Category Archives: library careers

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?

What To Wear At ACRL

Sometimes we get interesting tips here at ACRLog. Seems like there is a bit of tweeting going on among first-timers headed to Seattle for ACRL who have a bit of a dilemma. What should people wear to ACRL? Quite a few of the first-time attendees are new or soon-to-be LIS program graduates who are thinking job opportunity. So they need the help of you more experienced academic librarians. What advice would you give to these colleagues? They want to dress to impress, but is it necessary to go all the way and wear the full-out business suit? Or will business casual get the job done? Are jeans, even stylish ones, out of the question? And what about piercings and tattoos? Display them proudly or be thinking “cover it up”?

Personally, I’m going with business casual and that’s what I recommend. I think of ACRL as a business-oriented program, so business casual seems most appropriate. I think we should avoid suits (and definitely no ties!). I don’t have a problem with those who want to dress down a bit, but I’d encourage those who want to make a good first impression to avoid jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. So what do others think – and we need your suggestions fast. Those suitcases have to be packed and ready to roll in less than 48 hours. Someone out there is counting on your advice so share it in a comment.

Still Waiting For Those Old Librarians To Retire

Editor’s Note: A frequent source of grousing among those newer-to-the-profession academic librarians is that the “impending shortage of librarians” they heard so much about is just a myth. The shortage, no doubt, is predicated on the expectations that many senior members of the profession would soon be retiring. Someone who has closely studied employment and retirement trends among academic librarians over the years is Stanley Wilder, Associate Dean for Information Management Services at the University of Rochester River Campus Libraries. In this guest post Wilder shares some of his latest findings on how the economic downturn is likely to impact academic librarian retirement trends.

Can academic librarians afford to retire in the Bush recession? Already in April of 2008, the Wall Street Journal noted that declines in home values and the stock market were driving many to delay their retirements. This fall’s calamitous drop in home values and investment portfolios can only have reinforced this trend, and my informal canvass of academic library colleagues leads me to suspect that we are delaying our retirements along with everyone else.

Retirement is an unusually resilient cultural behavior, and largely impervious to routine economic fluctuations. The ARL demographic data are a case in point: the portion of the population aged 65 and older has been remarkably stable over the past 22 years (at about 3%), despite recessions in the early 1990s and early 2000s. The stability of this group is all the more remarkable in a population that has otherwise swung dramatically from young to old.

But the Bush recession is clearly not a routine economic fluctuation. What would delayed retirement mean to academic librarianship? The first to go would be the projections of the age profile of U.S. ARL librarians developed in conjunction with my two reports for ARL, which would become obsolete should retirement behavior change significantly. Next, it should be said that delayed retirements would not affect all librarians equally. For example, ARL directors may have already begun to delay: in 2000, 2% were 65 and over, jumping to 9% in 2005. In functional areas of the academic library, catalogers were not far behind at 7% but the impact is negligible on IT professionals, the youngest job category in the ARL data. And racial and ethnic sub-groups within the profession are effected differently. Delayed retirement would have less impact on African American librarians, an unusually young population, but Asian librarians are significantly high with 9% in the 65 and over category.

I have been saying that the anticipated shortage of librarians is unlikely, but a bad economy with delayed retirements would make it harder still to imagine generalized labor shortages in our profession. We are far more likely to see large applicant pools chasing a reduced number of openings. I suspect they already have. Finally it should be obvious that while retirements can be delayed, they cannot be foregone altogether, meaning that the inevitable youth movement may be more dramatic, if somewhat later than anticipated.

None of this speculation matters if academic librarians do not, in fact, delay their retirements. Until we have data to tell us what is actually happening, I would love for ACRLog readers to comment on trends they see in their own libraries or in their region. Have you heard of senior librarians planning to delay their retirements? Do libraries find themselves newly unable to fill vacancies, and has there has been a recent change in the quality and quantity of applicants for those positions they are able to post? Share your observations.

Many thanks to Stanley Wilder for sharing his observations on retirement trends in this contributed guest post!

So You Wanna Be A Librarian Blogger Star

There must be at least 500 librarian blogs. Probably closer to 600. I imagine Walt Crawford has probably given some more accurate librarian blogger data in one of his blog studies, but I think I’m in the ballpark. So let’s say you are a librarian and decide you want to have a well known blog. With the field as crowded as it is how do you get noticed? What do you need to do to make it to the A – or even the B or C – list? Maybe you just want a blog that uniquely covers some new, unknown territory. I got to thinking about these things because a newer- to-the-profession academic librarian recently posed these questions to me.

You can find all sorts of advice on the Internet about developing a good blog, but I think my younger, less experienced colleague thought I had some special insights on how to make it big as a blogger. Maybe he was asking the wrong person. But wanting to be helpful – what academic librarian turns down a challenging question – I gave some advice over the course of a few e-mail exchanges. And you know what they say about free advice.

Succeeding as a blogger in a crowded field, to my way of thinking, comes down to three things. All are probably easier said than done. First, find the right niche because that will establish your identity as a blogger. I come across lots of blogs and many of them are missing character. If your tag line is “thoughts about librarianship and working in libraries” or something like that it allows you to write about everything but in the end you may stand for nothing. I think the best librarian blogs are the ones where you know what the blogger stands for, and you can be reasonably sure you going to get some consistency over time. Here at ACRLog you know we’re going to be focusing on academic librarianship (maybe not right now). If that’s what you like to read about – and to get some attitude on the side – then this is the blog for you. If we suddenly started covering totally different topics everyday I imagine we’d lose the bulk of our readership pretty quickly. Finding the right niche is probably the hardest thing to do. It requires you to figure out what no one else is writing about and to capture the market on that topic – or you could just write about things with an incredibly unique point of view – the way no one else is seeing them. You’ve got to be different. Originality is the key.

Now finding a good niche will only take you so far if you lack good content to keep your audience coming back. So the second thing is to identify a niche that is likely to have a steady source of content. It doesn’t mean you have to blog everyday, unless you are filtering a steady stream of news on a specific subject. But without good material to keep the ideas flowing, so you can post at least once a week, the blog will probably fail to be sustainable. Witness the many librarian blogs that have bitten the dust. Again, a bit easier said than done, but not impossible. One way to do this is to look for a niche that librarians would find of value and would draw upon sources of information external to this profession.

Designing Better Libraries is a good example. Most of the content comes from journals, magazines, websites and blogs that most librarians don’t have time to read. So for them the content is new and fresh. I really enjoy the subject matter so I’m always eager to put a library spin on the posts. That way I’m not just regurgitating the material. Given the amount of information on topics related to design, creativity, and innovation there is almost always something to write about. In fact, if I had the time I could do two posts a week. It’s pretty easy to write posts that say “So-and-so over at Generic Blog just wrote a great post. Here’s the link. Go read it.” Not very creative, and it gets old pretty fast – both for the writer and reader. Library Stuff is one of the few blogs that can manage that style of pointing to other posts, but only because the posts have terse commentary – often with a touch of wit, joy, sarcasm or anger. Showing emotion or passion can make a difference. How about showing the readers your personal side – letting them share in your real life? That’s not where I graze, though I see it works well for some bloggers.

Having a blog with a good niche and steady content won’t help if no one knows about it. So number three is promoting your new blog. We saw a good example of that last week when the blog In the Library with the Leadpipe made its debut. Several of the bloggers posted announcements to their friends on Facebook (where they also started a group), and asked a few established bloggers to take a look and spread the news. I think I saw it in at least five places, including LISNews and Walt Crawford’s blog. So just as it begins the blog is getting buzz. I’ve come across a fair number of interesting librarian blogs but they just seem buried in the blur of too many blogs called “The Something Librarian”. Though it may sound contrived, it can help to occasionally offer opinions, challenge traditions, take a position or anything that might get other bloggers to link to or comment on your posts. I think filter blogs like Kept-Up Academic Librarian have their place, but it’s also quite satisfying to generate a conversation and learn more from the comments and allow them to broaden your horizons.

I don’t know if my new colleague will achieve his goal of establishing a more widely read blog – I hope he will. Personally I think it’s getting hard to stand out in the crowd and attract the attention of the bread and butter of librarian blog readers – the younger generation of librarians who are accustomed to blog reading. Now I imagine they are spending more time sending and receiving tweets for their awareness and entertainment, and that reading blogs is, or will soon be, somewhat tired. I sometimes question how sustainable all of this librarian blogging is, and whether we’ll still be doing this five years from now. Perhaps it will last as long as we have a good topic, something to say about it and a need for conversation with our colleagues. But until then I wish my colleague good luck in his journey to librarian blogger recognition – or at least in bringing life to a blog that creates some value for those who read it. I admire his ambition but hope that, as always, he is motivated by a desire to provide meaning for others and a passion to help them learn. With these simple outcomes as your instrinsic motivation you will always be successful no matter how many librarians read your blog.

Real Faculty In Our Minds Alone

Late last week a number of library news sources pointed to the release of report from the Council of Library and Information Resources called “No Brief Candle: Reconceiving Research Libraries for the 21st Century“. The report contains eight essays that identify challenges facing academic libraries, and it offers a number of recommendations for change that may help to ensure the future relevancy of academic librarians. Library Journal described the report as “Harnessing the insight and experience of some two dozen stakeholders…the report offers a forceful call to action, and a penetrating take on the forces shaping the future of libraries and the academic enterprise”. I believe this report’s themes and recommendations will be somewhat familiar to ACRLog readers because we, and you through your comments, discuss and debate them here.

As I scanned the report I found something of interest in the article titled “Groundskeepers, Gatekeepers, and Guides: How to Change Faculty Perceptions of Librarians and Ensure the Future of the Research Library” by Daphnée Rentfrow, a former CLIR Fellow who has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. In this essay Rentfrow takes on some familiar themes of how to improve collaboration with faculty and obtain more professional recognition within the academic community. As to her qualifications to write an essay on these matters she describes herself as:

someone who finished a doctoral program at an Ivy League university without once meeting my subject specialist (or even knowing what one was), as someone who taught courses without conferring with a librarian and who never encouraged undergraduates to do so, and worked on a thematic research collection without thinking of metadata or preservation until I had a panicked reason to, I also know fairly intimately the failings of, let’s say, “public relations” and “outreach” that afflict academic and research libraries.

You may find what Rentfrow has to offer useful to improve your own public relations and outreach efforts with faculty. But something that caught my attention in her essay was this footnote:

By “faculty,” I mean non-librarian teaching faculty and scholars. While some universities offer librarians faculty status, while some librarians consider themselves members of the faculty, and while some librarians have Ph.D. degrees, anecdotal evidence shows that students, parents, faculty, and even university administrators rarely consider libraries [NOTE: not a typo - it actually says "libraries" not "librarians"] to be “real” faculty, or even intellectual peers. This problem of image is one of the biggest challenges facing the profession.

One of the reasons I found this footnote of special interest is because I took quite a bit of heat from several ACRLog readers when I explored similar themes in a post I called “What It Really Means To Be A Faculty Member“. Instead of just referring to “anecdotal evidence” I pointed to some real differences between what librarians do and what faculty do, particularly as our roles relate to student interaction. Perhaps the point is that it might not matter what we do or don’t do, because as Rentfrow points out as far as the rest of academe is concerned academic librarians are faculty only in their own minds. It seems I made the error of stepping directly on the landmind that Rentfrow tiptoes around.

You might conclude that Rentfrow adds nothing new to this debate, and if you read the essay you’ll see that it is about much more than this issue. Yes, we all know that as far as many “real” faculty are concerned we are nothing more than academic support staff no more deserving of faculty status than instructional technologists or IT support specialists. It may also be familiar territory to point to our profession’s failure to promote the ways in which we are equal to the real faculty and worthy of their respect and collaboration. But given my own attempt to inject some hard to accept reality into this discussion of academic librarians as “real faculty” I have to appreciate Rentfrow’s own honest approach and her admission that some of what she has to say will “offend some readers.” She writes:

Having experienced both [PhD and MLS education], I can understand why a scholar would bristle to be told that a librarian has an equal understanding of the rigors of scholarship and full course-load teaching. But I also understand that the average faculty member is largely ignorant of the changes that have affected modern librarianship in recent decades and the ways these changes (should) affect scholarship and teaching.

It may all come down to a question of what’s most important to academic librarians. Is it being recognized as a real faculty member and being deemed their equal? Or is it doing whatever it takes to work with faculty to partner in helping students achieve academic success regardless of what our status is in the academic community? No instructional technologist, learning center professional or IT specialist I’ve ever met seems as remotely concerned about their academic status as are academic librarians. They aren’t busy trying to establish their equality with faculty. But what I do see is that they are busy spending lots of time collaborating with faculty helping them to improve their pedagogy, their use of technology and their ability to bring the two together in connecting with students. Can you say the same for the academic librarians at your institution?

My apologies to Rentfrow for reducing her well-written piece to a few statements about academic librarians and faculty status. You should take a closer look at Rentfrow’s recommendations (63-64) as well as the overall set provided in this CLIR report (pgs. 10-11). I’m not sure they will resonate with frontline librarians and other library workers. I think they will seem either unoriginal, too ivory tower or simply too vague (e.g., “The functions of libraries must be aligned with the core mission of research and education at the institutional level. We need to create professional and practice layers that enhance research and teaching across disciplines”). As with the Ithaka report discussed last week there needs to be more attention paid to the integration of academic librarians into the teaching and learning process. This recommendation of Rentfrow’s expresses it best:

Librarians should work with departments and teaching centers to nurture the idea that the library is a part of all teaching initiatives on campus.

That seems eminently practical and of value to faculty and students – no matter what our status is.