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I’m in a mode of considering next steps – not actively job searching, but recognizing the need to plan ahead for the next year and beyond.  Without a plan, I feel like I don’t make consistent progress, and my plan right now feels too random.  It seems that the time is coming for me to review my progress over the past year and determine where I want to go from here.  I need to figure out my long term goals and structure my short term goals.  I’m keeping myself involved in a variety of ways, but I need more focus.

My ultimate career goal is to become an art librarian.  All the choices I have made over the past few years have been working towards that point.  But there are a variety of paths I can take towards that eventual destination – that’s where the tough decision-making comes in.  I have made significant strides towards a greater knowledge of art and proficiency in all areas of librarianship.  Where is my effort best utilized at this point?

I’m a natural list-maker.  On days when my thoughts are muddled, lists take the place of the flow of my thoughts.  So of course the first thing I did was to outline this process with a list.

Question: What are the qualifications of art librarians, and how does my resume stack up?

1. An academic background in art in combination with an MLIS. 

*What I have: My BA in art history.  If at all possible, I would definitely like to get my MA.  I am also constantly adding to my knowledge of art as part of my job and the independent research and book reviews I have taken on.

*Next steps: Keep researching.  Take graduate level classes when possible.

2. Knowledge of databases and resources specific to art.

*What I have: Experience with a wide variety of databases from my job as E-Resources Associate at UNL.  Many of these were art-related.  I also researched these tools and other art resources in an extensive collection development research project for my MLIS.

 *Next steps: Look into new resources and make sure I’m conversant about the existing ones.  Look over my collection development paper and see if it’s still relevant.

3. Cataloging and metadata experience

*What I have: Various experiences through work, internships, and coursework.

*Next steps: Keep up to date with skills and trends.  Look into online training/workshop opportunities, as well as other continuing ed. opportunities.

4. Professional involvement

*What I have: Association memberships, conference attendance, blogging, publishing, internships and networking.

*Next steps: find a mentor, seek more publishing opportunities (possibly in a scholarly art/library publication).  Keep up with trends in art librarianship through blogs and discussion lists.  Blog about these topics more specifically.  Brainstorm new ways to be more professionally active.

5. Reference skills

*What I have: Experience as a virtual reference librarian.  My research experience should also come in handy.  Customer service experience is also useful.

*Next steps: I am considering the wisdom of volunteering to take some reference shifts, possibly at the public library.  I have heard very conflicting views on volunteering professional time, so I hesitate.  Perhaps I will find a part-time position.

6. Experience working with special and digital collections.

*What I have: Experience through my internships.

*Next steps: Keep up with current trends. 

7. A resume and cover letter to set me apart from the crowd.

This is, of course, always a work in progress.  I’m constantly tweaking my resume and writing individualized cover letters for different types of jobs.  I need to ask more people to look at my resume and give me advice – new sets of eyes always help.  I had a good response last year, but it’s probably time to do it again.

After I compiled this list, I started looking over some of the information I’ve collected over the years about art/visual resource librarianship.  One of the most useful tools I came across is the ARLIS/NA “Core Competencies for Art Information Professionals” (which fortunately has a lot of overlap with my current list. I probably had it in mind at the time).  In the next few months I’m going to review this list carefully and consider how I want to use it to help me prioritize and move forward.

Some other short term goals:
-Update online portfolio
-Compile a physical portfolio (for interviews, and just to have everything “in writing” and in one place)
-Organize my internship notes
-Create sample projects (subject guides, bookmarks, syllabi, etc.)

This is a longterm career outline. If I try to tackle it all at once, I will get overwhelmed. But it feels good to have a bit more focus.

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Well, I missed out on ALA yet again…anyone who went feel free to contribute some commentary.  For the most part,  personally I find more localized or focused conferences such as MPLA, VRA, or ARLIS to be more useful.  Or maybe I’m just bitter about ALA’s virulent recruitment efforts.

After spending so much time last week setting up the ledgers and funds for the Georgia O’Keeffe serials collection, today I did indeed have to reinvent the wheel.  Because we were booted out of the system abruptly last week, all the changes were lost.  I had to recreate the whole thing, which was pretty frustrating.  The good news is that I have a really good grasp on how the system works now and how to work with the subscription maintenance.  After today, many of the titles are ready to be checked in.

Eumie also mentioned trying to get grant funding or some other source of money to add a position at the library…and that she would like to hire me, even if it was just for a temporary project.   That would be an incredible opportunity.  It feels good to know that I am making a real contribution there and that she admires my work.  A job would feel even better, but I’ll take the admiration for now.  And it’s good to have daydreams to sustain me while I’m waiting for the job offers to come.

Keeping up my zen outlook to this whole adventure, something will come along…

I definitely have a better grasp on Voyager after realizing that is a very strictly hierarchical database built upon the Access relational model. Unfortunately, rather than setting up the acquisitions/checkin workflow in a systematic step-by-step manner, the Voyager manual leaves the user to his or her own devices in figuring out the order in which the steps must be completed. If you miss one step, you can’t set up a record. It’s kind of like parsing an XML document – as long as the tags are perfect and nested in a precise hierarchy, your document will appear. If not, you must keep going backwards through the steps until the missing link is identified. This is somewhat different than how the Innovative Millennium system is set up, and takes some getting used to.

We ended up having to create a ledger and allocate periodicals funds before any titles could be maintained as serial records. If I had known this from the beginning, the process would have been much simpler. Now it should be fairly straightforward process to add the individual titles as line items. Why couldn’t they just explain that in the manual (another gripe from my inner indexer – the Voyager help manual is very poorly indexed and hard to search). I ended up creating a workflow document for the library to make the process much easier in the future.

As Eumie pointed out today, teaching myself a new ILS and creating a module from scratch will look pretty good on my resume. So…I guess frustration is a fair price to pay.

I also cataloged several records and created holdings and item records. It’s amazing how much I can get done if I only have to work 2 days a week and recuperate with long days hiking. I’m all for abolishing the 5-day work week, at least here in New Mexico.

I rode my bike out to Lamy yesterday, about 8 miles south.  It’s a tiny little town with a railroad depot, dining car restaurant, and railroad/history museum.  I started a conversation with the director of the museum, and he immediately mentioned that they are looking for volunteers.  When he found out I’m getting my MLIS degree, he exclaimed “That’s exactly what we need! Someone to catalog our library!” So I got a tour of the collection, mostly historical books about trains.  They mostly have books and a few videos, and no kind of organizational system whatsoever.  Of course, against my better judgment my inner cataloger was reflexively inching towards the books, murmuring “must catalog and apply subject headings…” It wouldn’t even take all that much time to organize it in a very basic way, but for now my better judgment prevailed and I politely declined.  If I have some free time later in the summer I may head back to Lamy.

In the meantime, I have started my internship at the Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center/Library.  I really enjoy working with Eumie, and she is grateful for my “expertise” with automated ILS systems (I realize that’s redundant, but it just sounds silly to say “ILSs”).  Eumie started out working at MOMA and is quite active in the ARLIS community.  She is a great contact to have here, and even mentioned wanting to add a librarian position in the research center (fingers crossed, and drooling a bit).  Though I haven’t worked with the Ex Libris Voyager system in the past, I figure it’s similar enough to Millennium that I should be able to figure things out.  Of course, I’ve never automated a serials and acquisitions system from scratch, either.  That’s the learning curve – a daunting but interesting challenge.

As I mentioned earlier, I had an interview this week for an Adult Services position in a public library. The process has been pretty intense – round one was a lengthy email questionnaire (more like an essay exam or MLS comps), round two was a phone interview, and round 3 is in-person interviews. This was my first experience with a phone interview, and it was a little rough. First of all, my cell phone reception is a little patchy out here. I’m not sure they could even hear all of my answers. The interviewers were using a speaker phone, making them sound as if they were trapped inside a tin can. I had to have questions repeated several times, which really cut into my concentration. The questions themselves were also not what I was expecting – I spent all morning preparing to discuss my qualifications and experiences relating to the position, and in fact the entire interview consisted of “what would you do if…” scenarios (such as “what would you do if you heard a coworker giving a patron misinformation?”) I hear these types of questions discussed all the time of nexgen and newlib, so they didn’t come as a surprise, but I wish I had more opportunity to showcase my knowledge and ideas. It seemed more or less a way to see how well I could think on my feet.

Today I met with Jenni James at the Institute of American Indian Arts to discuss my project. I’m really excited to be working with them on a digitization project from the ground up. She gave me a tour of the facility, which is quite new and impressive. They have a great collection of Native American art resources. Some of the instructors are pushing for teaching images, so they eventually want to get their slide collection digitized. Right now they have about 700 images scanned as tiffs, but with no accompanying thumbnail jpgs or metadata. The first order of business is to decide on an image cataloging system suitable for the needs of a small collection. Jenny mentioned the Image AXS system (freely available for non-commercial use and based on Microsoft Access), which I have not worked with before. I told her about my experience with CONTENTdm and the VRA Core, and I think my knowledge will be applicable to what they want to accomplish. It will be really great experience to create some original metadata using VRA Core – and also a great way to integrate my interests.

On a philosophical note, this summer is more than anything a personal exercise in embracing uncertainty. I realized I have become all too tethered to the limiting safety net of staying in one place longer than it suits me and settling for opportunities for security rather than fulfillment. I am uncertain about where this path will lead me, and that is frightening. But for once I am going to take that fear and transform it into momentum. I have the rest of my life to work, and I do not want to regret missed opportunities.

 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. 

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.