Thursday, April 26, 2012

Where Would We Be Without Libraries? Or An Open Letter to Publishers, by Leah Petersen

I mean, really, where would we be?

There’s this thing going on these days that baffles me: It’s the not-playing-nicely thing between publishers and libraries over ebooks. I’m a published author, so I am involved, but I’m guessing you know a whole lot more about it than I do since you’re in the thick of it.

The thing is, it really does baffle me. Granted, I know how important it is both to the publisher and the author to be paid for their work. I’m an author and I’m not stupid. But screwing the libraries? Libraries?

Did any of us ever, ever become a reader without the influence of a library? If nothing else, we were regularly herded into the library at school. If we were lucky, our parents took us to the local library. But there was always a library involved. Always.

How can the publishers forget this? Yes, yes, yes, all that technology and copyright and piracy stuff is scary and gets everyone’s panties in a twist, but I cannot believe, with all the fancy technology and smart people in the world, that there’s not a solution to this. I can’t believe it’s not the priority!

Where, as I asked before, would any of us be without the libraries? Where do the publishers think their customers came from, and where do they think their customers were taught and nurtured to become the people who buy their books today?

Get with it, publishing world. You need libraries maybe even more than they need you. (Those librarians are smart people, I bet they’d work something out.) Stop being stupid.

Pretty please and thank you.


I ask you, librarians, what do you think about this situation?

Leah Petersen is an author whose first novel, Fighting Gravity, has just been published. She blogs at, tweets @leahpetersen, and has a presence both on Google+ and on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What About You? What Do You Want to Know?

Due to an ultimately disastrous combination of procrastination and last minute computer issues, my part time job is going to have to take priority over my blogging. So, in a "when life gives you lemons, make lemon curd" kind of maneuver, I'm going to turn the tables on my readers: what do you want to know about my philosophy of librarianship? Or about what I do on a daily basis?

I got some great results when I asked for ideas for guest posts, so I'm hoping this will work again.

Now, in a blatant attempt to bribe you, here is a video that is both cute and nerdy:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Letter to a New Branch Manager, by Tara Kressler

When I first began Management (I capitalize it because that’s how important I thought myself and the position), I was basically thrown in the fire.  I think I turned out ok, but looking back, what I really wished was that someone would have sat me down and gave me a talking-to.  I was passionate, eager, and indignant, and while I cherish those qualities in a new manager, there are some things that I wished I’d known.
  1. Don’t change anything.   I KNOW! Crazy, right?  I mean, that’s what new managers DO.  They get in there and they make CHANGE.  But no, just listen:  I am telling you this because it is ALL ABOUT STRATEGY.   And I’m yelling because I feel very strongly about this.  Don’t tell anybody about this strategy, keep it to yourself.  Tell yourself you won’t act on any change (unless mandated by your administration) for one month.  In that month, you will learn.  Take in all the things and observe all the ways and understand all the whys.  Listen to the staff and just experience the job.  After that month, you should have enough knowledge and experience to make an informed decision to disrupt their lives in such a way that they will respect you and your decision. It’s important because the first time is the precedent for all future decisions.
  2. Know your place.  I thought myself a Fancy Pants for being in charge.  “Finally,” I thought, “I don’t need to be told what to do and I get to run the show and I will be respected and loved and admired for my position.”  That was SO not the case.  What I learned was that I was still told what to do (yep, I had a higher level boss, but a boss just the same) and that I indeed DID need to be told what to do because there are AGENDAS and PLANS to convey.  I was the middle (wo)man.  And, actually, I was no longer just working for the patrons; now I was also working for my staff and their expectations.  What I needed and got was a good humbling.  My job isn’t about being in charge.  It is about cultivating the staff, supporting them and their professional development and most of all, handling the needs of my patrons.  I was more accountable than ever!  I couldn’t just melt into the backroom at the end of my desk shift, I had to handle it.   I needed to know my place.  I continue to serve, just on a different level.  I serve my patrons still, but also my staff and my community.
  3. Know your role.  You’ve heard it, it’s true—you will have a lot of hats to wear in this job.  No sense complaining.  The true expertise of management is knowing which hat to wear and when to wear it.  Some days it’s the Clean-Up-the-Barf-in-the-Kids-Room Hat or the Sidewalk-Is-Icy-You-Need-To-Throw-Down-Salt Hat or the Patron-Is-Looking-At-Porn-Again Hat.  But the toughest hats to decide between are the Fixer Hat and the Listener Hat.  I’m going to suggest wearing the Listener Hat most often, because most times that is what your staff wants.  They want to be heard and understood.  They want suggestions and guidance.  They want encouragement and positive reinforcement.  Hardly ever - and I’m serious about this - hardly ever do they want you to put on the Fixer Hat and actually fix whatever it is.  And sometimes, even if they want you to fix it, they are adults and they should fix it themselves.  You just have to listen and know your role.  On a side note, know your stuff.  No one likes a bluffer, they want a resource.  So read policy, understand the guidelines and brush up on that stuff often.
  4. You are going to have to be the asshole.  Here’s something that’s going to hurt.  You ready?  You are not their friend.  I know it kinda stings.  And it’s hard to accept as well, especially if you’ve worked with a library family as a non-manager.  A friendship will work with someone you manage only if you are a good manager and they are an even better worker.  Then it doesn’t really feel like management.  But that’s rare.  Otherwise, be ready to be the asshole.  You must be one. You were hired to be one.  It’s up to you to make sure people do their jobs. Hold your staff accountable.  Nobody else wants to tell HER (you know the one) she’s late to her shift all the time, and it’s annoying because they’ve got other things to do.  And nobody wants to tell HIM that they are tired of covering for him and that his attitude really stinks.  You have to.  Because just as what you do and how you do it defines what kind of manager you are, so does lack of action.  Just as Oprah says…Once you know, you can’t pretend you don’t know.  And if someone tells you and you don’t act on it?  Don’t expect them to respect you or do anything that you ask of them. 
  5. Make it fun.  Before you begin to tell me that you already do this, keep in mind that you control the fun.  Your staff will only do the things that they think you will like in order to have fun with you, and then they will do what they can get away with when you aren’t around.  How to avoid this and not be the party pooper?  Form a social committee and don’t be on it.  Tell them yes to everything unless it violates policy directly.  And then participate and be cool with it.  Almost all the fun I’ve had working with my group has not been my idea.  And I’m so glad because we have done some crazy fun stuff.  Whether it is theme days where we dress up, or bringing in food and even having random dance parties, do it all.  Taking an active interest in what they like and getting out of my comfort zone has helped earn respect.  And oh yeah, I had crazy fun. 

Tara Kressler is the branch manager at the Symmes Township Library, part of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.  She has managed 3 branches in this system over 10 years.  She is described by her staff as the most capable person who is a yeller that never raises her voice and can do a mean Running Man during a Poison song while processing delivery. (That’s good, right?!) Tara recently converted to yoga, snacking, and Downton Abbey and thinks her two kids are the coolest people in the world.  You can follow her on twitter @taralibrara.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Schoolin' My Community, or, Outreach and Cultural Literacy

If you've got me circled, friended, or followed, you've probably seen me blather on and on about the cultural literacy series I started at my college. The blathering is due to how successful it's been. In response to my excited posts on social networks, a few people have asked me to share more details. I figured it was about time that I do so.

How did an academic librarian come to found a cultural literacy series? Well, it all started over a year ago when I read "Tea, Shortbread, and 3 Things Worth Knowing," by Shawkat M. Toorawa, in The Chronicle of Higher Ed. In it, Toorawa lamented his students' lack of background knowledge. They didn't know about things like the Sex Pistols or Keats or Garrison Keillor, things that Toorawa thought were part of our common cultural vocabulary. Please forgive the cliché, but wow did this ring a bell for me. I've run into this problem too many times. As an example, I'll never forget the time I was trying to get a class to talk about "The Little Match Girl," by Hans Christian Andersen. I wanted them to discuss the differences and similarities between Andersen's story and Mark the Match Boy (Horatio Alger, Jr.'s version of the story). We were inside, with all the windows closed, and I could have sworn I heard crickets.

Because of my experiences, I wanted to create something like Toorawa's program. However, turning the idea into something real was more complicated and took longer than I imagined. The event that really got things moving was finding the right combination of campus partners. I told them about my idea of running something similar to the program discussed in the article; they suggested people to invite and helped me plan specifics. For our test run, we wanted something "sexy," so I asked a popular biology professor to talk about zombies. He took "zombies" and turned it into "the early religious, scientific, philosophical, and literature foundations of modern concepts of zombies." It was fascinating, engaging, and, best of all, educational. The second session, given by a communication professor about '80s teen movies, went in a similar direction: she started talking about tropes and teen movie conventions but ended by discussing the way teen movies these days ignore abortion as a possibility.

Figuring out the logistics of the program was another part of the process. After discussing other options, the planning group decided to hold the talks every other week (weekly seems like too much, but monthly is too little), at lunch time (most members of the community are on campus at that time of day), in our student center (the dining hall is L O U D), with free pizza and soda. Finally, the talks are limited to 30 minutes.

We're calling it "Three Things You Ought to Know About..." and it's been wildly successful so far. People from almost every aspect of our campus community (faculty, students, staff, administrators) have attended. I've been approached by other professors who want to do a session. Students are asking when the next one will be. I can't imagine how it could have gone better than it has. This is programming librarian heaven.

So now it's your turn. Have you tried anything like this at your library? How did it go? If you've never run a program like this, do you think it would work for your community? Why/why not? Also, feel free to ask me questions about the program we're running.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

It Is a Global Profession... If You Want It to Be, by Jan Holmquist

One of the things I have learned about this profession in recent years (but wish I had known when I was brand new to libraries) is that it is in fact a global profession. The economy is global, information is global, and a lot of (popular) culture is global too. It makes sense, then, that the people navigating all of this are part of a global profession too. How can it be anything else? The good news is that I don‘t think it makes you a bad librarian if you don't get in the global loop. Being a good librarian is about other stuff - but I think you have a lot to gain professionally and personally by making the effort since you are on the global internet anyway. It really doesn’t matter where people are from anyway, does it?

It’s a choice - and it’s yours to make. You can get up in the morning and make awesome stuff in your community without ever wondering if there is a world outside your city. But if you choose to look a little further you will learn that most library core values are the same across the globe, and that there are a lot of people to inspire you, but who live in other cities and other countries. And hey... if intelligent life forms are discovered in space, I will be the first to claim myself a universal librarian and connect with those green librarians out there.

But wait - isn't it about the local community? Yes it sure is. If you don't focus your library towards your community, you are missing the point, but acting locally does not rule out thinking globally. Even though we share lots of the same questions worldwide, our answers are different - but lots of them are transferable. This is where it gets interesting. You can learn from awesome projects, make some of them fit your community, and you will have a globally crowdsourced library program for your local patrons wherever it makes sense. When it makes sense to build everything from the ground yourself, do that, and make sure to share. You never know when it could be transferable to people elsewhere in the world.

You (probably) can´t make a living of it, this global sharing, but if you figure out how, please let me know. Think of it as a tool to learn, develop ideas and be inspired. Make new friends, learn more about people, libraries, librarians and the world. And while you can´t make a living of it, it’s free to get involved (at least virtually).

It’s so easy to get involved because we have so much in common.  I have library friends from all over the globe. I think public libraries share the same values and face the same problems worldwide. I learn a lot from librarians in Australia and New Zealand, USA and the UK. I also learn a lot from academic librarians and teacher librarians. These people are so inspiring. I value them and their professional opinions and like I said, some of them have become my friends.

If you want to get started, you can read about and participate in the next Library Day in The Life.  Round 8 had participants from 20 countries, so that makes it a great way to learn about global librarianship and libraries. You also need get into the virtual loop yourself. Are you on Twitter? It is a great way to get inspired in the first place, and an easy way to find librarians from other countries. People are (generally) very friendly and share lots of awesome stuff. Who to follow then? There are too many inspiring people to mention here, but you could find inspiration in two lists I curate:!/janholmquist/librarians-world-wide and!/janholmquist/librarians-world-wide-2.

You can also connect on other social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest. My personal experience is that it is harder but it might work for you. Another suggestion, if you want to connect in person (and you are not planning to visit me in Denmark this summer), is to think about an international conference like IFLA, Cycling for Libraries, or NEXT Library 2013.

I have been involved in projects with people from all over the globe. Right now a library is being built in India crowdfunded by librarians from all over the world via Buy India a Library project. Another crowdfunding project with a worldwide team, Help This Week in Libraries, made a huge difference for that knowledge sharing library show. I am working on another global project with an American librarian right now. I can’t share details just yet, but you will hear more soon.

Make the best of it. Let’s make the world's libraries even more awesome together. See you out there!

Jan Holmquist is a Global librarian. He works as Head of Development at Guldborgsund-bibliotekerne in the south eastern part of Denmark, Europe. Jan tweets as @janholmquist and blogs at janholmquist.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What Are You Reading?

I'm sure you've read plenty library science literature, and that's as it should be. Getting a firm grounding in the ideas and philosophies of our profession is a great way to start, but it really is just a start. Once you've got that firm grounding, you need to look beyond the boundaries of lib sci. The topics you should pursue will depend on the kind of job and the kind of library. However, to give you an idea, here are some books I've read for work that aren't library science:
  • Wayfinding: Designing and Implementing Graphic Navigational Systems by Craig Berger. I read this as part of a project that is still in process: I'm reworking and redesigning the signs in and around the library where I work. Instead of looking solely at what other librarians have said and done, I looked to people who design signs and wayfinding systems professionally.
  • Publicity: 7 Steps to Publicize Just About Anything by David Carriere. When I took responsibility for marketing and outreach at my library, I spent a couple of months reading every pertinent thing I could find. That did include some books and materials written by librarians, but once again I wanted to learn what people who market and publicize for a living had to say. (Incidentally, I found this book so helpful that I bought a copy for my personal collection.)
  • Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul Alinsky. This was written for and about political activists, so it might not seem immediately applicable to the work of an academic librarian. Look closer, though, and you'll realize Alinsky did more than give advice to the young activists of the Vietnam War Era - he also presented a guide to creative thinking and problem solving for anyone who wants to bring about change. Besides, I figure if this book is good enough for President Barack Obama, it's good enough for me.
My readings outside library science literature extend to periodicals as well. I read in the fields of educational psychology, disability studies, and epistemology - all of which feeds into my work as an instruction librarian. I read Paste and The Chronicle of Higher Education because these are titles members of my community read. I have a colleague who is the liaison both to our entrepreneurship program and to our economics, management and accounting department; he reads Crain's Cleveland Business for the same reason.

My point here is that you need to take the LIBS blinders off once in a while. Yes, if you have a problem, chances are very high that another librarian has dealt with similar circumstances. It's good and great and fantastic to see what our literature has to say on whatever topic. Even better, though, is to take the next step and look at what people outside our field have said. It can't hurt and it almost always helps.

How about you? What do you read besides library and information science literature? Why?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

First Thursday's Just For Fun: There's No Getting Away From Stereotypes

If you haven't watched it yet, take four minutes and watch the video for "Out of the Game" by Rufus Wainwright.

As some have pointed out, there's no denying that Helena Bonham Carter makes a fabulous librarian in this video. If nothing else, I covet her frames. Also, check out those amazing shoes.

Even still, I'm bothered by the stereotype portrayed.Contrary to what you might think, it's not the sexy librarian stuff that's bothering me. I actually get a kick out of that particular stereotype. No, what bothers me is the "working at a library is so boring and she's got nothing to do" aspect. I always have more to do than I have time to do it, and I know this is true of librarians in every kind of library. Why do people think we do nothing all day? 

It's not worth getting too upset about, I know, but it is irking me a bit. What do you all think?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What Do People Think About, When They Think About the Library?

If you've even vaguely been paying attention, you know the simple answer to the question in this post's title. People think about books. This shouldn't be a surprise. I've mentioned it before, but it's important to remember that "the library brand is still books" according to OCLC's Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community. But just because books are the brand, and what comes to mind first for most people, it doesn't mean that books are the only thing people associate with libraries. It's worth talking to your patrons about this, about what they think about the library, because you can learn a lot.

Take my community, for instance. Last year we participated in Snapshot Day 2011: A Day in the Life of Ohio Libraries. In addition to the typical data collection (gate counts, circulation statistics, etc.), I also took it as an opportunity to do some more in depth research. We asked people to tell us about their favorite books, to write a short passage about why the library is important to them, and to take pictures of their favorite thing in the library. Although I gleaned lots of interesting data from those exercises, the best information I got came when I was stationed in the dining hall (other side of campus) and asked people to "draw the library." I got the idea from the ERIAL project, and the results were worth it.


Most of what we got were amalgam type drawings. Many people combined different parts of the library  and some even combined different libraries. For instance, the picture above shows features and items that all exist in my library - a wing back chair, a spiral staircase, tables, books, chairs - but that are spread out through three different areas in the real building.

To be honest, there wasn't much that came up in the pictures that I didn't expect. Books, study spaces, computers, comfortable chairs, and building features were drawn again and again. An idea that kept surfacing, that I did not expect, was smiling people.

Perhaps it's wishful data interpretation, but I saw this as a clear sign that people in our community like the library. It's one thing to have an idea that the community is happy with our efforts, it's quite another to have such clear evidence.

And that's why I'm sharing this data with you. Want to know how your library is doing? Ask the community. Even if you just ask a few people something simple like, "What's your favorite thing about the library?" and just jot it down as anecdotal evidence, it will give you insight. I learned a lot more from our Snapshot Day than that the community likes us, but I never would have had such clear evidence of their regard if I hadn't asked.

How about you? How do you measure your library's success? If you've done a Snapshot Day (or similar), please share something you learned.

(If you're interested, the rest of the drawings and a description of the methodology can be found here.)