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My job definitely has its perks. We went on a field trip today to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the new exhibit of Marsden Hartley’s New Mexico paintings.  Hartley is a modernist who intrigues me – he has so many apparent influences, yet he refused to be pinned down in his art or his personal life. 

I hadn’t been to the Georgia O’Keeffe since I moved here (other than the internship at the Research Center). It’s funny how quickly one becomes complacent to such cultural opportunities. Whenever I visit a place with museums that’s how I spend all my time, yet somehow it’s easy to overlook the ones I walk past every day. A good metaphor for life, I suppose. What initially struck me with awe and wonder when I first came to work at the gallery is now a bit less wondrous. For one thing, a necessary component of the business of art is that some of the magic is stripped. While I don’t think I will ever see art as a commodity, I do miss the thrill of the object that has been dulled for me somewhat. It’s like a class I took a few years ago called “Desire and Distance” – the theory being that desire ceases to exist once realized. So…maybe it’s ideal to have a less than enthralling day job in order to keep the thrill alive?

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I am definitely a proponent of using any and every tool at our disposal for the purpose of making literacy more accessible. Along these lines, it appears that the traditional role of reader’s advisory is quickly becoming a thing of the past – in a good way. I am always perplexed by the traditionalists among us who exclaim loudly about the deprofessionalization of libraries due to some innovation which makes all our lives easier – because there is job security in wasted time, I suppose. There are many aspects of this phenomenon related to public library roles in particular (self check-out, OPACs, simple signage to waylay those ubuquitous “where’s the bathroom” reference queries), and I’ve known many a librarian to get pretty huffy to have such precious duties stripped from the daily routine. The ideal of Library 2.0 is to provide the tools to provide service better, faster, more cheaply, and more democratically. This is very close to the ALA mission “to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.” So come on. Let’s consider shifting our roles to value-added service (the specifics of which are the material for future posts) rather than insisting on being superfluous dinosaurs sitting behind a reference desk twiddling our thumbs.  

These are just a few tools related to reader’s advisory that I’ve been checking out lately:

 1. ReadMe Wiki

This is part of the MetaFilter wiki – one of Jessamyn West’s many impressive projects.  Through a Wikipedia-like interface, it includes categories of topics on what to read (broken down somewhat similar to a bibliographic classification scheme, though more limited).  The sub-categories include such topics as “For a bookclub” and (particularly useful) “For a bookclub on the verge of dissolution.”  Clicking on this link leads to a MetaFilter blog page called “Dead Book Club Walking” which provides suggestions on how to keep a book club going. 

While I find the categories in the ReadMe Wiki to be pretty limited at this point, it shows the potential of these types of wikis for community reader’s advisory and recommendations.  The popularity of consumer models such as Amazon prove that readers want this power.

2. LibraryThing

It’s taken me way too long to really play around with LibraryThing.  And sure enough, I’m having fun.  I would recommend it for anybody with a hankerin’ for catalogin’.  It’s free to catalog up to 200 books (or $10 for an unlimited 1 year subscription/$25 for a lifetime subscription).  It uses the Z39.50 protocol to get bibliographic information from LC, Amazon, and “more than 80 world libraries.”  Users can take this information to catalog personal collections in Dewey, LC, or use personal tags.  It’s also the “MySpace for books” in the sense that users can share recommendations, find read-alikes, get ratings, find readers with similar interests, blog about books, etc.  In other words, it’s like a cataloging party.

Libraries can also use LibraryThing in conjunction with their OPACs.  Many public libraries (such as the Atlantic Public Library in Iowa and the Danbury Connecticut Public Library) are taking advantage of the library widget within their catalogs to add things such as new book recommendations, links to similar books, tags, and links to other editions and translations.  This is an easy, free step towards creating Library 2.0 OPACs.  With the links to read-alikes and the other unique LibraryThing tools, it’s also an instant, free reader’s advisory service.

3. Local library blogs

I was a bit surprised recently to see that the Santa Fe Public Libraries’ blog, Icarus, was voted one of the best public library blogs by the Free Range Librarian.  I guess they’re doing something right.  It is so easy anymore to integrate blogs into websites that I would be surprised by any library unable (or unwilling) to make the effort to do so.  Of course, there are still libraries out there lacking websites or OPACs.  It seems to me that a library blog is a win-win arrangement from all perspectives.  It is another means by which patrons can approach reader’s advisory on their own terms, find other readers with common interests, and in the process maybe even find a book club or meet new people.  

4. WorldCat Lists

These lists have been written up in a variety of blogs lately, including Thom Hickey’s Outgoing blog on “library metadata techniques and trends.”  It’s another potential tool for libraries and individual readers looking for ways to share books and book recommendations.  According to the OCLC site, the purpose is 3-fold:

1. “Keep track of items you plan to borrow next”

2. “Recommend favorite books and movies for a particular subject or genre”

3. “Organize resources for a research project”

These tools share the characteristics of being user-friendly, fun to use, universally applicable, and practical.  There are many more like them out there, and the potential for future developments is only beginning. While I don’t consider myself what the Annoyed Librarian likes to call a “twopointopian”, if something makes service better and lives easier and more productive, I consider it my professional duty to promote it.

(jumping off soapbox)

First, an anecdote. On a Sierra Club hike last weekend I started talking to a guy who used to own a business somewhere on the east coast. As he described their hiring demographic, they were looking for graduates of bachelor’s degree programs in a wide array of disciplines – EXCEPT art history. I casually asked him why, and he responded “Anyone stupid enough to waste money on an art history degree is too stupid to work for my company.” Though taken a bit aback at the implication that my chosen academic path is a weedy, intellectual wasteland (and amazed by how far this obnoxious guy had managed to shove his foot into his mouth in the matter of a short conversation), I’m aware that this is a common perception of many of the liberal arts, as well as library science.

I don’t regret the decisions I’ve made in my education and my career, but do recognize that a good deal of what I’ve chosen to pursue in life and in my career is based upon romanticized ideas about intellectual pursuit and aesthetics – working towards my idealized self. In contrast, I could have made decisions based upon statistical growth trends, marketability, earnings potential. Even as I consider myself to be a careful planner by nature, much of my life has to be chalked up to instinct.

So what compels librarians to forego the MBA, the CPA, and take this plunge? It’s certainly not an easy route, and there were hundreds of other experiences and decisions that led to this point.

It struck me how much we (that’s a huge collective we) tend to take for granted the hundreds of instinctual decisions we make in the course of a week, in the course of a day. It seems that instincts compell us in every step of our lives and our careers.  How do we prioritize the ever-expanding amounts of information and tools at our disposal? Among the multitude of opportunities out there for professional and personal development, how do we narrow down the choices? When is it time to move on (from a job or from a place)? How did we decide to go down our individual paths towards these particular degrees and careers in the first place?

In terms of our careers and professional decisions, there are always tangible and intangible considerations. A salary is one, but does not take into account the atmosphere and working conditions, the benefits package, the geographical location. It’s a constant process of weighing pros and cons, most of which goes on behind the scenes in the hamster wheels of our brains. How much do we “think”, and how much do we act on instinct? And which method leads to better results?

Timing accompanies instinct and creates the perception of luck. I felt lucky to find this job upon moving to Santa Fe, but I could have gone many other directions instead. While I have unique opportunities here to grow in knowledge and experience, I need to be able to recognize the limitations and the timing that is right for me. I hope my instincts don’t let me down.

 

Even though I was excited I remained a bit dubious, but now the truth is out in print – my first publication in NMRT Footnotes!

I was excited to find a new writing opportunity this week.  I will be writing book reviews for the new online arts magazine Moonshine – another one of those unpaid gigs that seem to be so ubiquitous.  If only money and librarianship were more compatible.  While not necessarily library-related, it’s a good chance to spread my literary wings a bit, polish the old resume, and read more art books.  Win win.

This is a thought I’ve had quite often lately as I consider my next career moves.  If you haven’t heard, it’s expensive to live in Santa Fe.  Another news flash: librarians don’t make much money.  Neither do registrars.  I’ve been considering options such as relocating to Albuquerque to save money on rent, which would mean an hour commute.  But they have comfy park-and-ride buses (and a thusfar elusive “Railrunner” train) between the two cities, so it wouldn’t be all bad.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will be in the running for the University of New Mexico Libraries’ Resident Program.  It’s a 1 to 2 year residency that gives new librarians a taste of just about every aspect of librarianship – from reference to cataloging to archives.  If nothing else, I would be extremely well-rounded.  I kind of want my next position to be more longterm (in the 5 year range) so I can finally feel settled and maybe do the whole house/dog commitment thing, but this would be a great opportunity. 

According to a recent item in Library Journal, Nintendo is donating 21 Wiis to libraries. My initial cynical reaction to this ploy is shameless advertisement.

But even if a selfless act of goodwill on Nintendo’s part, I’m not sure that I fully support the idea. I just don’t know that libraries need to become gaming hubs. I suppose it really comes down to a question of whether or not gaming supports the mission of the public library. For example, here is an example of a mission statement from the Hennepin County Library system in Minnesota:

“Hennepin County Library promotes full and equal access to information and ideas, the love of reading, the joy of learning, and engagement with the arts, sciences, and humanities.”

Nothing about entertainment or even improved physical ability.

The Cincinnati public library promotes “Connecting people with the world of ideas and information.” Again, don’t see where the Wii fits in…

I’m not trying to be a luddite here, or even really to play devil’s advocate. It’s an honest question. Does gaming fit in to our missions, or is it just something public libraries are flocking to in order to appear hip and relevant (look at us! We’re the library and we’re cool!)? Is it time to adjust our mission statements?