Numbers for word people

During both the recruitment and admissions process for the MLIS program I manage, there are a few questions that come up a lot. One of them is, “Why do I need to take a statistics class?”

It’s not at all an unreasonable thing to ask — especially if your plan is to follow a career track like rare books librarianship, or film and video preservation, instead of informatics or something on the “tech-ier” side of the information professions. It’s not immediately apparent what value statistics might have to folks who work with manuscripts or movie posters rather than metadata or web analytics. That is likely because collecting and tracking statistics is one component of the invisible labor that archivists and librarians do. All the strategic planning, prioritization, research, metadata creation, digitization, and/or collections management work that tacitly surrounds the records in the document boxes on the shelves or the restoration of the movies on the screen is informed, measured, and tracked by statistics. Just as importantly, we use statistics to advocate for and demonstrate the worth of that work in concrete, quantified terms. And we use statistics to better know ourselves and our field. In short, even if you’re more of a books person or a movies person than a numbers person, statistics are a thing.

There are a handful of other questions and comments that come up often in conjunction with “Why do I need to take a statistics class?” Here they are, aggregated/anonymized and in no particular order. (I’m not quoting from anyone specifically here; if you see something that sounds like a question you asked or a comment you made to me, it’s because MANY other people have asked or told me the exact same thing!)

“The math part of the GRE was hard enough! Why do I have to take stats, too?” and “I do really badly on tests.”

First of all, you’re not alone in this; across the board, prospective Library and Archival Studies program applicants have below-average scores on the Quantitative section of the GRE. Those folks still get into good programs; test scores are only one part of the application, and I can assure you that admissions committees at our school and others weigh things like your statement of purpose, your transcripts from previous college work, and your letters of recommendation very carefully in their reviews. Those things tend to tell us much more about how well you might fit into (and be served in your professional ambitions by) our program.

More importantly, what you’ll do in grad school is not at all like taking a standardized test, I promise. For most folks, taking the GRE before grad school is just about the last time you’ll ever be given a number that seems to sum up your ability and worth so starkly (and thank God for that, really). Think of it as a chance to say goodbye to such reductionist assessments! From here on out, there are no more multiple-choice answers; your work, in all its complexity, will speak for itself and for your quality as a professional. You won’t be applying math formulas to abstract problems because they’re on a test somewhere; you’ll be applying the sum total of your knowledge to concrete problems that you are personally and professionally committed to addressing. Even when that makes use of math, statistics, budgets, and other “scary number stuff,” that process feels completely different from taking the GRE or a test in a math class — because it is completely different.

“Math has always been really hard for me.” (See also, “I do really badly on tests.”)

Whatever your history with math has been, remember that your past is not always predictive. It may  have been years (or decades) since your last math class, and you may have spent that intervening time avoiding math in every possible way. You may be tempted to continue that pattern of avoidance — just abandon any plans that turn into something that require you to do math. That’s cool, if that’s your choice; however, that’s also going to severely limit the number of your dreams that can ever come true, which is sad, if you ask me.

I have lost count of the number of people (students here and colleagues in the field, alike) who have told me math was always a problem for them until they returned to it later in life — and more importantly, with a specific, practical, applied need for it. Math-as-subject may not work for you, but my hope is that, like those students and colleagues, you’ll find math-as-tool much more accessible, and therefore much easier to grasp. (There’s a whole TED Talk playlist for People Who Hated Math in High School that helps demonstrate this, if you don’t believe that could possibly be true for you.) At the very least, you’ll bring an adult’s strength, experience, and focus to the math you need to do now — so consider making the subtle change in syntax and meaning from “Math is hard for me” to  “I’m someone who works hard when it comes to math.” Working hard is something you can decide to do, and that you can be very proud of doing.

Speaking of hard work, let me also acknowledge the many reasons that math might have been hard for you. Aside from its abstractness, the quality of the teachers you had, and internal narratives about your ability or capacity for math that got written early and deep, there might be other things going on — such as an undiagnosed learning impairment like ADHD. Hard work alone can’t mitigate that! And getting through grad school will be hard enough as it is without making use of all the tools, strategies, and resources available to you. It’s difficult to know exactly how many adults are diagnosed with conditions like dyslexia or ADHD during graduate school, but the comments on this GradHacker blog post suggest that it’s not uncommon at all. Such a diagnosis can be life-changing (for the better) for grad students who are struggling, despite the stubborn misconceptions and stigma surrounding learning disorders. Even on your own, as an adult you’re going to be far better able to develop awareness of the habits and methods that help you learn best than you were as a child.

“Do I have to take stats before I apply? Can I just take it in my first quarter/semester?” 

Programs vary, so check the application guidelines and/or ask a program representative if it’s not completely clear. In the program I manage, stats is an admissions requirement, not an application requirement — so you can wait until you know you’ve been admitted, and then get your stats prerequisite out of the way the summer before you start the program. For folks who have been out of school for a while, this can be a nice way to ease back into the classroom environment and get comfortable in your new grad-student identity! Maybe you’ll test-drive some new notebooks and binders, put together your study-music playlist, get in the spirit of things.

While we do allow for incoming students to complete their statistics prerequisite in the first term, you can’t apply credits for prerequisite courses to your graduate degree. That means you’d have to take stats as an “overload” — that is, credits in excess of regular full-time enrollment — in the fall, or else get caught up with an overload of electives in a future term, or else enroll and pay tuition for an extra class in the summer. While you don’t have to pay more for overload credits if you’re already enrolled full-time at this institution, the term “overload” is pretty descriptive. A full courseload is plenty to be getting on with! I really don’t recommend piling a stats class on to your first term in grad school if you can avoid it. Getting overwhelmed early on in your grad program is hard to come back from; it’s far better to ramp up once you’ve had a chance to figure out your capacity under normal operating conditions first.

“Which statistics class I should take?”

That’s easy: Take the one that’s cheapest and most convenient for you and meets the basic prerequisite requirements. If you’re still finishing your undergraduate degree when you’re applying to graduate programs, or think you might go to grad school within five years, consider taking a stats class before you graduate. A lot of graduate programs in the sciences and even in the humanities have stats requirements, so it’s a good use of your college time.

You might also look into taking a basic stats class at a nearby community college (an excellent option, and the one I recommend from personal experience!), or researching similar course offerings available from any number of accredited higher ed institutions online. (Be wary of institutions that aren’t accredited! If you aren’t sure what those are, or why you should avoid them, I highly recommend Tressie McMillan Cottom’s book Lower Ed.) Distance learning is a great option if you need to fit your class work in around an inflexible full-time work schedule, but community colleges often have evening classes as well. Make sure you look into this well in advance–since heavily enrolled programs like nursing schools and MBA programs often require stats, too, affordable community college classes that meet those prerequisites might fill up fast.

Some schools have a list of classes they recommend, and it’s always OK to ask the admissions officer or student services personnel about that; however, with course offerings at other schools changing all the time, those are hard to keep current, and some schools don’t even bother. You might find it best to just research what works for your budget and your schedule, and send the full information (course number, school, course description, and syllabus, if you can get it) to your graduate program to confirm that it meets the requirements instead.

“I’ve been having trouble getting into one of the recommended stats classes at my local community college. There are all these hoops you have to jump through — I have to take a placement test in intermediate algebra just to enroll!”

Spoiler alert: No matter what program you attend, you are likely to find that graduate school is highly bureaucratic. There are easily one bajillion stupid hoops you will have to jump through, 90% of which will be essential to getting enrolled, staying enrolled, and finishing your degree. (Look! There’s a statistic! See, that wasn’t so bad.) So is the process of applying for — not to mention working in — jobs with big corporations, or federal/state/local government agencies. And those settings happen to be where a lot of archive and library jobs are, too.

If you’re deterred by the hurdles you’re navigating to take a community college math class, be aware that graduate school and the job market won’t be much different; in fact, they may be much worse! It is worth it, though, if that’s what you need to get where you want to go. That’s why I emphasize to prospective students that they should have a sense of that when they apply, and try to convey that in their essays (rather than think of grad school as a time to explore their options, and count in it helping them to discover a path while they’re here). If you’re not sure what you’re doing any of this for in the first place, and what getting the degree or credential will help you do in the future, the rigamarole will definitely feel less worthwhile!

“Ugh. I’m taking the stats class now, and it’s so hard. Maybe a grad program isn’t right for me after all, if it’s just going to be like this…”

Graduate school will be challenging in many ways. This is true for everyone, no matter how much of an academic superstar they were in high school or college. For one thing, you’re not competing with your classmates to get the highest score on the test, or the most right answers; your only real competition is with your own previous best efforts.

With each class you take, you’re going to be faced with the need to read deeply, and at an advanced level, and often in fields that are entirely new to you. You’ll doing your own original research, critiquing the information you used to take in without questioning it, and adding to the store of human knowledge. You’ll have to figure a whole bunch of new stuff out, intellectually and emotionally. Stats, schmats; it’s all hard now!

The good news is, you’ll be in a cohort with other students who are ALSO being challenged. Some of them will be experiencing those challenges in different ways from you, to be sure, but no one escapes the struggle! So, you have an external support network you can draw on, in addition to your family, friends, and loved ones outside of school (who won’t always get what you’re going through the way your classmates will). If you’ve conquered a piece of this struggle on your own, though — a piece like getting through a stats class when math has always been a tough subject for you, say — that will give you some truly meaningful internal resources as well. Self-assurance, confidence in your ability to learn when you devote focused attention to it, and some measure of how far you’ve already come: These are all going to be valuable resources to you in this process, at least as much so as anything you’ll learn in a math class. Stick with statistics, and that’ll stick with you.

Core competencies


I would rather listen to tapes of myself having sex
But I am not that dangerous
And the C.I.A. is not that creative

Steve Gregoropoulous/W.A.C.O.
(from the album Darling Clementine)

These old song lyrics come to mind every time I’m signing the waiver form giving permission for a conference session I’m part of to be recorded or livestreamed. “Record away!” I think, “Just as long as I never, ever, ever have to watch it myself.” And yet…how else can we ever know what we really look like when we’re talking about our work? How much better could we get at standing up and speaking to the topics we feel most invested in and most passionate about if we put focused effort into improving these skills? It’s one thing to feel embarrassed about cell-phone footage from that live punk rock karaoke night (where you may or may not have ABSOLUTELY KILLED your rendition of the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb”) making it onto Facebook, but it’s another thing to avoid self-study when it comes to your professional presentations. Search for public speaking tips, and nearly every book, web site, article, or listicle you find will tell you that recording yourself and studying that recording is key to improving your skills and comfort level. Some of them even claim that if you’re an especially anxious speaker, watching recordings of yourself can “give you a tremendous confidence boost,” because the video just shows how you look and sound to others, not how you feel on the inside.

I’ve been ruminating on the subject of self-scrutiny more than usual lately for a couple of reasons: first, because a few months ago I sat down and watched a recording of a keynote speech I gave in 2012 at the annual meeting of the New England Archivists, and found to my surprise that I felt quite proud of how I’d done. I barely squirmed at all, in fact! The other reason is that I’m once again teaching our Professional Development & Portfolio Design class this quarter. We’re devoting a certain amount of class time to addressing the understandable anxieties that arise in connection with high-stakes presentation–in this case, as part of our MLIS students’ culminating requirements in the spring.

In a program that is distinguished among iSchools for our focus on social justice, it makes sense for our curriculum to emphasize advocacy and the ability to communicate effectively and powerfully about issues of importance to the communities we serve and represent. This won’t always take the form of standing up and talking directly to an audience; writing and publishing in various forms, curation and exhibition, and our collecting activities are among the many other ways we can express and communicate those values. Nevertheless, a big chunk of our professional discourse still takes place at conferences and symposia, where people get up and talk about their ideas. We would be doing our students a disservice if we didn’t push them to develop some significant competencies in this area, and make an explicit connection between the portfolio presentation and other professional activities they might engage in throughout their careers.

One way I’m addressing these anxieties and building those competencies in the classroom is to begin most of our meetings with an arrival exercise–usually very brief, comprising some form of breath work and mindfulness–to help everyone set aside whatever’s led up to our class time and focus on the work at hand. I’ve talked about the body as an instrument for communication, and how awareness of your breathing, posture, and even where you’re holding your hands or the expression on your face can affect how you deliver your message verbally. We’ve looked at TED talks and broken them down into beats, to better understand how visual and conceptual and verbal components of a presentation all work together to support the communication of complex ideas. I discuss with students how specific aspects of their issue papers might lend themselves especially well to presentation, whether that’s in the form of data visualizations, punchy opening lines, compelling analogies, or links with timely events. And, of course, we practice: the final two class meetings are entirely devoted to student presentations, and everyone provides constructive feedback on their peers’ performance.

This time around, I’m experimenting with additional ways to draw students’ attention to underlying aspects of presentations, like their structure and the interplay of visuals and spoken elements. I’ll either do Presentation Bingo, or perhaps have everyone vote on categories like Best Opening Line or Clearest Explanation of Something Complicated (with prizes, naturally). We’ll be videotaping these presentations, too, and I’ll recommend that students watch their own talks at least once before their final portfolio reviews come around in May.

Now that I’m teaching on the subject, I pay even more attention than formerly to what other people do when they’re presenting–I borrow the tricks and techniques I like, and try to catch and eliminate the bad habits I see in others. And, yes, I have started to watch the video recordings of my own presentations (sooner rather than later) and making further adjustments based on what I see and hear there.  My latest presentation, which also happens to be related to core competencies and issues of self-representation for information professionals, was livestreamed along with several other AMIA conference offerings in New Orleans, LA this year:

(My talk starts just about at the 40-minute mark. Slides are a bit hard to see because of the camera angle, but I’ve posted them here if you want to follow along with the talk in another window.)

It only took me three days to work up the gumption to watch myself this time. If I ever get that dangerous, or the CIA ever gets that creative, I think I’ll be ready.

Elevator speeches and more

Image result for big lebowski dream sequence
If you’re one of my students and I catch you clustering up at a conference with people you already know and see every week at home, I am coming for you like Maud Lebowski.

Last night, the UCLA AMIA Student Chapter hosted a “Conference 101” session focused on the upcoming AMIA conference in New Orleans, and on conference-going in general as an important part of professional life. The organizers kindly asked me to speak (and provided pizza!) but everyone present contributed something of value: advice and experiences of their own, thoughtful questions on important topics, and even suggestions on where to find good secondhand clothes to start building a conference wardrobe without going broke. (More broke than the airfare, hotel, and registration fees have already made you, that is–a topic about which Pamela Gay raises some excellent points  here).

I have advice on a range of topics for conference-goers in this FAQ document (PDF), but if I had to restrict myself to one piece of advice for emerging professionals, it would be this: Get your elevator speech down pat. Yes, conferences can be overwhelming, even for extraverts. I am not without compassion for those with social anxiety; I experience it myself, especially when I’m feeling out of my element at conferences I don’t usually attend. Whether you’re church mouse or loudmouth, though, when the opening night reception is upon you, you must enter that badly lit hotel ballroom fully prepared to answer the very basic question of “So, what’s your deal?” That means coming up with a concise self-introduction, practicing it until you’re really comfortable saying it to strangers (preferably while juggling a tiny plate of appetizers and a plastic cup brim-full of mediocre cabernet), and being able to adapt it as appropriate for your setting and audience.

Knowing this to be an essential skill, I drill my students on it at every opportunity: During our pre-term Media Archives Boot Camp, I force the entire group to deliver their elevator speeches to each of the dozen or so people who are hosting us for site visits and vault tours over the course of the week. I also make students who attend our  IS Tea Breaks introduce themselves to our weekly guests as payment for their slice of homemade cake (the cake is always delicious; the suffering is always worth it). By the end of their first year, you know what? They’re pretty darn good at it.

Since not everyone gets the benefit of my constant nagging conscientious social pedagogy, I offer here some of my elevator speech rules and suggestions, with examples:

Your stripped-down, most basic elevator speech should be one sentence consisting of your first and last name and some description of what you do or are all about.

Hi, I’m Snowden Becker; I manage the graduate program in Library and Information Science at UCLA.

Nice to meet you! I’m Anna Casitas, I’m studying preservation of early Latin American feature cinema in the NYU MIAP program.

Why first and last names? Well, if you’re networking you want people to be able to find you later. If you’re one of several folks with a fairly common first name at a conference, you want to give as many simple points of specificity as you can to differentiate yourself. Even my fairly unusual first name isn’t wholly unique–and just Googling “Snowden” by itself probably puts you on some sort of CIA watchlist these days. But if you Google “Snowden Becker UCLA” what you find will point you to the right person.

Don’t have a job? Not in a graduate program yet? Trying to break into the field? No problem. You don’t have to apologize for any of that in your elevator speech; just focus on your goals instead.

I’m Padma Gunasegaram. I’ve been working in software sales for the last few years, and now I’m looking to transition into more public-facing work in archives.

I’m DeAndre Williams, I just finished my undergraduate degree in film studies at Wesleyan, and I’m applying to grad programs in media preservation for next fall.

In each of these examples, the door is open for the person you’re addressing to go in a bunch of different directions–deeper into your background, if they’re interested (“Oh, what made you decide to change careers?”), or sharing a point of commonality (“My cousin went to Wesleyan! What a pretty campus”), or probing about your future plans (“Which grad programs are you applying to?” “With your sales background, are you interested in stock footage licensing at all?”)

Adjust the details for the folks you’re addressing. The nice thing about going to conferences is that you’ll often be among people who already speak your language (or one of their own, which you can learn). A good elevator speech can help you find shared enthusiasms easily when you’re amongst kindred spirits, or situate your work in and show how it’s relevant to a broader context if you are in a new setting. Here are variations I might use at conferences other than AMIA:

Society for Cinema and Media Studies: I’m an archivist; I study how audiovisual materials, especially non-theatrical media like home movies or police bodycam footage, are preserved as part of our larger cultural heritage.

Association for Library and Information Science Educators: I teach courses in UCLA’s MLIS program on archival administration and preservation of audiovisual materials.

Law Enforcement Video Association: I work in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA, and I teach and do research on how law enforcement agencies are managing new forms of video evidence.

Society of American Archivists, AERI, and other archives-oriented conferences: I’m researching evidence management in law enforcement agencies as a form of archival practice, and looking at police property rooms as a kind of community-based archive.

In each case, I’m highlighting the aspect of my identity or work that’s most relevant and helps distinguish me as an individual in that setting (for SCMS, the fact that I’m an archivist, as opposed to a media scholar; my teaching areas for ALISE; my connection with law enforcement for LEVA; my specific subfield or research specialization within archives work for archives conferences). It’s all different, but it’s all still me.

Details are doorways! Avoid being cagy or vague. I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve noticed an increasing tendency for people (especially students who are younger) to avoid specifics when talking about their interests and experiences. For example:

I studied art in undergrad and then I worked for museums for a few years before I went back to graduate school.

[eyeroll] OK…What kind of art? Where did you go to undergrad? Which museums did you work for? Where did you go to grad school, and what for?

I studied printmaking at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore, and then I worked for the Walters Art Museum and SFMOMA before I went back for my MLIS degree at UCLA.

Saying that as your elevator speech instead doesn’t take much more of your time to deliver, but it gives the person you’re talking to a much richer, more concrete picture of your experience and life direction.

I think this sort of diffidence might stem from people’s fear of coming off as braggy, or being a name-dropper–but if that’s your concern, try to put it aside. In a networking context, those details count! Most fields are pretty small, and the conference-going types do tend to know one another. If you live in Chicago and tell me you’re volunteering for “a local film archive,” I’ll immediately ask “Oh, are you working with Nancy Watrous at the Chicago Film Archives? Or for Jacqueline Stewart and Candace Ming at the South Side Home Movie Project?” So you might as well tell me (or whoever) up front instead of making us drag it out of you. Striking the right balance between being informative and oversharing or droning on about yourself can be tricky–but just remember to keep it short and you should be fine.

When you’re done, stop talking. In all the examples above, the speaker gets to their point and then stops. This is a critical step, because it means someone else can then start talking–after which they, also, will stop, and the first person can respond to what they are saying. This is called “conversation.” Paradoxically, nothing brings a “conversation” to a screeching halt as quickly as someone fumbling about, dragging things along, or petering off weakly in their elevator speech:

“Oh–um…well, I guess I’m interested in digitization…like, what happens when people digitize things and then the originals aren’t as accessible…or…like, people can access them but it’s not the same as the original format…for one reason or another…like…digital to analog issues? And colorspace? Aaaaaaannd…yeah.”

OK. I know you’re frightened, folks, but you’re not helping yourself with this sort of thing. Let me help you: You’re “interested in the critical affordances of digital and analog media,” or maybe “the implications of digitization for access to recordings in their original formats.” Practice saying that until it just rolls off your tongue, and then come find me at the reception. We’ll talk!

On jobs and job-seeking

Do you know the best time to be looking at open positions in your field? It’s ALL THE TIME. Whether you’re actively job-seeking or happily occupied in a position that’s perfect for you, ads for jobs like the one you have (or want to have) should be among your regular professional reading. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Recognize that things change. Your current job may be great, but what if your boss leaves and their replacement is a monster who makes your life miserable? What if some aspect of your adult life (elderly parent, kids, partner’s new job, your own health) requires you to change where you live or take some time off? What if funding for your position doesn’t get renewed next fiscal year? The job you’d never have considered applying for because it was part-time, in another state, or perfect if you weren’t happy where you are can quickly become your next best prospect.
  • Gauge your value. Whether you’re negotiating a starting salary or thinking about next steps in your career, you should have realistic sense of what your skills and experience are worth on the market. Job ads help convey how much demand there is, and where the open jobs are. You might also read recent job posts to get a sense of the current pay range for jobs like yours, or see what you might get paid if you took the next step up the ladder. That can motivate you to keep adding to your c.v., rather than getting complacent!
  • Get what you need to succeed. You can also think of job ads as shopping lists for skills development. If every job ad you’re interested in asks for experience using a particular software application, familiarity with a specific data standard, or ability to lift 30 lbs, well…that should be incentive for finding internships, classes, or other opportunities to acquire those essential skills. (Maybe start working out, too.)
  • Know yourself. What do the jobs that appeal to you have in common? What might be off-putting about an otherwise exciting prospect? Figuring out what you do and don’t like about past, present, and prospective jobs can help you recognize patterns, ask good questions during interviews, and make choices that increase your job satisfaction. Also, giving careful consideration to jobs you don’t want–and understanding why you don’t want them–will make it that much clearer when a job you do want comes along.
  • Understand the literary form of the job posting. Just like press releases, recommendations, résumés and cover letters, job postings are their own genre of microliterature. As with all of those examples, you’ll more than likely have to write one yourself at some point…and it’s possible to write a really good one if you know the form well. Read job postings for their style, organization, and content; keep a particular eye out for striking features, or places where a post clearly departs from boilerplate language. Posted positions can tacitly or overtly express key organizational values that might resonate with you–like the fact that it’s a dog-friendly workplace, or that there are matching programs for charitable giving.
  • Be on the lookout for red flags. In my experience, if a job title has a slash or ampersand in it (like “Editor/Applications Analyst” or “Reference Librarian & Instructor”) and the description indicates that the position reports to the heads of two different departments, that often means this is actually two full-time jobs they’re hoping to hire one magical, superhuman person to do. Does the salary (if one is given) seem way too low for all the qualifications they’ve listed? Then you might be looking at what my good friend Lynn Boyden calls “a letter to Santa Claus”–a job posting where most (if not all) of the preferred characteristics are nice-to-haves rather than have-to-haves. That’s not always a bad thing, either! Letter-to-Santa-type jobs are often ones you can successfully apply for if you have only some of the things on the list–either because they’re not sure what they need, or they’re willing to work with whatever skills the candidate they like most actually comes equipped with. Last but not least, if you see the exact same position posted over and over again, approach with caution! There might be good reasons no one stays in that job for more than a few months (terrible boss, terrible workplace, duties not as described…the list goes on). You’ll be far more likely to notice that sort of thing if you’re keeping track, and you can ask around to get the inside scoop.
  • Keep a lookout for others, too. One way you can build social capital is to forward postings to people you know. Sending someone a quick message–“I don’t know if you’re looking for something new, but I saw this position opening and I thought it was perfect for you. Hope you’re well!”–is a thoughtful gesture that really takes minimal effort. It also lets you be in touch with folks from time to time about something other than a favor you’re asking, which might make you feel better about leveraging your network when you do need something in the future. (For more on social capital, check out this toolkit (PDF link) from some folks at Harvard.)

Whatever your reason for monitoring the job market, try to be systematic about it. Always download and save the full text of the job description when you first see it; bookmarks won’t be helpful after the application period closes and the posting comes down. You can print out hard copies and keep them in a job binder, or just save electronic versions in a folder on your computer. Annotate saved posts with highlights or marginal notes or Post-its, or keep a separate file with your notes–key qualifications you might have (or need) for each job, salary ranges, contact name(s) or connections you might have at the place that’s hiring, or even the name of whoever eventually gets the job, if you happen to know. You might also keep a running list of keywords that stand out among job descriptions you like, so you can include those terms in your searches whenever you’re job-hunting more actively. That could turn up a job you wouldn’t have found otherwise, because it’s in a different industry or has an unusual title.

This doesn’t mean you have to read every last job post that hits your inbox. We’re all looking for ways to cut back on the number of irrelevant messages we have to slog through, and one way to do that is to delete job postings unread if we’re not actively looking. But do consider checking the job boards or searching list archives for recent postings every few months, at least; that’s frequent enough to keep you current. It can give you something to do on a slow afternoon, confirm that the job you have now is pretty decent, or be the reality check you need to realize you’ve got to retool your skill set to remain competitive. It might even be fun to imagine yourself doing something new and completely different…perhaps in a dog-friendly workplace, in a town hundreds of miles away, and for ten percent more money than you’re getting paid now!

Life, Death, and Home Movies

Home Movie Day Promo 2014 from Center for Home Movies on Vimeo.

This year marks the fifteenth annual observation of Home Movie Day — a project I co-founded with four cherished colleagues when I was just starting out in my career as an audiovisual archivist. For the students I’m teaching now, it’s the best example I have of how you can create your own opportunities to learn, grow, and make an impact professionally.

As a Home Movie Day host, I learned to organize public events, deal effectively with the media, solicit donations of venue space, equipment, supplies, food, and cash, coordinate volunteers, and talk to people about film preservation issues and how the images we looked at together could have historic significance, even if they didn’t show famous people or notable places. I also learned a lot about small-gauge film that I didn’t learn as a graduate student — what it looks and feels like, how it behaves, how to prep it and project it. (True confession: Despite being the founding chair of the Small Gauge and Amateur Film Interest Group of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, I had never once operated a film projector before the first Home Movie Day event on August 16, 2003, and only barely knew how to splice film. It took years for me to become an expert film handler, but Home Movie Day was both a motivator and a means for me to do that.)

Being a co-founder of the Center for Home Movies, which oversees not just the annual, international Home Movie Day event, but a range of other projects aimed at transforming the way people think about home movies, furnished still more opportunities. I learned what it takes to create, incorporate, and responsibly run a non-profit organization, to write and revise mission statements and other core documents, to fundraise, to write grants. I’m incredibly grateful to my co-founders and fellow board members for being smart, talented, and driven in different ways from me — so that I could learn how to have productive disagreements, ask for input from the folks in the group who are inclined to be quiet, get help when I needed it, and be accountable for my mistakes. Together, we produced a DVD, helped get multiple amateur works listed on the National Film Registry (I’m still working on getting the NFR opened up to works that originated on video, but am confident that will happen in the near future), and expanded Home Movie Day from two dozen venues in four countries to nearly a hundred cities on every continent except Antarctica. This year, the Center for Home Movies and Home Movie Day were honored with the Society of American Archivists’ Hamer-Kegan Award for archival advocacy.

Although I stepped down from the CHM board a few years ago to focus on research, teaching, and writing (count that as another lesson I’ve learned — how and when to step away from a project you love, making room for others to step up and carry it forward), I remain strongly connected to the project and support it in all the ways I can. I’m helping out once again at this year’s Home Movie Day events in Los Angeles, of course. There’ll be two “classic” open screening events at different locations on Oct. 7 and Oct. 21, plus a curated program of selections from the Academy Film Archive’s collection the evening of the 7th — full details for all the LA events are here. And I’ve just drafted a new “living will” for home movie collections, which I’ve shared with the Center for Home Movies, and which I invite everyone to circulate far and wide. Fillable PDF and editable Word and Google doc versions are all available for use under the Creative Commons CC-BY (Attribution) license — which means anyone can freely adapt them for use in other circumstances, with acknowledgment of the original source/creator.

Whether you’re going to a Home Movie Day event near you this year or not, you can use this template to capture basic information about your (or your family’s, or your community members’) home movie collections. The document is also designed to stimulate home movie owners’ thinking about what might happen to their home movies in the future, and make sure their wishes and preferences for this are formally noted somewhere. I recommend printing out one copy to keep with the movies themselves, one copy to keep with your important papers, one copy to send to a fried, family member, attorney, or someone else who can act as a “trustee” for your home movies in the event of something happening to you.

Why is this important? Well, among other things, it’s part of the basic disaster planning that we should all probably do. Whether you live in earthquake-and-wildfire country like me, or flood-and-landslide country, or hurricane-and-tornado country, or plague-of-locusts territory, or under an oppressive political regime, or what have you, it’s important to recognize that your materials might be at risk — and, more importantly, that you might not always be able to care for them yourself. Over a decade ago, families who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina lamented the loss of irreplaceable keepsakes like family photos, and strangers were moved by finds of abandoned and displaced images left behind by fleeing residents and receding flood waters. Even in the absence of disaster, surviving family members (or estate agents) who have to clear a lifetime’s worth of stuff from the house of a loved one may not recognize the importance of a home movie collection. A few words of direction jotted down on a form like this lets them know they’re acting in accordance with your wishes, and helps ensure that your movies will survive and remain accessible into the future.

I believe, after over fifteen years of working with other people’s home movies, that the personal stories told through this medium are an essential part of the historical record. I’ve observed that home movies are often exquisitely well cared for and cherished by their families of origin, but I’ve also seen how easily that care can be interrupted. Taking an hour or so to fill out a form, jot down some notes, and think about what you want for your films and videos in the future is a worthy investment in these heirloom images — put it on your disaster-preparedness checklist today!


UX in PDX: A professional love story

Ever meet someone at a professional gathering and just instantaneously have that feeling like, “We are going to work together on something. I do not know what that will be, or when that will happen, but it will be AMAZING”? Yeah, me too. It’s one of the things I like most about going to conferences: meeting new people, getting that feeling, and making those projects happen. Whether it’s a panel proposal for the next year’s conference, or an article you write together, or a grass-roots film preservation effort that goes on to win a major award for archival advocacy, putting your head together with people who are really simpatico and seeing what you can cook up is kind of magical.

The latest of those brain-fruits is ripening for me this July, in Portland, when I finally get to collaborate with my cherished friend and colleague Amelia Abreu on an exciting new UX Night School workshop for archivists and their ilk. I first met Amelia at the inaugural Archival Education & Research Institute in Los Angeles yonks ago and I’ve ardently followed her on every possible channel since then. She’s a writer whose work never fails to provoke my thoughts, a woman in tech who works with major-label clients, and a human of genuine grace and dignity (and humor, let’s not forget humor). Although the work we each do day-to-day is pretty different, professionally we’re both under the star sign of Janus the Archivist. So we’re cooking up a learning experience to tap some of this Velma Kelly-Roxie Hart-type chemistry.

If you happen to be coming to Portland for SAA’s annual meeting, the timing of our GLAM Weekend Intensive makes it a perfect lead-in for the conference — as does the focus of the workshop, which will be all about user-centered design as a set of principles that cultural heritage organizations like galleries, libraries, archives, and museums can really use. (If you’re not clear on why GLAM professionals desperately need UX skills, I’ve listed a few very good reasons here in a guest post on the UXNS blog.)

Enrollment is limited, tuition is very reasonable, and I seriously doubt you’ll find a friendlier introduction to UX…let alone one led by two people so excited to finally be teaching together. Register here.

What you can learn from your bag of swag: Notes from IACP Tech

Last week, I attended the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s annual Technology Conference (IACP Tech) for the first time. My teaching schedule prevented me from attending as much of the event as I’d have liked, but I was there long enough to present a workshop session with a SWGDE Video Committee colleague (Sgt. Brandon Epstein of the New Brunswick PD — see slides from our talk on hiring and training staff for effective management of video evidence here). I also got to meet and talk with some interesting people from agencies all over the US and Canada, and I took a walk through the exhibit hall, where I talked to over a dozen vendors about their products and services.

If you go to professional association meetings and conferences and take the time to check out the vendor booths, you will learn as much about trends in your industry as anyone who attends the keynotes, workshops, papers, and panel sessions — perhaps even more. As a non-LEO (law enforcement officer/organization) attendee of IACP Tech, I found it easier to engage with the vendors here than at archives-oriented conferences, perhaps because I wasn’t remotely in a position to buy anything they were selling. I was up-front about the fact that I wasn’t really a potential customer or agency decision-maker, but that I was interested in their products/services and where they fit into the big picture of a community of practice I’m seeking to understand better. Pretty much everyone just shrugged, scanned my badge if they had a raffle in progress, and made what I’m pretty sure would be their usual sales pitch.

IACP Tech is the new name for the Law Enforcement Information Management (LEIM) Education Conference and Technology Exposition; IACP’s own description of the event notes that it’s a venue for exchanging “information, best practices and lessons learned regarding state-of-the-art law enforcement information management, communications and interoperability, technology standards, and information sharing, analysis and fusion.” The technology products and services being promoted were therefore more likely to be platforms or applications than objects or equipment (my sense is that the fall IACP meeting is where more equipment vendors go). Vendors of in-car video systems and body-worn camera tech were present, but there were far greater numbers of people who were promoting video-processing products such as ALPR (automated license plate recognition), facial recognition, digital evidence management, or automated redaction software. Some of the demos were visually impressive; one vendor had a monitor set up to demonstrate how their application recognizes and automatically blurs human faces in real time. You can see it working on me, to my evident amusement, in this pic courtesy of Brandon Epstein:


Others products I saw demonstrated were impressive for their computational power, the elegance and effectiveness (or clunkiness and utilitarianism) of their interfaces — as well as for their implications for personal privacy, or for the authenticity and integrity of recorded information they interfaced with. I picked up flyers for virtually everything, much of which I still need to read through; I’ll be doing so with an archivist’s eye, and looking for material that will support the next iteration of the class on bodycams, surveillance and data management that my “On the Record, All the Time” research partner Jean-Francois Blanchette and I taught last fall.

In some cases, not just the vendors’ sales pitches and products, but the swag itself — the giveaways and promotional trinkets — pointed toward the changing world we live in. One vendor was handing out webcam covers emblazoned with their logo, little plastic shutters you could stick to your laptop and slide to open or close, preventing unwanted intrusion and surveillance. Another had sticky note pads printed to look like citation books — funny if you like pretending you’re writing someone a ticket for missing an important phone call; less so if you’re concerned about the possibility of your coworkers, family members, or neighbors monitoring and reporting your behavior to authorities. Other vendors were handing out microfiber cloths — so handy for cleaning those screens that are increasingly prevalent in law enforcement work, as elsewhere! But there was no shortage, either, of pens, sticky notes, and paper pads and notebooks…which tends to make me think taking good old-fashioned hand-written notes has not been completely supplanted by electronic equivalents. Perhaps most suggestive, though, was the foam-rubber toy in the shape of a head with a demented expression on its face, which, when squeezed, would holler a series of rather agitating commands to seek serenity: “HOOOOOOLLD ON NOW! TAAAAAKE IT EASY! DOOOON’T STRESS!” As with many of the products and platforms on display, this device seemed as likely to create headaches as to relieve them.