September 23, 2005

The final installment of the Expat Files: Tips, advice and some lessons learned

Working as a Canadian librarian in the US for the last 14 months has been an incredibly rewarding experience that I won't soon forget. I learned more than I ever could have anticipated not only as a new-ish librarian, but also about living and working in a different country. I did actually experience a bit of an unanticipated cultural transition. For example, I quickly learned to halt my usage of the words 'process' and 'project' (rough Canadian translation: proo-cess and proo-ject) as well as 'about' and the letter 'zed' (I was once asked if 'zed' was a word, as the person had no idea that I was referring to the last letter of the alphabet) to avoid giggles at the desk and in general conversation. All kidding aside, though, I've said goodbye to some wonderful people *snif* and will miss the low taxes as I continue to do battle with horrendous student loans : (

But I'd by lying if I said that working south of the border wasn't also fraught with challenges and frustrations. Given our closeness to one another, I think we all have a tendency to believe that it's easy for a Canadian to live and work in the US, and vice versa. Not so. At least not in my experience. So now that I'm back in Canada, I wanted to end the Expat Files with some practical advice for Canadian librarians considering employment in the U.S. It goes without saying that these observations are based solely on my personal experiences and shouldn't be substituted for anything the least bit more authoritative (like an immigration lawyer, if you can actually afford to talk one!) Much has changed post 9/11, and what I had to go through was to some extent a consequence of that (i.e. Homeland Security).

Making the decision
Ask questions. Ask lots and lots and lots of questions. It's a very good sign if during your interview you are given some time with an 'international faculty' group or equivalent group that deals with bringing people in from other countries (I'm only familiar with academic libraries). If not, you should ask if they have had experience hiring a Canadian before. Some universities will have a long-established record of hiring internationally while others may have next to none. You need to know before you get there what kind of support you can expect from your employer as far as work visas and immigration go. Some will pay to take you through all the steps to get a green card and stay permanently while others will not, and the burden is then upon you to come up with the $10 000 USD to finance your green card application (that price is not a joke).

I've got the job, now what?
I had a about 2 months to prepare before moving to Las Vegas, and trust me, I needed it. I made arrangements for whatever utilities and services as I could and signed a lease for my apartment before getting there. This is advisable not only because it will save you the hassle of living somewhere temporarily on the other end while you look for a place to live, but you will likely need to provide copious amounts of paperwork from Canadian utility companies that prove good standing with them in order to get any kind of service in the US. For example, I had to pay a lawyer to have notarised 'Positive ID Forms" filled out just to get local phone service and fill out an apartment application. You may also have to provide "employment verification" forms completed by your employer that list your position, salary, etc (be prepared to start handing this information freely). Even with all this paperwork, you may still have to pay hefty deposits to most utility companies, and I'd suggest getting credit history letters just in case, even if you think you don't need them.

Getting across the border
Ironically, this was the easiest part of the whole process - both getting there and back again. I initially entered with a TN Visa (cheapest, fastest and most temporary visa available), and all went smoothly when I crossed the sleepy Pembina, North Dakota border crossing. This part isn't too bad if you're prepared and have all of the required documentation, degrees and application fee in US cash at the ready.

You're nobody till you have a social
You quite literally don't exist until you have a SSN card, and you can count on kissing the privacy of your Canadian identity goodbye in the absence of having one. Here's the deal: you cannot apply for a ssn card in advance, but only after you've crossed the border (i.e. you can't show up at a border crossing, get your TN visa processed and then go back to Canada and apply for a ssn before finally moving). The wait time can be long: I waited two months for mine. During that time my employer would not pay me, and I had no benefits or health insurance as long as I didn't have the ssn. So I had to be very careful crossing the street! So either prepare yourself to be very poor for some time, or go down with a stockpile o' cash. Obviously you can't wait two months or so to have your power connected, so the companies that I dealt with demanded all of my Canadian information (i.e. passport number, SIN, etc) before they would even deal with me. I know firsthand that identity theft is rampant, and there are countless companies that now have both my American and Canadian information. Canadians tend to be very guarded about giving out their SIN numbers, but in the US, I found that it was often the primary source of ID used, even if I was calling to check on my subscribed cable package! I never got got used to or comfortable with this.

Credit? What credit?
If you've never lived in the United States before, you will be starting out with no credit history whatsoever. That means no credit cards, no overdraft on your bank accounts, no car loans. It can be very difficult to build up a credit history when you're starting from scratch, so don't ditch the Canadian credit cards if you can hold on to them. Thankfully, I had a Canadian-American Express card and they simply switched it to the American version with the same credit limit. That opened the credit floodgates, and I immediately began to receive more credit card applications than I could count. However I was told by countless banks and credit companies that they can't or won't transfer a Canadian credit rating to the U.S.

What about my family/sig_other?
How your family members are handled will depend entirely on the visa, type of employment, and will vary widely depending upon individual circumstances. However, suffice it to say that this was the most difficult part of the process for me, hands down. I left a sig_other behind in Canada for over year while we tried desperately to use every means available to get him down there, which never did happen. In our case, he would have had to qualify for his own work visa independent of my employment situation. It's possible for 'dependants' to accompany you on your visa, but in this case, they are not authorized to work. It's just a little bit hard to get by on one salary, especially if it means quitting a great job in Canada just to move south and be unemployed. The only way that we could have both been there living and working legally is if I had a green card, which everyone involved advised me would take in excess of 5 years and $10 000 USD for myself, plus a few extra thousand for Steve. Again, some employers will guide you through and pay for this (notably in the private sector), but in my case, it would have been at my own expense.

Other Misc PITAs
Taxes: you will have to file two tax returns, and no matter how much it costs to have a professional do it for you, you should not try and do your taxes on your own. Especially in your first year. It's just too complicated and you may end up paying double tax on your 'worldly income,' or worse, not filling it out properly and have Revenue Canada hunting you down years later for not filing RRSP papers while in non-resident status. Like I said, just too complicated!

Driver's license: this may vary from state to state, but you will likely have to surrender your Canadian license and take the written and road tests in order to get a U.S. license. Though I think this is completely ridiculous (sheesh! it's not like we drive rickshaw carts up here!), I did learn to drive stick the day before my road test (yes, I passed : ). Of course, now I can/do/love to drive the 'family' Mustang GT convertible which, I can tell, Steve is just thrilled about (muuuuhahahahaha!)

Canadian bank accounts: if you have student loans or any other regular payments that you need to make to a Canadian company/bank/etc, you will likely need to find a way to keep your Canadian accounts open in order to continue those payments (unless you want to be mailing drafts every month). There might also be some fancy footwork involved in creating a way for you to link a Canadian account to an American counterpart (read: get nice a friendly with your bank manager). I was able to open a TD Waterhouse account (in US) that could be linked to my TD Canada Trust account (in Canada) and transfer funds electronically across the border at a great exchange rate whenever I needed to.

My intention is not to sound overly grave about all this, but it is really important to know what's involved because this is a big life decision which unfortunately is accompanied with little information (or misinformation). Certainly, there are loads of Canadians working in the US who have been there for a long time sans complication - circumstances will be different for everyone. In my case, though, it was clear that it wasn't going to work out. The most important thing to do is to plan for all eventualities and get all the information you can before accepting a job and moving, and start thinking at least 3-5 years in the future (i.e. will your work visa run out before your tenure evaluation comes up? ). And with that, I'll end this thread : )

Posted at 12:26 PM| Permalink

August 25, 2005

How do you track your IM stats?

A number of people have asked for more details about how we record and manage stats for the IM service here at UNLV. I made a quick Captivate tutorial to show what we have in place, given that it's not publicly accessible.

So what are other people out there using to track IM statistics?

Chat Stats Tutorial | swf | 1.4 mb | 01:57

Posted at 9:43 AM| Permalink

August 6, 2005

Digital Library Services for Millennials

I was asked to give a presentation on digital services for millennials for a job interview a couple of weeks ago. 'Millennials' are the buzzword group du jour in business, marketing and library circles. And for good reason: they're the largest population group since the baby boomers, and they have vastly different expectations for both library and digital services, in general. For your powerpoint viewing pleasure:

Providing Digital Library Services to Millennials (ppt | 3.81 MB)

Posted at 12:23 PM| Permalink

July 12, 2005

IM & Email Reference Staff Training with Captivate Tutorials

Paul had asked a while back if I could share the Captivate tutorials that I put together for staff training, so here they are. They served to get staff up-to-speed on some of the basic and initial setup procedures before we met for some f2f training. Basically, it saved me a whole lot of time running from office to office setting up email proxies and Trillian : ) The staff were quite receptive to using the tutorials to get themselves set up on their own.

These tutorials are highly specific to our setup here at UNLV (i.e. Lotus Notes for email, etc). However if you're interested in what's involved for creating a home-grown IM/email reference setup at your library, these humble little tutorials may provide some insight.

The tutorials may seem a bit choppy because I created them back in May when we first got Captivate, and these are my first and not especially glamorous attempt (I had previously been using ViewletBuilder). At the time I had also used real reference email transcripts and provided all of our passwords for the IM accounts, so I had to record some new slides and consequently the cursor movements are a little disjointed.

Tutorial 1: Setting up a proxy to the library reference email account
swf | 682 kb | 00:01:39

Tutorial 2: Managing email with the library reference account
swf | 1496 kb | 00:03:20

Tutorial 3: Installing and setting up Trillian
swf | 2440 kb | 00:03:30

f2f Staff Training: IM Basics | ppt
This ppt doesn't make a whole lot of sense on its own, but was used during our hands-on training to get staff up-to-speed on the basics of IM, the logging in procedures, and some very basic points about chatetiquette and the 'culture' of chat.

Posted at 12:35 PM| Permalink

June 13, 2005

IM goes live at UNLV Librarires

UNLV Libraries IM news announcement

The UNLV Libraries IM service went live on Monday June 6 (adios, QuestionPoint!) This happened to coincide with a minor website launch, so in the process of making the switch to IM, I reorganized and completely rewrote the Ask a Librarian section of the site. As you can see, I gathered inspiration from some of the other libraries out there using IM. due to the website launch deadline, I wasn't able to get all the content up there, but it's coming along.

The e-mail solution
Because email was previously handled by QuestionPoint, we needed a new way to receive and route email reference questions to the 12-15 library staff that regularly respond to email questions. I created a web form that sends mail to a library reference Lotus Notes account, and set librarians up with proxy access via their personal Lotus email accounts. I created a 'librarians' folder where I move questions for specific librarians and notify them with an email that there is a question in their folder. Once the question is answered, the librarian moves it to the appropriate monthly archive folder. So far so good. It's a little more time intensive, but hey, it works.

The IM software solution
We're supporting AIM (and therefore also iChat), Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Messenger, and these choices were informed by the earlier IM Survey. The librarian chatters (there are about 12 of us) have been set up with Trillian. Getting everyone set up took some time: Trillian installs local user preferences and required that I visit everyone individually. I used our brand spankin' new copy of Macromedia Captivate to deploy three tutorials to staff to get them at least partially set up before I came to their offices (the Captivate tutorials were a big hit!). Our screen name is unlvlibrarian.

The tricky part had to do with the 'hand-off.' Our chat shifts run on an hourly basis. Because we're all using the same three unlvlibrarian accounts, logging in while a librarian from the previous shift is still in the middle of a chat will boot them out. Not so good. so I created AIM accounts for all the chatters (unlvsherri, unlvpriscilla, etc . .) so that we could use this as a secondary network to communicate with one another. So before logging into the unlvlibrarian account, we use our individual accounts to IM the unlvlibrarian and make sure it's okay to take over. It's also good way for people new to IM to chat with one another and get into the groove.

Though we're now supporting IM, IM software will not be made available to library computer users. The systems side of the house has decided that there are too many potential security risks involved. As I see it, this is simply an inconvenience factor for students because no matter when I talk a walk out by the workstations, people have downloaded and are running IM clients to chat with their friends. So it's being installed anyway, though Deep Freeze erases it after every restart. In the meantime, I've provided users with web login links on the chat page so that they have the option if they find themselves in a lab where they can't install software.

Finally, I've added links to the Ask a Librarian service to the various databases that support customized linking. Presence presence presence!

The statistics-keeping solution
One thing about this switch that did concern me was the (in)ability to track and keep statistics, which had previously been collected automatically by QuestionPoint. One the one hand, I really like the fact that chat is 'disposable' and that we can dispose of transcripts and personally-identifiable information when and how we want to (not an option with QuestionPoint). On the other, I need to capture some basic statistics, and trying to gather that information from numerous people would have the potential to redefine my job description! Finally, the solution needed to be easy and obvious, because we're all busy people and don't need more added to our plates than we already have. So . . . we've developed a data entry page using PHP to feed basic statistical information into a MySQL database. At the start of each chat shift, the librarian simply has to go to the URL and use the drop-downs provided (a comment box is also provided near the end of the page that's not visible in the screenshot):


The initial training session focused specifically on setting up and using Trillian, and some basics of chatiquette. Once everyone has had the opportunity to start chatting, we'll be having an additional advanced training session later in the summer. For more information on IM training, take a look at the great stuff that Michael Stephens has done.

On our first full day of service, I had three chats in a two hour time span. Two of the students that I was chatting with each said something along the lines of "thanks so much for offering this service - it's so great that you're using IM at the library!"

Like Linda Richman I was all verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves : )

Posted at 6:30 AM| Permalink

May 5, 2005

IM'ers not digital reference chatters? [Part 3]

[Part 1] [Part 2]

The IM Survey wrapped up about a week and a half ago, and I'll now take the opportunity to report on the final results now that I'm back from my trip to Toronto and the wonderful wineries of the Niagara Peninsula. Ahhh . . . I digress : )

A total of 195 responses were collected over 7 days (April 15- 22). The link to the survey was featured fairly prominently under the 'News' section of the Library's main page, as well as on the existing chat reference entry page.

Questions & Responses:

1) Do you currently use Instant Messaging software? Examples may include: MSN Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Instant Messenger, ICQ, AOL Instant Messenger, iChat.

91.8% (c=179) of respondents indicated that they currently use some form of instant messaging, while 8.2% (c=16) indicated that they don't use IM. It was anticipated that a large percentage of respondents would be IM users due to the self-selected nature of the survey and their increased awareness of the service. I included a link to the Wikipedia entry for IM in case someone wanted to verify or learn more.

2) If you currently use Instant Messaging, please indicate which service(s) you use (select as many as apply)

The top three IMs of choice by far are AIM (79.9%, c=143), Yahoo! IM (43.6%, c=48) and MSN Messenger (42.5%, c=46). In retrospect, I'm glad that I asked this because I would not have anticipated the high usage of AIM, which is not nearly as widely used in Canada as it apparently is here in the United States. Everything else mentioned, such as Skype and ICQ, etc, was at or below the 5% mark.

3) Have you ever used the UNLV Libraries Chat Reference Service?

And now for the interesting stuff . . . a mere 11.3% (c=21) of respondents reported that they have used the UNLV Libraries chat reference service in the past. That leaves a whopping 88.7% (c=165) of IMers who responded out in the (virtual) cold.

4) If the service were offered, would you use Instant Messaging to ask a librarian for research help?

Next, the topsey turvy effect: 87.5% (c=161) responded that if offered, they *would* use instant messaging to get help from the library, while 12.5% (c=23) indicated that they would not. Almost exactly the same percentage who indicated that they haven't used the existing chat reference service said they would use IM.

5) On a scale of 1-5, please indicate how often you would use the following contact methods to get help from the library: (1 = Never | 2 = Not very often | 3 = Undecided | 4 = Often | 5 = Regularly)

This was an interesting question, and somewhat predictable. There is an obvious preference for the more immediate and instant types of help (f2f and IM). But what surprised me a little was the low ranking for email. We get a lot of email reference questions, but anecdotal evidence would point to heavy use of email and phone reference assistance by our community patrons, and not as much by our students.


6) Do you have any additional comments or suggestions?

Selected open-ended responses are provided in Part 2.

I'm going forward with the IM effort, and expect to roll out by the end of the month. Next up: implementation, staff training, and creation of website documentation to alert users of the change in service.

Posted at 11:17 AM| Permalink

May 3, 2005

My unCaptivate-ing presentation [update]

I blogged a while back about some issues I encountered while making my first Captivate project. Thanks to my kind friends at the University of Winnipeg Library, I now have some webspace capable of hosting the rather huge file that I made from a PowerPoint presentation. At the very least, now I don't feel like it was a complete waste of time. But there were definitely some lessons learned : ) Be forewarned, even on a very fast connection, this will take a while to load.

As I mentioned previously, many of the examples used were derived from Clay Shirky's excellent talk given at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference held in San Diego, California, March 14-17, 2005: Ontology is Overrated.

Ordering Reality Through Classification: Making the Case for Tags and Folksonomies
[Captivate file with audio: 17 mb] | [regualr 'ole ppt file: 2.72 mb]

Posted at 4:17 PM| Permalink

April 22, 2005

IM'ers not digital reference chatters? [Part 2]

Wow - response to the humble little IM survey has been unexpectedly overwhelming! It's been up for just under a week, and so far 170 people have responded. After being up for just under 2 days, we were nearing the 100 maximum that you get with SurveyMonkey's basic (free) account. We upgraded just in the nick of time in order to continue collecting responses - we were at 99! I'll probably keep it up through the weekend and take it down on Sunday, at which point I'll share the final results. However, the way it's looking right now, Sarah Houghton's predictions are dead on.

Some of what I find most interesting about this are the open-ended comments that students have been leaving. Here's a sample:

"Being able to instant message a librarian is just as helpful as calling or e-mailing. I would not do any of these unless I was not able to come in person to ask for help."

"IM services would be fantastic since you can ask questions from anywhere in the building or at home."

" I think this would be a good idea. Most kids are inseparable from IM."

"PLEASE do NOT make instant messaging available in the library. I know students will sit at the computer for HOURS talking to their online "pals" while other students (who actually NEED the computers to do their homework) won't be able to find a computer. I am certain that students will abuse the privelege and IM'ing will be a worse plague than "party poker" in our computer labs . . . "

"I'd imagine it's difficult to convey what you need help with in a library without talking face to face."

"I believe it would be a brilliant idea to offer library assistance through instant messaging, as I have found online counseling through instant messaging also very useful. Eventually, I believe, all university services should in one way or another be expanded to the internet. Another reason it would greatly benefit UNLV is that many students must commute to school from long distances . . . Any services offered online I greatly appreciate."

"That's a great idea! R&I IM!"

"I did not know that a person could chat with a librarian online . . ."

"An instant messegain service would be great because I usually do my research from home on the computer, so if I have a question, it would really be helpful to be able to speak to someone instantly."

"Kudos to linking to the Instant Messaging deifition in the Wikipedia from the Library's website. It's nice to know that UNLV's librarians are up-to-date on things such as the Wikipedia. The idea of Instant Messaging for help sounds wonderful. If it isn't a nuisance and is setup that a librarian at the help desk runs AIM in the background as she/he helps in-person patrons and then additionally helps online patrons, this could become a successful way to reach and help students."

Interesting stuff! More to come . . .

Posted at 9:43 AM| Permalink

April 21, 2005

Folksonomy-enabled plugin for database tagging

Freetag is a "tagging and folksonomy-enabled plugin for use with MySQL-PHP applications. It allows you to create tags on existing database schemas, and access and manage your tags through a robust API."

Oooooh cool! How great would it be to be able to implement something like this into, say, a catalog! I know, I'm dreaming. But mapping or knitting a folksonomic infrastructure into an existing catalog schema would be oh so interesting (not to mention useful and user-friendly). Imagine having a Folksonomic Zeitgeist for your own particular institutional knowledge ecology, that represented in real-time what users are tagging within your collection, what's 'hot' at the moment, and what vocabularies they're using. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we see things like this emerging in libraryland.

Posted at 9:19 AM| Permalink

April 17, 2005

IM'ers not digital reference chatters?

I put a very simple, 5 question survey together this past Friday to learn about IM habits of UNLV students. It's linked from the main library webpage, as well as from the Chat Reference login page. The questions are very simple, and my main objective was to learn if people are chatting with IM (since it's been debated that people don't IM as much as they used to - an argument that I don't subscribe to) and what applications they're using. I also asked if they've ever used the UNLV Libraries Chat Reference service.

Now it's still very early, and the survey has only been up for 2 days (20 responses so far), but I'm noticing a peculiar trend in the responses: 90% of respondents currently use IM, and 90% have never used the UNLV Chat Reference service. The next question asks "if the service were offered, would you use Instant Messaging to ask a librarian for research help?" Again, 90% responded 'yes.'

Granted, respondents are entirely self-selected, and those with more experience with IM might be more inclined to answer the survey. As well, there hasn't been an aggressive marketing initiave launched to publicize the existing chat reference service (though we have healthy monthly totals). But the numbers reported through the survey are very interesting, and would appear, at this point, to support the 'embedded' service concept: provide help for people where and when they use it most. IM is looking better and better all the time.

The survey hasn't been up for a full weekday yet, so I expect to get many more responses this week. I'll report back as I gather more information.

Posted at 9:28 AM| Permalink

March 22, 2005

Can IM solve my digital reference woes?

I was intrigued by Aaron Schmidt and Michael Stephen's CIL presentation about instant messaging in libraries: Collaboration & IM: Breaking Down Boundaries. I've been thinking about this for a while, and specifically, the viability of ditching the "bloated VR system" for a much simpler and functional solution. The merits of using IM versus VR have been widely and even hotly debated on listserv such as Web4Lib and dig_ref.

So here are some of the pros and cons (for our particular situation), and my general questions . . .



As I see it, the cons are easily overcome with some fairly straight-forward workarounds, but I'm interested in hearing how others using IM in libraries have tackled these issues. Any thoughts out there?

I want to respond to Paul's comment here in the post because I haven't enabled comments in my feeds yet (note to self: get on that), and he brings up a good point: "but another thing acting as a con on the IM list is the inability to co-browse." I'm once bitten, twice shy when it comes to co-browsing, and I didn't list it as a con for our particular situation because we're not currently using it.

Theoretically, it's a great idea, and when it works, it's a fabulous teaching tool. But in practical terms, I've had very limited success using it within mainstream VR software applications. I've been keeping my eye on Jybe and have had various levels of success using it as well, though it looks very promising especially if they continue to work out some of the kinks (see Paul's post for more details). This has primarily been because of bandwith issues (on either end - sometimes hard to tell where the problem is), general incompatibilities, and so forth. I want something that's simple and effective, and until I stumble across something that is just that, I'm content to type a little more : )

I heard rumblings a while back that someone might be working on a co-browse feature for Rakim, a great open source VR chat application that I've used very successfully in the past (for a real-live example, see the University of Winnipeg Library's Live Help). Oh and some intrepid library folk worked on Rakoon, a co-browser for RAKIM, at the 2004 Hackfest. Peter Binkley and Kenton Good were part of that group (I'm convinced there's something in the water in Alberta ; ), but I'm not sure if anyone is continuing work on the project. Anyone? Anyone?

Bringing all these great things together in some integrated way will be key for drumming up interest and generating buy-in amongst staff. Then we're cookin' with gas . . .

Posted at 12:27 PM| Permalink