Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Librarian's New Year's Resolutions


I know what you're thinking: New Year's resolutions are so outmoded. People don't keep them, statistically speaking, so why even bother? The truth is, I keep more of mine than I break - especially the ones I've made in the last couple of years. Further, I find that letting others know that I'm trying to make changes helps me stick to the changes. I know my friends and colleagues wouldn't judge me if I backslide, but it feels like a promise I've made when I tell others... and that helps me stay the course. So this post is me letting someone know, and encouraging you to do the same.

In 2014, I resolve to:

Make more local librarian connections/friends. As has been written many places (including on this blog), administration/management can be a lonely business. I have some wonderful colleagues among the staff at my current college and have even forged some friendships with members of our faculty, but that isn't quite the same thing as being friends with other librarians. Besides, I want some balance.

Read more professional literature. A lot of the professional development reading I've done over the past year has been in the form of audiobooks, which isn't the most productive method since my commute is only 10-15 minutes. I'm going to carve out an hour or two per week just for more reading.

Write more professional literature. My blogging time is sacrosanct, but I want to get my voice further out there, so I need to find more time for this. Besides, there are some open access publications that are edited by librarians who I really admire (Leslie Reynolds is part of the editorial team at Practical Academic Librarianship, and Barbara Fister is part of the group at The Journal of Creative Library Practice), and I want to support them.

Make new mistakes. Lots of them. Don't get me wrong: I'm planning to succeed lots, too. I like to take risks, but they are always calculated. However, if I'm willing to embrace my mistakes - and learn from them - successes won't be too far behind.


Finally, I resolve to spend more time concentrating on my professional strengths (as opposed to my weaknesses). I just finished reading Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow, and the results I got when I took the associated test, the Clifton StrengthsFinder, were startlingly accurate. I like the idea of working with what I'm already good at, and finding partners to balance me - instead of trying to be all things to all people.

How about you? Got any professional resolutions you'd care to share?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

You, Me, and Social Media, by Virginia Alexander

I found that as a MLIS graduate student, I had few librarian connections. I wasn’t sure where to turn, or how to start making connections with library-minded people in my area and beyond. As I became more and more interested in social media, I started seeing the value of putting myself out there online and how connections through various online platforms could impact job opportunities, friendships, and networking.

2013 has been the year of cultivating my own personal brand of librarianship through social media and my current blog. Now that I have a year under my belt working with various platforms, I only wish that I had begun earlier and certainly wish I would have begun as a graduate student.  I’ve learned many things along the way, and want to share them with you.

What are you conveying to friends, colleagues, and possible future employers online?

Many times it is hard to understand what avenue to take on social media, especially for a young librarian or graduate student. Social media is meant to be fun, but it is also a very powerful outlet. We may feel like we are connecting on a one-on-one level, but it is important to remember there are potentially multiple people viewing your profile.

If you are just beginning your social media adventure or are thinking about revamping your current one, I would like to recommend:
  • START SMALL: As a librarian, I firmly believe that being on Twitter and connecting with other librarians from all over the world will help you not only learn more about your profession, but also do more at conferences, and develop a general understanding about provocative issues in the library field. Invest in learning more about an aggregator platform such as HootSuite. You can do certain keyword searches through various platforms such as #libchat.
  • FIND YOUR VOICE: As your skills as a librarian develop, this will become easier. I hope to convey what type of person I am through my Twitter account, and various social media. I know that this can feel like a sticky situation because you want to show your personality while still remaining professional in the face of potential employers reading your timeline. It is a fine balance. Remember that your who you are online is an extension of who you are offline.
  • FOLLOW THE CHAMPIONS: Whenever I start something I really don’t understand, I try to find the “champions” of that thing. Following PLA, ACRL, Courtney Young (ALA President Elect), and others that will guide you in understanding what is important in the library field.

Best Practices
  • NO FIGHTING: Always stand up for what you believe in, but in a non-aggressive manner. Proving your point and tearing someone down are two very different things. Remember, your potential employer, or potential co-worker, could be watching. Show them that you know how to defend your opinions rather than bombard the opposing viewpoint.
  • CONTENT: Understanding what you want to post about is a tricky cat to dress. Some librarians on twitter only post or retweet statuses that deal with librarianship or research. Some librarians only talk about their personal life, and some do a mix of both. For myself, I try to talk about things that excite me. I try to show other people what I am creating. I try to encourage others. As you move further into social media, what you want to achieve will become more apparent. Don’t force it.
  • DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY: I would say that this is the hardest one for me. Many times people will want to fight, or will want to unfollow for various reasons. You as a young (or just new) librarian must be able to understand that it isn’t personal.
  • STEP AWAY: Always know your limitations. Many times it is important to step away from social media. If you start feeling that overwhelmed, put down the device and take a moment. Chances are that you won’t miss very much. Social Media will always be there waiting for you to return.

The concept of Digital Citizenship is still fairly new, and also somewhat geared towards a younger audience. You have the opportunity to be conscious of the image you are projecting and instead of avoiding the subject all together, take the topic by the reigns and become king of your social media. You control your image! I can wager that you will find other librarian that have the same interests as yourself, and will be as lucky as me to find some wonderful friendships as well.

Virginia Alexander, also known as the SketchLibrarian, is an academic librarian in South Carolina. In her spare time, she enjoys drawing, crafting, and creating. You take a look at all of her drawings, library musings, and general hatred of interstate-driving on her blog, SketchLibrarian, Three things about three things. Please also connect with her on twitter @SketchLibrarian

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Still Reading


Professional reading... it never really ends, does it? Just as I finish an article or a book, I find five more that I should and want to read. Funny me, though, I don't mind. Imagine that - a librarian who likes to read. 

Nevertheless, I haven't had as much time for sustained professional reading this past year, what with getting up to speed on my new job. I have managed to sneak in a few that, despite the fact that they aren't library science specific (or because of that?), I think you might want to read.

Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie

I'm almost done reading this as part of ramping up to the in-person seminar with the rest of my cohort of the College Library Directors' Mentor Program. I had taken the StrengthsFinder 2.0 test previously, as part of the Frye Leadership Institute, but I'd never read the book. I'll tell you, I really like the idea of leading from your strengths - working with what you're already good at - instead of trying to be all things to all people. Truth is, we're all leaders, even if we are in the middle or bottom of the pecking order, so everybody could benefit from reading this book.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

The ideas shared in this book can be boiled down to six words: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories, with the catchy acronym of SUCCESS. Reading this book changed how I communicate with my staff and my community. In fact, it has largely informed the new mission statement we are about to debut. Highly recommended reading for everyone, but librarians especially.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

If you had told me, even a year ago, that I was going to read and thoroughly enjoy a book about behavioral economics, I would have laughed. But that's what happened. Further, this book has shaped how I think about everything at work - understanding what motivates people, and using that understanding to benefit my community, has been a huge thing for me. It's a smidge long, at 512 pages, but it was worth the time I invested.

So, what all are you reading?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Elusive Gift for Giving, by Keri Cascio


The traditional gift giving holidays are upon us. But with birthdays and other events happening throughout the year, one question often comes up: “Who gives to whom, and how much?”

As a library manager, I expect that I or the organization will be the gift giver. I don’t expect to get gifts from my staff. And business etiquette says you shouldn’t give them to me. Alison Green of the Ask a Manager blog has written on this topic many, manytimes.

My first manager position was at a public library branch with about 25 (mostly part-time) employees. We didn’t have a birthday party rotation in place, so birthday gifts were at the discretion of friends and colleagues. We did try to celebrate the larger milestone birthdays as a branch. As a manager, I gave them each of my staff a high-end candy bar and a personal card on their birthdays. It was easy to catch everyone, as we were all working in one small building and there were staff lockers to drop off gifts early in the morning. It felt like it was a little thing that would make a big impact, and I believe it did.

The end-of-the-year holidays were much harder to deal with for me. I live a very secular life, and I don’t really celebrate anything unless family or friends invite me along. My first year, I bought everyone cute holiday socks and wrapped them in a small bag with candy and a card. I also bought the holiday ham for the staff party (and as a long-time vegetarian had no idea what I was doing at the HoneyBaked Ham store!). The next year I bought $5 gas station gift cards and candy, it seemed fitting as we had a QuikTrip location down the road and made regular drink runs. I had two full time supervisors who reported to me, and I bought each of them something more personal and expensive.

My staff bought me presents for the holidays and for my birthday. There was a group present, and also something special from a few people if they felt like it. I have to say that I never felt comfortable getting gifts from my staff due to the differences in position and pay scales, but I was also touched when they did it.

I currently work at an independent research library, and the atmosphere is much more conservative. I have four departments who report to me, with four direct reports and over 20 indirect reports spread throughout a very large building. Three of my departments get together for a monthly potluck birthday party, so I don’t do anything additional. December 1 was my start date, and I when I asked around that first year I was told that nothing was expected from me for the holidays as a supervisor. The library hosts a catered staff luncheon, and I’ve used that as an excuse not to do anything on my own. I don’t feel as connected to my indirect reports in this position, as I don’t see them on a regular basis. Living life “upstairs” and apart in administrative offices makes for a much different work culture.

I occasionally feel guilty for giving up the “warm fuzzies” I had in my previous job and stopping my gift- and card-giving habits as a manager. And at the same time I would feel strange just starting them up out of nowhere even though I know I could do that at any time.

If you’re wondering what to do at your own library, you really have to get a feel for the culture and follow your best instincts. Just remember that you don’t want to start traditions that become too difficult to maintain, whether due to preparation time or costs. I’ve heard stories of epic baking sessions and expensive presents that can’t be repeated year-to-year. My best advice would be to keep it simple, and keep it sincere.

Keri Cascio is the Director of Innovative Technologies and Library Resource Management at the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology in Kansas City, MO. She previously worked at public libraries, a state-wide consortium, and an ILS vendor that no longer exists. She current serves on the boards for ALCTS and the Missouri Library Association. Keri was a member of the inaugural ALA Emerging Leader cohort in 2007. She earned an MA in Information Science and Learning Technologies, emphasis Library Science, from the University of Missouri in 2003. You can find her on Twitter at @keribrary.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

When Expletives Happen, Or, What a Maroon!

Recently, I had an interesting (and funny) interaction with a student at my library. I was heading out of my office when the student in question, who was sitting just outside my door, cursed loudly. He blushed when he noticed me standing there, and stammered out an apology. The ensuing conversation was fun:
Me: "Do you think I've never heard these words before? Do you think I've never said these words before?"
Him: "But not at full volume in a library."
Me: "I work in a library and have for years. Of course I've said those words at full volume in a library."
Him: *laughing, obviously more relaxed*
I wasn't lying just to make him feel better (although I will admit I might have, given similar circumstances). I do cuss at work. Not as much as I used to, now that I'm the Head Cheese in Charge (of a very small library), but [expletive] happens. There are the occasional expletives of frustration. I've also been known to throw a few choice bits into conversations with students who I know well (and who I know won't have a heart attack). There's even, from time to time, a certain hand gesture that could be mistaken for someone miming rolling dice, but that is actually something quite rude. 

The thing is, most people I know use off-color language at least occasionally. Also, almost nobody I know gets really gets offended at these words; they just get offended on behalf of others. Besides, if they can say "ass" on prime time television, I figure I can say it in my library once in a while.

How about you? Do you keep it 100% clean? Or are you known to cuss?

And because no discussion of this type is truly complete without a word or two (or seven) from George Carlin...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

So, You Want to Be a Hospital Librarian?, by Elizabeth


Medical librarianship is not something that is typically encountered in library school outside of a special libraries class, and even then it’s just a section of the class. So when I first started as a solo hospital librarian, I knew next to nothing about health sciences librarianship, and even less about hospital librarianship.

Hospital librarianship is different from medical librarianship because a hospital librarian is both a medical and a business librarian. There are no subject specialties in hospital librarianship; you are a jack of all trades. Hospital librarians typically work with a broad range of people including medical students, residents, physicians covering a number of medical specialties, nurses, pharmacists, administrators, and sometimes even patients and family members. Not only do you need to be familiar with the typical medical literature databases (PubMed, CINAHL, Medline Plus), you have to be aware of special resources like point-of-care tools, clinical trial databases, evidence-based medicine, and resources concerning the business side of health care, rehabilitation, chaplaincy, psychology/psychiatry… The list goes on and on.

Hospital librarians are lucky because our jobs are never dull. We bounce from one user group to another, researching a broad range of topics with many different resources. But that’s also what makes it so hard. You have to know a lot. You need to know the basics of research, database searching, customer service, cataloging, etc., but you also need to know how to interact with different groups of people. How to know the difference between the kinds of literature an administrator wants as opposed to what a physician wants. Further,ou must be able to do this quickly and with authority. If someone is coming to you asking “how do we do xyz to help this patient get better?”, you need to be able to find the answer, have a basic understanding of the answer, and be able to give the user your opinion. 

Hospital librarianship is a lot like business or law librarianship. Your user isn’t interested in how you got to the answer, what database you used, or how to do it themselves. When someone calls you from the OR because the gastric bypass conversion went wrong or the colon isn’t where it’s supposed to be, a hospital librarian gives the surgeon the answer, plain and simple. There is no time to bombard the user with lots of information and details. A hospital librarian must always be aware that at the end of every search, of every PubMed lesson, of every article ordered, there is a patient, a real person who needs help.
Another thing to be aware of is that, unless you are very lucky and work for one the premier research hospitals, hospital librarians work either by themselves (like me) or with a very small support staff. Hospital librarianship is perfect for someone who can’t pick a specialty. Hospital librarians do reference and research obviously, but they also do the collection development, the cataloging, and the marketing. A hospital librarian is very often the director, the interlibrary loan librarian, the page, the electronic resources manager, the copier repair person, and tech support. In one day, a hospital librarian might attend a meeting with the president and chief medical officer of the hospital, join a group of clinicians on patient rounds, spend two hours making copies for various people, repair the fax machine, edit a powerpoint presentation, dust the library, and barter with a vendor over the price of a database.
If you are considering a career in health science librarianship, but want something beyond being embedded in the undergraduate nursing program or staffing the desk for the medical school library, take a look at hospital libraries. If you never considered anything related to health science and/or didn’t know that hospitals had libraries, still give hospital librarianship a thought or two. If you like juggling multiple projects at once, enjoy research, are not squeamish, like having autonomy and running the show, and are interested in the future of medicine, being a hospital librarian might be a good fit for you.

Elizabeth, better known as Lizy, is a solo hospital librarian living in the Heart of Dixie. In her spare time she enjoys reading romance novels, baking bread, and watching marathons on Netflix. You can check out all her ramblings on cooking, dating, traveling, home-owning, kitty parenting, and occasionally, being a librarian on her blog, Adventures in Life, Love, and Librarianship. She also tweets all the randomness that doesn't make it on her blog as @LibrarianLizy.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Puppy Power!: Therapy Dogs in an Academic Library

I ran a therapy dog event last week. It went so well that this blog post will probably sound much more gushy happy than I've ever sounded, but really - I knocked it out of the park with that event.

In case you aren't aware of this idea, there are lots of college and university libraries that bring trained, certified therapy dogs during stressful times of semester (for my school, the event happened during the week before exams). The point of these events is basically for students to pet and play with the dogs.

How did it go at my library?

  1. The dogs themselves were fantastic. Some were lap dogs, others wanted to play. All were sweet and gave boatloads of love to the attendees.
  2. The volunteers who brought their dogs were wonderful, too. All of them talked to the students - asking their names, majors, where they grew up, etc.
  3. The turn out was astonishing. When the dust and dog hair had been cleared, and all the counts counted, I realized that over 10% of the student body had come one or both nights. I was especially happy to realize that most of them were freshmen.
  4. I saw, and got to talk to, many students who I've never seen in the library before that event. One student was telling me about his dogs at home, another talked about possibly changing majors. They were in the library and relaxing.
  5. The best part? Student reactions. I overheard one student say, "This is the most fun I've had at college." Another clapped her hands, danced a little, and said, "yay!" when she got into the room where we held the event. One student wrote "DOGE" on the sign in sheet as her reason for attending.

I could cite research and talk procedures of running these events all day, but there are others better sources for that kind of information than my blog. If you're trying to get an event like this started at your library, let this post serve as the answer to why these events should be done.

My biggest bias in my work is towards the needs of the students, and bringing therapy dogs in served their needs in spades. Puppy power!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

First Thursday's Just For Fun: Owl Always Have Eyes for You

When Waterstones made their announcement about their new delivery service, I felt like they had me in mind as a target audience.

It's worth clicking the link in that embedded tweet to see the Q & A about this new "service" of theirs, but here's the important bit:

If I didn't recognize this announcement for the joke it is, I'd move to within delivery range lickety-split, that's how much I love owls. Let me repeat that: I. LOVE. OWLS.

I love the small ones:

Saw-whet Owl

The ginormerous ones:

Eurasian Eagle-Owl

Fictional ones:

And ones that only seem fictional:

I love them OWLHow about you?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tomorrow's Problems

"Thinker on a Rock"

This weekend I finally got around to reading a Harvard Business Review blog network piece that was published last year, "If You Were the Next Steve Jobs..." by Umair Haque, and it has me thinking lots of thinks. Two of the five problems he identifies are places where libraries have got it all over big business - areas where we excel. The other three, however, are places we need to work. At least that's where my thinking has gone, so I wanted to share:

The first problem identified by Haque is Singularity. This is the one place I think libraries differ from big business. He asserts that they know how to do things on a big scale. Libraries, on the other hand, aren't always the best at scaling up. The good news is that we do know how to do the opposite. Librarians are the kings and queens of singularity; making a difference for individuals is our bailiwick. Maybe big business could learn from us for a change.

Another area where libraries have got it going on is Sociality. We may not always understand how to do the social media thing, but we do know how to build relationships with our community/customers/patrons. Individualized readers' advisory and research assistance, study spaces appropriate for large groups and small groups and individuals, and programming for all ages. We've got relationship building covered.

As for the issues I see us having in common with Hague's typical audience...

Spontaneity is a huge problem for us. Even at small libraries like mine, there are still hoops to jump through. And what's worse, we are so inured to it that we don't always notice how stodgy we are. I know there are good reasons for checks and balances, but they get in the way as much as they help. For instance, it startled me when my last job called me within days of my interview to offer me that position, because I'm so used to academic hiring practices going glacially slow. Don't even get me started on the reactions I get from librarians who work at research institutions when I tell them it took me six months to get a new program started - "How did you get it done so quickly?!"

Synchronicity is another problem we face. There is so much "Us vs. Them" thinking in libraries and academia that it can be impossible to work together. I'll admit even I fall victim to this one. I do my best to build relationships across my institution; I like working with student life and academic affairs and even athletics, trying to build consensus with students from across disciplines, etc. What's best for the college is important to me, but I'll admit that I fight tooth and nail for what the library needs and wants. If I'm not careful, I can get deeply into "Us vs. Them" thinking when it comes to budget planning.

Finally, and this is a big one, he discussed Solubility. In Hague's words: "the biggest lesson — and the one hidden in plain sight — is this: creating institutions capable of not just solving the same old problems, forever." From buildings that were finished just before laptops became a thing to libraries and librarians jumping on memes that are sad and out-of-date, we are too often behind the curve. From graduate programs to individuals to the institutions where we work, too many of us are solving yesterday's problems. Looking forward instead of back is one of the biggest reasons I look outside of libraries to see what's coming, because if businesses are dealing with it now, sure as shootin' I'll be dealing with it soon.

I still have lots of ruminating to do, but the point of Hague's piece, of solving tomorrow's problems instead of yesterday's... Well, that's an idea that has a lot of appeal. I'm not sure if the problems Hague lists are the problems of tomorrow's library, but they are a place to start. What do you all think?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Gon Out Backson Bisy Backson: No Blog Posts This Week


Between a horrid cold and the upcoming holiday here in the States, I've decided to take the week off from blogging. In the mean time, here's the source of my title to tide you over.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Zen and the Art of the Conference Proposal, by Valerie Forrestal

Your first year as tenure-track faculty is an odd one. You’re not expected to publish right away, but it’s encouraged that you keep your CV active by adding to it in one way or another. Given the amount of time you spend acclimating to a new workplace during your first year (anywhere, not just in academia), you don’t necessarily have the time or the connections to do anything major. Often you’re expected to spend that first year choosing future research projects, and starting to design your research studies and maybe collect some data if you’re lucky. Sometimes, if you’re like me, you were hired to work on a specific project, and will spend much of your time tackling minor practicalities like building a website from scratch and migrating the entire former site’s content to it. Pish posh.

This forces you to be a bit creative with adding lines to your CV. I’ve looked for limited time and energy-commitment obligations, like less formal writing projects and talks at local chapter meetings. One opportunity I stumbled across on one of the CFP blogs I follow was a call for conference proposal reviewers. I’ve acted as a peer reviewer in the past, so it seemed like a good opportunity for some professional service.

About halfway through the 20-or-so proposals assigned to me for review, I realized that this was much more than just a line on my CV. I’ve submitted many conference proposals in the past (a handful of which were actually accepted,) but being on the other side of the submission process gave me some useful insights for the future. (For the record, the conference was not library-focused, and it was a blind review process, so I feel ok about talking about it publicly.)

First, I shouldn’t have to say this, but based on many of the submissions I reviewed it warrants a mention: Follow. The. Instructions. You’ll read this advice a lot in posts about applying for jobs, but it goes for pretty much any official process in the professional world. Sometimes you think can skip steps. Maybe you know someone. Maybe you’re a big name in the field. Maybe you presented last year. Well, I can’t see your name and I wasn’t at last year’s conference, so do us all a favor and complete all the fields in the form. If I don’t need a certain piece of information I’ll skim over it. Better safe than sorry.

Here’s another piece of advice that comes directly from job application best practices: customize, customize, customize. Maybe you’re submitting a similar proposal to several similar conferences. I don’t care. Take the time to tweak your proposal to at least touch upon this specific conference’s mission and theme. I know you have to put out a lot of proposals just to get a few acceptances, but try to make it feel like this conference is one you actually *want* to present at.

GradHacker recently did a post on Killer Conference Proposals, and while all their tips are good ones, I think their final tip is of particular importance: “Explicitly state an audience takeaway.” Of course *you* find your research interesting and relevant (or at least I hope so). But take a step back and think like a marketer. What are you offering presentation/panel attendees? So many proposals I reviewed talked exclusively about their own experience without in any way addressing why that experience should matter to anyone else. Is the technology you used attainably-priced? Are your assessment standards widely accepted? What kind of implementation time/resources did it take? I’ve sat through many presentations where the project discussed was fabulous, but I came away frustrated because the presenters made no effort to tell me how I could replicate all or part of it, or apply the knowledge elsewhere. Give me something I can use, or reserve this talk for a showcase or project update event.

My last piece of advice doesn’t really apply to a blind review, but I’ll mention it anyway. When I’m participating in an event, I make sure to publicize it throughout my own networks. I like to think this gives a person a reputation as someone who will actively work to help draw in attendees, and thus be an asset to future events.

If anyone else has been part of the conference proposal review process, please leave some tips in the comments! What causes you to reject a proposal outright? What puts a presenter on your good side right away?

Valerie Forrestal is the Web Services Librarian and an Assistant Professor at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York. Her education includes an MA in Media Production from Emerson College, an MLIS from Rutgers University, and an MS in Service-Oriented Computing from Stevens Institute of Technology. Valerie specializes in web development, social media, technology planning, and innovation in libraries and higher ed. You can find her online at vforrestal.com, vforrestal.info, or on Twitter @vforrestal.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Academic Freedom! Huh! What is It Good For?

There's an interesting conversation on Twitter lately about the role of tenure and academic freedom in academic librarianship. 
I've not yet put my oar in, so to speak, and it's because I've been formulating my thoughts on the topic. That embedded tweet up there really caught my attention, and it pushed me to write something finally. Fair warning, though: my thoughts are still a bit jumbled and they are 100% biased by my professional experiences.

You see, I've never had "academic freedom" in the form that tenure is supposed to provide. I've always worked at institutions where librarians were either seen as professional staff or staff/faculty hybrids, and as a result I've never even had the option of tenure nor that kind of academic freedom. I've thought a lot about it over the years, and my emotions are still somewhat mixed. Tenure has always seemed a double-edged sword because I don't have the golden ball-and-chain tying me to a job, but I do have to watch what I say.

Before you voice any doubt about me watching what I say, in light of how outspoken I can be, trust me when I tell you that I do filter. I filter a lot. For instance, there are certain trends in higher ed and in libraries in general that I think are complete bull poop, show poor pedagogy, and are tremendous wastes of money/time/effort, but I've not said anything because of self-censorship and circumspection. In addition to always having been professional staff or staff/faculty hybrid, I've also always worked as an "at-will employee." This means that the difference between me employed and me unemployed is the five minutes it would take the head of security to confiscate my keys and escort me to my car. Don't get me wrong: I do still shout pretty loudly about some things, and I don't let that "at-will" thing get me down too often. However, at a purposefully not described point during my ten years in higher ed, a colleague of mine in a different college department was let go pretty much because s/he had publicly disagreed with the institution's administration. That memory informs a lot of what I will and will not write on this blog.

Another piece of my jumbled thought process/experience is that I've never had tenure-driven academic freedom, but I have had tremendous professional freedom. This blog is one example of that. The whole purpose of this blog is basically to thumb my nose at the current state of affairs in MLIS education. Another example of professional freedom is how I've gotten to push my agenda in my work. But, if I'm going to be completely honest with you, there are some days when professional freedom feels like a consolation prize. I have so many things I would say if not for the self-censorship. If you think I'm opinionated here, just ask some of the people with whom I have deep librarian friendships what I'm like out of the public eye.

All of this goes to say that I see Chris Bourg's point in the tweet I shared above. I haven't yet added my voice to the conversation because I don't want people to think I'm making a broad generalization. I'm not. I see the blacks and the whites and the grays of this issue and of my brother and sister academic librarians. There are fierce tenured librarians out there fighting the good fight, but it seems like a small number. I really do feel that academic freedom for some tenured academic librarians is like youth being wasted on the young.

Again, I say: Chris is correct. Academic freedom! Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing... unless it's used. So here's a piece of advise from someone who doesn't have it: academic freedom is a right/privilege, and you should exercise it if you do have it. Or, in Chris' words, "librarians who have [academic freedom should] wield it fiercely & often."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Storytime: You Have to Play to Win, by Cory Eckert


In grad school, I was going to be a teen librarian. I had no questions about this; it was all I wanted to do. As a result of this absolute certainty, I paid no attention whatsoever to any avenue that might have taught me storytime skills. This meant that I arrived at my first job, serving 0-18 year olds, with a ton of ideas about what to do with the teen program and zero tools in my storytime toolkit. I don't think I had ever even seen a storytime. I had worked in a school library, and done a lot of read-alouds, but even kindergartners aren't that excited about shaking their sillies out in front of all their peers. I had never done a fingerplay, or integrated a puppet into a song. I had never even heard of a flannel board, much less a draw and tell story. One thing I sort of intuited from what I was reading on the internet, and that you may not know, is that storytime is not just reading books out loud.*

Beyond that, want to know what storytime really is? It is a non-stop workout that involves keeping the attention of 10-100 toddlers while integrating early childhood development material, language awareness, body movement, and music, all while making it seem like so much fun that kids don't notice they're learning. In the beginning, I did not do any of this. I just read books out loud and sang (stiltedly, self-consciously) a couple of songs. The songs had to be tied to the theme, and there had to be a booklist on a parent handout that showed what Every Child Ready to Read skill it all related back to, etc. Kids did not really have fun at those storytimes. Nor did I, nor the parents.

The turning point for me was when a mom told me that her daughter, who never participated in shaking her sillies out during storytime, sung the song to her baby sister at home. This is how I began to understand that the way in which kids are learning at storytime cannot be measured by the metrics I was trying to use. This gave me room to loosen up, stop taking myself so seriously, and get comfortable in my skin. This might seem counterintuitive coming from someone who is always on about how misunderstood youth services librarians are in the profession, and how we don't just play but instead work very hard. It's not really counterintuitive. Babies and toddlers learn by playing, so we have to play with them.

We're not school. Part of why kids and parents voluntarily come back again and again, and make connections with us personally and as an institution, and champion us in voter campaigns, and tell their friends how great we are, is precisely because we're not school. In order to teach during storytime, I had to give up on the whole teaching idea and embrace the idea that we are creating an experiential whole literacy time, where kids learn all kinds of physical and social skills by playing and doing, and I have to play and do to get them comfortable. This comes out in all sorts of ways: not reading a book all the way through (which teaches parents who might have limited literacy skills that talking about a book also builds print motivation), abandoning songs when kids aren't into them, singing to random strange kids in the grocery store line to learn to go outside my comfort zone, and more. This letting it all out in front of a crowd is a muscle I have to develop, even as an extrovert. It goes against everything we're socialized to do, as educators, as women, as grown-ups. As such, it's been really good for me. I credit three year olds with being my favorite life mentors (Also, my favorite humans. The feeling is mutual).

From Saroj Ghoting, “According to the National Institute of Child Health and Development, early literacy is defined as 'what children know about reading and writing before they actually learn to read and write. To clarify, early literacy is not the teaching of reading. It is building a foundation for reading so that when children are taught to read, they are ready.'” Of course we build this foundation deliberately, and want to be taken seriously within our profession for how much work goes into it. Of course we want parents (and other patrons) to know that we educate ourselves in this practice extensively, so that they don't think we can be replaced by volunteers. But our service population is toddlers, and toddlers literally are not developmentally able to learn without playing, so we must have fun. Bonus! We're teaching parents how to play with their kids once they get home, which is a key component in early literacy. Print motivation means that kids are motivated to want to read books. That means they have to think reading books is fun, which means you have to think reading books to them is fun! So, brand new children's librarians, have as much fun as humanly possible. After all, you have the best job ever invented, and your fun is changing lives.


*For some great reading on essential storytime skills, check out Melissa Depper's blog series on the subject: http://melissa.depperfamily.net/blog/?p=2081

Cory Eckert is the Youth Services Manager at the Octavia Fellin Public Library in Gallup, NM. She received her MLIS from the University of Arizona in 2010 and learned what a flannel board was in 2011. She is the idea girl behind Guerrilla Storytime. She tweets at @helenstwin and blogs at Storytime Underground.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

You Can't Get There From Here: Wayfinding in an Academic Library

Before I get into the meat of this post, there's a word up in the title that you may not recognize, so I want to define it. "Wayfinding" is how we use the physical space and the cues it provides to find our way around; it's also a term used to describe signage systems that help us do just that. And it's a big deal.

I'm sure you're now asking, "but what about the rest of the post's title?" Well... Growing up in Massachusetts, I often heard a joke about a clueless city dweller and a Maine farmer. The joke went something like this:
A Bostonian gets hopelessly lost on a back road in Maine, his map and the directions he was given completely useless. A little ways up the road he sees a farmer mending a fence, so the Bostonian stops to ask for directions.
The farmer stops what he's doing, thinks about it for a moment, then starts [and you have to tell this part in a thick Maine accent which I've left off to help clarity], "You go down this road till you get to the fork where they rebuilt that barn that burned down a couple of years ago, take the left... no, the right at that fork. Hmm, no, that won't work. Tell you what, you go back the way you came for about three miles and turn left at that intersection where they're talking about putting a gas station and... No, that won't work either."
The farmer pauses for a while longer, and then looks at the Bostonian, "You know what, now that I think of it, really, you can't get there from here."
I look at how freshmen interact with my current library, and this has been true of every library where I've ever worked, and it seems like the freshmen are the Bostonians and we - librarians, upperclassmen, etc. - are the Maine farmers. We're friendly and helpful, but sometimes we make things harder than they need to be. The thing is, even the simplest of academic libraries can be overwhelming to freshmen, so we need to do everything we can to make the library as welcoming as possible, including the signage. Redesigning the wayfinding system/signage is something I did at my last job, and something I have slated for the summer of 2014 for my new gig. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, so I thought I'd share.

Here are some things I did with that past project that I'll either apply the lessons I learned in Ohio or recreate here. (This list was gleaned from reading multiple works on the topic that were written by professional architects as well as a couple of articles in the libr* literature.)

  • I spent some time wandering around malls and hospitals. In malls, whether or not the business remains solvent depends on whether people can find their way around. In hospitals, people's lives depend on it. (Yes, this is another instance of me beating the "Get Out of Your Silo" drum.)
  • I also went to nearby libraries to see what they were doing. I wanted to see the kinds of terminology they were using, since a lot of our students were from the local area. I also wanted to see what they were doing right and wrong. There was one public library that had well-designed, sturdy signs, so I sought out the person who'd overseen the project. She gave me some great pointers and the name of their vendor. On the other hand, there was an academic library not too far away that had all sorts of jargony signs. Ick.
  • Since I have a background in disabilities, I knew to research the Americans with Disabilities Act and what it has to say about signage.
  • Something that isn't in ADA but that does relate to disabilities is font. I know from previous work and lots of reading on the topic, that sans serif fonts are legible to a broader spectrum of people. (I'm especially fond of Trebuchet MS, because the a and the o look very different, which is a good thing.) I know fancy fonts are all fancy, but legibility is key.
  • I knew I needed to test new ideas before putting money and effort into creating a final product. One example of this was how we created the new library directory. I would go up to students in different parts of the library and say things like, "I know this may seem like a silly question, but what would you call this room?" Then, when I had a good draft of the list we wanted to use, I did the opposite - asked patrons, "I'm testing something for a new directory. Where in the library would you find [fill in the blank]?" I also checked to make sure that the signs were legible from a variety of distances and angles. Again: test test test!

That list above isn't a cure-all, but it is a good place to start. The best advice I can give you about signage is to be careful, or else you could end up causing this level of confusion:


Thursday, November 7, 2013

First Thursday's Just For Fun: The Score is Still Q to 12

It seems strange, but for the longest time I thought I was in the minority with my unwavering allegiance to and reading of Calvin and Hobbes. I know now I'm not alone, that there are countless C&H fans out there and more being born every day. Even still, I would put myself up there as a top tier fan. One piece of proof: I quote this strip regularly - sometimes without even realizing it. True story: I had been saying "Careful. We don't want to learn from this," (or derivations thereof) for so long I'd forgotten the origin until Daily C&H Quote tweeted it recently.

Full disclosure: I don't own ALL THE books, but I do own all the strips (found a list somewhere that named the books you needed for this). I've read my C&H books many many times, and they look like it. I don't really have a favorite, but I do lean towards The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, since Bill Watterson gave us wonderful background information about the characters and his creative process.

The thing is, there's so much to love about Calvin & Hobbes that I had a hard time even starting. So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite things:

  • There's something for every kind of taste:
Verbing Weirds Language
Bubble Gum is DANGEROUS
  • The fantastic mashups:
I have this t-shirt:
I bought this shirt, designed by Chris Wahl, from RedBubble, but it's no longer for sale.
I'd been coveting this t-shirt for a while, but missed it. Hoping it gets resurrected soon:
By Karen Hallion. I own other t-shirts with her art.
  • The fandom:
I came across this little gem recently and have lost count of how many times I've watched it. (Check the comments to see how awesome these people are. Yes, I know comments are usually BAD. Not this time.)

And then there's this documentary that I simply must see. I'm even considering preordering the DVD now.

So how about you. I must assume that you love C&H, otherwise you wouldn't have made it down to the end of the column. What do you love about the boy and his stuffed (or is he stuffed?) tiger? Have a favorite strip?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Why I Dressed Up for Halloween

I dressed up as Modern Medusa this year. I'll admit it's a recycled costume, but it was cheap (rubber snakes, a bit of fake hair, and snake earrings), easy to put together, and it's subtle enough that I get the most delightful double-takes when I wear it.

The problem is that, great as it looked, and as much as I enjoyed it, I almost didn't dress up this year. You see, even though Halloween is my most favoritest holiday, I wasn't sure about doing this at my still sort of new job. Being the director plus being among new people plus a budget strategy meeting on Thursday afternoon made me reconsider my normal approach to the day.

The pep talk I gave myself included a reminder of something a reader wrote me - about how I always advocate for people to be themselves. And it's true. In office decor, in how I teach, and so on, I try to bring my genuine self to the mix since I've always gotten better results that way. Heck, I've even had guest posts with similar advice.

Even still, it took me a bit to convince myself. I'm so glad I did, since it gave me not only the joy of the double-takes, but also the opportunity to make dumb jokes by giving the individual snakes names and saying things like "Oh, never mind Jasmine, she's a little hissy today." "Fred's trying to get away because he saw a tasty looking rubber rat."

I share this to remind you and me both to be yourself as much as you can, but also to let you know that it's still not always easy even for those of us who have been in the field for a while. It's true that dressing up might not fit with every community (which could be a municipality, a law firm, an institution of higher education, etc.), but trusting yourself and being yourself is always a good fit.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Getting Started with Readers’ Advisory, by Beth Saxton


Readers’ Advisory (RA) is finding the right book for a patron at the right time. We can use the same methods to provide a similar service to the users of the library’s other collections including music and video (media advisory of all types is becoming more important as libraries focus on service and community building rather than physical collections.), but to keep our examples simple I’m going to focus on books today.

We can provide passive readers’ advisory with booklists, displays, and programming or active readers’ advisory at the desk or in the stacks. For those of you who don’t have experience with RA, rest assured the same things that make for a successful reference interview also apply to the RA interview. Be approachable, ask open-ended questions, and listen carefully to what the patron is saying without jumping to conclusions.

Patrons often initiate the RA interview by asking for a general book recommendation or share that they’ve read an author’s entire backlist and are looking for something similar. Librarians can initiate RA conversations by asking patrons browsing the stacks or displays if we can help them find something to read.

You can get a better idea of what the patron is looking for with a few general questions:
  • Can you tell me about your favorite book? 
  • What is the last thing you read that you enjoyed? Why? 
  • What don’t you like in a book?

The last one can be especially helpful if you work in a politically or socially conservative part of the country. Often what your patron doesn’t like will have to do with sex, violence, or language. It is so much better to find these things out up front than have an offended patron later. Other times the answer will be something like “lots of description” or “wimpy female characters” which also helps you narrow down the options.

Usually follow up questions present themselves based on the patron’s answers. For example you’ll want to find out if they prefer historical fiction set in specific eras or whether the mysteries they like to read feature professional or amateur detectives.  These are what we call appeal factors, the essential things that connect a reader to the book.

Some appeal factors:
  • Genre
  • Setting
  • Mood 
  • Characters
  • Plot driven vs. character driven
  • Subject 
  • Style

Keep in mind that the obvious answer isn’t always the right one. A reader might seem to prefer mysteries, but what actually draws her to the book is the protagonist being an independent woman of a certain age. Learning what follow-up questions to ask and sorting out a wide variety of possible appeal factors takes experience, but stick with it and you’ll get better. It never hurts to practice on family members and co-workers!

Now that you’ve done your best to establish what the customer is looking for, the next step is to select the best tools to provide the answer. This is another way that the RA process is no different from any other type of reference transaction. Of course, nothing replaces reading broadly and knowing your own collection but that takes time and we are only human. NoveList, online lists created by libraries, and professional reviews are all valuable tools for readers’ advisory. Print genre guides may also be helpful, but obviously become quickly outdated.

While the appropriate professional listservs can often be helpful, please do not use them as your first resource. The rest of us on those listservs are all too busy to send you things you could find on the first couple pages of Google results. You will receive many more helpful responses and help your own reputation by sending a detailed request for help including the sources you’ve already used and the titles you have compiled so far.

Once you have made your suggestions you’ll want to wrap up the interaction on a positive note. We want to send the message that not only is it our job to help patrons with these questions, but that we actually care if they get what they came for.

Always leave the patron with multiple books to consider and let them know they should take only the ones that interest them. I always suggest they check out multiple titles and that they should feel free to stop reading if they find that one is not what they are looking for. Not only do some readers need a strange sort of permission to abandon a book, but it doesn’t hurt our circulation rates either.

Good readers’ advisory takes training and practice, but it’s well worth it to provide good customer service and promote the library collection.

Beth Saxton is a Youth Services Librarian with over a decade of experience in public libraries. She is a graduate of the MLIS program at the University of Western Ontario and tweets at @BethReads and blogs about youth services and young adult literature at http://www.bethreads.com