Monthly Archives: July 2013

Final Reflections

I’ve grown a lot this semester. When I began this class in May, I was a former journalist looking to switch careers, and the most important thing I knew about the library science profession was that I wanted to be a part of it. I knew there was a lot about libraries, and being a librarian, that I didn’t know. I knew I had a lot to learn.

What I didn’t know was just about how much there was to learn. This is my chance to reflect on that semester, and so in the vein of David Letterman, here’s the top 10 things I learned during LIS 6010:

1. A librarian’s choice isn’t always easy.

As seen in our ethics project and subsequent class discussion on ethics, thinking like a librarian requires one to place the ethics of the profession – which includes a certain social obligation – before everything else, including personal prejudices. Sometimes, that means hard decisions become a little harder, though my confidence in library ethics assures me they are often the right decisions.

2. The history of the modern library is both fascinating and inspiring.

Before this class, I knew little about the evolution of the modern American public library, and how groundbreaking the concept was when it first emerged on the world stage. It is inspiring knowing that I am a part of an institution that is  dedicated solely to democratic principles: helping all citizens, regardless of race, age or religion, find and use the knowledge they need to survive and thrive.

3. My experience as a journalist can be an asset during my library career.

Sometimes, I still feel a little anxious about my journalism experience when talking with my MLIS classmates. Whereas most of their career experience is already rooted in libraries, I feel like I’m starting from scratch. Sometimes, I feel like my experience makes a bit of an alien. But after learning about everything librarians can do, I am confident that my experience as a digital journalist will not only help me achieve my goals of working in digital content management, it just might be my best asset.

4. Being a librarian is all about customer service.

As librarians, we are here to help people. That is, in effect, the definition of customer service. Whether we’re answering questions at the reference desk or re-designing databases so that patrons can more easily access your library’s OPAC, the end goal for any librarian is to make the lives of our patrons easier and better. Really, when you think about Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan’s five laws of librarianship, so many of them – “Books are for use.” “Save the time of the reader.” “Every book its reader.” – can be summed by simply  saying: “Serve your customer/patron to the best of your ability.”

5. Knowledge of technology will be absolutely critical for all librarians.

While I was taking this course, I was also taking an introductory course in technology, and so it can’t be stressed enough how important it is for librarians to be fluent in all forms of technology. Librarians are not only running the websites for their libraries, they may also be creating them from scratch. Librarians not only have to know how to tweet and post Facebook messages, they have to be able to teach their patrons how to do so as well. Our patrons are turning to librarians not only to help them find books, but to help them find information online and on online databases. Librarians must be  proficient in all these arenas, and also be able to teach these skills as well.

6. Libraries are at the forefront of the latest e-reader battles (and why we should all care).

Considering I don’t own an e-reader, I’m a bit surprised at how interested I am in libraries’ battles to acquire affordable and convenient e-books for their patrons. Publishers, booksellers, librarians and e-reader vendors still have so much to unravel about e-books – how to price them, namely – that current policies run the gamut of overly controlling to the freedom of the open market. Publishers are still trying to find ways to make money off e-books, a struggle that clashes with libraries’ mission to provide free access to books and information. And yet, it seems to me that the success of e-books is also dependent on whether they become more accessible to the general public – an area where libraries will make a big difference. I am curious to see how publishing policies evolve in coming years, and where libraries fit into this.

7. Working librarians come in all shapes and sizes.

One of my favorite projects during this semester was to visit various libraries and get an exclusive peak into the real lives of working librarians. Just as beneficial was to check out the presentations from my classmates and see the libraries they visited, as well as their observations. Even though I only visited two libraries myself, I felt like I took tours of more than 25 very different libraries and archives across Michigan and the country.

8. The jury is still out among working librarians on the competancy of MLIS graduates, and why that worries me when it comes to finding a job.

My only somewhat negative experience this semester was reading opinion after opinion about the “validity” of MLIS programs, and whether MLIS graduates are really ready to enter the workforce after graduation. Early this semester, I expressed my opinion regarding this in response to a discussion board post suggesting that MLIS graduates shouldn’t call themselves “librarians” until they have an undefined amount of experience. I also read several similar opinions throughout the semester, mostly from working librarians. That leaves me worried: if this degree is required to even apply for a rare and coveted library job, but working librarians aren’t going to take a new MLIS grad seriously, where will that leave me in a few years? As a young MLIS student that changed careers, I hope this doesn’t put me at any disadvantage when job searching. Plus, that kind of thinking seems regressive and paranoid, and it worries me that these might be the biases of library professionals.

9. Libraries are changing, and that’s a good (and exciting) thing.

Though I too have many romantic notions about what a library “should” be, I am not afraid of change (as a journalist, you can’t afford to be). And so, I am actually very excited about the future of libraries, and what the institution will become in the coming years. Unlike a certain mayor in Florida who believes that “the age of the library is probably ending”, I firmly believe libraries can and will find ways to reinvent themselves to meet modern information needs. In fact, I think both public and academic libraries have the potential of becoming important community gathering places and information hubs – an exciting move that will not only redefine a library’s role, but how change the ways communities interact.

10. Librarians, and libraries, are critical in a working democracy.

This is a truth that I believe in now more than ever. I believe, however, that it’s best stated by Kathleen de la Pena McCook and Katharine Phenix in their essay, “Human Rights, Democracy and Librarians”:

We librarians have opportunities like no other profession also to be powerful human rights advocates by performing our work mindful of the information barrier we break down with every open library door.

Amen.

References

Candea, B. (2013). “Cuts coming to Miami-Dade County libraries.” Post Newsweek. Miami, FL. Retrieved from http://www.local10.com/cuts-coming-to-miamidade-county-libraries.

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

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Revisiting Early Assumptions and Assertions

When I started this course 12 weeks ago, I had little background or knowledge about the world of professional librarians. Twelve weeks later, I still have a lot to learn.

However, upon revisiting my early assumptions and assertions about the profession, as discussed during the first few weeks of the course, I have to say that not too much has changed. Librarians do some amazing work for their communities, and their discerning eye for information will be absolutely critical as we enter a more digital age.  Much like I originally assumed, librarians aren’t confined behind circulation desks, shushing patrons and stamping books. They are managing databases, launching socially-minded programming for underserved populations, teaching people basic computer skills, and helping young children discover the love of reading.

Still, this course has given a deeper knowledge of libraries and how librarians work, and so let’s revisit those early assumptions and see how times have changed.

  • Librarians are there to help people.

By all accounts, I very much believe this to still be true. Librarians are part of the service profession, and meeting users’ needs make up a large part of librarians’ day-to-day job.

Thinking of how librarians best help their communities came out most clearly in my class’s discussions of various ethical case studies. We looked at how librarians interact with young people, the homeless and negligent parents – and how ethical library protocol should balance meetings the needs of all users. Should a librarian step in when a young person tries to check out a book on suicide? Is it right to drive the homeless away from a public library because of personal prejudices? Should librarians call the police if a parent leaves their young child alone for hours at a time? Helping others seems simple when you’re answering basic reference questions. When you’re dealing with ethics, things become a little more complicated.

  • Libraries protect and preserve information, because information is valuable

In my original blog post, I said that “libraries provide a massive public service, keeping track of our culture’s history and the way it expresses itself.” I still believe this. In fact, I believe it now more than ever after studying digital preservation as part of a group project this semester. At our blog, Preservation in the Digital Space, we looked at ways digital archivists are preserving and cataloging “traditional” content, as well as content that was born digital. Personally, I explored the work of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, a fascinating project that seeks to preserve digital content for future generations. Digital preservation is a vitally important field going forward, and it’s a chance for librarians to take the lead in protecting our country’s heritage. I can’t imagine a better mission.

  • Libraries work toward improving access to information.

When I first made this assertion, I was thinking primarily about digital librarianship. I was thinking about librarians finding new ways to manage and provide access to the vast store of digital content produced everyday, from blog posts, to Tweets, to Wikipedia articles. Because this is the direction I see my career going (hopefully), I was focused on finding relevance and making information useful to a generation that increasingly relies on digital sources for their information.

What I wasn’t thinking about was the basic function of access – making books, information, computers and resources accessible for everyone, specifically our society’s most underserved populations. No matter what happens with physical books – whether or when they will be supplanted by e-books and e-readers – libraries are vitally important places in a community. They are a completely democratic institution where anyone – regardless of their race, socio-economic status or education level – can find any and all the information they need to survive. Recent events have sought to undermine this mission, specifically, the news that the mayor of Miami-Dade is shuttering 22 libraries in Florida to avoid a tax increase. The cited reason for the closures: “People have said that the age of the library is probably ending.” The loss of these libraries will be felt throughout the Miami-Dade community, particularly among its poorest residents who need the libraries’ free computer and Internet access. If libraries (particularly public libraries) are going to survive, they need to remember their mission to provide access to all, and make it their rallying cry during budget wars.

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

And they will. Going forward, I find the future of digital libraries and digital collections to be particularly fascinating, as is the struggle to transform traditional libraries into the thriving, bustling public spaces they need to be. The information profession is changing fast – whether you’re working as a computer programmer, a jounalist, or the CEO of Yahoo. Everyone’s job descriptions are changing, everyone is adapting. Librarians need to not be afraid of those frontlines, and instead should embrace change as a way to survive, thrive and do our jobs even better.

Blogging About Professional Blogs

I’ve long been a fan of “book blogs,” whether they were written by publishers, editors, librarians or just simple readers like myself. Book people are some of my favorite people, and over the years, I’ve taken up following various librarians on Twitter as well (though their blogs probably wouldn’t be considered “professional”).

And so, this exercise was an natural extension of what I’m already doing. I began following Annoyed Librarian, who now writes a blog on the Library Journal website, and The Travelin’ Librarian, written by a technology innovation librarian for the Nebraska Library Commission, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

By far, my favorite is Annoyed Librarian, who describes herself as “possibly the most successful, respected, and desirable librarian of her generation.” The tagline for her blog is “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It,” and it shows. She brings a highly contrarian perspective to the librarian blogging game, though she blogs quite frequently and on timely and important topics in the library industry. Recent blog posts include a report on the Declaration for the Right to Libraries, a rant about “hipster librarians” and a discussion of the Highland Park High School library here in Metro Detroit, where school officials recently tossed thousands of books on African American history.

Though a little too snarky at times, I do enjoy reading the Annoyed Librarian because she keeps well abreast of current events in the library world and facilitates a lively and healthy discussion of these topics in the comment section. Librarians from all over read the Annoyed Librarian, and many times, the discussion is just as educational and informative as the blog post itself.

Of course, I also became a little annnoyed – at the Annoyed Librarian, that is. It can be refreshing to read bloggers that bring a certain level of down-to-earth realism to an industry, exposing its fallacies and stripping down high-minded philosophies into what it really means for working librarians. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that she’s funny and entertaining to read. Still, I found her tirades against Masters programs in library and information science at a little …. small-minded? The Annoyed Librarian has some kind of issue with new library school graduates and their apparent inability to cope with the professional world. For some reason, we’re all young, naive and want to “change the world”, though we’re not exactly sure how we want to do that. Well of course, that’s what graduate school is for – it’s a place where you’re allowed to be young (let’s not discuss the job prospects for 22-year-olds graduating from college because they’re depressing), naive and idealistic. It is school, after all. But that, I’m afraid, is a discussion for another time.

The other blog I’m following is The Travelin’ Librarian, written by Michael Sauers from Lincoln, Nebraska. The Travelin’ Librarian is more of a personal blog for Sauers in a lot of ways; alongside posts on library issues are briefs about Dr. Who and quirky news bits like “Life-size gorilla sculpture dressed as Freddie Mercury removed from city centre display in bizarre copyright row with Aids charity.”

But what I like about Sauers’ blog is that he’s a technology expert and the issues he discusses on his Tumblr-like blog is a reflection of that. He brings together pressing tech issues, including controversial Twitter ads, why Google killed its RSS reader, as well as “Tuesday Tech Tips”, like how to find links on Firefox (so useful!). As someone looking to study digital librarianship further, these are subjects that I want, and need, to know about.

My only beef with The Travelin’ Librarian is that his blog is too much like Tumblr. Some of the most interesting posts are simply excerpts from other articles elsewhere and links. Very rarely will you get Sauers’ commentary on these issues. But then, that is the nature of Tumblr and blogging nowadays – so many bloggers are moving away from in-depth, researched pieces in favor of quick “micro-blogging”, whether that’s in the form of Twitter, Tumblr or some other iteration. It makes The Travelin’ Librarian easy to read, but does not foster much discussion.

As a side note, I do want to give a quick mention to one of my favorite, “non-professional” librarian blogs out there, Bookavore. The author is a former bookstore manager and now works in readers advisory at a public library while also earning her MLIS. She’s funny and writes fascinating commentaries on libraries, technology, bookselling and the book industry as a whole. 

Comparative Analysis of Professional Journals

For this exercise, I decided to explore two tracks in the library and information science profession that I will most likely not be following during my career: medical and law libraries. Though my goal is to work at an academic library and law libraries are a part of that world (at least, law school libraries are), these are two very specialized branches of the profession – both of which I am unfortunately not passionate enough about, nor am I academically equipped to be an expert in either field. However, I wanted to explore these very specialized branches of the profession and in particular, look at how their respective journals address various issues. What kind of language do they use? Do they take the same broad approach to topics as, say, a journal published by the American Library Association would? What are the pressing issues currently facing medical and law librarians?

For this exercise, I chose the Journal of the Medical Library Association and the Law Library Journal. Here’s what I found:

Journal of the Medical Library Association

  • Publisher: Medical Library Association
  • Mission: “The Journal of the Medical Library Association is an international, peer-reviewed journal published quarterly that aims to advance the practice and research knowledge base of health sciences librarianship.”
  • Intended Audience: Health and health sciences librarians and other information professionals working with medical research institutions, hospitals, medical schools, etc.
  • Price: $190 a year for second-class mail; $220 a year for first-class mail; $250 a year for those outside the US, Canada and Mexico. Limited number of back issues available for $80 each.
  • Materials Published: “The JMLA welcomes the submission of any original manuscript that seeks to improve the practice of health sciences librarianship or information provision in health or biological sciences or articulates developments and history of the profession and related fields. The JMLA also welcomes manuscripts that extend the knowledge base through research on the organization, delivery, use and impact of information on health care, biomedical research, and health professionals’ education.”The journal publishes full-length papers, systematic reviews, research reports, case studies, comments and opinions, and letters to the editor. Recently, the journal changed its submission categories, eliminating a “Brief Communcations” category while adding “Research Reports” and “Systematic Reviews.”
  • Peer Reviewed? Members of the JMLA editorial board evaluate all manuscripts with the exception of the “Janet Doe Lecture on the history and philosophy of medical librarianship”, proceedings on MLA meetings, columns and other opinion pieces, obituaries and book reviews. The board reviews pieces for scope and whether they meet minimum submission requirements.Otherwise, the journal uses a double-blind peer review process, in which reviewers don’t know the identity of the author, and authors don’t know who reviewed their manuscript.
  • Instructions to Authors: Authors are instructed to follow a “Key Information Checklist” before submitting their manuscripts to ensure papers have everything from a proper introduction to correct method citations.  Various manuscript types have specific instructions as well. For example, all full-length papers must have an abstract of not more than 250 words, with the total paper not exceeding 5,000 words with up to six illustrations.The journal asks that manuscripts conform to the “Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals,” otherwise known as Vancouver Style.
  • Characteristics of Interest: I found this journal interesting because, on first glance, it reminded me of a medical journal rather than journal for library and information science professions. Many of the articles seemed like they would fit in well among the pages of an ordinary medical journal, such as “Mapping the literature of addiction treatment” and “Mapping the literature of radiation therapy.”Still, after reading the abstracts for a few more articles, I realized that perhaps the research and reports found in JMLA aren’t so different than what one may find in an ALA journal. Two of the most requested JMLA articles from the past year, in fact, were ones that I believe any librarian would be interested in: “Breaking the barriers of time and space: the dawning of the great age of librarians” and “Applications of information and communication technologies in libraries in Pakistan.” While health libraries may be their focus, these topics illustrate how interconnected the library science industry really is.

Law Library Journal

  • Publisher: American Association of Law Libraries
  • Mission: Law Library Journal has been the ‘official’ publication of the Association since 1908. It is published quarterly and distributed to members directly. … Scholarly articles on law, legal materials, and librarianship are the mainstay of the journal.”
  • Intended Audience: Librarians working in law offices, in the legal profession or at law school libraries.
  • Price: $110 per year
  • Materials Published: The journal publishes practice-orientated articles, proceedings of the business sessions of the AALL’s annual meeting and historical records of the profession and association. Submissions aimed at all types of law libraries and at all areas of library operations are encouraged. Various approaches to topics are welcomed, from case studies to commentaries.
  • Peer Reviewed? Articles submitted to the LLJ are not peer-reviewed, but edited by a specific editor in order to “remove any ambiguities in the presentation.” The editor also assists authors to more effectively communicate their ideas.
  • Instruction to Authors: Authors are instructed to follow The Bluebook for all style issues, including textual references and footnotes. Otherwise, for all matters not covered in The Bluebook, authors should follow the Chicago Manual of Style. the AALL also outlines what manuscripts should include, including a title and author page, an abstract and footnotes.
  • Characteristics of Interest: I was surprised by what I saw as the relatively relaxed editorial standards of the LLJ, particularly their lack of using the peer-review process to evaluate prospective manuscripts. This seems like a valuable process to me, though perhaps it is omitted due to the relatively un-“scientific” nature of the articles (at least compared to the JMLA). Because of this, one can assume the number of articles submitted every year is relatively reasonable, considering one editor (at the moment Janet Sinder from the Brooklyn Law School Library) must review and edit all manuscripts. The lack of peer review may also be indicative that this journal is strongly tied to the AALL and its mission, leaving more research-heavy studies to other similar journals.

Compare/Contrast

I found that the biggest difference between the two journals, as I noted above, is the lack of the peer-review process at the LLJ, compared to the JMLA’s intense, double-blind peer review process. This is critical and, I believe, indicative of the steps the library and information science profession need to take to gain more academic credibility. Many, if not most, major academic journals function using a peer-review process. It ensures reports and papers are appropriate for that publication, are editorially sound and feature arguments that are both original and advance important research. Publications using this method are, in many ways, more credible and seem much more likely to be used by professionals besides librarians. As I mentioned, I was particularly impressed with the breadth of subjects addressed in JMLA. I can see hospital administrators or medical researchers using the journal and thus, validating the work of health librarians.

On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than law librarians using LLJ, which is perhaps their goal. However, it’s easy to forget the importance of special libraries at places like law firms and hospitals, and if these libraries want to survive, librarians must find a way to appeal to everyone working in the sector – not just the librarians.

I was also surprised at the varied style requirements for both journals. Upon beginning my MLIS degree, I had to learn APA style, which seemed an appropriate style guide for research papers and case studies. “This is what librarians use,” I told myself. However, librarians clearly must become acquainted with many, many more styles during their career, if the style requirements for these two journals alone are any indication.

Still, I thought it was considerate how much help each journal offers to aspiring manuscript writers, reminding them how to outline their reports and what to include in each section, from the abstract to the conclusion. I would think journal submission would be second nature to librarians (or, at least something they learned during library school) – apparently not!

“Journal of the Medical Library Association.” (2013) Medical Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.mlanet.org/publications/jmla/.

“Law Library Journal.” (2013). American Association of Law Libraries. Retrieved from http://www.aallnet.org/main-menu/Publications/llj.