Monday, January 28, 2008

On Book Reviewing

There is an article in the December 17th issue of Publisher's Weekly on the ethics of book reviewing. 34.4% of survey respondents "claimed they thought it is acceptable for a reviewer to back out of a review to avoid negative criticism of a book," (though the same percentage of editors find it unacceptable to back out of writing a review for that reason). This all comes from page 8 of that issue, for those of you who are interested in other statistics they garnered. Someone also recently (within the past 2 months) blogged about this, but I cannot for the life of me find the post. (If someone would be so kind as to send it, I'll link to it.)

I decided to write on this because I review quite a few books a month - I usually have one item to review for Choice, one for ,Tennessee Libraries, two for Library Journal, and occasionally I review for Journal of Web librarianship. I consider it my job to read the book (or examine the online resource, in some cases) with an eye as to whether it will be useful for someone. I take into account other works in the same vein, whether anything new is added compared to the existing books available, and whether or not the writing is accessible. I have only written one negative review, but I feel that review was deserved. It does my colleagues a disservice if I push the burden of a negative review to someone else, and it does them an even worse disservice if I give a "false-positive" review.

This seems to be an issue - no one wants to write a negative review. I understand that it's hardly a fun thing to do. I make it a point to be in a good mood before reviewing, and I always go in *hoping* to love it. There's nothing better than getting to tout an author who puts out something useful and well-written. I mean, to be quite honest, my job is to peddle the good stuff. the more good stuff, the more people I can help. On the other hand, I am not going to wax poetic about a crappy work just so someone will like me. I also resent those reviewers who always give good reviews, no matter what quality they are. My budget is limited. Do not peddle crap to me. I will hunt you down and send you nasty emails questioning your worth in the profession, your worth as a writer, and asking you what political conspiracy you belong to that you feel the need to erode my purchasing power by telling me that a turd is in fact a gold nugget.

Reviewers, consider yourself warned. Do your JOB. You don't review to become popular with authors and publishers, you review for your colleagues who don't have the time to read everything they have to buy. Have a little respect. If you're more interested in impressing a publisher, quit your day job and become a writer. If you're more interested in making an author happy, start a fan club and become a groupie. But keep it out of your reviews. Reviews have a purpose above and beyond padding your vita, folks. Some of us actually pay attention to what you write. (Unless we remember your name after you did a crappy job and lied to us. Which we will remember. Don't be "that guy."

/end rant

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Librarian as Old-Fashioned Teacher

I taught three sections of the second-semester English students this morning, and I have to admit, despite my now-froggy voice, that this is why I became a librarian. Answering questions also nurtures the nerd in my soul, but teaching people how they can find what they need is my true love.

There are very few ways to make database searching interesting for students, no matter how much I love the Thesaurus or RSS alert options. I am left wondering if this is the spot where the 2.0 folks are relying too much on technology. Tutorials and podcasts are useful for introductory topics and basic training, but eventually, you need to get the students hands-on, with a librarian available for help. An electronic lesson is fine, but having a live person help you brainstorm keywords and re-framing your topic so that you can get the most out of your resources should be a personal experience.

This, of course, helps me keep my job. But it should also inform our practices - before we outsource all of our teaching to brief video clips, podcasts and various other things playable in Quicktime, we should revisit the value of face-to-face time and figure out the best way to apportion our own instruction time accordingly. Here at my library, we are doing just this - the more basic information and simple techniques are the ones where we concentrate our podcasting and video tutorials, and we can make a concerted effort to spend more of our time teaching database skills in-class once the professors have assigned these more basic tutorials as homework before they see us in the library. This also helps free our time to take on more advanced level classes who use more subject-specific databases than we teach at the freshman level. This is a useful way to spend our time, because we are freed from basic "welcome to the library" classes that take from an hour to an hour and a half for each of fifty sections of Freshman Life. (Mind you, this doesn't detract from having students meet their handy dandy librarians, since we also see every single freshman English student in their first ,and second semesters.) We are freed from not-particularly-useful classroom time to offer instruction in more essential areas.

Social networking is super, though more librarians are finding (much to their chagrin) that students don't want to be contacted by non-friend entities in their informal space. At some point, librarians need to stop worrying so much about becoming 'pals' with students and get back to teaching, and inserting themselves into the learning process. I can have some fun when I teach, but I believe I have much more of an impact on their learning and the skills students will be using throughout their lives when I can get them in a computer lab with me, not by throwing sheep at them in Facebook.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Librarianship as a Career

I have to admit, I don't expect to become famous in my first two (or even three, or four) years of librarianship. (I do hope my boss doesn't mind.) Mind you, this doesn't mean I'm not working hard. I am working on coauthoring an article on something practical with my dean (I know, practicality and publication don't necessarily go together), I'm still learning the ropes and such at my position since I've been here all of five-and-a-half months in my first professional position. I'm learning more about areas outside my subject expertise, because we're a smaller university and haven't an abundance of separate libraries or subject specialists - we're all happy know-it-alls (or at least, know-most-of-its). I'm reviewing regularly (6 book reviews published since August, one chapter reviewed), and just getting on the ball with creating tutorials. I enjoy my reference desk work, and I love, love, LOVE teaching library instruction, because I'm a big geek. I'm even starting to enjoy collection development, but this is my first time, and it just started, so don't judge me.

I like to think I maintain a nice balance and don't come off as either a Negative Nancy or a Pollyanna to my coworkers. We have a really great team where we respect each other, and our administration, which is something that I rarely see. Is it a problem, career-wise, if I decide not to leave? (Given, of course, that my tenure review in 5 years goes well? Yes, I know, but I'm a sucker for thinking too far ahead.) Would I be a traitoress to those Gen-X masses who want to be famous? I don't particularly want a plodding career, either, but I do believe there's room enough for things that need to be done at my current university that, with continuing professional development to keep myself sharp, make my skills in my position useful for years to come. Am I a slacker for not wanting complete rock-star status and shooting up in the ranks? (Caveat: Not that I do not want promotion and greater responsibility. This is more a commentary on how directorship has never really factored into my career plan).

There, I said it. Will I burn for it? Director/deanship was never in my plan. I wanted to find an academic library where I could make an impact on the students and teach them some lifelong skills they'll actually use once most of that philosophy major is long forgotten, where every day would bring something different and where I could - within reason - make my own decisions about what I thought was important for a librarian to be involved in, and, like Nike says, "Just do it." I have that in my current position.

I do realize that there's still some rose-color left on my glasses, as I've been here less than a year so far, so it's early, yet. But all the signs are good, and it's pretty tough to trick me into believing in Library Utopia. I worked at a place where backstabbery (yes, I made that word up) was a super skill to I have coworkers I trust who are able - and more than willing, even! - to help me out when I get into a bind. Is being comfortable in your position a bad thing? Now, I'm not saying there's no stress - I freak myself out on a fairly regular basis that I'm not doing enough for tenure and such, and I have my moments of personal darkness that spill over into my library persona on occasion.

I don't know that I'm the sort of "transformative personality" the Ubiquitous Librarian" has in mind, as I'm no Emeril. (I do, however, occasionally blurt "Bam!" at random passersby and during phone conversations.) Is my occasional *happy dance* in front of my supervisor's office window enough for her to think I'm interesting enough to keep on? I'd rather it be my rapport with the students that does that, though that may fade once the tattoos get wrinkly. But I've got at least a decade or two before that becomes noticeable. Then again, Maybe like Steven Bell I'll be one of those who builds up to fame gradually. That may be the best bet, given the preponderance of drunken/high/felonious poptarts who all tasted the fast-lane fame.

I'm more prone to agree with pieces of what the Annoyed Librarian has to say about librarianship as a career, in that it often depends on whether we're nationally mobile (or want to be), care about rank and title, prefer a large or small university, and a myriad of other issues that eventually direct our career path. I, for one, despise moving. My library is enormous, and heavy, and now I have real furniture. I like the size of my institution, which is very Goldilocks: not too large (like the 40,000 student university I worked at before), not too small (like the 1,000 student college I attended), but just right. I'm in a part of the country I like. I enjoy my coworkers (though things can change once a few of them start retirning, heh), and I have a supportive administration.

I suppose my question for all those who are pouring out the career advice would be, is there anything wrong with being happy where you are? Is that complacency, or just sanity?

Friday, January 11, 2008

J.K. Rowling and Copyright: A Librarian's Take

Apparently J.K. Rowling claims that fan-fiction, or compendium volumes are violating her copyright. Tim Wu has an excellent article here with all of the gory details, but I'm going to put my two cents in anyway.

Fan guides are a perfectly non-offensive (and, IMHO, non-copyright violating) pursuit. It's not a substitute for the actual books, and it's not an adaptation to a different media - it is, in fact, a completely new work. There are many examples of these - The Lord of the Rings has a number of intricately crafted fan guides. Even Diana Gabaldon's Outlander romance series has two companion guides (though Gabaldon is listed as the author). If Rowling wanted to ride the cash cow a little longer, she should have thought of this herself. Frankly, I am surprised she didn't, given how she wants total control over her characters, even once they've left her hands. When she announced that Dumbeldore is gay, she made it onto my "top Authors not to Like in person" list. Readers build their own sense of a character in the space where an author leaves out details. It's called engaging the imagination. Particularly for a set of children's/young adult books, there is no reason to dash these impressions that folks have developed through their reading (and often re-reading) a beloved favorite. Thank goodness they're reading at all!

Finally, you would think an author would be flattered that anyone cares to encyloped-ize (yep, just made that word up) their work. Looks like fame and fortune have given someone a big head.

This is exactly the sort of thing that makes me cranky. "Don't think that about my characters if I didn't write it!" "If there's to be an encyclopedia, I need to write it so you get it right, and don't have your imaginations running wild!" Humbug, I say.

And now I'm off to get some training on a few online survey tools. Back to the world of academic librarianship.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Librarian Begins 2008 with Dick Clark...and a Crisis

Well, 2007 ended with a suddenly corrupted flash drive, which ate my 27-page MFA packet, due for emailing on January 9th. Despite a slight moment of panic, I decided that if Dick Clark could show up for his Rockin' Eve and be as excellent as he always is, then I, as a librarian, had a duty to help myself restore my data.

Now, an aside. I know that backing things up is key. And I believe I actually have this document on my work computer, even if it is a version that's a few days older. I had gotten into the habit of carrying the flash drive with me, and neglected my own sage advice - save it everywhere, keep copious printed copies on hand in case of technology failure, and always, ALWAYS save to both the hard drive and the portable memory whenever working on something.

Back to the crisis. I found some software online that would attempt to recover the file, which I saved in multiple places and emailed to myself (make a note of that email part, it'll be important later ~G) - corrupt or not, I didn't want it to be fubar-ed by my attempts to retrieve it. The trial version of Recovery for Word worked admirably...and then asked me to pay $150 for my document (and wouldn't allow me to see all of the text, just the first page). In this case, it wasn't quite worth it to me. Yet. I next tried using R-Word Demo, which worked beautifully (and was free!)...but the file was so corrupted that though it retrieved the text (without formatting and certain characters), it wouldn't allow me to save the retrieved text. Nor would the program allow me to copy and paste the retrieved text. It did, however, allow me to scroll through the text of the entire document.

As a librarian on a budget, I did the only sensible thing. I used the R-Word window of my text on my desktop...and retyped the entire document on my laptop, from the ball drop until around 3am this morning. I went to bed with shoulder cramps, but proud of my frugality and dedication. My work was safe, and now on a flash drive, two different hard drives, and I emailed the file to my Gmail account (because, as we all know, Google mail is infallible and omnipotent.

I consider it an auspicious beginning to my new year that:

1) I started it with writing. Making time for creative writing has become very important to me (and the maintenance of my sanity);

2) I was able (despite a few frantic Twitters and one email to a programmer pal) to retrieve my work myself, despite my fear of the elves that live inside computers;


3) After the initial shock, my first reaction was, "I can rewrite it if I have to." Now, I didn't think this with a beatific smile on my face, by any means, but it is a definite improvement from the freak-out this situation would have engendered a mere few months ago. perhaps I am becoming more mature as I approach thirty?

Now, were you paying attention above when I mentioned I had initially emailed the corrupt file to myself, just in case? Imagine my chagrin when I came back this morning to fool around with that corrupt file I had Gmailed myself...and found that the text was completely recovered if I opened it as HTML. if it had been the middle of the day at work, I am quite sure other minds would have suggested I try this before retyping that whole. Entire. Single spaced. 27 page. Document.

The lesson? There are a few. Never underestimate the power of a determined librarian. Never underestimate your own ability to not see the most obvious solution first. More minds are usually better when solving a problem. Save your freak-outs for something really and truly worthy. There are probably larger and more important things to worry about, and if not, thank goodness this is your biggest problem. And, of course, the primary lesson is that a true and sincere love for Dick Clark can propel you to triumph over any obstacle.