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.