Cecily Walker

Steve:               This is Circulating Ideas. I’m Steve Thomas. My guest hosts today are Michael Scofield and Amanda L. Goodman from the LibUX podcast and their guest is Cecily Walker. She’s a librarian at the Vancouver Public Library.

Michael:           What’s up everybody? This is Circulating Ideas. I am not Steve Thomas.

Amanda:           And I’m not Steve Thomas either.

Michael:           Oh, we are your lovable cohosts from the LibUX podcast, Amanda and Michael, and we are super honored to be able to guest host for Steve. We’re joined today by Cecily Walker, who I know has been on Steve’s short list for guests and has been, on ours for a little bit. We are super excited to have you, Cecily. How you doing?

Cecily:              I’m going really well. That’s quite the introduction. I hope I can live up to it.

Amanda:           Great. So tell us a little bit about where you are.

Cecily:              I’m in Vancouver, Canada. As you may or may not be able to tell by my lack of a Canadian accent, I’m not originally from Canada, but I’ve been here for about 15 years.

Amanda:           Before that, were you down in Georgia?

Cecily:              I was in Atlanta, Georgia. Born and raised.

Amanda:           Nice. So, at your library you are doing some project management work?

Cecily:              The portfolio that I’m in charge of is called Community Digital Initiatives because you know, libraries like to have really grabbed titles for things. But it’s really if you’ve worked or familiar with the academic library space, it’s a public library’s version of doing digital humanities. And essentially what we do is we work with community partners, community organizations, or individuals to get them to record their memories or their stories about certain Vancouver neighborhoods or certain Vancouver communities, particularly if those communities are either threatened, either through development gentrification or in one case, one of the projects that we just recently launched, been working on a project to take photographs of the Women’s Memorial March Quilt. And these are quilt panels that commemorate missing and murdered indigenous women from Vancouver’s downtown east side. What I do is I have a team of librarians and library technicians that I supervise and I just try to keep the project on the rails essentially. I don’t get to do any of the hands on work, but I just sort of stand at the back and crack the whip now. [laughs]

Amanda:           So are you working in an office back by yourself somewhere?

Cecily:              I work in the back of the house in our digital services department. Our department has a very small public facing component. Our department’s also responsible for providing e-resources support for Ebooks, audiobooks, digital downloads and things like that. But I would say that that’s probably about, maybe, 20% of what my team does. The rest of it is just working with Islandora trying to figure that out, which has been ongoing. Oh boy, that’s been a bear. Going out and recording stories and learning about photography, learning about setting up a digital repository, learning about, you know, audio recording and audio editing, all kinds of things that they didn’t, couldn’t have anticipated in library school. So it’s been a quite an experience for us.

Michael:           That’s what I was going to ask you. I think it’s kind of interesting and I want to just to know whether you would kind of walk us through maybe the average process of going out and recording someone. Do you, are you transcribing as well? I’m just curious to know the process and maybe your equipment?

Cecily:              I can probably give you a list of equipment later for show notes, if you do show notes. But say for example, we did a project: Chinatown Stories. We’ve received funding from a donor. They wanted to preserve some of the elders, the Chinese elders’ stories in Vancouver, if you look at the makeup of my team, there are no people who identified as, or who are Chinese, or identified as Chinese or had any connections to the community whatsoever. So one of the first things that we really had to do is we had to reach out to people in the community. There was a journalist named Peg Fong who introduced us to a few key community people. And we also did something that was a little unusual for us. A lot of our project-oriented work in the library is still very siloed in some ways, even though we’re trying to break out of those silos more and more. So what I did was I approached people that I knew on staff who either spoke Cantonese or Mandarin. I would do an exchange. So I would go to their supervisor and I would say for this period of time we need Employee X. And in exchange we will send you Employee Y to fill that person’s space while we have him or her working for us on this project. So in some cases we would, we have these little digital TASCAM recorders. They’re the kind of recorders that journalists have used before. A lot of historians have used them on projects in the past. We also have – which is a huge benefit to us – we have this huge digital inspiration lab at the library. So in the last year, year and a half or so, we really just ramped up the digital and audio equipment that we had available to us. So in some cases we would go out and we would take these little TASCAM recorders. It would be in one library staffer, one librarian, and one other person who would take photographs occasionally, and we would either meet with people in community centers in their homes or for people who weren’t comfortable with us coming to their spaces – which, you know, we have to be respectful for that – we would arrange to meet them here at our library, and then they would come into our inspiration lab where we would interview them.

Amanda:           Wow. This is quite the complex project.

Cecily:              Yeah, it is. I mean, our projects, not to mention just the experience of trying to learn something so complex as Islandora, which is a repository product that is tied into Drupal. So having to learn Islandora having to learn Drupal, having to learn things about audio editing and audio recording, having to learn and you know, decide on metadata standards. It was a huge learning curve for the team. And they see their credit and because they’re brilliant people, they rose to the occasion. I can’t say that, you know, everything went swimmingly, but you know, for people who just like I said, they couldn’t have anticipated that this is the kind of work that they would be doing. It actually turned out pretty well. And you can see some of the collections that we’ve put together at thisvancouver.vpl.ca that you’ll see some of the projects that we’ve made available. And we’re planning to launch another, I think before the end of the year, we’re hoping to have another three or four projects launched, on This Vancouver.

Amanda:           How many people are on your team?

Cecily:              Two librarians, fulltime, one library technician and who’s also a full time. And then I have a part time staff person who’s on two days a week and myself, but I don’t do any of the, I don’t do any of the hard work. I just sort of tell them what to do.

Michael:           I’m really impressed with This Vancouver. I just kind of clicked into Chinatown Stories. I don’t know what I expected. I think I expected your stock library, digital repository bepress or ContentDM. But the aesthetic here is really quite good and it’s pleasant. Is this part of Islandora or…?

Cecily:              We have been so fortunate and sometimes when I talk about the projects that come out of VPL, I kind of downplay it. Maybe that’s the Canadian side of me, but we’ve been so fortunate to have such good graphic designers. You know, when I started in the department that I’m in, we had to share a designer with our marketing and communications department and sometimes our online projects or our online properties would just, you could tell that we didn’t have full time people dedicated to the project. But in the last, I’d say two years, we’ve had dedicated graphic designers who only work on projects in our department and it has just elevated the kind of work that we put out. It’s just tremendous. The thing that I liked the best about This Vancouver, which if you’re not from Vancouver, you might not know this. If you look into This Vancouver logo, you will see that the little logos of the crosses point in different directions, those little crosses actually represent key intersections in the various neighborhoods. So, I mean, this is like the kind of design thinking that we have at our disposal that I am just blown away by. That’s not something that I ever would have come up with, but it’s a really nice way of tying the collections back to specific neighborhoods in Vancouver, and what we’re really proud of is that when we are working with people in the community, we ask our partners, you know, can you tell us either a building or a location or an intersection, that is key to the history or the stories of your neighborhood. And we try to incorporate those design elements into the various collections that we’ve got online.

Michael:           I think this is a really great argument for design thinking in libraries and library projects. The idea that putting this amount of effort into the aesthetic, into the logo design, into the background images, you know, it really gives what could be a stoic digital repository, a sense of identity, which you know, I’m sure makes it easier to embrace as a member of the community. I wanted to ask you, you mentioned the learning curve. You mentioned the requirement to learn Drupal and Islandora, all of the recording and archival procedures involved in this. I’m curious how your system is measuring the return on investment. Like, how do you know that, I don’t know all of the effort that you’ve put into this, all of the resources, both human and monetary, are paying off. How do you judge success?

Cecily:              One of the things that is so key and it has been a huge transformation, at Vancouver Public Library in the last three years or so was that in 2013 we went through a massive reorganization. And we also set out our strategic plan for three years from 2013 to well, 2012 to 2015. And in those strategic initiatives, we had very, we had key points, that we all wanted to meet. And a couple of the key points were that we wanted to make sure that we created engaging, compelling spaces for people to share their stories. But another metric is just measuring the degree to which our staff have risen to the challenge of adapting and adopting and learning new technologies and implementing these new solutions. So what we do is every month the assistant managers, which is what my job title is, we have to submit board reports that talk about, these are the projects that we’ve been working on and these are how these projects meet these particular initiatives. And at the end of every quarter there’s an a big report. And then at the end of every year there’s a big report. So we’re really accountable. It’s not so much about numbers, although those are important. We do keep track of things like Google Analytics. And you know, those kinds of web statistics. But for us, the bigger return on investment for this project is just the sense of pride and the sense of permanence in a way, not that we’ve made promises to people in the community that these collections will always be there, but they have a set, especially for those communities that are in transition or that are changing rapidly, they now have a place online where they know that the things that are in danger of disappearing, that they will have someplace to go back to. So we judge based on the feedback that we get from the community. We judge based on the interest that we get from the public when we talk to them about This Vancouver at community events. We judge based on how many people after they find out about the kinds of projects that we’re doing in the community, digital initiatives portfolio, how many people just come to us and say, “I know a great project that you guys should be doing” or “I know this great person that you should talk to and this is a project that you should be working on.” So it’s, it’s quantitative to a degree, but it’s more about the quality and the engagement and the level of satisfaction that our staff feels and that the public fields, at the end result of every project.

Amanda:           This is making my heart sing because I’m a digital projects person. So I’m just like, how wonderful it’d be to do this. I worked with a bunch of our archives and did community type projects like this. So pretty familiar with, and especially the feeling you get…

Cecily:              I mean, I don’t want to sugarcoat it. I don’t want to make it seem like you know, everything at VPL is hunky dory rosy all the time. It’s been hard. And, you know, somebody, I can’t remember who it was, somebody on Twitter asked, I think it was this morning, what was the most fun project you’ve ever worked on? And I was, I snarkily compose the tweet that said, projects are fun question mark, but then I deleted it. You know, it’s really, really, it’s difficult. But when I look at, when I just look at the work that my team has done, I’m blown away that I get to, I don’t know, I like to think of myself as kind of a cheerleader and I’m somebody who removes obstacles for people so that they can be successful. That’s what my job is. My job is not to do the hard stuff and figuring out of Drupal and Islandora. But if you know by me doing the negotiations and the background work to try to clear obstacles for people, if this is the kind of work that they can produce with my help, then I’m just, I think it’s fantastic. I’m really happy.

Amanda:           Can you explain to me a little bit about how you go about this project management with removing obstacles? So it sounds like you’re contacting people and finding out like what the projects are and what needs to happen and then you give it to them.

Cecily:              Yeah. And if you look at traditional project management methods, wherever they’re like an agile project management method, what I found is that a lot of those things don’t work in the kinds of projects that are very high touch when you’re dealing with people, people who are outside of your organization. And so what I would end up doing is taking some of those project management tactics like in terms of scheduling, recording tasks, setting timelines, understanding that all that stuff has to be flexible. But really it’s about, for me, it’s mostly just about managing relationships and trusting the people who report to me to be good, and trusting them to not always get it right because they won’t, but trusting them and building enough of a foundation of a strong relationship with the people who report to me with the other managers and assistant managers in the library and with people in the community to know that when they go out and they meet with community partners, they’re putting their best face forward. They’re being professional, but they’re also being really human and humane and that when they run into trouble, that they feel supported so that they’re not left out to dry. I hope that makes sense. But essentially it’s my project management style is to not shake hands and kiss babies because anybody who knows me will tell you that that’s not true, but it’s just, you know, to do the listening part and to do the open-hearted part of the work that a lot of people don’t, for whatever reason, they don’t like to talk about too much in library work. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a gender thing or is it because it’s a pink collar kind of thing, but the building those relationships on a foundation of caring and building that foundation of trust with people takes a long time and you have to be willing to be vulnerable. You have to be willing to face people in the and say, you know what? I don’t know everything. I am not the expert. You are. And that’s really difficult for some people, but in my experience, that’s when you get the best kind of working relationship with people, where they’re not looking at you as someone who’s like the representative of some big scary hierarchical organization. They’re looking at you as somebody who was really committed to their success as a partner, not just somebody who’s got their hands out saying, “Give me stuff.”

Michael:           No, I think that is a really good point. And I think this fear of management, this fear of experimenting and failing is a reality in a lot of libraries, especially in what Amanda and I do in terms of user experience work where you mentioned agile. The ideation process, which requires that at some point you fail, you experiment and you fail and you test and you try something else and maybe that doesn’t work. It requires a level of trust and openness and a little bit of like, I don’t know what I’m getting at. Amanda, do you know what I’m getting at?

Amanda:           No.

Cecily:              I kind of understand where you’re going because I did user experience work before I did this portfolio, some of everything that I knew from user experience, including project management work, including, you know, things about design and about how to connect to people and use psychology on people, but make it seem like that you’re not using psychology, I took all of that stuff and it informs the work that I do in this portfolio. So even though, but I’m having more success with this portfolio.

Michael:           Your comments about like how you manage made me think of this term, this concept in user experience design called organizational inertia, which is basically, you know… for user experience, for the ideation process to be successful requires kind of like what you said, you trust in your employees, a lack of micromanagement. You need to be able to empower the people who do what they’re supposed to do to the best of their ability. But organizational inertia, I think we can all, as you know, librarians or library staff appreciate, as sort of the norm, especially in the academic sector. Administrative structure is bureaucratic, maybe by necessity. It made me think of this model that, a capability maturity model by Coral Sheldon-Hess, made, oh, I don’t know, like three years ago where it’s a capability maturity model in which there’s basically five steps. And I often find myself referring to this because it’s just a great way to visualize organizational inertia in which, you know, at the bottom level all decisions are made from the top down regardless of data or feedback from the community. And at the top level, the fifth level, you have something like Disney where no expense is spared to kind of improve this community feedback to respond to feedback and to improve it. And if they don’t like something change it, there’s not even a need for like a user experience department because it is so ingrained in the mission of the structure. So one of her, and this is what I guess I’m getting at, one of this models’ lessons is that not only does a high user centricity make for better products and make for a better community response, but it makes the organization better, too, and it means that the management style is kind of like what you described, that the morality of those who are doing the work remains the high that they care, that they then reinvest themselves because they have a stake in it and it creates kind of a virtuous cycle.

Cecily:              Yeah. And I would agree with that because I think that I learned that when I was being managed and I’m still being managed, I still report to somebody, but I learned from the things that would frustrate me about, the working relationship that I had when I started out as an entry level librarian who was responsible for user experience on a team of one. And I remember how frustrating that was for me. I just made it a mission in my life that if I rose through management, and I don’t know if this is like the terminal point for me or not, but if I could make people feel at the end of the day, not that they are successful, although that’s a big part of it, but success doesn’t have to be measured in terms of like, you did good, here’s your gold star, but to also feel like you’re making a worthwhile contribution at the end of the day, then that was going to be my driving purpose when it, when and, or if I ever became a manager because I, me personally, I’m somebody who is very driven by wins and wins don’t have to be a check mark in a column. It just, I have to feel good at the end of the day about the work that I did. So that’s kind of how I manage my team. You know, they may tell you that I’m too hands-off. There are some people who feel like I’m too hands-off and you know, those people require a higher touch. But for the most part it’s just because I trust them and I know that they’re smart. I know that they are doing the best that they possibly can in incredibly challenging situations and I want them to feel good about the work that they put in at the end of every day.

Amanda:           That’s wonderful. I used to work in retail and that was just very grinding. But now that I”m a professional, it’s very important that my manager understands that I need this to be meaningful work. You cannot just push me to do the same thing every day, so I’m very happy to hear that you embrace that mentality. We’re coming up on the end of the interview here. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Cecily:              I think I wanted to just try to encourage people, because I know that I’ve talked to a lot of people about project management in libraries and they feel like it’s either too rigid for them, or there’s too many steps or what have you. I would encourage them to take, if your library has lynda.com and a lot of libraries do these days, there’s a really great course on managing small projects. Unless you’re somebody who’s managing the construction of a new library branch or something like that, I think a lot of project management tools and techniques which just be entirely too much overhead. But there was a really great lynda.com course, I think the course is maybe no more than two hours, that’s really been instrumental for me in terms of trying to do the kind of documentation and paperwork and that sort of thing that goes along with project management, the stuff that nobody really enjoys unless you’re a nerd like me, but check that out because I think that even for really, really small projects, like, you know, you’re implementing something, well I’m going to say small projects, it’s going to be my huge library bias. But if you’re doing something like you’re implementing libguides at your organization and you need to think about, you know, step by step, what are the steps that are involved in that, it’ll be really, really helpful. And you know, when you’re going through it and if you’re trying to go through the steps and you were finding things that don’t work for you, just toss him out. You have to make project management work for you. There’s no, I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to do project management. I know that project management professionals would probably, if they’re listening are pulling their hair out, but make it work for you. And I think that in the long term, your team will be happier.

Michael:           That made me laugh a little bit because one thing that I’ve experienced is that agile and trying to get people to work in such a way is pretty scary. And this idea that agile has a very specific rule set depending on who you talk to. It’s a learning curve just to learn how to manage the projects.

Cecily:              Right, or my favorite thing is when you’re, when you have people who have, who have heard of agile development and usually these people who are higher up on the food chain and you, but they think agile just means fast. That’s always fun.

Amanda:           Oh, I did have one little project management question. When you’re looking at timelines and stuff, how do you kind of predict them and the stages?

Cecily:              It’s a challenge for us because since we’re doing so many projects that are interdepartmental, we not only have to consider our schedule, we have to consider the schedules of the departments that we’re working on, that we’re working with. So, I guess I just, in some ways I rely on my expertise, which just not going to be helpful to people who are listening in terms of like, these are the people who I’m working with, I know what they’re like to work with and I know from experience where the bottlenecks are going to occur, and one of the things I learned when I, I used to work for Mindspring, an Internet service provider that’ll tell you how old I am because Mindspring doesn’t exist anymore, but one of the things that Mindspring told its employees was to under-promise and over-deliver. So when I’m putting together my timelines, I pad them like crazy. Like people will look at my timelines and they will go, you really don’t need this much time. I’m like, I know I don’t, but I want people to feel like that they could have a life and I want them to feel like that they can structure their own tasks as long as they hit the end point, but they can structure the way that they carry out their own tasks in a way that makes sense for them as long as they keep that end date in sight. So I pad everything like crazy, and then when we do it faster, people are amazed and yeah.

Amanda:           That’s the same philosophy we use at my work as well. How are they tracking it? Are you using like Trello or something?

Cecily:              I use Trello and Trello is a new thing for us. Slack is a new thing for us. So it took about two years to get people on my team to adopt Slack. So it’s like little incremental things. And also we have to consider the fact that we’re in Canada and Canadian Internet privacy laws are way stricter than in the United States. So there are some things that we can’t keep in a system like Trello or even like Slack because you know, Canada’s library laws or whatever. So you know, we can use some of these tools. In some cases it’s a case of asking for forgiveness rather than asking for permission and of me saying I don’t know anything about it. And as long as I don’t know about it, I just, you can do whatever you want. But in terms of my own project management, I use Trello and I use Slack a lot. We have Trello and Slack integrated, so, my team can go in and when they’re in slack and they think of something that they need to do or they think of a project or they think of an idea, they can just add it from within Slack and people are subscribed to their own boards. You know, when I keep track of the boards, this is really neat feature that Trello has that, when a task or when a card gets starts to get a little old, it starts to crumble like pieces of paper. And so when I, when I start to notice that, you know, the little pieces of paper are starting to crumble and turn yellow, that’s kind of my time to say, hey, so and so where they are, where are we with this, that and the other. I have weekly meetings with people, so I meet with my individual team members every other week and we have a team meeting every other week. So it’s a lot of the face to face working things through a lot of the individual working things through and just keeping track of things in a tool like Trello.

Amanda:           Thank you very much for joining us here on Circulating Ideas, where we are not Steve Thomas. Michael, do you have anything to finish it up?

Michael:           So while you guys were talking, I went and googled Mindspring. I was a little curious because it sounded familiar. Apparently not only was Mindspring absorbed by Earthlink, but apparently it’s sort of known for this 14 Deadly Sins of Mindspring. Yeah, the 14 Deadly Sins of Mindspring. So here’s the title, I’m going to read these cause there’s 14 bullet points…

Cecily:              It used to be called the Core Values and Beliefs and I think they changed it to the deadly sins when Earthlink came along, which should tell you something.

Michael:           I think it’s, I love the subtitle. So here it is, it’s “The 14 Deadly Sins of Mindspring, or Ways That We Can Be Just Like Everybody Else.” Number one, give lousy service. I guess I’m not going to iterate through all of these, but I’m really impressed, like, customers can’t get immediate live help from sales or support. I kind of want to talk just for like an hour about the 14 Deadly Sins of Mindspring. It seems like a really good jumping-off point for like quality service design.

Cecily:              It was such a great company to work for. I mean this is like in the early days of the Internet and I’m just going to have to give up and try and pretend I’m younger than I am. I got a job at Mindspring when I sign up as a customer, and they used to have a Mindspring usenet group just for people who use Macs and they would use usenet and email and stuff like that. But they would use usenet for technical support for people who, you know, on different platforms they didn’t really support, and at the time he didn’t really support Macs, even though they would sign up accounts and I started answering questions in a Usenet group and somebody contacted me and said, hey, you want to come work for us? You know, they have, it was, it was almost as though it was more than 20 years ago now. They were so instrumental to my customer service ethic and it still carries on today.

Michael:           Their number one core value is…

Cecily:              Work should be fun.

Michael:           …we respect the individual and believe that individuals who are treated with respect and given responsibility to respond by giving their best. Wow. On that note, I think we’re going to put an end to Steve Thomas’s Circulating Ideas. Hopefully if we timed this out right, this might be the hundredth episode, but if it’s not, this is episode blank of Circulating Ideas. Well, Cecily, thank you so much for joining us here on Steve Thomas’s Circulating Ideas. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you. Where can people hit you up on the internet or support the work that you’re doing?

Cecily:              You can hit me up on Twitter, which is basically where I live. My Twitter handle is @skeskali: S-K-E-S-K-A-L-I, yes, there’s a story behind the name. You can also find me at cecily.info, but I tried to delete a whole bunch of back entries on my blog and now there are no entries that are older than 2015 and I’m in the process of working on that, but either one of those is fine.

Michael:           Cool. Thank you much. Thank you again to Steve Thomas for giving us an opportunity to host his podcast. I’m Michael Scofield.

Amanda:           And I’m Amanda L. Goodman. You can find us at libux.co.