Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tapping Collective Wisdom Via Listservs

At the end of my post last week, I told you I was planning to write this post about making connections with other librarians online. As things evolved, I realized that I want to devote an entire post to Twitter. I have too much to say about listservs and don't want Twitter to get lost in the mix. So, next week I’ll write about the role that social networking – especially Twitter – plays in my work. This week, it's all about listservs.

I know from recent conversations that a lot of library students think listservs aren’t worth their time. At least one person told me that he can get anything he needs from Twitter. I don’t remember what I said in response, but I’m pretty sure it was along the lines of, “Twitter’s great, but 95% of our profession isn’t on Twitter.” If Twitter had been around when I was in library school and a brand new professional, I might have felt the same way. It wasn’t, so when I wanted to connect with colleagues outside of the library where I worked, I turned to listservs. Listservs helped me then and they are still relevant today. My assertion of relevance is based on one big factor: listservs give me a way to tap into the collective wisdom and experiences of thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of librarians.

To demonstrate what I mean, here’s a partial list of the listservs in which I participate, including - where relevant - things I've learned from the participants. (Please note, the items here get more specific and niche-oriented as you move down the list.)
  1. LIBREF-L. “LIBREF-L is a moderated discussion of issues related to reference librarianship,” (source). It’s a nice general purpose kind of listserv. This is where I always turn when I'm having problems answering a reference question. It’s an active list, so I’m pretty much guaranteed to get help quickly. Also, I see lots of job ads here.
  2.  Collib-l. “The official professional discussion list of the College Libraries Section (CLS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA).... COLLIB-L serves as a means of communication for both CLS and for college librarianship in general,” (source). This is another very active listserv, which is both good and bad. Good because I know I get responses quickly, and bad because it means I get a lot of email and sometimes get lost in the discussions. Despite the volume, I strongly recommend this one to all academic librarians or aspiring academic librarians. Recent discussions have focused on ALA Annual, copyright concerns, and teaching students how to do good literature reviews. I usually just read the discussions instead of participating. As a way to keep track of what is happening in academic librarianship, it’s invaluable.
  3. ili-l. “With ILI-L, the Instruction Section hopes to sustain a thriving exchange on instruction and information literacy,” (source). My job title is “Information Literacy/Instruction Librarian,” so this listserv is central to what I do for a living. It’s not as active as some of the others I've mentioned here, but I can still get answers quickly. One of the most interesting recent threads was about hosting information literacy tutorials at YouTube.
  4. Fiction-L. “Fiction-L is an electronic mailing list devoted to reader's advisory topics such as book discussions, booktalks, collection development issues, booklists and bibliographies, and a wide variety of other topics of interest to librarians, book discussion leaders, and others with an interest in reader's advisory,” (source). Most of the mail that ends up in my “Listservs” folder in Outlook comes from this group. In other words: it's the most active listserv in which I participate. One interesting aspect of Fiction-L is helping solve readers’ advisory (RA) stumpers. (I don’t get much chance to do RA where I work, so it’s fun to try to figure out which book someone else’s patron could mean when s/he says something like, “I’m looking for a book I read 20 years ago. It was about a magical horse and the main character was a little girl. Oh, and I think the author was female. Do you have it in this library?”) Beyond the fun, it’s also a great sounding board. When I got permission to start incorporating genre fiction into my library, I realized the collection had very few romance novels. Rather than poke around and teach myself about an unfamiliar genre, I just asked the Fiction-L folks which authors to buy.
  5. GNLIB-L. “Discussion of graphic novels and comic literature, primarily of interest to public and school librarians. Membership is open to librarians, industry professionals, and authors/illustrators to share reviews and resources for graphic novel collections,” (source). This is one of my favorite listservs. In addition to being the main person making decisions about our graphic novels collection where I work, I’m also a comic book/graphic novel nerd. There aren’t that many academic librarians on GNLIB-L, but it's still valuable since public libraries have been taking graphic novels and comics seriously a lot longer than most academic libraries. Besides, and this makes my nerdgirl heart go pitter-pat, there are industry professionals – comics publishers and creators – who subscribe to and participate in this list.
  6. Comix-acadlibs. “The COMIX-ACADLIBS listserv is a network uniting academic librarians with comics/graphic novels in their general and/or special collections,” (source). This is a newer listserv, founded at the end of 2010, and on the quiet side. That doesn't bother me, though. As I mentioned in my description of GNLIB-L, there are still relatively few academic librarians who are collecting graphic novels and comics in a specific and directed way. It’s really nice to be able to check in with my fellow academic librarian graphic novel crusaders.
There are many others to which I subscribe but these are the ones I consult most frequently that I also think have broad appeal. I really think you’ll find it worth your time if you subscribe to them.

What do you think? Also, if you do subscribe to listservs already, please tell me which ones are your favorites and why you like them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why I Went to ALA Annual (But May Never Go Again)

Ah, ALA Annual. I’ve been having such mixed emotions while watching my Twitter stream fill up with #ala11 from all parts of the library universe. Attending ALA last year, in DC, was a highlight of my librarian life, so I'm a little jealous of first time attendees, but not too much. Of course, there were plenty negatives last year – weather, some smarmy sales reps, the crazy-making level of email solicitations – but (if you’ll forgive the cliché), “I wouldn’t trade [that experience] for the world.”

The truth is that for me, attending ALA was a lot like going to Disney World or Las Vegas. There was an ever-present, big crowd – especially in more popular sessions or on the exhibit floor – but like Disney, I didn’t mind it so much since I felt like we had a lot in common. There were many opportunities for swag: in Vegas, it was booze or food, at ALA it was ARCs and canvas bags. All three attract celebrities – Blue Man Group vs. Neil Gaiman vs. Mickey Mouse. My point is that, like Vegas or Disney, ALA Annual was really just a fun vacation for me with the bonus of making a few professional connections. I’m glad I attended, and if it’s really convenient I might go again, but I don’t think I’ll seek it out. (Caveat: This isn’t true for all librarians. I’m good friends with someone who chaired a book award committee, and ALA conferences have been important to her career.)

I don't feel this way about all the conferences I’ve attended: there are actually a few I seek out again and again. State & regional level events are easily reached and have a lot to recommend them. When I was a librarian in Vermont, I attended every Association of Vermont Independent Colleges event that I could. I’ve started to attend Ohio workshops now that I'm more comfortable getting around. My favorite conference, though, is one that isn’t targeted at librarians at all: World Usability Day (WUD).

WUD was founded in 2005 as an initiative of the Usability Professionals Association (UPA) to ensure that services and products important to human life are easier to access and simpler to use,” (from their website). On WUD, there are locally sponsored events literally all around the world. It’s always in November, so it’s only happened five times so far, but of the five I’ve attended three. To be honest, WUD has had more influence over my professional practice than ALA Annual will ever have. Every time I dream up an outreach event or create an electronic resource or even plan an instruction session, I always try to make sure what I’m doing is “easier to access and simpler to use.” I know I’m a better librarian for it, and I wouldn’t have this perspective if I’d stuck to librarian conferences.

Here’s my advice to you: go to ALA if you can, but don’t worry too much if you can’t just yet. Instead, figure out what conferences/professional organizations are nearest to what you do/want to do as a professional librarian but that are outside of librarianship. That might be Book Expo America, or an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference, or even Comic-Con. It’s good to remain rooted in librarianship, but going to conferences outside your immediate area will take your career where you might never have expected to go.

So, what are some of your favorite conferences? Library-oriented, or otherwise?

I appreciate the feedback I’ve gotten so far, so please let me know what you think. Next week I’ll be writing about how I’ve made connections with other librarians online and why I think it’s important to use a variety of methods. Also, I’m hoping to start having guest posts on a regular basis. I’ve got a few people who have agreed to write something for me, but do you have recommendations of who I should ask? Do you want to volunteer yourself?

Until next Wednesday…

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"I'm thinking like Vegas": My Collection Development Philosophy

It was probably within my first year as a librarian that I started, semi-jokingly, to describe my collection development philosophy by quoting Whoopi Goldberg’s character from Sister Act: “I was thinking more like Vegas. You know. Get some butts in the seats.” (That line is from the scene in which she's defending her secular approach to arranging music for the convent's choir.)

Using pop music to get disillusioned parishioners into a church is just the same as using graphic novels, popular movies, and genre fiction to get reluctant students to set foot in a college library. At my first academic librarian job that was pretty much all we had: reluctant students. In order to get accepted as a student there, you had to have a diagnosed learning difficulty – dyslexia, ADHD, or the like – and so for many of our students, the library represented what they couldn’t do.

Flash forward to where I am now, and I've made the leap from tempting students to tempting faculty. Just as I asked the savvier students at my first job for advice about things like whether or not I should add “The Sandman” series to my collection (the answer was something like: “If you buy this series, people will definitely come to the library to borrow it and look to see what else you’ve got.”), I now make it a point to learn the curricular, research, and, when possible, personal interests of faculty. We have a Spanish professor who teaches epic literature who is also a huge fan of Star Trek; our medievalist is starting to get interested in folklore studies; and one of the computer science professors has a middle grades son who gobbles up series like “Artemis Fowl.” Heck, I even know what authors and topics most interest our outgoing academic dean. We all know that libraries have more, but “the library brand is still books,” according to OCLC’s Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community. Instead of spending all my effort fighting that idea, I capitalize on it. This approach gets me more than higher circulation stats. This approach helps me build relationships with my constituency.

That's my point: collection development is just another tool in a librarian’s marketing & outreach toolbox. Sure, I joke about kissing up to our English department by buying books that I know will interest them. I even said it directly to one of our Americanists (who is, by the way, developing a serious taste for graphic novels thanks to me). Despite the tongue-in-cheek way I talk about it, collection development-as-outreach works. Some of the best professional relationships I’ve developed at this college started out with, “Hey, I read a review of a book you might like. Want me to add it to the collection?”

You could call it “descriptive,” or “user centered,” or even “patron focused,” but whatever label I use, it’s clearly a big step away from the way university and college libraries used to build collections. It used to be all about strict adherence to recommended lists and prescribed bibliographies. Those kinds of resources are great for creating a collection, but they only get in my way when maintaining one. Besides, one of the current movements is towards increased engagement with our populations. I can't think of an easier way to start.

For those of you who have collection development responsibilities, how do you make these decisions? Why? For everyone, what do you think of my approach and do you think it could work for you?

As I mentioned in my first post, please leave feedback if you have specific topics and/or questions you want me to tackle. Since next week is ALA annual, my next entry will be about why it’s important to go both to library conferences and non-library conferences.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why I Decided to Start a Blog

I want to break down the barriers between library schools & students and professional librarians and I want your help.

I had a realization recently: I have reached the end of the beginning of my career. After eight years as a professional librarian, it’s both comforting and intimidating to realize that I frequently (although not always) know what I’m talking about. The same events that helped me recognize this are also inspiring this blog. You see, I’ve been spending a lot of time talking with new and student librarians recently. Some of it has been in person. I work at a college near a university that has a library school, so I’ve been lucky enough to supervise a couple of students in their culminating experiences. Most of my interactions have been online, though, an experience that has been just as satisfying and frustrating as working one-on-one with graduate students.

Having people ask me to explain how I do certain parts of my job, or how I found my first professional position, or even how I decide what to wear to work on a daily basis, has helped me clarify so much of what I love (and hate) about librarianship. I know that it is basic pedagogy – teaching something you know helps solidify that knowledge better than almost any other method – but my reaction still startled me a bit. I found myself thinking about a book I read last year: Letters to a Young Poet (yes, the title of this blog comes from that book). I was standing in Rainer Maria Rilke’s shoes, and I think I understand what he may have felt: that a mentor gets as much out of the relationship as a mentee. I hope that what I’ve shared has helped others navigate their career path, but I know that being able to talk about my experiences and my philosophy has been invaluable to me. I have a clearer understanding of where I want to go next with my career, of what is really important to me. This blog is going to be a big part of that.

I want this blog to be about more than an experienced librarian dispensing advice to the new kids, however. In my conversations with individuals and groups who are joining my profession, it seems that there is a gap between what library programs are teaching and what new professionals will need to know in order to be successful.

This situation isn’t new, but a few events that happened recently, and in quick succession, have made me want to do something about it. First, I learned about some horribly outdated skills that are part of the required curriculum at one library school. Then I heard from a group of library students who think that Twitter (which I love, by the way) is all they need and that listservs aren’t worth their attention. Finally, a senior colleague of mine laughingly told me about how long it took one library school to get Librarian Penmanship out of their curriculum.

Just because the education of librarians has always been behind doesn’t mean it always has to be that way. This blog is my first effort towards fixing the problem. Want to help me change things? Then let me know in the comments. If you have specific questions/topics you’d like me to address, please ask. I’m also looking for people to write guest posts related to the theme of my blog – breaking down the barriers between library schools & student and practicing librarians.   

My next entry, which I’ll post next Wednesday, will be about my collection development philosophy and how I developed it. I have some ideas for what I’ll write in future entries beyond that, but really want to hear from you.