Tag: Librarians

And she’s back…overview and Friday

Hi! Welcome to everyone dropping by from the LITA blog, other blogs, various tweets, tweeple, meet ups, I handed you a business card, we shook hands, we danced, we had a meal…..all of that.

I saw a delightful number of friends and met a whirlwind of people in four days, many of whom I have business cards for and really should be sending personal emails.  Hmm…maybe I could send nice snail notes instead, would that be too 1.0 or creepy? I think it’d be fun to get snail mail that isn’t annoying post-conference stuff.

Headed towards DC early on Thursday morning. As anyone who follows along on Twitter or Facebook knows, I got caught behind the storms that ravaged Chicago and then stomped all over DC. Such it was that I got in a full 8 hours later than originally planned.  While I did get some quality time with three of my friends in Chicago, it wasn’t exactly how I’d planned to spend the day. Still, having time to get a pedicure was nice and I’m grateful to the friends who were flexible enough to meet up, offer up couches, and bear with 15 phone calls in five minutes when it seemed I might not make the 9:15 flight due to overbooking.

I stayed in a garden apartment about three blocks away from the Convention Center and it was phenomenal.  Having my home base *right there* and it not being a hotel room was spoiled rotten incredible. I stayed with Madame Storyteller and a friend of hers and our schedules were off enough that we had no shower conflicts…. Full kitchen, washer/dryer, back patio, closet space.  I wasn’t really there except to sleep but still…

Friday was my day to run over to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  When two GIANT blue diamonds are in that close of proximity to each other, a girl really must go. I’m not even that big a fan of diamonds, sapphires being my preferred sparkly of choice, but it was an opportunity not to be missed.

The huge elephant in the lobby made me sad.  I love elephants and have many figurines and stuffed animals that have various memories of special events and the Incredibly-Patient-Mother. Reading the description was heartbreaking though: the hunter found the tracks of the large elephant on one trip to Africa and returned the following year with a hunting party to specifically track down and shoot the animal. No villages were being razed, the elephant wasn’t causing problems. He was just big and, therefore, a worthy trophy. I stood on the balcony and took several pictures, hoping perhaps that in memory, at least, he was being thoughtfully admired.

Per the recommendation of my friend Travis, I went to Zaytinya for dinner.  The food was incredibly good, I ate far too much. I was reminded too just how much I like hummus. I really need to stock up on that at the grocery.

After dinner it was off to the LITA Happy Hour, which was lovely! I caught up with several friends from last year, several friends in the computer, and met a lot of new people. We talked about book vending machines, plans for the weekend, best programs to hit, all sorts of things. I was identified by necklace at least by the redoubtable Aaron Dobbs.  🙂

Back “home” to change and then it was out to the ALA Dance Party.  Though directionally it was a bit challenging (apparently some of the locals even struggle with where 22nd street is off Dupont circle), I did finally get oriented and was able to meet up with old and new faces.  I think we can successfully say the bar was surprised and amused, and the DJ did a decent job for the first couple of hours. I could have lived without the soap bubbles they kept blowing into the air though–it made the floor slippery and I was in four inch heels.

Grabbed a cab and headed back…

Dear Vendor….

Dear Vendor,

I received your postcard in the mail today, along with all the other vendor stuff that’s coming to me in the week prior to the ALA Annual Conference. I found myself really annoyed by your clinging to the stereotype of librarians as silence addicts.

To quote: ‘The Spine Label Printer Librarians Are Raving About. (Quietly Of Course)”

Is your marketing department really so shallow that the catchiest thing they could come up with was this patronizing tag line? Are you really so removed from libraries that you think libraries (particularly public) are quiet places?

I will remember your name,  yes, but I won’t be coming to your booth at ALA. If you’re still stuck in the stereotype, how am I to believe you’re connected to what I’m doing today?


Addressing the Librarian Age Gap

Andy has a provocative post looking at the numbers in libraries and where ages of the profession are trending.

He asks the question of what we think is causing the age gap.

I think it’s somewhat propagated by two things: by librarians primarily recruiting people into the profession who are closer to their own age and the expectations of what our future coworkers will bring to the table from their work in other professions.

Librarians and libraries have self-promotion issues that we’re struggling mightily against–particularly in the current climate of budget cuts/layoffs/closures/etc.  We may know we’re doing cool things but we’re insular and primarily talk to ourselves and about ourselves. We have our own conferences, our own professional networks, and the navel gazing can become exhausting.  Dorothea pointed out on the Book of Trogool that we’re hiding in the comfortable space of library conferences, publications, and desks and not showing relevance to professions we’re trying to serve. One of the side effects of that is adults in other professions don’t see and know what we’re doing and so aren’t promoting us as an interesting profession choice to their children.

Add to that our stereotypical reputation of being aging pruney spinsters, usually disciplinarian, and underpaid without the “making a difference” reputation that young adults perceive in something like education or social work and we’re up against an unappealing wall.  Future librarians have to come to us, break into our inside-joke-riddled inner circles, and what outreach we are doing seems to be to people who are like us–in looks, in mindset and in age. We bring the already faithful into the fold instead of actively creating the idea of this being a valuable and cool future for people just starting out.* There are young scientist, author, engineer, etc programs, yet at present I can’t see a young librarians program really getting off the ground. Maybe someone will prove me wrong.

Some libraries will step up and push their single teen/children’s librarian, hipster adult librarian, etc to the front and say “But we have HER!” Right. Her**. Singular. I’m the youngest professional in my library by nearly a decade and let me state: one young person in your building does not create a work place culture that appeals to young professionals. Because young adults are graduating from LIS programs in small numbers, young librarians are scattered incredibly thinly–doled out as new blood among branches of a major library system or singular creatures in a smaller library, or headed across country to find that elusive first job.

What internally or public facing do we do to encourage or appeal to young adults? I see conference programs regularly about how to get multiple generations to understand their differences, but the hiring reality doesn’t seem to be so inter-generational.  Instead the young ones are the exceptions to the rule, and if hired, still flung at the web/computer problems whether they like them or not, expected to pick up extra time because coworkers plead family responsibilities or have endless weeks of vacation, or anticipated to pick up extra responsibilities simply because of their youth. Couple that with the pervasive “we’ve always done it that way” attitude that still runs rampant in many libraries and wonder how exciting you would have found it at twenty-two.

In slides posted from a recent presentation, Jenica Rogers talked about the fact that she’s considered old by the college students at her library (slide 18), despite being a mere 33–quite a youthful age in libraries. I have had my Master’s Degree for five years already and I’m still shy of thirty. I can speak first hand to running into librarians who dismissed me as not worth talking to or not worth hiring because of my age. I’ve been written off as one of those upstart kids demanding older people retire, despite never having said that. Can I prove reverse discrimination? Of course not.  But I’m competing with people who have equal experience in the field and a decade in another profession that they can show as having parallels to library work. The perception I have been given is that it is not enough to have wanted to become a librarian first.

And that leads me to my second point:

We don’t create a culture for young adult librarians because, when we hire new people, I think we expect them to bring their other experiences to round out what it is they are doing in libraries. LIS programs are supposed to be there to teach us how to find and evaluate information and be excellent generalists. But the reality for job seekers is that you’re also strongly preferred to have multiple years of  outside experience (extra bonus for management experience) and/or an extra degree in the humanities, in medicine, in education, in business, in a subject area that will make you seem “legitimate” to your patrons. I’m certainly not against more education, continued learning, specialized librarians bringing what you already know or other things that you’re interested in. Not by any means. But if those are the entry hurdles that must be leaped to join the profession, is there even any wonder that anyone under thirty and considering their first profession is skeptical of libraries?

So what happens? Students who might be interested in library careers are looked at askance by their peers, who see them going into a profession that keeps loudly proclaiming itself dead and dying.*** They may instead go out to other careers, get their student loans pared down and then put themselves through two-three more years of a LIS program to incur more debt and graduate to face a stiffly competitive job market for, primarily, management positions. To read the job boards and the listservs, libraries seem to be bleeding directors and department heads. While many of us have, will, do and are striving to be good managers and while library management has it’s own black eye, it’s another area where you need experience to get the job, need the job to get the experience–and young adults often have neither.

I am a blatant exception to age norms, having started my LIS program before my 21st birthday. It’s the career I wanted, not my second choice, not what I whittled down to after burning out or decided I didn’t like my first choice. When I started library school there were four of us in our 20s, I the baby by about four years. We headed into four very different branches of library science: one to law, one to Ivy League, one to archives, and I’ve worked in two public libraries. Then we were “the kids” together. Post graduation we’ve spread across multiple states. Of the four of us, the one with pre-LIS management experience got a job the fastest, though last I heard said librarian was looking to get out of libraries.

I’m not against working with multiple generations. I’ve done it in every job I’ve worked in and expect to for the rest of my life.  I’ve certainly benefited from those who have done this before me and with whom I’ve had the opportunity to talk and work and I expect to benefit from people coming to the profession after me. I’m not against recruiting people into libraries as their second career. We see a lot of really dedicated librarians come to the profession, ready to advocate because they do see a point and a do see a purpose. And I do presently work in a system where we do have a number of people who did do undergrad straight to LIS program.

But one of the ways libraries need to show their relevance is to demonstrate that we’re not solely internally focused, and that it can be and should be a first career choice for the enthusiastic undergrads.  Now then, off to research acquiring a Hollywood lobbyist.

*My library friend Eric Sizemore says we need to lobby Hollywood to get a better reputation of librarians out there. He’s got a point.

**Mostly they are women, men are fewer and farther between.

***Oooh–sign me up! Oh wait…did that already :-p

Librarian: One Part Personal Shopper

A part of being a librarian that I really enjoy is collection development: a.k.a. shopping. Getting to go through reviews and select books, music, audiobooks and finding the occasional DVD that I hop up and down and beg the DVD selector for…it’s fun! And I’m not spending my money.

However, with that freedom of not spending my money comes the responsibility that I’m spending yours. I’m spending money from the taxpayers and that means I need to choose wisely to meet the highly varied needs of your children. This is why occasionally I’m cross-eyed from wading through reviews and going through my “possible purchase lists”, trying to round out the collection. There needs to be a balance of “good literature”, classics, popular fiction, mysteries, hard stuff, and snack food reading. And that means that while I have multiple copies of the 2009 Newbury award winning book (Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman) and the latest by Laurence Yep, I’m also going to order the Daisy Meadows and Captain Underpants books–because your third graders are passing those last two around at school, sharing them, and coming to me to ask for them. And often, if I can get them in looking at the snack food books they’ll grab something else while they are here. Come on –> the cool books are here at the library….

This morning, for the first time, I ordered books that were a memorial. Money was given to the library children’s department in honor of a woman who passed away and it was my responsibility to purchase items that will get a bookplate with her name in them. It sounds simple, order books, insert name plate, shelve. But I spent time considering what I would purchase–items that would circulate, ones we needed, but also books that will have a shelf longevity greater than the Tiara Club or Bionicle series.

I’m in the middle of a heavy weeding project, trying to breathe life and love back into a chapter book collection that hasn’t seen it in a while. This means I’m handling every single book, putting holds on ones that are checked out so I can see condition, making the decisions about getting rid of Mary Kate and Ashley, Babysitters Club, or that book that was really popular eight years ago, but hasn’t circulated of late. Part of the weeding means that I am replacing a lot of our well-loved and used classics and it was to this list I turned for the memorial.

For the memorial gift I ended up ordering Black Beauty (Anna Sewell); A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Madeline L’Engle); Hard Gold (Avi); and Little Women (Louisa May Alcott). Of the four, only Hard Gold is a new title, but the other three continue to have strong circulation, and they are books parents consistently ask for when looking for something they remember reading as children. And in competition with all of the new and exciting titles I’m buying, classics sometimes go by the wayside because of dull covers–which is why I spent time not only considering titles, but appearance of those titles. How it will appeal to the casual browser is important: we’re all book-cover magpies.

So that is part of my day–being a personal shopper of literature and music. Hmm…I wonder if I’ve included that on my resume.

And now….off to read School Library Journal and pick out some more titles!

Popular Fiction = Future Classics

Apparently it’s a week for people to grab blog post ideas from the conversations raging over at NewLib-L. I might not have ducked back into the fray but for Colleen, who, as always, writes witty and interesting blog posts reminding us that if you behave in an unprofessional manner on a listserv–people will remember. And since we’re all human, we’ll probably judge you too.

But I have a little lighter fare today, focusing more on whether or not society is falling to pieces because *gasp* popular fiction is what most people are reading. (See NYT Best Seller Lists here for the horror)

I asked the question: “I wonder if there was ever a time that librarians or “the learned” weren’t dismayed to find out that patrons/regular people liked to read exciting adventure stories. “

Overall, many of us are amazingly regular reading creatures. We like adventure, a little bit of the fantastic, surprise, romance and the potential of a happy future at the end of the book. The bad guys are captured, the good guys rewarded. And this is, to a great degree, a lot of what happens in popular fiction. A detective finds the missing money, a marriage is proposed, a killer is stopped/discovered, friends are hanging out again, there is hope for the future. I could point to any number of popular authors or syndicated television shows that follow this pattern.

What then becomes “classic literature?” What are the “great books of the ages?” As I mentioned in my post about Dr. Crichton’s passing, this is a topic I like to revisit occasionally. What that the lofty among us consider “mere popular fiction” today will ascend to “classic” in one hundred years? What will our great-grandchildren’s grandchildren be forced to read that we couldn’t get enough of when it first came out?

Personally, I’ll still argue for Neal Stephenson and Michael Crichton. The former as being able to blend epic story with more math and science than I ever faced down in the classroom; the latter for heavily researched tales that took on all manner of scientific possibility. I could see Tom Clancy joining the ranks, though more as an example of period literature that could be studied for insight into governmental happenings, international relations, etc rather than perhaps a true classic. And don’t make me answer what a true classic is, I’m not really sure. (This after not only an MLS but also a BA in English Literature.)

But I have found that there is nothing like sticking a Newbury or other award winning sticker on a book to sink the circulation rates. Kids don’t respond especially well to the implied condescending tone of a group of adults telling them it’s a Good Book that they Should Read. And yet, we assume adults are different? Granted, adults are a smidge less likely to let a gold sticker turn them off (and certainly as parents they look for those stickers when choosing for their own children) but the condescension remains. Librarians often get the joy of trying to explain that no, really, just because it’s a classic story it’s not that dry. I promise the original Three Musketeers is a delightful romp of manly men doing manly things in a time of men being men and women being….spies among other things. I have a harder time with Moby Dick but that’s just my inability to get past the first 100 pages…

So I appeal to you–what will become our future classics? What will go by the wayside? Shoot me an email or a comment and I’ll post a summary of responses in the coming weeks.