Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Alphabet Soup, Or "What Should I Get for My Second Master's Degree?"

Someone recently polled the members of the LIBREF-L listserv for our advice about a second master's degree. When the answers started coming through, I was gratified to see my opinion mirrored back to me again and again. The simple answer is this: It all depends on what you want to do with your career.

Back when I was thinking about what to do for my second master's degree, I narrowed it down to two choices: business administration or education. There are a lot of other fields that interest me, but I wanted my second master's to serve multiple purposes. Both an MBA and an MAEd can serve as a subject master's, but both can also help a librarian do his or her job better. I finally settled on education because one of the things about my job about which I am most passionate is teaching. I'm fascinated by good teachers; I read pedagogical and epistemological research for fun; but most importantly, I love helping students get students to the "Aha!" moment.

That's what works for me, an instruction librarian at a small liberal arts college. What works for you will probably be different. Some people get a subject master's first and discover a love of librarianship through that process. Others get a Master of Public Administration (MPA), and that's a fantastic idea for public librarians. Still others decide not to get a second master's degree - it might be required for some academic librarian positions, but not all.

Again, it all comes down to where you see yourself in five to ten years. On the surface, that is probably the corniest piece of advice I've given yet, but if you give it a chance and really let your imagination go, it just might help. (I know it helped me.)

What about you: do you have a second master's? Why? Why not? If you do, how did you pick?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Library Teen Centers – A Report from the Field by Steve Teeri

When I first started working in the Detroit Public Library's HYPE Teen Center three years ago, I received a number of reactions from people. “Oh, I could never do that.” “I’m allergic to teens.” “You’re pretty big, so you might have a chance.” From the offered opinions you would have thought I was working with the Berserkers from Clive Barker’s Cabal. (Cabal was later made into the movie Nightbreed, which was actually a pretty good translation of the book.) Young Adults can be trying, but in the end it is both a joy and fulfilling to work with them. A lot is said about teens today being different from previous generations. That they are more disrespectful, less focused, always stuck to their digital devices. I would disagree with these assessments. While the teens of today are digital natives, many of the interests, wants, needs, and concerns are identical to those of past generations.

Young adults are at a pivotal time in their lives. As they near adulthood, teens try on different personas and identities, in an attempt to figure out just who the heck they are. When I was a teen it was the exact same process. For me it was being preppy with my letter jacket and khakis one day. Doc Martin steel-toe boots with a black shirt and jeans another. Maybe a Hypercolor color-changing shirt and cut-off pair of jean shorts that we won’t talk about any further. Matched together with this quest for identity, is a rush of hormones and limitless teen energy. It’s enough to make any settled adult run for cover.

My philosophy in running a teen center is “No matter what, this will be a safe and respectful place.” Without those two things we cannot build anything else. This goes both for our teen customers and our library staff. We treat teens as adults, and let them know we expect them to behave as such. If a teen comes to us with an idea for a program or a concern we listen to them fully. The only time we bring our staff power to bear, is when the fun gets a little too out of hand. If our teens start pushing each other to get a little louder, or wilder, attempting to see what the limits are. When behavior starts to get out of hand, we try to address it within 3 seconds.

I like to think of our teen center as a nerd incubator, a nest for young geeks to grow.

Programming at our library is keyed towards activities that are “full of awesome,” which means teens will both have fun and learn through their participation. We have partnered with Handmade Detroit, a local crafting collective, to facilitate DIY crafting. These events have included: Sew Your Own Monster Pillow, Jewelry Making, Silk-Screen Shirt Making, and Papercraft Holiday Cards. The crafters we host are also entrepreneurs, many of whom have their own side business and sell on Etsy. During each of our craft events, we remind our teens that entrepreneurship is something well within their ability. Beyond crafting, video game events are consistently popular, as are the Anime Club, Theater Club and Poetry Group. We also have engaging guest speakers, such as NY Jets receiver Braylon Edwards, Motown legend Martha Reeves, and even a visit from Bill Cosby. (Bill Cosby yelled at me, story for another time)

These programs work so well for us because we’ve gotten to know our teens. This is imperative. Learn all of their names, know what school they attend, and ask how things are in their lives. When speaking about our teens, I try never to say “the teens,” it is always “my teens” or “our teens.” I take full responsibility and ownership of their experience and growth as people when in my department. It sounds basic, but I have heard stories about YA staff who do not want to interact with their teens. If that is the case, hit the eject button and get out of YA immediately. There are plenty of avenues in the library field to take if working with teens isn’t your thing. Recently on a listserv, a YA librarian wrote:

I’m starting to really hate this generation… Are these kids even the same species as me?  Are they all getting lobotomies at age twelve? I really feel I have nothing to offer them anymore, but somehow I have to find the will to keep trying. It’s not like I can afford to quit my job.

To which I would reply: Please get the **** off your high horse.

One would hope that listserv post was the result of a particularly bad day at work, and not the writer’s true outlook on the youth of today. While growing up as a teenager, I didn’t know everything that was going on in the world. I, too, held an optimistic outlook on the future. It’s called being young and invincible. I would dare say the above author may have suffered similar symptoms when he was a teenager. Confession – I’ve had some tough days when I wasn’t connecting particularly well with our teens, and even thought about putting in for a transfer once or twice. But, I always gave myself a couple days to cool down, and things returned to a good place of equilibrium. Yes, it can be tiring, and sometimes aggravating to work with young adults. It can also be inspiring, heart-warming, and hugely rewarding. This past spring one of our teens invited a co-worker and me to attend her high school graduation. It was unexpected, and we both eagerly agreed to be there as her guests. At the ceremony, we saw over a dozen teens, all of whom we worked with at the library, and knew on a first name basis, graduate. I cannot tell you how much pride and satisfaction we felt that day. For all the hard days, when you want to throw your hands in the air, a day like that restores your commitment big time.

We are on the cusp of a brand new school year. With it brings new faces of students we have never seen before. Also, it means some of the teens we are used to working with have graduated and moved on to new phases in their lives. Some days will be great, and some will be “meh,” but I look forward to the new adventures all of us will have.

Steve Teeri is a library technology specialist at the Detroit Public Library’s HYPE Teen Center. He is a member of his library’s Social Media Team, and Website Development Committee. When not making libraries better, he enjoys collecting records, collecting experiences, and playing with his son.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Free to Be... You and Me

I've been thinking a lot lately about what a big nerd I am. Admittedly, I've never played a Zelda game from beginning to end, and I've only seen a few episodes of "Doctor Who," but other than that I score pretty high in all the major nerd categories. Renaissance faires, comic books, video games, Star Wars AND Star Trek, MST3K... I'm sure you get the picture. The reason I've been thinking about it so much is because of the way embracing my nerd, both personally and professionally, has made life more interesting and a lot more fun.

You see, for a long time, I was the job. It wasn't just my profession; it was my life. Right out of graduate school, it made sense to eat, drink, breathe, and sleep librarianship. I had so much to learn that I hadn't gotten in my MLIS program that I didn't really have room in my life for much else. After those first couple of years I think it became a habit. Sure, there's always something new to learn, but after a while I realized I needed to start really bringing myself to work. Instead of being the person I thought I should be, I started to be me.

For example, on the walls of my first office, I put up safe prints: the movie poster for Breakfast at Tiffany's; Ansel Adams' Sand Dunes, Sunrise, Death Valley National Monument, California; and a cheap reproduction of Van Gogh's Irises. All of these are nice, and they're all things I like, but I'm not really passionate about any of them. My walls of my current office have: the "Usagi Yojimbo" anniversary poster; a Shel Silverstein poem; and a cheap reproduction of The Dog From Prague. And another thing, the window in my office door is covered with Chewbacca imagery.

Bringing "Nerd Jessica" to work along with "Educator Jessica," "Librarian Jessica," "Intellectual Jessica," and all the other Jessicas, has worked for me. I'm not exaggerating when I say that quite a few students, faculty, and staff have been known to stop by my office to see if I have any new Chewy images. Further, I think members of my community sense that I'm being genuine, and people respond to that. I've made many connections over my nerdly ways. Heck, just today a faculty member complimented me on my Hellboy figurine. All because I let my nerd flag fly.

My point is this: I'm a more successful member of my community, and therefore a better librarian, because I brought the rest of my personality to bear. I hope this way of thinking could work in any kind of library. I'm sure that it would be frowned upon if a law librarian wore his snarky t-shirts to the office, but admitting that he still listens to They Might Be Giants' Flood is showing personality just the same. There's a truism that goes something like: "Be yourself; nobody else is better qualified." To that, I'd like to add: "Besides, it's way more fun."

How about you? Do you let co-workers &/or classmates know about anything other than your librarian stuff?

Friday, August 19, 2011

"You have much to learn, Grasshopper." by Tom Bruno

It had been a few weeks since I'd been hired to my new job- my first position as a professional librarian- and my boss had asked me to produce some numbers for a project she was working on.  I remember first cutting and pasting an Excel chart into the body of an email, resulting in a poorly-formatted mess of misaligned figures and dislocated column headings.  My boss quickly suggested that I send her the actual spreadsheet instead, but no sooner did I do just that than I found myself summoned to her office for my first lesson in how to make my data dance. (I wish I could claim the credit for this beautiful turn of phrase, but I first heard it from Colette Mak, Head of Resource Access and Delivery at the University of Notre Dame the High Priestess of ILL data.)

"Rename your columns so they make sense to someone who is not you," she said.  "Use colors to delineate one set of data from another. Remember that your data is telling a story- if you want that story to be taken seriously, you must pay as much attention to presentation as you do to the data itself.  And please use formulas next time!"
Humbled, I returned to my cubicle and edited my spreadsheet following my boss' guidelines.  The result was a professional-looking report that even a librarian unfamiliar with the inner workings of resource sharing would be able to interpret, an order of magnitude more readable and user-friendly than the hairball of numbers and figures I had coughed up on the first try.  This was of course only just scratching the surface -- for example, I had yet to learn about the wonders of pivot tables -- but the lesson had been absorbed.  I may have been clever enough at that stage of my career to generate the data I needed, but I knew next to nothing about how to share that data effectively with my colleagues.

Indeed, I did have much to learn!

While my whirlwind introduction to the professional ranks of librarianship had been one epiphany after another, for some reason this particular revelation has stuck with me.  Why?  Because of all the things I learned during my first year on the job as a librarian, this is the one for which library school had prepared the least.  I can't tell you how many papers I had to write and presentations I had to give on the way to getting my MLS, but I don't remember being asked to create one spreadsheet or draft one statistical report.

This isn't just a case of my library school being behind the times, either-- when I entered the LIS program in 2004, Simmons had already crafted a technology orientation requirement, and during my time there I had coded finding aids in XML and used other cutting-edge professional tools such as the Catalogers' Desktop.  While there was (and still is) a course in database management, the emphasis there was on designing your own library databases, not how to produce, manipulate, and present the data within.  I’m not an isolated case, either. Nobody I asked had any spreadsheet assignments in graduate school.

Where is this disconnect coming from?  I suspect it has something to do with the nature of library statistics, which often come directly from the vendor or are produced by non-librarians somewhere else within your organization (such as your IT department).  Resource sharing librarians are awash in data, so we’ve got more experience with it. However, as libraries increasingly make policy and procedural changes-- not to mention budget decisions!-- based on statistical analysis, outsourcing your stats to a third party is a potentially dangerous prospect.  Why?  Because your data is telling a story.  If you do not understand where your numbers come from, not only do you run the risk of misunderstanding that story yourself, but you render yourself powerless when someone else decides to read your data in a different way.

I have a sign in my office that asks three questions of people who want statistics from me:
  1. How long ago did you need these numbers?
  2. How do you intend to misrepresent this data?
  3. If I just make something up, will you know/care?
This is a joke, like the ubiquitous "You Want It When?" signs in auto repair shops, but there's also a kernel of truth buried in their somewhere.  In my mind there is nothing more scary than the "drive-by"
data request, because there's little time to make sure that the numbers you produce actually mean what they say, nor do you have control over their distribution once they leave your hands.  Alas, these are exactly the kinds of reports that you will be asked for as library decision-making becomes increasingly data-driven.  How, then, do you ensure that the data you do offer up is sound enough to base a decision on?  Simply put, you need to know your numbers as well as you know every other aspect of your job as a librarian.

So what are the takeaways here?
  1. Own your data.  If it currently lives in some vendor's proprietary black box, see if you can find a way to get your own access to it. Vendors often mean well, but I've never met a canned report that I haven't wanted to refine in some way, shape, or form.
  2. If nothing else, learn how to use Excel.  Buy a book, take a class, whatever you need to do, but if you can't bust out a pivot table then you're missing the point of a spreadsheet.
  3. Learn how to use Microsoft Access, or buddy up with a guru.  I did both.  As a result I can produce a lot of the on-the-fly queries myself when my bosses coming looking for data, plus I know enough to explain my new ideas to my guru quickly and intelligently. 
  4. Presentation matters as much as the quality of your data, so be sure to make it dance.  (But Melvil Dewey help me if I get one more request to reformat a spreadsheet so that "it prints out nicely"!)
  5. Your data is telling a story.  Your decisions and those of your supervisors will be increasingly dependent on the statistics you generate, so it is imperative that you understand where these numbers come from and how they behave.  My stats guru friend jokingly refers to me as the "Request Whisperer" because I can look at an outlier in our resource sharing data and immediately tell her what went wrong with the ILL request in question.  Listen to your data and learn from it, so that you can be an effective interpreter of its meaning. 
Good luck, Grasshopper!

Tom Bruno is the Head of Resource Sharing at Widener Library of the Harvard College Library.  He has worked for the Harvard University Libraries for over 12 years.  Tom received his Bachelor of Arts in Latin and Greek at Boston University and his Master of Library and Information Science from Simmons College- every
now and then he thinks about getting a Ph.D. His blog is The Jersey Exile, and he tweets at @oodja.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Getting to Know Your Community, Getting to Know All About Your Community

Being able to serve my community is all about building relationships. Not that I’m perfect, but building relationships is something at which I excel. Some of it is probably personality, I’m an extrovert, and some of it is my background, I was a waitress for years before and during graduate school. However, I do think that some of it can be learned. 

Before I give you some pointers, I want to remind you that my frame of reference is academic libraries. My community is predominantly faculty, students, administrators, and staff. Even though I don’t know the major groups in the communities of other libraries, I do know that a lot of this will translate regardless.

Here are some techniques that I've used:
  • Get to know their interests. This is a never ending process, but it’s worth all the effort and more. I spoke about this in my post about my collection development philosophy, but it goes beyond what books/journals/electronic resources I get for them. For example, there’s a member of our communication department who has a Godzilla obsession. When I saw a very cute, Godzilla-inspired comic, I sent him the link. I knew he’d appreciate it.
  • Try to help with their projects. Last year, I helped gather greeting cards to send to the Red Cross, who sent them on to service members stationed overseas. This was one small part of a much bigger, grant-sponsored event that was coordinated by faculty in the English and education departments. They were grateful for the help and I had fun.
  • Get outside of the library. I go to theater department productions, football games, student research presentations. I eat lunch in the dining hall, get coffee at the student center. Recently, I’ve been talked into refereeing late night dodge ball. Getting to know members of my community is much easier when I participate in that community.

Depending on the size of your community, you might not be able to use some of my ideas. Heck, you might not be able to use any of them. For me, it all comes down to this: you should try to meet your community members where they are, not where you think they should be. Be interested in what they’re doing and they might just return the favor.

How about you? What do you do to get to know your community members better?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Overlook Opportunities and Missed Connections by Michael Perry

When I thought about what advice I would give to library school students based on my own experiences, I was at first almost overwhelmed by the different possible topics.  I have a slightly non-traditional career and view of librarianship.  I currently manage an internal knowledge center for a large national law firm.  My title technically does not include the term “librarian” but my job function is almost identical.  I answer reference questions for attorneys, manage a large scale internal database, evaluate reference services and handle contract renewals.  The first piece of advice I would give to any library school student is do not live and die by the title alone.  More and more, an individual’s job title has little resemblance to their actual job function.  My title may be Conflicts Supervisor (a much cooler sounding title than it actually is) but in job function I’m really a librarian, I even have to routinely deal with repairing down printers and copiers.  Library schools often paint a picture of a robust job market, usually based on reports about the number of people who will be retiring from the field.  The reality is actually a bit different and library jobs are highly sought after with great competition among candidates.  Don’t limit yourself from a potentially good job opportunity simply because the job title doesn’t contain the term librarian, who knows what you might be missing.  While there are aspects of this behavior that can be taken a bit too far: privatizing libraries, dropping the library title from schools, or relying on paraprofessionals; it doesn’t change the fact that there are great jobs out there that aren’t “librarian” in title.  Vendors, developers and corporations are hiring librarians to fill new roles.  Corporations are setting up knowledge centers and looking for people with the right skills and there is nobody better to meet this need than a library school graduate.

My second piece of advice to students is closely related to job function and that is: learn to market. While my library school experience taught me a great deal, I quickly learned that there were large areas that simply weren’t covered.  The topic I think most encapsulates this is marketing.  Marketing, to some librarians, is a dirty word and reminder of the efforts by some to make libraries adopt a more corporate model.  The few discussions about marketing I recall from library school often began and ended with discussing patron outreach for public libraries.    Knowing this deficit existed, when asked to select a project for my Capstone class in the spirit of Google’s 20% policy, I chose specifically to look at internal marketing in libraries.  What I found was that next to nothing has been written about this every increasingly important field.  I created mock marketing plans for various library types to present to internal stakeholders and increase communication.  During our poster session, nearly all of the feedback I received was related to the fact that nothing like this had been brought up in anyone’s classes.  Taking the lessons I learned from this exercise with me into the work place, I was able to do a great deal to increase communications between my department and our larger organization.  More important than the basics of marketing or the more advanced marketing strategies are learning how to market yourself.  As I said above, library jobs are competitive and your best bet to land that job is being able to market your skills, abilities, and education.   There isn’t a great difference between marketing an organization and marketing yourself.  I would also encourage library students to participate in social media.  There is a thriving library community on Twitter and Google+ (social media is what lead to me writing this guest piece), where you can learn about other librarians struggles and successes.

Michael holds a BA in Political Science from DePaul University and received his MLIS from Dominican University.  He tweets at @michaelrperry6 and can be found on Google+ here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Avoiding Death by Meetings: Don't Waste People's Time

Nothing about librarianship surprised me as much as the meetings. It wasn’t so bad at first, when I was the new kid, but now meetings and committees take a huge chunk of my time. You see, I’m on five committees, plus a number of ad hoc groups and task forces. Then there are the campus wide meetings, faculty meetings, one-on-one planning meetings, etc. It’s gotten to the point where at least once per month, during the academic year, I have a day that is completely taken up by meetings. A lot of them are the kind where I have little or no control. I’m not about to admit to my survival techniques – not in a public forum like this. However, I do have advice about how to run a good meeting.

In short, it all boils down to four words: don’t waste people’s time. It’s a simple marker by which to judge all meetings. I love when people end a meeting with me by saying, “That was productive. Thanks.” 

Here are some of the tricks I use:
  • Do you really need to meet? If you already know what the answer is going to be, or if it’s just sharing information that needs no response, use email. Email is also good for very simple requests, even if you don’t know what the response is ahead of time.
  • Set an agenda and stick to it. Also, send the agenda out ahead of time. This is especially true if you are going to be soliciting ideas and brainstorming, but it’s important for all meetings. Surprises don’t make for productive meetings.
  • Show up prepared and show up early. Being late to your own meeting is just bad form. If something does happen that makes you late, and it inevitably will, let someone know.
  • Keep things moving. Tangents will arise, so you need to know how to deal with them. Depending on the specifics of the meeting, I’ve done everything from simply asking if whatever it is can wait for later all the way to having a formal way of gathering the tangents. (At one extremely long but productive meeting that I attended, there was a section of white board just for this purpose. It was labeled “Parking Lot,” and wow did it help.)
  • Better to end a meeting early than late. I try to over-estimate how much time I’ll need, and I let people know that’s what I’m doing. There’s a line I’ve used so many times I should probably get it trademarked: “I don’t think we’ll need more than [x amount of time], but just to be safe I’m setting the meeting for [x + 15 minutes].”
  • If a meeting does go late, face up to it. An administrator for whom I used to work was great at this. His meetings didn’t usually go over, but when they did, he’d say something like, “We’ve still got some work to do and I’d like to keep going, but if you need to leave I understand,” or, “We’re not done and we need to end, when can people come back?”
  • End with clear next actions. As your meeting is ending, make sure you know what your next steps are, who is responsible for them, and when they need to be done. There’s nothing worse than having a month pass with no progress. You’ll only have yourself to blame when you hear, “I thought you were going to do that.”

I know I’m not the first person to write a list like this, and I’m sure I won’t be the last. If I didn’t lose so much of my time to meetings, maybe I wouldn’t care so much. By the way, my meetings aren’t always perfect, but the point is I try (unlike some people I know).

What about you? What makes a meeting bad in your mind? What are your secrets to a good meeting? 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Communication Skills Are Not Optional by Jeff Wanser

Jessica asked me to provide a guest posting on her blog, and at first I thought, “What advice could I possibly offer graduate students and librarians who are just starting out?”  I am going on 59, graduated with my MLS from the University of Pittsburgh in 1983, having switched careers from archaeology.  I have been at precisely one institution my entire library career.  I am clearly old guard, old school, and old hippie.  I do not own a cell phone, or even use a microwave, at least until they come out with a wood-burning model. However, I have watched lots of people, ideas, and stuff come and go, and can suggest two basics that I think are necessary and permanent in Library & Information Science education.  Sadly, graduate programs often ignore them.

Perhaps I am stating the obvious, but writing and public speaking are absolutely vital to your career. These are not options.  People will judge you well or harshly on the basis of how you present yourself.  I cannot count how many times I have seen entry-level (or not so entry-level) librarians destroy an opportunity for a job because of how they come across to the people reading their applications or interviewing them.  You cannot get in the door without a proper resume and cover letter.  Committees look for any excuse to weed down the pile of applicants, and so spelling and grammar take on greater importance than they do in normal life.  Should you pass that hurdle, your physical presence becomes an issue, not so much in terms of appearance (although we never escape such judgments), but in how you come across.  Your ability to communicate your ideas with clarity and confidence, or give a coherent and convincing presentation, are more important than many other skills you might possess.

Once you are hired, you must be able to write well.  You don’t have to create deathless literary prose, but you must be able to produce professional-quality reports, memos, policies, papers, and whatever else you are asked to cough up as readable and error-free works.  If you don’t write well, get help.  Many graduate programs in LIS do not provide any sort of training in writing, and so if yours doesn’t, get it elsewhere, from the campus writing center, classmates, or other ways.  Join (or create) a writing group, where people critique each other’s works–in-progress in a safe environment.  Write every day for a half hour.  Talk to professionals about what they expect to see and what they can’t stand.  Read and follow style guides, if that helps.  Do not rely on spell-check; it will betray you.

In an academic environment, which is what I am most familiar with, it is important that you be taken seriously as a colleague, and one of those ways is in presenting yourself as a competent professional with something to say.  The old stereotype of the librarian as shy wallflower is still alive and well in academia, and you must crush it with your heel.  I have seen many bad presentations for job interviews by shy, introverted job applicants, and that includes candidates for Instruction Librarian!  I have sat through hundreds of bad conference papers.  Speak loudly and clearly.  Make eye contact.  Do not under any circumstances read off your PowerPoint slides.  Do not hide behind the podium.  These are all signs of incompetence to the audience.  Librarians are educators and are expected to act like educators, which means standing up and doing the job in public, without notes if possible.  Again, LIS programs will often not teach public speaking (although they should).  If you have trouble in this area, there are ways to get help. If there are public speaking courses on your campus, take one.  If you are afraid that the LIS faculty will find out and think you odd, sneak away to the nearest community college and get up to speed.  Get help from teachers, who can critique your classroom style.  Video yourself giving a talk (horrors!).  You will suddenly discover what the rest of the world sees.  Then get over it and fix the things you don’t like.

It seems strange to me giving this sort of advice, because I am an introvert by nature. I dreaded giving class presentations as an undergraduate, and before teaching a class I still get quite nervous.  But my inner state is irrelevant to how I come across to others, as long as it doesn’t show.  I have been teaching anthropology part-time for 25 years, and given hundreds of library instruction sessions, and from feedback I have received, I do a pretty good job.  I also dislike my own writing, but manage to create serviceable prose, and have written dozens of technical reports, several articles, and more than one hundred book reviews.  You can overcome whatever anxieties or perceived shortcomings you have, too, and get the job done.

Jeff Wanser is Coordinator of Government Documents, Hiram College Library, & Adjunct Lecturer, Dept. of Sociology, Hiram College.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Curmudgeon or Experienced? You Be The Judge.

Normally, I write these posts about what I do. This week, I’m going to change focus and talk about what I don’t (and won’t) do. I think this is just as important to who I am as a professional as anything else I’ve written so far.

You see, my continuing transition from “punk kid” to “mid career” hit another milestone recently: I’ve come to understand why established librarians utter the phrase, “but we’ve always done it that way,” so frequently. The epiphany came when I said something like, “that’s not my job,” to a colleague. At first I was horrified. I even jokingly blamed a work friend of mine for turning me into a curmudgeon. After I calmed down, I realized that it’s a natural part of my evolution as a librarian and that I have solid reasons for each thing I won’t/don’t do.

Here are some examples:

  • Plagiarism. The quick answer is that there’s not enough time. I’ve got all I can handle just teaching freshmen how to find their way around the building and how to use a few basic tools in the one-shot, information literacy session. However, even if professors gave me a second class period, I still wouldn’t tackle this subject. Yes, ethical use of information is part of being information literate, but it needs to be an ongoing conversation and it really needs to come from the professor. It’s different when I have my professor hat on (I teach as an adjunct at the college where I’m a librarian). In my librarian role, though, my answer is a confident: “not my job.”
  • Citation. Students will forget how by the time they actually need to create a works cited list. I’ve got most of the professors here convinced that they should schedule the instruction session when their students have the research assignment and a possible topic. The “just in time” session works much better than the “just in case” kind. Even still, “just in time” for information literacy is “way too early” for citation. So, just like with plagiarism, this is something that I think is the professor’s job and not mine.
  • Basic Computer Skills. I’ve got to pick my battles. I know computer skills are important. Everyone needs these. A chunk of our undergraduate population is comprised of non-traditional students, people who are returning to school after a while away. But even some of our traditionally aged students would benefit from this kind of class. Just because you know how to use Twitter and Facebook, it doesn’t mean you know how to create spreadsheets or even basic word documents. However, I don’t have unlimited time. Unfortunately, once again, the answer is: “not me.”

Everything on this list is something I have done in the past, but time has changed my willingness. The truth is, I used to be that “can we try this?” person. I still am sometimes. It’s an important role, so don’t ever stop asking questions and proposing new projects. When the answer to “can we…?” is “but we’ve always…” don’t write that person off as calcified or antique. Instead, ask them to explain why. New ideas are great, but you shouldn’t disregard the benefits of experience.

How about you? What won't you do? Why?