Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Practical Practicum Experience, by Ayanna Gaines


When I was first asked to host a practicum student for the fall semester, my first response was overwhelming positive. I’ve always thought it important to encourage new librarians and library students, and I always remember how much I learned during my own librarian internship. Then my initial shout of “Awesome!” turned into a muttered “Oh crap.” Who was I to think I had any sort of useful knowledge to pass on? What if I screwed up?

You see, as much as those of us with interns and practicum students would like to be wise mentors who are ready and able to lead and nurture, I am willing to bet that I am not the only one who is quaking inside. While a practicum student may be nervous about doing well or not screwing up, we mentors have the same fear. We want to provide the kind of experience that will benefit an intern, but we also realize that librarianship is a profession with aspects that can’t always be taught. It’s relatively simple to demonstrate a cataloging software system, but how do we teach the art of dealing with a flustered student who has a paper due in two hours?

Another unexpected experience I had, leading up to working with my student, was having friends and colleagues tease me. People, upon hearing that I had a practicum student, often wondered if I would have her fetch me coffee or clean my office. I would laugh at these suggestions -- after all, I wasn’t a Hollywood director. But I did take a great deal of time to ponder what kind of tasks I would have her do. I even took to Twitter to ask what kind of experiences others found useful during their own practicums. I got some excellent responses, and learned that what people really wanted were projects that they could list on their resume; another hint I received was to ask my intern what kind of experiences she wanted. I thought these were both solid ideas.

It turned out that my student was interested in learning about all aspects of librarianship in a community college, which, in some ways, made my job a little easier. I came up with projects like weeding a small section of the H’s and going through book donations and determining what books to keep. I talked grant-writing with her and took her to meetings. Yet there were days when I would panic when I saw her walk through the door, when I would realize that I had been so swamped with work that I hadn’t had a chance to develop a good project for her to work on that day. Some days, my planned project for the day would have to be rescheduled because an expected box of book donations hadn’t arrived. In those cases, I would punt, showing her that there were other lessons that could be learned by simply sitting on the reference desk: what to do when a line started forming, deciding whether to answer the phone or work with the patron in front of you, figuring out when it’s time to ask another colleague to consult.

By the end of her internship, my practicum student was exposed to the ebb and flow of life in a community college library. Beyond that, having an intern was a learning experience for me as well. It encouraged me to reflect on the whys and hows of librarianship. Engaging in reflective practice is something we are usually too busy to do as librarians -- we get too caught up in the day-to-day activities of our job. But taking a step back and thinking about our habits and processes can be truly enlightening.

Ayanna Gaines is a Reference and Instruction Librarian at Ventura College in Ventura, California. She loves maneki nekos and cheese. Her office needs cleaning. This is the second post she’s written for Letters to a Young Librarian. The first was, “The Art of the Shmooze.” You can follow her on Twitter @PopCulLibrn

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The (Not So) Fine Line Between Relationship Building and Gossiping

"Gossiping" (source)

When a customer interaction turns into an extended conversation or worse, gossiping... Well, in the words of one of my favorite philosophers, it "gives me an uncomfortableness." 

This isn't necessarily an issue that's confined to libraries - goodness knows I've been stuck behind THAT guy, the one who wants to chat up the baristo after finishing his order, enough times - but this blog is about libraries, after all. It's odd when it happens in a library, since there are usually good intentions. For instance, I get that people don't want to seem rude when a patron (or a friend who "just dropped by") starts chatting with them. After all, we want the people in the communities we serve to like and feel comfortable around us. We want them to turn to us with questions and/or problems rather than being shy of us. 

But still, it can be a problem. For one thing, if you're chatting with one customer, another customer might think you're busy and decide not to ask for help because they don't want to interrupt. A colleague of mine at another library described the ramifications of this kind of thing well by saying, "fostering and nurturing relationships need to be balanced with daily tasks and running of the the library. So if customer service for others is being effected by your community building with some, then it is detrimental overall." [Emphasis his.]

I'm not saying that you can only talk business with the people who come up to you at the circulation desk and/or the reference desk (or anywhere else in the library). It's good to work on customer relationships, and a little bit of chatting can help. But you have to find a happy medium. You should definitely work with someone up until the moment the conversation isn't about library business anymore, and feel free to give it a little more time, but not much more. Moments of laughter can help build relationships, but make sure it's not at the expense of your other duties.

One last bit of advice: even if you do chat &/or gossip, there is one thing that you should never, never, NEVER discuss. Never talk about patrons (or other library staff) where members of your community can hear you. Not only is it bad form, there is also the fact that you know they are going to walk away thinking "What will s/he say about me when I'm not around?" So, no matter how juicy the gossip, it can wait. Those parrots (species anyone?) at the top of this post might look cute gossiping, but you won't.

Many thanks to John Pappas for helping me flesh out my ideas on this topic.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Full-Day Academic Library Interview, From a First Timer's Perspective, Part 2, by Alex Barton


In my first post, I described the full-day interview process at an academic library from a first-timer’s point of view. At the end of my post I promised to let you know the results of the interview. The hiring committee has now made a decision, so here we are.

At the end of my day long interview, they had let me know that they’d make a decision in two to four weeks. About four weeks after the interview, I heard back. More precisely, I heard back right after I followed up with them via email right after the four-week mark. Within the hour the head of the hiring committee sent me an email asking when it would be a good time to call. Nerves aflame, I let her know that any time was fine.

She was very nice as she explained that they’d offered it to another candidate and the offer had been accepted. She made a point of letting me know I was one of the top contenders and then she wished me luck with my career and sounded genuine as she spoke. That was a nice touch, the call; I expected an email given how much of the coordination took place via electronic communication.

As it happens, a letter was already in the mail. A considerably colder letter. No “best of luck in your career” at the end, just “thank you for your interest” and “regards.” It certainly did not give me the impression that I was a strong candidate. It is safe to say that the phone call provided a soft landing; the letter did not. On the whole, I felt a bit deflated.

But then I started to wonder: did I get a call because the committee intended to both phone and send letters to all candidates? Or because the content of my email made it clear that I had yet to receive the letter? Whatever the reason, I am grateful that I had the chance to speak with the head of the committee. I took advantage of that chance: I offered congratulations for finding the best fit and my gratitude in general.

So, why do I think I wasn’t offered the position? And how do I feel about it? My reflections:

This was my first full-day interview and I think I had a few missteps. Even if they weren’t outright fumbles it came through loud and clear that I was new to the industry and particularly new to the liaison role.  As I speculated earlier, there were probably a number of candidates with more experience than me. I imagine that’s who they hired.

I think my presentation was fine, but if I can offer any advice to any new professionals it is this: even if it is your first time, do not obsess over your presentation. I’d been warned by my colleagues not to do it and yet I did. As I said in my first post, I was given six days total to prepare for my interview; I spent about 30 hours on the presentation alone. This in addition to working full-time and prepping for a three-hour guest lecture I had committed to prior to being called for the interview. I know it’s hard to walk away from your PowerPoint slides, but if you don’t you will not have the time you need to review possible interview questions and come up with your answers, scenarios, and any questions you might have for them. The presentation takes up only one hour of the day. And it’s a long day.

Here’s the one other thing I need to mention: Looking back, I now see that several red flags went up and stayed up right from the start. While I am unable to offer specifics, I do suggest you read Joe Hardenbrook’s post on this blog, “Interview Red Flags,” for some general ideas. I honestly don’t know if I would have accepted the position had they offered it. This might make other new professionals gasp in dismay – “Wait, you would turn down a job offer?!” – or they might think that this is a case of sour grapes. It’s not. In fairness, I am lucky to be employed and I do like my job. It is a contract position (as opposed to a more permanent one) that might be coming to an end, but there might be opportunities. More importantly, though: I had to trust my gut. I did not have a good feeling.

I don’t wish to sound negative about the whole experience. The members of the committee, and other staff, were very nice people who treated me well throughout the day. Besides, I am thrilled that I had the chance to have a full-day interview at an academic library and I know that I can only improve from this point.

And I think I have: I had an interview for a similar position at a different institution a few days ago. Like this one, it included both an interview and a presentation component. But there’s no question I felt much more confident about it and not a single red flag went up. Fingers crossed they feel the same way about me.

Alex Barton (a pseudonym) is an e-learning librarian at a university in Ontario. She worked in book publishing prior to her current position.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ordered Chaos: The Never-Ending Paper Chase of a Library Director

Not my actual office. although it feels that way. (Source.)
Before I became one myself, I worked for three different library directors. Each one of them had piles of paper all over their offices, and the man who was the director of the library where I coordinated the instruction program (my immediate past library) was the worst. In fact, I made fun of him on a semi-regular basis because of the state of his office.

I want to take a moment to put this on the official record, for everyone on the web to possibly read: I formally apologize for every instance of teasing to which I ever subjected him.

Why the sudden turn around, only a month and a half into my own time as a library director? Because I already have piles of paper all over my office. There's a stack of books that were donated by a faculty member and another pile of books that were donated by a member of our staff. There's a small pile of articles I want to read and a large-ish pile of catalogs I have to go through. Then there's my official in box, which has - more than once - escaped its bounds to take over my desk. The worst part isn't that there are piles, it's how much of my office, my very small office, is taken up with these piles.

So, how do I plan to deal with this? To be honest, I'm not quite sure. There's a lot of work I need to do, and I'm not even done with planning to plan. I know I need to feel better situated in my space and I know I need to get back to my old habit of carving out two hours every Friday afternoon just for getting caught up to myself. I also know that I've turned a corner and am adding less to the piles than I'm subtracting. Beyond that, though, I'm still figuring this out.

By the way, I should have suspected something when my last director jokingly said, the last time I made fun of the disarray in his office, that he was willing to bet that my office at my new library would be just as bad given time. He was right. He was so, so right.

Anyway, how about you? How do you keep the piles from encroaching?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

So, You Want to Be an Archivist?, by Lauren Arnsman


Making the decision to go to library school was kind of a spur-of-the-moment idea for me. So, too, was deciding to become an archivist. The thing that pushed me into the archival field was my interest in history and my nosy curious nature. I’ve always been interested in the stories behind things and where X comes from. My first internship was at the Detroit Opera House, starting their online archive. It was kind of tedious, scanning program after program, but I loved it. As I made my way through classes that I found interesting, I realized I was taking a lot of archive-based classes as well as classes that would help me more as an archivist than a librarian. All of a sudden, there I was: BOOM! Archivist!

You: “What is an archivist, though?”

Good question! (As a side note, always be ready to answer this question: “what do you *do* exactly?”) Archiving boils down to providing access to information determined to have long-term value. In that sense, librarians and archivists are similar. Here’s where they differ: a big part of my job is assessing the worth of the information and organizing it so it makes sense.  This is essentially the task of every archivist. My position is unique at my institution because I am what’s known as a Lone Arranger. I am the sole archival person in the organization that I work for, a community college in Southwest Michigan. Not only do I process collections, arrange and organize them, but I also upload digital versions to the archives website. I will say this, as much as I love the work that I do, it can be a little lonely.

You: Sweet! You mean I can work BY MYSELF?!

Well, kinda. A lot of people assume being an archivist means you’re shoved in a basement, so if you hate people, be an archivist! This is waaaaaaaay not true. A HUGE part of archives in ANY organization is outreach. Where do you think the stuff comes from? You have to network and make contacts within the community so people know the repository is there. Otherwise, there isn’t much point in having the archive to begin with. Also, ultimately the goal is to get people inside the archives to show off all the awesome things that are there, so you do have to be good at customer service. The other thing that is still hard for me sometimes is being my own advocate. It’s hard because I’m in a state, Michigan, where the economy has been rough for a while and with budgets tightening, I have to justify *why* I’m needed. This is why it’s so important to have an answer to “what do you do?” I have to prove my worth to continue doing what I love.

You: Why would I want to be an archivist, anyway?

One of the reasons I love my job is because I see it as one big puzzle. There are small puzzles within the big puzzle: I have to figure out when photographs were taken, and then I have to decide how to arrange the photos (and other items) in a way that would make it easy for anyone off the street to come in and browse. I also get to talk about the puzzles. That’s the part of advocacy and outreach I love, meeting others and either getting them interested in the subject for the first time or showing people just how deep the information goes. I like knowing the entire history of a thing and now, it’s my career. 

Lauren Arnsman is the archivist at Kellogg Community College. You can find her on Twitter, @unrealsnow, where she talks about the important things: cats, movies, and books.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Got Dust? And Other Ways to Weed Reference...


I'm thinking about dust today. More specifically, I'm thinking about the layer of dust that gathers on a book that has been sitting on a library's shelf for a long time. Why am I thinking about dust? I'm contemplating my first weeding project at my new library: the reference section.

Now, I've talked about weeding before, and those rules definitely enter into my decisions with a reference collection, but there are other factors to consider. Further, unless you've been careful to track use for a while, there's no real way to know how many times a book has been used. Besides, despite the title of this post, if you have a good cleaning staff then you can't even judge by the layer of dust.

So, what do I look for? Here's a quick list for you, in no particular order:
  • Age of the book. With titles like The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature or Current Biography Yearbook, so long as you have room, age isn't as important. With those, I'm as (if not more) likely to use the older volumes as the newer ones. With a general encyclopedia, however, the book is almost out of date by the time the publisher is finished printing it.
  • Needs of the community. I have a psychology department, so I need to keep our copy of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision, despite its age. At least until the 5th edition comes out later this year. The fifth edition of MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, on the other hand, is toast - the seventh edition came out in 2009.
  • The nature of the book. Does it really belong in the reference collection? Or would it be a better fit for your circulating collection? For instance, a book about copyright from 1978 is embarrassing in reference, so I transferred it to the main collection since there's a media studies class that covers the topic.
  • Is print the best format? No, everything isn't "online," but sometimes an electronic resource presents a better format for the needs of your community. I still miss the print edition of the The Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors - it made browsing so easy. On the other hand, biographical dictionaries and general encyclopedias are much easier to search online.
Beyond all the factors that must be considered, this is going to be difficult because I have a forever long To Do list right now. Finding time for weeding is important, though, since I have plans for the space I'll be clearing.

How about you? If you have weeding experience, is there some factor you consider with reference books that I haven't mentioned?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

First Thursday's Just For Fun: Obviously, You're Not A Golfer

Oh, The Big Lebowski, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways... Actually, it's hard to count the ways I love this movie, since it is - in my opinion - one of the most perfectly scripted, acted, and filmed movies of all time. And I've watched a lot of movies.

I'm sure I'm going to forget something that I love about this movie, so please feel free to add to the Lebowski Love Fest in the comments, but here are three things I do love (in no particular order):

First, Steve Buscemi is perfection as Donny. Watch his expression and try not to laugh. I dare you.

Second, the soundtrack is so good that it's pretty much another character.

Third, it's just so dang quotable, and there are quotes for every situation. Someone's bothering you while you're on the phone? Tell them, "Don't say peep while I'm doing business here, man." Someone's getting pushy with you? Respond with, "I do mind. The Dude minds. This will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man." Some politician trying to tell you what you can and can't do with your lady parts? Fire this one back at them:

Pattern by PurpleHippoStitches on Etsy

So how about you? Are you a Little Lebowski Urban Achiever? If so, why?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Call Is Coming From... INSIDE THE LIBRARY!


I'm a brand new library director. That means I'm learning and doing and seeing lots and lots of new things. Even though these are, indeed, "new" things, most aren't really surprising. I'm making budget projections and writing policies and visioning... par for the course. Of all the things that have come up in my just-over-a-month of being a director, though, the one that surprised me most (but probably should have surprised me at all) is this: the seemingly never-ending stream of cold calls from vendors.
*ring ring* 
Me: "Parker Library, this is Jessica speaking. How may I help you?" 
Them: "Hi, Jessica, this is Joe Shmoe from XYZ Database Company, and I'm calling to tell you about our fantabulous products. In fact, Fantabulous Database A is especially suited to schools like yours..."
No matter how quickly I can get a word in edgewise to let them know I'm not interested at the moment, I still lose at least 10 minutes as a result because it takes time to bring my focus back on line. Irritating to say the least.

Here are two things I know about these interactions: A) These salespeople are really just doing their jobs; and B) I need to save my energy for more immediate concerns and am not even vaguely interested in adding new products right now.

It took me about a week to figure this out, but here's a math formula that has helped: A + B = I don't answer my office phone if I don't recognize the number.

If it's important, I know they'll leave a voice mail (and personal friends will follow up with a call to my cell if they really need me). Heck, with vendors, most times they'll leave a message AND send me an email. I do read these emails and/or save them for later. I know I'm going to want to expand this library's electronic holdings to better support the curricular and research needs of the community and, despite 10 years in the industry, I know I don't know all the possibilities that exist.

So that's my "learn from my experiences" share for the week: you are not required to answer your office phone. Voice mail is a lovely, lovely thing. Now if I can just figure out how to avoid the calls that are transferred to me from other parts of the campus and disguise themselves as internal calls...