Monthly Archives: May 2013

My Goals: Librarian Edition

As I move forward along the path of becoming a librarian, I have only a few long-term goals: to help others and to intimately work with information, publishing and literature in new and exciting ways.

It’s taken me awhile to figure out which direction my career should take, but whether I’ve been studying publishing or working as a journalist, a few things have remained constant. I’ve always wanted to: work with words, readers and writers, do a bit of writing myself, promote literacy and find new ways to communicate.

These goals changed – I’m going to say matured – a bit after spending two and a half years as an online community journalist. During my time writing, reporting and serving 20,000 readers day in and day out, I dealt directly with the evolving needs of a community as it becomes more digitally oriented. I heard a lot of “We need more of this, but less of that” ; “Why can’t I find this online?” ; and “How can I make my life easier by using these tools?” My company experimented often with how readers interact and communicate online. There were a lot of failures, but as editor, I learned a lot.

During this time, I also became acutely interested in the fate of online publications, particularly content that is published outside of a major “brick and mortar” news organization or publishing house. As an online journalist, I became adept at finding and utilizing online resources in my reporting – whether that was searching Instagram for photos of my town, or pulling Tweets and Tumblr posts into a Storify for a reaction piece on a breaking news event. It soon became evident that this is how stories are being told these days, and will continue to be told in the future. The digital world is where our history is being written and where information of the here and now can be found.

And yet, I had to ask myself: who is organizing this information? Who is monitoring the millions of megabytes of data being produced every second? Who in the world is archiving all those stories I wrote for my online publication? In the past, newspaper offices were equipped with their own “libraries” and librarians, with back issues safely stored either in physical form or microform. Where are the libraries for online journalism? For Tumblr? For Twitter?

And for that matter, where are the libraries for books published only online? In 2000, my favorite author Stephen King published The Plant, a novella that could only be purchased and accessed online. It wasn’t the biggest success and Mr. King took his money-making talents to more profitable ventures, but it gave us a peek into the Pandora’s box of digital publishing – a box that has largely been ignored in the commercial sector in recent years. And yet, digital publishing is an important reality for academia and academic publishing, particularly with online-only academic journals and digital textbooks. What will the academic library of the future look like when all students are equipped with tablet computers and that can download their biology textbooks in seconds?

And so, with my passion for literature and (digital) literacy, I knew that working with libraries was the only path for me. Here at Wayne State, I’m hoping to explore Digital Content Management as part of my studies, as well as digital preservation, to learn as much as I possibly can about what I imagine will be an important branch of the library profession in the next few years.

However, I can’t imagine myself trapped behind a computer my entire career, even if I was working as a digital archivist. I have a deep-seated desire to work with and help others, and I want my career as a librarian to reflect that. As I mentioned in an earlier post, a librarian should always work with the patron in mind – our’s is a customer-service based industry, and the patron should always come first.

In that vein, I want to pursue a career at a university library, working with both digital preservation as well as with students in a journalism or English department. I not only want to be their guide to library services, but I want to help them explore new ways to move about the modern media landscape – whether that’s journalism or publishing – with digital at their top of their minds. I want to bring the techniques of collection management to media management, so that when historians look back on 2013 and try to write the stories of our time, they’ll have the tools and information they need.

Assumptions and Assertions

Stating your assumptions or other beliefs about a subject can be a tricky business, particularly when that subject is a profession you wish to enter. As someone who has barely cracked the surface of the library profession – my only experience thus far being four years spent working at a university library while I was a student – I run the risk that my statements might make me appear naive, maybe even a little silly.

But then, I know that can’t be true. The job of a “librarian” is changing every day, and even those working in the field their entire careers are finding their initial assumptions about the profession outdated and just flat-out wrong. The idea that we’ll be spending our careers behind imposing desks, stamping books and re-shelving, all the while shushing loud children – well, I don’t know anyone who would want to a be librarian with that job description in mind, but it’s the idea that many have held over the years, and it’s an idea that’s looking sillier by the day.

Therefore, I think it’s best to keep my assumptions broad, knowing that no matter what kind of changes hit the library world, these core tenents will remain the same:

  • Librarians are there to help people.

In the true spirit of any service profession, I believe librarians should go about their work, every day, with readers and other library users in mind. Just like the customer, the patron is always right.

True, librarians are there to preserve history and work with literary and digital artifacts. Yes, we’re all concerned with funding and how we might squeeze a few more computer purchases into the budget. However, just as the New York Public Library is described in a 1991 documentary, libraries are first and foremost a “people’s palace” – a place for the public to visit, free of charge, relax, recharge and learn (New York Public Library, 2013, “The People’s Palace”). Sure, librarians are proud of their carefully-curated collections, but those collections – those books, journals and databases – are there for patrons. It’s important that as the idea of libraries moves forward, librarians maintain a “patron-first” mentality, always asking themselves how their decisions best serve their communities.

  • Libraries protect and preserve information, because information is valuable.

A library’s other core function is to protect and preserve information – whether that’s information found in books, magazines, digital and audio files, or other electronic files. While libraries first belong to the people, they next belong to the information preserved there. Information is incredibly valuable, and if libraries aren’t working to protect it, who will? In this way, I believe libraries provide a massive public service, keeping track of our culture’s history and the way it expresses itself. In the disappearance of the great library of Alexandria, we have seen what happens when libraries are dismantled or torn down – entire cultures and thousands of years of history disappear as well.

  • Libraries work toward improving access to information.

Just as important as collecting and preserving information, however, is the work librarians do to improve access to it. Information is only as valuable as those who choose to use it, and if the public does not have a reliable and easy way to access the information they need, then the entire idea of a “free society” is meaningless. This role will become even more important as the world becomes more digitized; so much information – in the form of Wikipedia articles, blog posts, comments, Tweets – is being produced every day, it’s staggering. It’s one thing to capture this information, but how can we make it relevant? How can we make it useful? That is the job of librarians and it’s more important than ever.

  • Libraries are always changing, and should continue to change.

In his five laws of librarianship, Shiyali Ramamrita states, “The library is a growing organism” as his final law  (Haycock, 2008, pg. xvi). I believe it’s the most important law of them all. What has been called a “library” has changed dramatically during the institution’s history, beginning with a place to record trade information on stone tablets, to the modern American lending libraries with which all of us have grown up. And so, with so much change built into its history, why should anyone be surprised when libraries continue to change in the 21st century? I’m looking forward to a time when libraries drop their stuffy personas and become the bustling, shining community hubs our society needs them to be. We need libraries, but just as our needs are changing (from “where’s the card catalog?” to “where can I charge my laptop?”), libraries must change with them. Change is scary, but change can also be exciting and if they want to survive, libraries must embrace this change.

Bibliography

Haycock, K. & Sheldon, B. (2008). The Portable MLIS. Westport, CT: Libraries    Unlimited

New York Public Library. (2013). The People’s Palace. Retrieved May 16, 2013, from http://www.nypl.org/audiovideo/peoples-palace.

Welcome!

jungleWelcome Library Explorers everywhere! This blog was created for my LIS 6010 course at Wayne State University, where I’m currently working toward my Masters in Library and Information Science. However as I re-enter the world of libraries, information and books, I know that much of it will be a mystery and like any good explorer worth her salt, I’ll be wading through a lot of mucky territory, trying to make sense of what will probably feel like a jungle.

Stay tuned for my first assigned post: Assumptions and Assertions. From my About Me page:

With my MLIS, I’m looking to specialize in academic libraries and digital content management, with the hopes of studying media preservation and working as a liaison to a journalism department at a university library.

Otherwise, I’m a 26-year-old former journalist living in Metro Detroit, currently working at a bookstore as I complete my studies at Wayne State. I’ve spent my entire career around books and media, beginning with an English and journalism degree from Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio. I then earned a Certificate in Publishing from New York University’s School of Continuing Studies. While in college, I was a senior editor of Miami’s student newspaper and worked at Miami’s largest library, King Library, for four years in the circulation department.

Following graduation, I worked at a used bookstore for nine months, followed by a big move to Michigan and two years with Patch.com, a hyperlocal online media corporation that launches news websites in small towns across the country. I launched Birmingham Patch, in Birmingham, Michigan, in November 2010 and went on to write, report and manage the site and its social media presence for two and a half years.

In whatever spare time I have, I enjoy playing roller derby, reading too many books, cycling and pretending to train for 5K, and cuddling with my two cats, Harper Lee and Mr. Bennet. For more on my educational and professional background, visit me on LinkedIn.