Keeping Serendipity Alive: or, Hacking the Culture of Cramming

10/04/2014 § 6 Comments

When I first started talking to librarians about going to library school, I was told over and over that “everyone hates library school; it’s just something you have to do.” Judging by Kara’s posts on asking for help and boosting your enthusiasm when overwhelmed, Alison’s brush with dropping out, and Becky’s bunches of lemons, to name just a few, I’m hardly alone in finding this to be (mostly) true. I chose an accelerated one-year program mainly in the interest of getting an actual career under way before passing from the “mid-twenties” into the dreaded “late-twenties” demographic, and it has been a race to pick up best practices and theory, metadata schemas and management tactics, to churn out assignments and rack up internship hours. MLIS curricula are, by and large, geared towards training us to do a job – one which is increasingly under threat of marginalization and shaped by the blood instinct to survive in a neoliberal environment of assessment and ROI. The concept of library advocacy is all too often conflated with marketing, and entire genres of blogs and student services programming have developed to teach us, as LIS students, to think of ourselves as commodities.

When I first learned about the wonderful new blog,, something clicked. For all our talk of discoverability and connection, there is very little room for exploration in library school. There is very, very little room for generative joy and love in library school. And I am beginning to suspect that this grad school culture of product over process negatively affects our practices later on as professionals. The stress we feel as we race to check assignments and entire fields of inquiry off our graduation to-do lists doesn’t just hurt us — it hurts every single patron we serve.

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The Beginner’s Guide to the Professional Book Review

26/03/2014 § 8 Comments

Editor’s Note: In need of inspiration? You are in luck! Hack Library School plans to bring back reviews to the blog – on books, technology, and other resources in the LIS field - and will even consider guest reviews! You can check out previous books reviews on the blog here.

By now you’ve probably noticed that here at Hack Library School we are really big on a little thing called professional involvement. Just recently, we’ve covered professional organizations, conferences, committee work, and more. It’s an excellent way to develop important skills, learn about issues and conversations in the field, meet people, and demonstrate to prospective employers that you’re proactive and engaged. Book reviews are one important (and fun) avenue of professional involvement that many students aren’t aware of. HLS alumna Annie Pho first suggested book reviewing to me, and I’m so glad she did. Now that I have a few reviews under my belt, I’m here to pass it on!

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You, Too, Can Be a Change Agent

13/03/2014 § 10 Comments

With the annual release of Library Journal’s “Movers and Shakers” awards, there seems to be an attendant wave of discussion about what, exactly, it takes to be recognized and praised in our field. This year’s Movers and Shakers were just rolled out this week, so the think-pieces haven’t quite started yet, but many of last year’s posts are worth revisiting. Critics of the awards argue that lots and lots of librarians make a difference in day-to-day activities that are never valorized in the press. Like the M & S awards themselves, however, these posts are all geared toward “in-the-trenches” librarians who are already established in their career paths. The discussion left me wondering, “What about students? In what ways, big and small, do we make our mark on the field?” « Read the rest of this entry »

Google and the Librarian: Best Frenemies Forever

27/12/2013 § 8 Comments

I hope each one of you have had a happy holiday season, and warm wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!

Perhaps it’s the end of the year, or the end of the semester, but I’ve been reflecting quite a bit lately on my work over the past few months and trying to get a clearer picture of what lies ahead for me in LIS. Although I’ve met many wonderful, smart, hardworking people in my program and beyond, I’m worried about a certain lack of vision and ambition. We also seem to thrive on anxiety about changing technology and society, and all too often our responses sound like something out of The Desk Set: Big Bad Business wants to replace librarians with machines! They nearly succeed! But machines are flawed, and librarians save the day with their special human touch!

More than fifty-five years later, this storyline clearly continues to resonate with us. Yet I’m concerned that we’re still on the crisis phase, and I think an important task for us right now is to direct as much imagination as possible toward creating new roles for ourselves — what, exactly, do we bring to the table that an algorithm doesn’t?

This semester, I’ve seen that professional anxiety directed especially toward Google. In my core introductory class, we were assigned a final paper on Stephen Levy’s 2011 In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes our Lives, and were asked to discuss the ramifications of Google for librarianship. Although the book has a positive spin, my class focused, almost to a person, on negative aspects of Google: privacy, poor search skills, and more. Google absolutely has its problems, but I believe we cannot continue to use it as a labor-saving device on the back end while decrying it as an evil empire devaluing our work on the front end. I have a lot of ideas about how we can think about our relationship to Google a bit more productively, but this post is really meant as a brainstorm-starter. I want to hear from you about how we, as a profession, can build off Google’s successes and add real value to the services they provide. Please add your thoughts in the comments — I’ll be checking in as often as my work schedule allows to foster the conversation — and please also note that my words, as always, do not necessarily reflect the views of Hack Library School as a whole.

After reading through Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s 1998 article introducing Google (it’s a good read, and surprisingly accessible — I recommend checking it out) I fundamentally believe that Google developed to tackle the exact same problems that librarians are trying to handle right now: information overload, reliability, discoverability, and neutrality. They’ve got exponentially smarter people on it (sorry, but it’s true), and they’ve figured out how to make gobsmacking loads of money from it. Whatever Google’s problems may be, it’s hard not to admire that.

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Volunteer Management 101

08/11/2013 § 8 Comments

Hello Hack Library School readers! I’m excited to introduce myself with a topic very near and dear to my heart: managing volunteers.

In 2011, after finishing my MA, I found myself at a bit of a crossroads and needed to do something different and interesting while I figured out what was next. So I started a year-long AmeriCorps placement with an arts education nonprofit, helping administer three volunteer programs. I did everything from the nitty-gritty of event RSVPs and answering questions about the application process to big-picture reevaluations of the entire volunteer recruitment and screening system. Although none of these skills are taught in my MLIS program, I can already tell that they’ll be among the most valuable skills in my professional toolkit.

Much of the recent debate about unpaid internships can also be applied to volunteering; it can provide valuable experience for volunteers and build capacity for organizations. Plus, it often just feels really good. But when volunteering becomes an expectation or prerequisite for moving ahead in a field, or when administrators use volunteers to replace professional staff, thorny ethical issues arise. Despite these concerns, though, volunteering remains an important part of our civic and cultural landscape, and my guess is that it’s here to stay.

So I’m not here to tell you that volunteering is inherently good or bad for the profession, or to tell you that you should or should not volunteer as an MLIS student. I am absolutely here to tell you that you will need to manage volunteers at some point in your career, and that your MLIS program most likely will not equip you to do so. Volunteers are a long-term investment for your organization, and without some forethought and infrastructure, neither you nor your volunteers will be satisfied. So here are some basics you’ll want to keep in mind as you get started:

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