Onellums’s last FYALE post, short and sweet

When I tried to reflect on my first year of academic librarianship and what I should include as advice for other new librarians in my final post here at ACRLog, platitudes such as “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” kept popping into my head. So I thought I’d start with a short list of the somewhat obvious qualities that I repeatedly found helpful at work: 

1) Maintaining a positive attitude 
2) Persistence 
3) Cooperativeness

Then I thought of some more personal advice I would give (that I learned the hard way):

1) A workplace is a political minefield. Best do your homework before putting your foot in it.
2) It is better to be flexible than cavalier. Youth and energy are not endearing to everyone.
3) Leave your desk to have human conversations every once in a while. Librarians are perhaps more prone to use email and other text-based media, but I cannot count the number of times a solution has been more forthcoming when I approached people directly. 

And because I am writing this during performance review season, here is a sprinkling of self-criticism and future goals:

1) As Susanna mentioned in her last post, I too am realizing that I might not be fit for a lifelong career in public services. I may not have the requisite gift of patience, and I am noticing that the areas of my job I find most enjoyable involve making systems and processes simpler and more efficient. When I moved to New Jersey last August I lacked the confidence to apply for systems librarian jobs, but now I am motivated to learn more programming and pursue work in that direction. 
2) I would like to publish in the professional literature. Publishing informally online is great, but I am going to try and shoot for something more rigorous and official. 
3) I would like to continue to interact and participate with this and other communities of librarians. They (we?) are wonderful. I hope some day I can be as useful to them as they currently are to me.  

Thanks for reading and commenting — I have really enjoyed writing here! If anyone wants to continue to follow my thoughts, I post weekly to my personal blog, the librarian’s commute. And it would be great to meet you in person if you are going to ALA next week!

Explaining Authority (Part 2)

After writing my previous post, our library director brought this report to my attention: “The Changing Nature of Intellectual Authority” by Peter Nicholson, presented at the 148th ARL meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, May 17-19 2006. Apparently I was “scooped” by a good three years, as the ideas in the report are similar enough to my own (albeit worded more eloquently) that I should have been aware of and acknowledged it. Better late than never, right?

One way of thinking about the problem of authority that Nicholson suggests, and which Emily described in my post’s Comments using slightly different terms, is that there are various species of information, with differing niches. For example, when you have a ‘good enough’ mentality, wikipedia is usually fine, but there are other times when you will demand and value peer-reviewed sources.

And so I have begun to think that when librarians teach information literacy, the underlying question to encourage students to ask should be “Why was this information generated?” That can be unclear, so the question becomes “Why COULD this information have been generated?” It is easy to become paranoid when searching for this answer, but I like to think that misinformation is usually caught, and when it is not, it is a source of outrage, or at least newsworthy.

Deliberate propagation of misinformation is greeted with protest rather than resignation, at least in this country. Whether we work in information professions or not, everyone is responsible for paying attention, and because of the abundance of critical minds, we can count on someone to call out untruths, mistakes, biases, and sinister influences.

As Nicholson points out, institutions suffer as a result of a breakdown in rules about authority. I do work for an institution, with all that implies. As I proceed blithely ahead, attempting to teach students information literacy and how to use the traditionally accepted, scholarly resources that the library provides, perhaps I will best serve them if I bear all of the above in mind. I should be pleased if they are skeptical of me and my message. At least, if students stop to consider where information I recommend is coming from, they can take personal responsibility and have a personal stake in the information they choose to rely on.

If I can make all this clear in my library instruction sessions, while still being relevant to the task or assignment at hand, I will consider my job well done.

*     *     *

P.S. The next post will be my last as a First Year Academic Librarian here on ACRLog. Technically this should have been my final post, but the administrators kindly granted me one extra.

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?

Explaining Authority

One thing I have found difficult in my librarian-instructor capacity is how to impress students with the idea that some sources of information are better than others. We are all comfortable with the concept that value is subjective. But does this apply to information? (My own answer varies depending on what day it is.)

Of students I have interacted with, I have met some who have not thought about source authority at all, and some who suspect there is a good source for the information they need but do not know how to find or identify it (because they have never before been expected to justify their sources?). Perhaps of the students I do not interact with, 100 percent are fully competent when it comes to finding and using information. It is possible that the majority of college students have a perfect grasp of information and how it is generated and used. Most of the students I work with at the library, however, do not.

In any case, I do not want to be heavy-handed and say “X sources are good but Y sources are bad,” first because even I do not think it is so black and white (see recent Elsevier story & the story about cancer research), and second because I do not think students will accept that message. That is the old librarian-as-gatekeeper, top-down mentality, which is no longer realistic. So I have been envisioning a fancy presentation containing the various examples I have been collecting of how you would look foolish if you relied on sources such as wikipedia for all your information. Unfortunately I have not gotten around to creating it yet, and such a thing would go out of date so fast that I am not convinced it would be worth the effort. (Although I did link to Colbert’s wikiality speech on one of our LibGuides.) Besides, when am I, the librarian, given classroom time to do something like that?

So I do not really know what to do, except briefly repeat the same old message about how it is generally a good thing to use sources from the college’s library, about how these are the sources instructors expect students to use, and unless I am questioned not be too specific about if and why they are ‘better.’ I am not so far down the libraryland rabbit hole that I imagine I will get a round of applause if I say “You should use the library because the library is on your side. The college library wants to provide you with high quality sources for your research. Our agenda is clearly stated. We do our best to provide an additional level of editorial process by reading reviews and making informed decisions for what should be added to the collection, and beyond that we are trying to make as much of it as possible accessible from home.”

Big fricking woop. Now I’ll go back to answering questions about how to cite web sites.