Technology and Humanism: Reflections on Austin

by Paul Gatz

Most readers of this blog are likely already aware that law librarians are awesome, but it’s nice to see some folks outside of the profession come to the same conclusion. The two examples I have in mind both came in the wake of this year’s AALL Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. Above the Law’s LawProfBlawg recognized AALL’s refusal to continue to host meetings in Texas in protest of the state’s recent legislative attempts to discriminate against LGBTQ people. And on LawSites Robert Ambrogi elevated AALL to his list of the best legal tech conferences to attend. Each of these examples reveals something deep and true about our profession, but it is in the combination of the two that the essence of law librarianship dwells.

The library itself is a technology, a tool for preserving and accessing knowledge. From the Alexandrian Pinakes of Callimachus to the automated storage and retrieval systems of a library like the University of Chicago’s Mansueto Library, this technology has developed into a sophisticated system, which, like all technology, is determined by and constructed with the available technological tools and systems of the time. The durability of the library as a technology has been and will continue to be due to the continued openness of librarians to new technologies.

This openness does not always come naturally. Change is always difficult. It is easy to feel one’s livelihood is threatened by automation or algorithms – and this fear is not always unwarranted! But fear clouds the mind. The librarian’s interest in technology does not come from fear, but is instead based in curiosity and openness. We want to know how these things work, to understand how they can fit in to our libraries and organizations, and to use them to build a better library.

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Saddened to never have seen a bike chained here.

A technology always serves a purpose, although not always the purpose its inventor intended and not always the purpose its promoters proclaim. Technology is not neutral. The purpose of a given technology carries with it value-laden assumptions that provide the implicit justification for the existence of the technology and the way it is used. The library, as technology, is no different. As a tool for preserving and accessing knowledge, the library contains the idea that knowledge is a good thing and that it should be preserved and made accessible.

But what counts as knowledge? Which knowledge gets preserved? Who gets access to it? These things all depend on the way the technology is used. Is the library used to make a profit? Is it used to elevate certain voices and marginalize others? The answers to these questions do not follow straightforwardly from the beneficent ideal of the library. They depend on the values that librarians bring to their work.

As law librarians, I would hope that the values that inform our work would include compassion, toleration, a respect for human dignity, and the furtherance of justice and the rule of law. The Association’s decision to take a stand against LGBTQ discrimination indicates that my hope is not misplaced. It is hard to see these values at work in the everydayness of our lives and jobs, but the Association’s decision, along with Bryan Stevenson’s keynote address (about which I wish I could say more, but I am unequal to the task), reminded me that our humanity is central to our work – in the decisions we make, our interactions with others, and, ultimately, what we hope for our profession and for our world.

As librarians, our work is the library, whether it is conceived as a building, a collection, a service, a technology, or an idea. Always eager to learn and explore new possibilities, we use whatever tools or technologies available to improve the library. Key to our use and development of technology, key to the library, and key to librarianship, is the fact that the library must be used by human beings to address human problems. We must all be technologists. We must all be humanists.

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Competing for Student Attention: Sign-Ups vs. Attendance

by Nicole Downing

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It’s the first week back for our law school community. It’s an exciting time as faculty, students, and staff all return to campus. It’s also a time when students have multiple activities competing for their attention. In the library, we would like a piece of that attention! Every year, we hold a short series of workshops. In the past, we have faced a problem we are working to solve this semester. The problem isn’t lack of initial interest and sign-ups– it’s follow-through attendance. After the reminder emails are sent out the day before a workshop, I get the inevitable flood of emails in response – I double booked, I hadn’t anticipated my class load, I just can’t make it anymore.

How do we hold the students’ attention? At our law school, we have a central rotunda where students gather and socialize between classes. It’s also where any organization can set up a table. We set up a table. We put out flyers. We send out emails. We blog. We Facebook. And students sign up! But how do we ensure they actually attend?

We’re trying a few different strategies this year. The first one is to change the timing of the series. We have pushed the workshop series back later in the semester. We did that in large part so we could push back our marketing efforts. We hope that we can let this initial competition period die down – the time at the beginning of the semester when everyone is making announcements and drafting students into events. It’s also the time when students are most enthusiastic. We may be missing out on some of that enthusiasm, but hopefully the students who sign up will be genuinely interested in the workshops and have a better idea of what they can manage with their schedule.

The second strategy is to schedule around popular law school events to limit competition. By scheduling the workshops a bit later in the semester, we do not need to pick exact dates and book rooms until later in the semester. The hope is that other groups on campus have scheduled some of their big-ticket events by now, and we can avoid them by viewing the school calendar. We don’t want to compete with Career Services events. In fact, we want to work with them since our events help students with their future careers! We also don’t want to compete with the Pro Bono Program. Their events gather large crowds and the program itself does fantastic work that we don’t want to detract from. If we can avoid these events in our scheduling, we can help eliminate some of the over booking obstacles to attendance.

Finally, we have decided to launch a fresh slate of workshop topics. We know the attendance we received with last year’s topics. We think we can do better, so we have decided to try all new topics to gauge the interest level in these other topics. We’ll see if they get a higher attendance retention rate – and even better would be overall higher attendance.

At the end of the day, students will always sign up for things they won’t attend. We can plan for that, but having 20 students sign up for a workshop and having 6 attend? That’s just bad odds. We’re changing things up this semester, and we’ll see if that attendance rate improves!

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Change is good? Change is good?

by Dean Duane Strojny

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I did it! I rearranged my office. It usually happens over a semester break and I take on the task about every two years. Now granted, there are only so many possible configurations because of the technology cords attached to the hardware, but I try to do something different. After occupying the same office for 15 years, it does become a challenge. So much like rearranging furniture and the change it brings, the beginning of the fall semester brings the opportunity to rearrange other things at work. It is reinvigorating to look at some of our programming and services through the eyes of new students and see where we make changes for everyone to have a more successful year. Here are some changes we are bringing to the table in either a new or an expanded version.

1. Outreach to first semester classes to highlight study aids for a particular course. Naturally, this effort relays to students that similar materials exist in all their required courses (and for extra measure, a similar outreach is made to second-semester classes as well). With an array of both print and online study aids available, it arms the new students with tools to be successful and is outside of the usual cavalcade of information presented at regular orientation.

2. Reserving a study carrel anywhere at any location. Even if they go unused, a reserved carrel gives a student a place. I would be happy if they all get reserved, but I don’t think that will happen. After a few years of this program, this fall it will be available to students at all our locations.

3. Personal attention. Students deserve to be acknowledged as unique individuals. Even with a high reference-librarian-to-student ratio, it is possible to know nearly all the students and especially those that are regular library patrons. Our plan is to give each Research and Writing student the opportunity to meet individually with a reference librarian and walk through the entire research process in a quick but concise tour of the print materials. This dovetails nicely with our teaching of online databases in a larger group setting. It opens their eyes up to what we can offer them and gives the personal touch.

4. A long-term plan for teaching one-credit research electives. We began this last fall and will revisit it again this year. This planning makes sense because we have three full fifteen-week semesters a year and benefit from knowing in advance which campus is teaching what classes. No need to overlap due to distance education capabilities for most courses allows us to be more effective and have larger enrollments in courses. Librarians are usually good at planning, so this is one area we take advantage of the skill.

5. Revisit keeping statistics. As long as I know, this library has kept many kinds of statistics. Even with ABA Annual Questionnaire changes over the years, we have found some statistics to continue keeping as well as some to stop and others to add. We still keep a title and volume count. The numbers are all ILS generated, so it doesn’t take much time to put something into a spreadsheet each month. We keep gate counts and head counts. These help with staffing needs and assist with determining what our extended hours should look like. More use is reflected in more hours. We have always kept reference statistics as well and currently use a product from Alterama called RefTracker. This product lets us keep detailed numbers for types of patrons, questions, and other outreach efforts. All our statistic keeping efforts need to be reviewed regularly and the upcoming fall seems like a good time to tackle the project.

6. University and community outreach. As a law library, we have an obligation to provide access to the local community and educate our undergraduate and other departmental graduate students about what we have to offer. Both of these efforts can require a substantial amount of time in a slightly understaffed situation. The goal is to be effective with helping these secondary patron groups and one easy way is to meet with leaders of these other stakeholder groups. Lunch meetings with the local county law library and the dean of the undergraduate library can serve as reminders to them about what we have to offer.

What can you do to be an agent of change at your workplace? Maybe it is not an entirely new program, but rather the rearranging of something. Is there a more logical way that might benefit your patrons? Take a risk and think outside of the box. Do not be afraid to try something different.

As I celebrate my 22nd anniversary of working at the same academic institution, it makes me reminisce about what someone told me during my first few days: The only thing constant here is change. After all these years, that advice still rings through. However, the success of the library and the value it brings to the school is because of that change. It is always worthwhile to try something new. It challenges you and gives students the opportunity to learn more about what a law library is and what it can offer them to be successful as students and in their legal careers.

Change is good! Change is good!

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Tips, Tricks, and Best Practices for Creating a Conference Poster

by Katie Brown, RIPS-SIS Annual Meeting Grant Recipient

I was honored to receive a grant from RIPS to attend the AALL Annual meeting, and I wanted to share a few tips and tricks I have gained from creating and presenting posters at the AALL annual meeting. Hopefully some of these musings will inspire and aid you to create a poster of your own for the Annual Meeting in 2018.

Why presenting a poster at any conference is always a good idea:

Poster sessions usually occur in a large room and often at a set time during a conference. These sessions are a great way for a larger pool of “experts” to present specific ideas, surveys or data at the same time in the same venue. Poster sessions provide an opportunity for students and those new to the profession to present their work. For experienced presenters, it is a great time to shop the beginning stages of an idea for a new paper or survey results, in a setting conducive to real time feedback from interested attendees. This format is also a win for the attendees as it provides them with flexibility to browse the posters and talk to the creators of the topics.

Designing Posters Tips and Tricks:

“Minimize non-data ink.” — Arthur Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

Remember you are presenting your idea in a visual format. Select one idea or concept and know the full story of the idea. Remember to make the poster about the idea, keep text to a minimum, keep your content practical, and present the idea visually.  Make the most of all the white space and do not put everything on the poster. Use indents, bullets, fonts, and colors to show the reader the flow of your reasoning. When comparing two ideas place them next to each other. The text you create should stimulate conversation and allow you to share the concepts with visual elements that tie it together. Do not be afraid to share how you measure your outcomes. Let the attendees know if it is though feedback session, surveys, usage stats or testing.

Creating Posters Tips and Tricks:

Every conference has rules, guidelines, and requirements for poster creation so always follow the rules. Think about the exhibition space for font size, poster measurements, how it will be attached to a wall or standing board, if there will be power for an online component. When selecting or creating images remember not to use a complicated picture if you can use a simple one to get your message across. Do not create a poster by taping several sheets of paper together unless you absolutely must. Keep in mind printing can be expensive. One cost-saving method may be to print at your employer with large scale printer. Just be aware you may incur cost in shipping or traveling with your poster to the venue. When printing at the venue or another local printer, a discount maybe available to conference presenter.Do not be afraid to ask if there is a discount code. Other factors in the final pricing can be size, colors, and what medium you print your poster on. Thankfully some employers make funds available for printing posters and handouts for presentation purposes. Remember you are promoting a service to your institution by marketing their name at the conference. Prominently include your and the employer’s name, Social media accounts, and email address. I recommend creating your poster as a PowerPoint slide set to scale and then saving it as an image file in the correct scale. The poster should not have everything you are going to say instead it is providing a supporting role to your explanation of the project, survey, theory or idea. Yet, you will still need to make your poster complex enough to allow people to learn about your project even if you are unavailable to discuss it with them as they walk by and view it.  One way to accomplish these contradictory design elements is by providing a handout to supplement the information provided on the poster.  Additionally, if your poster is on a paper feel free to bring copies to share.

Traveling with your Posters:

This can be a challenge. It is always best to plan ahead when shipping and transporting your poster. Mailing it to your hotel may be easier than flying with it in a carryon or shipping to the conference center. The last few years, I have been having my posters printed locally at a FedEx Office by the convention center and then shipping the poster back to my employer after the conference is over from the same FedEx Office.

Pitching your Poster:

Always prepare your comments in advance of the poster presentation time. Some people like to use some notes to refer to if you need specific information that is outside of the content on the poster itself. In the past I have created a bibliography of additional resources on the poster topic that can also serve as a roadmap for additional content or experts in the field. As with a more traditional presentation you will want to have one or two people to help you prepare by listening to you discuss the poster content and field questions. Your pitch starts with the poster title and interesting titles will always have the advantage when it comes to attracting attendees. Do not be afraid to write up a few and ask your friends and family to rank them to determine which you should use. Best practices for title formatting is to make it short enough that it is easily read at a distance when it is in large font. On the day of, show up early to the session so you have time to prepare the poster before the event begins. Presenters will stand next to their posters to explain their project, remember it is always best to actively engage people during their approach toward the poster. Smile, be friendly, courteous and open to criticism. If you are like me, digressions in the conversation will occur, try to remember not to share anything they do not need to know. I like to prepare and memorize a one sentence blurb introducing my poster and another sentence prepared for the takeaways or findings.  Always be prepared to share the lessons learned from your project verbally to support the main points visually displayed. Finally remember, gaining attendees feedback and comments is one of the purposes for presenting. You may even want to have paper on hand if someone shares a useful idea or resource.

Finally, think about your behavior when attending poster sessions. I usually walk through either dawdling at each one when I have the time or briskly, only stopping at posters that pose timely content and do not require me to read long text in order to understand them. And always remember what Elliott Moreton, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said about the purpose of posters, “illustrate your explanation to hear when you are there…to explain your work to the reader when you are not there…[and] to make people want to read your paper.”

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Law Librarians and Technology

by Whitney Curtis, RIPS-SIS Annual Meeting Grant Recipient

When I sat back to ponder this year’s annual meeting, it seemed to have a number of programs, events and exhibit booths dedicated to law librarians teaching and/or using technology. Or it could have been that the topic was front and center in my mind when I arrived in Austin because I am teaching a technology in legal practice class for the very first time this fall. Regardless of the reason, AALL once again had what I needed to collaborate and learn with and from colleagues, and not just about how to teach my class this fall. However, as with every conference, it was impossible to see and do it all, and I made some tough choices along the way as to what to attend. Here’s some highlights:

Law Library as Technology Laboratory. For me, this was a great program to officially “kick-off” the conference, following our awesome keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson. The Law Library as Technology Laboratory highlighted technology and how it works, as well as how it doesn’t work from the law school, law firm, and court perspective. It also helped frame the discussion on how libraries can meet ABA Standard 601(a)(4). The main takeaway for me was what works for one will not work for all, and it’s important to keep in mind your own patron base when you decide to implement any new idea or strategy.

Attorney Research Skills: Continuing the Conversation Between Law Firm and Academic Law Librarians. This was another great collaboration session where attendees got to share ideas and collaborations about legal research training issues. The presenters did a great job of ensuring that there were all types of librarians at each table during the session. Academic librarians did seem to outnumber the firm and court librarians, but there was at least one firm and/or court librarian at each table. Each panelist spoke briefly about their organizations and then the tables had an opportunity to collaborate together to come up with training ideas and how firms, courts and academic law librarians could team up to train new attorneys.

Teaching Technology Caucus Meeting. This was the first “official” caucus meeting. During the meeting, a lot of emphasis was placed on the ABA Tech Show and the fact that there is now an academic track. The caucus meeting also solicited ideas for presentations at the 2018 ABA Tech Show.

Teaching and Implementing Emerging Technologies in Legal Practice. This session was extremely beneficial in providing tips in teaching emerging technologies. Kenton Brice spent time discussing what he’s doing and what’s been working at his school. If you didn’t get a chance to check out his session, I’d recommend listening to it. It was one of the recorded sessions and it’s available on the AALL website.

Innovation Tournament. This was a brand-new event this year at AALL and I hope it is one which will become an AALL staple. This was a great way to showcase, yet again, the talents of our librarian colleagues. The finalist presentations were incredible, and I’ll be excited to see how far they go with their new ideas.

The Human Equation: What Star Trek Teaches Us About Leadership. While this session didn’t really fit into my unintended technology-themed conference, it was by far one of the better programs I went to this year. Being a sci-fi geek, I admit I was curious as to how the presenters were going to take Star Trek and show how we can learn about leadership and to be good leaders. The tips the presenters offered on how to be a leader (whether you are in a management role or not) by identifying certain character traits was clear, insightful and very applicable.

I know there is a lot I left out of my summary of the meeting. With the number of events and programs offered every year, as I said, it is almost impossible to do it all. I am extremely grateful to RIPS for the grant, without which I would not have been able to attend this year’s meeting.

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High Schoolers in the Law Library: A Law-Related Programming Using Graphic Novels

by Brandon Wright Adler, RIPS-SIS Annual Meeting Grant Recipient

(Keeping in line with our absolutely AMAZING conference key-note speaker, Bryan Stevenson, I thought it appropriate to discuss a programming activity that targets a younger, multi-cultural demographic.)

At least once a year, a law library should strive to invite and encourage seniors from the local high schools (New Orleans in our library’s case) to tour the law school and attend a programming activity in the law library. What does this look like? In theory, the high school seniors will be given a tour of the law school and then the law library, where a few professors, an admissions officer, the dean, and the librarians will talk to the students about an education in law and what it can do for the person as well as for society as a whole. It may seem a difficult task to get a high schooler excited about something that lacks context and most likely feels like a goal that is very far away, but the reality is that it is, in fact, a very short amount of time between undergraduate school and considering law school as a graduate program.

Programming activities using diverse, multi-cultural reading materials are extremely important so every student involved feels equally represented. The importance of programming activities extends beyond that of equal representation to equal education. When programming activities include multi-cultural materials, it allows opportunity for learning and growth as many students may not have been introduced to other cultures outside of their own environments. Introducing multi-cultural materials into programming activities allows students the opportunity to learn, understand, and accept one another’s differences on a grander scale. In a law library, by using and introducing high school students to graphic materials (i.e. graphic novels and/or comic books) on the law, it will assist in the introduction to and engagement with a few of the many facets of the legal field and how justice can be served in a multitude of ways, realistically and imaginatively.

Ideally, your library should strive to hold this programming activity at least once a year, in a private space in the library; an area with ample seating and table space. The main objective of this activity is to introduce high schoolers to the pertinence and relevance of the law. The end goal of the activity being that not only does the law seem more interesting, but that hopefully law school may seem more attainable to these high school students too. In an effort to engage the interest of high schoolers in the programming activity, the library should use materials that make the law interesting, entertaining, and relatable to the students so that they have context behind what they are learning. Further, with the use of multi-cultural graphic materials when introducing the topic of law and law school as a future endeavor, using graphic novels that are socially and culturally relevant to the students will be most effective. For example, in Louisiana, there is a high rate of incarceration and police and governmental corruption, so the graphic materials chosen will encompass this point for importance and relevance sake.

The programming activity should consist of a tour and a 30-minute discussion on what the law is and why it is important to society. At this time, a law librarian will introduce three (or more) graphic materials that relate to the law. Examples of materials used in Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Library are The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessy and art by Aaron McConnell;[1] Sabrina Jones and Marc Mauer’s Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling;[2] and John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell’s March.[3] Hennessy’s book breathes a different life into our nation’s cornerstone principles. It will serve to introduce the students to the very tenants of the Constitution and show them that the foundation of our American laws can be learned in a fun and entertaining way. Jones and Mauer’s Race to Incarcerate showcases incarceration in the United States. The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and Louisiana incarcerates more people, per capita, than any other state in the United States; therefore, Louisiana incarcerates more people than anywhere else in the world.[4] This fact is not lost on the youth of New Orleans; therefore, introducing this material to the students will help them understand the exponential growth of the U.S. prison system. Lewis’s March talks about the vivid journey of human and civil rights from Congressman Lewis’ first-hand account growing up in rural Alabama. This book illustrates to the students the struggle of those that came before them and how the law of civil and human rights, in the United States, has transformed over the years. This is highly relevant to these students as they live in the Deep South where Jim Crow and the civil rights movement holds a tough legacy.

The goal of this type of programming activity is that it will impassion and stay with some of the high school seniors to the point that they, too, will want to fight for justice and civil liberties just as those before them.

[1] Jonathan Hennessey, The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation (Hill and Wang, 2008).

[2] Sabrina Jones & Marc  Mauer, Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling (The New Press, 2013).

[3] John Lewis & Andrew Aydin, March: Book One (Top Shelf Productions, 2013).

[4] Louisiana incarcerates 1,050 people for every 100,000 U.S. residents. This is the highest incarceration rate in the United States, followed by Oklahoma at 1,010 people incarcerated for every 100,000 U.S. residents. Danielle Kaeble & Lauren Glaze, Correctional Populations in the United States, 2015, U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (Apr. 20, 2017 3:34 PM), https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpus15.pdf.

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Doing More With Less & Wearing Multiple Hats

by Sandra Dunbar, RIPS-SIS Annual Meeting Grant Recipient

We live in interesting times, and today was an interesting day. Though I work for a medium sized law firm (120ish attorneys in size offices, located throughout the state of Illinois, so it depends on who you ask), I’ve leveraged public and children’s librarian skills in the last few days. Last week I provided a link to a website with a great eclipse animation. Type in the name of your location, hit the start button, and the animation will show you what the eclipse will look like in your location, as well as the times of start, end and maximum eclipse.

Friday I was given responsibility for obtaining 135 moon pies, enough so that everyone in this office could enjoy one. Today I arranged an informative email about optimum viewing times, if the rain stopped and the clouds parted, and announced the availability of those moon pies for consolation or celebration, depending on the weather.

Like others, I am grateful to RIPS for making it possible to attend AALL this year through a travel grant. I would not have been able to attend without it.

I heard and learned to interesting things while at the conference. Sunday evening I returned to my son’s home (where I stayed), and was talking about the keynote speaker – Bryan Stevenson, how his talk was both moving and appropriate. My son replied, “Oh yeah, I’ve listened to him on NPR.” What a pleasant surprise.

Another conversation was less so. At a meeting that I moderated I heard rumors of a new Lexis policy – if LexisAdvance is not renewed, then Matthew Bender print will not be available. A similar question popped up today in the PLLIP-SIS space. I would hope this was not true, though the first source seemed to be experiencing this. It seems counterproductive as a marketing tool. Not to mention possibly an antitrust violation of some sort.

Another librarian spoke that her library and librarians were being subject to Conflicts and not allowed to work on some matters due to having performed research for other matters. This has real possibilities for reducing my workload since there aren’t any other librarians at my firm.

Conversations with a vendor rep and friend at AALL provided the impetus to implement a long delayed rollout of a desirable product at my firm. Then I discovered that the firm’s spam blocker was preventing the delivery of this product to our attorneys. I worked with our IT department to whitelist the vendor, but 4 days later, still no product. I contact IT again, and within minutes the attorneys’ inboxes were bombarded with back-email and instead of pleased, excited patrons, I had an angry swarm of annoyed attorneys asking that the product be shut off.

I’m not sure what the solution is – we are constantly challenged to become more secure, to protect our clients and we are assailed at work and at home. Our firm spends substantial funds to keep us safe and to meet client expectations, not to mention the time, energy and frustration.

The other overarching theme that I heard at AALL was doing more with less, doing the work of two or three people. This theme crosses all boundaries – academic, firm, government, and vendor. And not what I hoped to hear.

Then I spent a vacation day assisting my daughter in organizing the library in her school. She teaches special education. But now she is also the librarian at her school. And she has a lunch hour to monitor. And she’s coaching scholastic bowl.

I suppose we’re all being asked to do more with less and wear quite a few hats – no matter the library.

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