Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Day in Pictures, Library Day in the Life Round #8

Here are some highlights from my day yesterday:

As per usual, I started the day feeling jealous of my cat. I love my job, but I'd also love to sleep in more frequently.

Holly Golightly, aka HRH Princess Holly Butt

Once I arrived at work, I found the place empty. This is typical for early mornings at this time in the semester.

First floor, Reference Area (near my office)

I checked my email, did a few random things, and then it was time for a series of student meetings. I'm teaching a First Year Seminar (think freshmen writing on steroids), and I'm meeting with each student individually to go over their first papers.

The Assignment Sheet

Next up was lunch. I typically get out of the library, but I try to eat in the staff room at least once a week and Monday seemed as good a day as any.

Kashi Pita Crisps, Annie's P'sghetti Loops with Soy Meatballs, Clementine Orange, and Water. Yum.

After lunch I checked my social networks, ended up posting and commenting on a couple of things on Google+. It was a combination of professional conversation and pure fun.

Google+ Screen Shot

Once I finished that, I walked around campus, for over an hour, putting up posters to announce my library's new Twitter and Facebook accounts. This was my favorite part of the day, mostly because of the sights I saw along the way.

Roy, One of the Canine Members of the Communication Department
A Feral (?) Cat Near the English House
A Poster "in situ"

After I got back to my office, I spent the rest of the day working on my application materials for Library Leadership Ohio. (I finished them today. Yay!)

Library Leadership Ohio 2012

Not exactly a typical day, but as close to typical as I ever get. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

In case you're unfamiliar with the project, here's some more information about the Library Day in Life Project. Also, here's what I wrote for the last round.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Your Name & Idea Here

For a number of reasons, some of which aren't controllable, I don't have a guest post for today. There are a few lovely people who have agreed to write posts for me, but for whom now is not a good time. I want to continue the general schedule that has worked so well for this blog for the last six months - one post from me and one post from a guest per week, with the monthly pop culture/just for fun post to mix things up - but I need help. That's where you come in.

Established Libr* Professionals:
Do you have some piece of advice that you wish you'd gotten when you were new to the library field? Is there something you wish you'd known about when you were in graduate school &/or training for the job you have right now? Even if you've written for my blog before, if you've got an idea for another post I'd love to hear from you.

Library Science Graduate Student & Newly Minted Librarians:
At the other end of the spectrum, if you're currently studying/training to enter the field or are a brand new librarian, do you have any questions you've always wanted to ask? Alternatively, is there a specific librarian or two who you think would write a fantastic post?

I have a few ideas I'm going to pursue, things that don't necessarily adhere to the parameters I've followed but that I believe would still fit the philosophy of this blog. However, here's my plea: please either comment here or email me (jessicarutholin at gmail dot com) with ideas, suggestions, and offers. Even if it's just a vague I'm-not-qualified-to-write-about-this-but-I've-always-wondered kind of thing, I want to hear from you.

And to say thank you for any and all contributions, here is a video of a ground squirrel wearing a tutu and doing pirouettes:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dealing With Difficult Patrons

If you've come to this post looking for a magic bullet or a checklist, I can't help you. The truth is that, beyond keeping my customer service skills firmly in place, I pretty much handle each situation differently. I say "pretty much" because there is one thing I do in every difficult interaction I have: I don't take their behavior personally.
    Not reacting can be difficult, and if I'm going to be completely honest I have to admit I can't always pull it off. However, here are some things I try to keep in mind:
    1. Everybody is dealing with something. That woman who snaps her fingers imperiously could be going through a divorce. The teenager who won't stay quiet may be overcompensating for the fact that he's got an unrequited crush on someone else at the table.
    2. I could be dealing with someone who has a learning disability, AD/HD, Asperger's, etc. This can manifest in learned helplessness, short-term memory problems, or an inability to perceive certain social cues. With Asperger's and other Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), behaviors that might seem rude (not meeting my gaze, unexpected reactions, echolalia) are just the ASD and have nothing to do with me.
    3. Teenage brains are still developing (this piece on npr.org presents a nice overview). Among other behaviors, this can manifest in emotional responses that are way out of proportion to the cause.
    4. If all else fails, I remind myself that bad behavior comes from somewhere. It's likely that, at some point in the problem patron's past, someone treated him or her poorly and the patron may think that it's acceptable behavior.
    So, when I'm having a hard time with a member of my community, I try to take a deep breath and remind myself of these points. It doesn't always work, but more often than not I can keep my calm. Understanding its causes doesn't make bad behavior easier to handle, nor does it really excuse inappropriate behavior, remind myself that it comes from somwhere does keep me from making a situation worse.

    It's the double-edged sword of dealing with the public: in order to have those fantastic moments when you see the light bulb switch on and you know you've made a difference for a member of your community, you have to risk dealing with the people who make your stomach lurch when they walk in the door. My method helps me keep calm with any and all difficult patron interactions.

    How about you? What are your tricks for dealing with problem patrons?

    Thursday, January 19, 2012

    A Quick-and-Dirty Guide to Government Information Reference Questions, by Shari Laster

    Almost as soon as I decided to go to library school, I knew that I wanted to focus on government documents and government information. To me, government documents research exemplifies the "thrill of the hunt" that attracts people like me to librarianship, while adding healthy doses of both civic engagement learning and outreach opportunities. This one-two punch makes every day on the job worthwhile (if not always as exciting as I make it sound).

    While I was in graduate school, I worked with my university's documents librarian in the collection and at the reference desk, and I took classes on government information resources, business and statistical resources, and legal information. Still, when I started my job as a government documents librarian, I felt like I was on shaky ground when it came to responding to reference questions. I didn't know every resource in the library, let alone on the internet, and I felt like everyone who asked me a question knew more than I did.

    It turns out that this nervousness was misplaced. Students and researchers know more about their disciplines than I do, but they tend to know surprisingly little about the structure of the government and how information, particularly federal government information, is created and made available. By becoming familiar with a few basic tools, I was already in a good position to approach reference questions in a knowledgeable manner. I still needed time, careful thought, and research to respond to questions, but I quickly found that I knew more than I thought I did.

    So that you can start your new job with that same feeling, here are the three fundamental types of government information reference questions:

    1. Questions about the government:
    Although these questions often relate to current events or e-government needs, they can be historical or current, federal or state/local/international, broad or narrowly focused. Resources to answer questions about the government are often found by digging around in agency web sites, searching subscription databases and freely-accessible indexes, and sometimes picking up the phone and calling an agency directly. Occasionally these questions are better answered by a non-governmental entity; for example, government watchdog groups, academic policy publications, and newspapers can be good resources.

    2. Questions about government publications:
    These questions or requests focus on access to a specific publication or resource. I use tools like my library's catalog, the Catalog of Government Publications and its print predecessor (the GPO Monthly Catalog), WorldCat, digital collections like HathiTrust, and subscription databases like ProQuest Congressional. As with any citation request, it is helpful to verify that the citation is correct before attempting to locate the document. Because most U.S. government publications are not protected by copyright, many are available as full-text access versions around the web, or your friendly neighborhood government documents librarian may be willing to scan and email publications to you.

    3. Questions answered with government resources:
    These are the "happy accident" questions where the user may not be aware of government resources that answer the question. For example, Congressional hearings and Congressional Research Service reports provide overviews and research regarding virtually any topic for which Congress has considered legislation. Government agencies also create and publish materials related to their mandate. Some produce educational toolkits on specific topics. These government resources appear with other results in places such as the library catalog of a Federal Depository Library, a traditional search engine or a specialized search engine like search.USA.gov, and even in subscription databases.

    The moral of my story, I suppose, is this: fear not! Government information is all around us, and its bark is often much worse than its bite. For more information, check out the FDLP Desktop, attend meetings of the ALA Government Documents Round Table (it's an open secret that we have the best happy hour at ALA conferences and meetings), scroll through the govdoc-l archives, or visit your local Federal Depository Library.

    Shari Laster is the Government Documents/Reference Librarian at the University of Akron. She is an active member of GODORT and Ohio GODORT, and is currently serving a three-year term on the Depository Library Council. She tweets at @rhonabwy.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    PIPA/SOPA Are Bad News

    Instead of blacking out my site for the protest, I'm going to abstain from social networking and provide information about why I'm opposed and information about how to get in touch with your elected officials to let them know you also oppose it.

    Protect IP Act (PIPA):

    Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA):

    Further Information:

    I'll see you all Wednesday.

    When to Say Yes, or "Another Committee? Are You Crazy?"

    I'm writing this the day before the first meeting of a new committee on which I'll be serving. Yes, I'm already on three campus-wide committees (one of which hasn't met in 2 years - it's my favorite), two library committees, and a partridge in a pear tree. Yes, I am the same person who told you to avoid death by meetings and to avoid burnout. On the other hand, as my director told me, you've got to know "which hill you want to die on," and the idea behind this new committee is important to me - both personally and professionally - so I volunteered, despite my busy schedule. 

    It will get in the way of other projects, but I asked myself some questions about this committee, and knew it would be worth the hassle. What questions did I ask? Well, since you insisted, here they are:
    1. Do you have a choice? One of my current committees must have a librarian. If I hadn't accepted the committee assignment, my boss would have been the one to fill the gap. That's what's known as a no-brainer, so I'm on the committee.
    2. Do you have time for it? If no, can it wait? Some of my projects are "Summer Only" because of how all-consuming they can be. Similarly, I've passed on committees that were interesting because I knew they'd take up too much time.
    3. Would it be politically advantageous? Non-library search committees are a pain and tend to obliterate even dreams of free time, but helping another department by being their token outsider is never a bad idea. That goes double when it's an administrator asking for my help.
    4. Will it look good on your resumé and/or annual report? I detest public speaking when the audience is made up of my peers, but I've started doing it regularly because it looks good. 
    5. Even if you otherwise wouldn't need to be involved, ask yourself is it important to you or just so interesting/fun that you feel you have to? Refereeing late night dodge ball is hard on me since I'm normally in bed by 10 PM and the event always starts at 9:30, but I always volunteer because building relationships with students outside of the library is important to me. And trust me, watching undergraduates take dodge ball that seriously is always a fun time.
    If I can't come with good answers any of the above, I say no. This is more difficult than sounds, but it's necessary sometimes. So choose your yeses wisely, otherwise this could be your epitaph:

    What about you? How do you pick which projects you'll pursue?

    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    Becoming a Departmental Liaison, by Wayne Bivens-Tatum

    Many academic librarians end up becoming the library liaison to one or more academic departments, including librarians who don’t normally work in public services. A good liaison is more than a contact for the academic department. Good liaisons integrate themselves ever so slightly into the academic departments and become a resource faculty choose to contact first about any library issues. I’ve been a liaison to various academic departments and groups throughout my career, and below is some general advice on how to become an effective liaison based upon my experience.

    Get to Know Your Departments
    Sometimes librarians liaise with so many departments that getting to know them all is difficult, but ideally the liaison librarian should know something about the academic subject in question and how the specific department functions. This knowledge can be gleaned from the department website, faculty CVs, formal interviews, or casual discussions. On my list of recommended DOs:
    • Learn faculty research interests
    • Study the curriculum
    • Analyze departmental strengths
    • Look at dissertations or theses if relevant
    • Talk to people

    As you can see, there’s nothing difficult about this, but it requires active rather than passive librarianship. Passive liaisons wait for faculty to find their names and contact them. Active liaisons make their presence and capability known. However, there’s making yourself known and then there’s making a nuisance of yourself. Hence, my list of DON’Ts. Don’t:
    • Constantly send emails giving faculty “important” library news
    • Act as though you are their equal “partners”
    • Pester them

    This goes against the grain of a lot of librarian discourse. Librarians often claim to be the partners of the teaching faculty in the education of the students. Well, sort of, but the teaching faculty don’t see it that way. Regardless, even if it’s true that librarians are equal partners with the teaching faculty, it’s pointless to act on that belief if the faculty don’t agree. The liaison must persuade the faculty members to trust them.

    Things to Know about Faculty
    To gain that trust, it’s important not to pester them, but you also must understand their work and how they feel about the library. Here are a few things I’ve learned about professors over the years:
    • They’re busy
    • They don’t care about your problems
    • They don’t care about library issues that don’t affect them
    • They don’t think the library is the center of the universe
    • They just want their stuff, as quickly as possible

    To the idealistic new librarian, this might sound daunting or depressing, but it’s just the way the world is, so it’s best to accept it. However, there are a couple of other things it’s useful to know:

    • They’re around a lot longer than the students
    • If we show we can help them, they’ll direct students to us

    Sometimes, liaisons are so eager to get to students that they forget who really holds the power. Students come and go, but professors remain for decades. If you want to integrate yourself more into the research lives of the students, cultivate the faculty and build relationships with them.

    Building Relationships
    Building relationships with departments takes some effort. I have some general advice, but how specifically to apply that advice will depend on the situation you find. Things you should do to start building relationships:
    • Get to know the department chair and administrator
    • Find out how things work
    • Cultivate the faculty who use the library most
    • Show you’re interested in and know something about their subject. (And if you don’t know something, learn something.)
    • Look for problems to solve
    • Solve the problems

    Librarians like to gather information by searching databases, but this kind of “human intelligence” is best acquired in the field. If you get to know the department administrator and the chair of the department, it’s easier to find out how things work. It’s easier to cultivate the faculty who use the library the most if you know something about how scholars in the field work. For example, historians need different and more extensive library resources than analytic philosophers.

    The final two suggestions are the most important, but the most difficult to specify out of context. The key is to remember that the faculty aren’t there to solve your problems, whatever they might be. You’re there to solve their problems, and the more problems you solve the greater a resource you’ll be and the more they’ll rely upon and trust you.

    The problems vary. As an example, years ago I was the de facto tech support for a department chair because the department’s tech support wasn’t very reliable. Not my job? Not what I went to library school for? True. However, that support led to a very close relationship to the department in question. On another occasion, I ended up overseeing a private departmental library. That wasn’t part of my job description, but it built useful relationships I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to develop. The trick is finding problems to solve, but the good (or rather, bad) thing about libraries is that there’s almost always a problem that can be solved. If faculty have problems with the library and you solve those problems (important step!), then you’re on your way to success.

    Wayne Bivens-Tatum is the Philosophy and Religion Librarian at Princeton University. Read his Academic Librarian blog at blogs.princeton.edu/librarian.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2012

    Adjuncting as Outreach and Marketing, or Professor Jessica is in the House

    I'm pretty busy right now because I've been spending a lot of time getting ready for the new semester. You see, I teach as an adjunct professor at the same college where I'm a librarian. I've taught for the education department, the English department, and this semester (not for the first time) for the Writing Across the Curriculum program. I'll be teaching a First-Year Seminar (FSEM), which means I'll be teaching college freshmen how to write, read, speak, eat, breath, dream like successful college students. Okay, maybe not those last three, but by the time the semester is over my students will feel that way.

    This is not easy work, especially when you layer it on top of my full time librarian position, but it's worth it. And I don't mean the money, even though I do get paid above and beyond my librarian salary to adjunct. No, I mean the way this part-time job of mine changes the relationship I have with members of my library's community. By spending so much time with students, I get to build a deeper relationship with them. Further, I have gained a reputation as tough but fair and as a go to person. It also enhances my relationship with faculty. When I am trying to convince a professor to change something about a research assignment, or to give me more time with his or her students, I can speak from experience about how to fit these things into a course schedule. This has helped me gain respect from faculty, especially since the FSEM gig has a well-deserved reputation for being a tough one. Lots and lots of grading plus it ends up being a bit of a gatekeeper course. Finally, and most importantly, it gives me a built in marketing and outreach platform. "Did you know the library has a gender studies database?" is easy to work into conversations with students when I'm the professor of the class, and I hear more about faculty research and curriculum interests when attending an informal lunch meeting of all FSEM professors.

    I've talked to other academic and high school librarians who also teach at their institutions. I also know some public librarians who teach at colleges near their libraries. From these discussions, I assume that it's just as rewarding for them as it is for me. If you can manage it, it's a part-time job that I recommend.

    What do you think? Have you taught any semester long classes? What was it like for you? If you haven't, do you want to? Why/why not?

    Thursday, January 5, 2012

    *Party Girl* is Still My Favorite Movie About Librarians

    Image from MoviePad.

    I'll say it again: Party Girl is still (and will likely forever be) my favorite movie about librarians. You can have Noah Wiley, Katharine Hepburn, and Rachel Weisz. All I want is Parker Posey as Mary, a party girl who decides what she really wants from life is to become a librarian - MLIS and all. Why do I feel this way? A few things come to mind.

    First, the fashion is as much a character as Mary:

    Image from NylonMag.com

    Second, the music is deliciously mid-90s:

    Finally, and most importantly, this movie is fairly realistic in its portrayal of the profession. Sure, there's a rom com plot, but there are *gasp* real librarians. They come in different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, genders, ages, etc. There's discussion of master's programs, the relative merits of working in different kinds of libraries, and the script writers even included reference interviews.

    For my money (and I mean that literally since I own it on DVD) this is the best movie about librarians out there.

    What do you think? Is this your favorite? If not, what is?

    Tuesday, January 3, 2012

    Weeding is Where It's At: Deacquisitioning in a Small, Academic Library

    Queen Anne's Lace, one of my favorite weeds.
    (Picture from Jeffrey S. Pippen)

    Simply put, collection development means both adding to and subtracting from a library's collection. That's why calling this activity weeding is so appropriate: both adding and subtracting are necessary in gardening and in collection development. I'm not 100% sure why, but I find weeding more satisfying than any other facet of collection development. Perhaps it's to do with how well I know a section after weeding, or maybe it's the satisfaction of having a physically attractive collection when I'm done. I know there are other librarians who agree with me, but it still seems like we don't weed enough.

    I've done a lot of weeding in my career (although not as much as I'd like), and I've come to realize that the process is halfway between an art and a science. There are some clearly defined steps I take, but there's always the chance of something undefinable getting in the mix. Further, how I approach weeding a fiction collection is a bit different from how I approach weeding a science collection. To be truthful, it's not an easy process to describe, but there are some general things I always consider:
    1. The physical book. This starts with a general browse of a section. If a book catches my attention, I pull it off the shelf to examine it more closely. I consider whether or not I was able to read the title on the spine, check the strength of the binding, look for markings and other damage, etc.
      • If a book is in poor condition but I still want to keep it, the book might get replaced or rebound, depending on costs, availability, and the extent of the damage.
    2. The importance of the author/work. I try to keep all major award winners (Pulitzer, Newbery, and so on). I also try to keep seminal works. For instance, there's something in me that doesn't like the thought of a fiction collection without authors like Oates, Dostoyevsky, Fitzgerald, etc. 
      • If I'm at all unsure about a book's importance, I check with the faculty in the relevant department(s).
    3. Its role in my library's collection. If it's nonfiction, I look to see what else we have on the topic. If it's fiction, I check if there are other copies of the same book.
      • Multiple copies of a novel are fine if I know someone teaches that particular author. For instance, we have multiple copies of Pride and Prejudice because we have an Austen scholar on campus. Similarly, we have more books about the literature of medicine than you'd expect of a library this size, but Biomedical Humanities is one of our majors.
    4. Its role in our consortium's collection. If there are more than 20 other copies available in Ohio, that's a vote against keeping the particular volume. Conversely, if the copy in my library is one of the few, I keep it.
      • This is not a strict rule. I've kept books where there are 50+ other copies in our consortium if it circulates a lot.
    5. Circulation history. How many times has it been checked out and/or renewed? Considering the size of my institution, and the nature of the library, just one check out in the last couple of years can be enough to save a novel. Also, with nonfiction, there are some books that never get checked out but that get used frequently.
    6. The undefinable qualities. There is, and should be, some wiggle room in weeding decisions. Any time I've kept a book where I had no reason to do so, this factor was always the reason. Modern Breeds of Livestock by Hilton Marshall Briggs, published in 1958, is my favorite example of this consideration. You see, there's no reason for my last library to have this book. It's a tiny, two year school, and they have nothing to do with agricultural studies. I doubt this book has ever gone out, but it is so dear and so misplaced that I just had to keep it. I believe that you need a couple of books that don't belong in your library because those titles give a library character.
    The way I've described it here makes it seem like a linear process, which it isn't. Not really. Sometimes I start with a list of books that haven't circulated much, or with a book that's about to be shelved that catches my attention. The most important part of the process is starting it. After all, Seneca spoke the truth when he said, "It does not matter how many books you may have, but whether they are good or not.”

    What about you? How do you feel about weeding?

    Monday, January 2, 2012

    Another Change in the Posting Schedule

    Because of changes in my schedule for the upcoming semester, I'm going to need to shift my posting schedule again. For the foreseeable future it will be Tuesdays (new posts from me) and Thursdays (new guest posts).

    As a bonus for coming to look at this update, here's a completely gratuitous clip from Doctor Who: