"A library doesn't need windows. A library is a window." – Stewart Brand

Dec 9, 2009

My life right now

  • End of the semester. I just have a little more to go... some assignments are not so fun, some are more interesting. Nothing unusual. My big paper (the needs of prisoners, in the context of what prison libraries can provide) is done, turned in, and presented upon. My big group presentation (the representation of thanatology as a subject in LCC/DDC/LCSH/various databases) is mostly ready, though we keep going over time so I need to practice my section to try to cut it down. A few little piddly things (minor paper evaluating a class, Design of Complex Websites assignment and final) remain... then I'm home free. Which means...
  • Preparing for vacation. The apartment is a mess. Our kitchen is truly disturbing. We still have things from Thanksgiving in the fridge and they're probably about ready to develop sentience by now. We need to clean the apartment, pay rent, pay bills, pack up, and oh yes, have some time to actually see each other before we go to our respective homes for the holidays, because I've been sequestered in the bedroom with my computer for the last two weeks (see previous bullet point).
  • Work. Both my library internship (my last day for the semester was yesterday) and my paid work. These have generally been going pretty well. I feel like I'm finally starting to settle in to my internship. My supervisor there has a management style I've not really encountered before and it gave me a little pause at first but I think I'm getting used to it. I'm getting experience in some new things, like planning a program (we're having a mother/daughter tea party in the spring!) and using some new databases. Next semester I'm going to start another project... I need to think about what I want to do! It might be good to get some collection development experience... I've also been thinking about developing a community resource database (thanks to "Information Use in Communities", a course I took this semester). Paid work is pretty much same old, same old -- I spend most of my time doing research on various topics for a digital preservation group at a data repository, and writing up summaries of what I find. It's usually fairly interesting. Right now I'm learning about cloud computing!
  • Job searching. I am beginning this in earnest when vacation starts. Right now I'm setting up some informational interviews. This would be the big anxiety-causer in my life right now... I've been tracking job postings and feeds for a few months now and it doesn't look like there are any entry-level positions in public libraries... everything requires at least two years' experience! I'm hoping that when I begin looking more deeply, this will end up not being an issue. I also need to come up with an overall strategy and write it down, just to settle myself down a bit. I think it will help for me to feel like I've got a solid plan.
  • Snow! SNOW! SNOW SNOW SNOW! I grew up in the Northeast, then spent five years in California for college and one year of grad school. This is my second winter back in a place where seasons actually exist, and the first snowfall of the year (and the second... and the third...) is always so exciting!

Dec 2, 2009

The freedom to read, the freedom to talk, the freedom to think

Yes, I'm still alive. It is finals time, and quite frankly my brain isn't really functioning 100% even with caffeine. I've not posted here for a while because I haven't had the energy to put in the thought required for a quality post.

To be honest, I still don't think I actually have the energy, in general. But I was so impressed and energized by what I've just come across that I found some extra reserves somewhere.

I just read the ALA's Freedom to Read Statement for the first time.


I don't think that many librarians (I wish I could say "any librarians", but there are always a few who don't get it) would argue in favor of censorship. I have always felt that restricting the information that other people can access is deeply wrong, even if the information in question is morally repugnant. But it's been difficult for me to articulate why this is wrong, other than that it just is. The Freedom to Read Statement says, quite eloquently, what I've never quite been able to articulate well enough.

In one of my classes, we did some reading a few weeks ago about the deliberative democracy movement. This movement contends that citizens need to be able to debate issues with each other, considering them as objectively as possible from all sides, in order to come to an understanding of all of the different positions on an issue and, depending on who you talk to, to either make the best possible collective decision about the issue or to have more informed and rational personal opinions (which may still not be in agreement). I think that the thrust of the philosophy behind the Freedom to Read Statement and the deliberative democracy movement are largely the same. If I could sum it up in a sentence, and add a little of my own spin to it, it might go something like this:

Communities (/democracies) derive strength from the consideration of many diverse viewpoints, not from enforcing the availability of a few "acceptable" opinions.

That, to me, is a very powerful idea. It is a shame that so many people do not seem to understand the roots of community strength in this way.

Certainly there is some value to groups of people who do all hold the same opinion. I read an article for another class recently that discussed "bonding" and "bridging" social capital. The former is social capital that arises from ingroup interrelationships, and it serves to bring group members closer together. Shared opinions can foster bonding social capital. Bridging social capital are connections between ingroup members and other groups that create social capital. Both of these kinds of social captial are important. It is important to have an ingroup with which you are bonded, but people, and the ingroups to which they belong, are strengthened by their relationships to other outside groups as well. I think that for these relationships to form, it is important to be able to have open, honest communication about differences of opinion. If a group censors everything it doesn't agree with, it will be hard for that group to connect with others, and the group members will suffer as a result.

(I feel as though this isn't quite a complete post. If there are missing bits, please refer to the above mention of finals having killed my ability to think, and forgive me. (And ask about it in the comments! This whole set of ideas is really interesting to me and I would love to discuss/think about it more.))

Nov 2, 2009

Revisiting the centrality of the collection question

I was all set to write a post about why I hadn't been posting. I will admit to not feeling particularly reflective lately. Life (and final paper/project assignments!) seems to have come crashing down all at once, and my brain has mostly gone into "cope with the thing in front of you right now, and then move on" mode.

But I've found that often I'll get whacked over the head with a reflective moment even when I'm not especially inclined to have one -- last Friday being a case in point. I was part of a group giving a presentation in my Community Informatics seminar. The project was an educational technology policy proposal (before you ask, no, this doesn't strongly relate to the class...), and we made it relevant to our own interests by including a recommendation to adequately support school library media centers. Indeed, we argued that SLMCs should be the centerpiece of the four recommendations we proposed to improve information literacy education in the United States.

During the question and answer period, the outside person who'd been brought in to comment on our presentations asked us (and this is obviously a paraphrase): You say the school library media center is vital. But the SLMC is just a place. It's the librarian who has the training, who takes actions to support teachers, students, and administrators. Should it be the library or the librarian that is central to your policy?

...well, hmm, good point.

I wrote a little while ago that I think better services, and better marketing of ourselves as service providers, are vital to ensuring the library's continued relevance. This person's question has made me reconsider the way the whole question is framed. Are libraries important as places? Yes, I think so -- but only because of the people who gather there. And I include both patrons and staff in that. Staff are trained to assist patrons with problem-solving by finding and organizing information; and they help to enrich people's lives through provisions of services and programming. In addition, some patrons interact with each other and the staff in mutually beneficial ways, helping all parties to learn and grow.

I feel like there's more of a thought there but it needs some time to percolate through my brain before it emerges. (I am a processor -- I ingest information, and then it sits in my head for a while and stews, and a few hours/days/weeks/months later it comes back out as something (hopefully) new and interesting.)

Oct 23, 2009

What we own / what we make

Last Friday we had a group of people from a local library in to speak to our class. One of them* made a very interesting comment that I've been mulling over ever since, especially after Tim Spalding, the founder of LibraryThing, posted this thought on Twitter. This librarian said (and this is obviously rather paraphrased) that he doesn't see the future of libraries in what we collect, but in what we produce.

He was advocating a move toward libraries as producers of information and tools, and I'm not quite sure I can follow him that far, but both he and Spalding have a point. Libraries have been essentially known as their collections for centuries. People think that you go to a library for books or materials -- to get your hands on the information that the library has accumulated in one place. But in a world where information and entertainment is becoming electronic, this model of library-as-collection no longer seems viable. As Spalding says, when e-books become ubiquitous, why not just replace libraries with a citizen-wide e-book subsidy?

I feel strongly -- as do, I'm sure, many of my colleagues -- that libraries do have a place in this emerging new world. But discovering and articulating that new role is extremely difficult.

I came into this profession with a strong interest in public service, so it probably makes sense that I see the solution lying in that direction. To me, the value of the library is the added value we provide on top of our collections. We don't just provide information; more importantly, we help people effectively find the information they need. We provide guidance when people don't know what step to take next to solve their problems. We provide spaces for people to interact with each other, to learn things and participate in activities that hopefully enrich their lives. We provide quiet places where people can settle in and get some work done or just read a book. We offer access to technological and other resources that people can't necessarily afford at home. We offer reader's advisory to help people discover new things to read (or watch, or listen to, ...) (this seems to be dying in a lot of places -- I think that the trend should be going in the opposite direction); we keep records of our communities' history; we are sometimes safe spaces for children whose home lives are not pleasant or for people who just have nowhere else to go. I believe that a well-run public library enriches its community and changes lives.

The problem is that we don't articulate that very well. I think a segment of the profession doesn't even really think of things this way. (How can we market ourselves in this way to our constituencies when we don't believe it ourselves?) Libraries have to move away from the focus on the collection and toward an understanding of what they have to offer their communities as a service or group of services -- and then make that understanding known and felt to the community.

As I said, I have a hard time going as far as viewing libraries as content producers. That's getting us into the publishing business, as far as I can tell, and I don't know that I feel that's an appropriate place for us to really go. Perhaps as content collocators, yes. That's an extension of what we already do (not just in the sense of creating collections -- we write bibliographies, etc.). Take us farther away from that, though, and I wonder if we're moving too far into another realm.

* (I'm not identifying this person or the library more precisely because I'm not sure about the etiquette of quoting/mentioning someone's comment made during an informal class discussion in a public forum without their explicit permission.)

Oct 11, 2009

What we do.

I think this image encapsulates it.

The purpose of librarians is to hit the local minimum of that function, where there is enough information to help someone understand something without there being so much information as to be overwhelming.

(Of course there are exceptions. In academic research, for instance -- though this may be a bias of my background in academic English -- I think there's value to being at the right-hand side of the graph, with lots of information and lots of confusion. The point there, after all, is to move through the confusion to a new synthesis of knowledge that explains and incorporates the information you have.)

Sep 29, 2009

The tradeoff of leading

I had a conversation today with a colleague on the reference desk (I am currently doing an internship at a local library. It started last week and they are being just fabulous). She spent some time in administration, even at the assistant director level -- and now she is back to being a regular reference librarian.

I don't recall her precise words, but one comment she made spoke to a conflict I'm still struggling with. She said something to the effect that managers in libraries do very different things, and have very different kinds of contact with patrons, than non-managerial staff.

Eventually, I intend to become a manager, maybe even a director. I want to have the chance to shape policy, to guide the growth and development of a department or even a whole library. I enjoy leading people, and I feel as though if I were in a supervisory position I could foster meaningful growth, both personal and professional, in the people I supervised. I've rarely been one to sit in the backseat. I enjoy guiding, directing, organizing, managing. I don't see myself being a "front-lines" staff member forever.

And yet what draws me to this work is precisely what we do on the "front lines", in direct interaction with the patrons. It's why I could never work in archives -- too much back-room stuff, too little interpersonal contact. It is such a good feeling to see and talk with the people I'm helping, face to face. And I love the problem-solving aspects of reference work, the variety, the fact that I can learn something new and interesting with every reference transaction. I love having my hands physically on the books. I love watching the wide swath of humanity that walks through a public library.

Therein lies the crux. Because it seems to me that it's a rare library director who gets to spend any significant time interacting with patrons other than those who've been referred to the top because they have some sort of problem that the lower echelons can't deal with. But I don't ever want to stop doing reference. Ever. I suppose there are probably library directors out there who carve out some time to do that kind of work. Certainly the director of the library I was at over the summer spends some time every day doing some of the same things as the rest of the staff (although he's never scheduled for desk shifts or anything like that). Maybe a very small system is the answer. Or perhaps a branch library where I could take on a managerial role. Those kinds of situations bring their own stresses, of course. When the director/branch manager is on the desk regularly, it is probably because there's not enough staff for the director/branch manager to do otherwise. And understaffing of course has all sorts of bad consequences.

I suppose I'm jumping the gun a little bit... I have no idea what the timeline is supposed to be to move from entry-level librarian to library director, but I'm sure it's relatively long. (Though I am aware of someone who apparently got a director's job right out of library school! There's an exception to every rule...) And given how much things seem to vary from library to library, this may just be something I have to work out in whatever library I end up in. But being a future-oriented, planning kind of person, it's hard for me to sit back and let it go. So I keep poking at it, wondering where the balance might lie for me.

On the other hand, thinking about it now means I get to pick other people's brains on the topic -- my coworker today being a case in point. Thinking ahead (waaaaaaay ahead) isn't all bad...

Sep 18, 2009

Does "informatics" automatically equal "technology"?

One of the courses I'm taking this semester is the Community Informatics seminar. I'm hoping it will provide me with a theoretical grounding to help me be more effective as a facilitator for community building and enrichment when I get a job in a public library. CI is a specialization here, and I've been on-and-off involved in it since I arrived last year. It's a bit of a frustrating relationship. It draws me, but never seems to actually offer chances to get deeply engaged with what I'm really interested in.

But perhaps I should provide some background. Let's start with the most fundamental question.

What is Community Informatics?

This is a bit tricky to answer since the field itself is very fluid and still emergent. The blurb about the Community Information Corps from the SI website reads as follows:

Information specialists are needed to deal with the complex issues of community building in the emerging "new economy." Globalization, digital information, and evolving definitions of community are changing the ways in which service-minded individuals engage in work and social transformation. In an effort to answer the difficult questions raised by these changes, students, faculty, and partners at the School of Information have created the Community Information Corps -- an interdisciplinary group of information professionals who learn, share, and apply new techniques in the service of public goals.
To my mind, CI is the facilitation of information flow to serve the public good and to meet the needs of a community, in the context of how our world is changing in the age of the Internet. That could mean anything from designing more effective library services to providing smartphones to people in Africa to intelligently tracking disease patterns in poor communities, depending on how far you want to extend the definition.

Unfortunately, what CI actually seems to mean at this school is "using our programming skills to create apps and tools that will help facilitate information flow." That's certainly a part of CI, as far as I'm concerned. But it is not the only part, not by far. I am not a programmer, and I'm not really interested in creating software tools or web apps. Nor am I terribly interested in working on high-level policy, which seems to be what most of the rest of CIC activities here involve. I understand that these things are necessary, and for the people who want to do them, I say go right ahead. But what I'm interested in, on the most basic level, is just how to discover and fill people's information needs -- whatever form that takes. If a web app is the most efficient way to do it, sure, I'm fine with that. But people seem to not remember or recognize that jumping to technology as the first, "obvious" solution is not always the right way to go. Why program software if running a meeting to get people to just talk to one another, or creating a library program, or running an educational campaign, or doing something else non-technological would be more efficient? The non-library folk at SI are so tech-focused that I feel like other things often just get lost in the shuffle. I wish, when CI projects were posted to the list, they were phrased more like "we need to look at x problem and propose some solutions," rather than the inevitable "we need to program this thing to solve x problem." I would love to work on a project, but as someone with no complex coding skills and a desire to really interact with people, I feel like I don't really have a place in most of the projects the CIC asks for help with.

I know that I should make my own opportunities rather than waiting for them to come to me. But I unfortunately just don't have time to get involved with CIC at the depth I think would be necessary to actually effect a change here. I have a lot of other things on my plate that need to take precedence. CI is, for me, an enrichment activity, not a major focus.

That doesn't mean I can't do little things, of course. The seminar seems as though it will be influenced fairly strongly by student interests, and I'm hoping that through my contributions I can steer it a little more toward the social-consciousness side of things and away from the technological side. I know I'm not the only student who is a little distanced by the heavy emphasis on technology, technology, technology, and I hope that together we can find a balance between the theory and social consciousness that I really feel is at the true core of CI and the other interests that revolve around that core, whether they be policy or technology or interpersonal interaction or...

We will see.


The other night, my boyfriend and I watched Be Kind Rewind. It's a comedy movie where Jack Black accidentally becomes magnetized and erases all the VHS tapes in his friend's* video rental store. The pair try to fix it by taping their own versions of each movie. Eventually the copyright people come down and put a stop to it. Meantime, the building that the store is in has been condemned. The bootleg videos have been the source of income that the store's owner was going to use to fix up the building and keep his store; when they are destroyed, the situation seems hopeless. But the community is now behind him. He used to tell fairy-tale type stories of how Fats Waller was born in his building and grew up in the neighborhood; they were false, but now the community decides to come together to make a "documentary" about Fats Waller's life and times as though he had lived in that neighborhood. They hope that they can show it as a fundraiser that will raise enough money to save the building. The last scene is of many people watching this movie together, laughing, enjoying themselves, and feeling proud of their contribution to this group project.

The movie ended and I thought, "That is the essence of Community Informatics." I didn't mean it in the sense that I thought that particular project would have been an exemplary CI project. What resonated with me was the spirit of the whole endeavor. Community members saw that one of their own was in trouble and they came together to help him, in the process growing closer to each other, investing in their community, and gaining community pride. To me, that kind of dynamic and process is the key thing about Community Informatics. It's about what happens, not about how it is made to happen. The people, their growth and interaction, will always be more central to my conception of CI than the technology or any other means used to facilitate that growth.

* It's actually slightly more complicated than that, but it isn't important for our purposes, so I simplify.

Sep 11, 2009

My last EVER year of school is beginning!

I don't know whether to say "finally!" or flip out about having to actually get a real, full-time job. (It's not that I'm not looking forward to a long, fruitful career as a public librarian. I'm really excited about being able to go out and do this stuff in a real-world situation. It's more the finding of a job that is stressful. But that's a topic for another time, anyway.)

Anyway. The job stuff is just beginning to loom on the horizon. Right now what's taking up much more of my time is getting started with school and figuring my classes out. So far there are two classes I'm definitely taking, one I'm almost certainly taking, and two I have to make a decision about. They are as follows:

Cataloging: Definitely taking. I don't plan on being in technical services, but a) it's good to have the skills if I need them, and b) understanding this stuff will make me a better reference librarian and eventually a better manager, should I end up in a management position where I supervise tech services staff. It's going to be a ton of work and a bit of a slog, but I regard it as a thoroughly necessary class. And the professor entertains me (as well as being a good teacher in general).

Information Use in Communities: DEFINITELY taking. This ties directly in to my interests, as it's taught by a professor with a research interest in how public libraries can most effectively and directly serve the communities in which they're embedded. It also was cancelled due to budget cuts, and only reinstated because of student protest, so beyond the fact that I'm really interested in it and think it will be good for developing my thinking in certain domains, I feel a bit obligated to swell the head count this semester (having been one of the protesting students). I absolutely adore the professor; she's this warm fuzzy grandmotherly lady who is just really knowledgable and nurturing and with whom I feel very comfortable, which isn't always the case with me and professors. This is one of two classes that I am most looking forward to.

Community Information Corps seminar: Almost certainly taking. It would be another good one for getting to think about libraries in a community setting. My only real concern is that a lot of it will not be library-centric; Community Informatics tends to draw people from a range of specializations. But that might not be a bad thing. I could use to do a little more thinking about policy and current problems outside of information science.

Design of Complex Websites: Thinking about it. The teacher is awesome, and I could use to improve my programming. It would also probably look fairly good on my resume. However, I question how much I'd really be able to use many of the specific skills from the course in my career.

Theories of Social Influence: Considering it, and yeah, I will probably end up taking it. I could use it in my career! I could use my knowledge of social influence to get people to come to the library, and support it politically, and attend programs! And I'll be a better manager if I understand how to influence people! ...yeah, so I can make arguments like that, but really? The professor seems really nice, and the subject matter is INCREDIBLY COOL. I deserve a "just for fun" class, don't I?

On top of all this, of course, I'm working 10-12 hours a week, performing duties as an officer in the school's ALA student chapter, attending the SI fiber arts group, being with my boyfriend, seeing friends, keeping the apartment clean, starting a job search, and hopefully also getting a public library internship. I foresee a busy semester...

Sep 9, 2009

Where have I been, you ask?

(which is a bit of a silly question, since anyone who actually reads this blog probably knows me and therefore already knows the answer...)

I have been packing up my stuff and flying to California, from whence I have been road-tripping back to good old Ann Arbor, at which point I moved into a new apartment with my wonderful boyfriend. And then school started. Needless to say, I have been busy. And without strict requirements to write blog posts for my internship, this blog may languish. I'm hoping not. I certainly intend to keep writing, especially since classes this semester look interesting. But we shall see what happens...

Aug 8, 2009

ALA Annual recap: Correctional facility librarians

Here's the first of my (by now slightly belated) summaries of the various sessions I attended at ALA Annual.

The first thing I attended was a presentation on being a librarian in a correctional facility (which seems to be the politically correct term for "prison" these days). I will admit to some curiosity about prison librarianship. There was an option to do an internship in a prison library during SI's Alternative Spring Break program last year, and I nearly chose to do it. I'm intrigued in part because I don't know much about that kind of career, and in part because it seems like an even more focused way to perform service and advance social justice through libraries than working in a public library does. But it is also something I'm pretty tentative about. My impression is that prison librarians work in isolation compared to most of their public-library colleagues. Working in a prison would also, obviously, be inherently stressful.

I unfortunately came in a bit late to this presentation, so I missed a lot of the stuff about the typical working conditions in a prison library. The part that I was present for confirmed both my tentative interest and my reservations. The presenter argued that prison libraries share a lot, philosophically, with public libraries. She also noted that prison library patrons tend to be much more appreciative and polite than public library patrons (a point which I could believe, upon a little consideration). Prison libraries often are havens or "neutral zones" where conflicts that may exist elsewhere in the prison are temporarily shelved (no pun intended). And of course, they are vital for helping to educate and improve the literacy of prisoners, through programming and through their simple existence, thereby contributing to the rehabilitation of offenders such that they are more likely to be productive members of society when released.

But of course, the job has its stresses. Beyond the evident stresses of working in a prison (enclosed space, potential of going into lockdown if something happens, etc.), funding can be extremely scant or totally nonexistent (even for materials!), it can be difficult to build a rapport with other prison staff, the librarian is often isolated from colleagues in the profession, and the librarian must always be "on" -- there is usually no one else to manage the library or take over supervision for a bit if one is having an off day, and it is vital to be able to keep control of every interaction.

I'm debating whether the potential interest of the job for me is outweighed by the potential stresses. In particular, always having to watch what I say and maintain control of interactions could be quite stressful for me. I am also concerned that I'd feel too isolated from colleagues. I discovered in my two summers in archives that I really need interpersonal interaction as part of my work day, and I don't know if interpersonal interaction with patrons (as opposed to coworkers) would be sufficient to keep me from going stir crazy.

On the other hand, I am excited by the possibilities to effect real change. My interest in public libraries remains very strong, but in many ways running a prison library does not seem all that different from running a branch library, which is something I think I am quite interested in as well. And I do want to keep my options open, given the economy. Public and prison libraries are sufficiently similar that, should I be able to manage the stresses specific to work in a correctional facility, I think I would probably enjoy either career. Perhaps it is time to look into scheduling some informational interviews. Or perhaps I could get the ALA student chapter at SI to sponsor something on correctional facility libraries. (Other SI LIS folk: any interest in this?) At any rate, it's definitely something I'll keep in the back of my mind as an option to explore.

Nearly done...

The day at the branch library went pretty well (except for when I circled the entire building in the morning, trying to figure out how to get in... it's the details that get you sometimes!). I had a great time and now feel pretty confident doing basic circulation tasks. I also got to help with the hold list that morning, so I was able to see for myself how that works. It was also good to observe some of the differences between a branch and a main library.

It's hard to believe I only have three days left! Most of what I'm doing is ongoing kinds of things, but I do have one big project still incomplete: dealing with the local history archives. Unfortunately, there are some boxes I just can't get to in time. They are the ones whose contents aren't even included in the master list of documents in the collection (some of them aren't even organized). But I'm reorganizing the part of the collection I could deal with, creating finding aids (by folder and by subject), and hopefully also getting some of the more delicate items into Mylar. If I have time I'll also write up a little scope and content note. We'll see...

Aug 2, 2009

Read Something! -- _The Husband Habit_ (Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez)

The Husband Habit

370 pp. (ARC) / 384 pp.
Romance / Chick Lit


Vanessa, a successful chef, has a problem: She keeps inadvertently becoming romantically entangled with married men. Trying to break the pattern, she swears off dating -- only to meet charming, sexy Paul, a war veteran haunted by what he's done overseas. Vanessa's mind (and sister) says no; her heart and body (and dog) say yes. But what if Paul isn't all that he seems to be? Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez tells an enchanting story of romance, the bonds of family and friends, and a woman finally coming into her own.

Appeal characteristics (pacing, story line, characterization, frame)
  • Pacing: Very fast, and increases tenfold in about the last quarter of the book -- this reads quite quickly
  • Pacing: Quick wrap up of the plot
  • Story line: Straightforward resolution of most conflicts (the minor ones often just disappear entirely with no official resolution other than the implication that they've been solved)
  • Story line: A couple of subplots, but they are not fully developed and usually just feed into the main romance plot at some point
  • Story line: Nothing overtly left dangling at the end (though there are some themes, conflicts, etc. that are never resolved because they just drop out of the book by about the three-quarters point)
  • Story line: Happy ending
  • Characterization: Intelligent, independent-minded female protagonist
  • Characterization: Female protagonist appears strong but never actually acts on her own; she just reacts to or acts because of other characters
  • Characterization: Male romantic interest with a troubled and somewhat mysterious past
  • Characterization: Male romantic interest who comes in and mostly fixes the majority of female protagonist's problems
  • Characterization: Characters are very human; they have real, believable problems and issues, and nobody's perfect
  • Characterization: Fairly small cast of characters, and characters appear only when they need to do something to move the plot forward
  • Frame?: Quite erotic in certain scenes (but no actual sex is depicted)
  • Frame: Set in Albuquerque, New Mexico; lots of local detail and strong evocation of a sense of place
  • Frame: Lots of detail related to food and cooking
  • Frame?: Metaphor is important, both to Vanessa and as an element of the style of the prose
  • Frame?: Prose is carefully chosen, somewhat literary -- it is acoustically attractive and precise in imagery and meaning
  • Frame: Subtle, sly sense of humor underlying much of the book
  • Frame: Mentions of Victorian English literature throughout
Similar titles/authors
  • Possibly Jane Austen? (I haven't read enough of her to really judge, but from what I have read and heard, the plot structure sounds somewhat similar, and the language/style may be similarly polished; also, the mentions of Victorian English literature throughout this novel suggest that Valdes-Rodriguez may have had something like Austen in mind while writing.)

Jul 31, 2009

Finally, circ!

I've gotten some experience with the ILS system in use here (Millennium, in case anyone cares ;) ) via my work on the reference desk, which involves a lot of renewing, checking patron records, putting things on hold, etc. -- all of which is done through the Millennium interface. But even though I've been here for a couple of months, I still hadn't actually been trained in how to check things in and out! Tomorrow I'll be spending the day at a branch library, where basically my whole time will be spent in circulation, so on Wednesday I finally got some circ training. It was a lot of fun, and in some ways even more fast-paced than reference! I only have a basic understanding, but it's enough to get me through tomorrow -- I'll just refer people who want new cards or who have really complicated issues to the more experienced staff.

The branch library is apparently going to be pretty intense -- I'm told I will be on my feet and constantly doing something from 9:30-5 straight, except for my lunch break. It will also be a challenge because there are a huge number of immigrant Chinese who come from all over to that branch on Saturdays, due to its high-quality Chinese language collection, and I honestly am not that good with accents. I always feel really bad when I have to ask someone to repeat himself or herself because I couldn't interpret his/her accent well. And I think a crowded, high-pressure situation will probably make things a bit worse. But I'll never improve if I don't get practice!

Today was actually a good warmup -- I was on desk for two hours and never had a chance to breathe (including one twenty-minute session with a gentleman who wanted to log into his e-mail and download and print some photos someone had sent him but who couldn't correctly do a single-click with the mouse... I got good practice being patient and calm with that one -- and I think I did fairly well, considering my level of frazzledness at the time), and in the middle of the day some repairmen set the fire alarm off THREE times, once just before my second desk shift and then twice more during the shift! If I could keep my poise intact through all that, I have confidence I'll do all right tomorrow.

Jul 24, 2009

Drawing lines...

Several of the presentations I attended at ALA Annual mentioned the importance in public service positions of drawing a line between your personal and professional lives. A line I heard suggested more than once was, "I'd be happy to talk about anything related to the library with you, but I cannot discuss my personal life."

Sounds sensible and easy in principle, doesn't it? But I'm finding that in practice it's rather blurry. And it's compounded by the fact that when a patron isn't actually breaking rules or being disruptive I'm not always terribly socially assertive, and tend to want to be polite rather than have someone think I'm being rude for no good reason.

For instance: When I was running the teen gaming program on Monday, one of the teens found me in a quiet moment in the kitchen as I was cleaning up and asked me if I am religious. That is clearly a line-crossing question. But I couldn't quickly think of a way to handle it that would be polite and avoid possibly damaging the rapport I was beginning to build with him, so I answered truthfully, "No, I'm not religious," trying to be a little brusque in hopes that that would discourage him from saying anything further without hurting his feelings.

Of course it didn't work. He proceeded to very earnestly and naively (as in, without a lot of knowledge about the religion himself -- he couldn't even explain the Adam and Eve story in a really coherent way) attempt to convert me to Christianity. An apocalyptic, end-times-are-coming strain of Christianity, no less. I was pretty uncomfortable. You just do not debate theology with a thirteen-year-old who clearly hasn't begun thinking critically about anything yet, let alone the beliefs he's clearly been indoctrinated in since childhood. Especially if you are working in a professional capacity in relationship to said thirteen-year-old. (Nor would I have particularly felt comfortable revealing my own thoughts on Christianity to him if he had been capable of engaging in a reasoned debate at a fully adult level. Again, that's crossing a professional line.)

I should've known better than to really answer that first question, because it got me into a situation that made me feel really uncomfortable and because really, my religious beliefs are not the business of my library's patrons. But still, it's taken me days to come up with something that I could've said that might have worked. (I feel as though in this situation, even the line I got from ALA Annual would be too abrupt. But I did finally decide I could have probably modified it to something like, "That's a personal question, and it's not really appropriate for me to be talking about my personal beliefs with library patrons. I'd be happy to discuss a library-related topic with you." -- maybe even following it up with, "Did you know we have a lot of books on religion? Maybe sometime we could try to find something interesting for you to read about religion.") So frustrating!

Then there's the question of how much it's appropriate to reveal in casual chitchat as you go about your job. Sharing personal information is a social lubricant, and I do find myself talking about my academic program, sometimes my future career, and how I grew up in the area with random people. Is that crossing a line? Or is it just polite? I still am not sure on that one...

Jul 16, 2009

Read Something! -- _Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage_ (Richard Holmes)

Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage


260 pp.


Samuel Johnson has come down to us through Boswell's biography as an imposing, established figure of legendary status. But in the late 1730s he was an unknown, troubled young poet wandering the streets of London. At this time he met and befriended Richard Savage, a mesmerizing and charismatic yet controversial and himself quite troubled figure on the London literary scene. Only a few years later, Savage would die and Johnson would publish a biography of his friend that would launch his own distinguished career. Holmes constructs a meticulous and intricate portrait of the friendship between these two men that is at once a double biography, a psychological excavation, an extended work of literary criticism of Johnson's biography of Savage, an exploration of how we construct our own and other's identities, and a "biography of a biography" -- the story both of how one biography was created from a brief period of intimacy and of the launching of a new literary form.

Appeal characteristics

  • Psychological focus, with psychoanalytical overtones (though not strongly pronounced)
  • Moves fairly slowly; carefully examines key events from multiple angles
  • Frequent literary criticism interwoven into the text (interpretation of an author's works to shed light on his psychological state)
  • Centers on a controversial figure with a mysterious birth and troubled life, who is also a charismatic genius
  • Investigative/speculative -- attempts to elucidate a relationship about which next to nothing is known
  • Does not delve into great historical detail unless necessary to do so for dicussion of the Johnson/Savage relationship or one of their own lives
  • -- but does give brief, 1-2 paragraph biographies of some minor figures who appear in the text
  • Stylistically, very readable; straightforward and almost conversational

Other notes

  • Not a thorough biography of either man (although Savage's life is covered in a fair amount of detail due to necessity of doing so in order to analyze Johnson's biography of him); Holmes is more interested in the relationship between the men and why Johnson wrote his biography the way he did

Jul 15, 2009

ALA Annual 2009


...That was interesting.

This past weekend, I went to my first ever professional conference -- ALA Annual in Chicago. It was huge and overwhelming, and I am glad that it was held in Chicago because if it was in a city with which I was unfamiliar it honestly might have been a bit too much. But I think I navigated it pretty well, and I sat in on some interesting sessions (and got a bunch of free stuff! -- including three more books which I had no business acquiring, given my current backlog...).

More detailed comments on individual sessions will probably follow later, but here's a summary of my weekend:


Arrived, got into city, checked into hotel, met up with roommate. Registered, and discovered that the booklet I'd been sent didn't even include everything that was happening at the conference! (So... many... committee... meetings... *gasp*) It was kind of frustrating because my whole experience with trying to pick what to go to was constantly complicated by discovering that yet something else was going on that I wanted to do, so to arrive and find that there were tons of other things... I gave up on even browsing the book listing the schedule, and decided to stick to the schedule I'd drawn up before leaving home.

That night, my roommate, another classmate from SI, and I went to the gaming event. It was fun, and there was yummy food. We played one round of a really weird trivia game, and then went on to this game where you get prompts (e.g. "mysterious power tool") and try to come up with the same response as other players -- usually writing, but sometimes doodling. That one was tons of fun and we played it twice. Then it was back to the hotel for bedtime... lots to do in the morning!


The buses, my roommate and I discovered, were a mess. We waited 20 minutes at one stop and none even came by. Then we walked to the Hilton, which was one of the headquarter hotels and on the same route as the bus we were waiting for. Of course, there we immediately caught a bus. It was kind of ridiculous and seemed poorly organized/implemented.

Due to the bus thing, I got to the first session 20 minutes late. I felt embarrassed walking in late, but then a lot of people came in much later than me. As the conference went on, I learned that this isn't unusual. The first thing I went to was a talk on what it's like to be a librarian in a correctional facility. It was really interesting, and confirmed that that's a career I might be interested in, although it presents some very difficult challenges.

After that I went to the exhibit halls. At the NMRT booth, I ran into another new attendee. We bonded over trying to figure out where the heck the Placement Services stuff was (why was a conference book put together by LIBRARIANS so difficult to find information in?!), then she discovered I was going to the Unshelved booth and got excited, so we went together. (I got a t-shirt, and signatures. It was awesome.) We wandered around the exhibition hall, into and out of a session on gaming in libraries (standing room only, and hard to hear from the back), and down to the Placement Services area. It was pretty neat to meet someone and just get along with her for a couple of hours.

Next stop was the event I'd actually had to come to ALA Annual for: the orientation for the LLAMA mentoring program to which I've been accepted. That was, unfortunately, held at a hotel at some distance from the convention center. But I made it up there okay, and finally actually got to meet my mentor in person. I was a bit nervous, but he's very personable and we got along great. I'm looking forward to seeing where the relationship goes. (I'm sure more posts about that will be forthcoming over the next year -- and yes, I do have his permission to blog about it.) We chatted, listened to a brief presentation on mentoring, and filled out a form to outline our initial expectations and needs (at which point I had major SI 501 flashbacks).

I got out of the mentoring program orientation right when the next session I wanted to go to was starting. Unfortunately, I had to get all the way back to the convention center! A very nice bus driver stopped for me as I was jogging up to the stop, so I didn't lose too much time and was only about half an hour late. This session was on disengaging from talkative patrons, and while it wasn't fantastically useful, I did get some good things out of it.

After that, there was (eventually) dinner. We (the same three of us from the night before) wanted to get pizza, but there were huge long lines at Giordanio's (sp?), Gino's East (sad... I have good memories of dinners there with my boyfriend when we were in Chicago in January), and Due's (we didn't even look at Uno's). We ended up at Chile's. But I had a mudslide, which was desperately needed after a long day, so that was good. We'd been planning to go to the storytelling event that evening, but by the time we were done with dinner the event had started, and we were pretty tired. We ended up hanging out in Grant Park listening to a free concert for a while, and then went back to our hotels.


I started out Sunday with the exhibit halls. Picked up tons of free stuff (including one of those incredible huge red totes by... was it McGraw Hill? I can't remember), and entered a lot of contests. I dread all the mailing lists I'm going to have to unsubscribe myself from...

Next I went to the Paranormal Fiction panel. It was awesome. There were three writers there (including Charlaine Harris!), and I love listening to writers talk about their work! All three were intelligent and witty and very interesting. I think the panel was theoretically for readers' advisory purposes, but I didn't get very much out of it that way. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun and I'm really glad I did it.

Then I had an hour or so free, so I grabbed lunch, made some phone calls, and dove back in to the exhibit halls for a little while until it was time for the presentation on dealing with challenging patrons. (Are we noticing a pattern in my session attendance?) This was a bit more useful than the talkative-patron panel, and I picked up some really good tips and ideas. There was also more of a discussion than in other sessions I'd been in, and although I didn't speak up, it was really cool to feel like I was sitting in the middle of and engaging in a real discussion about professional issues with other working professionals. It made me wish there were more opportunities for that kind of thing at the conference as a whole. (Maybe there were and I just didn't discover them...)

Next, my last pass through the exhibit halls. I picked up more free stuff, entered more contests, wandered up and down almost every aisle, had a lovely chat with the woman at the Hoover Institution booth (Stanford is my alma mater, so I had to stop by there!), met a woman working at the same library as my roommate for the conference... and went to the post office five minutes after closing. Oops. At least there was a FedEx downstairs, though they really stiff you there (they charge a "handling fee" on top of shipping -- $10 for packages 2-10 pounds -- ridiculous, and they totally do it just because they know they can and people will have to pay it). I also ran by the Bookcart Drill Team competition, which was mildly entertaining. I have visions of incredible bookcart routines which I know I will someday choreograph...

And that was it. I picked up my duffel from coat check, waited ages yet again for a bus (Gale has not made a good impression on me, due to their very prominent sponsorship of a very poorly functioning shuttle bus system), and went to meet up with a friend from Chicago who was letting me crash at her place that night.

In retrospect I wish I'd stayed one more day. I missed some sessions that I really wanted to attend (e.g. the RUSA program on readers' advisory -- perfect for the paper I'm revising for publication!), and felt so rushed to do everything in the exhibit hall that it was a little stressful and probably more tiring than it needed to be. But overall I think it was a pretty good first experience. I owe a lot of that to the advice of the wonderful teen librarian at the Brookline library, who's been to tons of these things and spent about 40 minutes one day telling me what to do and what not to do. I only wish I had the money to do this every year!

Jul 9, 2009

Read Something! -- _Death In Spring_ (Merce Rodoreda)

("Read Something!" will be an ongoing series of posts in which I make public the readers' advisory notes I'm starting to keep on many of the books I read. I would greatly appreciate suggestions for other things to call this because I am very bad at naming things! ;) )

Death in Spring

(trans. Martha Tennent)
2009 (orig. published 1986 in Catalan)
150 pp.
Literary fiction


As a teenaged boy grows into a man, he struggles to come to grips with the strange, brutal rituals of his village and with his own increasingly marked sense of being an outsider. This dreamlike book explores love, desire, the individual's place in society, and the meaning of living.

Appeal characteristics

  • Pacing/Frame?: emphasis on language over plot
  • Pacing: plot moves very slowly
  • Pacing?: patterns and recurring images appear but are not explicated
  • Story line?: events themselves are often less important than what the narrator says about them?
  • Characterization: characters' emotions rarely shown; their actions are generally described without delving into their motivations (this goes for the main character too)
  • Frame?: heavy on metaphor and imagery
  • Frame: worldbuilding -- author creates a society
  • Frame: tone is heavy, serious; even somewhat depressing
  • Frame: first-person narrator
  • Frame?: most things are not laid out clearly for the reader; readers must be attentive, dig into the book, and think (and even then may not arrive at firm conclusions)
  • Frame: individual vs. society themes

Other notes

  • violence -- not particularly graphic, but often unusual and still disturbing

Similar titles/authors
  • W, or The Memory of Childhood (Georges Perec): similar building of an increasingly menacing and violent world with strange rituals; similar exploration of the darker side of human societies; similarly is meant to provoke thought more than tell a story; Perec and Rodoreda seem to both be interested in language (though Perec more in wordplay, Rodoreda more in evocative prose?); more complex plotting (there are multiple stories and part of the book is how they interact (or don't); faster pacing?; there is no central character in the main storyline of W

Jul 3, 2009

Surprise, I CAN do readers' advisory!

I've been getting frustrated with my readers' advisory skills. The ref desk is upstairs and the RA books are downstairs, so when I get asked an RA question Novelist and whoever else happens to be on desk are pretty much the best resources I have to go on. With most questions I am immediately and acutely aware that I just don't know of any other books that fit the patron's preferences (and that's when I remember to elicit preferences in an interview instead of freezing up and automatically heading straight to Novelist, eep). Most people seem to be satisfied with Novelist's readalike suggestions for an author, but I really don't feel like I'm providing the best service. It's frustrating.

Today, however, I actually got through one RA interaction in a way that made me feel proud! It was a young gentleman who came up and said he liked historical, intense novels like The Wave. Using the handy local school summer reading list as a prop, I was able to suggest some authors who I'd read as a teen and others who had caught my eye as I was weeding YA books earlier this summer (yet another confirmation that it is absolutely vital for librarians to work with the books themselves!). He also found some books on the list that looked interesting. Unfortunately they were all out!

But then the darling boy (and I really do adore him for this) mentioned Narnia. He had only read The Magician's Nephew (and I am restraining myself, with great difficulty, from repeating my mini-lecture (which he took in good humor) about the correct order in which to read the Chronicles of Narnia). The Narnia books are among some of my fondest memories (I still own my box set!). We popped on down to the teen room, found most of the books right on the shelf, and he asked me for my thoughts on the order he should read the books in, which I happily gave. Interspersed with all of this was some very pleasant chitchat about books in general and the Chronicles of Narnia in particular. He left happy, and I felt like I really had helped someone looking for readers' advisory for once.

It was a badly needed confidence boost. Now I feel that I am indeed capable; it's just that I need a wider knowledge base and better familiarity with the resources available to help with RA.

Jun 27, 2009

I do say I like public librarianship because of the variety...

This... was quite a week on the reference desk. In no particular order, here are some of the various encounters I had/events I observed:
  • Patron put on criminal trespass notice (not for anything safety-threatening, more for repeated public disturbance kinds of things, but the police had to come to serve the notice nevertheless)
  • A patron who came up to me and said, "I'm looking for a book, I can't remember the name or the title, but it was narrated by a dog." (Yes, I found it. The Art of Racing in the Rain, if I remember correctly.)
  • Patron who came up to the desk as I was wrapping up, after the announcement saying the library was closed, to ask about a book he'd put on hold
  • Report of a patron screaming at other women in the bathroom about invading her privacy, when apparently they weren't actually doing anything
  • Patron who called to ask a question and, while I was looking up the answer, kept saying things like "You don't like me? You want to take advantage of me?", apparently to herself
  • Patron who I spent the better part of an hour intermittently helping to find books with good photos of places in Africa and the Middle East; he essentially asked me to come to his house for dinner where he "could show [me] things [I'd] never seen before" (erm... no thank you)
  • Patron who I ran into while walking around the library, who for no apparent reason just wanted to tell me a joke
  • Kids on a scavenger hunt who needed to find a book by a particular author
  • A man who came up to the reference desk on my shift after I had just finished sorting all of the donated books upstairs -- "I have some books to donate; where should I leave them?" -- "Well, how many books do you have?" -- "About four boxes." -- *mental headdesk* (I love sorting donated books, but some days it really feels like an exercise in futility)
  • A woman who had somehow managed to get two library cards, with two separate patron records, without being aware of it (though I wonder if she really wasn't, because the one she didn't have anything checked out on had a fine on it)

And those are just the most interesting ones... It was pretty nonstop for most of my shifts. Still fun, but suddenly I understand why everyone says that you really need to take breaks from being on desk!

Jun 22, 2009

What is a librarian?

I was going to post a response to something from American Libraries. And then just before I started to write, I was reading a thread called "The Word 'Librarian'" on LibraryThing. The thread opens with the question that I think many of us ask -- do people without the ML(I)S degree count as "librarians?"

It's a question that brings up all sorts of issues: issues of professionalism, of respect, of our ability to promote ourselves in our field... etc., etc., etc. But I think one poster made a very astute comment:

I think that some people automatically assume that working in a library makes them a librarian. I also think that some people think having a fancy piece of paper makes them one too. I really think that being a librarian is something above and beyond both of those things. When I was in law school, a professor always used to tell us that graduating from law school doesn't make you a lawyer. It just means you have a degree in law. I feel the same way about librarians. I know some librarians with MLS degrees that I don't think have any right to call themselves librarians. On the other hand, I know a lady who has no MLS, but is the most amazing librarian I have ever met, and I would not be upset if she called herself a librarian (which she won't).
I think this comment cuts right to the heart of the matter. People dither about what a degree means, when really the degree shouldn't be an end in itself but a means to an end. I'm certain that ML(I)S programs are turning out some graduates who aren't really going to be good library professionals. (There are even one or two people in my own program about whom I often wonder why, precisely, they're putting themselves through all this (and other SI folk who read this blog, let's keep speculation of/discussion about precisely who and why out of the comments here, because it's not really the point of this post. ;) ) ) The point of the program is not (or should not be) just for you to get the fancy piece of paper. The point of the program, as it should be with all education, is to give you skills and knowledge, to make you a more effective and learned person, in hopes that doing so will change how you live your life/perform your job/etc.

The degree doesn't make you a librarian. The ability to perform the work intelligently, conscientiously, and effectively does. The degree is supposed to help you do that, but it is not always necessary or sufficient. It's (sadly) very easy to get through two years of school and not really pick up anything useful. It's also possible for someone who is sufficiently driven and self-guided to pick up everything s/he needs to know without going to school.

Of course, that's my own perspective, which is probably biased by my humanistic educational background. And in reality, when making employment decisions, degree holders
should generally get preference over non-degree holders -- simply because you are more likely to have the skills, knowledge, and ability to think necessary to be a good librarian if you have been given one to two years to learn, to practice, and to consider the important issues of the field. But I do believe that many people who work in libraries are not really librarians, no matter what their job title says.

The next question, of course, is: What makes a librarian, if it isn't the degree? That is perhaps one to take up next time... or in the comments. I'd be very interested in hearing what other people think about all this.

Jun 11, 2009

Renewed faith in humanity ;)

I've been thinking about the people I'm interacting with on the reference desk. I subscribe to a number of librarian boards and mailing lists, and as a result I read a lot of horror stories/venting about "bad" patrons. I recognized that these stories were not representative of the vast majority of library patrons (among other things, I subscribe to the library_mofo LiveJournal community, which really skews the sample ;) ), but I still came into this internship a little nervous about having to deal with people who were rude, angry, or indifferent.

I have been so wonderfully surprised. I certainly didn't expect people to be consistently awful, but neither did I expect so much gratitude. Nearly every shift, I am profusely thanked for doing something that's really quite simple and part of my job. People smile, they are polite, they seem to generally appreciate what I do (which goes against all the angsty library scholarship I've been reading recently...). The woman who tried to quibble over her inability to renew two magazines was more than counterbalanced by the woman who calmly and politely accepted that she couldn't put something on hold because she had $30 in fines and said she'd pay them as soon as she could.

I definitely think much more highly of people in general because of this job!

Jun 3, 2009

Today I realized...

...that if two hours on the reference desk is sufficient to make my day wonderful when I've been in a real funk for 18 hours, then I'm probably heading in the right direction with my life.

May 29, 2009

Reflection on my second week at BPL

My second week has come to an end. I became a lot more proactive at the reference desk this week -- having gotten my bearings with basic information about the library, I felt better about starting to take patron questions. In another week or so I start being one of two instead of a third observer of the two people "officially" on desk! I'm excited to get the "official" responsibility for reference, but I'm also very appreciative of the slow introduction my supervisor has provided for me. I was expecting to just get thrown in and have to sink or swim, but having a graduated experience where I could just observe first and then ease my way into practice really made me feel more confident.

Today was actually interesting because I took a patron question when the other two reference librarians were busy and ended up spending about 45 minutes with her (and we weren't done; it was just the end of my shift and I had realized that if I didn't leave then I wouldn't leave until the library closed). Afterward I learned she is a "regular." One of the librarians and I had a good talk about how to end a reference transaction when it is really going on for too long. I didn't mind spending a long time with this patron because we were finding things that were useful to her, but had I been one of two staff members on desk instead of one of three, I almost certainly couldn't have spent that kind of time with her -- the other librarian would have been swamped. On the one hand I'm a little disappointed that things have to be that way; I suppose I'm still clinging to the theoretical ideal and having a bit of trouble adjusting to the realities of practice.

Speaking of theory vs. practice -- I have to apologize to my wonderful professors, but I have definitely become a "pointer" in certain situations. When the patron seems competent and the desk is busy, there is just no way I can walk every person out to the stacks. I do always tell patrons to come back if they can't find what they need; I figure that this is a happy medium, and if someone can't find something, I definitely will help them go look for it.

This week I also continued with some shelf reading and shifting Government Documents materials. In addition, I learned how to use the CD/DVD buffer to clean scratched AV materials (it is kind of fun and surprisingly effective!) and I got started on another big project. The library has a manuscripts collection which is in some semblance of order, but there is no good finding aid available. Since I have an archives background, I've been asked to get the collection in usable shape. Right now I'm just familiarizing myself with what's there. Some of it is pretty interesting -- there are a lot of essays about and personal reminiscences of Brookline in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Parts of it are physically not in the greatest shape in the world, but it is mostly intact, and they've made some basic preservation efforts (putting everything in acid-free boxes and folders, and for the most part also encasing everything in Mylar covers, which is perhaps excessive but certainly not a bad thing). I'm probably going to reorganize it slightly, and I'm thinking about the best way to create a finding aid or finding aids. I probably will do a "traditional" archival finding aid by folder, but since this is for public library use I will also probably create some sort of subject-based finding aid. My supervisor said she was looking at Library of Congress finding aids and really liked those. I haven't seen them yet, but I'll also look at those for models.

May 24, 2009

Imperfect iterations

I'm catching up on my professional reading this summer -- ALA materials come to my home (my parents' house), not my school address, so I had a 3" stack of magazines when I got back. Which is why I was reading the January/February 2009 American Libraries just a few days ago.

The article "Working in Beta: LibraryWeb Labs Let Users Shape Service" caught my eye. My personal philosophy of library work includes an emphasis on user participation as a way of increasing patron involvement with and investment in other aspects of the library, so I liked this article. Not only would I expect these kinds of online "labs" where libraries test new web services to help participating users feel greater ownership in the library, but it helps the libraries to make sure that their services really do respond to user needs.*

But what I found most interesting was the article's opening:
"Something libraries have not been great at historically is experimenting in public," Ken Varnum, web systems manager at the University of Michigan Libraries,** told American Libraries, noting the urge to make services 'perfect' before release.
I suppose my first question is: is this assertion correct? I quite frankly don't have the experience to know yet. We hear so much about innovations by this or that library these days, and I never thought to pay much attention to whether the staff and management/administration had invented these innovations in a back room and planned them out in detail before implementation or whether they had, to borrow Mr. Varnum's phrase, experimented in public -- invited and encouraged patrons' feedback during the process, listened, changed things mid-course. Of course I don't mean to draw the dichotomy that that sounds like. I would hope any innovation would spring at some level from observation of patrons' needs and wants. But for me, "experimenting in public" means something more than just being aware of what patrons want, and perhaps making small changes in response to feedback post-implementation. Experimentation involves a much more uncontrolled process. You think you know what will happen if you do something, certainly, but fundamentally experimentation is a process of discovery. A library experimenting in public is one that has plans, but permits flexibility in new programming or services to shift rapidly in response to patron feedback and staff and administration/management observations of the effects and effectiveness of the program/service. When you experiment you find out what's really the right thing to do as you go along. You make mistakes. To make mistakes in public is a brave thing to do -- especially when half of your profession seems to be suffering a crisis of identity/relevance.

* Of course this has to be taken with a grain of salt, since the specter of representative sampling rears its head here. But as long as the feedback through these labs isn't considered the be all and end all of patron input, I imagine it could be quite useful.

** (woohoo!)

May 22, 2009

First week of the internship is over -- I'm EXHAUSTED! (but happy)

My first week was definitely an orientation week. Two people who are in charge of projects I'll be doing are on vacation, so I couldn't get started on those. I spent a lot of time moving books -- shelf reading in the local history room, shifting the Government Documents collection about ten feet to the right (current shelving is too crowded and they need to move things around), and pulling books from the YA shelves for weeding. I have become thoroughly convinced of the value of shelving and shelf reading for knowing the collection -- I feel much more confident in my awareness of the contents of the areas of the collection I've been physically working with this week.

I've also been spending time observing and sometimes helping out on the reference and information desks. Mostly observing right now, but that's fine because there's a lot I don't know about the library systems and resources, and that means right now it's hard for me to answer many questions effectively. I have taken some reference questions, mostly directional things or things where I could just take the patron to the catalog and help him/her out there. It's a lot of fun to help someone find just what they were looking for. :) And if I start flailing it's nice to know that I can always direct the patron to the librarian sitting right next to me! (I will never be allowed to sit on a desk alone this summer, due to union rules. I actually appreciate that, though -- it takes a lot of pressure off of me to know that I have help right there if I need it, and my colleagues seem happy to let me take questions.)

During downtime on the desk, I've been talking a lot to the other librarians. I've been introduced to the Millennium internal library system (though I haven't used it myself yet) and to basic procedures within the system like searching, looking up information in records, placing holds, etc. I've also learned a bunch about my colleagues' paths to librarianship, library policies and procedure, the good and bad of membership in a consortium, and a lot of other miscellaneous but interesting and useful things. Some people are more talkative than others, but everyone has been very helpful and responsive when I have questions or express interest in something. All in all, it's a pretty cool bunch of people to hang out with. I'm looking forward to what this summer will bring!

May 18, 2009

A good start!

Today I finally began my internship at the Brookline Public Library in Brookline, MA!

I sort of got plunged right into the middle of things. After a library tour (I got introduced to about 20 people and don't remember any of their names! >.< ), I spent two hours shadowing my supervisor and then another librarian on the reference desk. I inaugurated what is sure to be a grand reference career by that most traditional of reference librarian activities: directing a patron to the restroom. After a lunch break, I was told that Steve Kluger, author of My Most Excellent Year, was about to give a talk for librarians on extended families in literature. I got to skip out on "actual" work to listen to Mr. Kluger talk for two hours about his family life growing up and as it stands now, and how it ties into his writing. It was funny and touching and extremely interesting, and I now feel compelled to go read all three of his books.

By the time all that was over with, it was getting close to time for me to leave. To fill the last 45 minutes, my supervisor asked me to help with shelving, since I hadn't been started on my projects yet and they were behind on shelving (are libraries ever _not_ behind on shelving?). That was a nice, relaxing way to end the day.

The highlight of the day, beyond just being able to finally START this internship, was definitely Mr. Kluger's talk. Second to that, I have to admit... is that I discovered a yarn store (which won "Best of Boston") directly on the route between the subway and the library. Unluckily for me (luckily for my wallet and my mother, who was waiting to pick me up), it was closed when I found it!