productive. It’s easy to dispense advice; it’s harder to teach a student how to define their own information needs, devise ways to meet those needs, and then to step back and watch it happen. Provide expertise, but let students make their own decisions.

We know about so. much. stuff. That’s the result of the curiosity thing. I mean, what other motivation could there be for the sheer amount of reading we do? But satisfying our curiosity is all in the service of being prepared to make those connections for students. We don’t have to tell every student everything we know, but we are ready with so many possible answers if we just stop to listen.

Applying for Library Jobs Part 3: The Art of the Cover Letter

Cover Letter Cover letters should be called something else. They're so much more than a simple cover sheet for your application materials. They're the one place you really get to tell your story and the best opportunity to make a positive impression.

Please include with your application materials a resume or CV; a letter that communicates (to an entire committee of overworked interviewers) in two pages or less your essence as a human, your personality as a co-worker, how much you really do or do not want this job, your life goals, your equivalent value as an employee in terms of unicorn sparkle dust; and three references.

Sure, you hope to impress a reviewer with the stellar array of experience in your resume, but if you've ever been involved in hiring you know that only one thing from an application is going to stick in your mind past the time you close the file: a truly amazing cover letter. Short of hiring J.K. Rowling or [insert your favorite master of great prose here] to write your letter for you, what can ya do? Start with these tips!

1. Your cover letter gets you in the door.

Despite the complicated connotations of the job your cover letter has to do, it actually has one purpose: to get the reviewer or search committee to want to meet you. Your supporting documents will explain in great detail your accomplishments and contributions, so the task your letter must accomplish is to talk the reader into liking you and wanting to interview you. Most of the tips listed here contribute to this key function of a cover letter. A successful cover letter will inspire curiosity, and then you can knock the socks off the search committee in your interview.

 2. Confidence.

Talk about yourself confidently. Of all the things I've learned about applying for jobs since I became the person doing the hiring, this is the one that I will focus on the most the next time I apply for a position.

Keyword search your letter for the words "think" and "believe," and get rid of them. You don't believe you're a qualified candidate, you know it. You don't think your skills are a perfect match for the job description, they are a perfect match. Simply omit the qualifiers we're all prone to unconsciously inserting because we're a little bit afraid we're under-qualified in some way. Now is the time to be certain that you're awesome. The readers of your letter won't introduce doubt if you don't.

This is particularly important advice for women. Research shows that women tend to underestimate their abilities and under-sell themselves more than men do. Women won't even apply for jobs they don't think they're a billion percent qualified for. (GIRL. You are QUALIFIED.) So at the risk of sounding awkwardly sexist, lady-type-people: write your cover letter in the most dudely way you can.

3. Give examples. Tell stories.

This is the secret of the cover letter: everyone wants to hear stories. People remember stories.

You can tell me what you're good at. You can tell me what you value - and you should! You can make connections between your skills and aspects of the job description - although I could probably make those connections myself. What you absolutely must do is illustrate your abilities and proclivities in the form of at least one story. The story should not begin with the words "once upon a time." That's not what I mean when I say tell stories. I mean give extended examples that explain a project, a process, or an experience in detail, including the conclusion, using specific nouns and pronouns. I would tell a story about an accomplishment I'm particularly proud of to show the kind of work I value doing.

Now I will tell a story. I recently read a cover letter that was impressive in a surprising way. The applicant met all the required qualifications but I only knew that from the resume, which was nice and well-organized. I remember the cover letter because the applicant selected their most interesting, impactful projects and used them to illustrate their skills and abilities. I read three or four short paragraphs that each explained a project, what the applicant contributed, and why it was a formative experience for them. The candidate talked about why they enjoyed each experience as part of their work. One of the examples detailed a teaching project, described the particular student group and the candidate's personal connection to them, summarized the main ideas of the project, and concluded with how the team turned the project into a published work and a presentation. By the end of the letter I hadn't noticed that there wasn't a standard listing of qualifications because I was pleased with reading those stories. I felt like I had a good understanding of what the candidate was capable of accomplishing, and of their competence with written communication. #NailedIt

Telling these stories is a way to show a little bit of your personality. Your writing style will do that, too. This is important because unless the applications are being reviewed by a robot, you really need the reader to like you, or think that they could like you if they met you. A hiring manager is almost always looking for a new person to join the team they work with, and they want a colleague they can get along with. Even if the hiring manager is external to the team they're looking for a good fit for the organizational culture. You don't have to state your place of birth, your Converse vs. Vans preference, your favorite Broadway musical, or share an embarrassing story about your adolescence. Use work examples to show some things about who you are as a person. Allowing glimpses of your personality will also help you to show that you understand and are a good fit for the company culture.

If it's appropriate to the field in which you're applying for jobs and you're comfortable with this approach you can include something that's funny, or a little bit cheeky. (Although, you have to know you can get it right. You have to be sure that you're funny.) It can be refreshing for the reviewer to read something surprisingly human amid the wash of 80s-computer-beige that standard cover letters can blend into.

One more story. Jess once wrote a cover letter in the form of a giant to-do list because the job posting specified "Must like to-do lists." The final, unchecked item on the list was "Get an interview." Clever. And obviously gimmicky. However, Jess tempered the novelty of the format with solid, professional, well-constructed examples of her expertise and experience (and got an interview). If you're brave, and careful, this kind of thing can work. At best, the reviewer is intrigued by your risk-taking and you get an interview to explain your damn self. At worst, you won't get an interview and you'll wonder if the letter was the reason but you'll never know.

4. Be succinct and specific.

Yep.

5. Get help.

Writing is hard. Professional writing is hard, and writing about yourself is hard. Even for good writers, the cover letter can be a wince-worthy exercise in the alchemical transformation of your insecurities into magic words that will convince readers of your confidence and competence - balanced perfectly with the appropriate level of humility, of course.

If you're not a great writer call in a favor from someone who is. Make a deal with them - that you'll get down on paper your main ideas, qualifications, and some of those great examples you're using to punctuate your pitch, and that they'll help you with the prose. (And that you'll buy them a case of beer, obviously.) It's not cheating to have someone else help you with something simultaneously difficult and high-stakes. In the end it will still be your writing. A good writing coach should be able to help you rearrange your ideas, adjust the flow, and tweak the language while retaining your voice. You can lean on a friend, seek out a mentor, or hire a professional.

6. Know the conventions and follow instructions.

  • Keep it to less than two pages. Limiting it to one page isn't important when you're applying for a professional position.
  • Format your letter properly.
    • You can finally use the business letter style you learned in high school composition!
    • Include a matching header across all your application materials (resume, cover letter, references page, etc.).
    • Follow the instructions in the posting. If format isn't specified, always submit PDFs. Create one PDF of all your documents unless the application system requires you to upload them separately.
  • Find the correct person to whom you should address the cover letter. People overlook this shockingly often. It's not that hard. You're a librarian...librarian it.
  • Make an electronic signature. This will impress old-school readers, and insure that reviewers who value technological ability highly don't knock you for not having one.

7. A formula for cover letter success.

A librarian I admire gave me this formula for cover letters. It's simple, easy to follow, and it clearly works - my library hired this librarian, I was on the search committee, and I specifically remember her cover letter! That's the goal, isn't it? If you like formulas and instructions, take this advice.

Paragraph 1: What you’re applying for.

Paragraph 2: Illustrate as briefly as possible how you fulfill every single one of the listed job requirements.

Paragraph 3: Illustrate how you fulfill the preferred job qualifications.

Paragraph 4: Anything you think is important that you didn’t get to talk about previously.

8. Write a meaningful conclusion, or skip it.

Can't come up with anything good? You've reached the end of letter-writing process and the well is dry? Write something that's worth reading in your final paragraph, or have mercy on your audience and go Spartan on the conclusion. They're at the point where they're skimming anything that isn't riveting, anyway, right? Keep your concluding statement ultra-short and simple, rather than wasting three sentences on generic form-letter copy. Forgettable writing is a waste of space, especially here. This isn't an introduction/three main points/conclusion essay and a summary isn't necessary, so simply write a nice salutation and sign your name.

Recommended resources for cover letter writing:

  • Open Cover Letters
    • A collection of self-submitted, real letters from librarians who got hired. Read for inspiration. Ignore the gimmicky ones (trust me).
  • ineedaresume
    • Our favorite tool for creating beautiful resumes does cover letters, too!

More from us on constructing a resume for library jobs, polishing up your personal brand, and killin' it in the interview.

15 Best Podcasts for New Listeners

Apparently Dani and I don’t keep it a secret that we love podcasts, because people are always asking us what to listen to. This is, of course, almost an impossible question since there are SO many amazing podcasts and because people have such different tastes. On the other hand, I think it’s fair to say that a canon has developed, and that these 15 best podcasts will be suitable to almost all new listeners. Gateway podcasts, perhaps? Start here, and you’ll soon find yourself exploring dozens of genres and subgenres of podcasts!

In no particular order, here is the list:

  1. This American Life

  2. SERIAL

  3. Invisiblia

  4. Radiolab

  5. The Moth

  6. Reply All

  7. Snap Judgment

  8. All Songs Considered

  9. Story Corps

  10. New York Fiction Podcast

  11. WITS (no longer recording, so only archive)

  12. Pod F. Tompkast

  13. WTF with Marc Maron Podcast

  14. 99% Invisible

  15. Planet Money

Annnnddd because we're librarians and obviously next level nerds, here's a second list of personal favorites:

  1. Call Your Girlfriend“A podcast for long distance besties everywhere.” Dani’s LDBFF in Japan recommended this, so now we’re using the podcast like a long-distance, two-person book club that meets on Google Hangouts. Unapologetically feminist, unapologetically awesome. ALSO: The Notorious RBG.

  2. Reply AllThis “show about the internet” will make you love the internet even more. Stories about people and technology and deep things and funny things.

  3. Death, Sex, and Money "About the big questions and hard choices that are often left out of polite conversation." Because we like big questions and we're not that polite.

  4. Product Hunt "Product Hunt Radio is a podcast for those that love to geek out about products. Each week, makers, investors, and others in the startup community join us to chat about products and share their story."

  5. Mystery ShowFinally, Starlee Kine, of distinctive voice and repeat appearance on This American Life, brings us a podcast all her own.

  6. America’s Test Kitchen RadioThe same people who bring those bomb-proof ATK recipes to our Saturday mornings via PBS talk about food and cooking via radio. Favorite recurring guests: Stephen Meuse, wine expert, and Adam Gopnik, food writer.

  7. Note to Self "Is your phone watching you? Can wexting make you smarter? Are your kids real? These and other essential quandaries for anyone trying to preserve their humanity in the digital age."

  8. Money for the rest of us

  9. The Tim Ferriss Show

  10. The Dead Authors Podcast

We hope this helps you fall in love with podcasts--may you road trips be ever better! May you cease to procrastinate washing the dishes! May you run farther than ever before! May you look forward to your daily commute!

P.S. Feeling overwhelmed? Check out Pocket Casts. It's like feedly for your ears, and it's pretty. You can listen to your podcast subscriptions in a web browser on mobile app with all the syncing. Plus a kazillion other features (like speeding up the audio).

Applying for Library Jobs Part 2: Get Ready for Internet Stalking

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All librarians are really top-notch at one special, particular task: researching the hell out of anything. Duh. That includes library job candidates! Why wouldn't it?

The first thing I do when I receive an application for a job I'm hiring or on the search committee for is immediately and thoroughly Internet-stalk the candidate. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Google images, personal websites, blogs, nameplate sites...all of it. If it exists in cyberspace, I will find it. I don't engage in cyber detective work as a way to dig up dirt on potential hires, to find out if there's anything important about a person that's not likely to be shared in an interview, or even to prevent making a potentially disastrous hire. I actually do all of this digital legwork to learn more about the candidate as a person because I want to be excited about the people we're hiring to work with side-by-side, day in and day out. I'm looking for evidence that the candidate is smart and qualified, of course, but I'm also looking for clues about their hobbies and their sideline rescuing three-legged cats and their Etsy store where they sell handmade replicas of Harry Potter wands.

The point here is this: be a real person on the Internet.

This is absolutely important in librarianship - a field with a focus on public service, that supports scholarly communication and dissemination of information in its core functions, and that is heavily communicative in a range of professional avenues. As a community, librarians exhibit a strong tendency to share and this blurs the lines between scholarly/professional/personal communication. You can make your own decisions about how open to be in communicating about your work and your career in librarianship (nobody's going to make you start a librarian lifestyle blog!), but realize that hiring managers will be skeptical about a candidate that can't be found online.

You don't need to have a presence on every social and professional sharing site (who's got the time?!) but here are the most important steps you have to take to make sure your Internet presence is in shape to make you look good.

1. Google yourself every way possible

You don't have to sanitize your Facebook to get ready for Internet stalking, but you should Google yourself thoroughly to see what's findable.

  • Use Incognito (Chrome) or Private (Firefox) browsing, or better yet, go to the public library and log on to a public computer to remove algorithmic and browsing history bias from your search results.
  • Search your name, and search every possible variant.
  • Search: your name + your hometown, your name + your school,  your name + your current employer, your name + library.

2. Get your resume information out there

You can choose how you do this, but make sure your resume information shows up somewhere online. The easiest way to do this is by creating a fully-filled out LinkedIn profile (and making sure it's findable), but there are lots of options.

  • Buy a domain and set up your own website. Use it to blog professionally, to house your full C.V., and definitely include an About Me page.
  • Create a nameplate site using a tool like about.me (here are mine and Jess's).
  • Use your university-provided webspace to create your own site.

3. And your portfolio

A lot of librarian jobs require skills or experience that are best communicated through examples of your work. Even if the job posting doesn't require a portfolio, get yours together in an online location and you've got it ready to go the next time an interviewer says "give me an example of..."

  • Web editing skills. Don't just list "HTML, CSS, and Javascript" on the Skills section of your resume. Go one better and create webpages that demonstrate those skills in action. Showing is better than telling.
  • Digital exhibits.
  • Instructional design. Showcase learning objects or courses you've created for real projects, for class, or on your own to show your capabilities.
  • Catalog records.
  • Finding aids.
  • Proposals, grants, or other professional writing samples.
  • Projects. Even if the area of librarianship you work in doesn't required you to produce tangibles like webpages or guides or tutorials, you can write up projects you've completed and focus on the project outcomes.

4. SEO

Okay, librarian, do some detective-work and figure out how to get your best stuff (like your personal website) to rise to the top of a Google search for your name.

5. LinkedIn. You have to.

Okay, here's the deal. Not everybody likes LinkedIn but you don't really have a choice anymore if you want to be competitive. It has turned into the place employers go to stalk future employees, and recruiters use it heavily as well.

  • Adjust your privacy settings to hide information based on your comfort level, but make sure that at least a limited profile can be found and viewed by anyone.
  • Update your jobs, experience, descriptions and dates.
  • Add projects, publications, and presentations. Link to the full text or slide deck for stuff you're proud of!
  • Follow LinkedIn's profile-building prompts - they make things super easy - and be thorough. We're librarians, we like to see all the fields filled in. We can't help it.
  • Make a few friends. The whole point of LinkedIn is professional networking, so get happy with the Connect button. (I espouse very different criteria for friending on social media than on LinkedIn.)
  • If you're going to use a different platform to really showcase your work make sure your LinkedIn profile exists nonetheless, and that it points clearly to your other professional-profile-thingy.

6. Show a little bit of your personality

We all want to hire and work with people we like. You're likable! So find a way to let a little or a lot of that shine through in your online presence.

  • Goodreads. Totally optional, but especially if you're applying for a public library job or anything that includes readers' advisory, a Goodreads account is a nice way to show off your book knowledge or your obsession with Revolutionary War paranormal romance interests.
  • Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram... No instructions necessary. Okay, I will say this. You don't have to create a separate, professional account where you only post library-related things. You can if you want to, but you can also just, you know, be your regular smart amazing self.
  • Have a resume site, a bio site, a blog, or a personal website? Include tidbits about yourself there, as well.

I recognize that a lot of people have privacy concerns regarding their online information. That's smart and you should definitely only share what you feel comfortable with. If you normally keep your online presence locked down tight, you might have to loosen your privacy settings just a mite while you're job-hunting. Also...librarianship is a very community-centric and collaboration-focused profession, so consider how you want to go about participating in that community while keeping your privacy philosophy intact.

So, there are a lot of options. You don't have to do ALL THE THINGS to be ready for Internet-stalking. Pick the avenues that work best to show off your work and your talents, make sure you're Google-able, and then cross your fingers that your mom won't post any naked bathtub pictures of you for #TBT before you get yourself hired.

Make it Beautiful, Make it Usable: DIY Design for Libraries

About the Beautiful & Usable Workshop

This workshop focuses on adapting existing ideas, learning materials, lesson plans, presentations, signage, marketing materials, and learning activities into more beautiful, usable content. Basic instructional design practices are introduced, then basic graphic design concepts and methods. Participants bring something they wanted to reinvent - a worksheet, a PowerPoint presentation, an interactive tutorial, a video, a LibGuide, etc. Guided by a Design Checklist and relying on a curated collection of recommended tools, participants work individually, in groups, and with the presenters to update their learning objects.

Access the Google Drive Folder: Tools & Materials

2016 Brick & Click Presentation

Do you plan on attending this interactive presentation at the 2016 Brick & Click Conference? We can't wait to meet you! Please fill out this super quick survey so that we can tailor our presentation to you! Feel free to look through the Tools & Materials Google Drive Folder, and don't forget to bring an object (and your laptop or tablet) to work on!

2016 Library Collective Presentation

Curious about the level of expertise of participants? Or do you wonder what kinds of materials they reinvented? Then check out the results of our survey from the 2016 Library Collective Conference!

Applying for Library Jobs Part 1: What to Actually Put on your Library Resume

Jess and I have served on search committees, and we've seen lots of library resumes. But we also supervise the graduate assistants who work in our library's Learning & Research department. That means we interview and hire them. We train them. We evaluate them. We mentor them and provide professional development as best we can. We also get really, really invested in their lives and their success. We can't help it. We help them get jobs when they (sob!) leave us.

One thing we do is help them curate and develop their online presences, professional portfolios, and their application documents - resumes, CVs, and cover letters. 100% of the students who have held assistantships at our library and graduated from library school have found full-time librarian jobs. It would seem that something is working. So we're going to share with you some of the top advice we give fledgling librarians, starting with what to actuallyinclude on your resume. Everybody knows to put their education information and relevant past job experience. Duh. Here's detailed guidance to choosing what items to include and how to talk about your experience. (Whew, finally, right?!)

1. Basic info: Where to find you on the web

Resume readers are going to Google you. That's a given. Make it easy for them to see what they want: a candidate who is conscious of their career (LinkedIn profile or nameplate site), someone who is comfortable with technology (online portfolio), and someone who's curious and communicative (Twitter handle or blog). You don't need to put all of these things on your resume, but you absolutely should provide a link for one of them. P.S. Part Two of this series covers how to get ready for Internet stalking for more help on this! 

Also critical: hyperlink your email address so that you are only a click away!

2. Don't waste space on an Objective Statement

The Objective Statement is out of fashion in the realm of professional resumes and additionally, if you've sent your resume to the right place and person in a packet of application materials, they know what job you're applying for. Use the space for something else:

  • A resume summary statement, if it adds to the story you're trying to tell in the document

  • A personal/professional bio

  • More of #5, below

  • Special sections that highlight your unique abilities, like an industry-specific skills section

    • In libraries, there are LOTS of special skill sets you could highlight: teaching, cataloging, metadata, electronic resources, readers' advisory, scholarly communication...

    • Something that communicates your "soft skills"

3. Don't delete "irrelevant" jobs or experience

A lot of types of experience are relevant to librarianship or library jobs. Keep your items that show experience, training, or expertise in:

  • Customer service, sales, or retail

  • Teaching or public speaking

  • Leadership or supervision

  • Clerical work

  • Service or cashiering

  • Doing a job nobody else wants to do

Only begin to omit jobs or experience when you have morerelevant experience that you need to make space for.

I was once on a hiring committee that chose a candidate as a finalist because in addition to her "relevant" experience she used to manage a grocery store. The committee chair used to work in retail management and said that she values that particular type of experience highly. Between candidates with similar library experience, the retail job got the candidate an in-person interview.

4. Move from Jobs to Experience

Very basic resume formats will list Education, Jobs, Awards & Honors, Volunteering, and maybe Special Skills as the main section headings. You deserve better. Make the sections on your resume work for you. In particular, by this point you probably need to switch from listing your jobs to listing Work Experience (or just Experience, if some of the things you want to put there were unpaid and you're not comfortable considering them work). As you apply for career-level jobs you need to describe the depth of your experience, not just list job titles.

There are standards for resumes, to be sure, but as long as you keep things clear and organized and don't get TOO crazy you can search around for a set of sections that best showcases what you bring to the table. If you do lots of volunteer work (hopefully related to your field in some way) and want to emphasize that, create a Volunteering and Service section to highlight your many organizational involvements and contributions. By contrast, if you just have one great volunteering experience to list, use it to bolster your amazing Experience section instead of leaving it hanging out by its lonesome as a category of one.

5. Tell a story about each job or experience item

While there's not really space for prose on a resume, use bullet points under each Experience item to tell the story of what you did, how amazing you were at it, and what lasting impact you made on your colleagues or company. Include numbers if you have them.

Under each item in your Experience section, use bullet points to outline your achievements and accomplishments and the impact of your contributions. Don't just list out the duties or responsibilities each job included.

  • Responsible for overseeing Everlasting Gobstopper packaging and meeting daily quotas, direct supervision of 25 Oompa Loompas, and periodic chocolate waterfall maintenance.

  • Innovated a new method for improved chocolate production that was subsequently adopted factory-wide, increasing profits on Wonka Bars by 30%.

  • Implemented Friday dance parties on the chocolate riverboat, resulting in improved employee morale measured by increased Oompa Loompa retention.

6. Include your degrees and possibly relevant coursework

Create an Education section (i.e. degrees earned and where) and then also list experiences related to your education as items in your Work or Experience section if appropriate. If you held any kind of significant position - paid or volunteer - that was a major component of your education, include it and use it to illustrate the extent of what you learned and the importance of your degree. For instance, if you were a graduate teaching assistant, a tutor in your subject area, a regular library volunteer, or the founding president of an academic organization specific to your discipline, list it under Experience and show how much you learned or led through holding the position. In other words, don't roll important experiences in with listing an earned degree if they warrant their own entry under Experience.

Alternatively, you can make a section called Relevant Coursework and list classes there. This is a section I like to see on resumes if it represents important recent experience. Of course, this section gets superseded by paid work experience as soon as you've got it.

7. Be specific about your proficiency level with different technologies

Include all the technologies you have experience working with, and find the right names to use when you talk about them. Know if they're standalone or web-based, open source or proprietary, and industry standards or leading-edge developments.

  • Productivity suites - Microsoft Office, the Google Productivity Suite

  • Operating systems - Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, mobile operating systems

  • Instructional design technologies - Learning Management Systems, softwares to create learning objects

  • Anything you know about editing - photo, video, or web editing and the relevant softwares, protocols, or programming languages

  • Library-specific softwares and systems - ILSs, ERMs, InterLibrary Loan systems, cataloging platforms, or metadata standards

8. The one-page resume is dead

Unless the job posting is specific about one page only, most professional jobs warrant 1.5-2 pages. Make them count. Don't include more stuff just to get to the end of the second page.

A Word on Formatting

  • Always always ALWAYS send your application documents as PDFs. There is no other acceptable option. After you've spent all that time choosing a font that's both professional and suits your personality, perfectly aligning everything, and considering your use of white space you need to submit your resume using a file type that will retain all of that formatting. PDF is the way to go.

  • Use tagging, or the built-in section headings function, to create an accessible document that automated resume screeners can read. If you create your document in Word and then make sure you save it as a PDF using the accessibility options, you'll end up with a nicely formatted file that anyone can open, with machine readable text, and with tagged section headings that software will recognize as metadata.

  • Submit your documents separately if that's what's requested, combine them in to a single PDF if not.

  • File names - If there's no file naming convention specified, create a meaningful file name that includes your name. "Resume.pdf" will be lost in the shuffle.

Tools for Resume Creation

That's all for Part One! Stay tuned for the rest of the series; we'll cover creating your online personal brand, writing cover letters, and how to win the hearts of weirdo librarians during The Interview. In the meantime, check out this super solid advice about both applying and interviewing. I agree with pretty much everything he says: How to Land a Library Job .

Have a question about applying for library jobs or perfecting your resume? Let us know in the comments!

How to Make Your Library Instruction Suck Less

If you teach information literacy or do any kind of library instruction, chances are that you've never had formal training in actually being a teacher.  We get it! While it can sometimes seem that teaching comes naturally to certain individuals and not to others, teachers and teaching librarians all have room to improve. When librarians gain confidence in their teaching abilities and connect with students in productive ways, student learning has the opportunity to improve as well. We just gave a presentation outlining 6 strategies to improve library instruction at the Brick & Click academic library conference:

In our presentation, we talked a lot about WHY each of these strategies are important (if you need a refresher, see our slide deck above, or read the full paper in the conference proceedings. But if you’re like us, your favorite part of presentations is exploring all the tangible tools and practical tips--so we decided to extract the HOW for you right here!

  1. Speak the Language of Your Students

    1. Beloit College Mindset List

    2. Generation Calculator

    3. Social media: Instagram and SnapChat are currently most popular with students, but also helpful are Twitter & TweetDeck, Facebook Groups for Schools, and Yik Yak.

    4. YouTube

    5. Know Your Meme

    6. Reddit

    7. And how to find out what's trending on the web

    8. Design Meaningful Activities

      1. Lesson Plan Generator

      2. Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures

      3. Learning Outcome Generator

      4. Connect Skills to the Real World

        1. The Muse (we highly suggest subscribing to their weekly newsletter!)

        2. ineedaresu.me

        3. Automating job searches with IFTTT (if this then that) and advanced Google search

        4. Professional nameplate sites and of course, LinkedIn for Higher Education

        5. Tell stories and be funny (...or at least try to be)

          1. Listening to stories is a great way to become a better storyteller. Check out this classic list of storytelling podcasts + this list of new and addictive storytelling podcasts.

          2. Humor Strategies to Use

          3. Engage Students Outside the Classroom

            1. Google Apps and Communication Tools

            2. EdTech App Finder

            3. Zotero

            4. Make Your Content Beautiful

              1. Canva + Tutorials from Canva Design School

              2. Google Fonts + Google Font Pairing

              3. Piktochart (Infographic Maker)

              4. Slides Carnival + Google Slides

              5. Good Stock Photos: Death to Stock, Pexels, Albumarium, Unsplash

Okay, that's all for now! What did we leave off? What tools or links would you recommend?

The Power of the Pair

Team collaboration What's a creative pair? We are! Jess and I work in the same department, on the same project, from a shared office. We were beginning to think our personal overlap was getting out of hand when we started reading about creative pairs and decided to fully embrace our collaboration instead. Our workmates think it's funny when we finish each other's sentences, but tendencies like shared language contribute to our increased productivity as a pair. Just like in this quote from Joshua Wolf Shenk's book (linked below), "When we go back and forth, our ideas, our ambitions, our efficiency, our ability - everything gets bigger. The more we overlap, the larger we become, much larger than we were as two individuals” (p. 51), when it comes to Jess and me 1 + 1 does not equal 2. It equals something like 2.5 or 3. 

Creative pairs challenge the conventional structures of the lone genius and the all-powerful team. Pairs--who begin to talk, think, and be like one another the more they interact--are able to utilize transactive memory, balance each other professionally and emotionally, and are often praised for their compounded productivity. The relationship between two people in a creative pair has proven powerful, and organizations have the opportunity to capitalize on their collaborative accomplishments.

Does this sound like you and a colleague? Here are some of our best recommendations for working collaboratively with a partner or a team.

Recommended Reading

Powers of Two: How Relationships Drive Creativity, Joshua Wolf Shenk

Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, Clive Thompson

Recommended Tools

Trello

A perfect app for keeping a team of two (or more!) on track for tasks and projects. Uses a visual sticky-notes-in-columns setup. Checklists allow for the EXTREMELY satisfying experience of checking tasks off when complete.

Google Docs & Google Slides

We've all known about Google Docs for a while. Basic cloud-based word processing with ACTUAL real-time collaborative editing. Now check out Slides for the same experience creating slide decks with a partner or team. Comments, Group Chat, and Suggestion Mode are indispensable. Our most recent favorite feature: quickly locate your editing compatriot in the Doc or Slide deck by clicking their icon in the top corner. Zing! There they are.

Skype or Google Hangouts

Your pair (or team) doesn’t need to be in the same geographic location to keep in sync. Choose your favorite tool for audio and video conferencing and instant messaging. Then use the same one consistently to build up a searchable record of your conversations and all those links you'll be sending back and forth. Transactive memory, enabled by technology.

Zotero Groups

This cool feature of the citation manager Zotero allows your team to build a shared library of research sources, tag them, and use discussion threads. We are SO into this right now.

Workflowy

A super simple, super zoomable outlining app. Good for keeping your writing distraction-free. We use it to outline e-learning content, and you can share and edit collaboratively.

Evernote

Basically, this desktop app/phone app/browser plug-in will organize your whole life. Save articles and items from anywhere on the Internet, annotate and tag them, make notes and to-do lists, word process, the list goes on and on. The more stuff you save in Evernote, the more useful it gets.

Feedly

Keep track of allllll the pieces of the Internet you love to read. Feedly aggregates various blogs and news sites for you (remember Google Reader? This is the new that.) and then makes is really easy to share content back and forth with friends. It even works for academic journals that post new issues on a webpage. Use it to find things to add to your team's Zotero Group!

Recommended Practices

  • Working in the same space (shared office, co-work space, or virtual hangout)
  • Collaborative editing
  • Co-note taking
  • Shared accomplishment tracking
  • Friendship : )

Are you one half of a creative pair? What are your favorite collaboration tools?

6 Things You Might Be Doing Wrong With Your Research Assignments (and how to fix them)

This fall marks the 2nd anniversary of our involvement with our university's general education curriculum. That equals 4 semesters of flipping the classroom, spending one week with each 200 and 300 section, and adapting our classroom content for Internet classes as well. It also means that we've seen A LOT of research assignments--about 40 per semester. Below is a presentation we gave at a faculty teaching conference to help instructors build better research assignments. Oh! And Slides Carnival + Death to Stock Photo is now our favorite combination for presentation slides.

Basic principles for organizing your digital life

Organize Digital Life Efficiently I just started reading the The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel Levitin, and I'm totally fascinated. If that sentence makes you want to punch me in the face, I won’t blame you — but if you allow the librarian in me to indulge in this vein of nerdiness for a few paragraphs, I think you just might like the outcome.

So, a few key points from The Organized Mind: our brains are awesome. We were created to retain an incomprehensible amount of memories, but retrieving said memories is the difficult part. Living in the Information Age now requires us to process more data at a faster rate. (Please note, this is a grossly simplified paraphrase).

My day-to-day life requires systems; without them, I get mega stressed. I get most stressed when everything seems fuzzy — when projects seem big and impossible because I haven’t taken the time to break them down into bite-sized, manageable tasks. I almost always need to brain dump before I begin! And since so much of my life is spent in front of a ding-dang computer, having systems for my digital life is essential.

Therefore, here my are 5 basic principles for organizing your digital life:

1. Get over the guilt

It’s not just pregnancy brain or baby fog or Monday morning mind — it’s science, y’all. We’re bombarded by information (images, music, words, text messages, new recipes, apps… you get the point). Lose your keys? So what! Misplace your kid’s birth certificate? Whatevs! Forget your lunch on the counter the fourth day in a row? It’s all good!

You’re not less intelligent or flawed, even if your coworker calls you a space cadet — you’re human. You’re human and your brain is performing, like, a million operations a minute. So get over feeling guilty or silly or frazzled… and then tweak your system.

2. Build systems that make sense to you…

...but that other people can figure out. When someone walks into your kitchen looking for a drinking glass, you want them to be able to find it. And just as that person is likely to look in a cabinet near the sink for that glass ( or in the event that someone else needs to find or use, say, a file of yours on the network drive) they’re also likely to look in standard locations first.

This is especially imperative if you have specific roles at home (e.g. bill paying!) or work (e.g. statistic keeping!). Good systems enable all potential users to work efficiently.

Good systems do, however, sometimes need a key, so don’t be afraid to create one.  Libraries, for example, use highly sophisticated classification schemas to organize books and materials, but you have to understand the key if you ever want to find anything. (Fun fact: when Melvil Dewey created his decimal system in 1876, he set out to create a way to organize ALL HUMAN KNOWLEDGE. Plan ahead, much?)

3. Commit and invest

This is a do as I say, not as a I do point. Pick one, or maybe two, containers for your digital life. For instance, use Google Drive or DropBox or Amazon Cloud Storage, but not all three. This will drastically improve retrieval because if everything is in one place you don’t have to remember where it is. Yeah! Commit to one thing and then don’t hesitate to invest in it (i.e., you may have to pay for or earn more storage at some point).

Using one place or container also creates an opportunity to eliminate redundancy and to reveal connections within your items. Evernote is especially wonderful for this. Need help choosing which system to use? Stay tuned, I gotcha covered.

4. Use naming conventions and be consistent

Because, duh. If you’re filing receipt images, decide if you’re a YYYY-MM-DD or a DD-MM-YYYY kind of person (hint: be the former. it’s better for long-term archiving).

You’re creating an index so that you can quickly access things later on. I like to control my own vocabulary: if I’m saving recipes, for instance, I will decide to call chickpeas chickpeas instead of garbanzo beans, and I will try my damnedest to do so consistently. This way I can find all of my recipes that contain chickpeas in one place instead of two. #authoritycontrolFTW

5. Work smarter, not harder

Even though information overload complicates life, the one thing that I absolutely love about the digital age is the abundance of tools and apps that allow you to automate life. Analyze the way that you work--what takes up the most time? Which parts do you hate doing the most? Start tracking the tasks that frustrate you most, because we'll be showcasing some of our favorite tools and apps for the most common issues. And in the meantime, don’t stress out if these principles seem overwhelming. Our goal is working less, and we’re gonna get there...eventually!

What are your favorite ways to keep your head clear and your digital life tidy?

Reference Desk Signage For a New Semester

So, the beginning of the Fall Semester is exactly opposite of skipping through a field of daisies.  And because sneaking sips of an adult beverage at the bottom of the file cabinet isn't always an option, I like to turn to another outlet: doing a creative and fun task even when you should be doing a million and one more important things. In our Ref Desk Redeux, I gave you a how-to and some best practice guidelines for creating signage (in short, don't make ugly shit). So here is my cathartic creation for the reference desk. Feel free to download and use at your library's reference desk!

Tools Used: Evernote & Penultimate for iPad (where I originally brainstormed the content for 5 or 6 sign ideas), Piktochart, Adobe Kuler, and advice from my gals Melinda & Dani.

Reference Desk Sign

Summer Eating, Summer Reading

What we're eating this summer: the hugest, fattest, juciest, ripest blackberries. A handful of blackberriesWhat we're reading this summer:

Dani's reading Euphoria, by Lily King.

I'm obsessed. I can not stop reading this book. It reminds me a lot of State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, one of my favorite books of all time. Maybe this reveals what my favorite type of novel is? The subject headings for State of Wonder crack me up.

Scientists -- Fiction.

Medicine -- Research -- Fiction.

Jungles -- Amazon River Region -- Fiction.

YES.

Jess is reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers.

It's my second time reading it, and it's the perfect book for summer because everything is bright and thick and hot.

Honestly, though, we're the kind of people who read two or three or nine or twelve books at a time. It's a summer of bounty. The fattest, most luscious blackberries you've ever tasted, and a staggeringly ambitious stack of books.

Summer Book Stack

 

Information Literacy, General Education, Clouds, and Hearts

Yesterday we presented a summary and end-of-semester report about our library's information literacy program and how it fits into the General Education curriculum.  We also went on an Infographic binge. Speaking of Infographics, you guys know about Piktochart's Presentation Mode, right? #killtheslidedeck

So here we have it--an explanation of the GE model, how our Info Lit program works, and lots of pretty charts about this last semester!

So, we don't do one-shots, and we don't have a for credit class--does this make it a hybrid? Anyone else using this model? We'd love to hear from you!

10 Reasons to jump on the Trello Train

Trello is a web-based collaboration tool that's kinda like using post it notes on a wall, kanban-style. Using boards, lists, and cards, Trello empowers you to organize projects and people (check back soon for a post on how our team uses Trello to get things done). Here's an example of one of our department's boards: Trello Example

And now, my top 10 reasons to jump on the Trello Train:

 1.   Keep (almost) everything in one place

So, let's start out with a few disclaimers. First, if you're looking for  powerful project management software that also combines extensive document management, then Trello isn't your pick. Secondly, we will give you a super exhaustive but also refreshingly concise list of said software options in the near future, so please stick with me and read the rest of the reasons why you should consider Trello.

That being said, Trello has a wonderfully convenient feature that allows you to attach photos, videos, and documents from your computer, Dropbox, or Google Drive. Dani and I are Google Drive fanatics, and we suggest attaching Google Docs because they will be automatically updated after editing and do not require re-attaching multiple versions.

2.   Cut down on email... like, a lot

It's a widely accepted fact that email is inefficient and disliked. So why not explore options to minimize (and eventually eliminate!) it? Because Trello allows you to comment on individual cards, you and your team can have entire conversations about a task or a topic directly in Trello, instead of through an email thread of 32 messages. When new activity on Trello happens, the notification button on the top of a board will turn red to alert you.

You can also subscribe to a board or a card, and choose to receive email notifications. Trello has a inspiring philosophy on email, so you will only receive an email summary of the unread notifications that you've missed. You can even choose to adjust the frequency of the emails--"instantly" and "never" are both options. OH! And, you can now create cards via email. Yay!

Since using Trello, I've noticed a significant decline in the number of times that I curse the "reply all" button.

3.   Stickers! Puppy dogs! Pretty Things!

Trello's mascot is a husky pup named Taco. Upgrade to Trello Gold, and you can stamp Taco's face EVERYWHERE! Or, you can use the standard set of stickers. Oh, and you can create custom emojis. What's not to love?

Pretty Trello Things!

4.    All hands on deck, even the old ones. 

Trello allows for real time collaboration, so everyone can work at the same time. It's also so easy to use that even, er, baby boomers and beyond can catch on.

5.   Accountability, or it's obvious when you're not doing shit

Members can be added to boards and/or cards, which is suuuuper helpful when you need to keep track of who's doing what. You can assign specific tasks to teammates, or they can claim tasks on their own. And because all activity is logged and visible, it's plain to see who's working, who has room to take on more tasks, and who needs a help getting things done.

6.   Deadlines. One more time--deadlines.

It's no secret that Dani and I work better under deadlines. With Trello, you can set deadlines on cards and set up reminders so that you don't miss said deadlines. You can also enable the Calender view power-up to view all of your deadline enabled cards by week or by month. Setting deadlines is also a gentler, non-naggy way to get your team to get things done and avoid a work flow bottleneck.

7.   Visual Organization

By default, Trello boards are set up with three lists--To Do, Doing, and Done--but changing the name of the list is certainly possible (again, more details about how we use this feature in the post to come). You can drag and drop cards from list to list, and it's all very nice.  Copying and moving cards, using color coded labels, and adding checklists are additional features.

Side note: I LOVE the flat design of the Windows 8 Trello App. And that might be the first time I've used the word "love" and "Windows" in the same sentence...

8.   Security and stuff

Although you have the option to make Trello boards public, by default they are private so any secrets you want to keep will be safe. Traffic to and from Trello servers is SSL encrypted, and backups are frequent.  You can also export data from Trello, which is nifty.

9.   All the screen sizes!

In addition to having a responsive design in web browsers of any size, Fog Creek Software (makers of Trello) have been working tirelessly to develop apps for just about everything. Currently, there are apps for  iPhoneiPad, Android phones, and Windows 8. Trello for Android tablets is currently in beta.

10.   No monies, no problem

Trello is FREE! Yep, it's true.

You also have the option to pay $5/month and become a "super fan" with Trello Gold (board backgrounds, anyone?) or upgrade to Trello Business Class  if you want more administrative control.

So, what are you currently using as a  project management system? Fellow Trello users--have I left something off this list? Do you have a favorite collaboration tool? Use the comments to let us know!