Friday, September 30, 2011

Managing Change by Daniel Messer

It is change, continuing change, inevitable change that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be. ~Isaac Asimov
I've been doing this for a long time now, kid. I know, I know... You're young and freshly polished. You're out of school and you are ready to kick ass and chew bubblegum and you absolutely cannot wait until we run out of bubblegum. You want to affect change. You've got ideas, and you know what, some of them are actually pretty good. But I want to stop you for a second and give you some advice from a guy who’s been in the field since you were crawling. I grant you, I'm not young nor am I polished, but each blemish was earned and maybe I can save you a few of them. See, this change thing you want to do, that's something we should talk about, okay?
Look around. Take a good look around at your library. I'm going to tell you right now that, even with tight budgets and cheap administrators, half of this stuff won't be here in ten years. It's going to look different. Sure, maybe not all that different to the untrained eye, but stick around. Ten years from now, you won't know what hit this place. Now, I've got another little secret to share with you. Ready?
How you handle that change is going to define you, your career, and your approach to your life as a librarian.
First, let's get things clear. I work in circulation, a department which my first circ boss referred to as, “The Bastard Child of the Library.” I don't have an MLIS, and there's a good reason for that. If I get one, they'll take me out of circ, and that's not acceptable to me. I love the movement and the flow, and there's just as much of a flow through a good circ department as there is down a winding mountain stream. There's one thing that keeps me in this department and made me a supervisor: I can handle change. You want to go places; you better learn to do it too.
I know. You're not only going handle change, you're going to make it happen. That's lovely, and good luck, but there's something you need to realize. Things are going to change that you have no control over and that you won't like. When I first started out we worked on computers, sure. They were clunky dumb terminals attached to massive servers. Our interface didn't need a mouse and the colors left much to be desired, as everything was green on a black CRT monitor. We used to check things in and out using a little pen that had a funny red light on the front of it. You actually had to touch the book. You had to swipe the pen back and forth, sometimes several times, just to read that new-fangled barcode.
Now, I've got two flat panel monitors sitting on my desk. They're attached to a computer far more powerful than those old servers. Next to that is an iPad and my laptop. Those too are also more powerful than those old servers. Hell, kid, the cell phone in my pocket outperforms those ancient beasts. I'm in charge of keeping four self-check-out machines running along with a self-check-in system that sorts library materials into nine bins. Patrons can check stuff in and out using lasers, but they don't have to. Actually, the machines use radio waves, scanning an RFID tag without ever touching the item. All in all, I need to keep an eye on half a million dollars of equipment and do my best to keep it running.
I didn't ask for any of that. Neither did the other people who work in circ.
As a matter of fact, some of the folks in circ were a little scared of it all. They were concerned that these new computers and machines were going to put them out of a job. I wasn't worried about that; I was worried about how I was going to train all these people. See, part of that flow that I talked about involves not only working with your technology, but also making it work for you. Whenever a new doo-dad or widget was presented to my department, the first thing I did was sit down and read the instructions. You know, you can learn a lot about something if you just read the directions. Then I started asking questions, and then I started talking to others who already had the widget and asked them questions.
You do that, and you become an expert pretty quickly. When your supervisors start referring and deferring to you for information and knowledge on the widget, then you know you're doing something right.
So here's my point - You're going to experience changes that are unexpected, unwanted, and even unwarranted. Embrace it. Things are not likely to go back to "how things were" because, kid, "how things were" was just a brief period between the last change and this one. Don't just adapt to change. Adapting isn't enough. Embrace it. Anything new that even looks semi-important? Become as familiar with it as possible. Read the manuals; get online; talk to people. You're a librarian, dammit. You know how to find information, and you better do just that.
Not only will your expertise make your job easier and better, you'll find an interesting side-effect. Expertise has a real habit of moving you up and out of your current job and into a better one. That, my friend, is when you truly become an agent of change.
Daniel Messer is a public library circulation supervisor, at Queen Creek Branch Library, who specializes in customer service and library technology and automation. He maintains a broad background in computer technologies like operating systems, mobile operating systems, web development, blogging platforms, integrated library systems, and digital media production. Moreover, he works to apply these various technologies to the field of library circulation. He blogs at Not All Bits.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Should I Be a Librarian?, or If This Is What's In Your Heart...

A former student of mine recently asked me about my job. More to the point, this person is considering librarianship as a possible career. This is someone I got to know pretty well over the span of my first couple of years at my current job, someone I think would be fantastic as an instruction librarian. If I were to base my advice purely on whether s/he is suited to the work, that would be enough. "Go forth and study library science." The trouble is, there's so much more to consider. After letting the idea ruminate, I sent an honest answer, most of which I'm reproducing here:

  1. Most days I love my job. It appeals to me because I enjoy math/science/computers AND art/literature/humanities. In my role, I get to be a professional, academic generalist. 
  2. Depending on your motivation and your interests, there's a place in Biblioterra (a more fun appellation for "Libraryland" that I learned from Will Manley) for pretty much anyone.
  3. Most library science programs are a lot of work, but it's doable and (if you have the right professor) fun. 
  1. I do wish I made more money, but I make enough for what I need and to put a little aside (the reason for my adjuncting). It's not impossible to make money as a librarian, and my salary does reflect the market in which I work, but I do sometimes think about how much education I had to get to earn this salary - and shake my head ruefully.
  2. Job prospects are not great right now. Recruiters for library science graduate programs will try to feed you a load of bull hooey about Baby Boomers getting ready to retire, but with this economy hitting their retirement funds it isn't happening. Further, there is supposedly a slower than average expected growth in librarianship.
  3. Some days it's extremely hard being neither fish nor fowl. Not really faculty - even at colleges where librarians are given faculty rank - and not really staff. When this comes up, at best it's annoying and at its worst it's demoralizing.
  1. Don't get a PhD in Lib Sci unless you want to teach at a library science graduate program.
  2. A second master's can be useful, and is needed for some positions, but it's not required in general.
  3. Think about how much debt you'll accumulate, especially since no matter what kind of further education you get, you might end up working part time in academia at first.
After all the pros and cons, though, if this is what's in your heart, you should consider it. On the bad days, I talk about giving it all up and becoming a hermit, but on the good days - and those come more often than the other kind - I know I'm right where I want to be.

How about you? What do you tell people who ask you about librarianship as a career?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Help Is Out There: Finding a Librarian Mentor, by Jeff Scott

Knowing where to cross the river
I think everyone has had a point where they have been scared. Panic sets in, a bewildering feeling of the unknown. It’s times like these where you come across the rushing river not knowing where to cross safely. It’s at these points in life where it would be helpful to find an expert. Someone who can look at your problem more objectively, break down the problem from an un-emotional state and provide suggestions. More than likely, they will help you re-discover the tools you have always had. The answer is right in front of you, but it sometimes takes someone who has crossed the river before to emphasize confidence in your own abilities to succeed. It’s beneficial to have a mentor or to develop a network of mentors just for these times.

How to find a mentor?
Many library organizations have mentorship programs. ALA Connect and LLAMA both have full mentorship programs. I like ALA Connect since the connections are more informal. You can select a person and become as engaged or laid back as you need. Furthermore, the California Library Association is re-starting its mentoring program. Available on October 1, CLA members can submit an application and get matched by the CLA Management Interest Group.

Other ways to find a mentor
There are more information channels that may be more effective. One technique that many recommend is developing a personal board of directors (a recent article here can provide more detail). They can come from anywhere and it is recommended that some not come from your field to help with perspective. Each can become a confidant for a particular problem you are facing. Depending on what you are comfortable with, this board can give advice on the professional and the personal. Some variants of this are described as True North Groups (recently discussed on Huffington Post) which can be more formal. There is a great librarian example in the San Francisco area called the Information Amateurs Social Club covered by Daniel Ransom at his Pinakes blog.

Consider becoming a mentor      
A recent article from American Libraries emphasizes the many ways the mentor relationship is mutual. Everyone has knowledge or expertise in some way. There may be librarians in the field for quite some time and can provide wonderful advice on the career. Likewise, those may also benefit from the energy and perspective of someone new to the field. Mentorship can work both ways so it’s important to give back to the profession by becoming a mentor. The information and knowledge would be extremely beneficial to pass on.

There are a great many ways to get advice, commiserate, or develop strategy with those you trust. You don’t have to cross the river alone, help is out there.

Jeff Scott is currently the Deputy County Librarian for Tulare County Library. He blogs at Gather No Dust and tweets at jdscott50.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

There are Zombies in the Library! Or, Programming at a Small, Liberal Arts College

Savage Chickens, "Night of the Unread"

That's right, I said zombies in the library. Humans vs. Zombies, that is. This is the second time that my library has hosted a session of HvZ, and wow was it a success. To be honest, I think I had more fun than the participants did. Everyone who helped run the event had a great time watching them run around the library, trying to shoot each other with Nerf guns, and listening to their stories about how they took out (or were taken out by) members of the other team. It went so well that I'm thinking about doing it again next semester.

So... no, I don't work at a traditional academic library (and I don't want to). Sure, we have all the things you'd expect of a college library - books and databases and study rooms and all - but our programming runs the gamut. There are things that are more academic. For example, we have a continuing series called Library Forum that serves primarily as a venue for faculty to present the work they did on sabbatical. Another example is how we hosted a traveling exhibit from The Gilder Lehrman Institute last year. Further, at the end of the month, we'll be running our 3rd Banned Books Week event. On the other hand, there are the things we do that are just for the fun of it. Humans vs. Zombies definitely fits in that category. Also, we've had a video game tournament. Looking forward, we're planning our first National Gaming Day event.

The theme that runs through all our programming is this: it reflects the interests of our community. It's how public libraries have been making programming decisions for years, and it works for them. It also works for me. I want to make sure that what we do appeals to our faculty and staff AND our students. By varying topics and approaches, and by including some events that are purely social and fun, I do just that.

How about you? What kind of programming do you do at your library?

Friday, September 16, 2011

With Professional Development, The Sky Is The Limit by Camilla Grigsby

Professional development is really, really, really important to librarians. You probably learned this in library school, or at least got the idea from the extracurricular goings-on while you were a student. On a very basic level, it is a great way for us to connect with each other and share ideas about the profession. A way to socialize, if you will. But on another level, it is also a great way to keep abreast of new technologies, new products, and new trends that shape our workplaces. And professional development opportunities are so plentiful it is almost impossible to stay stuck in a professional rut for long. 

So what is professional development? You might think it's limited solely to the realm of conference attendance. Conferences and workshops are a huge part of professional development, and you undoubtedly heard a lot of chatter about their importance while you were in library school. However, they are by no means the only ways to network and learn about the profession. In fact, they may seem increasingly out of reach as libraries and institutions, facing budget cuts, limit the number of librarians they are able to send to such events. 
This tendency to limit makes a lot of sense. Conference attendance and the other accoutrements of professional development seem, at first glance, to be a huge budget suck. But don't ever be afraid to ask for support from your employer, with this caveat: you might not get it. Not because The Man is trying to hold you back. Money’s tight these days. Your manager might say, "Sorry, but it's just not in our budget." But you might be surprised. Even though you might not be offered full financial support, but your manager might be able to could offer some partial assistance -- covering just registration for a conference, but not travel or just hotel expenses. Even a small amount of assistance can be helpful, and the very worst you will hear is: “not this year.” All you have to do is ask. 

Outside the employer-assisted realm of opportunities, the world really is your oyster. If you are unable to go the “traditional” route and attend ALA every year, it’s up to you to guide your efforts. Seek opportunities outside the tried-and-true realms -- and don’t wait for those opportunities to be offered to you. Keep an ear to the ground as to what is going on in local library circles. Attend local meetings. Read as many blogs as you can. Read as much literature about your specialty as you can. 

Play around with new technologies. Your library might not have the budget to buy iPads for the staff, but it's good to know how they work, even if you happen to know how they work simply by hovering over the display models at the Apple store. It's also good to know what gadget/website/social network/etc. is the "next big thing." Have a Twitter account, even if you dedicate most of your tweets to pithy comments about your pets. Find out what Pinterest is all about. The idea is to know how these things work, bottom-line. People -- co-workers, patrons -- will ask you about these things. You will find ways to apply them to your job, regardless of whether “social media” or “hot devices" are keywords found in your job description. 
Share knowledge within your own organization. My workplace is on the eve of starting up monthly reference staff conference calls. We've never done this before and have a large reference staff in offices all over the U.S. (and in some international locations, too). I don't think anyone is really sure how these calls will pan out, but it can't be a bad idea for a bunch of people doing essentially the same job for the same company to share ideas and talk about best practices, can it? 
Go places -- local talks that interest you, social events hosted by professional organizations. Even if you're not a member of a certain professional organization, invitations are often extended to programs to non-members for a slightly higher fee. If the local chapter of SLA is hosting a talk on competitive intelligence and that's a topic you'd like to learn more about, consider whether it's worth it to shell out a few extra dollars and give up a couple hours after work to go learn something and network. 
Speaking of networking: this can be a scary prospect to many of us who are introverts by nature, but I promise, it gets easier the more you do it. Like riding a bike! A bike that includes small talk on the pedals and LinkedIn invitations on the handlebars. It is probably one of the most crucial pieces of professional development there is. As librarians and information specialists, we can learn so much from each other -- even when the other party is not standing behind a podium at a program. 
It is true that you get out of professional development what you put into it. Anything that you can use to further your career, enhance your skills, or support learning and progress in librarianship counts as professional development. It is your opportunity to hone your skills as an information professional, to grow professionally (and often, personally) and discover new interests and capabilities. If you are willing to look for opportunities in unexpected places, the sky really is the limit.
Camilla Grigsby is a Library Research Specialist at a large law firm in Cleveland, Ohio.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Speak Out With Your Geek Out: Library Style

Readers of this blog know that I fly my nerd flag high. I'm a comic-book-reading, video-game-playing, Chewbacca-obsession-having kind of gal. So, when I learned about "Speak Out With Your Geek Out," I knew I had to get in on the action.

Here's my contribution to this event, a list of 10 things I love about being both a nerd and a librarian:

I love it because...
  1. I'm in good company. A lot of librarians I know, both in person and online, are big nerds just like me. For instance, a colleague of mine has a Games Workshop poster up in his office.
  2. Being a nerd gives me another way to connect with members of my community. Just this week, Cthulu (specifically John Kovalic's My Little Cthulu) and James Hance's "Wookie the Chew" helped me win over a senior communication major.
  3. It's part of my job to manage a graphic novel collection.
  4. Being in charge of a graphic novel collection has gotten me some fabulous swag from comics and manga publishers.
  5. Further, I got to vote in the Eisner Awards since I'm a librarian who manages a graphic novel collection.
  6. I regularly run programs at my library that are nerd-centric. Video game tournament? Done it. Humans vs. Zombies? Done it before and planning to do it again.
  7. While planning for Humans vs. Zombies, I get to say things like, "Don't forget to bring your freeze grenade," in meetings and nobody laughs at me.
  8. I'm in the process of writing a paper about one of my nerd-centric programs. I'll be presenting at a conference later this year.
  9. The dungeon master for one of the regular games on campus comes to me for advice on designing his campaigns. (I showed him The Dictionary of Imaginary Places and his eyes almost popped out of his head.)
  10. Finally, the best thing about being both a nerd and an academic librarian: owning my nerd publicly on campus sets an example for the students with whom I work. I am who I am, and I'm obviously happy being who I am. I know  it helps some students let their nerd (or whatever other qualities might embarrass them) show.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Surviving Your Library Job Search by Yvonne Mulhern

Job-hunting, even at its best, is never easy.  In a down economy and a profession teeming with freshly-minted graduates, it can be a long, soul-sucking experience wrapped inside a nightmare wrapped inside an abyss (ok, maybe I exaggerate a little). Below are some ideas that will hopefully lessen the pain.
  1. Do your research.  Besides investigating a library's web presence (and its physical presence if you’re close enough), learn about the town or neighborhood where the library is located. At the very least potential employers will take note of your interest. Google your interviewers to discover areas of interest, past presentations, etc. Find out what others are saying about the library—are there any red flags, such as recently proposed budget cuts or frequent staff turnover? Remember, they’re not just interviewing you, you’re interviewing them. Show them that you’ve really thought about working and living in the area.
  2. Expand your horizons.  When searching job listings, don’t forget state library association job listings, government (local, state, and federal) listings, library-related listservs, or library school websites. Follow library job lists on Twitter. If possible, be flexible about re-locating. If you live in an urban area, don't discount jobs from rural and semi-rural areas in your state.   If you’re really flexible, try international listings. Also, be open to different types of libraries.  For example, I assumed I’d never get hired at an academic library without a second master’s degree—luckily I was wrong. Further, don’t forget to broaden your job search to non-libraries, where a librarian may be called a taxonomist, knowledge manager, digital curator, or metadata expert. Don’t have lots of library experience?  Chances are you have transferable skills from your past jobs—or even your hobbies. Can you deal effectively with an irate customer or patron?  Do you collaborate well with others? Do you have supervisory or training experience? Can you program computers or design visually appealing materials?
  3. Cultivate a professional network.  Librarians love to help people.  Don't be afraid to query the librarian hive mind on Twitter, Friendfeed, or listservs. Take advantage of student membership discounts in library and information organizations, such as the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (an international organization), the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, or the American Library Association (which has an online forum, a mentoring program, and job search assistance at conferences).
  4. Stay involved and current. Look for opportunities to volunteer in a library or information center or even online.  Even a few hours a week will make a difference, especially if you don’t have much library experience. Keeping up with library and information developments is challenging but crucial. Be sure to read journals and librarian blogs in your areas of interest.  Remember, your time is valuable--don't follow a resource unless it is consistently useful, entertaining, or both.
  5. Maintain your professionalism.  If you don’t have an online presence you can start small, with thoughtful comments on library blogs.  If you discuss your job search, stay positive and professional—especially on library listservs, which are archived (remember, the library world is small and has a long memory!).  As you craft your online presence, consider creating an e-portfolio. Or, start a blog to showcase your sterling skills in YA literature, programming, etc.
  6. Stand out from the pack.  Go the extra mile: give a poster presentation at a conference. Start a Twitter chat in your area of interest. Or, grab the bull by the horns and plan an unconference with some colleagues. Whatever you do, make sure you have the energy and commitment to follow through.
  7. Take care of yourself. Treating yourself well during this stressful time period is a necessity, not a luxury. Skimping on meals, sleep and exercise will all take their physical toll. On the emotional side, carve out time for activities unrelated to your job search--even if it's a few minutes a day, or an hour a week. Make time for friends and mindless fun.  You will need them both.

Job-hunting, like dating, is a numbers game.  Like dating, you will often meet a lot of people before finding the right fit. Remember that you’re a professional with valuable skills to offer.  And when you do get hired, pay it forward by helping out another job-seeker.

Yvonne Mulhern is an academic librarian at Tarleton State University and a co-director of the Texas Social Media Research Institute.  Her blog is MissCybrarian.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

You Say Paraprofessional, I Say Professional

At times, when I think back to what I was like as a brand new librarian, I cringe. Oh my, I knew everything about everything. All you had to do was ask me and I’d pontificate about any library related subject. Of course, relatively speaking, I knew nothing. Thinking back to those first couple of years, though, makes me feel so grateful to the people with whom I worked. If not for them, I can’t imagine what kind of librarian I’d be now.

Of course, I’m indebted to the MLS/MLIS holders who I encountered in those early years, but in some ways I’m even more grateful to the other members of the staff.  Each of them had been working in libraries since before I’d figured out I wanted to be a librarian, in some cases decades before. I really dislike when I hear people like them described as “paraprofessional.” When I think of how hard they worked, and the kind of ethic each of them had, it seems ludicrous to call them anything other than professionals. Don’t get me wrong: I understand the meaning of the prefix “para.” It’s just that I can’t help thinking of parapsychology and the negative connotation “para” has in that context. Attaching “para” to any of those people feels like I’m insulting them.

I guess part of it is that I now know how much I still had to learn when I finished my degree program. Sure, I had my MLIS – from Simmons College no less – but I had almost no practical experience. I’d worked in a bookstore and volunteered in a children’s room at the local public library. Not that I needed much; it was an entry level position after all. But it still boggles my mind that I, the know nothing punk kid fresh from school, was the professional while those people who taught me so much, those people with decades of experience, weren’t called professionals. Truthfully, I’ve never met a “paraprofessional” who wasn’t a true professional.

What about you? What do you call non-MLS holders? Why?

Friday, September 2, 2011

First Friday's Just for Fun: Comic Book Librarians

I don't have a guest post lined up for today (this time of year seems to be soul-crushingly busy for most of the inhabitants of Biblioterra). However, "necessity is the mother of invention," so I've decided to that I'll publish a Just for Fun post on the first Friday of every month. [The crowd goes wild.]

For the inaugural First Friday's Just for Fun, I'm going to be true to my nerd nature and talk about comic books. Specifically, my favorite comic book librarians.

Barbara Gordon/Batgirl:

Yvonne Craig as Batgirl.
As popular culture representations of librarians go, Barbara Gordon (the second Batgirl), is one of the more popular amongst us librarian-types. Not only does she kick bad guy tuches, but she's also got a PhD in Library Science. This combination means she's a superhero twice over.


Lucien in his element.

Lucien is the Chief (and only) Librarian of the Dreaming. (The Dreaming is the realm of Morpheus/Sandman - the eponymous lead character of Neil Gaiman's comic book series. If you haven't read it, you really should.) His library houses a copy of every book of which anybody has ever dreamed, even the ones that have never been written. He doesn't have a library science degree, but he does run the coolest library ever.

Rex Libris:

Rex Libris is not to be messed with.

A comic book series where the lead character is a librarian? Yes, please. Rex used to work at a library of which you may have heard: The Royal Library of Alexandria. He slipped out to run an errand and when he returned he found the place had been destroyed. Many centuries later, he's still working in the same industry, in overdue book retrieval. Evil doers with overdue fines, beware.

Stanislaus Johns:

Detective Comics 643: Library of Souls

Any talk of comic books wouldn't really be complete without at least one villain. Enter Stanislaus Johns, lunatic and murderer. In DC 643, "Library of Souls," Batman finds dead bodies scattered around Gotham. They are all wearing jackets that have had numbers stitched onto them... Dewey Decimal numbers as it turns out. Stanislaus Johns is finally identified because of his peculiar way of cataloging. You see [gasp!] Johns refused to use the most recent version of DDC and the mousy librarian who helps Batman recognizes Johns' cataloging. This comic is so bad that it's good. The kitsch factor makes Stanislaus one of my favorite popular culture representations of librarianship and my favorite comic book librarian of all time.

How about you? Do you have a favorite comic book librarian? Who is it? Why do you like him or her?