Thursday, May 31, 2012

How to Prepare to be a Subject Specialist Librarian, by Kirstin Dougan

Dear library school student,

Some people enter library school knowing exactly what they want to specialize in—academic or public, metadata or reference, archives or schools. Others need to take several classes or an independent study or practicum in an area before they know what path they want to follow. There are several things you should do to prepare yourself for the profession if you come to library school knowing you want to be a subject specialist. These same steps can help you decide if that is the path for you if you are undecided.

Before I get into my suggestions, I want to warn you that you shouldn’t put all of your hopes into getting a graduate assistantship or hourly position in the library specialty of your choice. There will be a lucky handful of people who get to do this, but economics mean that these opportunities are available for fewer and fewer students. Don’t use that as an excuse to not get as much exposure as possible to your desired specialty.

Back to my main theme, though, you should acquaint yourself with what it means to be a subject librarian in the area that interests you. To do this you should seek out the relevant specialist on your campus and talk to him or her—preferably before your last semester in the program! Take time to cultivate this relationship. The subject specialist can be a mentor for you throughout your library school career. Most are happy to give advice about coursework, projects, job applications, etc.

Find the library association for that subject and see what kind of information they offer. Many have information online about becoming a librarian in their specialty. Attending a conference may be out of your means, but many library associations offer assistance or scholarships to students wanting to attend a conference, so it’s worth pursuing. Some associations even have smaller regional meetings that are more affordable. You might be able to carpool with other library school students from your area.

Look at job ads in that specialty.  See what sorts of skills and experience are being required. In some specialties, like music, if you are the only librarian for that subject on campus, you may be required to do public service, instruction, and cataloging. However, there are also institutions that need people solely to catalog music materials or to provide music reference service. Looking at job ads will give you an idea of the types of classes you should take and experiences you should seek out while you are still in school.

Once you’ve confirmed that you want to be a subject specialist you should take all of the relevant classes in that area offered by your school. Make sure to round out with classes in areas like cataloging, collection development, copyright, digital libraries, instruction, and special collections, as these are all areas that the average subject specialist should have some knowledge of, even if they don’t have direct responsibilities for them.

Do at least one independent study or practicum. These are especially useful if, for example, you know you want to be a music cataloger but your school only offers a general cataloging course. Don’t wait until your last semester to approach the relevant subject librarian on campus to ask for advice, or to ask for a practicum or independent study. The reason for this is two-fold. First, if you say you are serious about being a subject specialist in this area and we haven’t ever seen you (in our class or in our library) until now, we will wonder why. Second, we often have limited time to offer independent studies or practicums. If you wait too long, we may not have a spot for you that semester.

But, you say, I’ve got an undergraduate degree in this field or a masters (or PhD!) in the subject; of course I’m qualified to be a librarian on this subject! Just as liking books does not make you qualified to be a librarian, knowing something about a particular subject does not make you qualified to be its librarian. Every subject specialty has attendant issues that aren’t necessarily obvious to students in that discipline. Take time to educate yourself about the field so that you can get the education and experiences you need while in library school. This will make you a much stronger job candidate in the long run.

Kirstin Dougan is the Music and Performing Arts Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She tweets both
@kmdougan and @mpalillinois.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

That's Still My Jam, Or, The Continued Applicability of Ranganathan's Five Rules of Library Science

Before I get into the heart of my post, I want to remind you of the Five Laws that Ranganathan proposed in 1931:
  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.
Set aside the quibbling about books versus electronic resources versus movies versus whatever, and the prescience of good ol' Shilayi Ramamrita Ranganathan shines through, even to today's libraries. Or, to get back to my music metaphor, his proposal "has a good beat, and you can dance to it" even now.

This kind of thinking applies to any kind of library, to any kind of resource, and to any kind of person using a library. We don't have Westlaw at my library, but we don't have lawyers or even a pre-law program. On the other hand, we do subscribe to most of the really important databases for the disciplines represented by our faculty. We have a communication department, so we have Communication and Mass Media Complete. We have PsycInfo for our psychology people. And so on, and so on.

Similarly, we have a strong and growing popular reading collection. I know there are still people out there who think librarians should be the arbiters of good taste. That we should guide our patrons away from trash and towards "literature" (imagine those quote marks as sarcastic air quotes). You know what? Forget that. First of all, plenty of authors who are considered high literature these days were considered popular fiction in their own times. Jane Austen, anyone? Second, trying to tell people what they should and shouldn't read goes against Ranganathan's ideas.

In case you've forgotten, or in case you haven't been reading my blog for long, let me remind you what the community I serve is like. I work at a small, liberal arts college that is in a semi-rural part of Northeast Ohio. The nearest public library is in the next town over, but most of the students who attend my college don't have a car so the next town over is still out of reach. We are part of the OhioLINK consortium, which gives the community access to more books than you can imagine, but even those materials take 3-5 business days to arrive.

Taking all of this into account, some people would still question my collection development decisions. Why do I have the "Hunger Games" series? Why do I plan to buy the "Fifty Shades of Gray" series in the new fiscal year? Why did I add a copy of The Overton Window to our collection even though Glenn Beck's politics make me want to scream? My answer: because of Ranganathan.
  1. Books are for use. I know these books will get used. Our copy of Hunger Games doesn't seem to get reshelved much these days. As soon as it's returned, out it goes again. That kind of thing doesn't happen that frequently at a library like mine.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book. I have no personal interest in Twilight or the uber-popular fan fiction it spawned, but readers in my community do. Further, our rhetorician contributed a chapter to a book about Twilight, so I know I need to have the "Fifty Shades of Gray" books.
  3. Every book its reader. I do lots of hand-selling, successfully, for our popular reading collection. There are a couple of members of the English department who are always open to a new graphic novel.
  4. Save the time of the reader. Although I don't mind waiting, most people don't want to wait 3-5 days for a book to arrive. They want to start reading it NOW NOW NOW, especially when it comes to pleasure reading. That's why we have books by Jennifer Crusie and Les Roberts and Stephen King. If a member of my community comes in looking for something fun to read, I can save them time by having these things on hand.
  5. The library is a growing organism. This is the most important of all of the laws. The library grows in response to the stimulus provided by the environment. I'm lucky in that there are many members of the faculty who teach popular literature, so I have curricular support/stimulus for my efforts. I'd still buy the same kind of books even if I didn't, because this is a lot of what the students and staff on my campus want to read. Back to my original music metaphor once again: you cannot dictate what kind of music is going to be popular, or how sub-genres of styles are going to evolve. Just as you cannot tell people what they should and shouldn't read.
It all comes down to the fact that I have Infinite Kung Fu in my collection for the same reason I have Atomic Comics or Writer M. D.: my application and understanding of Ranganathan's Laws.

What about you? Do you agree with the way I've interpreted S. R. R.'s Laws? Why/why not? How do you integrate them into your own collection development philosophy?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

So, You Want to be a Museum Librarian?, by Kristin LaLonde

Congratulations! Being a Museum Librarian is a noble pursuit and you are brilliant for considering it. Working as a librarian within a museum setting is pretty great for several reasons but there isn’t much information out there on this sort of librarianship. So here are some things you should know.

What do you DO?

Well, it depends! In my job as the librarian at the Arab American National Museum, my role has several different facets. The Library & Resource Center is, strictly speaking, a research library devoted to collecting books and media by and about Arab Americans, their experiences, culture, and history. Unlike many museum libraries, my library is available to the public without the need of an appointment or admission to the museum so my patrons also vary wildly, from Grad Students working on their dissertations to people walking in from the street with questions about something they saw on TV. I help my co-workers research upcoming exhibits; I catalog (a lot); I seek out media in weird places; and I am in MANY meetings and much, much more. But typically, the role of the Museum Librarian is largely archival in nature since they are developing collections of somewhat unique items for perpetuity and making them accessible (with restraints) to interested parties. So that’s important: if you’re interested in being a librarian in a museum, you should have some archival experience since you will probably be either in an archiving department or do some archiving yourself.

Work Environment

Depending on the size of your museum, odds will be good that you are going to be a Solo-Librarian or work with a very small staff. This means that you will need to be prepared to do EVERYTHING, and I do mean everything: collection development, reference, circulation, cataloging, programming, strategic planning, budgeting, and yes, you’ll have to shelve books, too. Your co-workers will likely not be other librarians; they will be archivists and museum professionals, which means different terminologies and needs, since your co-workers will likely be your main patron base. The library will be but one department in a larger eco-system so you have to be prepared to promote yourself and your library within your organization at every opportunity. This can sometimes be difficult but your days will be varied and pretty interesting.

What’s Your Specialty?

As you would imagine, museums are usually focused on one particular area, theme or group. The American Association of Museums reports that there are about 17,500 museums across the United States, many of them with a unique or regional focus. What does this mean for the budding Museum Librarian? That means you should have some expertise in an area because your Museum overlords will be looking for someone who will help with research on their museum’s theme. The most generalized specializations for Museum Librarians will be Art History and Public History, but your specializations can vary wildly. Though the opportunities will be fewer, if you can get the job as a museum librarian in your niche subject area, life can be pretty sweet.

Speaking of Special...

Museum Libraries are considered to be Special Libraries, which often have their own sets of rules outside of the world of Public or Academic Libraries. I find that a lot of the advice, trends, and hoopla that come from the usual library sources don’t apply to my library or patron base. Sometimes it peeves me off when I read someone going on about what Libraries are all about and they completely disregard the role of Special Libraries, but usually there are some kernels of wisdom I can adapt to my own library’s circumstances. This means that you’ll have to look elsewhere for networking and trends that apply to you; which can sometimes be hard to come by. Be prepared to adapt, hack, and modify everything.

Networking as a Museum Librarian

I will tell you, straight up, it is difficult to network as a Museum Librarian or any Special Librarian for that matter. Most librarians you will meet, online or in-person, are public or academic, so you sometimes have to seek out your peers. Museum Librarians are few and far between in most geographic areas so if you want some in-person networking action you’ll have to do some work. In my area of Metro Detroit, I created the group “Museum Libraries of Detroit” and reached out to the librarians at The Henry Ford, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Holocaust Center Memorial to do some collaborative programming. Though the true benefit of this group was to meet and discuss some of the unique things about being a Museum Librarian, the programming was just an added bonus.

If you’re looking for networking on a more national scale, there are a few options. If you are looking into being an art museum librarian there is the Art Libraries Society of North America. The Association of College and Research Libraries division of ALA is also a helpful one. I would personally recommend joining the Special Library Association and joining the Museum, Arts and Humanities Division and not just because I’m the chair-elect, though that could be an additional incentive for you.

Get out of the Library

As a Museum Librarian, who is specialized on a specific theme or area, you CANNOT limit your networking to just other librarians. What organizations do your researchers and patrons belong to? Join them. What blogs do they read? Read them. Do you think I could get anything done in my library by just talking to other librarians? Heck no. For my position, I am constantly doing outreach to other Arab American organizations, as well as authors, musicians and scholars to keep up on what is happening and what people are researching. In addition, you should be getting involved in national and state museum organizations and seeing how your library fits in to their visions and goals. This is all in the name of ensuring that you are relevant and that whatever you are working on is on track with your larger organization’s future.

What’s The Takeaway?

Being a Museum Librarian is sometimes difficult and to be successful you will have to take a lot of initiative to make your own way and build up your library. Keeping all of this in mind, being a Museum Librarian is a LOT of fun. I do at least 5 interesting or cool things every single day at work. I have hung out with George Takei, written a speech for Diane Rehm, talked shop with Geoff Johns at DC Comics, laughed with countless amazing authors and poets, met a woman in a shady parking lot to get a paper bag full of donated books and lived to tell the tale. And everything I do, I know I am serving a larger mission of public knowledge and understanding about a subject, in my case the humanity and contribution of Arab Americans. At the end of the day, that makes any difficulties and complications totally worth it.

So if you’ve got the guts, join the ranks of Museum Librarianship!

Kristin LaLonde manages the Library & Resource Center at the Arab American National Museum in Michigan, the only museum of its kind in the world. She is the 2012-2013 Chair-Elect for the Museums, Arts & Humanities Division of the Special Libraries Association, founder of the group Museum Libraries of Detroit and manager of the Arab American Book Award, a national literary award program. She occasionally blogs at Action Librarian and she is @shinyinfo on Twitter, where she mostly talks about Benedict Cumberbatch and the television show Ancient Aliens.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That, Or, How I Picked Sessions at LOEX

I'm still mulling over what I want to write about the presentation I gave at LOEX this year. It went well, for sure. People laughed at my jokes and asked the right kinds of questions when I was done, so I'm counting it as a success. But that's a post that's still percolating. Instead, I'm going to tell you about something else that I did at LOEX.

This may come as a surprise, since most of what I see written about conferences is about networking while there, but I attended some sessions. For me, the whole point of attending conferences is professional development. I know, you're shocked. Bear with me, though. I want to explain how I pick sessions because I was clueless about conferences at the beginning of my career.

At LOEX...

  1. I attended some sessions that will benefit current projects. For instance, we're starting up an online presence - blended learning mostly - so at LOEX I went to a couple of sessions about converting and updating online information literacy courses. The biggest thing I learned from these sessions is that I've already done my homework and that I'm ready to do this thing. 
  2. I also picked some that could help with future projects. Chris Sweet, of Illinois Wesleyan University, gave an amazing presentation about how he teamed up with a service learning course to integrate information literacy. Sweet's assertion is that service learning and information literacy have the same end goals. This session was one of the best I attended, and his ideas got me so fired up that I made an appointment for next week to talk about Sweet's ideas with our director of service learning.
  3. Finally, and this is the thing I always neglected in the past, I went to a couple of things just for the fun of it. I attended a session about graphic novels and I watched the lightning talks (I'm not sure I could give an entire talk in 7 minutes, so I wanted to see others try it). 

Yes, I make sure to go to sessions that help me develop as a professional, but all work and no play make Jessica a dull librarian, so I make sure to have some fun as well.

How about you? How do you pick sessions at conferences? Or, if you've never been to one, what kinds of sessions do you think you'd like to see?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Breaking Away: Networking like a Cyclist, by Daniel Ransom

Networking. It can be a big, scary word, especially for young librarians constantly told that they need to “network” to get a job. There’s a preconception that networking is a tense, nerve-wracking process by which a job-seeker constantly puts themselves in the paths of decision-makers (department heads, directors, hiring managers) until getting magically exhumed into employment. Alternatively, that magic moment can come when someone asks their cousin who knows a guy who is friends with said director, and somehow all of that leads to a job. Frankly, this isn’t all that realistic. You can never expect to just march into a director’s office and walk out with a job – a restraining order is more likely.

I’d like to remind all young librarians and MLIS students that it doesn’t have to be like that. Networking can (and should) be lively and even fun. I know I have benefited just by being friends with energetic, ambitious peers, even if those peers were similar early-career librarians with iffy employment (perhaps even competitors for the same diminished list of job opportunities).

Indulge me as I twist this into a cycling analogy (the only chair I like more than one in a comfy library is the bike seat). To start, a simplified glossary: the “peloton”, from the French for “little ball,” is the bulk of riders in a professional road race (such as the Tour de France) riding close to each other in a big group. There is safety in the peloton; in a large group, you are protected from wind and hazards. There is also danger in the peloton; if one rider crashes, many crash; and, if you always finish with the peloton, you can never win. In our analogy, the peloton is the nameless, faceless hoard of MLIS-holders all applying for the same short list of jobs.

Another key term in cycling is “slipstreaming” (or “drafting”). A bike with a rider pushes air and wind aside as it moves forward. Another rider right behind the lead rider benefits by not having to work as hard to maintain the same speed – the slipstream formed by the front rider helps “pull” along the second rider. The more riders work together, the more amplified this effect becomes (except for that poor rider working so hard at the front, but a good group rotates who “pulls”). A group riding together forms a “paceline” (a far friendlier word than the ominous “networking”).

Finally, there’s a “breakaway,” which is either a single rider or a group of riders who move out in front of the peloton in the hopes of winning the race.

The solo breakaway almost always gets pulled back into the peloton.
Photo by flickr user Team Traveller [sic] used via Creative Commons license.

Inevitably, thanks to the powers of the slipstream, solo riders who attempt to breakaway from the peloton are almost always caught. They exhaust themselves working alone and eventually get pulled back in by the riders who are working together. However, when the breakaway features a group of riders, it is much more likely to be successful. They can work together, rotate who rides in the front, and draft behind each other to build up a lead over the peloton. They each succeed by making sure they all succeed. Winning a cycling race is hard, but the key to victory is to be a part of that cooperative breakaway.

Three breakaway cyclists work together to stay ahead of the chasing peloton.
Photo by flickr user mdavidford used via Creative Commons license.

I’m sure you’ve figured out where I’m going with this analogy. Similar to cycling, , trying to secure a library position – or even just a job interview – can be daunting. How to stand out? Write an intellectually stimulating blog? Submit articles to professional and academic journals? Sharpen those code-writing skills? Spend time volunteering? Pull out that rolodex and attempt some old-fashioned networking? Those are all worthwhile endeavors. Keeping up on all of it, though, is exhausting, especially if you’re feeling isolated and alone. You’re the cyclist pushing into that headwind with no one to help move it aside, with a peloton looking to swallow you up.

That’s why you want to be in a breakaway group. Surrounding yourself with ambitious early career professionals – even unemployed ones – will help you keep up and even get ahead. When I sit down in a social setting with other early-career librarians, we talk and share professional ideas, even in casual conversations. I hear about what other people are doing – their projects, articles, grants or scholarships, and so on. Their enthusiasm and energy is contagious, and that helps me get things done, which in turn makes the work feel less like a burden and more like an exciting challenge.

I know what you’re thinking: How do you find those other ambitious early-career librarians to surround yourself with? If you’re in an MLIS program, introduce yourself to the folks who are helping run student groups or other organized activities. Odds are that other MLIS students want the same things you do.  If you’ve already graduated, use social media to try and find other librarians in your area. Organize a meet-up. Start with a couple friends – if they each invite a couple more, you’d be surprised how quickly a nice size group can come together (that’s what my friend and I did two years ago to create the Information Amateurs Social Club, which is now nearly a hundred and fifty members strong, drawing from the Bay Area alone).

Never worry about how some of those people might be competition. Is it possible both you and a friend will apply for the same job? Of course, just like every rider in the breakaway group fantasizes about crossing the finish line first. But the fact is, for every friend of yours who applies for a job you want, dozens if not a hundred strangers will apply too. If you can’t get that job, wouldn’t you rather your friend get it than a stranger? Who knows, perhaps that friend will later help you secure an interview at that same place, or provide you a professional reference that comes in handy down the line. In a decade or two, some of the friends you make now will be library directors and department heads, which will open up even more opportunities for you.

Lastly, as I mentioned above, in a well-organized breakaway group, every rider takes turns riding lead. If you have a friend who is struggling to keep up – he or she can’t seem to get a job, or they are struggling to stay motivated – pull them along behind you for a bit. Offer to review their résumé, do a practice interview with them, or offer to collaborate on a paper or a poster session at a conference. It can keep them from falling back into that anonymous peloton, and they’ll remember to help you out someday when you’re struggling. We’re always stronger when we work together.

Networking the old-fashioned way is hard. You can’t always spend your day hobnobbing with the high and mighty. But if you take the time to socialize with your peers, people in the same position as you, you’ll be surprised at how fast that helps you move.

Enjoy the ride, my friends. I’ll see you in the paceline.

When Daniel Ransom is out of the bike saddle, he's the Librarian for Research and Electronic Resources at Holy Names University in Oakland, California, where he provides reference services, information literacy instruction, and manages electronic resources. He is also the co-founder of the Information Amateurs Social Club and can be found on twitter and tumblr using the handle @ThePinakes, the Ancient Greek term for the catalog at the Great Library of Alexandria.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Summer Plan of Attack

I've never been secretive about how much I like the academic calendar. The ebb and flow, the cyclical nature of the work, means my job almost never gets boring. Because the regular school year just ended - graduation was on Saturday - I'm faced with another change because the summer schedule has taken over. I know the relief and enjoyment of peace and quiet will soon give way to abject terror as I think about all the summer projects I want to complete. Summer break really isn't that long, no matter that it seems like forever at this end of it. All of this means it's time for me to sit down with a pad of paper, a pen, and a calendar so I can plot out the next three months.

Before I go much further, I want to acknowledge that I learned a lot of this from a friend of mine who is a member of the foreign languages department at my college. I have tweaked this to make it fit my circumstances, though, so here is the general process I will follow:
  1. Write down every "to do" for this summer, both personal and professional. This list will include everything from writing a new marketing plan for the library to cleaning behind the refrigerator at my home. Even the seemingly insignificant things (I really need a new litter box, for instance) will still take time and effort, so onto the list they will go. Also, I make sure to include at least a couple of just-for-me things.
  2. Estimate how long each item will take, then multiply that by 1.5. Knowing whether something will take me hours or days helps me schedule them. Things always take longer than you think, so I try to accommodate that in my planning process. This way, if I get sick or have something assigned to me at the last minute, I'll still have time.
  3. Figure out all the steps for each item. "Creating and finalizing a wayfinding plan" is on my summer list, but that's not one discrete step, that's the whole project. Instead, I will write down things like, "inventory existing signs" and "update map of 3rd floor."
  4. Establish priorities. Sometimes this will be setting priorities for myself. For example, even though it will go on the list, I doubt I'll have time to learn how to play guitar this summer. Sometimes prioritizing will mean talking to my coworkers and my director. Depending on the project in question, I may even need to take the needs of our parent institution into account. (Actually, reexamining priorities is a regular part of my work flow.)
  5. Comb through the list for things to cut/put on a back burner. I don't know about you, but I am always more ambitious than is good for me. Step 1 is supposed to be a brain dump, getting everything on paper to clear my thoughts for later steps, so this will include things that aren't as important and/or that can wait.
  6. Map it out on a calendar, with hard deadlines. My process makes it so that writing it down before entering it into my Outlook calendar helps, but you might feel more comfortable starting with an electronic calendar. Even if I have to assign the deadlines myself, I do. It's easy to put things off if there isn't a set date attached to the project.
  7. Find a way to ensure accountability. Sometimes it will be a promise to my boss. Sometimes it will be a friend. Sometimes it will just be a note on my refrigerator that reminds me of something I want to do. If I don't find a way to hold myself accountable, it becomes way too easy to let it slide until the end of the summer.
This is the second time I've planned my summer this way, but I got so much done the last time I followed this process that I'm actually looking forward to it this time. It's important to remember that this is a reiterative process - new things come up and old things become less important. Another warning: you will likely feel overwhelmed as you look at the big, brain dump list, but that's normal and to be expected. Finally, it's not a cure-all. You still have to follow through with the plans you make. Regardless, it's served me well in the past because I know, at the other end of the summer, I will have conquered much of my "to do" list. I'll be a "To Do List Commando."

How about you? How do you handle it when you have a lot of unstructured time at work and lots of things to accomplish?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Answering Questions With Questions, by Carol Baker

As an almost ready to graduate MLS student in the pre-online catalog, pre-Internet world, it was my first day at work as a professional librarian and this was my first reference question.   “Can you give me information about railroads?”  It seemed to be a simple question, easily answered with books on railroading, but this was not so.  Since that day, every time I assist a patron, I silently bless my Reference class professor.  He gave me the most valuable piece of advice I received in my training; “The patron never truly asks for exactly what they really want.” This is why the reference interview is so important.  In this situation, it took many questions. I kept repeating things back to the patron in order to narrow down and discover that what he actually wanted was a book that gave him information about the glass insulators on the electric poles which ran along railroad tracks.

When a question is asked, it only takes a moment to respond with a clarifying question.  Are you doing research or are you looking for something for personal use?  Is it for you or has someone asked you to find them this information?  A recent question from a teen involved health issues of digestive tract organs.  “No, it is not for a paper. It’s for my Dad.” Further discussion revealed it wasn’t really for her father, but for her father’s girlfriend; making it appropriate to give the young lady books which included these health issues as they related to women’s health.

Some situations need to be handled gently, especially ones concerning medical or legal information.  Doctors will sometimes send patients to get information about their health. In one instance, our staff dealt with finding information for an individual whose doctor sent her to learn about heart transplants, since she would need one.  Another, more distressing situation, was the patron who came in to ask about the diagnosis she was given by a doctor; all she had been given by him was the name of the condition.  The librarian had to hand the patron material which informed her that her condition was terminal.  Since the staff member knew that the patron’s interest was personal rather than academic, she gave materials which were less clinical as well as those written from personal perspectives.

Reference questions are also opportunities to highlight other options for patrons.  Requests for GED or other tests allow the librarian to direct patrons to online databases that include reviews and practice tests.  Ones for automotive books can lead into AllData and Chiltons databases.  Language book requests can be an introduction to library audiobooks, CD-ROMs, and databases.

The best thing about these questions is how they will educate you. Patrons’ questions will reveal both the strengths and weaknesses of your collection. Through reference interviews you will get to know your patrons; their needs, wants, and interests, and, most importantly who they are as a part of your library community.

Carol Baker has worked in libraries since she was a teenager.  Since getting her MLS, she has worked almost 36 years at the Newton Falls Public Library [infamous for its 44444 zip code] as Children's Librarian, Special Services Librarian, Youth Services Coordinator, Assistant Director, and currently Adult Services Librarian.  As in all small systems sometime these positions have been simultaneous. She features their library and reference questions in the Ask the Librarian newspaper column and on her blog,

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chairing Committees, Or, Why Herd Cats When You Can Just Dangle String?

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (otherwise known as my life before librarianship), I held a couple different management positions: one at a bookstore and one at a fast food restaurant. As rewarding as it can be when things go smoothly, being in charge is difficult sometimes. However, as challenging as those jobs were, chairing a committee or a work group is way harder. There's a reason why people use the phrase "herding cats" so frequently when they talk about higher ed.

The thing is, though, that it doesn't have to be like that. To extend the cat metaphor, why herd when you can just dangle string? More plainly, why be authoritarian when you can make it so that people want to participate? I've talked in the past about running meetings, so today's post is more about the other work that goes into chairing a committee - the things you do between meetings.

This isn't an exhaustive list, but here are some of the things you should do:

  1. Always express your gratitude for the work people are doing. Committee responsibilities might be part of their job descriptions, but who would you rather have? People who resent the committee as a disruption to their other responsibilities, or people who participate willingly?
  2. Follow up shortly after meetings, and then again as necessary. I'm the chair of our displays group (and some of them read my blog... *waving*), and we only have one formal meeting per year. Our work extends throughout the year, though, since the displays change at least once per month. I send emails and talk to people in person regularly. I try to make it easy for people to remember what needs to be done.
  3. Be ready to pinch hit. I hope you'll forgive me for mixing my metaphors, but this baseball term is such an apt description of what you'll need to do sometimes. Things come up, situations change, etc., and that means you'll have to fill in for people. That's what being in charge means sometimes.
  4. Don't just talk; remember to listen. Whatever the reason for you being in charge, experience or volunteering or even being volunteered, you won't get anything done without the help of people on the committee. There are all sorts of clichés to describe this idea: "no man is an island" and "it takes a whole village" both leap to mind. We have so many ways to talk about this because it is so true.

If all else fails, you can always set out some tuna or cream (or donuts or pizza). You can't herd cats, but even the wiliest feral tabby is a sucker for treats.

What about you? What do you do when you're in charge of people?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

First Thursday's Just For Fun: Doctor Who

When I tell you that I love Doctor Who, trust me when I say that statement might be the understatement of the year. One friend insists that I manage to bring the Doctor up at least once every time I see her (and we work at the same college, so that's a lot). Now, I know there are Whovians out there who will insist that I don't qualify for the club since I only got the bug last year, and since I started with the Ninth Doctor. I'm trying to rectify that situation and have recently been working my way through the First Doctor's series - the ones that are available anyway. After that, I'll move onto the Second and Third and so on, until I've watched them all.

In the meantime, I've been putting a lot of effort into figuring out why I'm so obsessed with this show. This isn't an all encompassing list, but here's what I've come up with so far:

The Show is Memetic
"Doctor Mew" by Jenny Parks
A meme is "a unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another" (source). All you have to do to judge the memetic quality of Doctor Who is look at how broadly the concepts have spread, and think about all the different forms the concepts have taken.

It Makes Me Laugh
Case in point: Captain Jack Harkness.

Doctor Who Loves Me, Too
Well, maybe not me, but he does love libraries. Take this quote from the episode, "Tooth and Claw": " You want weapons? We're in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room's the greatest arsenal we could have - arm yourselves!"

The Characters Are Real People
I'm not saying that I think Time Lords and Daleks and Weeping Angels are real. (Dear lord, I hope Weeping Angels aren't real.) I am saying that the people, even minor characters, are multi-layered. The Doctor cries, I've seen it happen multiple times, and is still seen as a hero. Captain Jack Harkness is omnisexual, but his sexuality is not just there as a plot device and is instead one part of his character. And like the Doctor, Jack is still seen as a hero despite (because of?) this. The fact that Martha Jones is black comes up in discussions, but like Jack's sexuality her race isn't really a plot device. It's just one part of the whole. Oh, and Martha saves the day a time or two as well. More than anything else this, the way that the writers let the defining characteristics of the people come from within instead of without, is the reason I love Doctor Who.

What about you? If you're a Whovian, what do you love about the Doctor?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Fox in Charge of the Hen House, or, My Love-Hate Relationship with Collection Development

Image Source

Hi. My name is Jessica and I'm a bookaholic. I've been reading since I was 4 and I've never stopped since. I try to tell myself that it's not my fault since I come from a family of readers, but my book addiction has even gotten in the way of my adult life on occasion. I go through phases when spend too much money on books and I stay up late reading every night. These phases happen more often then I'd like to admit. My need to read even influenced my career choice. When it came time to pick my path, I knew I wanted something with both art/literature and math/science. You can find that combination in so many careers, like landscape architecture or video game designer. However, when librarianship came up as an option, it was no contest. I get art/literature and math/science and books, books, books. No contest. Since then, it's gotten worse (better?); as my career has evolved, I have developed expertise in running collections in the subjects I love most.

My joking aside, I really do have a love/hate relationship with collection development because of how much I know. At the center of this love/hate are the hardest/easiest of my areas: education, graphic novels, children's literature, fiction. They are easiest because I've been collecting in these areas for years, so I know and do the kinds of things you need to know and do to have a successful collection: I know who the important authors/researchers are; I'm aware of the trends and up-and-coming voices; I know which publications/publishers to monitor for new directions; and I regularly check in with people in my community who know. They are hardest because of the passion I have for them

If you're confused about why having a passion for something can make it harder to do, let me refer you back to the first part of the title of this post: "The Fox in Charge of the Hen House." I love children's literature so much that it sometimes confuses people that I'm not a children's librarian. My opinions about genre fiction, and fiction in general, are such that I have an ongoing, friendly argument with an English professor about "what is a good book?" I'm a big-time comic book nerd, even though I wasn't before becoming a librarian. And my second master's degree is in education. What I'm getting at here is that it's hard not to let my personal tastes and interests constantly influence what I buy for the collection.

I say "constantly influence" instead of just "influence" because I know it's fine, even expected in some circumstances, for a librarian's personal tastes to influence what he or she buys. If the purpose of a collection is to suit the needs of the members of your community, then it's important to remember that the librarian is also a member of that community. So, sure, there are maybe a few more children's books about cats in our children's literature collection than there might have been with someone else in charge of the collection, but the balance is still there. (In my defense, I'm not the only one in my community with a penchant kitty cat kid lit.) Besides, if you could see the length of my "To Read" list, you'd know that this librarian/fox has learned some self-restraint when it comes to devouring the books/hens.

So, what about you? If you have collection development responsibilities, what are your hardest/easiest areas and how do you find the balance? If you aren't responsible for collection development, what do you think would be hardest for you and why?