Monday, December 31, 2012

Be Back Soon

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

Thursday, December 20, 2012

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Citizen Science in the Library, by Allison Scripa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources for finding projects:

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Decorating for Christmahanakwanzika

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

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

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

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

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

Thoughts? Do you think the label matters?