Total Solar Eclipse

I’m nine-years-old and in the third grade. This was the year that we learned about the three states of matter: gas, liquid, solid. It is also the year of the partial solar eclipse. We head outside on Tuesday, May 10, 1994. In our hands, we have simple pinhole projectors to view the eclipse. On the sidewalk, we can just make out the eclipse through our trembling third grade excitement.

742 miles away and twenty-three years later, my colleague has picked up my excitement over the total eclipse. He’s even deeper than I am, eagerly watching videos and talking to me about the four stages of an eclipse. He grew up on just the other side of the mountains from me and I find it funny that we both landed in the same location all these years later. He sends me a video and I dawdle watching it. When I do, I cough up the $1.99 for the app they recommend. The app will ensure that I find totality and it’ll talk me through the eclipse itself. I had began planning for Monday, August 21, 2017 back in January, but now I was preparing for the big day. As it approached, my colleague flew to the western end of Tennessee. I picked up my two best friends and drove to the eastern side of Tennessee.

I’m nervous, so I cough up $50 for three tickets to Castleton Farms in Loudon, TN. Upon arrival, I pay another $10 for parking. I wanted to ensure that we had a good place to settle while we wait.

The roads were empty until half an hour before we arrived. We take turns smothering all our exposed skin in sunscreen and bug spray. Then we lug ourselves across the rolling green lawn to the bag inspection center. They’re looking for alcohol. Just as we’re signing the liability waivers regarding looking directly at the sun, my app drily countdowns to the first contact. The lady looks concern for a second until I tell her what it is. After getting our non removable-without-destroying wristbands, we eagerly tear open the eclipse glasses I had purchased. We turn and seek out the sun. Though it has been just a moment, the moon has moved fast. It’s impressive.

We wander around the dips and hollows of this wedding farm. Food trucks make up a square off to the side. As sweat runs down my back, my friends pick up lunch. We nudge into an already occupied table to wait for the order. The couple moves on leaving us with the table for the rest of our wait. Throughout the next hour or so, people periodically put on their glasses and look up. We lean back from our umbrella to watch. The moon is eating away the sun.

The Phenomenon We Witnessed
* The light dimmed and flattened. Holding your arm out, it was like viewing the world through an Instagram filter. Maybe a sepia-tinged one.
* The temperature dropped noticeably. It was about 86 degrees when we had arrived. Halfway to totality, I stopped sweating.
* About 10 minutes till totality, the insects awoke and began to talk. Cicicadias? Katydids? No idea.
* A few minutes before totality, I pulled one of the white lawn chairs out from the table to expose it to the sunshine. Yes, shadow snakes/bands were visible. As my colleague later said, they were almost more like a mirage. They appeared again immediately following totality.
* 360 sunset — very subtle, but there was a band of color wherever we could see the horizon.
* Venus and a couple stars shone brightly in the darkened sky.
* Viewing the eclipse thrown by plant shadows and within my own finger lattice. At that point, they were just little crescents.

The Dream
As totality approached, my phone beeped before reciting the current phenomenon. I eagerly dragged my friends’ attention out from under the umbrella and directed them to get ready. The darkness fell like a curtain. Swift. Sudden. Dark. Not the dark of night, but of a blue-gray dusk. I watched eagerly for the wedding ring/diamond or any other cool corona effects. It was too fast and my human eyes too weak to see. Then when the app said it was safe, I tore my glasses off and looked upwards.

Later when we drove away, my mind looped the words “black hole sun” while I tried to process the vision of the blackened sun. From my camera’s perspective, it was a bright light with a tiny black dot in the center. To my human eyes, it was the reverse: a black sun with white glowing tendrils radiating out. Playing it back in my mind, it was all so dream-like. I gaped upwards then looked around for the other highlights such as the 360 degree sunset. I held my phone in-hand, recording throughout the event. But when I think on it, I just “see” my eyes jerking up, seeing this impossible black sun, the blue-gray sky, and again, feel the goosebumps that shudder through my body. It was like every apocalyptic anime I’ve ever watched. It didn’t seem real then. And even 20 minutes later, it had already melted in my mind to a dream-like status.

The light returned as swiftly as it had left. My camera captures it from a few seconds before to a few seconds after the light returns. I’ve universally found in eclipse videos the same sound — that of cheering. People whooping, clapping, and sometimes screeching their astonishment. It’s a unique shared experience which I highly recommend. My words here do it so little justice. As I said, it’s so surreal that your mind has trouble processing what you witnessed.

We left shortly afterwards. A band was going to play on the grounds, but we had a long drive back to our lodgings. A bit later, my phone reported that the fourth contact was coming to an end. I was heading to a red light. The eclipse was completely over.

So Many Prints

I’m going on vacation next week, so I’ve been slamming through hurdles as fast as I can. So far this month I’ve designed 11 bookmarks (10 which had multiple designs per side), 3 posters, 2 banners, 2 postcards, digital signs, email designs, editing web pages, scheduling social media, and editing images left and right. Then I swung out my rubber cement and glued down two posters.

The coolest thing by far was getting to take photos of the children’s librarians. Then our local fire chief took the camera from me and told me to go hop in the photo. I’m often left out of cool photos as the photographer of things, so this was an unexpected joy.

While this graphic design stuff was happening, I was also working hard on following up on all those emails. I had some cool ideas recently, but of course, this means I have to write it up. We had our annual stats review this week too. I spent 90 minutes compiling a picture of how our social media, emails, website, and Digital Media Lab has done. The week is just half over. I’ll have to continue to hustle as fast as I can over the next two days!

Design Development Work

No images of today’s work since I tossed out most of it when I was finished with the design process. My tasks for the day were to create a print ad and a double-sided bookmark. For the ad, I created 11 layouts. The first two were digital versions of the sketches that were handed to me. From there, I worked out different arrangements of text, font sizes, colors, adding a border, adding images, until I came upon the final design which was accepted. As you scroll through the previous designs, you can see how I slowly tipped my chessboard towards it. Each idea sliding downwards until I arrived at the final image.

I printed out the proofs, marked my two favorite, scribbled a note of guidance, and left them on the requester’s desk. Later, when I returned to pick up the pieces, he had also chosen my favorite one. While checking and re-checking the layout back in InDesign, I got frustrated with the tools. I nabbed the metal ruler from my colleague’s desk and held it up to my iMac’s surface. Then I slowed nudged the text box into place.

For the bookmark, I had looked at the theme idea last week in some confusion. I poked around on the web and found a bunch of photos for a moodboard of sorts and uploaded it the shared drive. On Friday, my colleague wrote back that I was close, but not quite right. I took her words, spent 2 minutes googling and found a lovely stock illustration. She loved it.

Today I started the work of creating a bookmark from that image. I’ll admit, these bookmarks aren’t quite the thing of dreams. I’m a little crunched for time, so it’s more important to get them done than perfect. For this project thought, I made a dozen or so layouts with different words and color choices. Sent it over. After lunch I had my response back. I then laid out 4 or so designs for the back and sent it back. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get the sign-off so I can mark it as done.

We’re pushing a deadline of Friday here for these ten bookmarks. I’ve gotten works-in-progress drafts for six of them now. Once staff sign off on them, I can move them to the finish pile. The goal is to have all of them back from the print shop by September 1st for National Library Card Sign Up Month.

New Insights from Weekly Events Email

I’m in charge of putting together our weekly events emails. As such, I’m interested in discovering patterns, developing hypotheses, and testing my theories. All in the name of providing a more useful experience for our patrons. Each quarter I do an analysis to look for new insights, check out the answers to my questions, and ask library stakeholders for guidance on what we should test next.

Our findings for April to June:
* Do email opens go up if we send emails to low open users on Thursdays as opposed to Friday? The six-week test showed that it doesn’t make a difference.
* Out of the two subject lines we test each week across three segments, two segments usually choose the same one.
* Opens decreased in the spring, but not as drastically as I thought.
* New subscribers’ open and click-through rates dropped drastically from winter to spring.
* Email unsubscribes and bounces decreased. The numbers are small, so it looks very impressive to say “We had a 26% decline in unsubscribes!”
* We’re gaining email subscribers thanks to the form on our website.
* People do scroll all the way to the Did You Knows. We know this thanks to the click-through rate which is comparable to items higher up in the email.

Next round I’m thinking about testing:
* Does the age category of the featured event affect unsubscribe rates? I believe the answer is yes, but am eager to see if that theory proves true.

Of course, I need to look at this from a longer perspective as well. Perhaps in December, when things usually slow down, I can compare some of my numbers loosely to the 2013-2016 numbers.

Tasks of a Publicity Manager

Next month will mark one-year since I transitioned from UX Librarian to Publicity Manager. I spent the first few weeks meeting with staff to learn what they thought I should be doing in my role. I then went on vacation for a couple weeks, so it wasn’t until October that I really began active work in my new job.

There are some differences between my work as a new UX librarian to where I am now. The most noticeable is that I used to have lots of flexibility in my schedule. If you talked to me on Monday or Tuesday, I could probably fit you in that week. I only looked one week out at the tasks I had to accomplish. Now, my schedule is filling up 3-4 weeks in advance. I’m trying to protect a precious hour every day for sudden requests. Unfortunately, those five empty hours usually get taken up a few days in advance. I moved to that system of “grace time” back in February — two months before my boss asked me if I had built in such time. :-)

I’m using Asana and Google Calendar to maintain my sanity. Thanks to the repetition of many tasks, as soon as I complete it, I add it right back for the next round for the following month. So my to-do list technically never gets any shorter.

Without further ado, here are the main tasks I do as the Publicity Manager:

* Watch and report on stats/analytics
* Look for how the Library is mentioned online and in printed newspapers
* Plan actions based upon those reports
* Meet with staff to help them develop their publicity items (and often, just brainstorm things out to their final conclusion as we look for trouble spots to take care of in advance. I did this as a UX librarian too)
* Document formal publicity plans based upon those meetings
* Create publicity items (even with the help of staff, there’s still not enough hands to fulfill all our dreams)
* Monitor staff’s progress on their projects and remind them to send me their materials
* Make content for social media (text, images, find/make gifs, videos)
* Find time to do research for my own projects
* Learn new publicity techniques and keep up with software changes

I’m curious as to how my role will continue to change in the coming year. I’ve got a few ideas on what key tasks I want to accomplish.

Note: that’s a photo of my desk from December. I now have a bulletin board covered in persona index cards, terrariums, printed out reports and projects, and inspiration pieces.

Self-Evaluation on Publicity Management

I met with one of the assistant directors today about publicity. The meeting was triggered by a self-evaluation I had sent staff a month ago. When I became the Publicity Manager, I sought to find out what people wanted from a PM. I carefully took notes then typed it up. After six months, I then went through and evaluated where we stood on those requests. Outstanding issues were marked in red. Those hold ups could be because I haven’t gotten to it or cannot be accomplished due to technical, funding, or staffing reasons.

Today’s meeting was an hour long. I’m happy to say that most of the things we discussed were things I could answer with an outlined plan. Several projects were already in the works with scheduled meetings to move forward on. I’m happy that I was able to anticipate some of the requests ahead of time.

My sixth anniversary is next month, so this feels like a good place to end this fiscal year.

This Week’s Small Victories

I’ve been rather busy at work to the point where I’ve had to turn people down who bring me last minute project requests. However, I’ve managed to complete these tasks:

* Analyze 3 months of email data on our weekly events email
* Recycled a four year old poster for a last minute request
* Designed the images needed for a double-sided physical giveaway
* Create a new poster for a festival
* Turn around-on-a-dime a new fundraising page
* Came up with a (clever-to-me) hack to make the fundraising page more mobile friendly using a button, anchor links, and white text
* Figured out how to draw a family tree diagram as an actual tree for next week’s genealogy class I’m teaching to children
* Do a complete sign and printed materials photo audit
* Started the professional development resource I’ve been asking Twitter about (the sortable, filterable, and search feature randomly broke, so it’s a WIP)

There’s also been an unusual new patron pattern. Four times in the past week, I’ve helped someone and then they look me in the eye, smile widely and say with more affection than I do for most things, “I love you.” Maybe everyone just needs a little love right now?

Image Finding

Not centered

Today one fundraiser ended so I was free to change out the header images on our website and social media accounts. This turned out be a tough challenge for our website. My general topic was “flowers, spring.” I hunted around my favorite public domain image sites. Over the course of an hour, I checked nine images. The final one made it up though it’s not exactly what I wanted. Conditions for the frontpage image:

* Wide enough
* Not too dark
* No white background (text is white)
* Not too busy
* Image can’t be centered since the search box and text is there
* Bottom right center has to be dark for the text
* If focused on a single object, it can’t be centered

Since I decided to do a last ditch promotion of the Big Library Read, I tried to find a nice pie image. There were some good ones to choose from, but they didn’t fit the conditions above.

Stretching

I visited a library which caters to library professionals. While browsing the stacks for new books, I found my attention caught on more than just titles directly related to my new publicity job. As I pulled volumes down, I noticed something. This book on fundraising? Yeah, I spend a lot of time worrying about that now. This one on strategic plans? I have spreadsheets working towards that goal. How about data analysis and visualization? Yeah, those spreadsheets will hopefully work towards that goal. What are your thoughts on administration and management? See all those emails and concerned with how projects are coming along. I was even tempted by books about building projects.

When my boss approached me about rotating to this new role, he had said something about it giving me room to grow. I admit to not quite believing him. I had been unofficially working in this area since practically the day I was hired. How could creating formal workflows change things? But with his hands-off approach, I’m allowed to roam and find new areas to explore. It’s surprising to see how much further I can see now. The concerns of all departments are even closer to me now. I’m tracking the numbers, reporting them, and looking for ways to extend our reach.

I wasn’t expecting there’d be so much further to travel.

How’s It Going + Bitly Realizations

A small thing came home to roost today: 50% of my job now is emailing people reminders to do stuff. I’m giving myself reminders to email people to send me info for publicity items I’m making or promoting for them. I’m not actually making a lot of things at the moment since I’m busy tracking who owes me what for which program they’re hosting. Or to ensure that everyone feels included in contributing ideas for social media promotional materials. Today is World Poetry Day for instance, so I emailed five people to ask for a favorite poem to share. Then I snipped a stanza for a tweet, grabbed a custom short URL, and posted it to Twitter with a link and hashtag.

Social Media Ads
I’m also trying VERY hard to not obsessively check our Twitter and Facebook ad stats. We’re about to wrap up a several months long publicity run for a fundraiser. Once it’s done, I’ll compile a big report listing all our publicity efforts stats. Then next year I’ll clone the Asana project so we’ll know what items we have to do in the next round.

Note: we’ve been casually buying FB ads for awhile. I’m now obsessively detailing the stats in a new Google spreadsheet.

Bitly
Speaking of custom short URLs, we purchased dar.to to use with our bitly account. I showed key players how to install the Chrome extension and use it to tag their links. We’re using the links in social media, emails, and some linking of items on the website. This turned out to be a bigger dive than I anticipated:

* It doesn’t appear that you can further customize links once you have a custom URL in bitly.
* In order to get bitly links to show up correctly in Google Analytics, I’d need to run the original URL through a special Google tool. Then take that new URL and plug that into bitly. I’m saving this for something special.

We did get our first custom URL to show up in a newspaper printed press release. This is very exciting!

Weekly Stats Emails
I’m also spending a fair chunk of time creating stat emails which I send out:

* Analysis of how the previous Friday’s weekly events email did in terms of opens and clicks.
* Outreach on which events were mentioned in the two local papers and social media highlights.
* On/off again email to my boss on what marketing pieces I created this week and who I held meetings with. I often get too busy to follow up on this one.