Andromeda Yelton

Across Divided Networks

jQuery workshop teaching techniques, part 2: techniques geared at affective goals

September 17th, 2014 · Uncategorized

I’m writing up what I learned from teaching a jQuery workshop this past month. I’ve already posted on my theoretical basis and pacing. Today, stuff I did to create a positive classroom climate and encourage people to leave the workshop motivated to learn more. (This is actually an area of relative weakness for me, teaching-wise, so I really welcome anyone’s suggestions on how to cultivate related skills!)

Post-it notes

I distributed a bunch of them and had students put them on their laptops when they needed help. This lets them summon TAs without breaking their own work process. I also had them write something that was working and something that wasn’t on post-its at the end of Day 1, so I could make a few course corrections for Day 2 (and make it clear to the students that I care about their feedback and their experience). I shamelessly stole both tactics from Software Carpentry.

Inclusion and emotion

The event was conducted under the DLF Code of Conduct, which I linked to at the start of the course material. I also provided Ada Initiative material as background. I talked specifically, at the outset, about how learning to code can be emotionally tough; it pushes the limits of our frustration tolerance and often (i.e. if we’re not young, white men) our identity – “am I the kind of person who programs? do people who program look like me?” And I said how all that stuff is okay. Were I to do it over again, I’d make sure to specifically name impostor syndrome and stereotype threat, but I’ve gotten mostly good feedback about the emotional and social climate of the course (whose students represented various types of diversity more than I often see in a programming course, if less than I’d like to see), and it felt like most people were generally involved.

Oh, and I subtly referenced various types of diversity in the book titles I used in programming examples, basically as a dog-whistle that I’ve heard of this stuff and it matters to me. (Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl, which I was reading at the time and which interrogated lots of stuff in my head in awesome ways, showed up in a bunch of examples, and a student struck up a conversation with me during a break about how awesome it is. Yay!)

As someone who’s privileged along just about every axis you can be, I’m clueless about a lot of this stuff, but I’m constantly trying to suck less at it, and it was important to me to make that both implicit and explicit in the course.

Tomorrow, how ruthless and granular backward design is super great.

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jQuery workshop teaching techniques, part 1: pacing

September 16th, 2014 · Uncategorized

I’m writing up what I learned from teaching a jQuery workshop this past month. I’ve already posted on my theoretical basis. Now for the teaching techniques I used, drawing on my past teaching experience, to get mileage out of that inspiration. Today: pacing!

Pacing (macro-scale)

I covered the same material, conceptually, that I’ve taught before as a one-day Python workshop (itself borrowed from the day-and-a-bit Boston Python Workshop, but I broke it into 90-ish minute segments, with breaks in between (some of them long), over a day and a half. I think the down time is critical; people’s brains get full and they can’t absorb new material. Crucially, this also let me put functions on day two. They’re the hardest new concept, and they build on everything that’s gone before, and my intuition told me that giving people a chance to sleep on things would help. Informal student feedback suggests I was right.

Pacing (micro-scale)

Boston Python Workshop does a long self-paced intro that covers all the concepts, then a long interactive lecture that reiterates and formalizes them, then a long practice session. This is great for accommodating students at a variety of levels (and people do come to these with tremendously varying background), but wrong otherwise. The two-hour lecture is too much infodump, and students don’t really know if they’ve understood it until they get to the practice phase.

Worse, in my experience most people are poor judges of whether they understand new material; “I’ve seen this before” feels enough like “I understand it” that people don’t realize how serious the gaps in their mental models may be until they actually have to do independent work. If the practice session isn’t until after all the material has been introduced, most students will have spent most of the lecture building later concepts on top of flawed understandings of earlier concepts, so by the time they get a chance to correct things they’ll have an awful lot to correct (and the difficulty in doing so is more-than-linear with the accumulation of new material).

I wanted to expose problems with mental models quickly so students could self-correct before having gone too far astray, so I did much shorter mini-lectures interspersed with hands-on practice. (This dovetails, of course, with the paper on test harnesses from yesterday.) The army of TAs was great here, meaning that people who needed help usually got it immediately (and many students pointed this out specifically as a helpful feature of the course – thank you again to all the TAs!).

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What I learned teaching jQuery (part 1)

September 15th, 2014 · Uncategorized

On August 11-12, I taught an Introduction to Programming Concepts via jQuery course at the DLF/Code4Lib unconference at the George Washington University. I was playing with several theories in developing this course:

  • Porting to jQuery so that it could be 100% browser-based: familiar environment, no installfest, maximizes time available for actual programming concepts.
  • Porting to jQuery so that it could be 100% visual (on which more below).
  • Simply giving up on the idea of getting true novices to the point of being able to write real-world-applicable code in a day-and-a-half workshop, and focusing instead on building a foundation that makes existing code-learning resources more intelligible, and leaves students with enough good feelings about code that they’ll be inclined to learn more.

Bottom line: I think it worked really well!

Today I’m going to talk about my theoretical inspiration for the course; upcoming posts will cover teaching techniques I used to operationalize that, and then future plans. (Look, there’s a jquery workshop tag so you can find them all!)

yo dawg i heard you like tests…

The whole workshop was, in a sense, a way to play with this paper: “A fresh look at novice programmers’ performance and their teachers’ expectations”. Its jaw-dropping result was that providing novice programming students with a test apparatus for a programming task quadrupled the number of subtasks they could successfully complete (students without the tests completed an average of 0.83 out of 4 tasks, compared to 3.26 for students who could check their work against the tests — in other words, students without tests didn’t even get one subtask working, on average).

Well gosh. If tests are that effective, I’m obligated to provide them. This is consistent with my intuitive observations of the CodingBat section of Boston Python Workshop — being asked to write provably correct code is the point where students discover whether their existing mental models are right, and start to iterate them. But the CodingBat interface is confusing, and you need to sink some instructional time just into making sense of it. And, honestly, with a lot of conventional intro programming tasks, it’s hard to tell if you’ve succeeded; you’ve got a command-line-ish interface (unfamiliar to many of my students) and a conceptual problem with abstract success criteria. I wanted something that would give immediate, obvious feedback.

Hence, jQuery. Manipulating the DOM produces instant visual effects. If you were asked to make a button disappear, it’s super obvious if you succeeded. (Well. Possibly assuming sightedness, and (with some of my tasks) possibly also non-colorblindness — I stayed away from red/green semantic pairs, but I didn’t audit for all the forms of colorblindness. I need to mull this one over.) And as it turns out, when you ask your students to add a class that changes a bunch of things to have a kitten pic background, it’s also super obvious to you as the instructor when they’ve succeeded (wait for it…wait…“awwww!”).

My hope for this class was that it would provide students who were genuinely novices at coding with the conceptual background they needed to get mileage out of the many intro-programming learning options out there. As Abigail Goben notes, these courses tend to implicitly assume that you already know how to code and just need to be told how to do it in this language, even when they brand themselves as intro courses. People will need much more practice than a day-and-a-half bootcamp to get from novice to proficient enough to write things they can use in everyday work, so I want to get them to a place where that practice will feel manageable. And for the students who do have some experience, hopefully I can introduce them to a language they don’t know yet in a way that has enough meat not to bore them.

Tomorrow, teaching techniques I used to get there, part 1: pacing.

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Why I support the Ada Initiative. (You, too?)

September 10th, 2014 · Uncategorized

I need to talk to you about emotion

I need to talk to you about emotion. From a brilliant Code4Lib lightning talk by Mark Matienzo.

I got involved with codes of conduct by accident. People were saying on Twitter that ALA should have one, and I didn’t want it to be one of those good ideas full of tweety energy that go nowhere, and called their bluff and set up a google doc, and everyone else realized this made me a leader before I did.

One of the things that happens when people see you as a leader on this topic is you start to be a keeper of stories. People come to you, out of nowhere, and tell you about that time when someone was creepy. Or someone was drunk. Or someone didn’t keep their hands, or lips, to themselves. Or someone made them feel violated, blindsided, and maybe they smiled and kept the peace because that’s what women are taught to do, and maybe they didn’t understand until later what they should have said, how they should have said it. And maybe no one watching even understood how serious the problem was. Because we’re all taught, all of us, that women are not the protagonists of the story — we’re the love interest, the sassy sidekick, the prop there to raise someone else’s stakes. It’s easy not to see how hurt someone has been if you think the story is about someone else.

Stories change when you identify with a new protagonist. To me, a subtext of discussions about codes of conduct, and so many other issues that arise in social justice discourse communities, is this: we make new statements about who is the protagonist. Whose stakes matter. Whose perspective observers should take. With whom to empathize. We claim our own positions as protagonists in our stories, and demand that others do as well.

I find my work on the Ada Initiative advisory board compelling in large part because there are so many stories, so many emotions — people who have been treated in ways no one should be treated, people who have to waste energy on issues many of their colleagues don’t before they even get to the work they all share, people walking around with these raw and gaping and secret wounds. I want us all to be protagonists. I want us all to be able to spend our energy on love and intellect and creativity, not on responding to harassment, or to the threat of harassment, or even the implicit fear of it.

So that’s why I support the work of the Ada Initiative: because codes of conduct legitimize marginalized people’s own understandings of their (our) own experiences, and give them (us) concrete ways to push back when their (our) lines are crossed. Because AdaCamps give us environments where we don’t have to be the only woman in the room, and therefore space to be all the other things we are, too. Because Ally Skills workshops give men a framework for seeing the ways women’s lives can be entirely, invisibly, surprisingly different, right in front of them, and strategies for enacting their values.

And that’s why, along with Bess Sadler, Chris Bourg, and Mark Matienzo, am providing a $5120 matching grant for donations from libraryland toward the Ada Initiative’s yearly fund drive. From today through the 15th, we’ll match every dollar pledged through the Ada Initiative’s library-specific campaign page, up to $5120.

If you’re happy that your favorite library association (e.g. ALA, DLF, Code4Lib, SAA, Access, In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Evergreen, Open Repositories, and OLA) has adopted a Code of Conduct, the Ada Initiative deserves part of the credit. If you liked Valerie Aurora’s keynote at Code4Lib 2014, or you’re looking forward to her Ally Skills Workshop at DLF Forum, or you think it’s cool that several library technologists have been to AdaCamp, please consider donating to the Ada Initiative, so that it can keep doing all those things (and hey, maybe more!).

Or if you just like feminist stickers. We can set you up with those, too.

Thank you.

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how the meeting went

July 10th, 2014 · Uncategorized

Last post, I said I wouldn’t be voting to approve the LITA budget. And then I left you all hanging as I went off to Vegas, and recovered from Vegas, and started my to-do list recovering from Vegas…

So, how’d it go?

Short version

Cindi Trainor Blyberg (now LITA past president) is a quiet meeting-running ninja. We have delayed the vote. I’m cautiously optimistic about how things went. We’ll see.

Longer version

We had a remarkably good meeting Saturday of Annual. A solid majority of the Board expressed views frankly and without hard feelings. We didn’t always agree, which I think is a good thing.

We’ve asked the Financial Advisory Committee to do a bit more work before our vote. The fiscal year begins September 1, so there’s a bit of a window for that work, though it’s definitely a time crunch. We’ve also asked them to do work toward a better process for FY2016 and beyond. The ALA budget calendar says boards voting at Annual but divisional budgets are put forward for review in late winter, which means your options are pretty much “rubber stamp”, “last minute panic”, or “go beyond the calendar to ensure a consultative process by Midwinter”, and really only one of these options is any good, so I think we’ll be working toward it.

I’m glad we delayed the vote to allow time for some issues to be addressed and I hope that, when we do meet next (time TBD), we’ll have something I can feel comfortable voting for.

Obviously there’s a lot of loose ends here. What exactly can we get done in time? How fluidly can ALA roll with late-breaking changes? I’ve asked a lot of people, gotten a lot of answers, and won’t know which ones are right until at least September — that’s the caution in my optimism.

Feeling fairly confident about FY2016, though. And really hoping that as I face FY2017, the last budget I’ll face in my Board term, that I’ll be saying what’s past is prologue, and the budget is a fluid and strategic tool we’re using to advance our goals and yours, howsoever they change. And be super excited to vote for it.

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Why I won’t be voting to approve the LITA budget

June 24th, 2014 · Uncategorized

Not every board member can be a financial wizard. Every board member, however, needs to be a financial inquisitor.

101 Board Basics: Fiduciary Responsibilities, BoardSource

I ran for LITA Board on a platform of inclusivity, transparency, and financial stewardship. That means I consider it my sacred trust to you, the members, to understand LITA’s financial status and sustainability; to advocate for directions that support its ability to serve you for years to come; and to communicate with you about the decisions I make in representing you.

The fiscal year 2015 budget [PDF] has been presented to the Board and I will not be voting to approve it this weekend. Here’s why.

Unanswered questions

First, the budget presents too many unanswered questions.

It does not attribute revenues and expenses to program lines, which makes it prohibitively difficult to tell whether our allocations support our strategic vision, and to monitor the status of our programs.

It quotes fiscal year 2013’s actual dues revenue as our expected dues revenue for fiscal year 2015, but this is not supportable in light of our decreasing membership trend; this dues revenue projection is overstated by approximately $20,000.

Its revenue for registration fees (a new line in this year’s budget) appears to be based on our fiscal year 2014 estimated dues revenue for the sum of Forum, web courses, webinars, preconferences, midwinter workshops, and regional institutes. However, we have not run regional institutes since 2007 and have no immediate plans to do so, and budget estimates for online education have consistently exceeded actual revenue by tens of thousands of dollars. This line is given as $234,200, but actual realized revenue for fiscal years 2011 through (projecting from year-to-date) 2014 has been between $180,000 and $190,000. Therefore this line overstates revenue by roughly $50,000.

The expenses are reported in a new format, with categories that cross-cut previous categories; therefore I cannot confidently judge whether they are accurate. (Over the past four years our expense lines have also been overestimates, usually working out to net operating deficits in the $20K range, but with large year-to-year variance.) I also cannot tell how much support we intend to give to our programs, and if that is in line with what we require.

I asked some of these questions about a previous draft of the budget at Midwinter. (And more; my unanswered-questions list is far too long to fit in either a blog post or a Board meeting.) I have not found that either Midwinter, or this new draft, have answered those questions.

The bottom line: this budget overstates our revenue by around $70,000 and makes the accuracy and relevance of our expenses impossible to analyze.

What budgets are for

Second, this budget is not an instrument for communicating or enacting LITA’s strategic goals.

Because it neither disaggregates revenues nor attributes expenses to program lines, we cannot communicate clearly with our committees and interest groups how their work fits into the big picture, what LITA needs of them, and how we will support them.

Because it does not change — it reflects programs we no longer run and revenues we no longer realize, and does not reallocate money or staff time to new programs — we cannot change. We know that — particularly as a technology association — we operate in a competitive landscape that is radically different than it was ten, even five, years ago. We know, from our membership declines (shared by ALA and many associations) and the thoughtful reporting of our Financial Strategies Task Force, that we must do a better job of articulating our vision and providing value.

We have no shortage of vision, but all our strategic planning is meaningless if we cannot operationalize it.

The budget is a prologue to the real story, which is how we serve you. Let’s set the scene correctly.

Where I stand

I am persuaded that, if I were to approve this budget, I would be failing in my duty of care toward the association, and (more importantly) my duty as a representative of the membership: elected by you, holding the trust of three thousand members carefully in my hands.

Duty of care is an obligation I submitted myself to when I accepted the nomination, but your trust? That doesn’t feel like obligation; that feels like reverence.

We can and must do better by you.

I will not be voting to approve this budget. I ask the rest of the Board to join me.


Update, 10 July 2014: how the meeting went.

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where I’m at with Codes of Conduct these days

May 18th, 2014 · Uncategorized

What I keep thinking about Codes of Conduct is they’re wonderful, but they lack ambition.

Because at heart, what are we saying here?

You really ought not to egregiously insult or threaten people, especially if they’re part of a vulnerable or minority group, and double-especially if your insults or threats are grounded in their membership in that group. In fact you should try to think about how your words might affect people before you say them. And maybe while you’re at it, learn enough about people from a variety of backgrounds that you can think usefully about how your words might affect them, even if it isn’t how those same words would affect you.

As the metaphor goes, what? For that you want a cookie?

I keep thinking, codes of conduct are a first step (and an important one, and sometimes a shockingly hard one), but what I really want from my conferences is xenia.

This is old, right? Lots of cultures have had their hospitality myth. But the form I know is ancient Greek. “Guest-friendship”. The ritual and kindness and hospitality shown a stranger, the connections that bind people across political and generational chasms in an age before strong communications technology.

The knowledge that the stranger whom you welcome may be a god in disguise.

I’m not good at hospitality. And I’m getting worse as I become better-known in my particular conference circuit; the number of people I absolutely must spend time with at any given conference now well exceeds the time I have to spend, and somewhere in there, amid the blur of social obligations and old friends I see only a handful of times a year, I need to make time for the stranger? Now that I have some power in a space I need to use it to hold doors open, to hold spaces themselves open, to make sure new people and ideas and experiences can constantly come in and make it their space, too, shaped around themselves as well as me? Now that I have my subgroup I have to keep looking for ways to connect to other subgroups, to be about crosslinking instead of calcification? And all of it while I actually am the introvert who needs some space to hide each day, who goes home and crashes out for twelve straight hours because the way I do conferences is already overwhelming?

Well…yes.

That’s what I find myself taking away from the code of conduct idea more and more, now. That if I test a new space I want an obvious indication that it will be hospitable to me; that if a space is in some sense mine I have an obligation to make it hospitable to others. That the gods walk among us in more guises than we instinctively recognize, and part of our obligation as co-creators of spaces for humans is to suspend disbelief and learn to recognize.

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#litabd strategic analysis for fun and profit

May 13th, 2014 · Uncategorized

I’ve had the pleasure over the last few weeks of having in-depth chats with several women who are top-notch strategic thinkers and have leadership roles in business and nonprofit organizations. Total contact high.

And this has been dovetailing with my LITA Board almost-a-year retrospective thoughts. Because you know I can’t find something interesting without totally obsessing over it until I understand it frontwards backwards and sideways, right?

And in the meantime I’ve checked out a book on nonprofit financial sustainability, which turned out to have a sticker in it saying it had been placed there by an ALA program on financial literacy, which is surely a sign. The book’s giving me a specific technique for analyzing nonprofit budgets, so I’m testing it out on LITA’s.

The tool is a matrix map – basically, put all your budget lines on a chart of impact vs profitability and see what happens. This gives you four quadrants:

  • High impact, profitable (winning)
  • High impact liabilities (labors of love: worth doing if you can subsidize them)
  • Low impact, high profit (the things you do to subsidize your labors of love)
  • Low impact liabilities (why are you doing these?)

Then you represent all those activities with circles scaled to their expense.

The book also gives 7 criteria you can use for determining impact that it claims to have tested (not clear how, but I’m also not done reading) with real-world organizations. It says using more than 4 tends to be unhelpful, so pick the up-to-four that make most sense for your organization; assign each activity a 1-4 score on each criterion; and total them up for your impact estimate. (You can weight them if you like, but that’s a whole other level of complexity I didn’t get into.) I picked the 4 I think are most relevant to LITA and did a back-of-the-envelope impact analysis:

  • Mission alignment (I can compare with the mission statement)
  • Effectiveness of execution (I think this is really important but I have no way of evaluating it)
  • Scale of impact (I assigned a 4 for thousands of people reached per year, a 3 for hundreds, and so forth)
  • Community building (I totally just made this number up on instinct)

(The other criteria it suggested are depth of impact on participants; leverage (how much does it increase the impact of your other activities); and filling an important gap in your competitive space. I found these both less interesting and harder to gauge – I think they’d need a lot more data to do right. Your mileage may vary!)

Results

I made graphs! (Impact and profitability normalized so they run -1 to 1, obvs.) These are based on FY2013 year-end data (aka “the most recent completed fiscal year”) – actual as-realized expenses and revenues. Sorry about the overflow on the legend – couldn’t figure out how to fix that.

Here’s what we do:

Here’s another version without Forum (which is so much bigger of an expense than everything else that it makes them hard to see; and apparently I normalized them to different axes, whoops):

Well now, that’s interesting.

Discussion

I’d love to have some people argue with me – did I pick the wrong criteria from that set? Estimate their values wrongly? Is this entirely the wrong analytical frame? Go for it. Tell me why :)

I also think there’s a hugely important caveat with this entire analysis, which is that our budget docs report staff expenses as a single line item, rather than breaking them out by time spent on each activities. This is important because it means every profitability estimate is an overestimate; not one of those lines accounts for the staff time it takes to make those things happen. This is especially relevant for Forum, which looks like a net profit, but clearly takes a great deal of staff effort (it’s a huge undertaking!) and may therefore be a net loss. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing – it reaches hundreds of attendees, who by all reports I’ve heard think well of it, and it’s a great opportunity for us to showcase our members’ accomplishments and help them advance their career goals. But not accounting for staff time does cloud the strategic analysis.

What do you think?

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WasteLab! (Children’s party edition)

April 27th, 2014 · Uncategorized

A little while back I was at this fun presentation by Danish librarians at Harvard, about work they’re doing to envision and implement their public libraries’ futures. Part of it is the People’s Lab – basically, a pilot space that they’re giving to different local groups or library staff members on a rotating basis, so that people can share their skills with the community and try out awesome stuff, as part of a broader Danish focus on innovation.

The People’s Lab has hosted Guitar Lab (courtesy of a library staff member who knows how to make and fix guitars (!)), Dream City (a popup makerspace at a local arts festival), TechLab (the local hackerspace moved in and among other things helped this kid Valdemar build a hovercraft) – lots of fun stuff.

And then, WasteLab. Where they tossed all their trash out on a table – there’s lots of it! – and invited the community to come in and make whatever they wanted with it. (Embrace the chaos, the Danes told us. Don’t try to keep it organized.)

Well well well. I am just about the least maker-y person I know, but my kid never met a craft project she didn’t like. So I explained the concept to her and asked if she wanted to invite some friends over to build stuff out of trash and she was like, YES.

She spent the few weeks noticing absolutely everything that might be interesting to keep around, and putting it in her WasteLab box. Ikea instructions? A broken inhaler? A tiny orange tile she found on the sidewalk? Done.

Day of the thing, I covered the dining room table with butcher paper, and put out her box of trash, and some glue and markers and scissors and stuff. Her friends brought some trash too. At some point I think I handed them snack. And then I stayed out of their way. Easiest setup ever.

And they built stuff.

They were super focused on it for a long time, too. There were sparkly butterflies, and weird Christmas ornaments, and a brand-new watch, and Elsa’s four-poster bed when someone realized you could take the waste 3D. (Paintbrushes can be structural elements! Sort of.)

And then cleanup is really easy because you salvage the things you feel like salvaging until the WasteLab box is full, and then you just untape the butcher paper in the table and wrap everything up in it because it was trash anyway.

Except it turned out to be a lot of other things too. The kid’s already bugging me for when we do it again.

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My LITA Board service: an almost-a-year retrospective

April 24th, 2014 · Uncategorized

ALA elections close tomorrow (eligible and haven’t voted? Go vote! The LITA slate is amazing). So it’s been about a year since I was elected, nine months on the Board, which is making me think retrospective-y thoughts.

(Like everyone, I’ve meant to blog more about my experience on the Board. Like everyone, I’ve found that so much of it is contact highs and crazy plans in bars, little nudges over IM, conversations that aren’t mine to share – both hard to summarize, and sometimes confidential. But for someone who was inspired to run for Board in part because of a fascination with its wrestling over the role of transparency these last few years, that’s not really good enough, is it?)

So let me look at my campaign platform and mull over how I’ve been doing. And you tell me what you want from LITA, how I can do better.

Technology is for everybody.

LITA’s made some baby steps in this direction – not all things I can claim credit for. Forum 2013 (a committee I was on) had more public library speakers than usual, and some youth services presentations, though it didn’t do as well as hoped on diversity counts. I hear Forum 2014 actually did blind review of submissions, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of that.

A few folks have joined LITA, or rejoined after a long time away, that I’m super excited to have.

The Education committee (to which I liaise) has some children’s technology webinars in the pipeline in addition to our traditional academic-library-oriented content, and is working on broadening its topic coverage and reaching out to new speakers. You can help! Teach for LITA (I’m happy to answer questions). If you can speak to an important libtech topic we haven’t covered much, and if you’re not one of the usual suspects who’s spoken for LITA a bunch of times already, we’re especially interested in hearing from you.

Education is where I have been spending a great deal of my time – working with its leadership and LITA staff to get processes better documented, to put a better feedback loop in place so committee members can see the impact of their work, to communicate Board expectations more thoroughly to the committee, et cetera. And also personally, to understand the liaison role – I don’t want to run the committee or do its work (that’s for our awesome chairs and members); I do want to remove obstacles, and make sure they get information from other parts of LITA/ALA that they need to be fully effective. Lots of progress here; lots yet to be done.

Communication equals engagement.

Baby steps forward.

The Board’s taken on responsibility for @ALA_LITA, so it’s livelier and has a few hundred new followers; yay!

A lot of you showed up at the last online Board meeting – that was awesome! Hope it was interesting seeing how the sausage is made. Please join us in Vegas if you can!

I try to be conscientious about posting my LITA Board Connect content publicly whenever it is consistent with the open meeting policy to do so. (ALA Connect defaults to private, but can easily be set to public. You can get email notifications of, and comment on, public content, FYI.)

Been talking a lot with VP Rachel Vacek about more comprehensive steps we can take toward inclusive, vibrant communication.

Lots more to do here, though. The rest of our social media needs people to own it and make it vibrant. The Board needs to do better at regular communication to the membership – someone needs to own that, too. And that’s a thing that we need to model and set expectations for so it trickles down. The committee and interest group chairs are the first point of contact for many (actual and prospective) members, and we need to have a culture of communication that runs all the way down. We need a culture of understanding that communication isn’t just a thing you do in January and June, with people who show up physically to conferences.

I can see processes that would help here, but I don’t have the throughput to own them all.

Stewardship matters.

And this is where I’ve been spending the bulk of my time.

I’m a numbers person, right? I was a math major. And when things don’t make sense to me, I obsess about them until they do. LITA’s budget does not make sense to me.

This may well be because I don’t have experience with budgeting (and I’d love to have conversations with those of you who do). What I know is, I’ve collected every spreadsheet I can find back through FY2011 – drafts, actuals, high-level, line-item. And I’ve put them all in a master spreadsheet so I can compare them, year-on-year, category-to-category, draft-to-actual. And I’ve stared at the line items and tried to tie them to the high level stuff, and I’ve stared at the actual year-end revenue and expenses and tried to compare it to our projections for future fiscal years, pretty much until my eyes bleed. And I’ve asked an awful lot of questions of fellow Board members and the Executive Director and the Financial Strategies Task Force (its report [PDF] is illuminating). And I am just not smart enough to make these numbers make sense.

As a Board member I have a duty of care toward the association, and I believe the single most important element of that is ensuring the financial health of the association, so that it can continue to serve its thousands of members for many years to come. But I see financial year closes that show us running deficits most years, and I’m a startup girl: I know that everyone has a burn rate and a runway, and if your runway isn’t growing at least as fast as your burn rate is eating it (and ours is not), there comes a time when you are not aloft, when your wings are wreckage on the ground.

I’m a Board member and I love you, our members, all. I am not allowed to let there be wreckage.

I don’t know, yet, how to change the burn rate or runway. I’m mulling that over but I’m not a big enough picture thinker yet. What I do believe is that prior to that, the budget has to be an effective instrument for operationalizing our strategic priorities, and the Board has to be more effective at using it thus.

(Disclosure: I voted against sponsoring Emerging Leaders at the last meeting. I think this sponsorship is one of the best things we do, but I simply don’t know if we have the money to do it, and I cannot in good conscience appropriate money I am not confident we have. I chant “duty of care” to myself a lot some days.)

We on the Board, we’re not elected for our budget experience. Some of us have it, some of us don’t; some of us are numbers people, some of us aren’t. And we’re librarians; we’re not into conflict. We’re not into telling hard truths. And so over many years we’ve ended up with a culture of shirking our oversight responsibilities, of telling ourselves this runway looks good. And it shows.

We have begun to charge a Financial Advisory Committee, and we’ve found some really good people to serve on it, and I’m very optimistic about the work they’ll do. We need people specifically selected for financial expertise to help the Board perform its oversight role effectively, and to help us weigh the tradeoffs in implementing the Financial Strategies Task Force’s recommendations, or in other ideas that will from time to time arise. I think they’ll be a great help once they become a regular thing.

In the meantime, though, I have to keep on trucking with my own understanding of duty of care, my own drive to make the numbers make sense to me, to be able to look at the budget and see answers to my questions about whether our hopes can be implemented. Whether we will or won’t, in the end, have had the money to sponsor our Emerging Leaders in FY2015. Little things that make up big ones.

I myself, I wasn’t elected for budget expertise, and I’m happier with hugs and innovation and kittens than I am with hard truths. But I believe that when you elected me, part of the deal was that my own feelings and inadequacies became secondary to the good of the association. When I think of leadership I think of how I can be the person that you, that circumstances, need me to be. How can I rise to the level of the task you’ve entrusted me with.

How can I serve you better?

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