ALA Midwinter – Quick Preview

19/01/2012 § 7 Comments

In case you haven’t yet had the opportunity to be introduced to the idea of professional networking, here’s a quick intro: librarians near and far, from all varieties of the field, twice a year attend gigantic conferences hosted by our preeminent organization, the American Library Association. There are constant debates about the value of membership in this organization, and we highly encourage all readers to throughly investigate how and where they plan to invest their professional time. That said, I (Micah) think its important to be part of ALA for the very reason this blog exists, to support the idea of “Big Tent Librarianship” and build connections with peers and colleagues in different areas of work.

So, I’ll be attending ALA Midwinter in Dallas this weekend, along with my fellow HackLibSchool writers Teresa and Ashley. Here are a few tips/pointers/suggestions if you’re a student or recent grad heading to the conference:

1. Bring a water bottle

2. Carry your phone charger with you

3. Wear comfortable shoes (but fashionable, of course!)

4. Contact the ALA New Members Round Table (NRMT) – they’re here for you!

5. Get out, be personable and meet people!

6. Contact Micah (micahvandegrift [at] gmail) if you want to be added to the ALAMW GroupMe group chat/text thingie. Smart phone not required! Great way to stay in touch, find out where the good sessions are, organize a lunch or breakfast, and generally make new friends!

7. Use ALA Connect’s Conference Scheduler to get organized and plan out the sessions you’re attending. Seriously. Invaluable.

And to facilitate #5, we are happy to promote several social events that are a great way to connect with new colleagues.

(and selfishly, two events close to our hearts):

Hope to see some of you in Dallas! Don’t be shy, come up and say hello!

Bonus: Check out this series of posts from last year’s ALA Annual Conference to get a sense of how we hack conferences.

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

Leadership in the Library Industry

17/10/2011 § 6 Comments

View of the British Library Reading Room. Photographed by Hugh Chevallier. Posted here under a Creative Commons License.

I love theory. The ideas that disciplines and professions are based off of. The bedrock of our world views. The base of our ideologies.

Some of my favorite courses in library school were the foundation courses. At the time they were frustrating, because I wanted to be working in a library. But now that I am working in the field, I appreciate those theory courses the most.

I find LIS theory to be a fascinating creature. We have our own theorists (like Ranganathan, Dervin and Kuhlthau) but we are also a discipline of adoptive theory. Communication, education, business and management, sociology, gender studies, even engineering theories (HCI and UX principles are starting to take over the profession) are all relevant to LIS.

One of the last required foundation classes I took was Management and Leadership in the Library Industry. While most of the class discussions were focused on Taylorism and Scientific Management versus more current humanist approaches to management, our instructor provided a very interesting recommended reading list. On it were authors whose books are typically found on the shelves of business sections: Stephen R. Covey, John P. Kotter, Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel H. Pink and Peter F. Drucker. I’ll admit: at first I scoffed at these books. Having a background in sociology, I want my theorist to be a bit grittier (and a bit more European): Foucault, Durkheim, Marx, Marcuse and Weber. So I pretty much stuck to the required reading and was none the wiser…

…until recently. I had a good friend (and non-librarian) recommend Good to Great by Jim Collins. This was a title that was on that recommended reading list, and one that I normally pass over. But the friend who recommended it was not someone I would think of as reading it: she spent a number of years selling fair-trade organic coffee, has spent a fair amount of time traveling in Africa and Latin America (including Chiapas, land of the Zapatista) and only recently started working for a corporation (Whole Foods) because of the horrible economy. Not exactly your rank-and-file corporate worker. So I had to check this book out.

Much to my surprise, I am really enjoying it, and finding much of Collins’ ideas surrounding leadership 100% applicable to libraries.

The most relevant lesson taken away so far is what Collins calls “the window and the mirror” theory:

“[Top-tier] leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well….At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly. The comparison leaders did just the opposite. They’d look out the window for something or someone outside themselves to blame for poor results, but would preen in front of the mirror and credit themselves when things went well. (Collins, Good to Great, p. 35)”

Collins uses steel producing companies to exemplify this idea. CEOs of mediocre companies would look out the window and see internationally produced cheap steel as the reason why their companies were not reaching their potential. While the CEOs of top steel companies saw the internationally produced cheap steel as an opportunity. The competing companies would have to ship the steel to the US at exorbitant prices, giving the American companies a distinct advantage. Likewise, these top companies look at their own operations for ways to improve their business, rather than blame outside factors for their failures.

I think the window/mirror theory is an excellent mindset not just for individual leaders, but for the library industry as a whole. We could look at declining circulation counts or reference questions as a factor out of our control that is pushing our services to the periphery. Or, we can look at the changing information searching behaviors of our patrons as an opportunity to offer innovative services and resources that exceeds our users expectations.

For example: In 2009, Project Information Literacy released a progress report, with findings that describes course readings, Google and instructors as the first resources students turn to when researching topics for their school work, and librarians as an overlooked resource. Looking for external factors to blame for lack of library use, this study could be a shining example. Instead, we should look at the fact that students are rarely seeking out librarians as an opportunity to create new services (such as embedded librarianship or collaborating with instructors and faculty) to better assist students. And we should be looking at our current services for potential areas of improvement.

It is widely know that we live in a time of change. Libraries of all types are facing major budget cuts, and we are fighting tooth and nail for what resources we do receive. Rather than being Chicken Littles about it, looking out the window to avoid falling pieces of the sky, we should be looking at the changes we face as the new reality and continue to offer excellent services and exceed our users expectations. Now is the time to ensure our place as leaders in the fight for a citizenry who is not just information literate, but information fluent.

I know that this book has been out for over a decade, and some of the companies that Collins have listed as “great” companies have been the most affected by our current recession (such as the now defunct Circuit City), but Good to Great is still an excellent read. It’s worth checking out. But, as my hero Levar Burton often said: “You don’t have to take my word for it…”

Making the most of mentorships

08/09/2011 § 2 Comments

Earlier this week, Ashley discussed some of the ways to hack your advisor–but what if you get stuck with someone you don’t like? Or doesn’t know much about your field of study?  Or just plain stinks?  Lucky for you there is an oft-neglected source of sage wisdom and comforting words: the mentor.

While I’m lucky enough to have a fantastic academic advisor, I’m even luckier to have found a mentor to give me more practical advice.  Mentors are a kind of unofficial advisor, a professional who works in the field with whom you can have a close and open connection with.  Where your academic advisor can guide your classroom choices, mentors offer insight into the information profession.  Often, your mentor can be a family friend, a work supervisor, or even a seasoned colleague.  Whatever your association with your current or prospective mentor, here are some things I’ve learned about mentorships. « Read the rest of this entry »

[Series] Library School Starter Kit – Questions and Advice

19/08/2011 § 12 Comments

This is a collaborative post between Teresa Silva, who is entering her first year of library school at the Pratt Institute of Information and Library Science, and Turner Masland, who is entering his final semester of Emporia State University’s School of Library and Information Management.

Teresa: Finally, after months of waiting, I’ll be a student once again. I’m excited and eager to get going. Following various blog source recommendations including a recent post, I’ve started a blog, I have a twitter account, and after years of having a cell phone solely for dialing and texting, I’ve upgraded to a smart phone. I’ve registered for my classes, all core, which I figure will give me a better idea of what I’d like to concentrate in, so come second semester I’ll be able to take classes with more of a focus. Now it’s just a matter of attending orientations and various introductory activities before school at the Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science officially begins on August 29th.

The next two years will be dedicated to learning as much as I possibly can about the realm of information and library science. I’d like each class that I take to be challenging, to learn how to effectively relay information to the public in which ever concentration I choose, to be able to engage with my professors and classmates and develop strong professional relationships, and to reach my goal of graduating and finding a job in something that I enjoy.

Now, I’d like to ask my fellow collaborator, Turner Masland, some questions about his first year experience. « Read the rest of this entry »

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