Projects Fail


Some projects fail.

In my experience, this can be a hard one to accept. Librarians are by and large passionate people, and they bring this passion in to work. They have great ideas for projects, and pour all their hopes into these projects, and the projects come to life.

But projects are not immortal, nor should they be.

This has happened at every library where I have worked, but most recently, with my portfolio. My portfolio started in a burst of enthusiasm and ended in a sad fizzle. Web projects are a fair bit of work, especially when one is not a web developer by training. Simple tasks take a lot longer, and the process of trial and error involves a lot of error. I will give myself a star for trying. But I should have admitted earlier that the portfolio had ballooned into something I was not committed to completing, and just put it down.

I would like to step aside to mention that had this been a work project, it would have unfolded a lot differently. For instance, I would have identified a target audience and criteria for success before starting the project. A deadline would have kept me moving, and coworkers would have been on hand to identify issues when I got stuck.

But sitting here by myself, I dreamed up the portfolio as a “why not” sort of project. Not a good plan for success. Add to that volunteer commitments that I am very excited about, the portfolio became like that unmarked takeout box in the back of the office fridge, lurking and decaying and giving the entire office an odd odor. Defining the point where a project hits failure is hard: sometimes a little more time is all that’s needed. But this portfolio had plenty of time to get off the ground, and it didn’t. That is not success.

Every project I have seen–successful and unsuccessful–needs to have an end. We have to decide whether that leftover-takeout project is worth keeping any longer. Unlike the takeout, which must be disposed of, never to be seen again, projects can be set aside to hibernate. Maybe the time wasn’t right. Maybe the audience wasn’t there–yet. I sort of hope this will happen with my portfolio. If not, I am glad I didn’t leave it there to fester.

Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time


Happy Wednesday! On this rather dreary day in Phoenix, I am poking away at my portfolio and wondering why it isn’t done. Half of the answer is that I have become unmotivated, distracted by other ongoing projects. The other half is that it has become significantly more involved than I originally anticipated.

Portico at the Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial–From here it looks like the portico curves on forever

I believe the hangup is in the pictures. At first, this was a personal issue. I had to find little pictures to use for my icons, and so I delved into the endless pit that is Flickr. My perfectionism flares up slightly when choosing images, but I was sure that once I just picked one, I could get on with things.

Not quite: first I had to ensure that all my images had a generic CC-BY 2.0 license. I.e., the license that allows derivative works. Because step two was transforming rectangular photos into little buttons. I am using PicMonkey for this, because it has the tools I need and is relatively user-friendly. I could be using GIMP, but if I don’t need all the power and precision of full-on photo editing software, no sense in firing up the full-on photo editing software.

Add some time spent cropping and labeling, and the buttons are ready. But wait! How to attribute their original creators? Not in the alt tag, because that is suppressed, and even if it wasn’t I want the attribution present regardless of where my visitor’s mouse is hovering. Some authors have questioned the validity of Creative Commons licenses in the scholarly publishing sphere, but in the Flickersphere it has been wonderful. Yes, some of the details of each license are a bit hazy, but photographers have the choice to go with traditional copyright or open it up. They can also choose how much sharing they want to happen. Rather than my choice as a user being “OK usage” or “certain doom,” creators and users are now part of a conversation about appropriate usage.

First and foremost, appropriate usage needs appropriate citation. I was initially convinced that captions containing attribution information would solve my problem. Unfortunately, default captions are gray and do not come with as much padding as I would like. *pause to imagine little cartoon warriors, one labeled content and the other labeled appearance, dueling one another* Which means I now need to dig into the CSS.

In the end I will be quite pleased with getting the job done right, but currently I am a tad irked at myself for thinking that this amalgam of content, layout, and copyright was going to be the easy-peasy work of an afternoon. Ah well. It’s another thing to add to my portfolio.

Permission to Read

Professional Development, Reading
Woman reading, circa 1900

From the National Media Museum –

Have you ever found yourself falling into a bad habit?  Maybe with coffee: a latte here, and there, and then you add some flavor, and then it becomes a mocha, and then suddenly one afternoon you’re sitting there waiting for your Venti caramel chocolate freeze with extra whip and you realize that once upon a time, you liked to drink coffee.

I did that with reading.

Last week, I was reading a nice, meaty blog post about scholarly communication, and feeling twitchy and guilty. It was so long–practically 900 words! There had to be something else I was supposed to be doing! I was wasting time!

It was when my brain screamed those last words that I gave myself a shake. How had I gotten to the point where I thought reading–and reading a pro blog, mind you–was a waste of time? Come to think about it, it was not so long ago that I would sit down every morning after breakfast with the dog and read until I had to leave for work.  Sometimes blogs, sometimes a nonfiction book, sometimes–gasp!–a novel.

But somewhere along the line, I’d gotten pressed for time and started using my reading time to catch up on homework. I still went to news sites and browsed short articles, quickly nibbling on a few main points and an expert quote before flitting off to something else. At the time, I didn’t think much about the decrease in the depth of what I was reading, nor did my overworked brain miss that depth. Then news articles had become Twitter headlines: a concept, perhaps, with a hint of a viewpoint in it. I could see that things were happening, who was talking, but clicking through to what they were actually saying suddenly seemed too much work. I just hit “favorite” so I could come back later.

I don’t know when I planned to come back. I think I intended that time to be soon, but it turned into months. Then a coworker sent me a blog post on scholarly communication to read. There I was, reading for work and chafing at a few hundred words, and it hit me what a crazy place I’d let myself get into. How can it be a waste of time to take in new ideas, especially when those ideas have been carefully thought out and articulated? Without drawing upon all the insight around me, how can I expand my professional horizons beyond my own little cubicle? And besides, crazy girl, reading long pieces is a lovely way to slow down, to focus attention, to think below the surface of the world.

I have a new mission, one I hope will last. I have given myself permission to read beyond the first 140 characters. When reading blogs, articles, and reports online, I will allow myself to read the whole piece, if it’s useful, and if not, choose my stopping point based on content. I will read to build up my knowledge base, but also to learn about what is happening outside it. Sure, I can start with the news, but I will give myself permission to go beyond just one source’s report. Hey, I might even go crazy and start reading novels again!

But seriously–how do you keep from falling into bad reading habits?

We Can Code, Too

Professional Development

Ever find a post that reads like it was written just for you? That is how this post feels for me. As a Liberal Arts major, I thought for a long time that I wasn’t made of the right stuff to code more than a static HTML page. Now I have days where I wonder if I’ll ever be able to code without Googling instructions for every other line.

Thanks, Sam!

The Conference is Coming

Conferences, Professional Development
Silver metal box on a staircase landing

AzLA 2013 met at South Mountain Community College, a building filled with interesting spaces.

The Arizona Library Association Conference, to be precise. The past several years I have been an observer at my state’s library conference. It was a nice experience: catching up with past colleagues, soaking in the new information. This year, I have made a swift, unintentional 180 from that approach.

I will be presenting twice, participating in a poster session, and leading an honor society meeting.

Let me say: I did not intend to overcompensate for my past AzLA conferences this much. I had one presentation idea, but then a work committee I was on decided to present, and another committee decided to contribute a poster session. My only explanation for how I forgot I was also in charge of the honor society meeting was motivated forgetting. I think I was trying to pretend that I had not signed up for a number of commitments that will be challenging, to say the least. I love each of these things individually, and have a great time working on all of them, but when they are all added together, the result is that spare time and sanity will be luxury goods until after the conference.

Wish me luck!

Thinking Programmatically

Professional Development

Good morning all! Another week of four jobs has passed, and I am pleased to say I showed up at all the right places at the right times every day. As you have undoubtedly noticed, all that working cuts into blogging time, and giving up sleep nowadays has more negative consequences than it did when I was an undergrad. Ah well.

For many people around me, the novelty of the four jobs thing has not worn off. After asking how all these jobs are going, almost everyone asks if I’m learning. I am learning lots of things, but unfortunately for everyone who asks, the biggest thing I’ve learned is the least interesting to explain. I am learning to think programmatically.


I am learning to break down problems into pieces machines can solve. In my case, this involves taking messy text, or strings of letters and numbers, sticking them into Excel, and then pulling the tidied data into another program (usually a database). Moving text around by hand would be a complete hassle. But because Excel has miniature bits of programming built in, it is a very powerful tool for manipulating strings as well as numbers.

The most difficult part of this kind of work, for me, is not the functions. You write them once and recycle them for the same task until it’s complete. The hardest part is breaking apart what it is I need to do in a way that makes sense to the computer program. I began my life as a lover of human language, and instructions for human beings are a million times easier to write than instructions for computers. When picking apart a task that would be simple for a human to assess and complete, I have found that I have to work backwards from what I want, or solve half the problem and then come back for the other half.

Sometimes this is maddening, because I know I could type out what I want in a fraction of the time it would take me to build a function to cobble the desired end product together from existing strings. But with that reasoning, I should pull out a pen and paper and handwrite my information. The purpose of working with a computer is to be lazy, and get the computer to do as much of the work for me as possible. Telling myself all this while fiddling with parentheses is not very encouraging, but when I finally get the problem worked out, it is very satisfying to stick that gobbledygook series of cell references together with commands, commas, and parentheses and watch it turn messy text into a perfect string of concatenated, uppercase characters.