Monthly Archives: March 2010

This Librarian’s Blog Name Says It All

In a recent Sudden Thoughts and Second Thoughts I asked – in a not so direct way – what ACRLog readers wanted us to write about – and a few of you shared your thoughts – though I really didn’t expect that. One comment in particular stood out and I wanted to share it with ACRLog readers. This one comes from Elizabeth, who writes:

I’m a newly graduated LIS student trying to break into the world of academic librarianship. I’m having an extremely hard time getting interviews, so I would love a little real-world advice. Most of my classmates are still unemployed, so I know there are many of us out there who love some first-hand advice on getting a job and what being an academic librarian is really like.

What made me most want to mention Elizabeth’s comment was the name of her blog, which tells you everything you need to know about her situation and her interest in the topic: The Adventures of an Unemployed Librarian.

Just the fact that we have a new-to-the-profession colleague coming up with a blog name like that should somehow concern us. It’s encouraging to know we have enthusiastic folks who want to break into our world of academic librarianship, but it’s disappointing that we have so little to offer them. Let’s see if we can help Elizabeth and her classmates by responding to her two questions: (1) advice on how to get a job and (2) what it’s like to be an academic librarian.

My not-so-original primary piece of advice is to start getting library experience early and often in your developing career. Take advantage of every opportunity to land an internship (in the Philadelphia region several academic libraries offer them) or possibly a part-time position. It may offer only limited professional experience, but more importantly you’ll be getting exposure to the environment and people. You need to start building your network early. If your region has any sort of local library association for academic librarians (in the past the Philadelphia region has had a number of informal groups that were not affiliated with ACRL) try to get involved – or at least attend meetings. It’s a good way to start connecting with other academic librarians who can provide advice and support. In my academic libraries course (which I’m unfortunately not teaching for the first time in seven years – being replaced by a full-time faculty member – for now) my project assignment requires the students to get out to academic libraries to interview librarians. If Elizabeth had an assignment like that at some point in her LIS education I don’t think she’d be asking, post-graduation, what it’s like to be an academic librarian. Our future professionals should be finding out the answer to that question while they’re in the LIS program. Meredith gave some advice that could help with respect to positioning yourself for letting potential employers know who you are and what you’ve accomplished in your career path to date. I advocate starting a portfolio of your work early on in graduate school, and keeping it up to date and accessible to potential employers.

Elizabeth, if you and your fellow unemployed students have heard all that advice before, you have my apologies for my failure to provide enlightenment. Let me see if I can do better on your second question. I could go on for several thousand words on what it’s like to be an academic librarian. In fact, I have. My first piece of advice is to take a look at an article I wrote a few years ago titled “Passion For Academic Librarianship: Find It, Keep It, Sustain It–A Reflective Inquiry”. PORTAL: LIBRARIES AND THE ACADEMY 3(4):633-642, October 2003. I think it will give you my perspective on what it’s like to be an academic librarian. But there are many perspectives, which is why you can help yourself by using time you may have now to go to academic libraries in your area to meet and talk with academic librarians. I know this sounds like an awkward thing to do, but I’m sure most academic librarians would be glad to have a cup of coffee with you and tell you about their job and their take on the profession. Try not to be totally random though; try to get recommendations from an experience colleague. So if you have any contacts in your area (if you don’t get in touch and perhaps I can find a good one for you) ask that person for some advice on good folks with which to chat.

A final thought about Elizabeth’s blog. I think it can help to have a thoughtful blog. As a potential employer I might like to see if someone is intellectually curious, and what sort of issues they are thinking about through the posts they write. If a potential job candidate is expressing an interest in academic librarianship, how is that reflected in their blog posts? I’d consider re-thinking the title of the blog. It might be better to have something with a more positive spin that reflects an interest in academic librarianship. What about “The Adventures of a Future Academic Librarian”? Or if you are really interested in what it’s like to be an academic librarian, start writing some profiles of academic librarians and what they do. Call the blog something like “What it Means to be an Academic Librarian”, and use it to learn about the profession as you explore the issues of the day.

What other advice do ACRLog readers have for Elizabeth and her classmates?

Seeking The Killer Connector For A Social Academic Library Site

Editors Note: I recently had the great pleasure of delivering a talk at the McKeldin Library at the University of Maryland. Afterwards Gavin Brown, Manager, Digital Technology Interface Services at the University of Maryland Libraries, and I chatted about ways in which academic libraries could do more to make their web sites social. Brown had some interesting insights, and we exchanged some ideas and resources in subsequent messages. I wondered if ACRLog readers have thought about these issues as well, considering how to invite more social interaction with the students and faculty. I asked Brown to share his thoughts in this guest post. ACRLog greatly appreciates this contribution from Gavin Brown.

Steve Jobs once famously said of new technology, “You’ve got to have a killer app to succeed.” App is short for application, but he wasn’t referring to a software program, he was referring to the laser printer, which was what he felt would help the Macintosh computer succeed by making high quality printing available at a low price.

I work at an ARL library and we are currently investigating the possibility of “going social,” that is to say, adding social tools to our web presence to see if that makes it more appealing to the wifired-iphone-mobile-kindle-geolocated-always-connected-engage-me-or-I’m-gone generation.

Social tools aren’t exactly new to me – I’ve been on Facebook and MySpace, as well as some Musician-oriented sites (I am a composer) for a couple of years, but I haven’t tried to implement them in a traditional organization.

I’ve read Seth Godin and I think he’s on to something. He gave an example of how social websites can succeed by connecting communities to each other – threadless.com, which sells T-shirts. The company has no designers. All the shirts are designed by customers. Other customers come on to the site, buy the T-shirts, do reviews of them, make comments. Customers engage with each other to create the “experience that is threadless.com”

I recently discussed threadless.com with my assistant, a library school student, and we tried to think of how the model of connecting communities might apply to our website. But what communities? Subject Specialists with Faculty? Students with Librarians? All our answers seemed boring and pointless. Why would these groups of people care to engage each other through our web site? We couldn’t answer the question.

Then my assistant made the point that what is important to identify is not the communities, but the “thing” which connects them. In the threadless model, the connector is T-shirts.People like talking to each
other about the designs. It was interesting to them. So we began looking at social sites of all sorts of different types to see if we could find the connector and determine what was interesting about it. And we found it over and over. On Couchsurfing.com, people around the world offer their couches to people who travel around the world, saving hotel costs. The site features a world map with pins in it wherever a couch may be found. Travelers and Couchsters discuss the travel and the aspects of the city the couch is in. On Flixster.com, people discuss and rate movies. On Ravelry.com, which is about knitting, the customers trade knitting patterns. On 43Things.com, people select life goals like “buy an electric car,” or “get rid of unnecessary possessions” and connect and talk to each other about them. The point we took away from this investigation was: find something that is interesting to people and they will connect to each other using it, the “Killer Connector.”

In an academic research library setting, what could this be? We first thought of books, but that felt very”1.0,” so we put that aside, at least for the moment. The ideas we came up with were – major, class, professor, location in the building, research topics. In the case of the major – would students in the same major want to connect and communicate with each other about their major? Would faculty use it to connect to students? Would a subject librarian who advises on the major be able to share research ideas or otherwise advise students through the major? Would librarian faculty liaisons connect with faculty through the major? We had similar discussions about the other ideas. One idea we dismissed was clubs – we figured the clubs would already have made use of Ning or Facebook or some other social tool and we didn’t want to compete with that. Our idea had to give our users something they couldn’t already get elsewhere and were unlikely to build on their own, a sort of “procial” network – a professional network for discussing and enhancing the academic experience, but with social aspects.

Our discussions about seeking the “Killer Connector” continue. Soon we’ll be talking to the students and seeing what they think.

Other articles we ran across in our travels which we are also considering:

http://mashable.com/2009/09/15/social-news-sites/ (strategies for maximizing visibility and usability of social tools on your site)

http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/5-steps-to-building (how to build your social experience so that people will want to use it)

Special thanks to Jacqueline Carrell for her contributions to this article.

Not So Native?

You may have seen a few news items recently about the millennial generation and technology. Last month’s issue of Sociological Inquiry published an article by Eszter Hargittai describing differences in internet skills among college students. And an article in The Economist last week quotes several scholars who emphasize that digital natives are not necessarily as familiar with new media technologies as we often assume. The post about both of these articles over at Prof Hacker makes many additional good points on the topic, as do the commenters.

I have to admit that I’ve never been a fan of many of the generalizations about millennials and their technology skills. I’m fairly tech savvy despite being nowhere near college age, and many of my colleagues are, too. I also know many folks my age and younger who are reluctant (and less savvy) technology users. In my experience interest is a far more accurate predictor of technology adoption than age. Our students are familiar with the tech tools they use every day–cellphones, text messaging, social networking, etc.–in the same way anyone can grow comfortable with repeated use of common technologies.

However, I’m not surprised to see the reports that current college students are much less tech savvy than the digital natives moniker so often used to describe them would lead us to believe. I’m sure this is familiar to many of us from our interactions with students, whether at the reference desk, in instruction sessions or elsewhere in the library. Somewhat more disturbing (though not entirely surprising) are the results of Hargittai’s research which reveal that skillful use of the internet tracks closely to socioeconomic status.

Academic libraries have widely adopted new technologies across the spectrum of our services, and I see these reports as encouragement for us to continue along that path. For students who are tech experts, using current digital tools is a way to connect with them where they are and to make them aware of our resources and services. And for those students who are less comfortable or experienced with technology, the library can help expose them to these new technologies and the many options for their use. But I’d also caution that we can’t let the new sweep away the old quite yet. They may be old-fashioned, but there’s still a place in our libraries for posters and handouts alongside those newcomers Twitter and blogs.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Have Your Librarian Buy My Outrageously Expensive Book

It was quite considerate of this blogger to share with his readers news of his soon-to-be-available book, and to show deep concern and remorse for their inability to purchase it because a print copy for individuals costs a mere $180. Not to worry if you can’t afford it he tells his readers. He even suggests they’d be crazy to buy a copy at that price. But there’s an easy solution to this problem. It’s found right in the title of the blog post: Tell Your Librarian. That’s right folks. Just march on over to the library and tell your friendly neighborhood librarian to purchase a copy today. But wait. There’s more. Your librarians will be overjoyed to learn that my publisher actually has multiple pricing schemes for my outrageously expensive book, meaning they can spend even more of the limited book budget to add it to their collection. Just take a look at these bargains:

Sure looks like a bargain to me

Sure looks like a bargain to me


Fantastic. Let’s buy two of them.

The moral of this story: Everyone knows that academic libraries have deep, deep pockets, and they can be readily exploited by authors and publishers who will encourage faculty to demand ridiculously expensive books based on a pricing model that makes absolutely no sense. It may be that this book is the best in its field. I don’t know. But at this price can we afford to find out? Talk about a broken system.

Only Ten Minutes a Day?

I’ve always thought that if the academic library profession had a younger age demographic (the average age is just shy of 50) we’d have more readership at ACRLog. Just based on anecdotal evidence, many of the senior librarians I speak with are not ACRLog readers. They don’t have something against ACRLog. They just never got into the habit of reading librarian blogs. Print publications were always good enough for them. Now we may have some evidence that there’s some truth to this. According to a recent Primary Research Group study that surveyed 555 full-time academic librarians, they average only 10 minutes of blog reading a day. And the older a librarian is (I’m just basing this on what I read about the study – no way did I consider buying a copy – it’s not that important) the more likely he or she spends the bulk of their “keeping up” time with print publications. The demographics of ACRL aside (average member age is about 50), I’d like to think that we’ve been able to reach a good number of the younger demographic of our profession, the ones who are less likely to be ACRL members.

But my overall reaction to reading about this study was “you have to be kidding me”. Am I the only one who spends about 90 minutes a day with blogs, listservs, email newsletter, twitter feeds, etc., all in an effort to stay alert to what’s happening in and beyond our profession? If there was ever a time to be spending more time on keeping up, this is it.

What Do You Want Me To Write About Anyway?

I can’t even remember how long it’s been since we last did a survey to find out what you ACRLog readers really want us to write about. You no doubt gave us some good ideas which we most likely completely ignored. Write more about information literacy! What do you think this is? A library journal? Write more about tenure and titles for academic librarians! Yes, I want people intensely hating on me for the next month. Write about yourself Steven! Talk about a boring topic, and besides, other bloggers have this territory covered quite well. The problem of trying to figure out what ACRLog readers want us to write about may be solved by software – from our friends at IBM. You see, IBM had a problem. They had all these blogs for their employees to use to share important ideas about IBM. But hardly anyone was blogging and when they did hardly anyone was reading what they wrote – sounds like most blogs. As their guru put it:

The writers surveyed often weren’t sure how to interest readers, and many of their posts got little to no response. Readers, on the other hand, couldn’t find blogs on the topics they wanted to read about.

That’s a great problem find – how do you match what the readers what to read with the bloggers who are writing about that stuff – or put another way – how do you create the blogs that have the stuff the readers want. Being IBM, they created some new software to solve the problem.

So Geyer and his colleagues built a widget to bring these two halves of the problem closer together. Readers use the widget to suggest topics they want to read about, and they can vote in support of existing suggestions. Those suggestions then get sent to possible writers, matching topics to writers by analyzing his social network connections and areas of expertise. The researchers found that writers were most likely to post on a topic suggested by a sizeable audience, and that audience members followed up by read posts on requested topics.

I really like this idea. So much so that I just submitted a request to ACRL for funds to buy it from IBM. While I’m waiting for approval on that request, I guess we’ll just continue to write about whatever we want. But if you do have a good idea for a topic or you want to write a guest post for us – just use “Story Idea” link on our home page to let us know the blogging topics you’d like your favorite bloggers to blog about.

Now Is The Time To Get ALA Annual On Your Mind

Editor’s Note: Last month we shared news about our new ACRLog-ALA Emerging Leaders Group. Each month one of our Emerging Leaders will contribute a guest post, and each will focus on some aspect of gearing up for the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. To get the series started this month’s post is from Wendy Girven, Public Services Librarian at University of Alaska Southeast.

Spring is in the air, which means before you know it, ALA Annual will be upon us. This year’s conference is in the nation’s capital, Washington DC, which coincidentally, is where my first Annual conference was while I was still a LIS student in 2007. My conference goals involved attending a session during every time slot, finding a job, and coming home with a few new books and ideas. Then I walked in the door of the convention center and was lost in a sea of people. I must admit, I was overwhelmed by the size! Luckily, a few friends showed me the ropes of finding out where to get my badge, figuring out the conference buses, and getting to the new member orientation programs.

One of these programs that you can attend is the ACRL 101 session (with breakfast!) during the conference, where you can meet others who are new to ACRL, and make connections with librarians who are interested in/work in academic libraries. If you are in library school and have yet to decide the path you might want to choose for your career, ACRL 101 session offers a chance to explore. In addition to that meeting, there are mini-sessions held on the exhibit floor. All of these ACRL 101 sessions have an informal feeling and provide opportunity to learn names and faces. (I’ll be at each of the mini-sessions this year, come say hi!).

The main lesson I learned from my first ALA was not to worry about hitting the most possible events, but to prepare yourself to be ready for all of the opportunities that can arise spontaneously. So, to prepare for spontaneity, here is some advice I solicited from seasoned conference attendees (with my own two cents added in) on getting yourself around, what to wear, where to eat, etc.:

• Wear comfortable shoes! I can’t emphasize this enough. There is a lot of walking.
• Bring a water bottle with you – and a snack. You might not have time to grab a meal.
• Attend social events in the evening. Most ACRL sections have a soiree or social one night so that people have a chance to mix and mingle in a more relaxed setting. As a new conference attendee, I found these events a much less intimidating way to network. Plus, people attend these for the purpose of socialization and making connections, so chat it up!
• Think about where you choose to stay. Consider rooming with a friend to cut down on the cost. It’s great to be within walking distance of the Convention Center and the HQ hotels, but you may pay more to stay there. There are many conference hotels connected to the convention center via free shuttle bus, Staying farther away can mean cheaper rates, but increased travel time. For instance, I stayed at the dorm housing and the commute took me an hour each way. Would I do that again? Probably not. Whatever you do, prepare early – as soon as the hotel availability announcements are made – to get your preferred hotel (take some advice from StevenB – scroll down to the third item in this post).
• If you see someone whose name you recognize from a list-serv, etc., don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. A big part of attending the conference is making connections with other librarians (and vendors!) If you’re like me and sometimes a little shy, remember that most librarians are friendly and like to help people. I have a goal this year to talk to at least three new people a day.
• Go to the exhibit hall. Pick up a bag (or two) and stuff it full. There is a post office on the exhibit hall and you can mail your swag to yourself instead of carrying it around all day. The exhibit hall is big (read: giant), so build ample time into your schedule for it. If you can stay until the last day the exhibits are open, schedule a 2-3 hour block to cover it all. On the last day the exhibits are way less crowded, so you’ll have more time to talk to the vendors, get personalized demos, and be treated to the remaining swag. (Side note: If you are a book lover, there are many free gallery copies available too.)
• Join the social networking! Follow along with conference via hashtags (#) and be sure to add your own thoughts. I find it an easier way to break the ice with other attendees as well as being able to get input about sessions and events that are creating a buzz.
• Attend poster sessions during the conference. At my first ALA I found it much easier to talk to people at the poster sessions. After checking out the posters, I had the confidence to submit a proposal the following year.
• Bring business cards with you. I forgot them at my first conference and kept regretting that fact throughout the week. You’ll see a lot of new faces, and exchanging cards will help you carry those connections home with you. If you are a student or don’t have a card, you can get some printed up locally or online for cheap. It’s worth it, I promise.
• Be Flexible! All my best laid plans get changed at some point during the conference. Make the most of it!

Remember, if you have questions—Ask! We librarians are generally a friendly bunch. Also, Look for upcoming OnPoint Chats for new ACRL members and first time attendees, check out the Annual FAQ, and look at the Emerging Leader’s ALA Connect page for more information on getting familiarized with ACRL. Also check out the pieces of advice other academic librarians are giving (you can pick up other tips by following the ALA Annual hashtag on Twitter – when it’s up and running). See you in Washington!