I always used to think that calendars were simple affairs. You’d either write appointments and deadlines into a paper calendar, or you’d write them into an electronic calendar. What could be simpler? Well, apparently even the enigma that is The Research Process is easier to get right than a process for simultaneously keeping track of my affairs and advertising my availability for research consultations. Here’s how it’s worked for me for the years that I’ve been a librarian.
2005-2006: My palm kept me pretty much on track with my own schedule. I could sync it with my work desktop and my personal laptop, take it with me to meetings, and generally keep up with my life. To broadcast my availability to students, I’d make up a new printed calendar each week and hang it outside my office, just like my co-workers did. This was kind of annoying, and felt like duplication of effort, but it seemed like our best option at the time, even though they’d get out of date really quickly.
2006-2007: Weeeee!!! Google Calendars made it easy to feed a pretty looking calendar to an HTML page. At this point I retrained myself to keep track of my schedule on my palm, and then publish an “Availability Calendar” which, instead of saying when I was busy, said when I was available to meet. This took off almost immediately. Students who had been shy about adding to my full-looking (and full-feeling) days were now much more confident to ask for times that were clearly designated as being for them. They also grasped the analogy to faculty office hours much more readily. My co-workers and I noticed that the number of surprise drop-in appointments dropped as students started emailing us to reserve slots from the “available” periods, and this not only reduced our stress levels and helped us provide better service, but it also just gave us more control over our work days. Of course, the down-side was that we were each still maintaining two calendars: Google and Palm.
2007-early 2008: Enter Zimbra. We couldn’t sync Palms anymore, but if we wanted to be able to schedule meetings with each other we’d have to use Zimbra and not Palm. I sure wasn’t about to maintain THREE calendars, so something had to go. Clearly, the Google Calendars couldn’t go. They were our one best option for working out logistics with students. Therefore, we retired our Palms. This left us with no portable calendars, so a few of us actually bought paper calendars to take to meetings. I rather stubbornly refused to go that route, though. If I wasn’t prepared to maintain three electronic calendars, there was no way I’d maintain two electronic calendars and one paper calendar.
The rest of 2008: But today I finally sat down and put the latest upgrade of Zimbra to work for me. It’s finally able to publish calendars just like Google Calendar can. (Well, almost just like… but enough for my purposes.) I created a new calendar within Zimbra, designated my “Available” times, and published it to my web site. Today I’m officially down to one calendar for the first time since I’ve worked here. Of course… I still can’t take my calendar with me to meetings unless I shell out for some wireless device or other (or better yet, my library supplies us with them). So maybe it’s time to start thinking about that paper calendar…