2018 Peppoli Chianti Classico

I suspect Ben Franklin would be more of a côtes du rhône man, but on Friday evenings I like to imagine him kicking back with a vibrant chianti at an Italian cafe in Paris. This 2018 bottle is mostly Sangiovese with other Tuscan reds blended in. On the nose, you get a face full of fruit (raspberry) with the suggestions of something so earthy it’s metal. A robust mouthfeel with fine white pepper prominently featured from start to finish. Tight tannin structure, with lingering hints of jalapeño and sour cherries.

On “looping in”

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:

Person A emails Person B: Hi, Person B. I have a question about this thing. 

Person B: I don’t have the answer to this, but Person C (cc’ed) does.

If you work in an office, you almost certainly have received an email like this one. Someone copies you on a message with the expectation that you will pick up the conversation and answer the question that Person A originally sent. 

I posed question on Twitter and was surprised by the results.

Twitter post March 27, 2022

Many of the responses didn’t think much of it: “happens all the time,” “this is normal,” “yeah, so?” etc. But far more were of the “it depends” variety: it depends on whether Person C actually knows the answer; it depends on whether Person B just wants to pass the buck on saying no; it depends on the power relationship between B and C. 

Only one person mentioned what I find annoying about this [admittedly common] practice: that I don’t expect needing to respond to anything where I am in the cc line. Perhaps that is an indication of how long I’ve been on the internets: being in the cc means I need to be aware of this, but there is no expectation of needing a reply.

Email is messy.

Instead, what if Person B had reached out privately to Person C and said “Hey, Person A has a question. Can you (1) let me know how to respond or (2) if you would rather me to pass it on to you?” If Person C responds with #1, then Person B can send Person A an answer to their question directly. If they respond with #2, then Person B can connect to Person A to Person C.

This action offers the additional benefit of confirming that Person C is indeed the right person to handle the inquiry. If not, Person B can search elsewhere in the organization for the right person to contact and avoid sending Person A on a wild goose chase.

While this results in a small amount of extra work, it has a few benefits: (1) Person A will get the response they need in fewer steps. (2) Person B takes an active role in the inquiry. (3) Person C has the option to delegate the inquiry to Person B, rather than being obliged to take it on themselves. 

Admittedly, this whole situation falls squarely into the category of “pet peeves.” I don’t make a fuss about this if someone on my team does this (and it happens all that time). However, in situations where I am Person B, I’ve been trying to seek out answers for Person A rather than quickly pass the buck to a colleague, even when that would be more convenient for me. In most cases, Person A reached out to me because I was a trusted contact, and so I appreciate the opportunity to reinforce that trusting relationship by not wasting their time and shuttling them around via email.

That said, I do wish we would stop cc’ing people if they are actually expected to respond. 😉 

On office hours

One of the downsides of using time-blocking to schedule my week is that my calendar is 90% booked before the week even begins. At the end of each week I review my projects and next actions lists and map out each hour of the day for the coming week. While this ensures that I will spend my time and attention on the projects that are most important to me and my manager, it can make scheduling ad-hoc meetings difficult for my colleagues.

So back in January, I began scheduling daily office hours. Regardless of what else is going on, I block off at least 1 hour every day where I am available for drop-in conversations in-person, via chat, or the phone. I try to keep these hours consistent (MWF 2-3p; TR 1-2p) and will refuse meeting requests during those times when I have the ability to do so. To hold myself to this, I’ve already scheduled my office hours in Outlook through to the end of the year.

For the first few weeks, I mostly sat in silence during office hours. I would use the time to review email, read recently published literature in my field, or catch up on other synchronous communication needs. Lately though, people have started to pop in. Last week alone, five colleagues stopped by and said something to the effect of, “I saw on your Outlook calendar that you have office hours right now…” What followed was either a quick conversation about a question they had or a delightful brainstorm about an idea they wanted to get feedback on.

One colleague expressed their appreciation of how this method makes my availability direct and transparent. Instead of having to wonder “is he available now? is he working on something? if I send a meeting request will it be well received or an annoyance?”, holding office hours offers a bright light that says “I’m here! Talk to me!” Clear and concise.

I feel the benefit of this clarity as well. I host office hours with the expectation of being interrupted. I’m not as anxious as I might otherwise be when someone stops in and I’m “in the flow.” Moreover, it offers me the confidence that I can make myself unavailable at other times, knowing this option is still available to my colleagues. For too often I fall into the trap of thinking that because I’m not in a meeting, I have to make myself available to interruptions. Meetings with yourself (and your priorities) are just as important as meetings with others.

Garden scenes: February 2022

The last few weeks in the garden at chez johnxlibris have been magical. The blossoms on all my fruit trees and bushes are blooming, the late-winter flowers are in full color, and my raised vegetable beds are still producing a regular supply of carrots, kale, broccoli, and turnips.

Doing less. Doing better.

The past few years, I’ve made a concerted effort to do less, but to do better, in my work as a librarian. Fewer projects, but more impactful work. Attending fewer conferences, but spending more time writing for publication. Accepting fewer committee appointments, but taking on more substantial roles in committees. I am not doing less in terms of my attention or impact, but only as measured by the number of distinct projects on my plate.

You can see the results of this effort reflected in my annual reviews. At my place of work, librarians are not tenured, but we do have a promotion plan that mimics the tenure review process. In order to progress in rank, we have to show evidence of development and impact in three areas: performance, professional development or research, and service. For each of these areas, we are expected to set annual goals at the beginning of the academic year.

The goals we set each June determine what we’ll be spend our time and attention on in the next twelve months. In June 2016, I set 25 goals for myself. Some of these included things like:

  • Create a checklist for exhibition partners that outlines specific tasks for which exhibitors are expected to take responsibility when partnering with the library.
  • Review and update the collection development policy for Music.

These goals did not require much of me and were fairly easy to accomplish. Not all of my goals were similar in scale. For example: “Work with the Office of International Students and Scholars to develop a library outreach plan for international students” required a substantial amount of collaboration and work. However, most of my 2016 goals were similar in scope and impact to the examples above. Here’s how my goals break down in the following years:

  • In June 2017, I set 15 performance goals (plus 3 research goals and 4 service goals).
  • In June 2018, I set 18 performance goals (plus 5 research goals and 5 service goals).*
  • In June 2019, I set 14 performance goals (plus 4 research goals and 3 service goals).
  • In June 2020, I set 9 performance goals (plus 3 research goals and 2 service goals).

*I was going up for promotion that year, hence the bump in ambition.

In June 2021, I only set 11 total goals (6 performance, 3 research, and 2 service): far less than I’ve done in the past. Goals in this year included things such as:

  • Complete the development of a 2-3 year library outreach plan that outlines objectives, messaging, and assessment measures for four distinct campus communities: students, faculty, senior leadership, and the LIS community.
  • Finish the assessment of the data collected from the programming feedback forms and write an article for publication about the process and results.

Moreover, I strategically crafted goals that could be mapped out to specific trimesters, so I was not trying to work on more than 3 goals at the same time. With the exception of one goal that I needed to drop because of an unexpected project than came onto my plate, I am on track to accomplish all my goals by the end of the academic year.

Next year, I am hoping to once again limit myself to no more than 6 performance goals, 3 research goals, and 2 service goals. Ideally, I’ll only be working on 2 high-impact performance projects each semester, plus 1-2 research projects, and 1 service project. Onward and upward.

Talk library closing to me

In a recent article for portal, Megan Hodge, assistant professor and head of Teaching and Learning in the James Branch Cabell Library at Virginia Commonwealth University, discusses creating an online portal for providing “the library experience” from home through streaming audio/video content and resources on mental wellbeing and productivity. 

At VCU, Hodge and her team created a LibGuide that brings together a wealth of internal and external materials that connect students to the library as place and encourage “an academic mindset.”

This phrase caught my attention. What is an academic mindset? What conditions and behaviors does this include, especially within the context of the library? Hodge doesn’t go into detail, but I would suggest that it requires the ability to work in isolation without interruption, to get lost in one’s subject matter, to experience deep focus, and to shift into a state of flow. Traditional library spaces, with their ambient noise, innumerable pathways for intellectual and creative discovery, and ability to offer a sense of belonging (as one student scholar among many), provide a context in which one can really get into one’s own head.

Of course, against that suggested ideal we have to ask: for whom is this possible? Hodge points to the challenges posed by COVID-19, especially to commuters, first-generation students, and other campus communities significantly impacted but the transition to remote learning. Access to library spaces is about more than access to collections: it’s about access to a mindset, one which every student should have the ability to enjoy. For many, college is the first time in one’s life where they have the ability to go deep without any interference. Libraries can be the space that enables that growth, provided we build environments that are inclusive of and responsive to students’ needs.

Lastly, there is one finding from Hodge’s article that I have to highlight: the students’ love of the PA system. 

“Extant audio files includes announcement from Cabell Library’s public address system. […] These short recordings were turned into a 20-minute audio loop.”

“A 20-minute video loop of images of the library was accompanies by recordings of the library’s evening closing announcements […] This video loop became one of the most popular resources on the guide.”

Who knew that the dystopian electric vocals of recorded librarians would be the balm that soothed our students’ wounded souls?

Ghost school

white bearded iris

A conversation my son and I had while cleaning out the dead foliage from these magnificent bearded irises this weekend.

Amiens: I know how to stop ghosts from haunting.

Me: Huh?

Amiens: Ghost school.

Me: How is that?

Amiens: Well, they would be in school and they wouldn’t have time to haunt houses.

Me: But what about on the weekend?

Amiens: They would be so excited to be in school that they would never want to leave.

You have to admire the adoration of being in school at this age. It comes so naturally and can slip away so fast.

Is it worth it?

At some point, the cost of dealing with trolls and misinformation on social media, combined with diminishing returns on engagement, will outweigh the benefits of spending library time and resources in those spaces. What then? In some ways, it feels like we’re already there.

2018 Tinto Arzuaga Crianza

bottle of Tinto Arzuaga with books in background

Wines from this DOP in Spain (Ribera del duero) must be aged at least two years, 12 months of which must be in oak. The influence of the oak definitely comes through here. Hot on the nose with lots of spice and vanilla. This vintage is juicy, with intense blueberry and cigar. The tannin structure is good: I should buy a few more bottles to store for 2-3 years. 

How I work: a readme file

Recently, a colleague asked me about my daily time management practices. Having had this same conversation a few times already with others, I finally set myself to drafting a “readme” file for my communication and calendaring habits. This doesn’t include all the minutiae of my weekly productivity workflows, but it’s a top-level summary that (I hope) gives just enough detail to help my team understand why (1) my calendar is so booked and (2) why I don’t always respond to email or DMs right away.

My practices are built on the ideas of Cal Newport, Celeste Headlee, and David Allen, all of whom recommend intentional, process- and outcomes-focused modes of work. 

Caveat: The following habits won’t work for everyone. It works for me, in my current position, with my current team and projects, etc. I offer it as an example of what one possible readme statement looks like.


How I communicate

Rationale: As much as possible, I try to reduce the need for unstructured, asynchronous communication in my work (what Newport calls the hyperactive hive-mind) and limit the amount of time I spend context-switching between tasks. Studies consistently show that long periods of focused, uninterrupted work produce higher-quality output and reduce the danger of creative fatigue and burnout. 

Practice: I set aside 30 minutes each day to process my email inbox. Additionally, I set aside 1 hour each day for drop-in conversations (in-person or online): this time functions like office hours and are first-come first served. I do not keep my email or chat clients open when I am working on a project and my device notifications (except from the Library Administration team, my partner, and my parents) are muted, so don’t use email if you need an immediate response.

What you can do: If your request is not time-sensitive, email me and I will respond to it usually within 2-3 business days. If you would prefer, but don’t necessarily need, a quicker response, send me a message on Teams and I will likely respond within 1-2 business days. If you need a response day-of, stop by or DM me during my office hours (usually MWF 2-3p and TR 1-2p). My Outlook calendar is up-to-date and openly readable.

But what if you’re not available? Then you wait. Unless of course you have a way to create more time in the day. =)

How I schedule my week

Rationale: After working as an academic librarian professionally for almost a decade, I have developed a fairly accurate sense of exactly how much time I need to do various tasks that my job requires of me. For example, I know I can stay on top of my collection development work by dedicating 1.5 hours a week to the task. With this knowledge, I schedule my work week in advance using a “time-blocking” method, thus making sure I have adequate time to accomplish as much as possible within the time allotted to me (i.e., time that isn’t set aside for a meeting) each week.

Practice: At the end of each week, I review my tasks, projects, and annual goals and use them to map out the following week. Every hour of the day is given an assignment, with preference for longer periods of concentrated work (e.g., usually 1.5 hr blocks). In order to make time for focused work, I limit the amount of time I spend in-meetings each day to 3 hours. The first 30 min of each day is dedicated to checking in with my team and reviewing our essential tasks for that day. Additionally, because I often work 9-10 hour days, I schedule longer lunch breaks (1.5 hours max). I do not schedule meetings during that time and use that time to step away and recharge.

What you can do: As noted above, I try to leave 1 hour every day unscheduled as an office hour. Feel free to drop in in-person or virtually during that time. If you want to request a time on my calendar, you can schedule a time with me using Microsoft Bookings (external colleagues) or Outlook (internal colleagues). 

But what if you don’t have any free time? It is true that I keep a lot of plates in the air at all times. This often means my calendar is booked for weeks at a time. However, if you send me an email requesting a time to meet (please send me 2-3 available times), I will try to move things around.


The DND sign I sometimes use when I am engaged in “deep work.”

The criticism I usually receive about this style of working is that it is “closed door” (as opposed to “open door,” whatever that means*). Yes, it is true that I do more than most people to make myself unavailable to others. My current job requires sustained periods of concentrated work: to write long-form narratives, design graphics, plan out project timelines, run data analyses in spreadsheets, and proof materials. So much proofing. If I am frequently interrupted during these activities, I risk making critical mistakes that are costly to reverse.

All of us have alternating periods of “available” and “not-available” throughout the day. When I am in a meeting with my dean, it’s simple: I’m not available to answer a phone call. If I’m attending a speaker event on campus, I’m not responding to email. If I’m recording a video tutorial, I need to make sure no one knocks on my door! The question we sometimes fail to ask is: are there other moments when I should consider myself to be unavailable? Ones which, though the surrounding external friction/barriers are weaker, still merit an intentional “attention block” from outside influences? How would the quality of my work and, more importantly, the quality of my experience improve with less context-switching and fewer interruptions?

Just because you don’t have a meeting on your Outlook calendar does not mean you are “available.”

Nonetheless, I make a point to always set aside some time each day for drop-in conversations. During those office hour blocks, I don’t schedule any essential work: my only goal is to be open and available to others. If no one needs to chat, I will often use that time to follow up on requests sent via email. My office hours could alternatively be called my “synchronous communication hours.”

Is this convenient to everyone? No, but it provides an intentional space for things that need day-of input (and, in my experience, most things in academia don’t need day-of input… it’s just nice). I can’t offer you all of my time, but what I can offer, I can offer consistently.

*A note about “open door” practices: For me, having an open door management style is not synonymous with literally having your office door open or (in the case of not having a physical door) being always amenable to interruptions. Instead, my open door management style focuses more on whether I am providing consistent and frequent opportunities for team input, whether I am actively listening to that input, and whether I am able to take what I learn from that input and translate it into meaningful ways to support my team. And sometimes, the best way I can support my team is by closing my door and getting shit done.