Perceptions of a Very Small Public

22/10/2012 § 15 Comments

I am a librarian who serves a population of 24. Perhaps the count is 32 if one includes faculty and staff of Florida State University International Programs Study Center in Florence, Italy. The library, as the previous Student Supervising Librarian noted last year, is almost as antiquated as the 15th century building that holds it. Nothing gives me more pleasure than unlocking wood medallioned doors with skeleton keys and opening thick shutters to let the sun shine onto parquet floors and the shelves of a 7,000 volume collection.

Library Doors

After Topher’s excellent post on librarian perception I have been thinking more and more of the perception of the library here. The history, with all of it’s frescoed charm, is not enough to protect the library from running into a 21st century identity crisis. I think it is a problem that many libraries, even the most modern of structures and collections, that serve populations thousands of times our size, are also facing:

What is our point and purpose in this digital age?

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Marketing in the library

02/03/2012 § 15 Comments

Picture thanks to

One concern that has been mentioned in many of my classes is the lack of marketing about the library. Librarians and libraries perform vital services but many people are unaware of what these services are. This affects all kinds of libraries. One professor, who also worked at a public library, felt that outside of hardcore library patrons, most members of the community had no idea that the library provides services such as free internet access, medical reference and programming.  Another professor talked about how City University of New York schools had been given a grant to create better reference resources for students. The result was a comprehensive group of online reference guides by subject and including links to encyclopedias, databases and journal articles. The problem? They weren’t being used because very few students knew they existed; including almost everyone in my class, a reference class where we should be most informed about research resources.
      As search engines and databases make it easier for users to answer reference questions on their own  the way that librarians can stay relevant is to market the amazing work that they do. But what are effective ways to do that?

  • Thinking like a business- Though librarians and libraries perform services for the public at no cost, my public library professor suggested that libraries, especially public libraries, start thinking more like a business.  He paraphrased another professor in saying libraries could increase their number of patrons by being open longer. Bookstores like Barnes and Noble are open until 9:00 PM so that customers are able to stop by after work. Most libraries however, are usually only open until 5:00 or 6:00 and paradoxically cutting library hours seems to be the first cost saving measure that many libraries take. Librarians can also meet patrons where they usually spend time, for example opening library branches in malls and other retail outlets to increase visibility in a community.
  • Embedded librarians- Where libraries in shopping malls create better visibility for public library services, embedded librarians create better visibility for academic library services. Embedded librarianship and online reference resources allow librarians to leave the library and go to places where students work, to introduce research strategies and resources. Three out of four classes I have taken in my LIS program have been at a computer lab and this is where I do most of my research for assignments. This has made me see the value in having librarians available in spaces like these, outside the traditional domain of a librarian.
  • Blogs- You do not have to look very far to find blogs written by librarians about the great work they are doing. Just take a look here. These blogs give librarians an opportunity to promote the work they are doing and share ideas with other librarians. Though librarianship is not always thought to be the flashiest of professions, blogs give us a chance to showcase the innovative work we do and advertise this to others.
  • Twitter- Beginning my LIS program, I was anti-Twitter, believing that a 140 character tweet was doing the exact opposite of what I wanted to do; encouraging patrons to read and love books. My attitude changed when all my classes stressed the importance of social media and Web 2.0 to librarians. I decided to open my own account, which gave me information about many opportunities, including the opportunity to be a Hack Library School blogger, that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. One of my favorite twitter feeds is that of the New York Public Library.  The NYPL tweets an interesting or thought provoking line from a book, well-known or obscure, with no title or author information. The link at the end of the tweet brings the user directly to the catalog where the reader can find out more information about the book and can request it to be held at any of the branch locations. These tweets recommend good books and encourage patrons to visit their physical library branch in a few short lines.

This list leaves many holes, including how to market the library to those who have never used it. Chances are users who are following library twitter accounts and reading librarian blogs are not first time library users. In our LIS programs we have the unique opportunity to share and discuss marketing idea that work in libraries, so what has worked for you?

The Digital Public Library of America

05/10/2011 § 10 Comments

It’s not every day that I’ll take the time to stay up late to blog something – but I think this is important and wanted to share it with our readers. I’m sure you’ll hear and read many things about the Digital Public Library of America in coming days(weeks, months, years), if you haven’t already. That said, let me explain why I think this is important.

I’ve been following the development of the DPLA for about a year now, and the conversations surrounding it have been almost as exciting as the idea itself. So what exactly is the idea? In their own words,

No project has yet succeeded in bringing these different viewpoints, experiences, and collections together with leading technical experts and the best of private industry to find solutions to these complex challenges. Users have neither coherent access to these materials nor tools to use them in new and exciting ways, and institutions have no clear blueprint for creating a shared infrastructure to serve the public good. The time is right to launch an ambitious project to realize the great promise of the Internet for the advancement of sharing information and of using technology to enable new knowledge and discoveries in the United States.

What this sounds like to me, and the reason it feels so important, is that a group of capable and brilliant folks from a variety of reputable institutions (libraries, institutes, universities) have identified a need, and have initiated a grand idea to address that need. There are and will continue to be many issues that’ll need to be explored, as they note on the website, including Governance, Content and Scope, Legal Issues and More. However, I still think the matter at hand rings out loud — that information is invaluable and that it is our duty to provide access to it, to the best of our ability, with the tools available to us, always and forever. 

A few key points I think Library School students should pay attention to:

1. Someone else already wrote this, and I can’t remember where I read it… but… there’s something to be said about the name, “Digital Public Library of America.” “Digital.” “Public” “Library.” “America.” There’s has been considerable discussion about the inclusion of “Public” in the title, and since it’s stayed I think it is worth interrogating for a second. When we hear about a public library we have very specific ideas about what that means, correct? Will this body be living into the ideal of a public library, or will it be something entirely new? Is that a positive or a negative thing for all the public libraries out there? And, America. Already bold, seeking to include all of America is nearing brash. I do hope that this will truly be representative of America as the project grows, but again, it’s incredibly complicated and too early to know. Lastly, digital. That makes sense… utilizing the growing web of connections through technology to allow access to great resources. And yet, we still are fighting to solve the digital divide. Collecting every great resource into one central location of the web is amazing, but there will still be tons of folks who will not be able to see it, use it, or learn from it.

2. Who is involved? I’d encourage you to look over the list of names associated with this project. There are many people included in this that I personally have a huge amount of professional respect for, but you should formulate your own opinions. Are these people accurately representative of the future of what our great grandkids may know as the “public library”? The DPLA has worked to include many voices, by opening a public listserv (the 1st I’ve ever subscribed to), and a wiki. As Governance is solidified, this body could grow the DPLA in one specific way or another.

3. The technical infrastructure of the DPLA will affect all libraries and many information institutions (again, my opinion). There’s been a lot of talk lately about Linked, Open Data, and developing one standard by which these gigantic collections will be pieced together. If this goes as planned, we all (librarians) will need to have a real, solid working knowledge of how Linked Open Data functions in order to continue to make our work as information professionals useful to our user/patrons. (Also, check out Linked Open Data in Libraries, Archives and Museums – LOD-LAM)

I could go on, but following a great Twitter conversation Zack and I had while I was writing this — I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is the DPLA all hype? How will this affect our profession? Our graduate education? Should we revolt against MARC and DCMI? Against Library of Congress and NARA? Why isn’t this thing called “Digital Archive of America”?

I’d encourage you to take the time to read these posts – one from Jessamyn West and one in Library Journal.

Hack Your Program: University of Wisconsin, Madison

15/09/2011 § 7 Comments

Continuing our Hack Your Program series, where current/recent students give the insider perspective on their LIS program, here’s a post from Tomissa Porath.
Tomissa Porath is a second-year library and information studies student at the University of Wisconsin — Madison.  Interested in academic libraries, she hopes to work at a major research university somewhere out of the Midwest.  When not in class, she is crafting with her fellow SLISers, finding the best beer in Madison, and traveling the world.
Disclaimer:  This is my own personal perspective on UW’s SLIS program.  These are not the opinions of the students as a whole, faculty, or staff members.  All criticisms are meant to be constructive.

SLIS has been an integral part of UW’s campus for over a hundred years, and students at UW’s SLIS are proud of this fact.  The two-year program is designed for the student body to get as much experience in and out of the classroom as possible, and to prepare future librarians for most of the challenges that lie within their future.

The program does have a family atmosphere to it; the “Minnesota Nice” from our neighbors to the west applies here as well.  Everyone helps their fellow students out and worry when classes are missed or assignments aren’t turned in.  You get to know a variety of students within your time at SLIS, and it is a great networking campus for sure. « Read the rest of this entry »

Apprenticeships: a Model For Library School?

10/03/2011 § 21 Comments

Hack Library School welcomes a guest post from Julia Glassman, who has an interesting perspective on the “theory vs. practice” conversation. Julia is finishing her second quarter of library school at UCLA. She’s interested in information literacy, cataloging and metadata, and incorporating alternative media into library collections, and hopes to someday work in an undergraduate library. You can see her other publications at her website.

Last summer, I had the pleasure of visiting my sister-in-law at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz, where she was working as an apprentice in the Ecological Horticulture program. As a gardener and a sustainable food fan, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was living the perfect life: her mornings were spent in classes, learning the ins and outs of lettuces and strawberries and other tasty things, and in the afternoons, she worked on the program’s 25-acre farm. After a communal dinner in a cabin overlooking the ocean, the apprentices would retire to the large tents that served as living quarters during their six month stay.

I am very jealous of my sister-in-law. (Maybe I’d eventually get tired of the tent thing, but from here in my apartment in L.A., it sounds like heaven.) In addition to being totally romantic, though, CASFS’s apprenticeship program illustrates an important pedagogical issue that’s often talked about, but too seldom implemented: placing a premium on practical experience over classroom learning. The program consists of 300 hours of coursework and 700 hours of experience – a ratio that could provide a interesting model for the MLIS degree.

In 1972, sociologist Howard S. Becker bluntly stated in his essay “A School is a Lousy Place to Learn Anything In” that although learners in both classrooms and on-the-job training experience problems with their education, the latter “is more likely to produce educational successes” (103). Although coursework has a lot to offer students, and makes up for deficiencies in practical training, students lose out when they have to rely solely on lectures and readings to gain knowledge. (Interesting note: I first read this essay when it was assigned, for our first class session, by one of my professors here in library school.) Luckily for me, I’m attending a program that has a strong internship component – but many programs produce graduates who have little, if any, practical experience. This over-emphasis on classes leads to problems with the quality of students’ education: many courses are so broad (or so easy) that only a fraction of the material will be useful to any one student, and even when the entirety of a course is useful, if we don’t have an immediate chance to put the material to use, we start forgetting particulars as soon as the course ends. It also leads to problems in the real world, when graduates try to find jobs in a glutted market without any experience in a library. (Warning: the link will ruin your day.) Librarians I’ve talked to sigh at applications from candidates with plenty of abstract knowledge, but zero on-the-job training.

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