Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Case for Volunteering, by Anna Mickelsen

Beyond actually getting the degree, figuring out what you want to do with your MLS or MLIS can be a difficult question to answer. And, as Kristi Chadwick recently illustrated, the answer may change over time. Volunteering is a good way to “try before you buy” and find out what aspects of librarianship do (or don’t) appeal. I realize that some libraries have union rules that prevent the staff from taking on volunteers to do librarian-level work, or that exclude volunteers completely. However, a volunteer job can help you gain experience in libraries, no matter what kind of work you end up doing for the organization. In a time when getting an honest-to-goodness full-time library job can be very difficult, volunteering may also help build job experience and professional connections. If you leave yourself open to any kind of library and any kind of work, you’ll likely be able to find a volunteer opportunity.

When I first decided I wanted to pursue a career in librarianship, I had very little in the way of actual experience working in a library. In high school, I spent a chunk of time volunteering for the Salt Lake City Public Library (before it moved into its snazzy new digs), where I processed books and eavesdropped on the gossip in what I realize in hindsight must have been the Tech Services department. I got really good at wrangling those sticky covers smoothly on to paperback books. While I was pursuing my Master’s degree in English Literature, I also held a part-time job shelving books at the University of Wisconsin-Madison library.

Five years and several administrative jobs later, I decided to apply to library school. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and the constraints of my job meant that I was taking a random variety of courses with very little direction. I went home for the summer and volunteered at the University of Utah library, putting dust jackets on books for the Preservation Department. I learned how to encapsulate maps and other documents and how to use book tape to carefully piece pages together before I did so. I read some fascinating articles from the 1930s and 1940s.

Then that fall, I got my first library job, as a reference librarian at a public library. The job was only part-time, and I still didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, so took advantage of my free time and answered a call for volunteers at my local elementary school library. Again I found myself processing books—the average copyright date of the collection was somewhere in the 1970s, and the librarian had been purchasing widely at book sales and bookstores in order to add items that students might actually want to read. I also helped her weed the collection, and found myself with an ideal subject for study when it came time to do a collection development assignment in my Young Adult literature course.

As graduation drew near and I started to worry about getting a full-time job, I was happy that I had spent time working in school, public, and academic libraries—although I hadn’t gotten paid for most of it. Even if I never used the hands-on experience I’d acquired processing materials, I felt that I had inside information on how those libraries functioned, what kind of items they housed, and some of the different jobs that I could have if I was ever lucky enough to be hired by someone. When I did get hired, as a full-time reference librarian, I felt that I’d done the best I could to explore my options and felt confident that I was making the right choice.

This suggestion may seem laughable to those of us with full-time jobs, but working in a library does not exclude you from volunteering for a different organization.  Even if you feel like you have the job you want, you could, for example, offer your skills as a board member for your local public library. Consider it another form of professional development.

Anna Mickelsen is a reference librarian in Springfield, MA, where she answers patrons' questions, manages both fiction and nonfiction collections, and teaches computer classes. In her spare time, she blogs about collection development at Collection Reflection and shares her library experiences on Twitter (username: @helgagrace). This is her second guest post for this blog. Her previous piece is “Take a Hike.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Crazy Librarian Lady, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being a Nerd

Whether you've been one of us for decades or you're in the process of joining our ranks (just got your first job in a library, just started a library science graduate program, etc.), we are all aware of the librarian stereotype held by the rest of the world. There she is - gray hair in a bun, glasses pushed down to the edge of her nose, a stack of books beside, a card catalog behind, and a prim expression on her face. So not me it's not funny.

However, that's not the stereotype I want to address today. Instead, I want to talk about a stereotype that I do fit: the librarian nerd. I didn't realize how much of a stereotype I am until Joe Hardenbrook came up with his fabulously funny Librarian Twitter Bingo. If you restrict the game to Twitter, you can fill out 17 of the 25 blocks. Heck, you could get bingo based on my tweets from the last week alone. If you go further and expand the game to include what I talk about in real life, you can fill in every single box on the game board.

Once I realized how stereotypical I am of members of my online community, I had a mixed reaction. I'm still not 100% sure whether I should bothered by it or proud that I am such an exemplary member of my tribe. I've mostly settled on pride since this is just another instance of me letting my nerd flag fly.

What I'm trying to say here is also another instance of one of my lietmotifs: in everything you do, whether it's a professional or personal activity, you should be yourself. So if you're obsessed with this guy:


Or this gal:


Or even this kind of music:'s all cool. Be you. You never know when being yourself will come in handy. It certainly helped me find my place in this profession.

What about you? Do you fit any librarian stereotypes? If so, share details.

EDIT: If you don't fit these stereotypes, don't feel like you have to leave libraries. Those of us who do fit the Librarian Nerd mold have gravitated towards each other on social networks. It's the allure of having someone with whom to fangirl/fanboy squee over the teaser trailer for the new season of Doctor Who.

However, the point I'm trying to make is that you should be yourself. I posted the Frankie Yankovic song precisely because I have a colleague who loves polka. My point is the same as Marlo Thomas', librarians should be "free to be... you and me."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

When Your Technology Dance Card is Starting to Get Full, by Heather Moorefield-Lang

I work with a lot of technology. Before becoming a librarian, I used to teach theater and even then I loved working with computers and learning about new tech. Once I moved into library science I knew that technology was going to be a large part of my job. Technology in our schools and libraries brings so much to the table. One of most wonderful things about computers, tablets, and all of the other cool toys, is what these items can bring to the learning of our students. Two out of my three degrees are in education, and I focus on differentiation of instruction; new tools equal new ways to deliver or enhance instruction. So when new sites, apps, or tech that can help students learn and teachers or faculty instruct comes along, then I love to share. And that’s the other great thing about all of our social media today: it makes sharing really easy. If I want to learn about new sites or apps I search online, read professional blogs, or follow folks on Twitter. I can check out peoples’ Pinterest boards or see what they are sharing on and more. There are so many ways to contribute.

But… On the flip side I also know I am getting overloaded. I work with technology during the day; teach students and faculty how to find their research, how to work with the best web 2.0 tools, or how to identify the best apps for their mobile devices. I also teach qualitative research and appropriate software for that field. For “fun” I search for new sites and apps for the ALA and AASL committees on which I serve. Is it fascinating and fun, sure it is, but there is so much out there. I am looking and searching off and on all day. Next day, wake up, wash, rinse, repeat, and start all over again.

So many of my conversations also take place online now, either via email, Twitter, Skype, or Facebook. Which is great and fast, but I do wonder if we are losing our connectivity through this virtual world. I am in the process of reading Ellen DeGeneres’ book, Seriously…I’m Kidding. It is a wonderful book, and I bring it up here because there is a chapter, “Social Skills”, in which she addresses this issue. She writes, “Now when you see someone there is nothing left to say. You’ve seen the pictures from their trip to Rio on Facebook. You’ve read their tweets about the latest diet they’re on. And they already texted you about the pregnancy scare. So you end up sitting and staring at each other until you both start texting other people.” Now while this is an exaggeration it does take a look at the connectedness that we are losing, that humanness that, I feel, we cannot afford to lose when it comes to teaching, instruction, or librarianship.

So in reality this blog post is supposed about my philosophy of technology in libraries. Took me a while to get to it, I know. Technology has its firm place in libraries. It is important for us to know about it, learn as much as we can about it, and share. We have to help each other out. Virtually is fine but if you can buy a cup of coffee at a library conference and sit down and talk to people then even better. We should never become so immersed in all of the tech stuff that we forget to look up from the phones, laptops, tablets, and various other gadgets and interact with people. The peopleness of the library field is why we are here in the first place. Whether it’s to share a good book (e or print), recommend a great movie, talk about a useful app, show off a great database for research, catalog the next record, or check out that final book. We are still working with people.

Heather Moorefield-Lang is the Education and Applied Social Sciences Librarian at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. She has worked as a middle school theater teacher and school librarian before moving into academic librarianship. Her research and writing focus in technology and arts in education and libraries. If you would like to see more of her work visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @actinginthelib

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Experience With eBooks: Yea or Nay?

To some extent, I've been ignoring eBooks other than from a personal level. Professionally, I'm more worried about electronic access to periodical literature than anything else. If not for the fact that my two roles on campus collided recently, I might still feel that way. You see, Adjunct Professor Jessica decided to try an experiment this semester: I assigned an eBook to my freshmen writing class. To be honest, I wasn't too keen on the idea, but it was the only way to get affordable access to the material in question. So there you are.

Before I share the results, let me give you a little background. The class is a First-Year Seminar (think of a typical Freshmen Writing class, give it steroids and add lots more reading, and you'll be close) built around the focus of cartoons as a reflection of society. The topic lends itself easily to videos and nonfiction reading, but not so easily to fiction. It's not that fiction is required, but I like to vary the kinds of reading I assign. I did a lot of research, but I kept coming back to the fact that the only book that would work for the topic, that was also easily available, was Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf - a book that's only available as an eBook. (Yes, this is the book on which Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was based. VERY different story, though.)

Now that you have the context, flash forward to last week when we discussed the book in class. Most of my students enjoyed the content, but the format got mixed reviews. Since I'd known this would be a gamble, I decided asked what they thought of using an eBook. I heard some positive and some negative, so I decided to ask more directly. "Okay, who liked working with an eBook?" A little less than half of my students raised their hands in response to that question. I followed with, "And who owns an eReader?" The exact same group raised their hands. I wasn't surprised by the results, seeing as I'd read the book on my laptop and found it an irksome experience.

I know people were making a big thing about a recent Pearson Foundation study that reported a majority of high school and college students "believe that tablets will effectively replace textbooks within the next five years." Based on my personal experience, we've still got a long way to go before it's a truly viable option - at least where I work. Even if all the other problems are solved, eReaders are still out of the reach, price-wise, of our poorer students.

What about you? What do you think about the recent study? And what about your own experiences with eBooks - do you like them or not, and why?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

So You Want To Be a Medical Librarian, by Alison Aldrich

Nine years ago, I was wrapping up graduate school and looking for my first professional librarian position. I was thrilled to find out I’d been granted an interview at an academic health sciences library, but I was at a loss for how to prepare. I hadn’t really been focusing on medical librarianship as a possible career path. The career services office put me in touch with a helpful alumna who emailed me what amounted to a crash course in medical librarianship. It worked and I got the job. Nearly a decade and two positions later, I am still happy to call myself a medical librarian. In the interest of paying it forward, here is my advice to those of you who are considering medical librarianship today.

About that science background…
Many medical library job descriptions list a science background as a desired qualification. If you’ve got it, you should definitely flaunt it, but if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world. You should be curious about how bodies work, willing to learn, and not easily intimidated by the likes of scientists and brain surgeons. It also helps if you’re not squeamish. If you can picture yourself spending an enjoyable afternoon working on a literature search about bowel obstructions, medical librarianship might be the career for you.

The M word
Marketing, marketing, marketing. This advice goes for any kind of librarianship, really, but if you are offered a position as a hospital librarian, be prepared never to stop proving your worth. Librarians provide critical support for healthcare quality, but libraries don’t bring in the big bucks for healthcare organizations. Without specific examples of how you are making a difference, your library could look like an easy target to a hospital administrator at budget cutting time. Get to know your administrators. Make sure you have champions among the clinical faculty who are willing to vouch for you. Definitely get out from behind that library desk. Be flexible about taking on roles that aren’t traditionally library-ish, like helping to implement a new electronic medical record system, getting involved in knowledge management, or serving on a patient safety committee. Success is possible! For more information about hospital librarianship and its associated challenges, check out the Vital Pathways Project.

Understand how medical education works
MCATs, four years of medical school, this crazy thing called Match Day, a year of internship, three to five years of residency, maybe a fellowship, three levels of board certification exams… Understanding the process of becoming a doctor in the United States (or wherever you are) is important for figuring out how to make yourself indispensible. The same concept applies to nurses, dentists, pharmacists, physician assistants, chiropractors or any other professional group you might be serving. Recognize that the healthcare team is made up of multiple players, including you, and that each player has a distinct role. Know about scope of practice (who does what) and how the level of responsibility increases through the educational process. This will give you a big head start when it comes to interpreting and drawing out your patrons’ information needs.

Make friends with PubMed
PubMed is the National Library of Medicine’s taxpayer funded, freely available interface to the MEDLINE database, which is an extremely comprehensive index to the world’s biomedical journal literature. Because it’s free, it’s universal, so if you are going to learn an interface in preparation for job interviews, this should be the one. Learn how to develop a good PubMed search strategy using keywords, controlled vocabulary (Medical Subject Headings or MeSH), and limits. Plenty of online tutorials are available to help you get started.

More than buzzwords
Evidence-based medicine and health information literacy are important concepts in medical librarianship right now. Do some homework so you can be prepared to talk about these topics if and when they come up in a job interview.

Physicians practice evidence-based medicine when they factor the best available research information into decisions about how to care for individual patients. To the uninitiated, this might seem like a given. Surely your doctor is keeping up with the best evidence… right? Well, it’s not so simple. Consider that hundreds of thousands of new biomedical research articles are published every year. Consider, too, that medicine is an art as well as a science. Some physicians might bristle at the suggestion of evidence-based medicine because they feel it underestimates the importance of their own clinical judgment and experience, or they might see it as a cost-control measure standing in the way of what’s best for individual patients. True evidence-based medicine is supposed to incorporate scientific evidence, clinical judgment, and patient values. The librarian’s job is to make sure the scientific evidence piece finds its proper place.

Health information literacy is the set of skills and abilities we all need in order to find, understand, and appropriately act on information having to do with our health. As a medical librarian, some of the most challenging reference questions you ever answer will come from patients and their families. Become familiar with reliable sources of consumer health information. MedlinePlus is a great place to start. Recognize, too, that sometimes the best thing you have to offer a worried patient or family member is a sympathetic ear.
Medical librarianship just might be the most dynamic, rewarding career path you never thought about pursuing. If this post has piqued your interest, I encourage you to get connected with medical librarian community. We have a great association, Medical Library Association, an active listserv (details here: and our very own Twitter hashtag, #medlibs. I wish you the best of luck as you prepare for those interviews.

Alison Aldrich recently started a new position as Clinical Informationist at the Ohio State University. Follow her on Twitter @aldricham

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Like Stage Fright, Only More Specific, Or, Librarians Have to Speak in Public Whether We Like It Or Not

I've been thinking about public speaking lately. You see, despite being extremely outgoing, I still get nervous when speaking in public. Really nervous. Really REALLY nervous. This nervousness confuses me, since I teach all the time without even a blip of nerves. Put me in front of a classroom of students, I'm off and running. Put me in front of a group of my peers? I'm a mess. And that's the reason I've been thinking about public speaking lately: I'm giving a presentation, mostly for faculty and staff, on campus this week.

While prepping for a talk, I do all the standard stuff. I created an appealing yet simple PowerPoint presentation (yes, I still use PowerPoint despite the consequences); I nailed down my introduction and my conclusion, but I'm leaving the body of my talk as bullet points; I've been practicing; I've familiarized myself with the space; etc. However, in the midst of talking myself out of ritual suicide as an avoidance method, I'll do a few things that I know aren't quite so common, so I thought I'd share.

  1. Wee-wahs (also known as lion face-lemon face). This entails stretching the muscles in my face to both extremes - out and in - in order to loosen up. It feels and looks very silly, so I do it in private. As odd as it sounds, it does help.
  2. Shadow boxing (or substitute your favorite self-contained exercise method).  Doing this right before you speak will get rid of some of your nervous energy and release a few endorphins, results which will help you calm down a bit. The friend who taught me this method said that she does push ups against a wall, and I imagine running in place could work the same way.
  3. Abolish "um" with a deep breath instead. This isn't so much a prep method as it is a technique for during your presentation, but I still want to share. I know speakers don't do it on purpose, but when I hear a presentation filled with "um" and "uh" and "you know," I tend to lose track of the content. I don't want that to happen to my audience, so when I feel an "um" coming on, I take a deep breath. It helps me gather my thoughts without distracting my audience. Besides, momentary pauses in your speech can actually help cement your message.
So now it's your turn. Do you have any advice for those of us who dread public speaking?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ten Things I Didn’t Learn in Library School, by Eric S. Riley

When I first started working for the Public Library in 2007 there were numerous things that came up over the course of my day-to-day work that were just never discussed in library school. If they were, they were not in the classes that I took. But let me tell you, if there was a "getting real" class, it should have been mandatory. So, here's a quick list of things that I was totally unprepared for:

1. Janitorial Work  

You learn about reference questions, and about customer service, but let me tell you: no one tells you that you will have to deal with clogged toilets, human waste, vomit and God only knows what kind of trash that will be left all over your floors, walls, flower pots... Sure, there is cleaning staff, sometimes, but when a kid loses his lunch, or the toilet is overflowing, you've got to jump into it. Have the rubber gloves handy, know where the cleaning supplies are, and do the best you can.

2. Mental Illness

When dealing with the public, you will be dealing with ALL kinds of patrons. These include people who are delusional, schizophrenic, obsessive-compulsive, those on missions from God, etc. When working with people who have mental illnesses, it's best to treat them the same as every other customer, give them the help that they need, and make sure that they don't disturb the others around them (or vice-versa). Keep things safe and respectable.

3. Public Health

Perhaps my least favorite thing to deal with, after cleaning up human waste, is to field complaints about a patron with a very bad cough or who has serious body odor. Some libraries have a policy stating that a patron has to have decent hygiene, and can be ejected if they have too strong of a body odor. However, I've always found it difficult to ask someone to leave if they seem obviously sick. You have to weigh the risk to public safety (and your amount of sanitizer) against the needs of the other people in the building.

4. Activism

Local activists can be a mixed blessing. They can advocate on your behalf, but they can also be your biggest most vocal critics. It's best to work with them to the best of your ability, and listen to what they have to say. Don't take their criticism personally. It's not about you; it's about your institution. If you have a positive relationship with your local activists they can really help you out when you need it.

5. Complaints

You learn about book challenges, and intellectual freedom, but what about just general complaints? Especially complaints dealing with things over which you have absolutely no control. You have no idea how many times you might hear, "your computers are too slow," or "story time is too loud." Eventually you'll get into the rhythm of having a steady answer, but believe me, it gets old hearing it. Don't lose your cool, you may have heard it a thousand times, but this may be their first.

6. Exorbitant Fines

Sometimes people will come in and try to check something out even though they owe the library hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars in lost materials. Sometimes that person is a child. Do what you can to find a way to mitigate the situation. If it's about missing items, have them bring the items in and give them a break on the fines. If they can't find the item ask them to get a replacement copy or take something else in trade. Fines are there for a reason, but sometimes the rules need to be bent. Use your best judgment when it comes to fines. Keeping someone coming back is better than losing them forever.

7. Sexual Situations

I think we've all heard or seen stories of people who sneak off for trysts in the bathrooms, the hidden corners of the library, the back rooms, etc. Whether it’s for thrills, or it's the only place they can go, sometimes some people will try this in the library. I have no advice on how to deal with this, except to bar them for indecent behavior. If it's really bad, you should get the police involved.

8. Vandalism

Somebody out there think it's funny to be a jerk. They will tag your building with spray paint, use markers on furniture, kick things, break things, all of it intentional. Most of the time vandalism happens when you're not paying attention, or when the facility is closed. If it's gang related or severe enough damage, contact the police to let them know what happened. The best thing to do is to get your cleaning people in there as soon as possible. You can generally clean paint off the side of a building, get marker off of a chair, and windows can be replaced. Be super-careful to not injure yourself with damaged items.

9. Parent/Child Discipline

Some parents still spank their children, or worse, smack or beat their children. When does disciplining the child cross the line in the library? Unfortunately, it's a judgment call. If you feel like a parent's treatment of their child is crossing the line into abuse, you can contact the local police and social services.  On the opposite end of the spectrum are parents who just drop off their children, and leave them unattended for long periods of time, sometimes all day.  If the children are very young, call the police.  It’s not your responsibility to monitor or protect those children. It’s the parent’s job.

10. Violence

Nothing prepares you for when you have a violent incident at the library. Anything could bring it on, jealousy, gangs, theft, property damage, anything. When violence erupts you need to contact the police immediately. If your library has security guards, they should be trained to deal with violence and to fill out reports. If there is an incident, you will be asked to fill out a statement. Write down as much as you can possibly recall, and hand it over to the authorities. Do NOT give any information to the parties involved, any assistance given to them could be construed as aiding and abetting. Keep your cool, and follow the instructions given to you by the police.

Eric S. Riley is the branch manager of the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library, a part of the DC Public Library system in Washington, D.C.  He has worked in academic, federal, and public libraries since 1994.  In 2010, he was profiled by Library Journal as a “Mover and Shaker” for his innovative work in public programming at DC Public Library. He currently writes the “Librarian Exploring the Future” blog.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Not So Different After All, Or, Academics and Publics vs. Predatory Pricing

I always try to write about things libr* people have in common - customer service, communication skills, job hunting, etc. But how much do we really have in common when it comes to collection development and our relationships with publishers? For instance, a friend who works in a public library said something like, "If a paperback costs more than $10, I don't even look at it." I responded, "If a paperback coast less than $10, I don't even look at it." To be more explicit: she's only interested in mass market paperbacks whereas I avoid them.

Think about these differences through the lens of recent publishing scandals. On the public library side, it's ebook pricing problems. Random House has moved to agency pricing and other publishers are completely refusing to sell ebooks to libraries. On the academic library side, it's the Research Works Act and Elsevier and getting access to scholarly and scientific articles. The publishers with which public librarians do business seem to want to employ predatory pricing and the publishers with which academic librarians do business seem to want to employ predatory pricing. Not so dissimilar after all.

If we aren't that different in our problems, I can't help thinking that there's got to be a way we can team up to fix our problems. I just can't think of it. So no, I don't have the answers this week, but I'm wondering if you do. I'd love to hear from any of my readers about this, but I'm especially interested to hear from the people at whom this blog is targeted: library science graduate students and new library science professionals. With all of our experience, established professionals haven't managed to solve these issues yet. So, new libr* kids, please help me with your fresh perspective.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

First Thursday's Just For Fun: Bloggeration

Last month, I gabbled on and on about the webcomics I love. You agreed with many of my choices (yay!) and even introduced me to some new ones. That was so much fun that I figured I'd continue in the same vein for the new "Just for Fun" post, and talk about some of the non-libr* blogs I follow. Before you go any further, remember I'm both a crazy cat lady and a big ol' nerd. You still in? Good.

So, in no particular order, here they are:

BoingBoing is a random collection of awesome, including some library related materials. Posts range from esoteric to nerdy to simply cool. Some of my recent favorites are "Haunting photos from Fukushima, one year later: 'Invisible You,' by Satoru Niwa," "Star Wars pancake molds," and "Stained glass TARDIS."

The Daily Squee 
This is pure, unadulterated, cuteness. Each picture is more squee than the last. Recent favorites are "Drink Me Up" (a cheetah cub), "Bow Down Before Me" (a sleepy ferret), and "But Doc, I'm Not Sick" (a red panda getting a vet check).

The Daily What is another random collection of awesome. Lots of news, interesting videos, and random cute things. Recent favorites are "Not Dead Yet of the Day" (a woman got up out of her coffin and made herself breakfast), "Toy Chain Boycott of the Day" (some doofuses are planning to boycott Toys R Us over Archie featuring a same sex couple getting married), and "Kids Unintentionally Say The Darndest Swear Words of the Day" (NSFW, but cute).

The Daily What Geek is The Daily What's geeky kid sister. All the random goodness I expect from The Daily What, but with an amped up geek factor. Recent favorites are "T-Rex Bite Study of the Day," "Star Wars Yoga Posters of the Day," and "Interesting Ethics Study of the Day."

There are more I follow, but I think that's enough for now. Besides, I want to hear from you. What non-libr* blogs do you follow, and why?