All posts by Dylan Burns

What We Know and What They Know: Scholarly Communication, Usability, and Un-Usability.

Over the past handful of years, a lot of digital ink has been spilled on library responses to #icanhazpdf, SciHub, and, most recently, the #Twitterlibraryloan movement. This hit home in my life because  in recent discussion with students at my University, we found that students told us outright that they used SciHub because of its ability to “get most things.”

How we talk about piracy with our patrons is an important topic for discussion, and places a tremendous amount of emphasis on the ethics of a for-profit publishing model. But it places librarians in a precarious situation defending publishing practices that build barriers to research.

SciHub Pirates, from the Rjiksmuseum in Amsterdam. Schip van de schrijver Jean de Thevenot door zeerovers overmeesterd, Jan Luyken, 1681














Lydia Thorn wrote an excellent piece about teaching professors and students about the importance of legal means of acquisition, pointing to an expectation of immediate access and declining library budgets as culprits in this explosion of piracy. Thorn suggests pointing to the ways in which piracy hurts small presses and not-for-profit publishers and how the library can and should fill these needs. She also suggests that we point to several open models that provide access to materials without the illegality of piracy.

Switching gears slightly, it reminds me of the difficulties I have in working with faculty on online scholarly profiles. Because I administer DigitalCommons@USU, and its profiling system Selected Works, I am often confronted with faculty and students who use the for-profit academic profiling systems (I’m using this difficult phrase to talk about the systems that we all know but I’d rather not name) that are extremely popular across the world and across disciplines.

What brings these two examples and issues together is the way in which we, as librarians, promote ourselves as experts in this realm and how, in a lot of ways, our strategies for promoting our services fall flat. Faculty are not cynical monsters who actively search for ways to be “anti-library,” but make rational choices that fit what they need. They aren’t very often knowledgeable about the inner working of collection development or the serials crisis but they are knowledgeable about what they need right now in their academic careers.

I explain to my faculty, much like Thorn suggests, that the for-profit profiling systems are sometimes deceptive, corporate, and, often times, include illegal materials. While the illegality of the for-profit profiles often reaches faculty, who want to avoid any legal entanglements, the prevalence of these systems does not seem to be waning. The library’s 100% legal version pales in popularity in comparison to the others, who are often much more popular in certain fields. Who am I to tell professors not to choose these options in academic areas where for-profit profiles are more valuable than the library’s resources? Despite my feelings to the contrary, sometimes the for-profit profiles fit certain scholars well.

This brings me back to the issues surrounding SciHub and #Icanhazpdf. The important thing to remember about our users is that they spend much less time than we do worrying about these things. For them, the ease of use of a for-profit profile or a pirated pdf warehouse is an issue of access and not a preference towards profits or not-profits. While each choice we make as actors is political, I do not believe that our faculty who use these platforms are willfully ignorant or disloyal to their institutions, libraries, or librarians. They just want what they want, when they want it.

Carolyn Gardner and Gabriel Gardner speak to this in their College and Research Libraries article from earlier this year:

“Poor usability is also hindering our patrons from gaining access to materials. Librarians need to apply user experience thinking to all our online systems. At our respective libraries, we have to click multiple times just to discover if an item is own. Besides complicated discovery methods, software or holdings errors are possible…Librarians need to view these crowdsourced communities as alternatives that fill a gap that we have yet to meet as opposed to purely underground and shadowy communities.” (CRL February 2017 pg 144)

When the film and television industries felt the crunch from piracy they invested in Netflix and created Hulu, and when the music industry faltered we got Spotify and other streaming platforms. Each of these systems allowed for the quick access to media that users stole to gain access to. Libraries should view SciHub and for-profit profiling systems not as a betrayal but as a call to change and action. If SciHub is easier to use than the library we cannot blame our users if they use it over our complicated systems. If the for-profit profiling systems are superior to the library administered in someways, perhaps that is what our faculty are looking for.

We as librarians shouldn’t  “teach” our patrons to adapt to our obtuse and oftentimes difficult systems but libraries should adapt to the needs of our patrons. I really do not want to be at odds with my colleagues who call for education on these issues, because education is needed on these issues. After all, we are in the business of education. Yet, I believe that, in some ways, we should respect our faculty for what they do know. They know that they need resources to do their job. They should know that the library is often the best source for these resources. They also know that there are some platforms that provide easier access to these materials. I do not begrudge faculty who seek easier paths towards the resources they need to do their jobs, as much as I don’t begrudge undergraduates (or librarians) who use Wikipedia as a first source of quick info. It is a symptom of the age of easy access to materials online, and it is something that we as librarians should learn about what our scholars are looking for.

The second part of this is adpatation. We should not only respect our patron’s decision making processes but we should listen when  faculty seek sleazier means towards library services, and adapt to this need. If the for-profit profiles do something that my profiles don’t, I should think about ways to build my system to reflect those needs. If access to materials needs to be quicker than three clicks through our system, we should work to make it easier to gain legal access to materials. We shouldn’t claim that we know more than they do just because we deal with our obtuse systems on the daily, we should adapt to their needs when they arise.


HLS/ACRLog: Tweet your heart out?: Social Media and Expanding Professional Development

Today we welcome a post by Zohra Saulat as part of our collaboration with Hack Library School. Zohra Saulat is a second-year MLIS student and graduate assistant at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She plans on becoming an instructional and reference librarian. Through librarianship, she hopes to do her part in making information accessible. She likes cats, chai, and cardigans, as well as alliteration. She tweets occasionally @zohrasaulat.

From MySpace and Facebook to Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, social media is one the most radical developments in the past fifteen years, altering the way we do things and think about things. Information is everywhere. News is not just available through print newspapers, nor through the publisher’s website, but is disseminated via social media. Thus, discussions are no longer confined to a room, nor limited to face-to-face interactions, but conversations now also occur in digital space. We can share our ideas with others across the world. We are connected now more than ever. The way we communicate, present ourselves, and take in information has expanded thanks to social media.

Whether an individual or an institution, having an online presence is necessary to stay connected in today’s world. Many businesses and organizations have strategically increased their reach to target audiences through various social media platforms. Libraries, too, have been using social media to market their services and resources. Much has been written about how libraries can effectively utilize social media, but there is little literature on another fascinating trend: how librarians use personal social media accounts for professional development and networking.

Each social media platform has been designed for a unique purpose. LinkedIn is considered the typical platform used by a myriad professionals for networking. Librarians, ever the innovative bunch, are taking advantage of another platform to connect with each other professionally. Twitter, in particular, allows for librarians to easily discover other librarians and engage in both professional and personal discussion. Twitter was essentially created to quickly share bits of thoughts and information. A bit like a diary entry, a bit like the Facebook status and a bit like the comments section of an online newspaper, Twitter has naturally emerged as an alternative space to broadcast thoughts and have conversation regarding any and everything from politics, to pop culture, or the personal.

Librarians can find each other using hashtags (#library #librarians etc.). Twitter also offers suggestions on who users might be interested in following based on what they tweet or who they follow. Librarians may promote job postings and other professional opportunities. I’ve seen librarians actively seek out hotel roommates or organize meet-ups for conference trips. Often during LIS conferences, librarians at the conference as well as those who are not attending can follow the dialogue via a hashtag. Organized Twitter chats also take place. #Critlib, short for “critical librarianship” hosts bi-monthly Twitter chats on specific topics within librarianship. Hack Library School also hosted a Twitter chat earlier this year. Our profession is known for being progressive and socially conscious. Being able to discuss important topics and connect with librarians across the country, and around the globe, can potentially bring forth recognition and solutions to the issues we care about as a profession. Additionally, all of this fosters a supportive and inclusive professional support system outside of work.

However, there are a few drawbacks we should be cognizant of when identifying ourselves professionally on a personal and public account. Even though for the most part I have seen excellent use of social media amongst LIS professionals in managing the line between professional and personal, I have come across a few questionable, and even shocking, instances on Twitter. As a general rule of thumb, one should refrain from posting work gossip or any sort of “dirty laundry.” This etiquette may seem to be common sense, but I feel it is worth reiterating: if you are identifying yourself as a professional on a public account, even if it is a personal account, you should act professionally.

As someone who grew up using social media, I recognize that folks of my generation do have a tendency to overshare on social media. When discussing this issue with a few of my colleagues, some shared that they make a conscious decision to filter what they post: nothing too partisan, nothing too negative or whine-y. This may not be ideal to some, but the reality is that there can be consequences. Employers do look through social media accounts of prospective employees. I have even heard of an instance or two where seemingly qualified candidates were not offered interviews because they did not seem to be an “institutional fit.” Before even getting a chance to speak with the hiring committee, these candidates were eliminated based on an impression. This may be problematic or unfair, but it is the reality: Whether the impression is based off a few tweets or minimal interaction through in-person professional collaboration, it is similar.

Social media is an extension of ourselves. The way we post on social media undoubtedly imparts an impression to whoever sees it, whether an employer or an acquaintance. From our default picture, to our header image, our bio; however we chose to represent ourselves on social media may not necessarily be the full picture of who we are and can unfortunately be taken out of context.

This is not to say we cannot be political or voice our opinions, we just need to be conscious of how we represent ourselves and our place of employment. Many librarians issue a disclaimer in their Twitter bio that their tweets do not represent their employer. It can be easy to rant on social media. If you find yourself needing to vent about work or the job hunt that is perfectly acceptable, just don’t do it on public social media accounts where it can come back to bite you. If anything, you want to make yourself look good (i.e. employable) on social media; so take advantage of these platforms to highlight your achievements. Ultimately, as the name implies, as information professionals, we should be professional and be able to expertly manage information, including our own.

Though not exactly created for networking, Twitter has proven a great tool for professional development, especially for librarians. This post is merely intended to be exploratory. It will be interesting to see studies on how librarians can effectively use Twitter for professional development. However by then, I am sure there will be another tool or technology that librarians will be taking over.

Many thanks to ACRLog and Hack Library School for this opportunity.

HLS/ACRlog: How to Encourage and Assist New Subject Librarians

Today we welcome a post by Zoë McLaughlin as part of our collaboration with Hack Library School . Zoë McLaughlin is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan’s School of Information.  She plans to become an area studies librarian focused on Southeast Asia.  Her main area of focus is Indonesia, though lately she spends a lot of her time cataloging Malay-language books and learning Thai.  In her spare time, she translates Indonesian fiction and poetry, writes fiction, reads everything she can get her hands on, and dances.  Find her on Twitter, LinkedIn, or at her personal blog.


This summer, I attended a meeting that brought together a number of people with an interest in Southeast Asia, including subject librarians.  During the meeting, someone brought up the question of how to encourage and assist people who might want to become Southeast Asia subject librarians themselves.  I did not have any answers at the time, but I’ve since done some thinking about institutional memory, my current precarious-feeling position in the field, and what the future might hold.  With this in mind, I’d like to present some suggestions for encouraging and helping newcomers to Southeast Asia librarianship and to subject librarianship more broadly.

  1. Provide short-term opportunities

The internships I’ve completed have been invaluable in learning about a specialized field.  I can acquire general knowledge of library science in my classes, but working in a real working environment teaches new skills that I cannot learn anywhere else.  I’ve learned about Romanization tables and how to acquire government publications.  We didn’t talk about this in library school.

If you have a short-term project and you could use some help, please circulate that information.  While paid internships and other short-term opportunities are obviously ideal, publicize unpaid opportunities as well—I might be able to find the funding on my own.  This way, I can learn from you; you can get help with a project; and the commitment required from both of us is specific and relatively small.

  1. Provide extended opportunities

Again, I recognize that finding funding for anything, particularly something long-term, can be a challenge.  However, this is the most direct way to influence my professional trajectory and pass on institutional knowledge.  As I begin my own job search, I am considering applying to residencies as a way to get this sort of experience for myself.  That said, residencies are few and far between, especially ones with an area studies focus.

But imagine a residency geared specifically toward training new subject librarians.  This would provide space for new librarians to learn and for seasoned librarians to teach, while removing the pressures of working in what can often be a solitary subject librarian position.

A program such as this would take work to pull off, which leads me to my next point:

  1. Advocate from within your institution

Situated within a university, you are already positioned to advocate for change in a way that I am not.  Propose the creation of learning opportunities—short- and long-term—for emerging professionals to learn the intricacies of the field.  Large, institutional changes need to come from within.  Push for the creation of new residency programs or formalized internship programs.  Present your concerns about the future of the field to your library and ask for help in finding solutions.

  1. Provide guidance

If you are not in a position to provide large or extensive opportunities, your guidance and advice is still invaluable.  Let me know about conferences, meetings, and other events that you think might interest me or might benefit my professional growth.  I cannot stress how important it was when my mentor offhandedly mentioned that I might want to attend the Association for Asian Studies conference.  Not only did I learn much more about the profession simply from attending meetings at the conference, I also made contacts that led me to securing my summer internship.

Small conversations can also benefit me greatly: tell me about the path that led to your current job, tell me about how you track down hard-to-find books, tell me about useful contacts that you’ve made over the years and how you managed to make them.  Informal conversations can be as helpful as more formal opportunities.

  1. Foster partnerships between institutions

Especially in a field as small as Southeast Asian studies, we are spread out between institutions and locations.  New librarians are just at the beginning of their careers while others are retiring; the retention of institutional memory extends beyond a single university’s walls.  Working together, we can share knowledge and collaborate on projects larger than those within a single institution.  This can ensure broad continuity and smoother transitions moving forward.

Reach out and we can work together!  Ultimately, we’re both interested in furthering knowledge about our specific field, so let’s figure out ways to make that happen!

HLS/ACRLog: First Generation College Students and the Job Search with an MLIS

Today we welcome a post by Chloe Waryan as part of our collaboration with Hack Library School . Chloe Waryan is a MLIS candidate at the University of Iowa. She entered into the library field by way of urban public libraries, as a patron, a volunteer, and eventually an employee. She now works as a technical editor for an academic journal. Chloe’s professional interests include access, preservation, and outreach.

I am not sure if any time is “the best time” to choose to go to graduate school for library and information science, but 2016 was definitely an interesting choice. Growing up, I knew very few professionals with college degrees, so I was not prepared for the relative poverty that most graduate students live in today. Like many of my classmates, paying for library school is constantly on my mind, as it is the biggest purchase I’ve ever made. There is an immense privilege attached to going to college, yet it comes with an extreme price tag. Despite our oversharing culture, high tuition has become the new normal and it is hardly ever discussed. It’s a confusing time. Is it hypocritical for academics to complain about high tuition? Can students be against degree inflation while still being supportive of the education we are receiving? The hardest part of starting library school last year wasn’t the coursework or the final exams. It was attempting to wrestle with the value and the values of my soon-to-be-obtained MLIS.


We’ve all heard the phrase: “the college degree is becoming the new high school diploma!” This means that despite the high tuition, the college students today are not the elite. Students from all economic classes are awarded the great opportunity to attend college, with help from scholarships and loans. According to the 2010 study from the Department of Education, an estimated 50% of all college students currently enrolled are first generation college students (including myself), who are statistically at a greater risk for dropping out due to many factors, one being imposter syndrome.


Have you ever hesitated to apply for a job because you think you’re not qualified? That is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome has the potential to follow students not only through their bachelor’s programs, but their graduate programs and job search.  According to many postings on the ALAJoblist, one must have an MLIS to become an academic librarian. Often time, a second master’s degree or Ph.D. is preferred. Amidst the ever-changing environment of higher education, we are no longer advocating towards lifelong learning as “a key to longer, healthier, more satisfying and productive lives,” (Education and Continuous Learning, ALA) but rather, pushing “lifelong learning to stay employed,” (Kim, 2). If degree inflation continues in this rate, a Ph.D. will be required to hold a librarian position. If that becomes the case, who will we be excluding?


I admire librarians who have decades of library experience but no college degree. When I graduate, they will still be far more experienced than I. They are the toughest, smartest, kindest professionals, and I consider them pioneers in their field. My hero librarians have gained their expertise by working in a professional environment, taking classes as non-degree seeking students, critically thinking on their own, and of course, through reading books. They do not see gaining a library job as an endgame, but rather as an opportunity to potentially learn what they were not afforded to learn in college. If they applied for another job either laterally or higher up, they would not get the position because of their lack of formal education. Potential employers would be missing out on their creativity, productivity, and entrepreneurial spirit. I have also known librarians who have Ph.D.s who have seem to forgotten the core values of librarianship. We are working with two different sets of standards: one set is formal education and one set is experience. Hiring committees should be able to reflect in their postings that both sets have merit. If anyone can compromise between two different sets of standards, a librarian can.


By putting a college degree on a pedestal, we exclude others who have chosen not to get or who are barred from getting the education with which we are privileged. If degree inflation continues, I predict that the LIS field will include those who feel comfortable in an academic setting, thus excluding the first generation college students currently enrolled in America (which, as a reminder, is half of everyone currently enrolled in college). Why are we not hiring people who accurately represent the demographics of our school? I will add that this is not necessarily all our fault, as much of this comes from administration and union restraints, from the competitive job market and from our fear-driven economy. The anxiety and fear we face as library professionals in America right now is overwhelming. We can only try to be more welcoming to those who offer unique perspectives.


To be clear, I do not think that the MLIS isn’t valuable. It is a huge accomplishment. Aside from luck, convenience and privilege, I work towards a master’s degree because I want a job that I enjoy, and I want to prepare myself for that job through a combination of schooling and work. However, I must admit that the thought of applying for a job as an academic library is incredibly intimidating. I have heard stories about the all-day interviews. I have been told to save a few thousand dollars to travel to interviews. I have also been told to brush up on my dining etiquette because the casual lunch “counts.” Even after overcoming the struggles of a first generation college student, I fear that I am unemployable. As academic librarians, you have a responsibility to your students and your applicants. It is your responsibility to show these new faces that they have unique perspectives needed in their respective fields, their institution is proud to be represented by them, continuing education is something to be admired and it is never a burden to ask for help. You also have a responsibility to yourself. Show that the journey doesn’t end with the completion of the degree. Welcome and learn from your coworkers. Despite the larger issues in America, patience and compassion towards everyone, no matter what socioeconomic background, can create a new era in which everyone will want to become librarians.

Thank you to ACRLog and Hack Library School for this opportunity.  




Cardoza, Kavitha. “First-Generation College Students Are Not Succeeding in College, and

Money Isn’t the Problem.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 Jan. 2016,


“Education and Continuous Learning.” About ALA, American Library Association, 13 May 2013,


“Home.” First Generation Foundation, First Generation Foundation, 2013,


Kim, Bohyun. “Higher ‘Professional’ Ed, Lifelong Learning to Stay Employed, Quantified Self, and Libraries.” ACRLog, ACRL, 1 Apr. 2014,

HLS/ACRLog: Academic Librarianship: alt-ac and plan A, all in one

Today we welcome a post by Ian Harmon as part of our collaboration with Hack Library School . Ian Harmon is an MSLIS student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Graduate Assistant in the Scholarly Commons, the University Library’s digital scholarship center. Prior to entering library school, he earned a PhD in Philosophy at Illinois and taught philosophy at Rice University. Ian is interested in digital humanities and scholarly communication, specifically the ways in which technology impacts research and the dissemination of scholarship. He enjoys teaching, and hopes to work in an academic setting that will allow him to work directly with students and other researchers. Ian is also passionate about the role that libraries serve as central institutions of the public sphere and supporters of the common good.


The easy way to describe my pursuit of a career in academic librarianship would be as a Plan B. Nevertheless, I avoid describing it as such because the expression suggests that it’s my second choice, or that I’m settling for something less. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As I begin the second year of my LIS program, I’m more confident that I’m on the right path than I ever was while following my “Plan A.” And when I find myself thinking that I should have considered a career in libraries earlier on, I remind myself that, had I not taken my long path to librarianship, I might never have gotten on the path at all.


My Plan A was to be a philosophy professor. I became a philosophy major my sophomore year of college, after having taken a couple of electives in the field during my freshman year. As a 20 year old, I wasn’t concerned with things like making money, finding a job, or learning “practical skills.” Rather, I was interested in doing something I enjoyed, and I assumed that everything else would take care of itself. But even though I was a philosophy major for the majority of my college career, I never really thought about what I was going to do after graduation. By the time I was a senior, I supposed that I should probably go to graduate school (what else was I going to do with a philosophy degree?), and then become a professor.


I didn’t have a clue what I was doing as I applied to grad school, but I was fortunate enough to wind up at a strong MA program at the University of Wyoming. There, I really began to learn about philosophy the profession, as opposed to the field of study. While I wouldn’t admit it at the time, the more I learned about the philosophy profession, the less sure I felt that I was pursuing a path that would lead me to a career that I would enjoy. The warnings about the competitive nature of the field had been too abstract for me to take seriously as an undergrad. But things became more concrete during my Master’s, as I applied to PhD programs and received rejection after rejection.


Looking back, it stands out that I never once considered exploring other careers. I felt too far invested in philosophy to make a change, and the thought of doing so seemed like it would be an admission of failure. So I pushed on, completed my thesis and was eventually accepted to the PhD program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (where I am now an MSLIS student). It felt like I had made it past an important milestone, but this would only serve to foster the development of some major imposter syndrome as I began my new program. My insecurities aside, I continued to do well, and started to think that maybe I was doing the right thing after all. Moreover, I started thinking I would be one of the fortunate few who would actually get a tenure-track job after graduation.


Despite my success within the PhD program, the job market proved to be the nightmare that had always been promised to me. But as fate would have it, I was able to put off considerations of an alternative to philosophy for a bit longer, as in April of my final year I was offered a one year position in the Philosophy Department at Rice University. No, it wasn’t a tenure track job, but surely, I thought, it would serve as a great springboard for more permanent opportunities.


I enjoyed my time at Rice, but I began to feel a sense of isolation that I hadn’t encountered as a graduate student. Outside of my teaching duties, most of my work hours were spent alone in my office, or surrounded by strangers at a coffee shop. These experiences helped me to discover that what I enjoyed the most about academia was interacting with other people, whether through teaching or conversing with colleagues or fellow grad students.


Meanwhile I wasn’t having any luck on the tenure-track job market, and early in the Spring semester of my year in Houston I decided it was time to make a change. I started exploring alternative careers, but initially, I just needed some way to pay the bills. Unfortunately, nothing really jumped out at me. Libraries finally entered the picture when my aunt, a public librarian, suggested that I consider pursuing an MSLIS. The idea of working at a library appealed to me, but I was hesitant to go back to school, having spent less than a year of my adult life as a non-student. But my aunt had planted the seed of an idea in my head that would continue to grow.


After finishing the year at Rice, I moved back to Champaign, Illinois, where I had a support network of friends (and a fiancee who is now my wife), and began looking for work. I spent the summer as a meat clerk at a grocery store, when my mom mentioned a position she’d seen at the University Library that she thought I should apply for. This would prove to be the break I needed, as I was fortunate enough to land the job and become the Office Manager of the Scholarly Commons, the U of I Library’s digital scholarship center. Needless to say, I loved the job. I loved the collegiality throughout the library and the collaborative nature of the work. I loved the fact that I was learning new things everyday, and most importantly, that the main purpose of my job was to help other people.


Long story short, I’m finally on the career path that’s right for me. I have to admit that, at times, it feels like I wasted a lot of time during my short lived philosophy career. But ultimately, I have no regrets. I won’t be a philosophy professor, and that’s okay because I don’t want to be a philosophy professor. Contrary to what someone once told me, if I was offered such a job, I wouldn’t take it, because that’s not my Plan A.


Academic librarianship is my Plan A. It’s not what I thought my Plan A was for a long time, and it’s a lengthier plan that I realized. But it’s mine, and I stand by it.