Vote for my ALA Annual Ignite session!

librarianship, tech

If you’re reading this, the odds are fairly good that you’re a member of the American Library Association. If that is not the case, please look away.

But if you are an ALA member, please take a moment to consider voting for my ALA Ignite session. I’m hoping to talk about my software development project (The Great Reading Adventure) and how it will change how your library does summer reading.


Confessions of a Library Page


Sometimes, trying to embrace a minimalist lifestyle means making hard decisions. Last month, my wife and I were cleaning out the boxes we’ve had in storage for the past few years. I got rid of just about everything, which was pretty easy considering I hadn’t needed any of it in recent memory.

The things with memories attached are the hardest to part with. Deep in the back of the shed, I found a box of all my old work stuff, from the library where I’d spent a full decade of my life. I looked through it and decided to pitch just about everything. Except this one thing that I really didn’t want to let go of. So I took it home and scanned it before dropping it in the trash.

And now I’m giving it to you. When you’re young, sometimes you interpret things… differently. What you’re about to read is an incident report I wrote as  Library Page. Names have been censored to protect the innocent.

Incident 1

Incident 2

HB 2379: How to contact your legislators and what to say.


Finding your legislators

Here’s how you find your legislators:

  1. If you know your legislative district, click here.
  2. If you don’t, click here. Put your address in the search bar and click “Find.” You’ll get something like the image below. You’re interested in your Legislative District.Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 10.26.33 PM
  3. Once you’ve got that, go back to Step 1.


Send an email

The first step to getting your voice heard is sending an email. This is your opportunity to send some solid, facts and references to your legislators. These people have many different interests and issues commanding their attention, so it is up to you to be the expert. Be smart, concise, and formal. Here are some tips for formatting, tone, and organizing your content. And here is what you should say about HB 2379. And here are some links you might consider including.

Make a phone call


Sending an email is not enough. Follow it up with a phone call. Your legislators get a lot of email. Talking with them over the phone will make it more likely that they will read the message you sent. This also humanizes the interaction. You have your facts; you know what to say. Here is how you should say it. 

Save Our AZ Libraries (a cautionary tale)


Jenny Gubernick (Pima County Public Library) put together this really cool interactive fiction piece called “Save Our AZ Libraries (a cautionary tale)” centering on HB2379. Check it out.

This is a really cool way to get word out about an issue. Not only is it engaging, it’s also highly affecting. It tells you what’s happening, how to deal with it, and what will happen to you, whichever decision you decide to make. It’s pretty amazing.


HB 2379 will HURT Arizona libraries!


Here’s the deal: Representative Justin Olson has introduced this bill into the House of Representatives that will drastically cut the funding of library districts in Arizona.

This bill seeks to change the tax levies so that they cannot flex with community need. At present, the Board of Supervisors can set the tax levy each year up to $0.20 per every $100 of property tax. The limits on this levy is self-imposed and allows the districts to increase or decrease the levy as needed. The proposed bill will create a uniform limit for the entire state.

This is an especially horrible time for this action. The two largest library districts in the state, Maricopa County Library District (full disclosure: this is my employer) and the Pima County Library District (full disclosure: I like them), in an effort to save tax payers money, voluntarily lowered the tax levy this year to reduce the accumulated tax fund balance. This year’s levy is too atypical to base a long-term standard upon.

Library districts need to adapt to the needs of their communities. A one-size-fits-all tax levy simply will not work. The library districts in Arizona have never been accused of abusing their authority, and, what’s more, they provide valuable service to all of the libraries in their geographic areas.

If this bill passes, it will have this effect on the Maricopa County Library District:

  • Elimination of 64 full-time positions (goodbye staff)
  • Nearly 200 hours per week of library services will be cut (goodbye convenient hours)
  • All programming will be eliminated (goodbye storytime)
  • Half of the electronic resources made available across the County will be eliminated (goodbye research)
  • District libraries will have to cut 33% from materials budgets (goodbye books)

And that’s just in one district. Now multiply that by all the districts in the state.

Contact your legislators (find them at and ask them to vote down this bill.

  • Ask your library advocates, friends and staff to email your Representatives by Monday, February 3rd, at 5:00pm. Click for legislative contact info: House

Here are some HB2379 Talking Points created by the AzLA for you to use when you talk to your legislators.

Here is a document that tells you exactly what the ramifications of this bill would be for Maricopa County (Prepared by Maricopa County Office of Management and Budget).

*drops mic*

Getting unstuck


Do you ever get stuck? You’re working on a project and, suddenly, you don’t know how to proceed? Or, perhaps, you’re just bored with how you think about things- you find yourself doing the same things over and over and life is suddenly getting… boring.

Boredom is a killer. So many of the professional dissatisfactions I’ve experienced can be linked back to boredom. Back when I got hired as a library page many years ago, I was excited about the opportunity to shelve books. And then it got boring, because it gradually became monotonous. Then I was hired on as a clerk, and I got to work the customer service desk. This was exciting for a while, but then it got boring. And then, after a decade or so, I took my current position, and I’ve loved just about every day of it.  What happened?

I didn’t suddenly become a different person, but found myself forced into new circumstances. I have one of those jobs that is primarily user-defined. My work is primarily creative, and I find it to be incredibly fulfilling. In this environment, I’ve been able to do some really cool things.

Looking back, one of the common traits of the work I’ve been really proud of in the past three years is atypicality. These things have all been projects that aren’t typically done in day-to-day library happenings. I recently read an article on Lifehacker called “Train Your Brain toThink Like a Creative Genius” that shed some light on why these things mean so much to me (and why they happened).

The gist of the article is that you don’t have innate genius to do cool, creative things; you merely have to have experiences and use them accordingly:

  • When you’re trying to develop a good customer service practice, you should tap into the memory you have of that one time you ducked into Nordstrom’s to get out of the rain. Don’t focus on your own good service in the library setting.
  • When you’re trying to make a cool teen program, recall the hundreds of hours you spent in the smoky basement of the Nile Theater. Don’t try to figure out what’s cool in a culture you don’t completely comprehend.
  • When you’re trying to develop a better summer reading program, think back on that book you read about videogames and why they’re cool.  Don’t try to get the budget increased to buy a slightly more expensive incentive prize.

Creativity makes my work fun. I wish I would have had this knowledge earlier in my career. It seems obvious, but it really isn’t. Sometimes we get stuck in the cobwebs that are institutional practices and stagnant work culture. You can find a way out of those things by going on vacation, reading books, and running out of gas in a scary part of town. You just have to put your experiences to work for you.

You can do this anywhere. You don’t have to have an inherently creative job. When I was a page, I could have gamified my shelving duties. As a clerk, I could have emulated any number of great customer service experiences I’d had.  But I didn’t. And that was what made me unhappy.

Bad Design: Scottsdale Fashion Square sign


Scottsdale Fashion Square I was minding my own business. My dear wife was off purchasing some bath accessories at Lush, so I was chillin’ with the children at the “play place.”

The space is actually quite nice. There are lots of structures for kids to climb all over, and, what’s more, they’re imaginatively-built. Any excited child can choose from a castle, a pirate ship, or a tree house, each complete with its own little quirks. And for the future abstract expressionists in the pre-school set, there are two well-worn, brightly colored, stationary ducks to sit on. The kids love it.

While I was watching the girls run back and forth, I happened upon this sign. I read it from the top down, and then I read it again. And then I frowned.

Surely, an establishment that puts this much thought into an indoor playground can do better than this. The colors of the sign are nice, and the fonts are reasonable enough. Why would someone go to the effort of printing the same information twice? This was a really silly design choice.

It would be far better for the designer to include the information once- after all, I do want to know when the play area is closed- and do something to distinguish it from the rest of the text. While it is true that repetition helps us remember things, that concept should not be applied to sections of text on the same sign.

The problem with monotony

design, librarianship

When I was in college, there was a video rental place near my apartment that I frequented. I liked it because it had a nice horror section made up primarily of new releases, as opposed to the core “classic” horror films Blockbuster carried. This section featured a lot of straight-to-video crap, and that was fine by me.

As time went by, though, I started to become disenchanted with the collection. I’d still go there every week, but I wouldn’t enjoy myself. The thrill of discovery was gone. Even when that month’s shipment of new releases hit the shelf, I was still uninterested. New titles didn’t necessarily mean new content. Instead, I saw a lot of repackaged plot lines and predictable mockbusters that held fast to tropes I knew all too well. In spite of the new titles, the place didn’t ever deliver anything new. I’d become acclimated to the selection (and the types of films that would always make up that selection), and it started to bore me.

“Monotony reveals our limitations.” – Dale Carnegie

I came across that quote yesterday as I was reading The Art of Public Speaking. In it, Carnegie is arguing that constantly speaking about the same things in the same way makes you lose the favor of your audience. This seems fairly obvious when we’re watching someone speak. I had many college professors who committed this grievous sin, and their classes were always torturous. But the reason Carnegie brings it up (and puts it front and center in the book) is that it isn’t always easy to avoid monotony when we are the ones doing the speaking. To maintain some semblance of comfort, we’ll fall back on the arguments we’ve always made and present the material in the manner that is easiest for us to talk about. It’s scary to take risks, but sticking to the well-traveled road causes us to produce speech that feels like the product of an assembly line. It’s boring.

I’m trying to become a better public speaker, which was why I started reading the book in the first place. But, immediately, this discussion of monotony took me in other directions- primarily because “monotony” is a word that readily describes a lot of library services and practices. And that doesn’t have to be.


Library signs are huge problems. Why? Well, in general:

  • There are too many of them
  • They don’t follow a standard template
  • There are too many of them
  • They are haphazardly designed
  • There are too many of them

Making signage less monotonous is actually pretty easy when you consider the state of affairs. Library folks put signs everywhere in order to post rules, pass along important information, give directions, explain policies, and advertise services. At the previous library I worked at, one day I counted up more that ten informational signs on the front door. Unfortunately, that’s a pretty common problem.

To reduce monotony, eliminate the sameness of the message you’re delivering to your customers.

  • Using a lot of different fonts for emphasis? Try using one font with different weights.
  • Putting signs everywhere? Take them all down and start anew.
  • Need signs to explain complicated policies? Simplify your policies.
  • Using formal, factual statements all the time? Get conversational.
  • Signs covered in text? Have someone edit and embrace the art of brevity.

Below is an example of a sign in McMaster University ‘s Thode Library. This is an example of a librarian attempting to address this problem:

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 3.18.07 PM


Remember my video store story? That applies to your collection, too. It is a really safe bet to populate your shelves with current bestsellers. But the idea is to not be safe. Remember that ranking on a best seller list is not necessarily a mark of quality, but, rather, an indication of good marketing. Your goal (where your collection is concerned) is to put good stuff in the hands of your customers. So do it. Empower your collection development staff to take risks. Buy stuff that’s different; take that risk. Shock your customers out of their acclimation to your monotony.


Raise your hand if your library has a book club? Multiple book clubs? Movie nights? Storytimes? Basic computer classes? Occasional jugglers, magicians, or lecturers? Okay, now raise your hand if your library does something else.

Programming gets monotonous very fast. The demands made of library staff result in the same programs populating the events calendar every month, because you are required to put on four per month, you have exactly half and hour in which to plan them, and your budget amounts to exactly one fistful of peanuts. It’s hard.

But it’s not insurmountable.

  • Give hacker-oriented computer classes
  • Bring in free local talent to lead maker workshops
  • Add MuVChat to your film screenings
  • Go local with your bookclubs and bring authors in every month
  • Bring bands into the library- and let them get loud


This brief primer merely scratches the surface of the issues surrounding monotony in the library setting, but I hope it gives you some things to consider. Libraries need to continue to evolve, and it’s up to you to spearhead that change. This is an area where, I think, most of us could stand to improve.

Solved: Windows 7 – task bar won’t unlock, can’t pin programs, start menu blank

tech, windows


I took my computer out of the office to do some work at a specific site. When I got there, my roaming profile wouldn’t load and none of my programs could connect back to the relevant servers. The next day, when I redocked my laptop at the office, I was getting the same experience. An IT guy came over and forced a re-sync of my profile. This solved my issues, but it also deleted some temporary files.

I didn’t care about these temporary files. However, the files in question were related to some adware (Conduit and MixDJ search bars that self-installed on my Internet Explorer). The re-sync, for some reason, disrupted the adware’s file path, which caused a pop-up error. IT guy saw the pop-up, inquired about what “Conduit” was, and I admitted that it was adware on a web browser I didn’t ever use. My mistake.

So, like any IT guy would do, he set about getting the malware off my computer. This, of course, is the responsible thing to do, the thing he’s paid for. He ran Malwarebytes Anti-Malware and deleted some stuff, then, to make absolutely sure everything was gone, he installed and ran Spybot – Search and Destroy.

empty startOnce he was confident the adware was eradicated, he rebooted the machine. When it came back up, my start menu was blank, my taskbar was perma-locked, and I couldn’t pin items to the task bar or the start menu. It was a puzzler for everyone who looked at it. He spent a while trying to fix it, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Due to time constraints, he was forced to leave the fight for another day.

What I did

After he left, I started poking around and researching the problem. I looked through a bunch of forums and found that there were several people who’d had similar problems. There were three primary camps that those proposing solutions fell into: that malware was hiding the files, that the user’s system had locked the task bar (and it just needed to be unlocked), or that the user was not an admin and was experiencing the side effects of a group policy.

None of these proposed answers worked for me. My system, I quickly discovered, would not allow me to unhide files (another clue!), which was weird because I am an admin on my machine. The system would not allow me to unlock the task bar no matter how I tried (registry, right clicks, etc.). And according to IT, my malware was gone. My own scans confirmed this.

So what I thought was that maybe the malware or the deep scraping of the malware removal tools might have deleted something integral from the Windows registry. I opened up another Windows 7 laptop to compare, though, and they looked pretty much the same. Out of curiosity, I booted into safe mode to see how my profile loaded. This was a very good decision.

Safe mode boots the user into a Windows environment that uses minimal resources. Essentially, it doesn’t load anything that isn’t necessary, which lets one diagnose problems in a less complicated environment. In safe mode, my profile loaded just fine. My start menu was there, and my task bar functioned as it should- all was well. That told me that the most likely culprit was a third party software that had been installed on the machine.

From there, I did a clean boot. I stopped all non-Windows processes to get an environment similar to what I had in safe mode. When my profile loaded, everything was good again. I did some thinking and figured out the problem.


Spybot – Search and Destroy was installed immediately before my problem surfaced. I uninstalled the program and rebooted into my normal start up environment. Sure enough, I had my tool bar and start menu functionality back.

I think malware’s bad reputation may have preceeded it where troubleshooters of this problem are concerned. When we know about a malware infection, it isn’t surprising to us when system functionality is reduced. It’s the lowest common denominator. But, in this case, it is the solution we enacted to address that initial issue that caused the more confusing secondary one. All I can figure is that Spybot somehow limited permissions in my system, with the objective of preventing malware from making changes to the system. By removing it, I removed the “protection” it was providing.

Bottom line

If you’re experiencing this issue AFTER trying to get rid of malware/adware/virus, try uninstalling whatever anti-virus programs you recently installed.

A piece of the puzzle

design, librarianship

Yesterday afternoon, I got the opportunity to give a brief presentation on the software project I’ve spearheaded at a gathering of the Arizona Read On community, a group of folks representing different organizations in the state that are interested in issues related to children’s literacy. More than interested in the issues, actually. It’s a group that’s interested in really, truly addressing the problems we’re facing.

I’ve met with the group (or different gatherings related to it) a few times now. It’s always a humbling and eye-opening experience. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve worked in government for so long, but, for the most part, my expectations of meetings and partnerships are pretty low. I guess, to at least some degree, that’s my own fault- these things are what you make them. But, all the same, a lot of strategic planning sessions of various collaborative efforts result in a lot of intangible, vague plans. I don’t like that. I like specific things I can actually do.

Luckily, this isn’t the case with Read On Arizona. Under the guidance of Terri Clark, the State Literacy Director, this community effort has already made significant progress. Many different organizations (government, education, nonprofits) have built complex webs of collaboration in many different communities. At the meeting, I met two people I’d never met before who were willing to help me with big things I’d been logistically stalled on. That’s really cool.

I’m excited that the software project I’m working on is big enough to be considered by the audience I met with today. From the beginning, I’ve done my best to make sure that the value of the software extends beyond libraries and into the larger educational community. Hearing from people like those I spoke with today reaffirms that those efforts were worthwhile. I love the idea that my vision, seen through other eyes, is taking on different applications and meeting different needs.

I really need to write more in-depth about the project here. I will do that soon. In short, it’s an open source summer reading management software. There are other proprietary services out there that do the summer reading thing, but there’s nothing as nice as what we’re building. It’s got built in literacy activities to help children learn, a badge-based incentivization system, and a robust administrative backend that makes statistical reporting a breeze. I’m happy to say it’s getting great support in the library community. I’m even happier to say it’s finding support outside of the library community.

At the end of the day, I like going home feeling like I’ve done something useful for my community, whether that refers to the customers I serve in my geographic area or the other people in my profession. This software has given me that feeling many, many times. In recent weeks (and yesterday’s gathering was a great instance), I’ve learned that I also like going home feeling like I’m supported and that other people value my contributions. I suppose that’s simply a sense of validation. But it feels like more. It feels bigger.

I guess, then, what I’m trying to say is that it’s wonderful to do great work. It’s admirable to create something that is needed. But don’t forget to support others in your community who are working toward the same goal. It would (and has been) very easy for me to experience a sort of software development tunnel vision, where I’m focused only on my own project. But talking with other people shows me that what I’m doing fits into a larger goal, a greater vision.

Make sure you experience the views from both sides: creation and support. Do something amazing, but remember to also support other people doing amazing things.