Thursday, April 16, 2015

So, You Want to be a Science Librarian?, by Lydia Fletcher


I have a master’s degree in medieval studies and I went to library school to study rare books and archives, so when I told my friends and family that I became a science librarian they got confused. They asked if I’m happy, or if I’m just doing this “temporarily” until I get a rare books job. It’s understandable—I spent ten years of my life studying and talking incessantly about medieval studies.

So what happened?

I tend to refer to myself as “The Accidental Science Librarian” (and I talked a little bit about why a couple of years ago on my own blog). The short version is that when I first considered librarianship, I stumbled upon a job in the outreach department of a health sciences library. Then, when I moved on to graduate school for my MSIS, I ended up working the UT Physics, Math, & Astronomy Library (where my primary qualifications were having reference desk experience and attending Space Camp as a kid). I have to admit I mostly took that job because they offered one of the few available Graduate Assistant positions my first semester. So, even though my courses at the UT iSchool were split between archives/rare books/conservation and general academic librarianship, I was “apprenticed” into science librarianship as my career. And it really has become my career, solidified in my first two professional positions as Math, Physics & Astronomy (and Classics) Librarian at UC Irvine and now as Scholarly Resources Librarian for Science at UT-San Antonio. And I love it. I really do.

In my last two years as a professional, I've gone from "maybe I want to do this" to "doing this" to "I LOVE doing this.” My days are never dull—I get questions on everything from gaseous diffusion methods for uranium enrichment, to the energy efficiency of fireplaces, to helping students find information on eating lower on the food chain (complete with “thank you” cookies made with cricket flour. Yum!). I also serve on the UTSA IACUC. It’s exciting work and it’s fun.

At heart, however, I’m a deeply practical person, so I’m here today not just to talk about my personal journey towards science librarianship, but to also talk about the most important thing in any young and/or potential librarian’s mind: jobs. STEM research is a massive industry in higher education and there’s a growing need for librarians who can support it: from pure liaison roles for science departments (like mine) to GIS and data specialists.

I’ll admit my evidence is purely anecdotal (other science librarians or people who have hired science librarians, please feel free to chime in) and entirely concerned with academic libraries, but in my experience, positions for science librarians attract FAR fewer candidates than positions for humanities librarians. I recently heard a statistic from a colleague that for a humanities librarian position at their institution there were more than 200 applications. For a science librarian position at the same university there were only about 50.

And, again anecdotally, it seems as if competent librarians with a humanities background, a basic understanding of science topics, and a willingness to learn are being hired into these positions. Last year at STELLA 14 in Stanford, I chatted with several young librarians who were in STEM subject liaison positions but had humanities backgrounds.

I’m hoping to begin work this year on a research project with a colleague to collect anecdotal and quantitative evidence of hiring trends for science librarian positions. The ultimate goal is to supplement the already-great resources for professionally developing young science librarians—or anyone who finds her- or himself supporting science departments due to staffing changes, hiring freezes, or budget cuts.

All right, have I got you interested? Are you considering a career as a science librarian? Don’t be afraid—the learning curve is pretty steep, and involves a lot of “what a fascinating research question! Do you mind if I look into it and get back to you in a day or so?” If you’re still interested, here’s a rundown of some professional development opportunities for young and old science librarians—and would-be library school students!

And if all else fails, please feel free to ask me directly!

Lydia Fletcher is the Science Librarian at the University of Texas, San Antonio. She blogs at Book Archaeologist and tweets at @lamfletcher.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Leadership vs. Management

I saw a tweet the other day that said something about management being the same thing as leadership. Wow do I vehemently disagree with this. I don't follow this person and I don't think they follow me, but just in case this post comes to their attention I'm not going to link to the tweet that inspired this post. Regardless, leadership the same as management? No. Very very much no.

Let me start out by stating I know "management" has many many many definitions. For the sake of this post, I'm talking about management within the context of our profession as a job. (Project management is a whole other thing in my mind, and you should read what Michael Perry has to say about it.) What I mean by "management" is a person who is in charge of other people and who is directly responsible for those people and their performance. This isn't an easy job, no matter where you do it, especially not in a library. Neither is management an easy skill set to acquire. I can admit it: I've had a steep curve learning how to manage people. Some things were easy, like I already knew not to correct my employees in front of others. But being a good library manager is so much more than that. There are policies to craft, a budget to oversee, and the physical plant (building and grounds) to manage. Being a manager is also about the day to day, the nuts and bolts, fill in your favorite cliche for a third. In my library that means things like making sure part timers have the schedules they want/need. It even means cleaning up after the basement floods - which it did twice in my first year. Management is about resources and systems and standards.

Being a leader, on the other hand, is higher level thinking. It's about overarching themes. It's about vision. Leadership is about morale and rallying the troops. Even more importantly, leadership is about keeping people on track and knowing where you, as a team, want to go. Being a leader is about helping the staff of a library create and realize a vision. Writing a strategic plan comes in here, as does building relationships with stakeholders. It's also about balancing strengths and weaknesses within your team and leveraging what everyone does best to achieve larger goals. I know this is a lot of high fallutin' language, but that's where leadership lives. It's about inspiration, so you need the fancy words.

I think the reason these two get conflated on such a regular basis is that the most productive administrators have healthy doses of both skill sets. I think I'm getting there, but I've still a ways to go. I want to be like that cat up there who has the vision *and* the means to make things good for the dogs. The way I think of it is that good managers are adept at seeing the trees and good leaders can see the forest. The best administrators see both.

Or, if you'd prefer to think of it as Admiral Grace Hopper so succinctly put it: "You don't manage people; you manage things. You lead people."

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Brief Hiatus Will Be Over Soon

First there was the conference that took my energy, time, and attention.

Then this happened...

I know this is a professional blog, for the most part, but I wanted to let you all know what has been happening. Also want to let you know that the hiatus is almost over. I'll be back to a regular schedule starting next week.

And if I owe you an email or an edited guest post, you will hear from me in the next week.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Just for Fun: Big Hero 6

There's one thing I want to make clear up front: I don't love Big Hero 6 unreservedly, but the reasons I don't love it are major spoilers and I know there are lots of you out there who have not yet seen this movie. Instead, I want to tell you all the reasons I do love this movie. Mostly because I want more people to get it when I make a Big Hero 6 joke, which I seem to be doing a lot.


So many things to like about Baymax. It is kind and competent, friendly and reassuring, but most of all Baymax is endearing. I know I tend to get pretty attached to the non-human characters in animated features, but how can you blame me with Baymax? And that short clip above? I did that fistbump many times at ACRL and I'm pretty sure most people just thought I was weird. Now you all know why! Bah-lah-lah-lah.

Easter Eggs

There are lots more than that Lilo & Stitch shout out (and you may remember how I love that movie), but I don't want to share too many here. After all: spoilers.


Well, yeah, it is a bit more science fiction than fiction, but it makes science look cool.


Asian Americans? Check. African Americans? Yup. Hispanic Americans? Uh-huh. Women in science? You betcha. And I know that it's not perfect (there's some whitewashing in there), but it does pass the Bechdel Test!

Have I convinced you? I hope so. If I have, let me know the next time I see you. I'll Baymax Fistbump with you to your heart's content!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Networking Thoughts, Or, I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends


The first time I tried to write this post, it was about my conversion from a big conference naysayer to true believer. You see, I've planned my schedule for ACRL based purely on "people I want to see" and have left "things I want to learn" aside. But then, with a lot of help from my writing group partners, I realized that what I was really writing was a post about how I network.

Because of Twitter and Facebook and my blog, I've made connections with librarians from around the country and even around the planet. I know, without a doubt, that these very real friendships are the main thing that sustained me as I traversed the learning curve of my transition from instruction librarian to library director. And I'm really looking forward to reaffirming those bonds in person.


I had no idea that I was doing that fabled thing all librarians are admonished to do at conferences and other professional outings. My thought process went something like, "Oh, so-and-so is cool online and they are going to be at the same conference/in the same city/attending the same workshop as me. I'm going to ping them and see if they're available for coffee or drinks or whatever." And then, somewhere along the way, professional collaborations started to be a fun thing I could do with my new friend.

So, it turns out that networking, for me at least, is an offshoot of gravitating towards like-minded librarians. By chatting with some, I've gotten presentation opportunities and partners. By being friendly with others, I've gotten publication opportunities. I'm not saying that it was easy, or that everyone can/should follow the same path. What I'm saying is a reiteration of what many others have said before me - find your people in this field, the people you like, and be yourself. Have fun, and don't worry about the rest. Get by with a little help from your friends.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Constant Vigilance, by Galen Charlton


Constant vigilance! CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

Mad-eye Moody’s catchphrase in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire expresses his view of the primary requirement to defend against the Dark Arts: continually paying attention to potential threats.
Moody’s dictate is something I keep in mind as I do my job. Many of us run catalogs and discovery systems and are audacious enough to put them on the web, for anybody to search. Absolutely anybody – including the script kiddies, crackers, and botnet operators could take our servers over for their own ends – or simply vandalize them for the lulz.

That’s a threat that the people behind every public-facing server must either attempt to prevent or ignore, of course. But in libraries we’ve also taken upon ourselves a greater responsibility: to safeguard the privacy of our patrons.

Reader privacy isn’t something to take lightly, unless we choose to take our profession lightly. The freedom to read, one of our core tenets, is curtailed if the reader has to worry about somebody looking over their shoulders or judging them. The freedom to read can sometimes be a life-or-death matter. I’m not just talking about readers in war zones or politically unstable areas: a teenager trying to figure out their place in life, or their very sense of self may find succor in a library; to have what they are reading to find themselves be revealed to the wrong people can be deadly. It’s not always a life-and-death matter, of course, but it’s sufficient to recognize that what a patron is reading is nobody ’s business but their own.

Here are some ways to protect patron privacy that I, a library technologist who also wears the hats of programmer, system administrator, and manager, have learned along the way. (There’s a lot more to each of these ideas, but I wanted to give you an overview.)

There’s no point in giving up. It’s commonly expressed that privacy is either dead, impossible to protect, or unwanted. No! It has become more difficult to protect; modern software and the urge to automate all the things and store all the data makes it easier to gather and collate information about people and their activities. Libraries can resist that, though. And if you think that teens don’t care about privacy, you’re wrong. (For research, click the danah boyd link below.)

Think carefully about what data you collect. For instance, U.S. libraries should never be in the business of collecting Social Security Numbers. If a public library’s policy for establishing proof of residence requires gathering SSNs, it’s time to go to the library board and get that changed.

Protecting confidential data – or losing it - depends on people. There are lots of technical and software measures that can hide, destroy, or encrypt patron information -- but they can be for naught if a clerk isn’t trained to refer every law enforcement request to the appropriate administrators.

There is a lot to learn. Here’s one example: it’s a terrible, no good, very bad thing if a patron calls up the circ desk, tells you that they’ve forgotten their password, and for you to be able to tell them what it is. Don’t know why? Read up on “password hashing.”
There is a lot to teach. Like it or not, one of the roles that many libraries serve is as community tech support. This is also an opportunity: via programs, classes, and one-on-one interactions, you can help patrons learn to better protect themselves online.
You will mess up. Some libraries have had their patron databases breached; many others have had their OPAC servers get pwned. Some libraries have kept too much circulation data and had to hand it over to law enforcement for dubious fishing expeditions – and worst of all, they can be legally bound to say nothing.

This is why I say protecting reader privacy is an ongoing, continuous improvement project. Aim to get better incrementally, learn from your mistakes, and take heart: even Mad Eye Moody’s vigilance failed him, but in time he was freed and able to continue his fight against Voldemort. Don’t take it just from me. Some folks to read on the topic: Alison Macrina of the Library Freedom Project, danah boyd, Barbara Fister, Gary Price, Eric Hellman, and as well as folks outside of the library profession such as Latanya Sweeney. Want to join the discussion? Subscribe to the LITA Patron Privacy Technologies IG’s mailing list. There are also numerous resources available; a good starting point is ALA’s Privacy Toolkit.

And remember... constant vigilance!

Galen Charlton is a developer and manager at Equinox Software, where he spends his time helping libraries to use and improve the open source integrated library systems Koha and Evergreen. He was named an LJ Mover & Shaker in 2013, which he took as an opportunity to sneak Tux the Penguin onto the pages of Library Journal. He can be found on Twitter as @gmcharlt; if you want to send him an encrypted message, check out

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

White Board Polling

I work at a small library at a small school, so everything we do needs to be the epitome of "bang for the buck." Truth be told, even at bigger libraries and library systems, librarians are expected to pinch every penny. One of the best returns on time invested I've ever gotten is with white board polling. (Not original to me, but I don't remember where I first encountered it so I can't cite my source. My apologies to whomever introduced me to this.) I've been doing this for a while now. I thought it was time to write about it, so here's a quick overview of what we've done and how we approach white board polling.

We try to have fun with it, first and foremost. Here's what we did during a recent cold snap and I know lots of other people recreated it at their libraries:

We balance out our fun/goofy ones (examples are a recent poll pitting chocolate vs. lollipops and further back we asked where everyone was going over a school break) with more serious polls like when we asked for student input on popular magazines to add to our collection:

The plea for Playboy aside, you can see we got great response to this poll, as we do with all the simpler polls where the only response needed is a check mark or a hash nark. This poll did shape our periodical collection - we added the top vote-getters to our annual order.

More recently when we asked for feedback on our new mission statement:

We don't get near the number of responses to substantive questions as we do with simple ones, but the answers we get are just as valuable. This is such an easy way to test ideas that I'm considering doing it with any major changes.

Here are, in no particular order, the rules I use when deciding what to put on our board:
  • Must be interactive;
  • Polls where respondents just put a check mark or a hashmark should be used more frequently than ones with substantive answers (you'll get a higher response rate);
  • Fun polls should be done frequently (we try to have the goofy ones be every other poll);
  • Room for other answers should be given;
  • Polls should be run for a week of classes at most;
  • You need to do something with the results.
Sure, there are times when we need to reach out beyond the walls of the library (and trust me, I did solicit feedback far and wide on our new mission statement), but other times it's fine to tap people who are already using the library regularly and have a vested interest.

I know we aren't the only library to use these polls. Do any of you have advice to add to mine?