Reflecting on 2012

Porter Airlines Boarding Passes2012 has come and gone, and it’s been quite a year.  If you’ve been following along on this blog or elsewhere, then you probably know that my theme for these past twelve months has been “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” Since starting a term position as Government Information Librarian at Wilfrid Laurier University, I split my time between Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Waterloo, Ontario. So, not only do the students at the Library’s Second Cup know my name and face, but so do some of the stewards and other professionals at Porter Airlines in Toronto. I’m now part of the jet-set, and I can also rhyme off CANSIM tables to you like nobody’s business.

Taking on a new position in a new city (and new province) means that there has been a lot of learning and adjustment. A new job brings new duties and new work cultures.  And a new city means new roads and neighbourhoods, new cafés and pubs, and new local cultures.  I’ve traded in a Maritime hospitality built on lobster, rum, and sea shanties for Kitchener-Waterloo’s beer, schnitzel, and breads. (and I love bread.  Not kidding). Waterloo has pockets of cool, and I’m getting on quite well here.

I love my job. It has met – and exceeded – my expectations. As the Government Information Librarian, I help the university community access and use government-produced materials in their research. All of last spring’s cuts to the federal government, and especially to Statistics Canada, LAC, and to libraries within federal ministries definitely dampened the spirits of Canadian GovDoc librarians in 2012, but I’m still happy that I’ve been able to help my library’s patrons understand what the cuts mean for them and their research – today and in the future. If anything, these cutbacks have increased the need for local government publications expertise at Canadian universities, and I think the government information librarian’s role on campus is now more important than ever.

My favourite part of this position has been my work with statistics and data. Like many university libraries across Canada, responsibility for socio-economic data at the Laurier Library lies largely with the Government Information Librarian since so many of our statistical resources come from Statistics Canada.  (You can read more about the relationship between StatCan and academic libraries here. This paper by Wendy Watkins and Ernie Boyko should be required reading at library schools in Canada). I’ve long wanted to practice in this field, and I saw this posting as my opportunity to work regularly with the data skills I’ve developed through the years, and to learn even more from a whole new group of data librarians. Nearly all my favourite interactions with faculty, students, and other stakeholders in 2012 are data-related, from helping students acquire data on migration to the far north, to meeting with community members and legislators to explore nation-wide open data initiatives. These are the moments where I see my skills and expertise in librarianship put to action, and the positive contribution I make on campus puts a spring in my step. Data librarianship is an essential part of the academic enterprise; I’ve given a lot of effort in this area, worked and learned from the right people, and made gains for the library and the university. So, I’m willing to smile and say “yeah, I did that, but with the help of my friends, too.”

Scholars Portal HomeWhen it comes to adjustments, I have to say that the thing that took the longest to get used to was the new jurisdiction. I say this to all librarians, young and old, green and experienced: you will never really know how important your consortium is to your daily work until you join a new one. When I moved from Nova Scotia to Ontario, I left the Council of Atlantic University Libraries, ASIN, and NovaNet, and I joined forces with the Ontario Council of University Libraries, Scholars Portal, and TUG.  Now, my online resources are different. The OPAC is different. ILL is different. Committees are different. Organizational cultures and funding are different. Conferences and workshops are different. Support channels are different. Let me be clear: everything changes when your work takes you to a new consortium. Libraries really do things better when they work together. We’re stronger this way. But it’s not until you shift to a new jurisdiction that you’ll be reminded several times daily just how much effort colleagues at your library and at other institutions have put into making things work better, faster, and cheaper for everyone. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

The best example I can give to demonstrate this is <odesi>. Built and managed by Scholars Portal, ODESI is an essential part of socio-economic data discovery at Ontario universities. It is a repository of StatCan DLI-restricted surveys, and it also houses extensive polling data that stretches back decades in some cases. Using the Nesstar data dissemination platform, it helps novice and experience users find information from these surveys and polls, right down to the variable, and it also helps new users perform some statistical functions they may not otherwise have the knowledge to do. ODESI is a vital part of my work and I use it to access survey data almost daily during the school term. But prior to taking this position last winter, I had no access to it since most university libraries in Nova Scotia rely on the Equinox data delivery system out of Western Libraries. Moving to a new jurisdiction meant that not only did my committees and consortial colleagues change, but so too did my tools and resources, and I had to learn how to use new ones – fast. Today, I don’t know how I ever got on without ODESI. But last winter, ODESI was completely new to me because I hadn’t ever worked at an OCUL university. I have great colleagues at Laurier, and they gave me time to get to know this vital tool, but until I moved to Ontario and joined a new consortium, this was a foreign resource.

(For what it’s worth, ODESI, and the people behind it at Scholars Portal have done so much heavy lifting for students and faculty at Ontario university libraries, and I’m grateful I can use this resource and learn on their expertise. I’m also grateful that I can lean on province-wide and regional data committees for help and advice. This is a big shout-out and thanks to some great people out there – you know who you are.)

This is where the post peters out into vague resolutions and outlooks for the new year.  How will 2013 differ from 2012?  Well, I hope to not fly so much (the lustre wears off quickly), and I hope to get involved in more professional activities again. I also plan on finding new ways to up my game at work.  This will involve taking some courses and hopefully using more streaming communications tools to meet with students and faculty. We’ll see where it goes. Happy 2013!.

Link: Measuring a library’s holdings based on its “uniqueness”

Here’s a Monday morning link for all y’all. Dan Cohen notes an interesting way to measure a library’s holdings : by evaluating the collection’s “uniqueness.”

This may be an interesting metric that could be useful at the local-consortial level? I’ll let the Collections Librarians answer that, though.  Read it here:

Dan Cohen: Visualizing the Uniqueness, and Conformity, of Libraries

Reflections one year out of library school

This past June marked a year’s time since I graduated from library school, and this July marked the end of a one-year contract that I started just weeks after crossing the stage.  I was real fortunate to find work so quick after getting my MLIS degree, and I thank my lucky stars for that everyday.  Of course, there was some skill and good grace involved, but I know that finding work often involves being the right person in the right place at the right time, and I’m happy that things worked out as well as they did.

Anyway, July was a whirlwind for me.  Between wrapping up projects and clearing off my desk, using up the last of my vacation, and taking in a few more short conferences, I had little time to think about what I’ve done since graduating and what that meant.  But now that I’ve found a moment’s peace, I can lay out some advice to recent LIS graduates, based on what I’ve learned the past year.  It’s imperfect, I’m sure, but nothing is ever 100% or complete in this world, so I’m okay with what follows.

Advice to LIS graduates from a recent LIS graduate:

  • Share your opinions with your employers and colleagues
    • You still have a lot to learn, and these people can help you along the way.  But more importantly, these people want to know your opinions, too.  You may be new and green, but to a lot of people, you represent vast potential because you can bring different and new ideas to the table.  You shouldn’t ever take over a meeting with your opinions and antics, but you should definitely speak up and be heard.  Remember: you won’t be hired to be a bump on a log, so make sure your contribute to your library and your team.
  • Don’t shoot for the moon
    • Once you land a job, you may be so full of enthusiasm that you’ll want to tackle everything at once.  Don’t do this.  Prioritize what needs to be done against the library’s timelines, your schedule, and also against your own learning curve.  Taking on too much will burn you out and potentially let others down.  Instead, create a schedule with your supervisors or mentors, and return to it regularly to adjust it up or down.  This shows foresight: they’ll appreciate that you’re balancing your duties and also keeping them in the loop.
  • Ask Questions
    • You’re going to be a brand new hire at a brand-new-to-you organization.  Your co-workers will know this and expect you to have some questions.  Frankly, it would be weird (if not unfriendly) if you never ask them anything about how things work locally.  These people will become your mentors, and they will be expecting you to be looking for guidance on some things and instruction on others.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it’s best the way to get to know your new workplace, colleagues, and duties.
  • Spend time at the end of the day planning for the next one.
    • For your mental health, turn off your e-mail 20 minutes before your day ends in order to focus on what you’ve accomplished today and what’s in store for the next.  This is a simple planning technique that will make 830AM Wednesday not appear so daunting because you’ll walk into Hump Day knowing already what ought to be worked on first.
  • Keep reading.  Keep learning
    • Librarianship (especially academic librarianship) is an awkward blend of theory and practice.  Take time in your schedule (mark it in your calendar) to research what’s going on your field:  look at academic and professional journals; read some blogs; get in the conversation on Twitter and Google Plus.  Since you’ll have just started work (or will soon be starting work), it will be easy to fall out of the loop on account of the duties you’ll be taking on while on the job (see my points above).  Therefore, plan ahead and reserve time to keep yourself up on LIS news and research
    • Look ahead to what you will formally study in the future.  Whether it’s professional development or a part-time degree or certificate, you should be thinking about what you may want to study in the future that will help you get the Next Great Job You Really Want, or that will help you stay informed about the Great Job You Just Found And Don’t Want To Leave.  “Continuous Learning” isn’t just a happy PR line.  It’s a requirement for life, in my mind.
  • Keep networking.
    • I don’t care if you do it in person or online, but don’t stop meeting people.  Networking isn’t greasy.  Networking is just what people do – getting to know other people, which will be helpful at work and at play (you never know who your new Best Friend Forever will be).  And make a point to meet people outside of Libraryland, too.  There are a lot of people working outside of LIS whose interests are similar to our own, and they can bring you new perspectives and ideas that you may not be thinking about simply because they’re working with a different network in the first place.
  • Keep writing job applications.
    • Don’t fret when you don’t find work right away.  And don’t fret when the term position comes to an end, either.  Like I said at the very beginning of this post – finding work is a combination of your hard work and a little bit of chance.  Find postings that appeal to you for whatever reason, and then apply to them.  Don’t worry about what you can’t control (i.e., the candidate pool).  Just write the best damn application you can every time (but never lie), and know that you’ve given it your all every time.  And keep applying.  The world may be going broke, but there are still jobs out there.  And your perseverance will pay off, I promise.
      • (Sidenote: Are you interested in academic postings only?  Keep in mind that the hiring process in academic library land can be real slow, and that often, postings open three times in the year: Fall, Winter, and Spring.  Don’t let this get you down: it is what it is.)
Have you got any advice to share?   Comment below and share your insight!

iPads in libraries: preparing for the critical mass

iPad Display Item
The iPad makes reading, carrying, and storing ebooks easy.

Is your library ready for the iPad?  Do you have patrons requesting ebooks for their tablet or asking for reference help on a question they’ve already started mapping out on their iPad instead of a workbook?

If you haven’t seen an iPad in your library yet, then get ready for them, because in No Time Flat we’re going to see these devices on a regular basis, and it won’t be very long before they become a dominant learning technology.  It may not be when classes return in September, but I’d venture that we’ll see iPads and other tablets on a regular basis in January (i.e., after the Christmas season), and by the 2011/2012 academic year they will become a viable study aid and learning tool for a plurality of students.

We know why the iPad will work so well in academics – because of all the reasons it works well in the real world, i.e., it is a small, portable device that is large enough to reproduce A4 and 8.5×11 sheets of paper on a comparable space.  It costs the same as as a netbook but has twice the viewing space and loads of different capabilities a netbook can’t even think of doing.  Add to the fact that the iPad is packed to the gills with communicative technologies seen in our smartphones and notebook computers, and it becomes a match made in heaven.

It’s not going to be long before tablets become ubiquitous on campus, so we need to get ready for them now in libraries.  This means that we must reconfigure our programming and our resources in a manner that makes the most out of the tools our students are using.  A couple things come to mind right off the bat.  We need to push our ebook vendors for decent mobile-configured platforms.  We need to ask ourselves how our websites and streaming tutorials appear on tablets, and how much bandwidth they consume (important to anyone on a 3G/4G wireless network).  We should be asking ourselves how we can communicate to our communities of users on the devices they will carry with them when conducting research with resources we maintain on their behalf.

So many of the opportunities that tablets offer librarians lie in their deign as a communications and information storage hub.   When the day comes that most students carry tablets, we’ll be able to offer tutorials and lectures that create instant, permanent links with our users.  The iPad can change the One-Shot Library Tutorial into a lesson that pushes library content directly onto the student’s own devices.  Imagine walking to a classroom and immediately transferring to students an application that opens your browser window on their tablets so they can follow along with their iPads as opposed to staring at images projected on a wall?  Or how about having several students reading and collaborating on the same digital document with tablets, which can faithfully mimic the form factor of print?    When I send students to EEBO, they must look at renderings of 300-year-old documents on screens that do nothing to mimic the shape of pamphlets, playbills, and books.  The iPad, however, turns the viewing screen on its end to become longer than it is wide; tie it in with the power of cloud computing and we can help students learn from the same digital object on different devices.  Electronic material has become the rule instead of the exception, so we shouldn’t be surprised when students to expect us to have means to advice them on digital objects with electronic tools.

Forgive me for this blue-sky brainstorming.  For several months now I’ve watched friends say, “I want an iPad and I want it now” (I say this myself all too often, too).   We need to go further, though, and prepare ourselves for the time when students use tablets as their main learning tool.  The iPad is an e-Reader, a communicative device, and a collaboration engine all rolled up in one little package.  And since student purchasing power is strongest in September and December/January, we should get ready now for what is to follow, because in a year or two the iPad and its competitors will be as necessary to learning as a pen and pencil.  Those of use who are in the business of helping people learn how to learn must have expertise with the tools these people use to actually learn things.  This means getting ready for the iPad, its apps, and the way it will complement electronic materials.

Elsewhere:

“Librarian” is not a dirty word

When I first got into librarianship, I wasn’t too bothered that some people wanted to call the profession “information science” while others demanded to hold fast to the “librarianship” moniker. I thought both sides were being petty: I figured that people who wanted to be “librarians” felt that “knowledge managers” should enroll in a different graduate programme, and that those who wanted to be in knowledge management felt that the people who were focused on libraries were outdated luddites who ought to get with the times. Although I was uninformed of the politics at play within the profession, I figured this was all a question of staking ground through semantics and nothing more.

Maybe it is still a question of semantics, but nowadays I’ve taken a stand and have grown tired of the demand to rebrand this profession as “information science.” I’ve wondered what has changed so much that a new term had to be created, or if the profession has moved so far or altered its course so much that it has completely outgrown the words “librarian” and “librarianship”. But I don’t think we’ve moved so far away to require such a rebranding. In spite of my own biases (I’m a librarian, and I work in libraries), I’m willing to contend that even though our tools and methods have changed dramatically, the profession’s mission remains remarkably similar today to what it was fifty or a hundred years ago (i.e., well before the time of the venerable Ranganathan). Librarians organize information, locate it for themselves and for others, store and preserve it for the community, and therein help nurture the creation of knowledge in society. This much has remained present in the profession, before and after MARC, before and after the Internet, and before and after the emergence of our Network(ed) Society.

The fact that we use OPACs and something as close to a union catalogue that has yet been created instead of a card catalogues doesn’t change the fact that librarians have always used novel means to store, organize, and retrieve information. The fact that today’s MLIS graduate should have a smattering of IT courses on her transcript doesn’t remove her too far the old days when the tools were limited to punch cards and MARC records.  Our analysis and influence on government policy and its effects on wider society is no different from calling for better literacy rates in the early twentieth century. Our defense of basic civic rights such as security and privacy of the person, and of a right to speak, think, and read freely, is not removed from our profession’s vital defence of similar basic rights throughout the twentieth century. History shows us that librarianship has always focused on information science and information studies even though we didn’t always call it by those terms.

I’m not against changing the name of our profession. If the wise sages amoung us have decided that perhaps a new moniker is necessary to better promote our professional ideals and standards, then to a certain degree I’m willing to give them a certain benefit of the doubt (note well the double-qualifier in that sentence). However, I still question what our profession would lose by effacing itself of the historic and symbolic value inherent in the terms, “librarian” and “librarianship.” Yes, there will always be unacceptable stereotypes for us to constantly battle, like the bee-hived and bespectacled “shushing” grandmother-librarian, or the equally unacceptable and misogynistic “sexy librarian” trope, but these are merely paltry issues that linger within terms that carry an incredible gravitas in the profession and within western culture. To deny ourselves of the use of “librarian” is to rob ourselves of our culture’s understanding and respect for the role we play in society. Libraries and Librarians are often the lynchpins of communities and the storehouses of a local culture’s social history. Removing Librar* from our profession in favor of the clinical “information science” is to destroy the link that we have to the people we serve. Let us not forget that.

Call it “information science” if you will. But keep “librarianship” close at hand. I simply ask you to think about what you say you do for a living or to which profession you belong when you meet some one new.  Rarely do we say, “I work in information science,” or “I am an information scientist”. No, we tell people we’re librarians, and that we work in libraries, archives, and museums. “Librarian” is not a dirty word, and neither is “Librarianship.” Embrace what you are, and proudly tell people what you do for a living and for society as a whole – they’ll respect for you it. I promise.

LIS Schooling: Lessons Learned and Affirmed

Oh my, how has time passed. Like any good blog, this site has been built with one cup of best intentions and two cups of procrastination. The programme at SIM and life in general has kept me busier than I expected, so it has been difficult to do more than log in to check my site stats from time to time. The nasty throat infection and chest cold that attacked my person in late September did little to help the situation, I might add.

One month into the MLIS programme at Dal, I can perhaps look back and determine if there has been anything learned or confirmed about librarianship. This list is short and general in nature, but I’ve constructed it that way since, (1) shorter blog posts are more readable than longer posts, and (2), one month is hardly enough time to thoroughly analyze a brand new programme and culture, so it would be best to paint with broad strokes on this subject:

1. The study of management is vital to the future of librarianship.

This is a lesson which was learned within the first few days of the Fall term. Dalhousie offers its MLIS within the Faculty of Management, and there are several required courses that are firmly rooted in the cultural sphere of management instead of IS. The School of Information Management believes it has a duty to tutor its students on the importance of management and leadership, and I think it’s a wise policy. It’s safe to say that a plurality of this year’s new students have no schooling in management. It’s also safe to suggest that many people in the programme have more experience being managed as opposed to managing. Therefore, nearly one half of the courses that first year SIM students take in the first term deal with organizational behaviour and project management as opposed to cataloguing or reference work. This is not to suggest that traditional librarianship courses are given short shrift. Rather, there is a common understanding in SIM that its graduates, as professional librarians and information professionals, must be prepared to work with and lead others in projects, on budgets, and toward common goals or objectives. No man is an island, and no library or organization is devoid of people. Management is not a bad word, but a set of necessary skills everyone should be adept with.

(Interestingly, Meredith Farkas noted the same thing after considering the results of a recent survey on LIS schooling. The call for more management skills is hardly new, but it apparently continues to be given short shrift. I’m fairly happy, however, that my school responded to this issue long ago.)

2. Technology is vital, but technology does not trump service.

Library 2.0, Web 2.0, People 2.0, Two 2.0. We can ponder and praise the rise of interactive and user-friendly technologies such as blogging software, social networking tools, twitters, podcasts and whatever might come next, but none of these can replace the service aspect of the profession. The best part of my week doesn’t occur when I’m checking one of many portable devices for the most recent news, but instead when take my shift at my alma mater’s reference desk. A certain thrill that is equal parts fear of, excitement for, and anticipation of the unknown comes over me when a student asks for help acquiring information in a field I’m not familiar with. Librarianship service is a process, a discovery of information mediated through the librarian. Note that I am not saying “filtered” or “accessed” there. When I say “mediated”, I mean to suggest that we are there to guide some one toward the information they are looking for. There is no controlling of information or gatekeeping. Rather, we are there to show some one the route and help them get to where they’re going so that hopefully they can get there on their own in the future. This human component can’t ever be overlooked.

(This is a belief I’ve long held. All of my experience in academics long ago taught me the importance of leading the horse to drink, so to speak.)

3. Professional librarians and library technicians can, and should work together.

When I work at the reference desk, I sit as either an “MLIS student” or a “Professional Librarian in training”. I work alongside both professional librarians and library technicians at the desk, and they are both equally capable of being the mediatory I mentioned above. One month into my professional training, however, I’ve encountered both the understanding that professional librarians and library technicians can work together as well as the belief that “library technicians are similar but different”. Yes, a library technician may be “similar but different” (whatever that means), but that doesn’t mean they should be valued any less than any of our other colleagues. The library at Saint Mary’s University appears to break down these artificial barriers, and I hope most other organizations try to do the same. I’d prefer to work for an organization that values what differences in people, and works with them to make the most of their own skills and goals. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking. Or perhaps that’s a simple goal that could be put into place with relative ease elsewhere.