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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Open Letter to LIS Students and Librarians-to-Be

While discussing the recent Friendfeed thread on LIS schools and student placement with my good pal, former bosslady and library management mentor Mary Chimato, some interesting things came up that I really think are worth sharing. I hope this post is particularly helpful for new grads or current (or newly matriculating) library students. My intent is not to discourage new librarians - I openly advocate for folks to join the profession. It is a career I love, and I think many would find it fulfilling. But I advise them to come in knowing what the hardships may be.

The big thing, when it comes to hiring. The big thing, when it comes to looking how resumes and CVs are structured with relation to the job requirements. The big thing you need to walk into LIS school thinking about:

How do you know you really want to work in libraries?

Using the library as a patron - much as we all appreciate that you do so - is very, very different from actually working in a library. Unless you have done so, hiring managers may be wary of your commitment and veracity. Enthusiasm is wonderful, but if you can back it up by saying you've experienced a library working environment, it does quite a bit to back up your claim. I would argue that the part the patron sees of the library is perhaps 15-20% of the actual work done, if that. Working a reference desk looks fun, so does teaching, but what you don't see are collection management duties, class prep, updating technology skills, sitting through vendor platform change training sessions, planning services, and navigation of interpersonal and interdepartmental politics.

In our (very honest) IM discussion, Mary asked, "Would you really hire someone to be your e-resources librarian who has never negotiated a vendor contract? Or updated SFX links?" I might hire someone without vendor contract experience if I had another librarian with that experience who could mentor them through it. But if they've never touched an ERM interface in this lifetime? Likely not. And this is why most reference & instruction positions will require you to get up in front of a classroom and teach your prospective colleagues. Having taught classes before will *definitely* give you a leg up, since (in my experience) experience smooths out the roughness of inexperience.

Also, for LIS students, most LIS programs offer credit for internships. I cannot emphasize enough that if you haven't worked in libraries, please take advantage of this. If you have no experience, but you don't take advantage of this, I had better see something glaringly outrageously awesome that makes you stand out as a candidate. If you have no experience in libraries (which is like currency in the current job market- the more you have the better), and you make zero effort to *get* any experience, how seriously can I take you as an applicant? And, much as librarians may hate to admit it, this is a small professional universe. The more folks you know, the more folks you can point out that you worked with who have good recommendations for you, the stronger your case an an applicant. With SJSU churning out librarians, and no across-the-board admission or rigor standards for LIS programs, *you* need to convince *me* that you are different. It is not uncommon for reference & instruction librarian positions to have over 150 applicants. What makes you stand out? If *you* can't answer that question, how could I as a hiring manager possibly do so?

Practicing librarians are well aware of the differences between classes and actual practice. Knowing this, how can we in good conscience hire someone with no experience? That is not to say new librarians with no worktime under their belts don't have a chance. You absolutely do - but you have to know that any place making a such a hire is making an investment in you - and perhaps more of an investment than in an experienced candidate. As Mary pointed out (and I fully agree), "the only way that works is when there is an experienced librarian who can and is willing to put the time in with them." I had the very good fortune of an excellent mentorship in my first librarian position as I learned the ropes. Without a colleague who is willing to put in that time to help you shape yourself into the career, negotiate responsibilities and priorities, and generally be a friend while you find your librarian legs, you may have a difficult time of it. And with budgets the way they are, and everyone doing more with less...well, let's just say that it may be more difficult to get that quality time with someone under a crunch to fit 70 hours of work into 40. One more reason to get that internship, volunteer experience, or part time job in a library.

Please go in with your eyes open. Please garner as much experience as you can before you hit the market. Yes, it can be difficult. Yes, you may be schooling and working part time in a library while still maintaining your full time job and a family. Sounds rough? Talk to the librarians you know - you'll be very, very surprised to find that most of us did it the hard way too. All while knowing the mediocre income potential for the MLS.

Finally, let me leave you with this thought: I *want* to hire you. I want you to run circles around my other candidates and make it very clear that you are the one I want to work with. I want your resume or cv to shine so brightly that it erases the memory of all the poorly spelled, completely unqualified, and comic-sans-fonted ones that came before it. As a candidate, know that every person on the hiring committee is hoping that you succeed in convincing us of your potential and your superduperness as a colleague.

But we have to rely on you for the proper packaging of yourself. Do it. Impress me. MAKE me hire you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

SLIS Discussion

There is a really fantastic discussion going on right now about LIS programs, asking about whether schools should still be churning out graduates in a depressed economy with few available jobs. Definitely go read the (still-growing) thread.


The MLS is not useless - it imparts skills and knowledge that I have found a necessary foundation for my career in librarianship. This is not a discussion of what the degree is "worth," and I don't appreciate the arguments made that it is worthless.


Questions in the thread cover questions such as whether huge programs (see SJSU) are problematic, whether programs bear the responsibility for curbing enrollments in a reflection of markets, and whether a SLIS is easier to cut than other program because it doesn't generate grant money or rich alumni.


I suppose where I'd like to come in on the discussion is the fact that other graduate programs are naturally limited in growth. They advertise themselves based on student/faculty ratio, the percentage of faculty with terminal degrees in their fields, and accrediting bodies look at the length to completion and percentage completion of graduates, which is reflected in their rankings.


An English PhD program (or a PoliSci PhD program, or various other fields) has a natural cap. Each student must choose a faculty member to chair their dissertation. Even for those MA students in those fields, the faculty time spent with students for their theses is not inconsiderate, and the quals/comps/whatever-you-want-to-call-the-exam is no mean feat to pass. (I feel I can say this with some authority, as yet another ABD who moved into librarianship.)


On the other hand, in my experience and that of most of my colleagues, that sort of faculty investment in the library science graduate student body is *much* less. In my (admittedly exceesive) experience in other graduate programs, adjuncts do not teach graduate level classes (one noted exception: law classes). Librarianship is different - I very much appreciated taking classes with adjuncts who were practicing librarians, and it was often obvious which librarians had been too long in teaching without practical experience. (I recognize that most LIS teaching faculty would pitch a high holy fit if you required them to work X hours in their university's library as part of their teaching faculty responsibilities, but I think it'd be an excellent idea.) In any case, SLIS students likely receive less one on one mentoring and time spent with faculty.


The question that arises for me in this instance is: what does that mean for the MLS degree? Yes, we all know there are rigor issues. The general wisdom is "don't do the minimum to get by: you need to beef it up yourself for the best experience." On the other hand, the "minimum to get by" in other grad degrees does not result in bored students. You cannot, for instance, be in the Polisci graduate program at Emory University, do the minimum, and blow off the rest of the time. I know, I went there. The rigor is incredible. Is it a problem that LIS programs are different? Not if we want something different out of them.


The MLS is a decidedly different degree than a graduate research degree, even in such fields as PoliSci. I don't know the percentages by program, but given my contacts in LibraryLand, few of us had the sort of rigorous (and required) quantitative methods, qualitative methods, or game theoretic training required by other social science graduate degrees. You may get that if you move on to the LIS PhD, but the MLS is far less research-oriented.


And so, do we just accept as given that the MLS is a different animal? Most folks I've spoken with say yes. And so, if the MLS is a graduate degree but not research-oriented (or intended to train someone in proper and rigorous research), do we leave the real research writing to the LIS PhDs, or continue to have actual library practitioners muddle through? Do we instead look to the rigor of program that think it's fine to take in classes of over 1,000 in a year? What sort of rigor do we judge programs on?


We can't really make judgments on LIS programs until we can articulate what we want out of them. Until we say what we *should* see out of them, how can we possibly judge if places putting out 900+ grads (or 30) a year are doing the job, or just taking hapless students' money?

Monday, May 24, 2010

When Luxuries Become Necessities

Seeing some discussions of air-conditioning (and those poor souls lacking it) on Friendfeed lately have me thinking about the progression from "luxury" items & services to "necessaries."

I grew up without air conditioning. The humid, hot summers of Long Island for a fat kid were miserable without A/C. I always considered it the height of luxury when I visited someone's house (or, ahem, the freezer section of the grocery) and they had the magical cooling machine. My father, who worked outside in all weather in all seasons, suggested I drink a great big glass of suck-it-up-atine. Instead, I lived in the pool or held my face to the cool floor tile in the basement.


When I got to college, there was an airconditioning control in each dorm room. I called Housing and asked if we got charged extra tuition if we used it. (They were very kind and did not laugh at me. At least, not while I was still on the phone.) By the time my roommate arrived, I had grown accustomed to keeping the room at a steady 60 degrees in the swelter of a Kentucky summer, and the ever-polite Tiffany studied in layered socks and her jacket on her bed while I basked in cold air.


(When I mentioned the gift of free air conditioning, my mother reminded me that in truth, that air conditioning was costing me upwards of $32,000 a year. I considered it worth it. You can bundle up in layers if you are cold, but when you are hot, you can only get so naked before folks call the police.)


To this day I rarely visit home in the summer months because heat makes me miserable and there's still no A/C at Mom's, and I refuse to live anywhere without central air. Air conditioning has moved from a luxury to a necessity for me. Yes, this can be scoffed at as a "first world problems" sort of thing, but it greatly impacts my quality of life.


In any case, I have been thinking of this in terms of libraries and library services. At what point do our pilot programs and newly implemented services move from luxuries to necessities for our users? Think about the reaction you would get if you removed the following (relative) newcomers from your services:


- media (DVDs, CDs, etc.)
- technology lending (laptops, iPods, e-book readers)
- other services

A real life example: the NCSU Libraries have developed a service where the Library purchases all required textbooks for the University curriculum and places them on reserve. After only two semesters, students absolutely expect their materials to be available. While they are grateful, it is quickly moving from being seen as a service to a basic expectation of the Libraries' service provision. I imagine there would be quite the uproar if the service was abruptly discontinued.


And so, if libraries are providing materials and services that are moving from luxury to necessity, how are we capitalizing on this? Are these shifts in expectations communicated well to your board, your faculty and administration, your community, lawmakers and those with control over the purse strings? What was added to your library intended as a bonus service that is now an integral part of your mission? Is there anything you could add that might have this kind of effect? How do you measure this shift in user perception?


And then, in these trying budget times, when a program or service has been extraordinarily successful and has made this jump in expectation, what do you do when budget cuts come through?


Random summer thoughts by a librarian who remains tickled that summer stays outside, and that her sweat is not a currency the way her father's was.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Which Came First...The Personal Library or the MLS?

Moving in. While I hate looking at all these boxes and wondering where the heck I'm going to put everything (apparently the loss of 200 square feet of space is more significant than I thought), I do love the fact that when you are initially unpacking, everything has its place. I am a bit of a scattered person, and I inevitably start building up piles, but I do like that initial honeymoon of the move-in period.


Most particularly, I love unboxing and shelving my books. My personal library is much smaller than it was a few years ago - carting eight to ten thousand books every 18 months moving crosscountry got old after the fourth move. I sadly (okay, I was *devastated*) weeded my own collection. Now I try to take advantage of used bookstores that buy back books, or give you credit toward merchandise. This allows me to go off on my various obsessions and change my collection around, and the books I keep are those I am very attached to.


I am usually guilty of claiming that I am "Low-maintenance" - and I am. I am, in fact, writing this post sans pants, eating strawberries for dinner, surrounded by books that don't yet have a shelf and boxes of stuff that won't fit in my kitchen. (Why do I have three crockpots??). Tomorrow night will look much the same, except my best friend and her husband will be here (which likely means I will have on pants, too.) My high maintenance moments usually stem from my books. I know who has borrowed which and when I told the folks I expected them back. I know my own shelving system backwards and forwards, and often surprise my mother by asking her to wander the apartment, name a single title, and having me point it out. (I win every time.) None of this is due to my being a librarian - in fact, all of this led to my closest friends telling me to *become* a librarian so that I'd have an excuse for my wacky book behavior.


I just finished shelving my poetry collection. My poetry has a "theory of/treatises & essays on/" shelf, then is shelved alphabetically by author (and then year, as I have multiple books by the same author). Anthologies are shelved by topic (American poetry, international anthologies, spiritual poetry, love poetry, women poets, Irish poetry, etc) and editor's last name when there are multiples in a category. My fiction is pretty haphazard, just shelved by topic and not author (loose topics like "trashy romance", "chick lit", "highbrow fiction", "childhood favorites", "classics", "religion" and so on. My nonfiction is mostly political science and economics stuff, and that's shelved by topic, and within that, by historical timeline. My cookbooks are shelved by cuisine/region - right now the cookbooks are all in the bookcase, but not in organized fashion. They're next.


Yes, I know I haven't even started unpacking the stuff for my desk yet. but that's not nearly as much fun.


Work starts Monday. My brain, however, is still mired in bubble wrap, so expect to hear more about workstuff next week...

Thursday, May 06, 2010

LibPunk: Using Our Powers for Awesome. And Breaking Shit.

This is my penultimate day of work. I've been juggling a few posts that I want to finish, but then I read Sarah Glassmeyer's LibPunk ruminations (for the LibPunk Essay Contest). I thought I'd toss my hat in the ring with a few haphazard thoughts on the subject.


What LibPunk is to Me


To me, LibPunk is unconcerned with whether or not it is considered a profession at all. LibPunk is more concerned with actual results than titles, accolades, the "rock-star" status or lack thereof, figuring out how to improve and augment services with little to no additional resources, and putting a big ole boot in the hindquarters of naysayers. A replacement of passive aggression with aggressive aggression. A focus on users while acknowledging the staff work necessary to create the best user experience.


In effect, I like to think LibPunk is all the things I want librarianship to look like, and wearing some snazzy boots while doing it.


Using Our Powers for Awesome


"With great power comes great responsibility." You can pooh-pooh librarianship all you want (they have a place for that, and we call it NEWLIB or the Annoyed Librarian's column), but yes, we do have powers. Profession or not, we've all been trained in the back end of information-gathering (and often creation), and this gives us some fantastic insight when it comes to helping folks find information, training folks to find their own information, creating information and creating discovery tools for information. I came to librarianship after another graduate research degree, and I'll be quite honest: my research would have been far less painful if I knew then what I learned in library school & beyond. What this means: yes, librarians have skills. They may or may not pay the bills, but it is a greater knowledge-power than non-librarians have. Accept it.


Only, nobody knows you have great powers if you don't use them. Peter Parker and Clark Kent would just be regular old goobers if they didn't break out the spandex every once in awhile. And while I don't like to recommend spandex-wearing (I grew up in the 80s and that was quite enough, thanks), I do figure that the LibPunk ethos require us to bust out our equivalent of a cape and use it. This means identifying gaps in existing services and skills, and addressing that stuff toot sweet. It means being pro-active. If something needs doing, figure out a way to do it, in the face of adversity, declining or nonexistent budgets, overworked staff, and the black hole of committees. Itmeans improving discovery tools, designing outreach and instruction

On the Importance of Breaking Shit


Most importantly, to be LibPunk is to accept and even embrace the responsibility to break shit, in the belief that working to break something - whether that's your website, workflows, materials & collections, - shows you its weak points and gives you the opportunity to rebuild it in improved, or completely redesigned, fashion.


For LibPunks, the important question is not "But what if X happens if we make change Y?", since they know they can always revert back to old ways. Instead, the important question is "If Y is better than X for our users, what does Y look like in practice? It is an acceptance that all change carries he chance of failure. It is a recognition that program failure is not professional failure, and that any undesired outcome has things to teach us.


In embracing failure, though, LibPunk knows there are limits. LibPunk embraces the idea of failpoint - the point at which you can say definitively that a program/process/service has failed, and must be scrapped (or dialed back to previous incarnation). Without this, we are stuck sinking resources into something that will never repay us - or our users - in useful fashion. LibPunk welcomes change and the opportunity to fail, but helps create a culture in which failure is defined so we can move on to other, more beneficial pursuits.


Sometimes breaking shit LibPunk style means asking for things that will make you unpopular: breaking the silence barrier. This includes: asking for a new staff line despite laughing administration, asking for additional resources, asking staff to shoulder the brunt of declining budgets, asking for re-evaluations of workflows, asking for someone to stop making the work environment toxic. Asking where the failpoint is for a floundering project. Prodding someone for agendas to curb useless meeting time. Then again, sometimes LibPunk means not asking for things: like permission.


Sometimes breaking shit means breaking old habits. Bitching about things without acting to change them, nursing work-related grudges, and bemoaning how it used to be are all antithetical to LibPunk. True LibPunks stomp on this sort of behavior at the first chance, usually with boots, but sometimes in stilettos, flip-flops, sneakers or even barefoot. The LibPunk are a hardy-footed folk.


LibPunks know that when you are the one doing the breaking - testing server capacity, rewriting code, absorbing services, rewriting workflows, changing organizational culture - you are the one who gets to define success.


Conclusion


To me, at its core, LibPunk is doing what needs to be done with no time for the petty shit that slows things down, no energy wasted on bemoaning what could have been. Kathryn Greenhill said it best: "LibPunk: Doing it for Itself." The most fabulous thing about the idea, really, it that we all get to "do it for ourselves" in our own way: the stanky leg dance beside the cabbage patch and the country line dancers, calligraphy beside block lettering and italics (but not comic sans. Comic sans is decidedly un-LibPunk), cats and dogs, living together...


Note: My diorama would not fit onto my blog

Monday, May 03, 2010

Facebook, Privacy, and One Librarian's Opinion

The Facebook Beef.

Everyone is taking sides on either extreme. It's either "I want to lock my social network down so no one can access anything and I am an island of internet" or "Don't be an idiot, everything on the web is billboard-worthy and privacy is a thing of the past."

The debate has many of us on FriendFeed wanting to shake people like Etch-a-Sketches. You can be holier-than-thou ("You should expect this from a monetized company!"), smug ("Told you this would happen.), an apologist ("Maybe Zuckerberg means well and is just forwarding the case for open networks,") or suspicious ("I heard if you get your settings wrong, companies and applications can steal your pictures and use them for ads."). In any case, most people are missing the point.

It's not the nerds, social networking experts, librarians, Alex Scobles or other techgeeks Facebooks awful privacy settings take advantage of, though we're teh ones bitching to high heaven for or against them.

It's the casual user. It's your mother, your Aunt Louise, and your next door neighbor. Perhaps it's you.

The argument I hear most often is that folks should read Terms of Service Agreements carefully and keep up with the netchatter surrounding the issue to be educated about it. That's their job as responsible consumers, right?

Well, sort of.

Yes, folks should read ToS agreements. Have you read the newest many-paged iTunes store agreement updated 4/1/2010? Yeah. That's what I thought. Do you blissfully use your iTunes anyway? Mhm. How ignorant of you.

In good conscience, can you say that the majority of Facebook users understand the real world implication when the little pop-up box states that an application has access to their data? And they'd have to be *looking* for it to find out that even if they fiddle with certain things, apps can get to their data through their friends' profiles.

And the netchatter/blogosphere commentary? Folks who sit online all day keep up with that, people in the information business and those with an interest in privacy keep up with that. What about the countless people who are casual users, who check Facebook to see the latest pictures of grandchildren and commentary from their friends/family, check their email, and leave? There is an army's worth of these people hardly equipped to wade through the multilayer many-click privacy setting process. And while Johnny Worthington some good points, he doesn't address the fact that beyond the folks he helps set up (to whom, I imagine, he explains all of the options, since he seems like a nice guy), most people bumble through setting up their accounts themselves. And once set up, they don't expect to have to deal with the changes that come every few months when Zuckerberg and his ilk decide to switch things up again.

Hell, even if they check the opt-out box (usually the expected end-point for such a transaction for anything but spammy advertisements), they must *still* read the fine print and actively block certain sites anyway. Not user-friendly for me, the info- and net-savvy librarian. Definitely not intuitive or comprehensible to drive-by users.

The basic tenet of Facebook was that you didn't have to be a net expert to use it or understand it. My issue with the problematic (and convoluted) opt-out-for-privacy is that this is the *only* thing Facebook has made more difficult instead of more simple. And that, to me, smacks of dishonesty.

Prayer of the Beleaguered Manager


Prayer of the Beleaguered Manager


And Yea, though I walk through the Valley of Management, I shall fear no performance issue, for the Man With No Name sits over my shoulder, and his glare it doth soothe me, and his six-shooter proclaims that we will take no shit. And we shall get resources to those that worketh, and we shall make the lives of those that worketh easier, and woe unto those who would throw a wrench into the good works of staff.


Amen.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Young Blood: U. of Alabama, You're Doin' It Wrong

Dear University of Alabama Libraries,


Yes, we want to encourage folks to enter the profession. However, I'd take issue - and there have been other grumblings - at the way you've decided to implement your plan. In your job ad, you state the following:

Qualifications: Master’s degree in Library & Information Sciences from an ALA accredited institution, or a Master’s degree in instructional technology or a related field received since December 2009.


So, only if you graduated in the past 5 months are you eligible for this job. I am curious as to whether this is because:

A) An MLS received six months ago is terribly out of date (as in, "You poor thing, you probably don't even know what an RSS feed is. I bet you even still use the blink tag in your html. How quaint. *clucks sadly* Bless your heart!");

B) You have an internal candidate and wanted to write the job description to fit them as well as possible to weed out other applicants (understandable, but better to write it to their strengths than the date of their degree);

C)You've been burned in the past for hiring someone whose skills were completely out-of-date;

D) This is a great way to take advantage of new grads that you can probably hire for a song due to their desperation for a(ny) job;

or

E) This is really a well-meaning attempt to provide a job for the recently graduated in this tough economy.

In any case, I think the wording here is a shame. You've written yourself out of all kinds of excellent applicants. And yes, there's grumblings in private channels about it.


Amidst all of the discussion about the profession of librarianship, a librarian I respect and admire said, upon seeing your ad, "things like this just prove it, the only people who are de-professionalizing our profession are ourselves." I have to agree. And though you don't owe me anything - I'm not an applicant or a booster, just a fellow professional - I'd love to hear what the rationale was for such a stricture on the time from receipt of degree. It seems a shame to cut out some highly qualified folk from your pool.