Monday, December 31, 2012

Be Back Soon

Took the holidays off, but not to worry: I'll be back to regular posting starting Thursday. In the meantime, here's something cool to tide you over:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

I Began Saying Yes to All the Interesting Projects That Came My Way, by Brett Bonfield


I'd love a post about how and why you made the transition from academic to public libraries. There seems to be a whole mythology around switching between different kinds of libraries—at least among people who are new/newer to our career—and I'd love to start dispelling it. (Jessica Olin, October 26, 2012, via email)

I’d love to start dispelling it as well, because I’m pretty sure it is a myth. But I’m not certain. I don’t think there’s any empirical evidence, and even my personal experience is unidirectional: I worked at three academic libraries, part-time, while I was in library school and for the first eight months after I graduated, and then I started working as the director of the public library in the town where I live.

In order to have any credibility as a myth-buster, it seems like I should take a job working in an academic library. And to present myself as an expert, it seems like I should then leave that job for a job at a public library and then, to buttress my bona fides, leave my new public library job for yet another academic library job. Which seems like an awful lot of bother, not least because I really like my current job.

However, if things were to stagnate or deteriorate, and I'm no longer a good fit for my current job, I'm agnostic about what I would do next. I might try to become a faculty member at a library school, especially if I somehow manage to complete my LIS Ph.D., or I might try to work at a different library—public or academic, special or vendor. For me it's more about the organization's philosophy than its superstructure. Or, daring to dream big, I would love to work with a foundation that funds libraries in setting up a YCombinator for library-related startups.

As near as I can tell, librarians who are able to traverse boundaries, either real or mythological, are the ones that have this sort of “all things are possible” attitude. They’re the ones who have a well developed sense of perspective; the ones who feel good about themselves when they make a difference in other people’s lives; the ones who seek out opportunities to work with people they admire; and the ones who feel so passionate about what they do that it doesn’t even feel like work.

I’ve written about this sort of thing previously, but I’ve neglected to cite one of the primary sources that helped to inspire me to take this kind of action myself. Around the time I handed in my last assignment in library school, Aaron Swartz published an essay called, “The Interrupt-Driven Life.” There’s a phrase he uses in the first sentence of that essay that could be the tl;dr for whatever success I’ve enjoyed in my career: “I began saying yes to all the interesting projects that came my way.”

Saying yes to interesting projects can take on a life of its own. You start by volunteering to help with a code4lib project or answering a call for DPLA participation or showing up at a meeting for a committee you don’t belong to and the next thing you know you’re on a board or directing a library or writing a column. But then, that’s what it’s all about, right? That’s why you enrolled in library school in the first place. You wanted to make a difference.

But let’s face it, you didn’t know how libraries actually functioned. You knew nothing about ALA or SLA or your statewide organizations. You had just the barest sense of OCLC, if you had any sense of it at all. You thought people afflicted with OPACs, ILS, and MARC required antibiotics (if only). So the idea that you had some vague sense that you might like working in an archive or sitting behind a desk at an academic library or leading story time was grounded in ignorance. (Well intentioned, unavoidable, nothing to be ashamed of, but ignorance nevertheless.)

The thing to do now is let it go. If you’re working in or on behalf of libraries, then you’re a librarian. And if you’re committed to your profession, if you’re saying yes to all the interesting projects that come your way (and making sure you’re frequently in position to have interesting projects come your way), then you’re developing the skills you need in order to work effectively anywhere. And if potential employers don’t realize it, you’re better off avoiding such backward thinking workplaces.

Brett Bonfield is the director of the Collingswood (NJ) Public Library and a 2012 Library Journal Mover & Shaker. He graduated from Drexel’s library school in September 2007, and taught a course there in 2011. He is one of the writers & editors at In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Innovators, Game Changers, and The Bleeding Edge, Or, Buzz Words Gotta Buzz

Let me be up front about this: I loathe buzz words. I hate them even more than I dislike jargon (and I'm not the only one who hates jargon) - which is saying a lot. Whenever I hear someone rattling off a long string of buzz words - something that happens almost daily in librarianship and in academia - this is all I see:

"a bee at work"
This dislike is especially pronounced when people start talking about "innovation." The thing that it describes - trying new stuff - is a passion for me. If you've ever read this blog before, you already know that about me. I've got all these "crazy" ideas, and making them a reality is one of my favorite things about being an academic librarian.

The point is that I see a gap or a problem or an opportunity and I try to address it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Want to get students, faculty, & staff to care about the library's image? Try a tagline contest. Want to get students in the library who wouldn't normally set foot in there? How about Humans vs. Zombies? I've also tried plenty of things that didn't work. I tried to get a book review blog going, the point of which was for it to be a blog by my community for my community. It ended up being way more work than it was worth. Then there was that board game event that sort of flopped. Perhaps I was being obtuse, but I didn't even realize I was engaging in that fabled activity - innovating - until someone shoved that fact in my face.

The thing that's bothering me lately, though, is that with all the buzz words people use to describe this particular activity - innovation, game changing, bleeding edge, entrepreneurial mindset, etc. - it has made it so that the activity is becoming an end in and of itself. Even worse, the focus isn't on the reason for innovation and experimentation. Instead it's on the label.

In my own practice, it's the opposite. I try to fill the needs of my community, even the ones of which they are unaware, with whatever means seem most apt. I love finding new and exciting things to try, but there are also times when the "old fashioned" approach works best. There's no getting away from buzz words, but I've started ignoring them as best I can. I suggest you do the same.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Citizen Science in the Library, by Allison Scripa

"He sits on the branch a while longer and then..."
is a Creative Commons licensed picture from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Citizen science is a method of conducting scientific research that uses people without formal scientific education or training to gather the data needed for the experiment. In some cases, the data has already been collected and volunteers help mark up it up to make it usable by scientists. This technique helps gather and/or process large amounts of data that would be impossible for one scientist, or even a team of scientists, to gather and process on their own. This is important because large data sets reveal trends that would be impossible to see on a smaller scale. Many citizen science projects focus on some type of environmental monitoring, however subjects can range greatly.

So how does this fit into libraries? Well, we’re all about lifelong learning. Citizen science projects don’t just help the scientists running them; they provide an opportunity for people participating in them to learn something new about their world. Proponents of citizen science believe that participating in these projects may increase a person’s scientific literacy. An understanding of scientific principles and how experiments work is crucial to all of us in order to understand and make decisions about public policy and our own personal health.

Further, citizen science projects generate knowledge. The information collected is often made available to participants or freely on websites. You get to see your contribution to the project along with others from all over the country or the world.

Here are a couple of examples of successful citizen science projects:

eBird A joint venture between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, eBird provides a venue for participants to report and keep track of birds they have seen. This data is made publically available through the eBird website, with dynamic maps, charts and graphs available to anyone interested and provides valuable information about bird populations and migration patterns.

Project Budburst Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Project Budburst has participants report the timing of phenophases of plants—the stages in a plant’s life such as first leaves, fruiting, or leaves changing color. Participants can choose a specific plant and follow it over time (preferred) or submit single observation reports. Data collected is available on the Project Budburst website and reveals changes in timing that may occur as a result of climate change.
Because the goals of citizen science—education, generation, and dissemination of knowledge--align so closely with ours, these projects are “outside the box” as well as a fun way to bring science programming into libraries.

Interested? You could hold informational programs, just telling your patrons that these projects exist, by discussing one project in detail or several projects that are centered on a theme. You could speak about these projects yourself (lots of information is included on their websites) or you could bring in an expert. As an example, if you wanted to talk about some of the bird-themed citizen science projects, you could reach out to your local ornithology club to see if they have someone who is willing to talk about bird watching and a specific project. You could also vary the age groups you target with these programs; many citizen science projects are targeted to children. Many craft projects tie into the environmental themes. This is an easy way to introduce or augment science programming in your library. In conjunction with a program, you could gather resources—both print and online—that will support those participating.

Perhaps the best way to incorporate citizen science into your library is to actually engage in a project. Here at Virginia Tech, we have created a “Citizen Science Challenge” at one of our residence halls. In this particular hall, students are divided into “houses” (think Hogwarts), and are in a competition to win a “House Cup” at the end of the year. For one portion of the competition, teams are participating in 3 citizen science projects over the course of the year. Those teams who submit the most data to the projects earn the most points for their house. Before each project commences, we have speakers from related departments on campus coming to talk about how the project ties into the “big picture” of science and, more specifically, into research at Virginia Tech. At the end of the year, the teams can participate in a poster session competition, for which there are glorious prizes—tours of unique labs and cool places on campus—and of course lots more points! We are in the beginning phases of this project and have yet to see how it will all turn out—but we are very excited. Please feel free to contact me ( to talk more about our program or about other ideas to bring citizen science to your library.

Resources for finding projects:

Allison Scripa is the College Librarian for Sciences at Virginia Tech
. She occasionally tweets @ajscripa

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Decorating for Christmahanakwanzika

Every year, as the winter holidays approach, it always seems to induce a twist in my stomach - personally and professionally. The personal stuff is easy enough to deal with, since my friends know I don't celebrate any of the major holidays other than a general Seasonal Gift Giving and Donating to Charities in Your Name thing. Professionally, on the other hand, it's a whole other story.

The college where I work was founded by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We have an active chapter of Hillel. We have a decent sized Buddhist community as well - lots of international students from Bhutan. There are plenty of Muslim students. I know we have Sikhs in our community. Kwanzaa is also celebrated. TL;DR: we have a highly multicultural community, some of whom celebrate a holiday this month, others of whom do not.

That leaves me asking what's a library to do? Should we decorate for every EVERY EvErY holiday? Or skip decorating in general? What is most respectful? In the case of the library where I currently work, we've opted not to decorate. Instead, I pulled a bunch of different children's books about snow and snow-related things, and created a display from them. We've acknowledged the season but not the holidays. I'm not sure if this is the right answer, but it's the one I came up with for this year.

It's not like there's a lot of pressure, though. Since this is an academic library, most of our constituents are way too busy right now to pay much attention to what's going on in the library - other than as a quiet place to study and get some work done - so it's kind of a moot point.

I'm still wondering how other libraries handle it. Do you base your decisions on the wants of the staff? Of the community? Do you decorate? Also: Happy Christmahanakwanzika. Or not.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

First Thursday's Just For Fun: Bloggeration, Part Deux

Earlier this year, I devoted a "Just For Fun" post to chatter about the non-librarian blogs I love. It's been a while, and I have some to add to the list, so I thought I'd share my new non-libr* blog loves. Here goes:

io9's tagline is "We come from the future," and trust me when I tell you that it's appropriate. This website's raison d'ĂȘtre is "science, science fiction, and the future," and it's immensely cool. 

Recent favorite posts include: "A Book That Will Make You Question Everything You Knew About Dinosaurs," "5 Amazing Real Life Facts About Superman," and "The Hawkeye Initiative redraws absurd superheroine poses with Hawkeye."

Not only is The Fluffington Post a real thing, and it's also really cute. Obviously, it's a parody of a similarly named website, but I'm willing to admit that I like FluffPo better. Slightly snarky captions + cute animal pictures = full of win.

Recent favorites include: "Cat Hired to Guard Shoe Collection," "Tiger Cubs Chip In For New Bubble Machine," and "Criminal Cat Nabbed for Carjacking."

As you can see from the logo, Colossal is a blog devoted to sharing/highlighting "art & visual ingenuity." Beyond that general umbrella, anything is possible and everything posted by Christopher Jobson (the man behind the blog) is beautiful.

Recent favorites include: "The Surreal, Infrared Photography of David Keochkerian," "Spectacular Entries to the 2012 National Geographic Photography Contest," and "Birds on Twitter."

How about you? Do you have any non-libr* blogs that you love?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to: Labeling the People Who Come to the Library

If you're new/newer to this profession, you may not yet be able to recognize when this happens, but there are a few libr* topics that never seem to go away. One conversation that never ends is about what the heck we should call the people who walk in the front door of the library. I don't mean the people who work in the building; I mean the ones who come in to partake of our services. In fact, it was the focus of a post just yesterday on Designing Better Libraries.

Of course I have an opinion on the topic: I tend towards "members of my community" and occasionally throw "library patrons" or even "students, faculty, and staff" into the mix. I also understand why the label can be important: what we call something can frame/influence how we think about it. But I can't help thinking that I'd rather concentrate on improving the services I'm providing to my [fill in the label of your choice]. What to call them is the least of my worries. In fact, the whole, endless discussion reminds me of the song, "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off."

To drive the point home, here's my favorite version of that song:

Thoughts? Do you think the label matters?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Say This, Not That: Public Library Edition, by Cari Dubiel

"Gerbils - Schimmels" is a Creative Commons licensed picture  by  benmckune.

Despite my long history in public libraries, I have only recently been a part of the hiring process.  I was promoted to manager of a growing department in the library where I've worked for the last six years.  For the first time, I've been asked to sit in on interviews for other departments, as well as conduct interviews for my own department.  I have even interviewed candidates over Skype while on maternity leave. 

What I have noticed during this introduction to hiring is that the pool of candidates is varied and talented.  It’s impossible to hire everyone, so if you’re looking for a library job, it’s even more important to say the kind of things your prospective employer wants to hear (so long as it’s the truth).  You can’t just be a good candidate – you have to be the best candidate. 

David Zincenzko’s Eat This, Not That!  series makes it easy for people who are watching their weight to make quick eating decisions.  In the same vein, here are some Say This, Not That situations to help you make quick interviewing decisions.

What do you know about Smallville Public Library?

Say This:
“I think it’s great that Smallville is the top-rated library in its population category according to the HAPLR index.  The library is positioned well with the community, and patrons say it’s one of the best around.”

Not That:
“I saw on the electronic sign that you were having some sort of program about gerbils.  I like gerbils.”

Here is a secret: I can tell when you haven’t done your homework.  If you are scrambling to answer this question, as in this “not that” answer, I’m marking it down.  In any interview, you should always research the company where you have applied.  The library is not an exception.  If you think a library job is the type you can just walk into and do without any prior research, you are wrong.  If anything, you need to do more research before applying at a library.  Our spidey-senses will sniff you out if you don’t.

What are your short-term goals?

Say This:
“In the short term, I want to work at Smallville Public Library.  I feel that I would be an excellent candidate for this position because my skills fit exactly what the Library is looking for.” 

Not That:
“I want to get married someday and have children.  So this job would be great.  I wouldn't have to do anything too hard.”

There are several things wrong with the “not that” answer here.  First, when an interviewer asks about your goals, s/he wants to learn about your professional goals.  Bringing the personal into the interview may seem like a way to build rapport with the interviewer, but in reality, it is a distraction and takes the focus off the job.  The “say this” answer shows that you are driven and motivated to do well at this specific library.  Second, you should never make an assumption about the job you are applying for, especially a negative one.  Calling a position “easy,” even if it’s a shelving position, is the number one way to irritate a public librarian.  After years of defending ourselves to our friends and family by explaining how we don’t read books all day, we don’t want to do the same with a job candidate.   

Why do you want a job at Smallville Public Library?

Say This:
“Smallville Public Library is one of the best in the area, and I can bring a great number of skills to what seems like an already strong team.  I can help increase circulation, improve workflow, and overall contribute to the efficiency of the library.”

Not That:
I've always wanted to work in a library.  It seems like a nice, quiet place.  And I just love to read.”

If I hear one more person say that they want to work in a library because they love to read, I think I will scream.  Corollary: when someone says they want to work in the cataloging department because they want to see all the new materials when they come in.  The interviewer does not want to hear what the library can do for you.  She wants to hear what you can do for the library.  And once again, you’re making assumptions about the job when you say the library is quiet.  Our department may be busy and noisy, and we’re not looking for someone who likes quiet – we’re looking for a people person who is focused on customer service.

I can’t guarantee that following these rules is going to get you a job, at my library or any other library, but I also know I’m not alone in the pet peeves I've listed here.  I hope it will give you a start towards placing yourself in that top spot on your interviewer’s list.

Cari Dubiel is the Computer Services Manager at Twinsburg Public Library in Twinsburg, Ohio. She has two blogs of her own: a personal blog, Walking Identity Crisis, and an official Twinsburg Public Library one, The ABC Book Reviews: A Beth and Cari Production. This is her second post for Letters to a Young Librarian; the first was “Give ‘Em What They Want: How to be a Great Public Librarian.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake (or Oranges or Pizza): Food in the Library

"Oranges" is a CC Licensed photo by Aarthi Ramamurthy.

I was staring around my office, trying to decide what to write about this week, and my glance settled on the Clementines I brought for a snack. They were just in season, so I've been eating as many as I can before they go away again. The last batch I bought are candy-sweet and delicious.

And that got me thinking. We allow food, drink, etc. in the library where I currently work. The theory is that if we treat the members of our community like adults - trust them to be careful with their soda and french fries and the like - then they'll act like adults. (Also, policing things like that in a library with five levels takes a lot more energy and time than we're willing to give.) Theory and reality don't always coincide, but it does in this case: people who come into my library do exactly what we expect them to do. They are careful with food and drink. On the rare occasion when something is spilled, they almost always clean it up and/or report it to us. The worst behaviors actually come from atypical library patrons - people who are only here on a rare occasion.

I know this wouldn't work at every library, but I also think that letting go of the stranglehold librarians try to have over patron behavior can engender more goodwill than it will cause carpet stains. Trusting people to treat the library well, and communicating that fact (I let freshmen know we allow food and drink in the library and then explain, "You're adults. We're going to treat you that way."), is a great way of helping members of the community to feel a sense of ownership for the building and its contents, to feel like they are part of a community.

So I say, with a tweaked version of a phrase that is frequently misattributed to Marie Antoinette: "Let members of my community eat cake, drink coffee, and consume whatever they want." It's their library, after all.

How about you? What do you think about food and drink in the library? Does your library have a policy against it?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Aaaaaah! Scary Librarians!

Creative Commons licensed picture by Amy Barker.

Librarians are scary, aren't they? Well, not really, but that's the way some members of our communities act. It surprised me at first, since I grew up loving libraries and librarians. Eventually I got used to it, or so I thought. From "I'm sorry to interrupt you," to asking other patrons for help, and onto the stammering that results when we realized that "I can't find anything" is being caused by a spelling error, I am so accustomed to patrons acting vaguely afraid that I thought I'd seen all the possible permutations.

But then I noticed a new development. Over the last year or so, but most especially this semester, I've seen an increase in the number of patrons showing up at the reference desk in pairs. It's most prevalent with freshmen, but it's not isolated to the youngest members of my community. (Just to remind you, I'm at an academic library that is part of a small, liberal arts, residential college, and I deal most frequently with traditional undergraduates.) I've talked to a few people about this phenomenon, but not broadly. I don't know if this is an across-the-board change at both public and academic libraries, but I do know other academic librarians have noticed it.

I want to move beyond noticing it, though. I want to know why this is happening. Occasionally, I think the students might be trying to make things easier for the librarian, since sometimes the pairs will both be working on the same assignment. That's not often case, though. Another idea I've had is that some of our students are completely unfamiliar with what's expected college and/or libraries. That lack of familiarity is making them feel some trepidation, so they want company. I also wonder if it could be a safety concern. This is a small, rural-ish campus, but a lot of our students come from Pittsburgh and Cleveland, so maybe they've been raised to use the buddy system for safety?

Even if I can't find the cause, there's I'm also concerned about how to react. When the students are in the same class, it can be convenient to "kill two birds with one stone" at the reference desk. So much of the teaching I do is in these one-on-one situations, so isn't it more efficient to work with two at once? On the other hand, I think about the privacy implications. When dealing with a student who's working on a research essay, it's unlikely that s/he will bring up sensitive issues, but it's still a sticking point for me. Sometimes I shoo Student #2 away from the desk while I work with Student #1, but not always. I'm not sure which approach is the right one.

So I guess I have more questions than advice this week, since I'm still formulating my response to a new-ish thing. What about you? Have you seen this phenomenon? What, if anything, are you doing about it?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

You're Going to Piss People Off, by Kelly Jensen

"you wanna mess wit me?" is a Creative Commons licensed photo by Doramon

Whether you’re just joining or have been part of this profession for a while, we all have our goals. Ultimately, we want to provide as much as we can in the best possible way in order to make people happy, regardless of what our title or work place looks like.

Except no matter what you do and no matter how hard you work on something, you're sometimes going to piss people off at the same time, be it patrons or be it your colleagues. There is no way to be an effective change maker or advocate for yourself and services without making someone unhappy.

I'm a people pleaser. I hate when anybody is unhappy with me, and I go out of my way to ensure that what I do and what I think doesn't impact other people negatively. But when you're working with people, you're going to interact with people who are unhappy. Who will always be unhappy. And you're going to work with colleagues and other professionals who don't see what you're doing is as valuable as what they're doing. So when you step up and suggest a change, you're going to cause a scene.

You have to grow a pair and realize that none of those angry feelings relate to you personally at all. They are directed at something bigger, be it the fear of change or the fear of not understanding the value of what it is you're pursuing.

Ignorance is scary.

In my first position as a teen librarian, I had no shame in adding any book that sounded good to my collection, which served those in grades 6 – 12. Guess what? Six months into the job, I had an angry letter from a parent, suggesting one of the books her daughter checked out was completely inappropriate for a 12-year-old. How dare I purchase and promote such materials in the library?

The letter rattled me, as I had only been a professional librarian for, well, six months. Now I had an angry parent and if she had written me a letter, surely there were other people angry about how I was performing collection development.

I immediately assumed I was a terrible librarian. It had to be my fault her daughter borrowed something she shouldn't have. It was the collection I created, after all.


After reading and rereading the letter, I came to accept the problem was not me in the least. It was the parent not doing her job. It was the parent who allowed her daughter to check out material she wasn't comfortable with. I wrote a letter back, stating clearly that the teen area served all teens between 6th and 12th grade.

By relenting with one person who was pissed off at me, I'd in turn be doing a disservice to the rest of my patrons. Those books needed to be there to serve my entire diverse teen population.

Putting a firm foot down on your expertise and on your ethics will not only piss off patrons though. Eventually, you're going to piss off your own colleagues.

Enter ARCgate 2012.

I wrote a blog post talking about a situation that left youth librarians at a disadvantage when it came to picking up Advanced Reader Copies of forthcoming titles at the American Library Association convention. That single post caused a surge in hate comments, in angry Twitter rants, and at least two blog posts from well-known library-world bloggers. I was called selfish, greedy, and a host of other uncomplimentary things by people in my own field for standing up and speaking about something I believed in. That many others believed in, too.

I spent two weeks seeing my reputation and my words being torn apart and misconstrued. But through each new thing I read, I reminded myself over and over that I had said what I said because I believed in it. I reached out to those who could institute a change for the betterment of not just myself, but other librarians who felt the same way I did.

Change is happening.

My voice was heard.

These are two personal examples. I could talk about other times I pissed off parents with my collection development policy or about the time I told the area homeschool groups about our library's teen programs (which included a paranormal program that contradicted one group's very conservative beliefs) or about the time I quit a library job without a backup plan because the environment was not conducive to making me my best, personally or professionally. The thing is, no matter what role you're in and no matter how much or how little experience you have in the field, your beliefs and values are going to piss someone off somewhere.

To be as good as you want to be and to further your goals in providing the best service and experience as a librarian, you have to suck it up and stick to your beliefs.

That's not to say don't follow the rules. Just push against them as much as you need to. That's the only way change can happen. If it means pissing off one or two or six people for the betterment of a community? It's worth it.

Kelly Jensen is a librarian for teen/adult services at a public library. She tweets at @catagator and blogs at Stacked Books.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I Got a Job! Now What?

"Moose" is a Creative Commons licensed photo by Sean Biehle.

The whole point of pursuing the MLIS is to get a job in a library, right? But what do you do when that finally happens? What's the next step? This question was the crux of an email I received last week. I responded, but figured that there are probably others out there who might have the same questions (I know I did when I was a newbrarian), so I'm sharing my response - slightly edited - with you all. 

Before I do that, though, I want to fill in a few details. My correspondent has been working in academic libraries prior to now, but always as a clerk/assistant/paraprofessional. The new job is at a small academic library where my correspondent will be responsible for (among other things) instruction, instructional technology, managing student workers, and working with faculty.

Now that you have an idea of where this started, here is how I responded:

The first thing you need to know is that your new library director and coworkers are aware of what experiences you do and don't have. So long as you didn't misrepresent your qualifications and/or background, you'll be fine. I've worked with brand new librarians before, and I expected a longer ramp up with them than with a more experienced individual. I can't imagine it will be much different for you. And if it is different, run.

My second piece of advice is to ask your new director for regular meetings, just so you can check in with each other. Ideally, I suggest weekly. Bi-weekly is okay if weekly won't work. Sometimes the hardest thing about a new job is understanding expectations and learning to read the situation, and regular meetings will alleviate a lot of that stress. Additionally, I suggest you take notes during these meetings, then type them up, and email the notes to your director, just to make sure you are both on the same page. (Closing in on a decade since I got my MLIS, I still do this after my monthly meetings with my director. It allows me to clarify any confusion immediately and to make sure I didn't miss anything.)

Third, ask to shadow other librarians (or even professors) to get a sense of how people teach there. [There are other skills where shadowing can help, too, such as handling the reference desk or collection development.] Don't be afraid to steal/borrow ideas and approaches to mix in with your own approach. Also, and I can't stress this enough, look both inside and outside of library science literature to learn how to handle info lit & instructional tech.

Fourth, don't be afraid to ask for help. It's one of the hardest skills to learn - figuring out when enough is enough and getting assistance - but it's more important than almost any skill you'll need to acquire as a newbrarian.

Finally, you'll have an advantage in your first year or so that you should use. You'll be able to see thing that others won't, and you need to realize that perspective is sometimes just as powerful as experience. Sometimes us oldbrarians have well thought out reasons for doing what we do, but sometimes it's because we never realized there were other possibilities. (I'd channel these observations through your director until you get the lay of the land.)

How about you? What other recommendations would you give a brand new librarian?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Arts in the Library, by Heather Moorefield-Lang

Collage by the author, Heather Moorefield-Lang

So as a librarian, I already assume that the library is a central location for books, technology, information, and more. But before I became a librarian, I was a theater teacher. I taught middle school drama for five years full-time, and after I became a middle school librarian I still continued to teach a theatre class when time would allow. As a librarian at the school level, I would have drama performances in the library, art exhibits on the walls and in the stacks, poetry readings, and more. Now that I am at the academic level, I still feel the library, a central building on campus, has the chance not only to be the technology and literary focus on campus but a central arts scene as well.

Ways to Invite the Arts into your Library

  1. Visual Arts: The library is a perfect location to showcase art. So many students, from different departments, come through the library every day. The visual arts are probably the easiest arts-based discipline with which to partner. Talk to your art department about showcasing student work. Have a book building contest with weeded books and see what architecture and engineering students can create. Partner with the public schools and see if K-12 teachers might want to feature their students’ drawings at the academic level. There are so many possibilities. Whether the art is photographic, drawn, painted, sculpted, or built, there is room in the library and students will always enjoy seeing their work displayed in such a public venue.
  2. Theater Performances: Theater takes a little more work. It needs space, although not much room. Actors can make any space work. Find out when theatrical performances are happening on campus. Contact the theater department and see if the directors of the piece might like to give a 10-15 minute preview of the upcoming show. If space is tight in the library, then you can have it outside if weather allows. Another fun option is hosting a night of improvisation or comedy. Poetry slams can also be a really fun and uplifting option.
  3. Music: Inviting musicians and singers to perform during events at the library is a wonderful way to showcase student talent and encourage partnerships between departments. Digital recordings of school performances being played in the lobby or foyer of the library are a nice way to showcase the school’s band, choir, chorus, or orchestra too. Bands and singers make noise, of course, but the days of completely quiet libraries are long gone and again students and faculty will enjoy having their work displayed.
  4. Dance: More than likely the most common way that dance has taken place in the library lately is through the method of flash mob. This is fine, but commonly not under the control of the librarians. Dance performances, like theater, are a possibility for the library and would be great fun. An option would be recording dance performances on campus and featuring them in a viewable format on library televisions, computers, or projectors.

I have visited many libraries around the world and I have seen the arts featured in just about all of them. There have been art exhibits, band performances, dogs dressed in costumes, cake decorating contests, Dance Dance Revolution, improvisation performances, movie nights and much more. Librarians are only limited by their creativity and imagination. All you have to do is get out there, knock on some doors, make some phone or Skype calls, send an email, shake some hands and open up the opportunity. Once faculty and students know that the library is willing, they will want to take part.

Heather Moorefield-Lang is the Education and Applied Social Sciences Librarian at Virginia Tech. She tweets @actinginthelib and her website is This is the second entry she has written for this blog; the previous entry is “When Your Technology Dance Card is Starting to Get Full.”

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Paying It Forward, Paying Back

"Pay It Forward," by Eli Christman, is a CC Licensed photo.

I've long been frustrated with the disparity between what some library science graduate programs teach and what I do at work every day. In fact, this blog is an attempt to fill in that gap. I love my profession, so I want to give back to it. More to the point of this post, this blog is the main way repay the debt I owe to the two directors with whom I worked early on in my career - my way to "pay it forward."

Over the last few months, though, I've found a more direct way to pay it forward. You see, a couple of former students of mine have decided to pursue an MLIS. In one case, the student went to a school out of state. I happen to know a couple of people who teach where he went, so I made sure to introduce them. In the other case, she's going to graduate school nearby but has secured an internship in another part of the country. What was the first thing I did when she told me about the internship? I shot emails to a few librarians I know who live near where she'll be interning, asking and receiving permission to share their email addresses with her. In both cases, both cases, the students were appreciative. In the most recent incident, the librarians to whom I introduced my former student were thrilled to be asked.

It's just a small thing, but it feels important, so I wanted to hear what you all think/do along these same lines. For those of you reading this who are already working in libraries, what do you do to help newbs? And for those of you who are new to libr*, what kinds of things do you wish we would do?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

First Thursday's Just For Fun: National Novel Writing Month

November means a lot of things to people: Thanksgiving, apple cider donuts, Movember, and so on. For me, though, and an ever-growing of community of people online and around the world, it's all about National Novel Writing Month.

Although I think the event's tagline, "Thirty days and nights of literary abandon," captures it all, let me give you a brief overview: the point of it is to write a complete novel in one month. Yup, you read that right: a complete (draft of a) novel. Well, technically, it's a short novel since the goal is 50,000 words, but it's still a novel at that length. You can plot and plan all you want ahead of time, but you don't start the actual writing until November 1. You can declare yourself a winner if you finish by November 30. It's not impossible - just 1,667 words per day - but it is a stretch, especially considering the fact that most people have jobs, families, lives, etc.

Despite the stretch, I have crossed the finished line twice now - in 2010 and 2011. I'm not sure why I've been able to manage it, since I know that plenty of people who start don't finish. All I can say is that there's something freeing about the quantity over quality nature of this quest. First drafts always suck, but I can't always give myself permission to ignore the internal editor. But NaNoWriMo does the trick, every time. She is still there, strong as ever, at the beginning of every November, but since creating something perfect isn't the point, she becomes increasingly easier to ignore.

So, why do I do it?

It's not to get published. I haven't yet done anything with the completed drafts from the past two years, other than a utterly desultory attempt at editing the first couple of chapters of the 2010 project. That's also not the point (even though there are a number of NaNoWriMo projects that have gone on to great things).

The point is to do something completely for fun, completely for me, and with no real goal other than that 50,000 word count. I know that I will, at some point, fall madly in love with my project. I will, perhaps the very next day, fall out of love with it and want to ditch the whole thing. I will, repeatedly, get so lost in the world I've built that I'll be startled by the contrast between it and the world in which I live. And that's why I do it. For me, the point of NaNoWriMo is fun.

Anybody else doing NaNoWriMo this year? Leave a comment?

p.s. For those moments when I can't shut the editor up, I turn to the most evil website there is: Write or Die. There's a particularly cruel setting that will actually start deleting your words if you don't keep a steady typing pace. Cruel and unusual... and effective for breaking through writer's block. I recommend it highly.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Students Are Not You At That Age

"my brains - let me show you them," by Liz Henry

In last week's post, "Ten Things I Didn't Learn in Library School, Academic Edition," the first thing I listed was about how present day undergraduates are not the same as we were. For the most part, it's not a "kids these days don't know nothin'" thing. As I said:

"Think about it this way: if you're an academic librarian (or want to be one) chances are pretty high that you liked college and were a good student, otherwise you wouldn't be thinking about spending your life in academia. Many of the students with whom I talk every day are here either because Mommy &/or Daddy made them, or because it's the next logical step. There will be students who want to be at college, but that's not every student."

After I published the post, I had a few people ask me how I deal with students like this. The truth is that I still struggle with it on a semi-regular basis, although I know that I'm better than I was when I got my first job. I have days, sometimes weeks, when I am instinctually calm and don't have to remind myself of the items I listed below. But I don't get too upset when I do struggle. Practice makes perfect, right?

Anyway, I deal with students by remind myself:
  1. In some ways, students ARE you at that age (but you have probably forgotten what it was like because your brain has finished maturing). To put it colloquially, teenage & early/mid twenties brain chemistry/structure is MAD crazy. Not only are their brains constantly growing and changing, they are doing it at an amazing rate. Another side effect of this is that teens & young adults process social input from a much more primitive part of the brain than you do. Brain chemistry and structure changes are why students can be so surly, so I try to be patient.
  2. The person in front of me could be a first generation college student. Statistics vary from school to school, obviously, but 40% of my undergraduate population falls in this category. I don't. Not only do I come from a long line of college graduates on both sides, both my maternal and my paternal grandfathers taught at the college level. This means that when I arrived at my undergraduate institution, I knew what was expected (at least to some extent). First gen students don't have that knowledge, so I try to help them fill in the gaps.
  3. It's about good customer service skills. Bear with me while I tell you a quick story. I put myself through my first graduate degree by working at a mid-range, fancy-ish restaurant. I had my regulars who always sat in my section. For them, I'd explain the specials and then pretty much get out of their way. I also had plenty of first time customers, even at that fancy pants place. With them, I'd explain every single thing about the restaurant, the menu, the bar, and so on. If I did my job well with a new customer, and the circumstances were right, I'd eventually have a new regular. That's what I want in the library - someone who knows what they are doing and only needs to have occasional pointers - so I put in the time with them when they are freshmen.

Any thoughts? And, for those of you who have a bit of experience, do you have any advice you can add to mine?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ten Things I Didn't Learn in Library School, Academic Edition

Eric Riley wrote a similar post about public libraries that you should also read, since plenty of academic libraries (especially large, urban ones) have the same issues. However, I had a request for a similar post about academic libraries. So here it is, for the most part in no particular order: ten things I - an academic librarian - didn't learn in library school.

1. Undergraduate students are not you at that age. Sometimes the differences can be chocked up to growing up in an earlier era, but not always. Think about it this way: if you're an academic librarian (or want to be one) chances are pretty high that you liked college and were a good student, otherwise you wouldn't be thinking about spending your life in academia. Many of the students with whom I talk every day are here either because Mommy &/or Daddy made them, or because it's the next logical step. There will be students who want to be at college, but that's not every student.

2. Every college/university has its own way of treating librarians. In my first professional position, we were purely members of the professional staff - except we were required to march with faculty in official events like graduation. In my current position, we are a weird hybrid of faculty and staff, without tenure or sabbaticals but with extensive committee responsibilities and voting power in faculty meetings. I know lots of academic librarians who are treated just like faculty, with publish-or-perish mandates hanging over their heads.

3. For most students, asking a librarian for help is a last resort. They will ask other students, and then maybe a teaching assistant or a residence assistant they're starting to sweat. Students will turn to their professors next, and the librarians dead last. If I'm honest with myself, I can admit that I didn't go to the librarians at my undergraduate institution too frequently. But wow, this reticence to ask for help surprised me when I realized it.

4. "We tried that before in 1987, and it didn't work then, so it won't work now." This is an extreme version of resistance to new ideas, but it's not too far off from something that I was told. I don't know that this mentality is exclusive to academic libraries, but it was one of the biggest surprises I encountered after leaving graduate school. While pursuing my MLIS, I spent all that time reading about innovative programs and approaches and being praised for my original ideas. I understand it now, but it was hard to hear at first.

5. Students don't know how to find a book in the stacks. Not all students, but more than you'd expect. This is a corollary to #1 above, but it was a shocker. I distinctly remember the first time I handed a student a piece of paper on which I'd written a call number and got a blank look in response. I grew up going to libraries, so I learned this skill pretty early. That's not everybody's story.

6. Collection development is done differently in every library. Collection development classes are all well and good, but you won't really learn how to do it until the first time you have to order books. From talking to colleagues at other institutions, I know that no two academic libraries do it the same way. Some  have carefully constructed formulas that consider how many classes, students, professors are in a department versus how widely their materials are used versus the direction in which the wind is blowing at that moment. Others divvy the money up evenly. Some academic libraries get offended at the thought of popular reading materials in their collections. Others actively embrace and pursue such ideas. Collection development is all about the context and the parent institution.

7. Members of the faculty can be your best friends, or your worst enemies. It's important to remember that they have their own agendas, and you need to figure out how to marry your goals to theirs. Even if you have faculty status, your jobs are only related to theirs - you aren't doing the same work. This can be a source of friction if you're not careful.

8. The library (the department) is not always in charge of how the library (the space) is used. Everyone will want to use the space. It is prime real estate on most campuses. You may even end up having to share the space with other departments, which has good and bad ramifications.

9. Sex will happen in your library. If you're lucky, the only evidence you'll find will be the used condom. If you're unlucky, you will witness the act and have to do something about it. And yes, masturbation counts in this category. With all those raging hormones and all the porn out there on the web, I'm surprised I haven't witnessed more.

And I've saved the biggest shock I had for last:

10. You will spend more time in meetings than you can imagine. One on one meetings, campus wide meetings, task force meetings, ad hoc committee meetings, standing committee meetings, search committee meetings, and so on. During a good semester, I spend less than 25% of my work hours in meetings. However, I've had weeks where I spent more than 50% of my time in one meeting or another. Some will be useful. Some will be inane. Every once in a while, you'll be in a meeting so bad that you'd swear you had died and gone to hell. True story: I was once part of a campus-wide "retreat" (in quotes because we were still on campus for this meeting) where an administrator actually wanted us to come to a consensus about what we meant by "consensus."

How about the rest of the academic librarians in my reading audience? What shocked you? What did I leave out?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Guest Posts: The Biggest Hits

Don't have a new guest post to publish this week. As usual, that means me asking if you have something you want to see on the blog or write for the blog... if so, get in touch.

In the meantime, though, I thought I'd remind you all of some of the most popular guest posts I've published:

There are 41 other guest posts on a variety of topics, but please let me know if there's some topic you'd like to see covered - for the first time, or again.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Library Science Is Not Enough

Obviously I want you to read libr* stuff, since that's what this blog is. But we need to fight the insularity and get outside the echo chamber. This isn't the first time I've brought this up. Back in April, I wrote a post about the reading I do outside of library science, but that was all about books. This time I want to talk about some of the non-libr* blogs and websites I read for professional development purposes, so here they are:
What about you? What kinds of non-library oriented blogs do you read?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Finding Your Voice, by Maureen Barry

Wright State students help prepare Chesterhill Produce Auction for it's opening during their week-long service trip to southeast Ohio last spring break.

When I was on the job market in 2004-2005, as I was finishing my MLS, I applied for both tenure-track and non-tenure-track positions. I preferred non-tenure because, like many new librarians, I hadn’t yet discovered my voice. Why jump into publishing if I didn’t have anything to say yet? This idea came back to me in the response I got to a question I asked during a phone interview, “What are the benefits of the non-tenure position?”  She said, “I like this situation [non-tenure] because I don’t feel pressured to publish, but I am supported if I want to publish.” 

It wasn’t until about five years into my career that I got the urge to start publishing. It happened when one of my friends, Dr. Sarah Twill, a social work faculty member at my current institution, introduced me to service-learning. Service-learning is a teaching and learning pedagogy that closely ties together course content with service to the community to help solve real-world problems. It’s different from volunteerism in that service learning is a delicate balance of curricular materials, service, and reflection.  It’s also different from internship because an internship is usually done after your coursework is complete. (See Andrew Furco’s continuum for further explanation.)

The more I heard Sarah talk about service-learning, the more I was hooked. One day, I thought to myself:  How can I use service-learning in the for-credit information literacy course that I co-teach? Has it been done? My thought was that incorporating service-learning would attach a real-world component to the course making the class a more meaningful experience not only for me, but also for my students and our would-be community partner.

A journey into the literature revealed NO instances of such a course, although there was some discussion about the parallels between information literacy and service-learning (see Riddle, 2003). Hmm. I realized I might be on to something here, even though no one else appeared to have tried it yet. So I went for it. (If you’d like to read more about the course and how it came to be, see my article, “Research for the Greater Good:  Incorporating service-learning in an information literacy course at Wright State University,” in the June 2011 C&RL News.)

Then I had a light bulb moment near the end of my first quarter of teaching the service-learning information literacy course. I was walking across campus with my supervisor when I said, “I may have found my niche with service-learning.”  She responded, “If you want to be known for service-learning, you need to start a blog.”  All I could think was, “Ugh. Really? A blog? Do I really want to write THAT often?  She’s right though – it’s what we librarians do.” And now, looking back on it, I’m really grateful to her for giving me that push.  At the time, I really didn’t want to blog; but when your boss suggests something, it’s hard to say no.  So, here I am, the self-labeled Service Learning Librarian.    

Because of my blog, I was invited to write a two part piece for LOEX Quarterly (Part 1; Part 2). Loanne Snavely, an academic librarian, recognized from my blog that my course engaged students with the library in a unique way, so she contacted me because she was seeking chapters for Student Engagement and the Academic Library. I have also been invited to be a panelist for the Women’s & Gender Studies Section of ALA’s President’s Program at the annual conference in July 2013. And finally, just a few weeks ago, I was contacted to blind review an article about service-learning in library education.  All of these opportunities presented themselves because of my blog.

In addition to my for-credit information literacy course, my success has helped me seek new opportunities to partner with faculty and instructors who incorporate service-learning pedagogy.  Over the past few years, I helped instructors pair information literacy and service-learning in English composition courses. I was the embedded librarian in an honors interdisciplinary service-learning course about sustainability in Appalachia, co-taught by Dr. Sarah Twill and an instructor in Earth & Environmental Sciences.  This course includes a week-long service trip to southeast Ohio.  Yes, in case you were wondering, I went on the trip.  It was without a doubt the most meaningful interaction I’ve had with students at Wright State.  Another benefit is that these experiences have provided new material about which I can write and present.

Service-learning has been a rewarding way to serve both my community and my profession. I’m grateful that I discovered the concept here at Wright State. Or, perhaps it discovered me. Either way, I found my voice, and I continue to develop it through seeking new service-learning experiences at my institution, giving presentations, writing, and also a little reading, of course.

If you haven’t found your voice yet, don’t worry. It will come. It doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t get discouraged. It took me almost 5 years to figure out what I could possibly offer to my field that was new and different.   

Maureen Barry is the First Year Experience Librarian at Wright State University in Dayton, OH. She tweets @SLLibrarian and blogs at Service Learning Librarian.