Monday, September 26, 2011

Being Visible -or- Reshelving is good for you!

I have heard a lot of libraries from a lot of different types of libraries say smugly or proudly that they don't shelve books. That's a clerk's job.

Sure, clerks were indeed hired to reshelve, check patrons out and do other tasks that it doesn't require a degree to do. That frees up librarians to do more complex tasks like reference work, instruction and purchasing. That's what we get paid the big bucks (ok, moderate, non-inflation adjusted bucks) for!

But there is value to pitching in with those more mundane tasks on occasion. It's not only good for staff morale, to know that librarians will come down from their lofty chairs at the reference desk to help reshelve the 300 or so children's picture books that were returned just before story hour. And patrons see our shiny happy faces in other places in the library. They have increased confidence in us because they know (and we know) that we are capable of doing anything in the library, including being able to replace a lost card while the clerk is away from the circulation desk. It means that we're open to all of our customers' needs, and they don't need to be shy to ask, because they may be asking the "wrong" person for help with a particular thing.

It gives us more opportunities to interact with customers. When we check out their books, we see tangibly what particular patrons are interested in, and what is circulating. When we shelve books, we also see what is circulating, and we also see what materials are NOT. It can help us come up with strategies either for weeding, or for promoting lost gems.

Going into the stacks for more than just pulling books provides exposure--patrons see us out and about (thus making us less intimidating), but it exposes us to how the patrons are using our collection. Are they NOT checking out graphic novels, but there are plenty of patrons sitting in various nooks and crannies, polishing off Strangers in Paradise and Blackest Night? Are they not using the furniture for its intended purpose? Are there places that need furniture, or spaces opened up?

Getting out in the stacks, and out of the common areas can give insights into all this. When we walk through common areas without actually "using" the library, we don't see what patrons see--we see what we intended them to see, regarding configurations and the environment. Is it super-convenient to have chairs on the end of (or in the middle of) rows? Do you often find patrons sitting with a multitude of books on the floor, between the wall and the last row of books? Is it because the nearest table is too far away?

And patrons can ask questions they might not have asked otherwise. They may decide going to another floor, or another part of the building to ask the reference desk a question is too far to go, and may frustrate themselves further by looking for things (thus creating a negative connotation with the library in their mind), or they may just forget about it, and skip getting information or resources that a librarian could have easily provided.

Getting out and about gives us opportunities to connect with our customers in new ways too--if you see someone grabbing the second book in a series, you can ask if they've read the first. They may no know they're looking that "Bloody Red Barron" is the follow-up book to "Anno Dracula," and they'll be disappointed a few chapters in, to make that discovery--and even more disappointed when Anno Dracula has been checked out by the time they return. This makes them feel like they can't navigate the library, and it's too difficult, and so they'll just go to Amazon--or if they don't have the money, go to nothing at all for those resources.

Say your patron HAS read Anno Dracula. Have you read it too? Can you have a conversation about it? Can you find out what other things they like to read? Maybe they have a complain that they love steam punk fiction, but your library has none, and so they have to borrow or buy all of that stuff on their own, and the only thing they check out at your library is the vampire fiction. Maybe they've heard others complaining about the way the science fiction section is organized, and feel that since there is so much fantasy, it should have its own section, or a sticker to denote that it's fantasy, and not scifi. Maybe they really like the layout of the Young Adult room, and wish adults had a space like that, too.

Librarians do most of their work based on best guesses. We look at statistics and user behavior and make a best guess as to what a popular book or collection would be, what would be the best way to lay out space and organize collections, etc. But we don't really know first-hand. We pour over our statistics (which is right and good--most organizations, libraries included, live and die by statistics), but there are so many things our statistics CANT tell us. They can't tell us about items we DONT have, and how they would be received by patrons. They can't tell us that people absolutely hate those hard backed chairs, and prefer stools. They can't tell us that no one actually uses the study rooms, except to make out in.

Won't patrons say something to us about this stuff, if it's important? Maybe. Maybe they don't think it's important enough to mention. Maybe they think it's not important enough to US, for them to mention. It may slip their mind, or they may assume we just don't operate that way. Getting out there to shelf read, or reshelf books, or to weed gives an opportunity for insightful conversation, and off-handed gems of knowledge. It lets us develop real relationships with customers, instead of just an information exchange transaction at the reference desk.

It makes us look friendlier, it may even make us BE friendlier, since we know our patrons are keeping an eye on us all the time. We may develop real friendships. Shy or reluctant patrons may grow in confidence that we're here for them, and we're not a hurdle to get past.

Plain and simple, people need a reason to come back. We need to show them why we're of value, and help them feel welcome and important to us. Making ourselves more visible and more approachable is a terrific first step. Seeing how patrons behave with our space and our collections "in the wild," is invaluable because it helps us calculate future improvements. At the end of the day, good mojo begets good mojo--patrons who feel cared for both in the type of materials and the type of services we provide will come back, and tell others. And that's just good advocacy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hey kids, it's been a whille!

Yes, it has been, I know. Still ever on the job hunt. Every day when I drive in for work, and see the lake and the river and all the wonderful architecture, and am greeted by all of my lovely coworkers, I'm reminded that so much in life is temporary, and that as much as I would like to stay, it will be time to move on soon. I hope everyone here will remember my laugh, my smile and my mad collection development skills, and just pretend to forget just the sheer volume of Batman kitsch in my cubicle :)

Also, a few weekends ago, a magical thing happened. Chicks Dig Time Lords won a Hugo Award in the "Best Related Work" category. Katy Shuttleworth--magnificent human being and also the book's cover artist) and I created a comic for the book, so we're ecstatic. We get to say that we have a comic in a Hugo Award-winning anthology!

The editors, Lynne Thomas (curator, archivist, librarian and all-around awesome lady) and Tara O'Shea (graphic designer, fandom maven, and person Who Knows Everybody), were on hand Saturday night in Reno at Worldcon to get their very fancy rocket-shaped statues, and I had a great time watching them on the U-Stream video feed from home.

A few library things...

1) Have you been keeping up with The Atlantic, and their quest to find out what people don't understand about your job? The comments section of the original article, asking for feedback is rather interesting (in many ways, we're in the same boat as a lot of other fields).

Also, they did a post specifically about "What People Don't Get About Working in a Library," which is short, but also has interesting comments. There is a lot of frustration expressed about the field, the varying degrees to which education is used, the question of whether the MLIS is actually necessary, and a lot of comments about what librarians DON'T do. I think it's an interesting and informative look at the shared frustrations and worries of our field. There are also a few posts about what librarians CAN do, that is either hindered by lack of time, lack of budget, or lack of understanding on the part of the public as to what librarians do, and therefore they never utilize our skills.

2) In the are of "yet another lesson in how we are misunderstood," is this USA Today story regarding an ALA study regarding student utilization of librarians' knowledge and library resources. I look forward to the full paper being published in the fall. I don't think the contents of the paper will be of surprise to most librarians in an academic setting (or librarians in general, for that matter), but hopefully it will give recommendations and possibly galvanize the profession into being better advocates for ourselves not just with law makers and budget-controlling entities... but with our primary reason for being: OUR PATRONS.

If patrons do not know what we have to offer, and we are not reaching out to them before they ever come into the building, we've lost. They will never BE our patrons, because they never WILL come into the building. This is also a disservice, education-wise to students, because they're not learning how to use ALL of the resources available to them. They're getting into habits of shoddy research and only looking on the easily-discoverable portions of the web (namely Google and Wikipedia). They're missing out on valuable hidden resources in databases and on book shelves that would enrich their educational experience and help them academically. They're also possibly frustrating themselves unnecessarily with research, when they could have just gone to their library and received expert direction and advice from a librarian.

I think we need to get ourselves fired up to help students, then we need to get the administration fired up about giving their students the most resources and tools for success, then we need to reach out to instructors, and get THEM fired up about teaching students how to use the best resources available (and sometimes the EASIEST--it's quicker to ask a librarian than spin your wheels for days and days). Students often look at the library as a time-waster when they need to be taught that the library is a SHORTCUT to wading through 3 million Google hits that all reiterate the same four things, which also, consequently, are the four things listed in the Wikipedia article.

3) The Angry Librarian is sometimes rather inflammatory, yes. Often down on the profession, but he or she (dear, anonymous soul) says things that are often thought-provoking, and often cut to the heart of some major issues within the profession.

An article from a few weeks ago, "The Last Perk of Librarianship," looks at an angle of job hiring that cuts a little close to home, as I go through the job search process. This post focuses on the reduction in the number of secure, well-paying tenure-track jobs, the number of full-time jobs, and the number of actual professional positions within the academic arena as times get tougher and budgets get leaner.

This is something I have certainly been subject to ever since I got into the field. My first library job was part-time. By part-time, I mean 35 hours a week. You know, 2.5 hours shy of full time. Just enough so that, legally, they would not be required to give me health benefits, or equal time off. When all was said and done, I was still at the library usually 40 hours a week (sometimes more), and that comp time I earned for staying extra was often my only safety net as far as illness and vacation went. It was also a poor hourly wage. In fact, I took a very substantial pay cut leaving IT to enter the library field. I was hoping that by taking the cut, I could make my bones and move on to other better-paid positions where I could use my education and experience.

That time was stressful. Especially when I became ill, and had to spend the weekend in the hospital, which is very expensive, if you don't have insurance. I may have the hospital bill paid off sometime around when my student loans are done with. But, when I graduated from library school, despite applying all over the country, and having seven years of IT experience, and several years of library volunteer experience, that was the that I could get. Did they want a degree? Yup. Were they willing/able to pay for it? Nope.

I eventually ended up taking a few term/temporary jobs because it meant insurance and a grown-up paycheck. That's why I find myself right now in the position of searching for work as a term job comes to an end, and leaving a place I have really grown to love (never underestimate the joy of working for and with SANE people. Sanity and reasonableness are, perhaps, not found often enough in so many professions).

The process of applying for jobs has been frustrating on occasion. So many of the positions sound nice, but are extremely low-paying hourly wages, which make it hard to pay back student loans for both undergraduate and graduate schooling while keeping a roof over my head, and my belly fed, or they are part-time positions, which create the same student loan/roof/food dilemma, or they are temporary, and would require moving (at my own expense, of course) across country, which is very expensive in this economy. Or, they aren't really jobs at all, they're unpaid "internships."

Internship, for those in the know, is code for "we get professional-level work out of you, and you get 'experience' to add to your resume." It is very popular in many fields, especially publishing and entertainment. Over the years it has dribbled into other professions, including librarianship, and to greater and greater degrees as budgets tighten. In fact, when I was in graduate school, I did 150 hours of internship for credit. Yup, I paid money to work for free. It was awesome. But these aren't cutesy 150 hour positions where students learn valuable practical library skills and make professional connections, these are three month, or 4 month, or better yet, year-long internships. Yes, organizations as common as your local library all the way up to the Smithsonian get a year of professional-level work from a recent graduate, all with the promise of "experience," or "exposure."

Which should get you a great job when you're done, right? I mean, you interned at the Smithsonian for heavensakes! But why would people hire you, when they can just get another intern for another year? Sure, the turnover is high, and there's a near-constant training and trial period happening in the workplace, but they're saving tens of thousands of dollars a year! And they're "helping" inexperienced graduates get said experience! They're so altruistic!

I think, long-term, this will hurt the profession. It may seem like we're "giving valuable experience" to baby-librarians, and that will help the profession in the long run, but I think it attracts only a certain type of librarian--one that can afford to work for a year or two, unpaid. People who are independently wealthy, or for whom librarianship is a hobby. Or severely overworked people who are attempting to pay the bills AND get that valuable internship time, so that by year three of being a librarian, they're completely burnt out and are no longer giving it their best. That's certainly not the diverse group of professionals that we need to be tapping to keep our profession alive and well.

Also... should librarianship be a cut-throat kill-or-be-killed field? Is that going to help the profession? Will that bring the right personalities to the table? I have questions, but not always answers.

3) Library as a curator of culture: check out this curse-laden, possible NSFW video of Louis CK talking at the New York Public Library about George Carlin. It's possible to preserve our cultural history (including our pop culture) and still attract people to the library. The key: programming with a lot of popularity/desirability capitol. Sure, we all don't have NYPL's budget or it's geographic advantage of being in a cultural hub, but having programming that not only appears to have value to patrons (who DOESN'T need tax assistance, really?) but has a high cache of coolness, or desirability helps too. Cos lets face it, as far as entertainment and cultural enrichment go, we're not the only game in town.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What librarians do all day

So... The Atlantic a segment called "Tell Me What People Don't Understand About Your Job." It's a lovely and amazing outlet--NO ONE seems to understand what we do. I wrote a general post about what

So here is my response:

There is SO much people don't understand about being a librarian. I blog about it often. Probably the silliest misconception is that we aren't information professionals--we're just people who like books, and we spend our time reading all day. There are so many specialties in library science. Being a public librarian means being an information professional, teacher, marketer and social worker. Being an academic and special librarian means being fluent with new technology enough to implement technology changes in the library AND instruct others, researcher, instructor, cataloger, historian, archivist... The list goes on. We are futurists--we have to anticipate what new technology and what library materials will be good for users based on past performance. We need to be problem-solvers. We need to be advocates and get out into the community to explain what services we have, and explain why we're important and worthy of funding. We deal with politicians, school and organization officials, alumni, military people, accountants, lawyers, avid readers, authors and presenters, new mothers, car repair hobbyists, people needing tax or resume/job hunting help, the tech savvy, the computer illiterate, small children, young adults, teachers, parents, retired people, people with social problems (drugs, homelessness, trouble interacting with people, etc)... and every single person we deal with, whether we need something from them, or they need something from us, gets a smile and a professional demeanor. We find information, which sometimes means being creative in our research methods. We teach people, we help them find information independence, we bridge the digital divide for those who lack the resources and skills. We also repair our own computers and printers, program web pages, do building maintenance, set up databases,  do our best to always do MORE with ever-decreasing funds and always try to be a good steward of taxpayer/tuition/organization money.We are always learning to stay abreast of the constantly changing technology and best-practices. We work long and hard to help patrons who walk through our doors, and those a world away with a research question that only OUR archive can answer. We make decisions about what is important to our culture and our collection when thinking about what to save and what to "pass on," both for our collections and archives. We have to decide NOW what will be important DECADES from now to a single researcher. We give young minds a thirst for knowledge and learning, and the tools to learn independently. We also clean up vomit, fix broken sidewalks and sit on city/university/organization committees, trying to make the world a better place.

 But yeah... librarians just read all day.

I forgot to add... I don't remember when the last time I  "read" a book for pleasure. I usually listen to audios so I can be doing something else. Usually, it's mowing the grass. I have a manual human-powered lawn mower, so it's quiet enough, and I take advantage of the "me" time. Other than that... Not much time for reading in this field, or life in general at the moment.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Where have I been?

Job hunting, mostly.

My current position is a term government job that will be ending early due to the federal budget situation (and extreme cuts to the defense budget). It appears, unless something changes between now and then, that September 30th will be my last day.

Honestly, I really like it here. The campus is beautiful, I've grown attached to the town, and my coworkers are all nice people who are sane and reasonable and easy to work with. I will miss everyone here very much. However, the reality of the situation dictates that it is time to move on, and so I have been spending a lot of my energies in that direction.

If your library is looking for a smart, funny, wholly awesome individual who also smells nice, I am available :)

But seriously--I have a long history with technology and primarily, right now, I'm a digital librarian. I also work a lot with community programming, outreach, publicity, social networking, blogging, instruction, reference and collection development. And any other hats that need to be worn.

I really do believe in the power of libraries to change lives, both through research and making resources available to those who might not otherwise have access. I'm extremely customer-oriented (remember, we don't have a job without satisfied patrons) and I love working with young adults.

I'm awesome and available, so please, hit me up ;)

(And for the sake of some actual content, check out this study, "The Value of Libraries for Research and Researchers," from Research Libraries UK. Cos, like, no--really. We're still important.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Three words, kids: Missing. Presumed. Erased.

Or, An Epic Rant in Forty-Seven Parts**

Oh, what is she going on about NOW?

Well, it's time to rant about preservation. Must be Tuesday, you say. Yes, yes it is.

You know how it is--budget cuts, times are tough, bla bla bla. Well, a friend who works for the BBC mentioned on Facebook that today was the last ever taping of Blue Peter (a super-long running British kids show, think Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers) at its current location, at the BBC's famous Television Centre.That's because it is marked for closure.

A brief bit of history, for those of you into that sort of thing: Television Centre in London was the first building in the world entirely dedicated to recording and transmitting TV programs. In fact, it has been in operation for over fifty years for such a purpose. A crazy number of shows have been recorded there. Including some that have made their way to US audiences, like Monty Python, Absolutely Fabulous, Fawlty Towers, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and my personal favorite, Doctor Who (which has existed, in one form or another, since 1963). And that's just the ones you might have heard of. Think of the hundreds and hundreds of others I haven't mentioned here.

Amazing stonework (barely) saved from the bulldozer.
My heart broke when demolition was mentioned as a possible end for the structure. I kept thinking of the Chicago Stock Exchange, which is now just a memory, and a beautiful 1893 sculpted arch resting all by its little lonesome in a park on the corner of Columbus Drive and Monroe Street, and a careful transplant of the stock exchange floor inside the Art Institute of Chicago. A few reminders, some photos, and memories of how much we don't like old things and want to clear them away for new things, even if they're architectural masterpieces, or hold a ton of history.

Look at that awesome stencil work, people!
The Chicago Stock Exchange was designed in the late nineteenth century by  Louis Henri Sullivan, the founder of the architectural style known as the Chicago School of Architecture, and his partner Dankmar Adler. Its structural design and simple ornamentation gained it wide acceptance as an architectural masterpiece. In the 1960s and 70s many great examples of 19th century architecture in Chicago were removed to make way for newer developments, and despite the effort of early architectural preservation activists, the Stock Exchange was demolished as well. Another piece of history, gone.

I'm glad that Television Centre is no longer on that particular chopping block. But it's still slated to be sold and re-envisioned as part of an effort to create a flashy, shiny, cool cultural district. Which, I'm sure in 100 years' time will be heralded as an architectural and historical achievement that must be preserved, and so the cycle continues. I'm just not fond of the idea of casting a historic location (and all the history and culture they contain) aside due to budgetary concerns.

Now, see, I'm a librarian. I work in an archive doing digital preservation. I know we can't save everything. There isn't enough room in the world for all the stuff we generate. Picking and choosing and culling are all necessary. Otherwise, we'll never be able to find the important stuff (and what's important to one person/group is not important to another) for all the clutter. I'd just prefer that preservation decisions were based on a collection development plan, and not out of fear, or budgetary panic.

Budgetary panic eventually subsides. Economies bounce back, and the intense furor that people once felt to get rid of everything "unnecessary" dies down to a memory. And then we tsk and look back with 20/20 hindsight at how, maybe, we shouldn't have gotten rid of XYZ in a frazzled, well-meaning attempt to quell the rioting of those who would pitch their own mother out a window to save the equivalent cost of a loaf of bread and a sack of oranges on some random line item of a budget.

Yes, yes, budgets need to be cut, savings needs to be found somewhere, but I think SOMEONE needs to ask the question about what's REALLY important now, and what will REALLY be important later.

Don't rely on benign neglect to do the job of preservation.
British folks and American Doctor Who fans will know what I'm talking about when I say "missing, presumed wiped." This is what happened to a lot of early television. It couldn't be fathomed that saving a TV program on tape would have any value to anyone--tape wasn't cheap, and all it did was sit there and take up space. And television had not yet discovered the syndication market. Why would anyone rebroadcast a program? It was like a live theater event--once it was over, the moment was gone.

And yet... well, people did want to see things again. Or for the first time, if they missed an initial broadcast. And it's much cheaper to show reruns than constantly generating new content. Rebroadcasting was a goldmine that no one could comprehend in the late 1950s and early 1960s. And so a lot of cool stuff was lost. This might be ringing bells for Americans now... lost episodes of The Honeymooners and other very early television broadcasts, when the world was making the technological shift from radio to an audio and visual format. Amazing history, just gone because no one thought to either save it to tape, or if they did, they didn't think to KEEP that tape.

So young! So imperialistic! So Kipling!
Recently, a recording of Sir Ian McKellen's first television performance was discovered. I don't believe any other tapes from the series in question still exist. But it's fascinating to see the arc of his acting career, from infancy to now. And that ridiculous kids' show, Doctor Who, which has been kicking around for nearly 50 years. That's quite number of production staffs, television styles and aesthetics, actors and writers to go through. A single idea, carried out over multiple generations with multiple actors in the lead, that's certainly something worth studying and observing. But a lot of its early episodes were wiped. Every time an old episode, or part of an episode is found in an attic or at a station that should have destroyed the tapes decades ago, fans rejoice. But the history isn't just important for fans, it's important so that we know where our culture came from. Like it or not, television is a dominant medium with a long history that is deeply embedded in our culture.

The early days of Television Centre
Sure, I'm certain the BBC isn't foolish enough to just toss the contents of Television Centre out at the curb. I think there're plenty of Doctor Who fans who may well riot if that happens. Everything will get spread around other production centers, good bits of it probably lost, waiting to be rediscovered again in several decades' time like sunken treasure. But it will lose its context, and its home. That building will become something else. Walls will be rearranged to suit some other purpose and there may only be remnants of its original footprint hanging around. The gestalt of the place--the whole unit as a living and functioning piece of history will be gone.

There's been a ton of fuss raised in the public forum, both in politics and in journalism about the BBC, as a public institution, and how it spends the people's money, what its focus should be, how its spending should be conducted, and how it could or should save money in this economy. Way more to trudge up here. I'm just another voice chiming in with unwanted opinions at this point.

Thanks, publicly-funded PBS, for playing this in the US!
I know I have very little claim to this story, or to the history of Television Centre. Unlike my friend, I never worked there. The television shows that were produced there are only a second-hand part of my personal history. Its not part of my personal cultural heritage. Shoot, I may watch BBC television on Netflix and purchase the available Region 1 DVDs, but I certainly don't pay the licensing fee that British citizens pay to ensure the upkeep and survival of the network, one of their great cultural institutions. I can raise a fuss, but I don't have much of a leg to stand on.

I'm also not a nincompoop (despite what you've heard from others). I know times change, spaces get repurposed, old things sometimes MUST go, to bring way for new things. That's life. The only thing constant is change. I'm simply advocating smart choices, instead of fearful ones. Also, if left unchecked, the urges of the cost-savers would demolish or dismantle ANYTHING not turning a profit. No more libraries, no more natural history museums, goodbye to art programs and scientific research that does not present an immediate return on investment. Your favorite historic landmark? Too expensive to upkeep. Leveled and turned into a strip mall. Social services and public works? Too expensive. You think I'm kidding, but without the other side pushing against this idea that everything needs to be profitable and not just for the public good, we'd  experience that other extreme of there being NOTHING that isn't profitable left in our culture. That said, without penny-pincher realists pushing against my preservationist side, I'd be buried hip-deep in collections of things I just couldn't bare to part with and public works or cultural institutions that do not have SOME sort of worth approaching equal to their investment (maybe not monetarily, but at least socially or culturally)

However, this strikes me as one of those moments (and we probably have eleventy-billiondy in the US every day) where we COULD have saved something... and probably SHOULD have saved it... but we didn't. And then we don't realize what we didn't save until it was gone. I'm a realist--I know money doesn't  grow on trees. But I believe we should think things through, and act on strategy and long-term goals, and not short-term fear and panic.

Everything I could be saying here is based on preservationist anxieties. This cultural district thing could be awesome for West London. The Bee's Knees. When it's drawing in millions of people and dump trucks full of money, people will point to this post and talk about the paranoid American.

Artist rendering of the future fancy-pants cultural quarter
Or, y'know, it could crap out, and then there're a bunch of empty buildings no one can afford rent on. Just because you build it, that doesn't mean they will come. I've seen waaaay too many city development plans die horrible deaths after they eminent domain'd people out of businesses and homes to get higher rollers in the area--the higher rollers, even with tons of incentive, couldn't afford to stay, and the cities have gone from small players pulling in small profits to billions spent on development, and only empty buildings to show for it.

Betcha we'd save BUCKETS if we shut this puppy down for good.
So, I've taken a long, winding journey to get to the spot where I'm at right now. I think acting on short-term fear and panic brings long-term misery and cleanup. In so many areas of life: government, budgets, social programs, cultural trusts, history preservation, etc we need to learn to take a deep breath, don't panic, and have a strategy for the long-term, not just what will look good on a line item this year, then let the next guy, or the next generation deal with the unfortunate fallout. Think about what's REALLY best, and not what is convenient or tidy. EVERYTHING we do has long-term effects and we should look back at some of our preservation successes and follies before we step forward into the future.

**Kind of like the 1980 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Did she just say that out loud? Yes, she did.  It was only five parts. It just felt like 47. It took longer to read the book than for the mini-series to air. Faithful adaptations are awful. Cos one of the major strengths of Jane Austen's novels is that they make better movies than novels. And I say this as someone who loves Austen and will defend her right to write about whatever the hell she wanted to the death, and, oh... never mind. Caffeine overdose combined with Adult ADD.**

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The sad truth about working smarter, not harder

The story of a teacher who doesn't want to teach any more...

I think a lot of us start off like this teacher--full of ideas, natural talent, creativity and a go-get 'em attitude that we use to attempt to overcome all of the "little setbacks" in helping people. We are realists. We know that there will be cuts and changes, and things will happen. We keep up the attitude that we will adapt and use our creativity to get through the cuts and changes, since that is what we're good at.

But every year we get more taken away from us due to "budgetary constraints" and we get a little more added to our workload. Eventually there comes a tipping point when our creativity and tenacity just don't allow us to make up for everything that's on our plate. For the last... I don't know how many years... I've heard in library circles that we need to work smarter, not harder, and we need to "learn to do more with less." If I hear that phrase again, it will be too soon. With that attitude, both on our part, as being complicit in accepting less and less, and on the part of those who award budgetary allotments, we'll eventually be running the library on a volunteer basis out of the back of our cars, while still being expected to provide everything from resume writing help, technology education and childhood enrichment services with childcare, adaptive technology and a constantly rotating best-seller list.

At some point we, collectively, need to value what we do enough, and place enough value in our patrons (and wanting to do what's best for them) that we will take a stand against the CONSTANT slashing of budgets. I'm not talking about the case of a budget crisis where something needs to be done in the short term... but have you EVER had money taken away that was later restored? Probably not. We don't place value, as a society, in education, enrichment, libraries, or the arts. Heck, we don't even place them in paying and supplying our police and emergency responders adequately. Not only do we need to advocate for ourselves, what we do, and the resources we need to do it with those who determine our funding, but with the public at large. It should be a social outrage to expect so much of society-building things like schools and libraries with so little resources.

It won't be until WE change hearts and minds. No one's going to do it for us. I'm not saying "go forth and prostletize." Ok, maybe I am. But my intention is to get everyone thinking about how our willingness to just accept what little morsels are given to us, and put our nose to the grind stone with it isn't working, is going to catch up to us at that tipping point, and is hurting our patrons in the long run.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Interesting, but unsurprising statistics

Some pretty charts explaining the state of librarians in the workforce can be found here at the OUP blog.

The too long; didn't read (tl;dr) version:

Library science has been for the last hundred years, and continues to be a primarily female-driven profession. People working in libraries make more money than the median income in the US, but make far less than those with similar education in other places in the workforce. The number of librarians began growing after World War II, but has been in decline since 1990. The gender wage gap between male and female librarians was significant until 2009, when female librarians came within $100 (average) of their male counterparts (who still out-earn, despite the profession being female-driven). It's still a predominantly white profession. Most librarians are married, most work in the public setting.

This is all very lovely, what does it mean?

Like most statistics, they mean what we say they mean :)

However, I think many of us already knew or sensed that many of these things were true. Having good solid numbers based on census statistics is extremely helpful for advocacy, however. First of all, it gives us a clearer idea of some of the issues we face. Want more ideas in libraries? Want a more inclusive public persona for your library? Want more people to come into your library? A more diverse librarian population can help! Of course, this isn't just a problem in the hiring process--more men and more minorities need to see the library as a potential career for them, and WANT the job. I think a diversity of faces, backgrounds and talents can bring a lot to the library--not just in the idea-arena (and lets face it... librarians can be a bit set in their ways--we see the problem the way we see it, and can't quite get out of that box), but also in bringing folks into the library. One way to know that you belong in a place is to see other people like you in that place.

The female-oriented nature of the library is something we really do need to overcome. There are a lot of "social conditioning" reasons why women tend to be less assertive than their male counterparts (see previous post regarding wage negotiation, which I'm guilty of as well), but proper advocacy means being assertive and stating what we need, be it resources for ourselves, in order to take care of ourselves and our families, or resources for our libraries, in order to do our jobs properly, and serve our communities fully. I'm sure others would argue differently, but I suspect that if library science were a male-dominated profession, wages would be higher, which would attract (and keep!) a top-notch group of folks that libraries just can't keep right now (how many friends have left for non-library positions elsewhere that paid better?).

I suspect that libraries would have better resources because libraries would be better at speaking up for themselves, their value, and what they do for communities and organizations. I suspect that librarians, as a profession would not be looked down upon quite so much as being women's work, or work for people who like reading, or English majors who couldn't find a job. Basically, a frivolous position for people who don't like hard work, or are marking time until marriage, babies, or a better job comes along.

Only two days ago my job was refered to by a patron as "cushy." I wanted to go into a litany of details that made my job fun, and wonderful, but also made it challenging and less than "cushy." (Packing up and moving, box-by-box an archive to be put into storage comes to mind)

I think we need to take a good look at these statistics, and evaluate what they mean in terms of what we see in the every-day life of our libraries, and also try to imagine what they could mean for the future, and where we can help improve things.

Another post containing valuable job-seeking advice.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Want more money? Ask!

My friend and editor, the ever-amazing currator and librarian extraordinare (why yes, I AM kissing up... however did you guess?) Lynne Thomas wrote a great blog post about something librarians, especially FEMALE librarians have trouble with--salary negotiation.

I'm guilty of this myself--I was raised in an Italian-American household where it was rude to "put anyone out" by asking for anything they weren't willing to give you already... especially if you were a girl. Be polite, be gracious, and don't rock the boat.

I think that while women have come a long way in the last hundred years, librarianship is still viewed as a "woman's profession," like nursing and teaching, and therefore automatically does not command the respect it deserves. It was viewed as a job for spinsters, older ladies, and a job that women would do until they were married or pregnant, then quit. Also, the stigma is attached to many professions traditionally staffed mostly by women--it's not intellectually rigerous or "important," since it's not "man's work." No one will say that out loud today (if they have any sense, at least) but that latent attitude still colors how people view the monitory worth of those professions.

Lynne makes a great point that negotating salary helps YOU get more money, but it also helps the profession, and other librarians. It does this by bringing up the base salary, and stating to hiring institutions that librarians, professionals with masters degrees (and sometimes loads of student loan debt), experience and smarts are worth more. It helps institutions and local governments accept the reality that they WONT find a serious, skilled professional to do the job of librarian for less than a livable wage.

I learned so much at my first librarian job, but they kept me at 35 hours a week, and well below an actual livable wage because they DIDN'T value professionals. In fact, I sought employment elsewhere when they went from wondering why they needed someone with a masters to do the job to wondering why they couldn't just staff the library entirely with volunteers. I saw the writing ont he wall then. The library's board was full of people who DID care about the library, and they weren't being malicious. They just genuinely did NOT understand what a librarian did, and the value of having someone with education and experience in the position.

So read Lynne's post, and practice these three important sentences:
"I'm really excited about this opportunity. However, the offer is a little below my range. Can we do any better, say [name a number $5000 more than offer on table?]"

Don't just do it for yourself, but do it for the profession and for advocacy!