Extreme Librarian

I’m no adrenaline junkie, but I’ve done a few exciting things.  I’ve spent some time on the trapeze.   I’ve bounced through white water on a flimsy rubber raft.  One time I went skydiving (I had to take a nap afterwords, all the fear** drained the life out of me).

Libraries and Librarians are often viewed as safe and quiet.  No matter how many crazy ideas are contained therein, or how many banned books weeks are run, or how many times the federal government gives us the hairy eyeball (check out this article on libraries and the supreme court, it opens as word doc, don’t be alarmed), the stereotype of the kindly old lady reading stories to contented children will never die.

So I found something I didn’t expect from reference librarianship, it’s kind of a rush.

There is a certain kind of sheer terror which comes out of being asked to be an expert in something about which you have absolutely no clue.  Librarians know that we are there to help find answers, not to give them, but patrons don’t know that.  There must be a similar sort of fear if you are a spy in disguise, or commit identity fraud.  And then when you get away with it!   You pull it off!  You say, yes let me help you, with a certain brash confidence in your own ability, and manage to find the answer, or the resource, or to say “this requires more research, would you like me to email you with my findings?”  Or you turn it into a teaching moment and say “let’s look into this together, shall we?”  And they go away happy.  Because you know EVERYTHING and you’ve helped them.

Phew!  What an awesome job.

**For those of you who don’t know this feeling, take a look at my face below.  That sums it up.

My Librarian’s Code

There are a number of codes and manifestos in the library world, some of them quite good. The ALA in particular has two I really like, their Code of Ethics and their Library Bill of Rights.

I started library school fairly ignorant of the ins and outs of librarianship, but I’ve been delighted to find that as a librarian, I get to support basic principles that I really, truly believe in.  That I believe in so much sometimes I get a little choked up thinking about it.    So I’ve developed my own code, my list of library principles that I really get behind.

  1. Librarians create life long learners. At my library, a mother came in asking for help.  Her four year old couldn’t understand why certain things were small because they were small, and other things were small because they were far away (if you’ve seen the show Father Ted, you’ll understand why this was hilarious).  We the librarians tried to figure out how to explain perspective to a four year old, finding books and websites.  The mother ended up taking home a physics book with some helpful diagrams, and saying she’d use that and some anatomy textbooks to do a little more research and then sit down with her daughter.  I love this example for three reasons.  First that the library was the facilitator of this transaction.  Secondly, that it was perfectly acceptable for five librarians to spend time doing research for a four year old.  And finally, because the mom was a fantastic woman.  She acknowledged her daughter’s need for information, tried to explain, looked for help when she got stuck, and was willing to go the extra mile when the query required.  Her daughter is growing up knowing that not only are her questions about the world worthwhile, but that taking the time to find good answers is too.  I feel like this is a “make the world a better place” kind of thing, and I aspire to be like that mom.
  2. Librarians provide the flip side to Freedom of Speech.  What good is talking, if no one can listen?  Libraries provide a home for all sorts of unpopular ideas, and then librarians fight to keep them circulating.  Whether the recipient is a teenager in a bible belt town who thinks he might be gay, or a lone conservative trapped in the liberal people’s republic of Berkeley, both of these patrons can access the unpopular ideas that let them know they aren’t the only ones.  Patrons can find the comforting, the mind-blowing, the entertaining, and the educating, all under one roof.
  3. Librarians help people. That is their job.  I have seen my boss take a crazy reference question from an obvious nut-job, and treat it with the same professional care she provides to every other individual.  A lot of patrons approach the reference desk to ask “Can I ask any question?”  Yes.  You can.  You can ask any question, and we’ll try to help.  That’s the job.
  4. Librarians protect your right to privacy. Who even thinks about that nowadays?  We’ll say anything in public (particularly the public space of the internets), and we’ll type our mother’s maiden name and credit card details into anything with a text box.  But librarians worry about it.  Librarians said that the FBI didn’t have a right to seize computers to check up on patrons, fought the patriot act, and won (well, kind-of).  It’s a pretty amazing story.
  5. Librarians give you free stuff. Did you know that San Francisco Public Library card holders can access Rosetta Stone Courses online for free through the library?  Not to mention books, music, articles, movies, and homework help, generally in both electronic and regular formats.  If they don’t have it, they can probably get it for you from another library, just because you asked.  Don’t live in San Francisco?  They’ll give you a card if you live anywhere in California.  There’s lots of other great libraries too.  Probably right in your own town.   There are a couple of public library calculators which can help you figure out how much money you’ll save.  But honestly, who doesn’t like free stuff?

Amazing Jobs: Archivist at the New York City Ballet

Wouldn’t this be an amazing job?

Imagine working as an Archivist for the New York City Ballet, cataloging sweaty toe shoes.  They must have some fascinating materials; the website lists a bibliography, videography, discography, and mentions costumes.  They also have an online exhibition with tons of great pictures.

Discussion Board Postings: When Will They Write a Style Guide?

Have you seen this?

The Yahoo Style Guide.  For writing and editing on the web.

What I really wish is that someone would write a style guide to discussion board posting.  In my online course, I have seen a range of styles. A few of my favorites:

  1. Personal Letter – This is generally in response to someone’s post, although sometimes people just bust this out for their original one.  It goes like this: Dear fellow student, I loved your post!  It echoes my own experience in this fashion.  Don’t you love/hate/feel indifferently toward that?  Me too!  Best, Personal Letter Poster
  2. Practicing for my Thesis – This is a very professional type posting.  It may even contain citations.  References to the teacher will use either the Doctor or Professor title.
  3. Practicing for my Novel – Similar to the Practicing for my Thesis posting, but with more emotion and fewer citations.  Generally very very long.
  4. What are Spel Chek? – This style flows freely from the student’s brain, without the artificial limitations of spell check or attempts to self edit.
  5. OMG I FORGOT!!!! –  Generally a very short post, anywhere from an hour to weeks after the deadline.

I have used every one of the above styles during my time at SLIS.  In an online environment, discussion boards act to emulate the in-class student-to-student exchange of ideas.  But without the mitigation of body language, writing tone takes on a whole new level of significance.  I’ve agonized over phrasing, and then over compensated by dashing the next post off cavalierly.  If there was a formula, a set number of lines, a glossary for word choice, a prescription for headings, a style guide to posting, things would be so much simpler.

But part of learning is learning how to communicate within a context.  Each professor is different, and each student is different. Responding and participating within the course is a process of feeling things out.  When learning gets serious, we forget that school is a place to make mistakes.  It is a place to discover how to speak and be understood, as much as it is a place for theory and concepts.

Welcome New Students

I’m really pleased to be a peer mentor for 203, the introductory course for new students here at SLIS.

I started the program in Spring 2009, and I’ve really had a lot of great experiences.

I like how the program creates a balance between teaching professional skills and teaching academic theory. I also really appreciate being able to go to class in my pajamas; I’ve enjoyed it so much that I’ve put “working remotely” on my list of pluses for potential work sites.

But the best thing about the program is the people. Both faculty and students are a diverse bunch, with variation in age, location, tech/computer skills, library background, and academic focus. SLIS puts a lot of emphasis on teamwork (which can make a lot of new students anxious). This emphasis supports a sense of collaboration at multiple levels, between teachers, students, and staff, in both formal and informal ways. And this emphasis is deliberate, which means SLIS provides and encourages training, thought, and analysis of the process, allowing people to stay on the same page. Ultimately this is the most rewarding aspect of the program, keeping learning at a personal level.

So welcome, new students. I’m excited to learn more about you, and to hear what you have to say.

Student Groups

SJSU SLIS has official opportunities for networking (a Facebook group even), but it also has several unofficial student groups.  Conveniently, these have been gathered on a Wiki for your perusal. Some things I think about when participating in student groups or professional listservs

  1. I Remember that they are generally public, and may be being read by my professor, future employer, or that crazy guy who lives down the street from me.
  2. I Remember that they are populated by my future colleagues and employers, who may remember my lack of professionalism further on down the line, just in time to not hire me.
  3. I Remember that “The biggest liar in the world is They Say” (Douglas Malloch), so I use good information literacy skills to judge accuracy and veracity.  If in doubt, I contact the appropriate person at SLIS to clarify what other students are telling me.
  4. I Remember that every student is looking for different things from the program.  One person’s “favorite professor ever” can be another’s “waste of time and money.”  Some things I think about when reading professor reviews:
  • Professors, like fine wines, get better as they age.  I pay attention to how reviews change over time; sometimes problems described in earlier reviews disappear in more current ones.
  • Class format has changed, so reviews of in-person classes may not apply to online teaching.  Some teachers are better at one format or the other.
  • Bad grades make for bitter reviewers.
  • Key words or phrases help me pick professors that are suited to my learning style.  I look for “active on discussion boards” and “gives a lot of feedback” because I’m interested in professors that are a little more participatory.  “Best” and “worst” are less helpful.
  • I take sample size into account.  One or two reviews are not a good picture of collective experience.