Thursday, June 27, 2013

What is a Web Librarian, Anyway?, by Coral Sheldon-Hess


Before I started library school, I had no idea what a wide variety of careers there were within our field. I had done a bunch of reading about librarianship, but for some reason I still thought EVERY librarian spent all day answering questions, selecting materials, writing blog posts about important civil liberty and publishing related issues, and running fun/educational programs and trainings. Of course, I realized they must also spend time on the same things every office worker does (meetings, reports, and spreadsheets, mostly). I also figured library administrators did more reports/meetings, while front-line staff answered more questions, but in my mind every librarian was somewhere on that range.

I’m not sure when I realized that my ideas were off the mark, but I know it was probably pretty early in library school (I graduated four years(!) ago, just so you have a sense of time). Even so, I didn’t know I wanted to be a web librarian until my last semester, when I started seriously looking at job ads. I had no idea that was a thing, until I saw the listing for the job I have now.

So in case anyone else doesn’t know it’s a thing—or if you do, but you don’t know what kind of thing—I wanted to share what I do.

Here’s what they said my job was:
The Web Services Librarian is responsible for the ongoing design, development, and evaluation of the Consortium Library’s web presence. This position works closely with library staff and university communities to ensure delivery of web services and online resources. The Web Services Librarian provides expertise on web technologies to library faculty and staff and promotes the Library’s website as an instructional tool.
Having held the position for a while now, I can tell you that description is fairly accurate, if vague.

I feel like I spend a lot more time doing other “office worker”-type stuff than I do designing and developing webpages—seriously, I spend a lot of time on meetings, not just sitting in them but making agendas and minutes and reports. My joke has always been “I thought this was a technical job!” And it can be, but it’s usually a lot more about talking to people. And that makes sense when I think about it. You can’t go changing a webpage that your coworkers use every day without having some discussions. But it goes a little deeper than that: I’ve spent a lot of effort building trust and working on how my organization thinks about our web presence, getting people to agree that the website is for our patrons more than it’s for us—and that patrons should be able to use it without first being taught how. (If I leave, I hope they’ll change the “instructional tool” part of the wording before recruiting a replacement!) I’ve also worked to convince everyone that the library’s participation in social media is worthwhile. As part of those efforts I wrote a social media plan, a plan for our web presence, and a best practices document/template for our LibGuides—so there has been a lot of writing, beyond web content, too.

On the strictly technical side, I do development in HTML, CSS, PHP, and JavaScript. I am starting to play more with APIs, which let me do cool stuff, usually fairly quickly. Relatedly, I also find, evaluate, recommend, and provision web-based software to solve my coworkers’ problems—ideally, solving some of our website users’ problems at the same time—and then I train my coworkers on how to use it. (Which just might be my favorite part of the job. I love teaching people how to use tools.) I maintain, customize, and support my coworkers in using WordPress (we use the multisite variation), LibGuides, LibAnswers, and LibCal, and I help out with maintaining an OpenAtrium (Drupal) intranet. We’ll be moving from LibraryH3lp to LibChat this summer, and I’ll do the back-end work and training to make that happen. For my own development work, I primarily use a content management system called MODx.

Many (most?) web librarians do usability testing on their websites; however I’m our only web designer/developer, with support from my department head on projects from time to time. I can’t do constant usability testing and development the way some web librarians do. It’s something I would like to do more of if my department grows or if I someday find myself stretched in fewer directions on a day-to-day basis. But I do informal usability testing/observation when I can, including when I work at the reference desk, and I watch our web analytics.

There are other aspects to my job, but that’s the crux of the work I do that I consider “web librarian work.” Is there anything you want to know? Other web librarians, did I leave out something you do on a regular basis?

Coral Sheldon-Hess is the Web Services Librarian at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She was a 2012 ALA Emerging Leader and a 2010 participant in PNLA's Leadership Institute. She holds an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.S. in Electrical & Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon. In her spare time she co-founded and now co-manages a programming workshop for women, crochets, geeks out, bicycles (poorly), and evangelizes on behalf of the Oxford comma. You can find her online at her blog or on Twitter as @web_kunoichi.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Vocabulary Lesson: Marketing vs. Advertising


I have a pet peeve that some of you may consider strange. Well, I have a lot of weird pet peeves, but I want to address one in particular, and that's the way people use "marketing" when they mean "advertising." (I also have a huge pet peeve about the design of public restrooms, but that's a story for another time.)

Let me set you straight (if you confuse or conflate these words). Advertising is about trying to persuade your audience/constituency/customer base/patrons to partake of your services, to get to know you and your services better. Marketing is almost the opposite - it's about you getting to know your target audience better and learning what kinds of products/services/etc. they need &/or want. Both advertising and marketing are about raising awareness, and both can be done at the same time, but they really are distinct activities because of their end goals. 

Why do I bring this up here on a blog geared towards librarians? Besides how rampant the misuse of these words seems to be in our profession, I mean. I'm bring it up here because I'm a fan of precision in vocabulary and the way precision can help you understand what you're doing so you can do a better job of it. The truth is that libraries need to market as well as advertise, but we're not as good at the former as we are at the latter. Librarians love to talk about libraries, but we don't really like to listen. And trust me, we need to listen to our customers if we want them to listen to us. 

A perfect example of the difference is how some companies handle social media. Are you engaging with your customers? Answering their questions, retweeting things they say about you? Or are you you doing all the talking? The same goes for in person communication - other than collection development suggestions, how often do you really listen to your patrons? Besides, advertising can be so much more effective if you've done a little marketing first. 

Perhaps I'm being a bit pedantic here, and I'm willing to own up to it. If I'm going to be honest, I'll admit it doesn't matter as much what you call what you're doing, so long as you are talking with as well as listening to the people who come to your library.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

What I Wish I’d Known in Graduate School, by Kate Kosturski

I went to graduate school part time, while working full time (at least for the first two years of school) at a law firm. This meant I took an extra year to complete my degree (three years instead of the normal two) but it had its benefits. I was able to avoid graduating in the worst of the economic downturn; to get some very practical experience in the law firm’s library when our librarian went on maternity leave; and to study at a pace which was comfortable for me.

There were also, unsurprisingly, downsides. Because I worked full time, I was limited to classes on evenings and weekends. Several of the great classes and great instructors held their courses in the afternoon, and I missed out on courses in areas of personal interest, like information architecture, research methods, and user experience.  One of the worst things was that going to school this way made my days very long. On class days, I was leaving my house at 7 AM and not getting home until 11 PM. (Did I mention I was living and working in New Jersey and my library school was in New York City? It took me roughly an hour to get to and from school. On a bus.) Most of my then-friends were well-established in full time jobs, and never really understood why I went back to school, why I could not go out on the weekends because I had to write a paper.

In 2009, shortly after the New Year, my law firm announced they were moving out of their urban home in Newark, NJ to western New Jersey that fall. Later that afternoon, administration called me in to their office and told me that they really didn’t see this move working out for me - in short, a 9 month layoff notice. For the first time since college, I would be working part time or not working at all.

By the time the move took place midway through my final year of school, I was able to secure a part time job that was 10 minutes from home, and I took my first ever afternoon (3:30 PM) graduate class. For the first time in three years, I was getting home at a reasonable hour two days a week. With money I saved from working full time, I wasn’t held to a 40 hour work week. If I needed to take a day off to write a paper, I could with little financial impact. For other reasons unrelated to school, those friends that gave me grief about going back to school weren’t around either (and still aren’t).  No more cramming in work on weekends, lunch hours, and during the work day when I needed to look busy. No more worrying about money. No more feeling like a bad friend for missing a party for homework.  I could devote myself even more than before to an education that would be my future, and simultaneously regain my life.

So, the one thing wish I had known in graduate school? That it was okay - financially, mentally, emotionally - to go back to school full time. I wish I had done it sooner.  

Kate Kosturski is JSTOR’s Institutional Participation Coordinator for the UK and Northern Europe, where, in her words, “I tell people in Europe how awesome JSTOR is and then hopefully they buy some.”  A 2011 ALA Emerging Leader, Kate received her MLS from Pratt Institute in 2010 and is the co-founder of ALA CraftCon, a relaxing crafting hour at the Midwinter and Annual Meetings. In her spare time, she enjoys crafts, reading (duh), cooking, baseball, running, photography, politics, and technology.  View her blog at and follow her on Twitter @librarian_kate

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bricker-Bracker, Firecracker; Or, Being Your Own Cheerleader

I like Bugs Bunny a lot, and truly, I wish I were more like him. Besides having a great sense of humor about himself, BB has many other admirable qualities. Here are few:
  1. Bugs doesn't start fights, but he will finish them.
  2. No matter how lost he gets, Bugs always manages to make the best of any situation.
  3. And, as we can see above, he's quite adept at being his own cheerleader. Heck, he's even good at getting others to join in.
It's the third item in the list that I want to address today. It took me some time to develop that skill, but being able to sing my own praises is something I already have in common with B-squared. However, I know a lot of people in general, and in libraries in particular, who don't always feel comfortable singing their own praises. Now, I'm assuming that you already know why it's important to talk yourself up. I can list at least ten reasons off the top of my head if you want, but I think "how" is more important than "why" at the moment. So, let's move onto a few simple techniques I've used in the past that might work for you:

If you're not comfortable in the spotlight, think about sharing it: "I got this idea from Ms. A. Awesome and tweaked it and the result was really successful" or "Really, it was a team-effort, but it worked for us." You're still saying good things about yourself, but you're also saying good things about others.

Own up to the mistakes you made as you talk: "Well, it didn't work at first. But then we [specific tweak] and that seemed to do the trick." Admitting to being human in the middle of discussing your success might dim the spotlight a bit, but it's still shining light.

If nothing else, stop using so much conditional language: "It definitely worked better without [specific tweak] in the way." This isn't about singing your own praises as much as it's about tamping down the self-doubt, but it's a step in the right direction.

So there are a few techniques, but I'm wondering about what else we could be doing. How do you talk yourself up? Or do you just not do it? Is there something specific holding you back? If you have a hard time with this, I recommend working on it. Even if you only ever do this in a job interview, you have to be able to say nice things about yourself.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

On Authenticity, by Andrew Colgoni

Here’s the thing: inauthenticity stinks. I mean that quite literally. People can smell it when you act like someone other than yourself (excepting the best sociopaths, of course). There was a reason that your mom always told you to “just be yourself”. It wasn’t because acting is hard, it’s because everybody has a finely tuned radar for fakers (fadar?). In fact, I’ll bet that when you are inauthentic, you can smell it on yourself, too. It’s like that time you stepped in dog poop, and then were sitting at the park bench wondering “what’s that smell?” Happily, you could wipe your shoes furiously on the grass before you had to walk on carpet.

Ok, so why am I spending so much metaphorical language on inauthenticity? I want to relate this to teaching. Some of the finest tuned fadar there is exists in students. Those clever kids just know when you are trying to be hip with the youth. Remember back in the 90’s when everyone tried to blend hip-hop with anything else to give it a veneer of cool, but it just seemed off? That’s how you look when you go up in front of a class and try to be something other than yourself. Now, I’m not advocating that you shouldn’t be a little more enthusiastic than normal, that’s ok. But you shouldn’t be so over-enthusiastic that it makes people question your sanity, especially if you’re normally subdued.

The same goes for using youth ‘props’. We seem to think that we need to connect with the youth by ‘speaking in their language’ (a topic I could rant about at length). So, we think, “Great! I’ll look up what the youth are into, and co-opt that!” We show up to class with a bag of internet memes and rage comics and use that to illustrate our points. But here’s the thing: if you don’t usually make memes, it shows. The students know it, you know it, and everyone’s a little weirded out.

The lesson here isn’t simply don’t use memes, or don’t get rowdy. Rather, if you are actually into memes or are naturally freaky, then go for it**. If you like horrible puns (the man who fell into an upholstery machine is now fully recovered*) roll with that. Big into sci-fi? Then reference that, fellow browncoat. What happens when you do this (what we call “being yourself”) is that your actual excitement and passion will show through, and you will bring your students along with you. And, hey, isn’t bringing students along with you what teaching is all about?

So, before you go into that classroom, wipe your shoes furiously on the grass.

Andrew Colgoni is the Science Fluencies Librarian at Thode Library at McMaster University. He tweets @colgoni.

*Borrowed shamelessly from @omgthatspunny.

**One exception: if you are really into clip art, and I’ve seen lots of librarians that are, don’t go for it. Try a different passion.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Two Years of Letters to a Young Librarian

Can you believe it? LtaYL is two years old! Two years old and going strong - I still have plenty to say, and plenty of you listening. To celebrate this anniversary, and to thank you for continuing to read, I'm going to have another contest. Just like last year, it's about...


You will win a donation in your name to a book- or library-based charity/entity of your choosing. The amount will vary depending on whether you want me to make a cash donation or buy an actual book (there will be an upper limit - I am a librarian, after all, not a bazillionaire). The beneficiary can be the library where you work, your MLIS alma mater, First Book, etc.

To enter, you must, before midnight on June 17, 2013 (EDT), leave a comment on this post in which you:
  1. ...give me feedback about the blog. What's your favorite thing about LtaYL? Your least favorite? Is there someone who you really want me to get for a guest post? A topic you haven't seen me cover yet? A topic that has been covered, but for which you'd like an update? So long as it's constructive feedback, it counts.
  2. ...let me know how to get in touch with you. I'd prefer an email address, but a Twitter handle or a Google+ link will work as well if you don't want to advertise your email address publicly.
The rest of the rules are simple:
  • One entry per person.
  • The winner will be selected, as randomly as I can manage, from all entries.
  • I reserve the right to tweak the rules as necessary.
Once I've picked the winner, I will contact him/her for details of the charity. After that, I'll announce the winner.

Now it's your turn. How can I improve this blog? What should I never change?

I'd write this blog, no matter what, but it's so much nicer knowing that there are people actually reading it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

First Thursday's Just For Fun: We're Going to the Zoo Zoo Zoo How About You

Hi. My name is Jessica Olin, and I'm a zoo-aholic. I love zoos so much that I can (and regularly do) visit them alone. I've only lived in this area since the end of January, but I've already been to two different zoos. And before you start talking about how sad it is to see animals in cages, I agree. I especially have a hard time  watching cheetahs pace back and forth. However, zoos really are helping preserve and bring back endangered species, so I still see them as a good thing.

Here are some of my favorite pictures I've taken at zoos.

I love it when they pose so prettily for me. This giant otter is at the Philadelphia Zoo.

Andean condors look like society matrons to me, with their ruffed collars. This fellow lives at the Brandywine Zoo in Wilmington, Delaware.

This koala looked very Yoda to me. She lives at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

Okay, so this is another from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, but s/he posed so prettily I couldn't not share this bald eagle.

How about you all? Any other zoo lovers out there? What's your favorite animal to visit? And what's your favorite zoo?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Leading Change as a Library Administrator

Being part of the Frye Leadership Institute (now Leading Change Institute) was one of the best opportunities of my career so far, and it keeps reverberating. The most recent impact is the article I just wrote for EDUCAUSE Review Online: "Leading Change as a Library Administrator."