Thursday, January 30, 2014

One Size Fits All: Three Big Lessons from a Small Joint Use Library, by LeoNard Thompson


I spent my first few years in library management overseeing a 1,100 square foot space that was centrally located within a joint use facility. The city referred to them as neighborhood resource centers. The building housed a recreation facility, prenatal health and dental clinics, social service offices, meeting rooms, and an elementary school. I learned many valuable lessons while managing there, and over the years I have found that a majority of those lessons are applicable to most library environments, no matter the location or the size. Out of them all, the following three have proven to be most beneficial.

How to Cultivate Good Partnerships
A major part of coexisting in such an unusual public service environment was being educated about the variety of services other departments offered. Library customers were often confused as to where library services began and another departments’ began. In those moments, which were often, it became incumbent upon our staff to know a great deal about the department functions offered throughout the building, including specifics like hours of operation, contact information, procedural needs like required forms of ID, and any associated costs.

Libraries of any size, type, or locale can benefit from such wisdom. Although information and referral services in libraries have transformed extensively with the advent of technology, library professionals should be aware of what local resources are available within their given community, and further realize the importance of having such information readily available when patron demand is repetitious.

How to Capitalize on Good Communication
Cultivating and sustaining those partnerships meant that communication between departments in the center had to be timely and with ease. When there was a major change in available services, hours of operation, or personnel, we had to stay in the loop in order to keep up-to-date and correct. We also realized that we shared a sizeable portion of the customer base, therefore we were able to take advantage of this fact when marketing a new library service or program.

Libraries often fail to capitalize on the marketing aspects of such collaborations. When you are in communication with like-minded and similar focused organizations, you put your library in a great position to reach segments of the community you would not regularly have access to. Inclusion in newsletters, email lists and listservs, directories, on web sites, and possible outreach or program invitations, are very likely if you create and maintain quality communication with your partners – even if they aren’t in the same building like ours were.

The Importance of Staff Input
Because of the size and unique location of the library, the feeling of isolation would set in. Our staff dealt with a distinctive set of daily circumstances our fellow system coworkers could not relate to. Such issues as our variation of hours and specialized collections, the high volume of youth patrons we would attract, and historical relationships with the other departments, made for many atypical practices and protocols that existed only at that branch.

Those distinct procedures were designed and implemented by our staff. As issues would arise, we never seemed to have a precedent to refer to, or neighboring location to contact for advice. It was sink or swim, making for an atmosphere of trial, error, and creativity. The staff also took on an intrinsic confidence, pride, and positive morale from our situation. The negativity of such sheltering was balanced by the level of input staff had on the daily tasks being carried out. They had pride because of buy-in that always came in the early stages of something new.

Larger traditional libraries with higher staff numbers could benefit from the upsides we gained from those feelings of seclusion. Oftentimes staff would-be contributions can get lost in such environments. Mechanisms for sharing ideas and front line input can be muddled by process and procedure, and creativity can be diminished, or removed altogether. I learned that the most authentic way to earn staff buy in was to actually allow for and incorporate staff input.  

Today, I am managing a division that is located in the main library location of major city, which is a vastly different experience from those eleven hundred square feet. But, the lessons stated here, and many unmentioned more, have taken me far, and wider than first imagined.

LeoNard Thompson is a former at-risk educator, now writer, presenter and managing librarian in Washington, DC. Find out more about him at and follow him on twitter @Lee_Yo_Nard

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Over the River, and Through the Woods: On Attending Midwinter

"Snowy Philly"

I'll admit it: I almost didn't attend ALA Midwinter, even though it was held just a little over an hour from where I live. You see, the entire week leading up to the conference, I participated in the in person seminar part of the College Library Directors' Mentor Program. I was worried that I'd be peopled and library talked out. Besides, I knew I'd be missing my old lady kitty by that point. But I let a combination of factors win me over: a good friend was presenting as part of the GamerRT Forum, a lot of people I admire were going to be in a panel discussion with a topic close to my heart, and finally there's the fact that someone guilted me into going.

No exaggeration in that tweet, by the way. I really did have an amazing time at midwinter. I was surprised to get so much out of the conference, since the one time I went to ALA Annual was a mixed-emotions kind of experience. Now that I've had a couple of days to ruminate, I've come up with a list of reasons why I liked ALA Midwinter 14 so much better than Annual 10:
  1. Midwinter is a much more manageable size. Thus far in my career, my favorite library conference is definitely LOEX (highly recommended if you can go, and if you get a paper accepted you are guaranteed a slot - something I've been fortunate enough to do twice), and the times I've been the total attendance was somewhere between 400 and 500 people. Compare that to ALA Annual, which attracts upwards of 20k attendees.
  2. The smaller size meant I was able to have deeper conversations with people. Dinner with the libtechgender crowd after the panel was fantastic. It was interesting to participate in a more personal discussion of gender issues in the work place.
  3. There were sessions that interested me personally and professionally, and that I felt would give me real takeaways. (Confession: I sometimes feel like a lot of conference sessions are prompted more by a need to put something in the tenure portfolio than a genuine desire to communicate findings.)

  4. Really, though, the best thing was the people. Twitter encompasses so many of my professional contacts and so much of my personal learning network, and I feel like I met and/or hung out with about half of my Twittersphere in the space of 12 hours.

So there's my ALA Midwinter story. A fantastic conference experience, and I wish you the same the next time you decide to go out of your library to engage with the rest of our profession. 

Anybody else who attended want to chime in?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Curiosity, aka Lifelong Learning, by Margaret Henderson

My grandmother, Elizabeth Wallentiny, and the author
at her MLIS graduation in the fall of 1986.

I know when you are beginning your career in librarianship and you are full of wonderful new ideas, you don’t want to listen to the meanderings of a greying librarian. I know because I felt the same way. But luckily I had a couple of wonderful librarians in my life who I had to listen to, so I hope you can bear the history lesson.

My mother and grandmother encouraged me to be curious about everything as I was growing up and that has been important for my career as a librarian. My grandmother was also a living lesson in lifelong learning, even before it was a trendy topic in education. At 58 years old, she went back to school to get her MLS. She already had a MA in English (from a university in Paris) and worked in the university library cataloging books, but if she wanted a pay raise, she had to get her degree, so she did. Sixteen years later I graduated from the same library school. As luck would have it, when I went to work at the university my mentor was a good friend of my grandmother’s, Eva Borda. Eva was a nurse who became a medical librarian. She started in an all print world and had to learn how to search the earliest versions of what is now PubMed. She taught me to use the primitive dumb terminal we had at the university sciences library for command language searching.

The years I worked at in the university library system were exciting. The dumb terminal gave way to MEDLINE and other databases on CDs, and much better interfaces for librarians searching online, although I still had to learn the command language and field tags for multiple system. Staff were given computers and I made my first library subject pathfinders on a 286 with XYWrite.

When my husband graduated, we move to the US for his post-doctoral work. After a short detour teaching genetics, I started as library director for a science research institution. I quickly realized that my work back at the university was only slightly exciting compared to what was happening in librarianship in the 1990s. It started with finishing the catalog automation project started by the previous librarian and then dealing with the start of e-journals. There were no standards, no guarantees for future access, no pricing guides online, in many cases no IP access, just password access which was useless for an institution.

On top of that, everything else was changing. I used Gopher, joined listservs, used the first Netscape, did some work with GenBank, set up a website using HTML programming, collaborated with IT on bringing EndNote to the researchers, and signed up my institution to beta test Grateful Med. My library education only prepared me for a small portion of this. After all, some things were too new to have been in my classes, and how can 15 one-semester courses cover everything anyway? So, whenever I could, I took Continuing Education classes at the library school down the road, especially the yearly MEDLINE update classes, or at various professional meetings

I could write a whole post about work/life balance, but it is enough to note that at this point, in 1999, the best decision for my family was for me to ‘retire’ and stay home with my daughters. Because of my experience, it was fairly easy to find part-time work while my daughters were in school, so I continued to learn new computer skills, especially web site and database skills, and I learned about grant writing.

In 2004 we moved, which brought me in contact with new part-time experiences. Over the past 10 years I have working part-time for a hospital library, a school of medicine department, and an academic health sciences library. I have learned about intranets, multiple web site development programs, citation management programs, image and research data database programs, integrated curriculum instruction, systematic reviews, NCBI databases, social media, health informatics, and new interfaces for almost every database I search.

I have been lucky that some of my positions have supported continuing education and professional development with time and funding, but that has not always been the case. Much of my work has been on an hourly basis, so my continuing education has to be on my own time. Sometimes you need to learn and practice new skills on your own. And sometimes you need to look for opportunities. For instance, I was able to get a scholarship to online courses to earn a graduate certificate in biomedical informatics. And it doesn’t hurt if you find it enjoyable to read the latest news related to the subject areas you are working with. Researchers and other professionals and academics have to continue to learn and update their skills, so it only makes sense that we have to do the same in order to help them with their information needs.

When I was interviewed for my current position, I was asked about how I would cope with the change to working with data and I laughed because my whole career as a librarian has been about change. Because I have continued to learn and follow my interests, I had the basic skills necessary to take on research data management. And of course, I continue to seek out new continuing education and professional development opportunities as I move forward in my new job. I hope I never stop learning.

Margaret Henderson is Director, Research Data Management and Associate Professor at VCU Libraries, Virginia Commonwealth University. Since she graduated from SLIS at University of Western Ontario, Margaret has worked mainly in science libraries, including 7 years as library director at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. She blogs at Life, Librarianship, and Everything and posts on Twitter as @mehlibrarian.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Textbooks, Students, and Socioeconomic Statuses

I saw a tweet last week that read like a subtweet directed at every student with whom I've worked in my career as an academic librarian: "Or you could just buy your textbooks." (May not be an exact quote.) I'm not going to post it here, nor name the person, because that person is not my issues. No, my problem is with the major and minor misunderstandings that went into that tweet. Besides, I don't want to call out that individual because, if I'm going to be honest, these are misunderstandings that I held for years myself.

Misunderstanding #1: I've mentioned this before on my blog, but our students - even at the elite colleges and universities - are not us at that age. They are at college mostly because it's the next logical step and they've been told it will help them get a better job and so on. Even the most academically-oriented will usually only buy books for classes in their major, when they know they'll want to keep them beyond the class.

Misunderstanding #2: Two of my three library jobs have been at colleges with a high proportion of first generation college students. In both cases, more than 40% of the undergraduate population were/are first gen. They don't come to college knowing the culture, the expectations, the norms. They were given access to their textbooks in classes in k-12, and some even got to take them home, and so they won't expect this cost.

Misunderstanding #3: Speaking of costs, have you seen how expensive textbooks are these days? The prices have risen way way way beyond normal inflation. I've seen 150 page, flimsy paperback textbooks going for $100+. You know how so many libraries can't afford to keep up? Imagine that at an individual level.

Misunderstanding #4: Some of our students genuinely can't afford these books. They and their families are taking out loans and maxing out credit cards just to get the students to college.

Misunderstanding #5: This is a misunderstanding on the part of our patrons: No, most college libraries - heck, most libraries in general - aren't in the business of buying and stocking textbook-y textbooks, but a lot of people think "libraries = books," and think we will have them.

All of this is to say that some students can't just buy their textbooks. So please, if a student comes to you and asks for a textbook, feel free to inform them that your library doesn't carry them, but keep the above misunderstandings in mind. Please try to help them find a copy through your consortium if your library belongs to one, and definitely have sympathy for students who can't afford/didn't know they need to buy textbooks. It's hard enough for students to come ask us for help in the first place; you showing them scorn (and it shows, even if you think it doesn't) will only make things worse.

One final note: I've talked to a few other librarians who do stock some textbooks in their libraries, both college/university level libraries as well as private high schools. I've been talking with some of my allies at my college, and I've decided to try an experiment next academic/fiscal year: I'm going to buy and keep in the library a few copies of the textbooks for each class with a high proportion of at risk students. If that works well, we'll expand. I'd love to hear from anyone who's got experience with this kind of program.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Getting Your Foot in the Door: Moving From a World of Possibility to One of Opportunity, by Emily Weak

"Tundra," by Nate Eul

I was one of those naive fools who started library school without any actual library experience. When I went in, I had vague notions of being a teen librarian, because I liked YA books (if you were to watch a seasoned librarian read this, now is the point when you would hear uproarious laughter [Editor’s Note: Yup, I laughed when I read that, but also me, too: my first experience in libraries other than as a patron was the volunteering I did my last semester at Simmons.]). When I got out of school, I had broadened my interest in potential careers to include special libraries (where I had actually gotten experience), academic libraries (no experience, although I had been a research assistant), and both adult and children’s services in public libraries (no experience).

Basically, there was a whole world of exciting possibility out there in libraries.

I graduated in May of 2011, and was laid off from my paraprofessional position about five months later. 2011 was a tundra for library jobs - hiring was frozen all over. At the time, my resumé was full of creative reaches written in a sort of desperate hope that all my non-library experience could translate into actual library skills.

In spite of my wide ranging dreams of possible librarian jobs, the actual opportunities were few, far between, and intensely competitive.

I applied to a wide range of positions - academic, special, public, and non-library. My wishful resumé did manage to get me a few interviews, in more than one of those categories. Finally something clicked, and I got a pool librarian position at a multi-branch, city-based, public library. (If you’d like to know what it was like doing pool work for three different libraries, I wrote about it.) At the time, I only had a bicycle and public transportation, and I often had a four hour round trip, to work a four hour shift.

But it was library experience! Adding this to my resume won me a second pool position, in a different city. And then a third city library sent a hiring announcement for pool positions to the first library - so I was part of a small group that knew the third library was hiring, and was able to get a position there as well. Then, finally, over a year and a half after getting that first job as a pool librarian, I was hired into a permanent position, in adult services, at that third library.

I’m about six months into this permanent position, and I love it. This is what I want to do. This is what I’m good at. I still have fleeting dreams of working in children’s services, or even as an academic librarian, but for the most part my world of possibilities has narrowed down to this single opportunity.

The point of telling my story to you, here today, is this: get your foot in the door. If you’re just getting started, put your feet in as many doors as possible. Take a part time job that’s far away from you. Volunteer. If you’re still in school, do internships. If internships are not available, see if you can create them at libraries you’re interested in. Do what it takes to get experience doing actual librarian work.

And then, once you get that foot in there, do good work. Be on time. Put your nose to the grindstone. And the most important thing: be nice. Be fun to work with. Make your coworkers’ jobs easier. Over at Hiring Librarians I often see job hunters complain that it’s not what you can do, it’s who you know. They’re right. Getting to know other librarians, and letting them get to know you, is vital to finding and making the most of opportunities. People skills are the most important skills you can develop, both in your work as a librarian, and in your career trajectory.

Emily Weak is an adult and virtual services librarian at Mountain View Public Library (although she still works as a pool librarian one day a week in Oakland).  She blogs at MLISsing in Action, and also founded Hiring Librarians, which features short interviews with people who hire librarians, and some other stuff. You can find her on Twitter @flemmily and at the Hiring Librarians' Twitter account, @HiringLib.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Room to Think

A friend of mine recently introduced me to Onion Talks. As you might guess from the name, they are an Onion-y satire version of TED Talks. Before anyone else brings it up, yes... I have mixed feelings about The Onion (everyone still remembers their horrible tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis, right?), but then again I also have mixed feelings about TED. Be that as it may, my introduction to Onion Talks came at a point when Barbara Fister's "Some Assumptions About Libraries" was still fresh in my mind. Fister's ideas about libraries and knowledge and learning culture resonated. I'm supposed to be a knowledge worker, but I rarely feel like I have enough time to explore my own ideas - with the obvious exception of this blog - since so much of what I do lately is administrative (bills don't pay themselves).

Back to my friend and the Onion Talks. Imagine me sitting there, with Barbara's post still running around the back of my mind, watching this:

Again, ideas and thinking and knowledge creation and all, but from a very different perspective. Did you catch the slide that popped up at the 1:49 mark? "Ideas Are An Inneficiency"?!?! Compare that statement to Fister's "Libraries are not, or at least should not be, engines of productivity." It was almost a physical shock when I saw that slide. Immediately after I was done watching the video, I filed it under "too true to be funny," and tried to go on my way. But I couldn't... that video has stuck with me, so now I need to do something with the turmoil it caused.

It all comes back to room to think. I'm always trying to read more and do more and be more efficient and pack more into my days. Some of that is a byproduct of my job. Since I'm the director at a library that is understaffed and, like most academic libraries - especially at small, liberal arts colleges - underfunded, it's not like I'm going to be able to block out time just for thinking. Instead, I'm going to have to try to do things more intentionally. Slowing down on occasion to examine my underlying assumptions and goals for my daily activities is one way I can do this. Letting go of my MUST READ EVERY AWESOME THING ON THE INTARWEBS mentality is another.

I'm not sure where this will all end. This intention to give myself room and permission just to think may crash and burn the first time I get a panicked faculty member coming to my office because s/he NEEDS this or that from me for an accreditation or a grant application (for the record: this has never happened where I work now), but I'll never find the space if I give up looking for it before I've begun.

Just think... an Onion Talk (combined with something that Barbara Fister wrote) is making me seriously reexamine my professional practice. Who'd'a thunk it?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Librarianship As a Second Career or On Having A Job That Fits, by Yvonne Mulhern

Finding a career choice that is a good fit isn’t always easy.

Many, many librarians come to librarianship as a first career. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I am not one of them. When I was a high school senior, an aptitude test revealed that librarianship was the career that would fit me best. I had just changed my occupational aspirations from writing to acting, so I was duly dismayed by the results. I could have saved myself a lot of time, money, and hassle if I’d gone straight into librarianship. Some people have to touch the stove to verify that it’s hot…or, in my case, try on various career hats before finding one, finally, that fits.

Despite the detours, it has all turned out well for me. It is perfectly OK, nay fabulous, to start librarianship as a second (or third, or fourth) career. There are advantages and disadvantages to doing so.

Some of the pros of entering librarianship later include:

Life and work experience. With a few (or more) years of work experience under your belt, you have hopefully learned the basics of being a good employee, such as meeting (and surpassing) employer expectations, working well with others, and engaging in professional development. Further, you’ll be done contending with mastering the skills of new adulthood.
Transferable skills. Chances are you will have picked up some helpful skills from your previous work life, whether they are managerial, technical, or academic. Use them.

Outsider’s perspective. You can look on your library’s practices and policies with fresh eyes. Depending on your workplace, this viewpoint might even be actively solicited.

Insider’s perspective. If you are in an area of librarianship where you work directly with others, your previous field experience provides a unique perspective for patrons seeking help in that area.

Appreciation. If you’ve entered librarianship after having a career that wasn’t a good fit, the contrast between old and new can be a relief. When I was a public school teacher for at-risk kids, for example, I was often told I was “too nice.” For that job, I probably was. In librarianship, my “niceness” is appreciated, which is a welcome change.

Some of the disadvantages of starting librarianship later are:

Starting over (sort of)
Since you are brand new in the profession, chances are you’ll be applying for entry-level positions at an age where your chronological peers may be managers or administrators. This means less money and less status. It may also mean having supervisors your age, or younger.

The job market is not always kind to older workers, especially during difficult economic times. What’s “older”? Unfortunately, it may depend on the employer (whether an individual or institution). I’m quicker to pick up on statements that could be perceived as ageist than I used to be because, ahem, now I feel more personally affected.

Since you’ll be starting later, you’ll have less time to climb your way up the ranks. An exception to this might be if you have lots of management or supervisory experience, in which case you may be able to “jump the line.”

Unique concerns
You’re more likely to have non-work concerns during the job application process: children, elderly parents who need care, health issues, or a significant other who can only work in a certain geographic area.

Librarianship, by and large, tends to be a profession for generalists. It makes perfect sense that people who have been in other professions would be attracted to it. As it turns out, that inventory test back in nineteen hundred and ::cough, cough:: was absolutely right. In my current position, I do instruction, which taps into my desire to be in front of others. (Better still, I work with people who –usually--want to be in the room, vs. those who are legally compelled to be there). I still manage to do the odd bit of writing. And, best of all, I’m helping people.

Yvonne Mulhern is Outreach/Instruction librarian at Tarleton State University. She is also a co-director for the Texas Social Media Research Institute and a co-editor for the Journal of Social Media in Society. You can find her on Twitter as @yvonnethelib.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bloggity Blogging (Librarian) Blogs


I talk a lot about making sure you read outside of library professional literature, but it's just as important to read within the field - at least from time to time. I read a lot of isolated posts, and a lot of librarian blogs in general, but when it comes to my own part of this crazy profession (academia), there are a few blogs that I recently noticed that I read without fail.

Feral Librarian, written by Chris Bourg
I've quoted her here before, and I'm sure I will again, but really you should be reading her blog for yourself. She writes about librarianship, race, gender, and higher ed. She doesn't pull punches, as the saying goes. I appreciate how her sociology background informs how she writes about librarianship. (She's also on Twitter @mchris4duke.)

Library Babel Fish (part of Inside Higher Ed), written by Barbara Fister
Barbara makes noise about controversial issues, phrasing her concerns and assertions in ways that make me want to be a better writer. In the past, I've shared her thoughts about freshmen writing assignments (concerns I share) with writing professors and had productive conversations about the integration of information literacy as a result. I got to see her speak at LOEX 2013, and her keynote was a major highlight of one of the best conferences I've attended. (Find her on Twitter @bfister.)

Beerbrarian, written by Jacob Berg
Jake's posts always make me laugh and make me think. His post about surveillance and libraries is a must read, as are his semi-controversial ideas about interviewing. For the record: I agree with what all he wrote; I say "controversial" because he got a lot of negative comments. A bonus for those of you who love craft beer and indie music: he occasionally writes about those things, too. (Before any of you accuse me of bias because of the not-at-all-secret librarian bromance I have with Jake, think again: our friendship developed because of the admiration I have for him professionally, not the other way around.)

How about you? Which librarian blogs are indispensable and/or shape your practice?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Just For Fun: Come Downstairs and Say Hello

I can't believe I've been writing these monthly just-for-fun posts for as long as I have, and haven't yet gotten around to writing about Guster. If I'm experiencing a bout of crankypantsitis, almost nothing puts me back in a good mood more quickly than listening to their music. I've seen them live more than any other group - which might not seem like saying much, since I've only seen them twice, but I'm normally satisfied seeing even beloved musical acts once and only once. Really... I'd watch Guster perform every single night, that's how much I love them. (And since they've made noise about working on a new studio album, I'll get a chance to see them again soon.)

The joy for me isn't just in their music (which I love to an insane degree). Okay, there is actually joy there, but my favorite thing about them is how Guster obviously loves what they do. The first time I saw them live, the soundboard had electrical issues. Instead of going off stage to wait, the band shushed the audience (not an easy feat, considering I saw them perform on a college campus as part of a Spring Fling type event), and went acoustic. When I saw them again recently, they played a game where everyone had to move a certain number of seats to the right but leave their instruments behind. This resulted in Brian Rosenworcel, the band's drummer, singing. Brian is *not* a good singer, and he didn't remember all of the lyrics, but the rest of the band laughed long and hard at Brian's dismay and that made the audience laugh. It was hella entertaining, and that's what matters with a live performance. Besides, as someone who was born in Boston, I am duty-bound to be gaga about at least one band from that city.

Add to that the fact that they have a habit of doing amazing covers of songs I already loved, and it's a recipe for obsession.

How about you? Is this your first exposure to the group, or are you a Gusterrhoid, too?