All posts by ssmith

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

This has been an interesting first year for me, and certainly not what I expected.  I’ve learned a lot about bureaucracy, and how to make the best of a clunky administrative system.  I’ve learned that what a librarian requests and what the library actually receives can be two vastly different things.  I’ve learned that without a library director to “go to bat” for you, you have to be very persistent to accomplish anything that requires permission or approval. And I’ve learned that working as a one-person-library is stressful, mind-warping, challenging, and tons of fun.

As a library student, I dreamed of helping students with complicated reference questions, and rabbit-trail search quests.  I dreamed of becoming proficient in the myriad databases and technological bits that the library utilizes. Ultimately, though, I dreamed of being a Tech Services librarian and working with collection development and cataloging.  I never dreamed I’d become a computer instructor, assisting students as they struggle with Blackboard or formatting an English paper.  I never dreamed I’d become a printer technician, troubleshooting and solving issues because it’s so hard to get the service guy to come to this campus.  I never dreamed I’d stand in front of a classroom full of bored students and get them (well, at least *some* of them) excited about library resources.  And I certainly never dreamed of doing any kind of presentation at a professional conference.

But upon reflection, some of my best memories from this year are just those things I never dreamed I’d do.  I’m an introvert, and getting in front of a class terrified me.  But it was fun!  I really got a kick out of seeing the “ah-ha moment” in a student’s eyes, as the complicated procedure about sending attachments suddenly becomes crystal clear.  Granted, I still don’t love the bureaucracy, but I’ve learned to worked the system and now I can repair my own books and do my own collection development and make most of the day-to-day decisions that impact everything that goes on in this space.  I get the reference questions and the database questions and the citation questions.  I’ve presented a poster session at the Alabama Library Association conference.  I’ve encouraged some new readers, and found some new authors for my “we love books” crowd.

I think I’d still like to go into tech services, but now that I’ve been an “everything librarian” for a year, I’d have to have a position where I can spend time with students too.  Because I’ve realized that the students are what make the job unexpected, intriguing, frustrating, and completely worthwhile.

So thanks for letting me post here this year as a First Year Blogger – this too has been a great learning experience.  I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the blog, and I know I’ll be back for regular visits to see what hot new topics are being discussed!

The Organization of Information

My husband (a philosophy professor) and I (a librarian and former bookstore manager) just finished cataloging our entire book collection into LibraryThing.  You can only imagine the number of bookshelves in our house, right?  For Valentine’s Day I gave him an LT lifetime subscription and he gave me one of their CueCat scanners, and we spent several days scanning, adding, and tagging with reckless abandon.  (This really does relate, I promise!)  I’ve mentioned before that I work at a “one person library”, so even in the time between semesters I have to keep the library open, cooling my heels in a mostly empty building.  Sure, a few students come in to check email or Facebook, but in general the month of May is Very Slow, especially for someone who likes to stay busy.

By now I’ve caught up with all my work, and I’m starting to invent projects.  I’ve read several books that faculty have recommended to students, the better to talk about them when students have questions.  (I just finished 1776 by David McCullough, and am currently plodding my way through A History of the American Revolution by John Richard Alden.  McCullough is a much more entertaining read, if you’re curious.)  I’ve done some book shifting to make the shelves more balanced, in the hope that my miniscule book budget for next year will actually get passed.  I finished the dreaded Professional Development Plan.  I’m pondering articles I’d like to write but wonder if I can ever get them published.  Unfortunately though, since I work a ten-hour day, I run out of library-related projects fast.  So I’ve started to get creative.

The one thing my position doesn’t have me doing is the cataloging, which of course is what I *would* be doing in a perfect world.  So I came up with another great idea – not precisely work related but close enough for my purposes.  I decided to add Library of Congress call numbers to all of our books in LibraryThing.  I don’t have access here to OCLC’s Connexion or Cataloger’s Desktop, but what the heck.  There are plenty of free resources at my disposal.  And I do want to stay reasonably current with the cataloging trends, because someday, somewhere, I’d really like to get back into tech services full time.  My husband, who actually organizes his philosophy books by *author’s birthday*, thinks I’m nuts.  But I’ve actually been enjoying myself immensely.  It hones my research skills when I run across a title I’m not familiar with.  It encourages me to familiarize myself with the Library of Congress online catalog. It makes me want to take some of the cataloging seminars offered by Lyrasis!

So, two questions I’d like to offer up:
1) When you hit a down-time (if you ever hit a down-time), how do you keep yourself busy?
2) More importantly, how do you keep current in an area where you don’t spend your day-to-day time, but would if you had your choice?

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe

On top of everything else I have to do as a one-person library, I was recently emailed my blank “2009-2010 Professional Development Plan”.  It’s basically a job review for the last year, plus places where I need to list what I want to do this coming academic year.  I’m sure every college bureaucracy everywhere requires these, but I’m a bit put off by it.  I knew it was coming because my long-gone boss warned me to keep track of everything I did.  So at least I wasn’t racking my brain trying to remember what events I attended, and what wonderful contributions I’ve made to our institution.

Anyway, here are some of the questions for your perusal:

1.    Goals for higher educational level/certification/licensing/endorsements/courses (Pertaining to requirements and endorsement of current position)  What if you already have your terminal degree?
2.    Other relevant activities (including supervisory responsibilities, organization and facilitation responsibilities, and job complexity) I’ve actually come up with a strategy for this one… see below.
3.    Then of course they ask about workshops and conferences, what college committees you’ve served on, special projects, and so on.  At least these are easy – if you keep a calendar, anyway!

So how do you answer those annoying types of broad, over-generalized questions designed for ten dozen different job descriptions?  I could be brief under each section, and give bullet points like: “encouraged library use, taught instruction sessions, answered reference questions.”  That’s my tendency, to eschew obfuscation.  But I gather the typical response is slightly more verbose: for instance: “Though the creative use of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café in book display units, I not only encouraged reading skills but introduced new literary styles and venues.”

Of course I want to make sure I cover everything I do – in this day and age of budget cuts I’d hate for someone up the chain of command to think “Do we REALLY need someone full time at the new branch?”  My hate-to-talk-about-myself tendency lends itself to this unfortunately well, so I try to make sure I cover everything.  (Heck, do I put the fact that I’m an “official” First Year Blogger on the prestigous ACRLog??)

The last question (#2, above) is so broad I sat in stunned disbelief.  Finally I came up with a game plan. I’m currently a librarian in a paraprofessional body, so I decided to break out my list into three categories.  Librarian responsibilities.  Library Specialist responsibilities (my current classification).  Administrative responsibilities.  Hopefully, in one fell swoop, this will advertise my 1) hugely broad areas of responsibility, and 2) my wonderful creativity for thinking outside the (blanks and forms) box.  What do you think?  Am I crazy, or promotable??  (And does anyone else stress about these yearly events as much as I do?)

Adventures in Wonderland

Here’s an interesting blog post that was recently brought to my attention.  Olivia (my fellow first-year-blogger) and I were going to both make comments, because there’s lots of great stuff here that is useful both for long-time librarians and newbies like us.  Unfortunately Olivia had to bow out of this joint project, though she did provide many of the links. (Thanks, Olivia!!) And she’s promised another great post soon, so I’m looking forward to that as well.

So let’s head down the rabbit hole…

First off, here’s John Dupuis’s post at Confessions of a Science Librarian.

So he’s got 29 reports listed in the link above.  And to make it easy here are all the links to posts by our own bloggers about the same reports

1. The question they forgot to ask
2. Sudden thoughts
3. Is this new OCLC report worth it?
4. Takes more than blogs
4. Some thoughts on privacy
6. Renting keys to walled gardens
16. Real faculty in our minds alone
20. Digital scholarship reconsidered
22. Three new things
22. The more we know
22. Learning from the work
23. Waste of time
26. Digital scholarship beyond the sciences
28. Transformational times
29. Academic research a painful process

 It’s amazing to me the wealth of information available about the future of our profession.  For example: I was considering starting a library blog.  It wouldn’t be anything fancy, just a way to let students know what’s new and interesting, and maybe provide a review or two.  But in November I read the post StephenB made about the report Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World. (#4, above)  It made me rethink *why* I wanted to start a library blog, and *what* I thought it would do. 

 

Last semester, our first semester in operation at this branch campus, I taught a lot of “intro to the library” drop-in sessions.  This semester I’m doing other things, most notably with the English and History classes, about library research.  And I proceeded to promptly hit the wall called IAKT (“I Already Know This”).  Since then I’ve read the 2008 ECAR Study, another offering by StevenB, (#23, above) and know I’m not alone!  Now I’m working on a plan to get the faculty more involved, and researching best teaching practices on the ILI-L listserv.  I might have just kept doing the “same-old, same-old” and not making any headway at all had I not seen this post and the link to this study.

So I’ve bookmarked John Dupuis’s blog post, and I plan to slowly but surely read my way through these reports and follow all the interesting rabbit trails.  Which only goes to confirm my nerdiness because I am definitely looking forward to it!

The Book of Dead Philosophers

I will continue with my silly-yet-very-librarianish method of naming my posts after books, just because I can.  Since my husband (a philosophy professor) enticed me with this book title the other day, it seemed very appropriate to use it for the post I was planning to write.  So, I ask, are books dead?  That seems to be a big question here on our campuses lately.  We’re under a huge budget proration right now, and of course the library got hit very hard (I can’t order pencils, much less books, these days!)  Somehow the administration doesn’t quite recognize [understand? acknowledge?] that libraries are not static collections.  We need to continually add books to our collection which will support our programs, as well as weed those titles that may be significantly out of date.  (Yes, this library has only been open since last August, but the bulk of my monograph collection came from another branch and contains many old, dusty, nearly useless books.)  So I desperately need to order new nursing titles, recent books on history and literature, and some fun-interesting-useful books for general consumption.  Alas, that may not happen this year, nor next year if the budget doomsayers prove correct.

 

I’m not completely without resources, though.  I have some generous donors who have given several boxes of general fiction, which I accepted happily and joyfully.  Even though Dean Koontz and Nora Roberts may not fit our academic programs, they play an important role here.  So many of our students need remedial work in reading and composition, and what better way to help them than by providing fun books to read and enjoy?  I find that students new to the library look surprised when they see Douglas Sparks, Tolkien, and Robin Cook face out on a display table, right next to resume and interview guides.  I’ve even had one or two ask, “Wow – do people still read?”  I encourage all my students to try a book or two.  Some take me up on it, and some don’t.  But those that do often come back for more, and that is a highlight of my day.

 

So I ask again… are books dead?   And if not, how can we get more books into the hands of folks who need to read?  And an even better question, how do we get the word out to the college administration and corporate bean-counters that library budgets actually do serve a purpose?