what do you learn in grad school?

The more you learn the less you know, right?

Things that graduate school made me realize I don’t know enough about:

  • Learning stages, cognitive development
  • Statistics
  • Rhetoric, recognizing fallacies e.g. straw man fallacy
  • writing – citing sources – using the thoughtful, minimal method not the shock and awe method

It also made me realize:

  • No one cares as much about your final project as you do

What did you learn in grad school?

Grayson, Westley, Stanislaus County, Western San Joaquin Valley, California. Seventh and eighth grad

Who Owns the Librarians

I’m thinking about people who call themselves librarians, who are not working librarians.

On one hand, it bothers me that there are all these past, future, aspiring, and not-quite librarians who have such strong opinions about what librarians should be and do. I want to shout, “You don’t get it!” or whine “you just don’t understaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnd.”  Particularly at people relying on out-of-date information from 15 or 20 year old experiences.  I’m increasingly bothered by the influence of consultants and library professors who are shaping policy and our theoretical foundations without a foothold in reality.

On the other hand, libraries belong to everybody, so maybe librarians do too.  Maybe everybody should get a say about librarianism.

On the third hand, I want people to get mad (madDER, maybe) that they aren’t librarians.  I think the idea that “we are all librarians” is to cover up the fact that there aren’t enough librarian jobs to go around.  I want past, present, future, aspiring, and not-quite librarians to demand more library jobs.  I want us to stop trying to make-do with being short staffed, and to start to create a workforce that can really meet community needs.

So that’s one thing you need to be a librarian, three hands. At least.


Are You a Librarian for Life?

When I graduated, our commencement speaker told us that the MLIS meant that we could always consider ourselves librarians, no matter what job we ended up doing.  “Fantastic!”  I thought to myself.  “I’m in!”  Even though all I had was a part time LA job, I was now part of this club I’d been working so hard to join.

It’s a comforting thought, that we are all librarians, particularly for the under-employed, or for those facing a not-so-anticipated move to a non-library “information” job.  There’s a lot of librarians being minted, and we all suspect (know) that the murky pool of librarian jobs is shrinking.  There’s this corresponding push to get library students interested in “non-traditional” information careers .  Some people are fully interested in those careers, and fair play to those “information professionals.” But to me this kinda feels like a bait-and-switch. I’ve had second thoughts about posting this, because I don’t want to be a jerk to the under-, un- or other-employed librarians.


My degree didn’t make me a librarian.   Working as a librarian made me a librarian.

Helping patrons makes me a librarian.  Trying to meet the multiple and often conflicting needs of both awesome and horrible people, fairly and with enthusiasm, makes me a librarian.  Assisting people who are shockingly digitally illiterate makes me a librarian.  Making and advocating for practices that balance ease of access with the need to safeguard library resources makes me a librarian.  Running programs by and for my community makes me a librarian. Making booklists that I’m not sure anyone will ever read makes me a librarian. Endless discussions and instructions about exactly where to place stickers, labels and stamps makes me a librarian.  Throwing away moldy books makes me a librarian.  Designing flyers despite being graphically challenged makes me a librarian.

Being a librarian is awesome.  I wasn’t one until I was one. I just didn’t understand.

I think this may be a general truism, at least for public librarians.

Public librarians don’t have a strong tradition of scholarly discourse.  Public librarians in general don’t publish as much as academic librarians, and those who do have often moved out of actual libraries and into teaching.  Additionally, the pace of scholarship means that by the time of publication, the practices being written about aren’t necessarily current.  There is no shortage of public library “experts,” but you have to look carefully to see where that expertise came from. Often their practical understanding is non-existent or decades old.  Even working public library administrators can be dreadfully out of touch with what actually happens on the library floor. The closest representation of public library work is found in more informal mediums – blogs, trade publications and listservs.  But those are hampered by concerns about professionalism and reputation.  It’s hard to write straight talk when it could cause your career to blow up in your face.. The picture of what it’s like to be a public librarian – what we need, what we do, and where we should go – is muddy. Our body of literature and our experts on public libraries do not always stand on a foundation formed by reality.

Reading books doesn’t make you a librarian.

Bedbril Glasses for reading in bed

40s at Work

Here is a transaction that happens at work that I like.

Patron: How many books can I check out?

Me: 40

Patron [ka-thunk jaw-drop]: 40?!

I want to say,

Yes my dear, the library is your oyster

I want to say,

And you only have 90 seconds! No bags or carts!  Go!

But I don’t generally say either of those.

Sometimes the patron says,

Who on earth would read 40 books!

I want to say,

You’re obviously not part of the club, ma’am.

Sometimes I say,

Imagine you have four small children and they each want ten picture books.

And sometimes I say,

Some people are really voracious readers.

And here’s the thing,

Go ahead.  Check out 40 books.  Just read the first page of each.  That’s only 40 pages.  Or don’t even crack them open.  Just lovingly stroke the covers, with your clean hands.  Put them under your pillow to see if osmosis works. Give yourself the luxury of 40 books, just for a few weeks.  You might like it.

I love giving people the possibility of 40 books.  40 books is a lot!

One time after I told a patron she could have 40 books, she said,

Has it always been 40 books? I feel like I didn’t get that many when I was a kid.

So I told her,

Sometimes I say,

You can have 40 books.

And Mom says,

You can have 2 books.

Sometimes Mom is the strictest librarian of all.

Woman with book and palm tree

**At the other library I work at, you can have unlimited books. But somehow it’s seldom as exciting as 40.

Notes From Story Time

Even though I am mostly an adult services librarian, I was lucky enough to be sit in on a few days of story time training led by Gay Ducey. Il Ducey has been a children’s librarian for 30 years, folks, and in between that has traveled the nation telling stories on stages large and small.


Here’s the kind of experience she’s got: In addition to being someone who’s provided library service to Eldridge Cleaver, the blurb on her bio is:

“Everyone should tell stories like Gay Ducey tells stories” – Mr. Rogers.

Here’s the kind of librarian she is: People show up at the library asking,

“Is Gay Ducey here? I used to go to her story time. I just wanted to let her know that I just got my first job as a librarian (sometimes they say teacher), and it’s because of her.”

Here’s the kind of person she is:  She says

“Children are my natural peer group.”

Kids light up like a Christmas tree when they see her behind the desk.

She’s got a lot of library knowledge, to say the least.

The training is for a program called Books for Wider Horizons. This program trains community members to visit preschools as volunteer story readers.  It is provided through the Oakland Public Library as part of Oakland’s Head Start program.  It started in 1994!  If you’re interested in reading to kids, and live in the East Bay, you should consider donating your time.

Here are some of my notes from the training.

Day One

Story time is not for teaching children; children spend so much of their lives being taught, that they don’t need that from us.  During story time, we don’t teach children, but they still learn. Learning is what children do naturally.

Story time is to induct children into the private joy of reading. Our primary job is to model the pleasure of reading.

Some education is ok, but avoid leading kids to listen for the right answer, rather than enjoying the story. Don’t create pressure to identify vocabulary words, or right or wrong choices.

When reading is no longer an assignment, when they someday leave school and no longer “have to” read, they will not pick up a book, if they have not already, discovered the private pleasure of reading.  Story time creates positive memories of reading that last into adulthood.  You remember having a good time reading.

Everyone has trashy reading – a juicy mystery, a gossip magazine – its ok for kids to have trashy reading too.  Not everything needs to be a high quality classic.

If you’re interested in rhymes and meaning, Iona and Peter Opie have a good book on it.

Our society is big on levels of competence.  If you ask a five year old “can you sing?” she will say “yes of course.” If you ask a ten year old, she may say yes.  A fifteen year old will often say “no way!”  And by the time we are adults, many of us “can’t sing.”  But you can sing.  Everyone can sing.  Singing is our birthright.  All five year olds can do art.  Art is everyone’s birthright.

SONG: “I Have a Dog and His Name is Rags

*Note: there were multiple requests by participants to do this one again, at the end of the class and on day two.

Songs implant memories -> singing is also literacy. Songs are another way to implant literature.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time before age 2.

beware of the frog

BOOK: Beware of the Frog by William Bee.  Illustrations = primary colors.  3rd grade is about the youngest that “gets” this book.

Test the waters.  Not all your favorites will be kids’ favorites.

Kids that want repeated readings are taking something new each time the book is read to them, and its none of our business what that is.

bark george

BOOK: Bark, George by Jules Feiffer.  Notice colors -> muted.  Just a few words on the page.  2-5 is an ok age range, but 4 is best age.  Understanding the sounds are wrong takes the sophistication of a four year old.

little black crow

BOOK: Little Black Crow by Chris Raschka. Natural colors, 4-6 years. Even though it ends “are you a boy like me?” girls can identify with the story as well.

Don’t point out small secrets in the illustrations, let kids discover them.

Kids do have an appetite for quiet. Although, kids don’t necessarily like this book.

Repetition is a tool for learning and kids like it.


BOOK: Froggie Plays Soccer by Jonathan London and Frank Remkiewicz. Visually complicated.  Age 6 or even later.  Tough to read -difficult choice for story time.

If there are several images on a page, you can point to them as you read to help children see the progression.

come along daisy

BOOK: Come Along, Daisy by Jane Simmons.  Ages 2-5.  Beautiful book, good story, excellent story time.

Doesn’t use paper clips, turns every page.  My theory: Gay’s not afraid to go slowly and take time, she knows the children will come along with her.  It gives them room to think and process.  Children need more time for this than adults do.

How scared do you let kids get during a story?  Not very.

an egg is quiet

BOOK: An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long. Pretty illustrations, long paragraphs of text, a little complicated but maybe still ok.

Kids like to know.

Skipping some text is ok.

Put some room for socializing after the story time. Give kids a chance to talk to you after story time, but otherwise don’t really respond to interrupters.  This is not an interactive program.  The rules are different during story time.

Day Two

SONGS: “My Rhinoceros” and “Down in the Valley Two by Two

Songs get us excited, involved and happy.

a snowy day

BOOK: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.  Spare, abstract illustrations. 3-5 year olds, even twos.  Book for children – they understand it, adults don’t.  A solitary adventure.  No hint of violence.

Gay says the author’s name at the beginning (e.g. This book is called Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats). Sometimes she will say the illustrator’s name at the end.

Just a little bit

BOOK: Just a Little Bit by Ann Tompert. Action packed, voices. Up to 2nd grade. Bug detail on the cover Gay never mentions – it would spoil the story.  Children have come up to her weeks later and pointed it out.

You can stop reading and look at a picture.

Pan slowly occasionally.  Not every page, just once in a while.  Good when there’s a double page illustration.

Hold the book so it doesn’t go anywhere.  Two fingers on the spine.  Gay rests the corner on her should to anchor it (my note: this also puts the book on the same level as her face).

Read slowly.  Children need you to go about three times as slowly as you think you should.

The story can do the work.  No need to tart it up with voices, etc.  You can a little bit, but you don’t need to.  The story is the focus.

Gay sits on a low chair.

Know what distance you need between you and the children and keep that space.

Soft cover books are generally too much trouble.  Giant books are cool but hard to handle. Caveat Emptor.

The order of presentation can help a book succeed.

Songs can be used to focus or quieten.

Themed story times are nice but not necessary.

Transitional activity first, in between each book and at the end.  Gay only reads three books.  Middle can be quiet, or can be a song, or song with props.  Flannel Board.

Religion teaches us how to put things into the head.  Ritual prepares you for a certain type of experience.  Story teller should create a safe, quiet space where grown-ups don’t interfere. **STORY TIME IS DIFFERENT THAN ALL THE OTHER TIMES** You have to help kids understand how it is different and what it is like. Becomes an enchanted space. **Create a beginning and an ending that is the same each time. ** Knowing how something begins is reassuring, understanding how something works.

SONG “Good Morning, Dear Earth” (Gay’s opening)

Take control of the end.  Never go “that’s it good bye!” Ease them out. Take time. End song could be anything.  Have seen: Splish Splash, KISS, Phil Collins, Na Na Na Na…

Childhood is Revealed Secrets.

Took a pledge never to use a book we haven’t read first.

Day Three

Missed it because I had a program at my other job (Easy Peasy Super Easy Seeds to Save). Got a summary from Gay the day after.  Participants chose books and read to each other. They also learned some fingerplays, which grown-ups think are weird and dorky, and kids really enjoy.

Assignments for next week: attend one story time.  Work out what your opening and closing will be (use same ones every story time, to create the story time ritual).

Gay also told me this story, when we were talking about introducing the pleasure of reading.

One day a child she knew and liked a lot came in to find a book.

Gay noticed that the child was looking at Tuck Everlasting, one of Gay’s favorites.

Gay said, “Ohhhh, do you like that one?”

The child said, “We read it in school. I hate it. I hate that book.”

Crestfallen, Gay asked, “What do you hate about it?”

The child responded, “The worksheets.”

School ruined a perfectly wonderful book for this kid.  Worksheets after every chapter aren’t the way to create lifelong readers.  The value of story time is in creating positive experiences.

Blogging is dead, Long live blogging

I had a mini blog-oriented convergence a while ago.

First I read this article:

Pomerantz, J. & Stutzman, F. (2006, May). Collaborative reference work in the blogosphere. Reference Services Review, 34(2), 200-212.

Pomerantz & Stutzman suggest that blogs might be of use in collaborative reference work, providing crowd-enriched transactions.

Then I read

this piece

at Confessions of a Science Librarian. Dupuis discusses the possibility of blogs replacing scholarly journals.

Had you heard that blogging is dead? I had. This Pew Internet report reported that fewer people were blogging, particularly among younger generations.  There’s some more talk about the death of blogging here.

Maybe blogging as a social platform is dying, but blogging for other purposes is still viable.  It’s still a way to push content out quickly, with not too much technical know-how required.  You can concentrate on the content, rather than creating the medium or following formalized processes.

You can create and disseminate data much more quickly and informally.  I use a blog format for Hiring Librarians; it lets me collect a number of librarian voices, and to share both individual insights and collective statistics.

These new uses for blogging are still alive and evolving.

Woman Working in a Mail Processing Center

**This was a draft in my drafts folder, which I’ve been cleaning out. The citation below was also part of this draft, but I’m not sure how I meant to work it in.

“Virtual reference services provide librarians with the opportunity to provide Information Literacy instruction to students while promoting the benefit of using proprietary databases versus the free Web”
1. Sachs, Diana. 2004. “Ask a Librarian: Florida’s Virtual Reference Service.” Community & Junior College Libraries 12, no. 4: 49-58

Getting Past the “Expert” Paradigm

I’m cleaning out the drafts folder for this blog, and I found this one:

There are a lot of topics about which YOU know more that ME (more than I?  Grammar may be one of them).

Two librarians in the dark.

there are two experts in the reference transaction

It’s like some sort of cryptic librarian riddle.  Maybe a joke:

Two librarians in the dark.  One turns to the other and says…

– “How’d we get inside this dog”?

-“I guess I should have said AND lightbulbs”

-“Isn’t the library supposed to be a *glowing* organism?”

Clifford Maust In Scottdale, Pennsylvania

I’m not exactly sure what I was going to try to get at with that draft, but I think it was probably something about how thinking of librarians as experts is not a good place to try to do reference from.

The truth of the matter is, it’s the ~terrifying unknown~ that librarians often confront in true reference transactions**, rather than a tapping of their professional expertise.  We may understand our collections, we may understand the organization of information and the orders of knowledge, but each patron throws a new curve ball.

Better to approach the reference transaction from a place of learning and collaboration.  The librarian is learning more about the patron’s information need, and collaborating on the construction of the answer.  A “collaborating” model lets the librarian approach the patron with humility, which is helpful both in dealing with patrons who are not very confident and in dealing with patrons who know everything – it removes the source of conflict.

Cornell Varsity, Pokpsie 61711

**other types of transactions at the reference desk include the less terrifying, “where is the bathroom?” and “can I use the computer?”

Why I Say Patron

Patrons say patron.  Always call people what they want to be called.

Ok and also,

I think patron most perfectly encapsulates the relationship between the library and the user, wherein the library is dependent on the goodwill of the user in order to continue its existence. I think the use of the term customer is detrimental, in that it sets up expectations for an entirely different relationship, one which runs counter to library ethics, one which exists primarily in a for-profit environment, where buying power determines worth.  I really do believe strongly that the word patron is still at the heart of the library’s relationship to its users.

And just one more thing,

Patron is a gender neutral term, like actor.

Front Desk 1990-91