Locally Grown Library Advocate

06/01/2012 § 10 Comments

Photo by Marion Post Wolcott

A year and a half ago I wouldn’t have described myself as an advocate for much of anything. Ive always kept aware and informed on ‘the issues’ and I always vote—but until recently I didn’t sign petitions, or call congresspeople. I’ve spent the past year of my life coming to understand the economy of libraries while also becoming a fervent believer in them. This knowledge has made me passionate enough to call Washington about SOPA and to evangelize to Facebook Friends (largely non-library folks) about Library Card Sign-Up month. In my own way, I’m stepping out for libraries.

There are two basic ideas that I have found to be useful to me as a library advocate. First, you are the voice of the library to every person that you meet. Second, the most important library news and issues are the ones that are happening in your own back yard. The first idea is summed up in my previous post on elevator speeches. To quickly summarize, be ready to articulately talk about libraries (their issues, services, funding, etc…) at the drop of a hat. I’m almost certain that several of my friends are on the brink of strangling me if I again utter the words “you can get that from the library”—but it’s true. The library has so much to give and so many people don’t know about it. Make it your business to tell them. « Read the rest of this entry »

Some Thoughts On Course Evaluations

30/11/2011 § 6 Comments

Photo by Todd Binger

It’s nearing the end of the term—and that means course evaluations are looming. To be honest, I start thinking about course evaluations on the first day of class. I like to keep mental notes on my classes throughout the semester so that I have coherent comments to offer up at the end of each term. I’ve been mentally grading my teachers and classes since junior high. Lately, I’ve been spending a good deal of time thinking on the evaluations themselves to try to understand their purpose and what I can do to make the most of them.

What do professors want?
In thinking about this post, my biggest question was—what do professors want from our evaluations? I reached out to a few professors that I know (across many different fields) and posted this question to them. The breakout theme? Specific comments. Professors want specific feedback on the negative AND positive elements of their class. If you didn’t like the syllabus—tell them exactly why. If a paper led to an epiphany about your career goals—say so. In many cases, the comments section of an evaluation form is preceded by a tedious list of ranking and fill in the blank questions. Don’t fizzle out and turn in the evaluation until you write something personal and specific to the professor. « Read the rest of this entry »

Why Am I Reading All of These Kids Books? A Year In Review

20/10/2011 § 3 Comments

During my first semester of school, and into my second semester I read children’s books because I had been told it was an important part of being a children’s librarian. Over the past year I have found that this is true—but it takes more than a belief in this theory to keep reading, to keep blogging and avoid burn out.

Semester One: The Rookie
A year ago I started library school. I began my coursework with a children’s literature survey to balance out the rigor of my metadata class in my first semester. “Literature for Youth” covered historic and current trends in youth literature while also discussing evaluation models for children’s books. Throughout the semester we read top picks across genres, eras and award winners. The class required me to keep an ongoing blog that discussed one or two books I had read each week. The class was great, blogging was even better, and I fell in love with children’s literature. At the end of the semester I made the naive vow that I would keep reading and keep blogging because it would make me a great librarian someday—and it was fun.

Semester Two: Payoff
My children’s literature class was over—finding time to read got a bit harder. In my first semester reading was built into my coursework—it was for school—I had to do it. In my second semester, my courses required a different kind of reading. Keeping up with my blog took time and commitment, but I was still eager and up for the challenge. Eventually my work paid off. At the end of my second semester of school I started part-time work in a children’s library. I owe a lot of the credit to my blog—it was a great source of conversation during my interview and my comfort level with children’s books gave me a lot of confidence in the process.

Semester Three: The Summer of Burnout
This summer I took two classes, I worked a full-time job and I started my part-time library job. I began the summer semester with the expectation that I would read and blog as I had in the previous semesters. I loved reading, I loved blogging, I had a new library job—I would make time for reading. What was I thinking? I’m not sure how other people do with summer courses—the two classes I took were beyond difficult on a 10 week timeline—especially with my workload. Reading and blogging began to feel like a burden.  Not living up to my expectations for myself felt worse.

Semester Four: The Rescue and Renewal
At the end of the summer work eased up and I had more time to read. However, I realized that reading children’s literature with the idea of being a better librarian was not enough reason for me. The theory made sense but it didn’t make sense when all I did was read in my “spare time”  or chastise myself for not reading. One of the adult librarians at my job recognized my burn out and she rescued me. I was expressing my frustration with adolescent protagonists–she asked me what kind of grown up books I like to read. I responded with David Sedaris. She stepped away from the desk and returned with a copy of Carl Hiaasen’s Skin Tight.  I read like a grown up for a while, when I didn’t want to read—I didn’t read. I took a break.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been faced with some serious readers advisory work. My patrons never cease to challenge me. During these readers advisory sessions I have discovered and internalized why I need to read children’s literature. There is a frustration on both sides of the desk when I can’t help a patron find the right book. Yet nothing feels better than a genuine book talk that leads to a happy patron.  In the practice of helping patrons, I have found the truth in the theory I learned in my first semester of library school. Being a great children’s librarian takes a commitment to children’s resources. Reading children’s literature is part of the job. At the same time, a job is a job and a work/life balance must be struck. I’m learning to identify when I am bored or bogged down with kids’ books or blogging about kids books. When that happens, I indulge myself with a mystery (written for adults)—or a break.

Photo by Nationaal Archief

The Elevator Speech

22/09/2011 § 11 Comments

Church Station Street Elevator

From Flickr user brunoboris - used under Creative Commons license.

As soon as you start library school (or maybe before) people will ask you— “Why?” Besides asking why you specifically are going to grad school to get your MLS they will ask questions like: “Why does a librarian need a master’s degree to check out books to people?” or “Why do we even need libraries?”

If you are a first year student or a veteran librarian you better have a good answer at the ready—you are representing libraries and the profession to the “outside” world with your answer. We can echo reasons to employ librarians on this blog all day long— but the people who need to understand the worth of libraries and librarianship don’t read this blog or any library blog and they may not even go to the library.

Step one in changing their mind is to have impactful, well thought out talking points for these situations. Because an “Um….I like books and um….it’s not just the Dewey Decimal System” kind of answer isn’t going to cut it. A great way to be prepared for impromptu conversations about libraries is to develop an elevator speech. An elevator speech is a quick pitch (about as long as an elevator ride) that sums up why a product, service, idea, or institution is worth the listeners time, money or patronage. On The ‘M’ Word – Marketing Libraries blog Kathy Dempsey shared a success story in which a library t-shirt and an elevator speech made a guy rethink his stance on libraries. Dempsey’s experience is a perfect example of why we all need to be prepared to talk up libraries whether it’s at the reference desk, on Twitter, or at the grocery store. « Read the rest of this entry »

Advice on Advising

05/09/2011 § 4 Comments

I have an awesome academic advisor. You may be thinking “Is that a typo? Did she say awesome?” I’ve had conversations with my advisor that drastically changed the look of my coursework and could ultimately change my career. My advisor provides honest, inspiring, challenging feedback that every student should be privilege to—but many are not. Heidi Kittleson’s recent post Library School Starter Kit – a class checklist spurred some great discussion that revealed how much of a mixed bag advising can be.

The quality of advising relationships can run the gamut from school to school. Online advising can differ from on campus advising. Your advisor may be a LIS faculty member or a generic university administrator. Some advisors engage their advisees while others keep it business. In a dream world we would all have access to great advisors. Since that’s not the case I’ve done my best to dissect my interactions with my advisor to figure out what works, what other students should look for in an advisor—and where to turn if your advisor’s not cutting it. « Read the rest of this entry »


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