Get Involved and Reap the Benefits: Advantages of Professional Library Membership

19/03/2014 § 6 Comments

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Sara Kelso.

This is the post where I convince you to get involved, if you aren’t already, with professional organizations as a library or information professional.  “But I don’t have time!” you say.  “But it’s expensive!” you protest.  “And what do they ever do for me anyways?  I mean, it’s great to have conferences, but those are expensive too!” you lament.

Dear reader, I hear you.  But I’m here to tell you that there are enormous advantages to professional organization membership and involvement that you may not have yet discovered.  Fellow MLIS students, I’m particularly talking to you.

Early on in my life in the library world a few years ago, when I landed my first student position, I made it a point to shell out the hundred or so bucks to get that ALA and local OLA membership.  I wasn’t making much, and this felt like a lot of money to give to an organization I knew nothing about, but I am so grateful I joined.  I have reaped so many benefits from it, I can’t imagine how my life as a library professional would look without these experiences.  Thus, this is my call to all of you to get involved and to do it now.  Organizations like the Oregon Library Association are working hard to represent and to connect library professionals on a regional and a state level, and despite all the amazing work being done and the fantastic developments that have emerged even just this year, like a mentoring program and the Passport program, membership is suffering and round tables, committees and task forces need more heads and hands to help out.

At my first ever retreat, I got a chance to see the big picture and to better understand my role in the organization, how others depend on me, how I depend on them, and how all the puzzle pieces fit together to make a group dedicated to helping libraries all over the state, and even form partnerships with other states.  It was the most supportive, collaborative, open-minded, and focused professional experience I have ever had.  It gave me the opportunity to see just how dedicated people are to the library profession, how much it really means to them and how generous people are in this profession.

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Alternative Careers for LIS Grads

11/02/2014 § 8 Comments

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Alex Berman.

Alternative careers for LIS graduates is something that’s not often discussed and, in classrooms, is often ignored. Yet you might be surprised to know that your LIS degree is good for more than just libraries and archives. In this post, we’ll look at LIS skills that are in high demand (almost all of them), what kinds of alternative LIS jobs are out there, and (using my own experience) how you can go about getting yourself one of these jobs.

It’s a tale as old as time: Go to library school, take a lot of classes in library school, get a job in a library. But what happens when this narrative goes off the rails? What happens if you decide that working in a library isn’t for you? Or if the choice is even tougher: what if you can’t get a job in a library? As the LIS field becomes more saturated with recent graduates and non-retiring librarians this scenario is becoming the new norm, not an exception. For people on the tail end of their LIS education this can be an extremely frustrating experience. You’ve taken out loans, put off a career, switched careers, and may even have a family to support – and now you’re confronted with an extremely tough job market. In this case, LIS school job boards aren’t much help since they aren’t really geared to helping graduates get non-library jobs. Professors are similarly of minimal use because the whole reason they are hired is because of their expertise in the LIS field. So is it all for nothing? Is your post-graduate life really doomed to be a series of part time low wage jobs? Nope. Although LIS schools are focused on giving you the skills needed by the library and archives professions, those same skills are in high demand in many other industries.

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22/01/2014 § 5 Comments

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Dana Bublitz.

So, you’re interested in digital humanities as a library science student, but your LIS program (and maybe your whole university) doesn’t even have the slightest idea what you mean when you talk about “DH”–or maybe they just give you a funny look, but either way it becomes pretty obvious that there might not be much in the way of coursework focus on digital humanities methods and tools. What do you do then? How do you make a program without offerings in your area of focus work for your interests and gain the necessary experience along the way? It sounds like a daunting task, but a DIY DH+LIS path is a lot less terrifying than it might seem if you can put in the effort for some creative workarounds and take the initiative to do some investigating outside of normal coursework.

I came to digital humanities through my interests in technology and the humanities, as many people working in the field will share. As a teenager, I had built computers with my dad as a hobby and eventually began building my own websites. But in college I decided on a liberal arts degree and eventually went on to pursue a master’s degree in medieval studies. After finishing my first master’s, I decided that an MLIS was the next step. I relocated to Seattle and applied to the University of Washington’s iSchool, though I wasn’t totally sure what I would need to continue my interests in digital humanities work. When I began classes, it became clear to me that digital humanities was not quite yet “a thing” at the university. There were a few digital projects in the works, and a small–but passionate–grassroots community of faculty and graduates students, but there were few course offerings in digital scholarship or even digital libraries with my LIS program.

At first, it was a bit of a shock: here is this field I really want to work in, but my program offers little-to-no direct coursework! How am I supposed to make this work for me? However, I’ve come to realize that not having a larger, more active DH community has been a positive thing: I had to become very proactive in my search for relevant coursework and hands-on experience, and I’ve had to network across campus on my own initiative, meeting a lot of great people that I probably otherwise would not have met. (My colleague, Paige Morgan, gave a great talk on “DH microclimates” earlier this fall, and I highly recommend giving it a quick read!)

Not every LIS program has course offerings in digital scholarship–or specifically digital humanities. But the skills and knowledge to do work in both librarianship and digital scholarship are so similar–especially as librarians begin to gain more skills in working with technology–that I hope more LIS students begin to think of this as a field for which they are skilled. But as a LIS student in a program without a focus on digital topics, you need to be pretty proactive in finding coursework and opportunities that will give you the experience necessary to work with digital humanities projects.

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From an Undergraduate Digital Humanist

21/01/2014 § Leave a comment

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Grace Thomas

“I am an English major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), with a minor in Computer Science.” After the initial eye-widening or eyebrow-knitting of the questioner, I am asked, “So…what do you, umm, hope to do with that…?” Depending on the person, I either launch into a discussion concerning the critical importance of digital humanities for the future of libraries, or simply smile and state: “Library school next fall.”

My decision to be an English major also came with a personal need to have a “hard skill” job. I needed to quantify my experiences and future career. So with my future set in editing and publishing, I sought out an internship at the Walt Whitman Archive held at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. There, I realized I had somehow gotten onto the correct path, with the wrong intentions. My hard skill job was before me: digital archiving and librarianship. That same semester, I added my Computer Science minor and began learning how to program.

When I took into account the skill set I was creating for myself, I needed to decide how to utilize it. I was faced with the choice of a six (plus) year English PhD program where an alt-ac job with digital libraries constantly glimmered just beyond my grasp, or go straight for it by choosing the library science route. In the end, I realized that I want to work with special collections. I want to love books, but not study the content. I want to see a patron’s face light up when they hold an ancient manuscript. I want to improve digital access to collections and information. I want to help people efficiently find what they are looking for. I need to go to library science school for these ambitions to transpire. Beyond that, finances, job placement, and time were practical factors.

At the Digital Humanities 2013 Conference (DH 2013), which happened to take place in Lincoln, I discovered that library and information scholars were just as prevalent as English or History scholars. At first I was nervous because I had considered DH something at UNL and hadn’t realized the full extent of these digital initiatives. With starry eyes, I was humbled by the brilliant scholars surrounding me, but more importantly, inspired. I could see myself speaking at that very conference in the future hoping to contribute my own high-impact research to the growing initiative.

At the perfect library and information science program, I would learn the details of physically preserving rare books and managing special collections, but also learn digital preservation for future access. I began the search for my ideal program by consulting centerNet to find out which schools had ties with significant digital research facilities. Once I narrowed it down from there, I took into account research assistantship opportunities, strong curriculum, and specializations in both digital libraries/data curation and rare books/special collections. I also took the tech out of it and looked at the locations in which I could spend the next three years of my life, asking myself if I would truly be happy there.

My advice for undergraduates is to SEEK OUT an internship or job experience in your interest area. If you think something is interesting DO IT! Email or speak with faculty to see if they are willing to take on an undergraduate intern, even if they don’t have a specified program. These positions will show you a glimpse of your future career, or may lead you to a place you didn’t know existed. For undergraduates interested in digital humanities, LEARN HOW TO CODE, in Ruby, Python, R, (maybe not Java or C/++ unless you are very ambitious). Learn how to mark-up a book that you own in TEI/XML. There are many tutorials online, such as Codecademy, which features Monty Python references in every lesson of Python, and Learn to Code the Hard Way. Also check out Sam Winn’s recent HLS post A Liberal Arts Major’s Guide to Coding for more suggestions. By learning the demands of coding, you will have a more complete understanding of the discipline and will be able to participate in the DH discussion when you can write the programs yourself.

You’ve heard from me, now how about you! Are you a digital humanist heading to library school? If so, what does your ideal program look like and what are your ambitions beyond?

In May, Grace Thomas will receive her BA in English, with a minor in Computer Science, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She looks forward to focusing her education into Digital Libraries through a Library and Information Science masters program beginning in fall 2014. She also enjoys swimming, reading modernist literature, and attending dance performances. Find her on LinkedIn and follow her Twitter @gracehthom.

A 3-Step Introduction to Digital Humanities for Library-Dwellers

20/01/2014 § 2 Comments

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ashley Maynor.

1. There is no universally-accepted definition for Digital Humanities and probably never will be.


 Instead, Digital Humanities (DH) is and will continue to be defined by the kinds of collaboration and innovation that occurs at the intersection of liberal arts & sciences, libraries & pedagogy, and computing & digital technology at various organizations and institutions.

Defining the Digital Humanities is slippery territory since even the so-called experts can disagree. Most accept, however, that it’s a “big tent”, not a single movement. One can also say of DH generally, that:

2. There is nothing to fear about DH except fear itself. (Also, feral librarians do not bite.)


Most of the fears and anxieties about the Digital Humanities, especially in library settings, come from a lack of understanding about what DH can be and how it fits in to a library’s long-standing values or mission. DH is to libraries what so-called hybrarians or feral librarians are to the LIS profession. These “skunks” in the library are sometimes seen as a threat or move away from true librarianship. (To be inspired by how one library is addressing this issue, see here.)

But, if you give them a chance, you’ll find that library DHers are every bit as collaborative, information-wielding, and service-oriented as their more “traditional” counterparts yet they also bring to the table mad technology skills, loads of creativity, and a desire to help libraries transform further into places that produce and make as much as they serve.

In other words, libraries and DH can evolve in common. Just as new breeds of librarians can help libraries to remain not just relevant but to thrive in the Age of Google, #alt-ac and #alt-lis librarians can equally help the Humanities become more visible and valued across our culture at a time when many are proclaiming the “death” of the Humanities.

3. One of the best ways to learn about what DH is, isn’t, or can be for your library or institution, is to see the wide world of practice that’s out there.


In addition to exploring the institutions above, you can begin to build your DH knowledge and tool kit through the following resources:


Our library is just beginning to dip its proverbial toe into the DH waters, so as the Digital Humanities Librarian at the University of Tennessee Libraries I have a number of responsibilities. Among them are:

  • Assessing the campus environment and advising on how the Libraries can support DH scholars;
  • Participating in planning and implementation of a “digital scholars’ commons”;
  • Developing and implementing an outreach plan for engaging faculty and students in DH;
  • Advising faculty on the creation of digital objects, assigning metadata, file naming, and preservation;
  • Offering training on the use of DH tools and techniques and providing limited technical support for DH research projects;
  • Being a generous, collaborative, and engaged colleague to my fellow librarians; and
  • Keeping informed about changes in scholarly communication, such as publishing and digital scholarship, copyright, open access, and data management.

Because Digital Humanities is an evolving field, I’m expected to adapt work practices to changes occurring in the discipline. That means, ultimately, my job is about adaption, flexibility, and staying on top of new ideas, technology, and trends. In other words, I am paid to be a nerd—it doesn’t get any cooler than that.

ashley4Prior to completing her MS in Information Science in August 2013, Ashley Maynor worked as a feral librarian for Roanoke Public Libraries, as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Cinema Production at Virginia Tech, and as an independent film producer and documentarian. She is the new Digital Humanities Librarian for the University of Tennessee Libraries where she combines her passion for storytelling and digital technology with old school librarian values.

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