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I’m in that purgatory between starting to apply for professional jobs and actually getting my degree. It’s challenging, because the general consensus is to begin sending out applications 6 mos. or so before graduation, but most all jobs require the degree in hand. At this point, it is likely the jobs I’m applying for wouldn’t start before my August graduation date, so I’m stepping up my efforts and finding some really interesting opportunities. I’m getting much better at writing cover letters to suit the jobs I’m looking for, which is actually a really helpful exercise in self-esteem boosting. Every time I sell myself in a cover letter I end up feeling really confident and excited about my prospects. Who needs psychoanalysis?
I seem to be doing something right. Yesterday I was contacted for a phone interview for an adult services job in a public library. Yay! My first librarian interview. I’m running through my mind the kinds of questions I should be thinking about. I’m usually pretty good at extemporaneous delivery in interviews, but I think I also need to be prepared for trick questions. There’s nothing worse than dead silence at the end of a phone line as I wrack my brain for something halfway intelligent to say. The thing is, I’ve never interviewed in a public library, and I’m not sure how differently they approach things than a university. It was really great experience for me to be on the search committee at UNL this year – I learned a lot about what to put in a cover letter and what the search committee is looking for. So hopefully that experience will help me out. I’m also glad that I so recently took courses in collection development, adult services, and ethics. I think the information I learned in those classes will be really useful for the types of questions I will be asked.
This last week at UNL has been bittersweet. I’ve come to realize that my work with electronic resources has really been appreciated, and I’ve had so many librarians and staff make the effort to tell me how much they appreciated my efforts. That means a lot to me and makes me feel like I really accomplished something here, even though often I felt like my work went unnoticed. That’s the trouble with cataloging and database maintenance. If you’re doing your job well, no one knows about it and you never get feedback. It’s only when there are problems that people take notice. It would be nice to work in public services and get some face to face validation. But I feel like I have learned so much from the people I work with and all the challenges of implementing ERM and troubleshooting database and e-journal problems. I know I’m at a really good place right now to move forward into the next challenge.
I talked to the librarian at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum on Friday about a project automating their serials holdings. They just got a new ILS and at this point still have their records in paper. I think with my serials background this will be a good project for me. So the plan at this point is to split my time this summer between the Georgia O’Keeffe and the digitization project at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Both of them sound really interesting – I can’t wait to get started and meet people in the museum/library community in New Mexico.
Part of the whirlwind excitement of a 3 week class is cramming in a semester’s worth of intellectual growth and edification into a mere 21 days. It is an appropriate indicator of the importance of critical thinking, if nothing else just to organize my disjointed and random thoughts. My mission in this 3-part blogging exercise is to try to develop a microcosm of a learning process. I have taken in lots of information, so let’s see if I can reguritate it into the form of knowledge. We’ll assume the wisdom will come at some point later in the future.
On the issue of professional responsibility to community involvement, I have considered many different perspectives. Our exercise this week to look at the ALA’s website and links to resources on ethical issues got me thinking about this as well. I poked around quite a bit in the section on advocacy and noticed just how strenuously the ALA promotes this as a core value for the profession.
I have never been very politically active in the past. I tend to take a somewhat Jainist position of doing no harm and adhering to personal responsibility. If I take a longer view on the issue, I do admit that pursuing a professional route requires greater responsibility for issues relating to the profession. By saying I am a professional and a graduate of an ALA-accredited school, I am therefore guided by certain shared principles of behavior. If our professional principles include advocacy and outreach, they must therefore be part of my ethical grounding. Does this mean I must be involved in the issues, a representative library voice in the community? Alfino and Pierce think so in Information Ethics for Librarians. Perhaps it differs depending on the institution. Public librarians often seem to take much of the onus of responsibility for advocacy efforts. Is this because they are more central to the community, while the rest of us are off in our ivory towers (or archives, or schools, or museums)? Should we all really share in the efforts equally? Should we all be marching outside the capitol when library funding issues come up? Should we all be writing to our senators and editors? Probably yes. The Professional Librarian’s Guild suggests that we should be radical (non-neutral) proponents of intellectual freedom and “strongly oppose the commodification of information which turns the ‘information commons’ into privatized, commercialized zones.” That sounds a bit ambiguous to me, but I do absolutely wish to be voice for intellectual freedom and equity of access.
As we become professionals, we become guardians of the profession. While that’s a frightening thought, it’s nonetheless part of the deal. Kathleen Pena McCook also promotes our community involvement on the Librarian at Every Table discussion list:
“Librarians have an important role to play in building community in neighborhoods, towns, cities, counties, states and the nation. People have great faith in libraries as fair and trusted institutions and in librarians as the honest and diligent keepers and disseminators of the human record.”
My professional involvement to this point has included association and committee memberships, reading and thinking about the issues, and activity on discussion lists. Along with my blog feeds, I subscribe to nexgenlib, newlib, ARLIS-L, and VRA-L. I find blogs and discussion lists to be useful tools for different reasons. From blogs, I gain a great deal of information about trends and an in-depth view of how people are thinking about the issues. I get inspired to pursue different paths of research. From the discussion lists, I mostly get a sense of how different constituencies (new librarians, library students, art librarians, etc.) are thinking and conversing about the issues. As a distance ed student, it’s one of the ways in which I can get more of a sense of community. Lest I begin to drown in information, I have avoided joining more specific groups such as autocat, even though the discussion interests me.
All of these components of involvement indicate that I do consider involvement beyond the boundaries of the job to be an important aspect of professionalism. I’ve started thinking about the various ways in which I will fulfill my professional responsibilities in the years to come. Beyond the things I have already mentioned, I would like to find more opportunities for continuing education. I’m excited by the fact that there are now so many (mostly) freely available podcasts on a variety of topics. Some of these resources include the SirsiDynix institute, College of DuPage, AMIGOS, and other random useful stuff librarians have put online. I also really enjoy conferences. There is something about the immediately close-knit, like-minded community that is created for 2 or 3 days that I find really inspiring and invigorating. I would like to become more active in my association memberships, such as the state library association’s New Member’s Round Table.
I assume that at some point in the not too distant future I will take a role in the management and administration of a library. I have thought quite a bit about how I would like to develop my management style to integrate within an organization. I would definitely like to avoid micromanagement, and, as Michael Gorman puts it, try to have an organization that is as flat as possible. Coming from the perspective of a paraprofessional, I can definitely relate to the issues affecting staff. I think I would be very receptive to input and concerns from all levels.
Another important responsibility inherent in professionalism is mentoring. I would like to continue to learn from people who are established in the field. My present job involves working very closely with professionals in all areas of the library, and this has been immensely helpful to me. In particular the chance to share ideas through committee work is invaluable. I hope that when I start my first professional job I will have someone to show me the ropes and introduce me to the organization. Likewise, I would like to be a mentor for others after I have a few years of experience. However, most of the time mentoring opportunities are informal. I think we all have something, some unique expertise or perspective, to teach each other, and mentoring is an ongoing process. That’s one reason why social networking has the potential to be a powerful tool, not just for our patrons, but for us as professionals. We can learn from each other through blogs, wikis, and websites. We can find out what projects others are working on and what discoveries they have made. We can collaborate and combine our efforts in new and innovative ways.
I heard a story about Twitter on NPR the other day that made me reconsider my past dismissal of the service as a self-indulgent waste of time. For the most part, the story was a basic introduction to the idea of nano-blogging to and from a variety of electronic devices and how that might be an interesting, fun, and perhaps even useful activity. It described the Twitter map , which sails around the globe giving glimpses into different “tweets”. These meanderings create sort of a post-modern performance art vibe. When “Larsk in Illinois” mused “Somebody called me a renaissance man the other day and it just sunk in” or “Blanca in Virginia” told the world “they finally got me my own trash can. Finally I can throw stuff away” I don’t think they were necessarily attempting poetry or even introspection, but the effect of multiple random thoughts creates that kind of creative collage, like those stories you write in a group where everyone adds a line and then it’s mushed together into one cohesive whole. It’s sort of fascinating. Maybe excessive online mundanity has inadvertantly reinvigorated the art of poetry. As the NPR story also pointed out, its limited character format is an ideal context for haiku…
As part of my Ethics & Critical Thinking course this summer, we have been asked to develop personal manifestos about our belief systems and involvement in librarianship. I decided to approach it as a three part series as I continue to read and develop my ideas about these issues.
This is my last semester of classes, so it is particularly appropriate that I take a long hard look at what I wish to accomplish professionally. I think what initially drew me to librarianship was the aspect of organizing information, in the same way I could have become a zoologist or entomologist. I am excited by taxonomic systems. However, I’m also the kind of person who always wants to be learning something new. Because – and I do truly believe this, I’m not just trying to be cheesy – the library is the “people’s university” it is the ideal place for self education. I’m passionate about that, so I’m passionate about libraries. I’m passionate about EVERYONE having that same opportunity to pursue multivariate interests in well-organized, carefully selected, and multifaceted collections.
In considering Michael Gorman’s core values in Our Enduring Values, there are several that stand out for me most prominently. As part of my personal motivations as described above, literacy & learning and equity of access are certainly essential components of my beliefs. Stewardship is another very important value to me. While I am interested in the organization of databases and virtual information, I am also compelled by the preservation and dissemination of artifacts. I find museums to be equally inspiring institutions for learning, based upon the preservation, contextualization, and display of objects. These objects can be bibliographic or they can be aesthetic, but either way they inspire thinking beyond their physicality and require stewardship. As Gorman points out, cultural resource professionals have the role of “preserving the records of humankind”( 59). That’s a tall order, but it’s something that makes me feel proud to play a part. Kind of like Noah Wyle in The Librarian: Quest for the Spear.
I’m keeping my mind open right now as to where I can unfold my library wings. I like academic libraries, but I don’t like the bureaucracy of huge systems. I think I would prefer an environment where I can perform a variety of work, both technical and public services. I have considered both community colleges and small public libraries for this reason. I love cataloging and metadata, but I also love reference. I suppose my dream job is to be an art librarian or visual resources curator. I am looking at possibilities in both libraries and museums, as I see the skills of library and information science applying to both types of institutions. Even if my title is not Librarian, I will still be applying the same knowledge and experiences in one form or another.
As to the issues of professional development, I do try to be as involved as possible in the larger realm of online and in person social networking. I’ve joined several professional organizations and attended a few conferences. I try to stay at least only slightly behind the curve with new technologies and Web 2.0. Obviously I have taken on blogging, and while at the moment I feel like I’m blogging in a vacuum, hopefully I will develop more insightful things to contribute as I go along and will see my observations become part of the biblioblogosphere. I’ve put up an online portfolio, which will be elaborated as I have the time to work on it.
At this point I feel like more of an observer than a participant in the field. I’m trying to soak up as much information as possible in the form of library blogs, websites, articles, and tutorials. My favorite library(ish) blogs include The Annoyed Librarian, Lorcan Dempsey’s blog, Tame the Web, and Webware. I may try to develop an article if I find a unique focus and useful contribution to the field. One ethical dilemma I try to avoid is submitting redundant, lackluster, or regurgitated information just to get published. Seeing my name in print is not my primary motivation, and I don’t see myself in a tenure-track position facing “publish or perish.” I like blogs for that reason. Here I can air my thoughts and observations and work through my questions without the pressure of criticism. Of course, you could drop me a comment and tell me my observations are dull and frivolous. That’s ok, I can take it.
I spent the weekend in Minnesota for Mother’s Day, and made a few observations about the public reaction to the profession of librarianship.
It started when I was renting a car. First I was asked if I am a professor at the university, which I choose to take as flattering. When I said I work at the library, for some reason she responded, “Oh, so you do the filing or whatever?” Now, I’m not quite sure in what context she meant “filing”. Like the card catalog? Or is it her impression of the library that we all stand around alphabetizing files all day?
The next day I was chatting with a friendly guy outside a coffee shop. He asked about the Michael Gorman book I happened to be reading, which invariably led to a question about why in the world I would voluntarily read such a thing. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Michael Gorman, but Our Enduring Values isn’t the biggest page-turner in the English language. Anyway, the mention of my chosen profession led him to respond, “Oh, so you get to read all the time”. Hahaha! As I told him, I’ve had less chance to read (other than reams of library journal articles) since starting library school than ever before in my life. But honestly, there are many people who conjure up (for whatever bizarre reason they have cause to do so) images of librarians sitting around reading the latest bestsellers all day long. Because what else could we possibly be doing after the filing is done?
I was a bit concerned by these casual interactions, but the most disconcerting thing was that I was not really surprised. We know that’s what most people think about us. What will it take? A marketing campaign? A documentary? Perhaps YouTube has the potential to save us, though as Joe Janes pointed out in his MPLA keynote address this year, thusfar we have used it in rather pathetic and half-hearted replications of traditional library videos. I have seen a couple cool ones lately, one of them actually a music video. It may not do much to dispel stereotypes, but at least we look darkly mysterious and omnipotent rather than bored and without purpose.
There’s been some commentary lately on the discussion lists about the ethics of being a library volunteer after receiving the MLS degree. There seems to be quite a split consensus between those who think it completely denegrates the profession and should be avoided in all situations and those who think it is a valuable tool to get experience.
Personally, I fall more towards the latter end of the spectrum, though I can understand the philosophical/market forces argument put forth by the former. Internships, work study, volunteering, and other relatively no pay/low pay positions are theoretically in the realm of library school education. They are meant to supplement course work in order to give us that all important hands-on experience. By “giving it away for free” as certified professionals, we lower the market value of an MLS degree, which is already undervalued enough.
However, it’s another one of those infuriating library field Catch-22s. Many students have no chance to do an internship or get other real world library experience as part of their course work. There are still many ALA-accredited programs that don’t have such a requirement. Technically, you could become a librarian without ever setting foot in a library. While that scenario isn’t likely, it is much more likely that we continue to mill out these cohorts of students who just don’t have the experience necessary to hit the job market running. That’s where our field is professionally lacking – doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. all complete intensive training in their respective fields. We do not, unless personally motivated. It goes unstated that you’d better seek out paraprofessional experience or internships on your own during library school if you expect to even have a chance to break into the field. Why is this such a secret for library school administrators, and such a gnawed over bone of contention for those of us entering the field?
Even those who choose to complete a - let’s say – 150 hour internship have experience that barely begins to scratch the surface. You just can’t get the necessary experience in that timeframe. Some libraries have the patience and resources to mentor and support inexperienced newbies. Many do not, and as the library market is right now glutted with graduates who have both years of experience and a degree, those without are just not going to be able to compete. So how can you tell these starry-eyed, newly minted MLS professionals that they aren’t allowed to volunteer to equal out the playing field? I’ve also heard the argument that having the degree means never accepting a paraprofessional position. This strikes a personal economic chord. There are more job-seekers right now in this field than there are jobs. What are the rest of them (soon to be us) to do as we wait for that first professional job? Polish our resumes like a worry-stone in the hope it will gleam more brightly for the hiring committees? That can only do so much.
I am of the opinion that ALA accreditation standards need to change to reflect the need for experience, along with library schools limiting the number of students admitted into programs and increasing the rigor of library education. I know this is not a new argument, but it’s one that needs to be voiced in a variety of venues until it gets heard by library schools and the ALA. Our crisis is NOT one of recruitment, but of quality and competitiveness.
I’ve begun a new blogging adventure as I stare towards the horizon of my looming library school graduation, move to New Mexico, and all other adventures that lie ahead. Que sera, sera. Today I heard back from the Institute of American Indian Arts, one of the institutions in Santa Fe where I offered up my librarian skills as a volunteer this summer. This would be a very neat experience in digitizing their image collection, so I am quite tempted. Of course, the Georgia O’Keeffe opportunity still gets my heart thumping as well. Too many choices are infinitely better than none, so I will count myself lucky.
My metadata blog is still available through the blogroll, but any metadata related musings will now be penned here along with my general observations about the field, Library 2.0 and Museum 2.0, my professional development, research, and career exploration in general.