Oh yeah, the World is a Rotten Pumpkin

Today I went to the Library of Congress and it made me cry twice.

My first cry was when we watched the video about all the cool stuff that’s in the LOC.  The first map with the word America on it!  A Gutenberg bible!  A picture book of Mother Goose printed in the depression that had fantastic colors.  I started to get choked up and excited about the breadth of knowledge all gathered in one place.  I loved how proud and enthusiastic the librarians were.  The tour was full!  Everyone wanted to see the library!

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Then we went out on the second floor and looked at all the paintings, which glorify the march of knowledge through history, and have all sorts of symbolic representation of things like Knowledge and Science and Literature.  I can just eat that stuff up.  I love it.  We are smart!  We love to learn!  What a beautiful country!

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The tour guide took us to see the exhibit of Jefferson’s library.  His library was once the core of the LOC collection.  Unfortunately, much of it was destroyed in a fire.  Now the library is trying to recreate it.  His books were arranged in a circle, and there was a cool system of ribbons to tell you if you were looking at something originally from his library, something that had been purchased later, or a placeholder for a book they were still looking for.  I got to stand in the middle of all these books, and enjoy being at the center of ordered knowledge, in attractive leather bindings.

After the tour, I went back up to the second floor to see the exhibit on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  It was in the room right in front of Jefferson’s library, and I’d caught a glimpse of some Freedom Rider ephemera that looked cool.

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The exhibit was really powerful.  This is the second time that I cried at the LOC today.  There were letters and photos of civil rights leaders, but there were also a lot of items that detailed our country’s history of atrocities.

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Following this exploration of civil rights, the exhibit dumped me back out in that beautiful cocoon of books created by the slaveholder Thomas Jefferson.

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(This is a bill of sale for a person, from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison).

*Sorry about the photos.  I’m the world’s worst photographer.

Out and About

I’m doing some cool things and going some cool places!

I’m ridiculously excited to have been a guest on the most recent episode of the Silicon Valley Beat, the Mountain View police department’s podcast.  If you’re interested in how police departments work, I suggest you check out the other episodes.  The one with Karla Knightstep, who handles dispatch and emergency calls, will blow your mind.

Last month I did a maker station at the California Museum Association Conference in San Diego.  I taught museum professionals how to make bike lights out of tin cans.  Notes from the first day of the conference are here.  Notes from the second day are…still being transcribed.

Next week I’m going to the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C.  I have the chance to do a 10 minute Bikes + Libraries presentation, as part of a Big Ideas panel.

I’m working with two other libraries to present a webinar called Many Paths to Conversation: Techniques for Successful ESL Clubs.  Join us on April 8 at 12 pm Pacific.

I’ve been invited to present at the 2015 Symposium on LIS Education, taking place Friday April 10 and Saturday April 11.  My presentation will most likely occur virtually on Friday afternoon.  The conference is an interesting, progressive, student-led look at successes and challenges in LIS education.  What will I talk about?  It’s a fun mystery!  (seriously though, I take requests).

I *want* to present a conversation starter session at ALA, on Bikes and Libraries.  But, we need your vote!

Oh yeah and,

I got a knuckle tattoo:

knux

 

(it’s itchy.)

Writing Round-Up

I’m not doing a lot of writing here, nowadays, but I’ve got some writing other places:

MVPL Bike Stop

I’m writing a series for BayNet, a local library organization, about a bikes-and-libraries initiative at my work.

Simple Steps to Starting a Seed Library

Print only, at the moment.  An article for Public Libraries Magazine.

seed liberry

What Candidates Want: How to Practice Compassionate Hiring

Some lessons from the Hiring Librarians job hunter survey.

Library Jobs Math

Refuting the idea that there will soon be a “shortage of librarians and sea captains.”  Numbers don’t lie folks.

and finally, not a piece of writing but a fun project I’m working on:

The Library-2-Library Bicycle Tour

Please join us for a morning of bicycles, libraries, and fun.

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Programifesto

I kind of hate that whole “program in a box” thing.

It’s the death of creativity, right?  It’s an industrialized, one-size-fits-all librarianship. It’s that standardized bureaucracy that is killing our ability to be supple and responsive.  It’s programming fast food.  Here is your Big Mac storytime ma’am, made just like every other storytime in the system.

Here’s another niggling peeve: the library is not a theater, even though some librarians seem to think that their programming should consist of paying performers to come give a show.

Programming is the opportunity for the librarian to creatively engage patrons.  Programming allows us to create a stronger bond between our community and the library, both by providing an interactive library experience for patrons and by bringing community members in to share their passions.  We program for our communities, in response to our communities, and in partnership with our communities.

Originality is required.

Library programming helps us to create new stakeholders.  Inviting the community in to work with us creates a sense of ownership in the library.  Once someone, or some group, has attended or presented a library program (as long as it has been a positive experience) they will more actively and vocally support libraries. Programs can identify new user groups, as innovative programs may attract people who do not otherwise use library resources.

Care, attention, and weight should be given to program presenters and attendees.

Library programming gives us the opportunity to share the kind of information that is not well-recorded.  Take for example, gardening. While broader guidelines for when to plant and how to cultivate have been published, gardeners adapt to local soil conditions and microclimates.  They learn through experience what works.  This information is best shared person-to-person.

Programs allow libraries to share more kinds of information.

box

 

Sorting Patrons

The public library tries to be all things to all people (every reader his book; every book it’s reader)

Bobbi Newman wrote this interesting piece in which she talks about how certain people may support libraries, but they will never use them, no matter how many tempting programs or resources we dangle.

I agree with her, based on my personal experience. I know lots of people who *loooooove libraries* but have’t set foot in one since childhood. Do we really need to expend precious resources to try to get them in the door?

Newman suggests that we focus more on community support for the library, rather percentage of community with library cards. She says that we would be better off accepting that “some people don’t use the library for one reason or another.” 

Here’s the conundrum though, how do we sort the people who don’t use libraries because they just don’t want to, from the people who don’t use libraries because they’ve been turned off somehow (or because they don’t know we have what they want)?

It *is* impossible to be all things to all people. Trying is an exercise in futility and failure.

But then, at what point do we find someone unserveable?  What criteria do we use?

Accepting that we can’t serve everyone threatens the fundamentally democratic nature of libraries. When people become unserveable, we exclude them from what should be the most inclusive of communities.  Libraries are for everyone, even if everyone is not for libraries.

But this is an ideal, and given our limited resources, we need to exercise pragmatism.  Right?

sorting mail

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Shush

At my library, the patrons are often more protective of quiet than we librarians are.  There is one woman who seems particularly bothered by even the quietest of conversations.  She will frequently come up to me to ask, “Is talking allowed in this library?”  or “Are cell phones allowed in this library?”  Each time I tell her, “Yes, quiet conversations are allowed in the library” and point out our two silent rooms, where talking is not allowed.

Modern librarians are often reluctant shushers.  We want people to think we’re fun.  We want libraries to be vibrant, energy-filled buildings.  We hope to shake off the dusty book mausoleum image and usher ourselves into the 21st century as more of a party institution.  And most importantly maybe, we want the people who have not felt welcomed by the sternly guarded quiet of yesteryear to COME TO THE LIBRARY.

But many of our hardcore patrons want hallowed silence.  They want to consume their dusty books in uninterrupted peace.  They are studying, or concentrating, or contemplative, or sometimes just generally mysanthropic.

This conflict reminds me of what I’ve read about the silent cars on the New York/New Jersey train.  The piece I’m thinking of was in the New Yorker a few years ago, but that’s behind a paywall. Here’s some discussion of them in the New York Times. 

My library is lucky enough to have not one but two quiet rooms (one with screens, one without).  We have an accommodation we can point out to these folks. Sometimes though, this still is not enough.  They want to use a library computer, for example, or the quiet room is full, or they are just offended by the notion that there is a sound or a cell phone in the library.

So what do you do to resolve these conflicts? An invitation to the world?  Ask them to suck it up?  Silence the offenders?

This is kind of a key image issue.  There has recently been a lot of talk about What Librarians Look Like, but maybe a more important question for our users is “What do libraries sound like?”  How do we create a new image, and a new reality, which is friendly and inviting, which welcomes noise and participation, but which respects the needs of our silence-loving power users?

The Quiet Place

The Authority of Experts

I’m building a staff photo board at work. In addition to a photo, I asked people to tell me their name, title, and what they were an “expert” in. I specified that they could be expert at anything, work-related or not work-related, giving the examples “cheese” and “being able to find ‘missing’ books.” Many people have been reticent to name their “expertise.” People seem worried that doing so might be conceited, or that others will try to test them. And interestingly, two staff members, both higher level managers, said that they felt that they were more a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

At my old job, I asked this question to two other groups – museum educators, and museum docents. Neither of these groups expressed the same reluctance to name their areas of expertise. Of course, medium may have something to do with it, at the museum, they answered verbally, whereas at my library, we are writing down their answers. Spoken claims don’t carry as much weight as written ones. But I also think that it may have something to do with the library environment.

Expertise and authority are key concepts in libraries. Librarians’ responsibilities often include helping patrons learn to evaluate someone’s credentials, to find the difference between well-supported arguments and wild claims. In school and college libraries, this might manifest as information literacy instruction, while in public libraries this is more likely to take the form of telling patrons, “no, don’t give that website your bank details so you can get free money, it’s a scam.” These are both excellent services that really help patrons. Encouraging independent thought and healthy skepticism is the positive manifestation of the weight we place on expertise and authority.

But these concepts also work to stifle staff and inhibit positive change in our service models. This idea of the sacred coupling of expertise and authority results in policies that seem only to guard the gravitas of the reference librarian – policies that state circulation staff can’t place holds, for example, or that pages can’t direct a patron in the stacks to the book that they are looking for. While it is true that reference librarians are trained to look for and address unstated information needs, there is no reason that they must personally examine every query for them. There is no reason that pages and circ staff can’t be trained to perform these tasks, and to know when to say to a patron “I need help helping you.”

Reference librarians are experts at deciphering and meeting information needs. But being an “expert” doesn’t preclude asking for help in this task, in fact, it absolutely requires the patron’s assistance. I was once asked by a patron, “Where are the Atlas Maps?” I replied, “Are you just looking for atlases, or is there a specific publisher, ‘Atlas Maps’”? “Oh, you don’t know!” She replied disgustedly, and stomped off. And working with other librarians can mean the difference between a swift and accurate answer, and a long bout of research. I have a coworker who is excellent at Reader’s Advisory, another who is an ace technology troubleshooter, another who knows exactly what is in our local history center, etc. etc. You better believe I consult with them as needed.

Being an expert doesn’t always mean being an authority. The reason I asked the question “What are you expert in?” for our staff photo board is because I hoped it would provide new topics for person-to-person information sharing. Unfortunately I mostly succeeded in turning people off. We’re stuck in the idea that an expert has to objectively be an authority. The truth of the matter is, expertise is often relative, and one can be an expert and still be humble.

Poultry Club Boys Listen to the Expert

Non-Library Librarian Jobs, and Dividing LIS Work

As the number of people enrolled in library school continues to increase, and as the amount of funding for libraries stagnates or shrinks, and as our culture of information and technology changes and evolves, more and more “library school” students are turning to non-library jobs.

Are these non-library librarian jobs inferior? Are they second class jobs?

Yes and no.

People go to library school because they want to work in libraries. When these people arrive at library school and begin to hear a push for non-traditional career paths, they are being given a bait and switch. It is tough to get a library job. If you’re a library school administrator, and you want people to persist at your library school, when they realize that the money they are shelling out is really very possibly not going to result in a full-time-with-benefits-and-decent-pay librarian job, you’ve get to sell them on some palatable alternative. If you want to keep your full-time-with-benefits-and-decent-pay library school administrator job, you’ve got to help your school keep the hope of employment alive. Because as much as learning theory is fun, library school is about getting a job. The ubiquitous “MLIS from an ALA accredited school required” ensures that people who want to work in libraries, as librarians, will continue to go to ALA accredited library schools. To get work. In libraries.

That being said, people who want to work outside of libraries also go to library school. Library school attendees include people who want to do data management or knowledge management or information architecture, etc. They want to build databases or write indexes or massage information tidbits with their bare hands. They think they’d enjoy working for library vendors or software developers or even making whole new careers and spaces for themselves, in some weird industry that doesn’t even know it needs library skills. And sometimes people who go to library school* intending to work in a library find a non-library librarian job that they fall in LOVE with, or just end up liking ok.

This is a manifestation of our current information shift. To use a phrase that’s trite at this point, “information doesn’t all live in libraries anymore”, if it ever did, and some people are more interested in information than in libraries. For those people, non-library jobs are not second class jobs, they are the whole point of the thing in and of themselves. When these people get a non-library librarian job, that’s an opportunity to rejoice.

But this focus on non-library librarian jobs is also a manifestation of our lack of library jobs. There are fewer opportunities to work in libraries while non-library opportunities are still growing**. It’s as though it’s easier to build a single new position, or to shift the path of an opportunity, than it is to rebuild depleted library staffing.

This second reason, is why I continue to make the distinction between non-library librarian jobs, and library librarian jobs.

Because we don’t want to obscure the loss of opportunities in libraries, pretending it’s ok.  It isn’t.

Abandoned Basement area

*It’s not really library school anymore either. A recent respondent to a Hiring Librarians survey took me to task for saying using this term – calling it old fashioned. And it is, I guess. Most of us more recent grads have an I for information secreted somewhere in there amongst our letters.

**At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “But what about that seven percent growth rate that we’re going to experience over the next ten years?  Slower than average, but still growing!”

Well, I’m skeptical.  Read the BLS’ page on job outlook for librarians, and you’ll find the sentences: “later in the decade, prospects should be better as older library workers retire and population growth generates openings” and “the increased availability of electronic information is also expected to increase the demand for librarians in research and special libraries, where they will be needed to help sort through the large amount of available information”, both sentiments which have moved into the “hollow promise” category.  You’ll also find:

Budget limitations, especially in local government and educational services, may slow demand for librarians. Some libraries may close, reduce the size of their staff, or focus on hiring library technicians and assistants, who can fulfill some librarian duties at a lower cost.

Call me a pessimist, but that last one rings true.

Photo: Abandoned Basement Area by Jessamyn West via Flickr and Creative Commons License

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.

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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