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Thinking About the Future of Libraries

I’ve gone to a couple of library conferences while I was away from you dear reader and I find that talk about the future of libraries is on the rise again. But, then again, aren’t people involved in libraries ALWAYS concerned about their future? Radio was going to kill books. Video Tapes were going to kill books. The Internet was going to kill books and now e-books are going to kill paper books. And therefore no libraries? Apparently the use for a library is in the eye of the beholder. Is it a place to check out books? A place to cull research? A place for community gatherings? A place to play video games? A place with free Internet access? I say yes, and then some.

Where is the Marketing?

I think the future is in the essence of the library as a “free” entity (I know our tax dollars pay for the public ones and tuition helps pay for the academic…you know what I meant). There are no favorites in the library, you can have whatever you want and take part in all kinds of activities, for free. It is true that when many people hear the word “library” they think of a quiet shushy place for paper books and that is really where the problem lies. The fact is librarians have worked very hard to create new spaces that work into the communities need for items and activities that normally cost money. Who else does that for you these days? Seriously. The issue here is the lack of marketing acumin on the part of the librarians. I think that advocacy and marketing are two of the most important and least understood skills a librarian can have.

Reading From the Screen

Here is the thing with the e-books. I was gifted a Kindle. So now I have one. I find I prefer the e-ink technology to the back lit color jobs for long stints of reading. But I digress, it is now easy for me to get a book at the click of a button. That’s even easier than dragging myself all the way to the public library. Problem, I have to pay for every book, averaging $9.99 a pop (even when a paperback copy is going for $5 or less). Problem, Amazon doesn’t have everything I want (e.g. Ray Bradbury is not having anything to do with e-books). Problem, I have to remember to plug it in from time to time (granted that is about once every two weeks but it is an issue and that sucker takes a good many hours to charge). Problem, it is not compatible with the free library software so I can’t borrow any of their books. Overarching problem, my Kindle costs $189 not every age needs to be responsible for that kind of equipment and not every household can afford to get one for every member of the family. Without paper books do we have to pick and choose who in our family get the opportunity to read? Until e-book readers become throw away technology that has easy (let’s focus on the word easy) access to free material, I just don’t see it killing the paper book.

So where does this leave libraries? The users needs are definitely shifting, or rather, expanding. And I think it is simply that. We need to be in touch with our patron (or those that we would like to be our patrons) and give them what they need for free. We need to let them know that these services exist. They need access to a number of things both technological and personal we should build from there. Am I missing something?

What is your title at work? Do people understand what you do by your title? Does it matter? Controversy abounds in the world of school librarianship.

When I began my work experience as a librarian in the K-12 education system I was a teacher. In fact, as time went on I was often the most credentialed teacher on my campus with as many as five credentials under my belt. Interestingly, my own instructional colleagues often did not know that I was a credentialed teacher with all of the same rights and benefits that they had even though I attended all faculty meetings and even taught research skills to their students. I was not alone in this strange no mans land of misunderstanding. As a member of the California School Library Association (CSLA) I watched the membership grapple with this conundrum from one end of the State to the other. I think part of the problem was a lack of proper understanding of what the lone school librarian was doing in that big book and computer filled space. I believe the thinking was that if the name was more descriptive things would change (does that ever really work?).

Frankly, upon entering the profession I thought my title was “school librarian” because that is the term I had always known for this position. However, I was quickly informed that my title was “library media teacher” because that better explained what I did (although I found it a confusing mouthful). I was told that “Librarians” were all about books and we were so much more now that technology was such a large part of our lives. Additionally, it brought the word “teacher” into our title which was a pitch for more understanding about our standing with our campus communities. Apparently I was not alone with my feeling that the “library media teacher” moniker was clunky. A few years ago the CSLA’s legislative committee was able to get the name officially changed on the government website and related documents to “teacher-librarian” which is what you will find today.

And that should be the end of the story, no? Actually, no. We have a new twist. At the national level of library associations there is a group called the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). In my opinion they are the big dogs of school library land. They make the national decisions which naturally means the States should follow their lead. Makes sense right? CSLA may not feel that way. Although “teacher-librarian” is clearly preferred here in California AASL had other ideas. They recently pronounced that the official name for the profession is going to be “school librarian”  (mon dieu!). So now we have a bit of a schism…who is to be called what? Canada prefers “teacher-librarian” so the AASL was not looking for world-wide continuity. Some in the profession (outside of California) are baulking at the AASL and saying they will continue to call themselves by a name other than “school librarian” due to its passive and outdated inference. Is it okay to go by whatever works in your work environment even though the government documents do not support you? Or is it better to go with the nationally recognized standard? Some people really do have a dog in this fight. However, I have to ask myself why?

As for me, I have gotten out of the K-12 political system. I am a “librarian” at a college. Yes, I am a tenure track faculty member. No, most faculty and staff do not realize that I am also a professor. We are well respected and seen as a vital part of the academic community all the same and that’s good enough for me. Perhaps there is too much emphasis on the title in K-12 , perhaps the interest this kind of thing generates should be moved into the realm of advocacy at the local level to educate the public about what they do and save their jobs.

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One of the too many listserv’s that I mainly lurk on had a message that I found very sad the other day. A librarian out there had been asked to videotape one of her research/library instruction classes to be used in lieu of her face-to-face class for someone. She was scared and looking for a way to get out of it. Why? Under the veil of pedagogical intellectual property she did not want to become obsolete. She thought that if this video got out no one would want to come in and have her personal lessons anymore. Basically she wants to hoard the knowledge so people must come to her to get the education in this area that is so desperately needed.

This goes against all I know to be the librarians credo. We share. I have rarely met a librarian who was not all about giving intellectual stuff away. What do you think sites like ANTS and PRIMO are all about? They share video tutorials other people have made so that you can put them on your website and use them to get to the widest audience possible.

Out of all of the seven librarians at my institution no ones position is seen as having more staying power than my own (in my own humble opinion). I am the online services librarian my job is to put us online as much as possible. Particularly for those who will never step foot in our library for whatever reason.

It is librarians like the one on that listserv that never cease to surprise and depress me. It is librarians like the one on that listserv that will find herself obsolete and as well it should be.

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Girl screamingIt was with a heavy sigh that all who hold citing sources near and dear to our hearts took in the news that both the APA and MLA had created new style manuals. This means new rules to learn, old habits to unlearn and making sure we know the difference as soon as possible so we can teach others. But it was true the world had become a different place since the last style manuals were minted and it was time for an update.
Considering all of the different bodies that cite sources in academia one would think that the creators of the style manuals would take this task very seriously. One would think that there would be bountiful harvests of editors going over the manual with fresh eyes and testing every aspect of the little gem before publication.
Apparently not, last week the APA released dozens of corrections to the manual that was originally printed in July. What about those of us who have purchased the manual? No replacement will be sent, we are encouraged to download the corrections from this site that would be the APA home page. Go there and try to figure out where the corrections are hidden, it is not easy (insert nerdy Hitchhikers Guide joke here about being hidden in a basement lavatory, inside a locked filing cabinet with a sign that reads “beware of the leopard”).  In fact, if you didn’t know already you would think that the new manual had been hunky dory since it’s first printing.Once you find the 15 pages of corrections you are expected to go into your manual and make the changes yourself by hand.
Of course, the librarian community found these errors weeks ago and has been “musing” about what will be done. As we are a helpful people we have been finding the errors and sharing what we think are corrections or eliminations among ourselves. There has been quite a bit of confusion and no shortage of colorful commentary. Undoubtedly the new news will not go over well either.


The staff at my library are well aware of my kickboxing habit.  I was flattered when one of them posted to the building that this article made her think of me.

Geek Capture

My MacBookPro desktop dictionary widget says a “geek” is “a person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest”. Welcome to my people. Librarians are famous for having an eccentric devotion to their profession. Therefore it was not surprising to see OCLC harness the geekery with their new PR campaign Geek the Library that they have rolled out in Iowa and Georgia and have overarching plans for the rest of the country. One might think that my colleagues in libraryland would be absolutely tickled however the site has been met with mixed reviews from the library blogosphere. There is fear that declaring ones geekery in a subject cannot translate to library support both Jessamyn West and Sonoran Dragon make good points here and there is ongoing dialog on Library and Information Science News that echoes concern. Others are rather proud like Bobbi Newman who actually lives in one of the representative States.

My Impression of the Site

The first thing that hits you upon entering the site is it’s beauty, very slick. Libraries are unfortunately not able to present themselves with this kind of visual eloquence very often. However, next I found myself wondering what the purpose of the site was, it is shamefully not obvious and the top left hand button (the first place my eye went) does not take you to library information but a “what do you geek?” page that is fun but not about libraries. One has to be willing to click around a bit more to get to the reason the website is in existence. Personally it is this design flaw that irks me most and I would venture to guess that their analytics will tell them that is the first click on the site, was that intentional? If so how do they expect to get their PR message across? Are they making assumptions that people will click some more? It is my opinion that the purpose of the site should be gracefully smacking us in the face before we click on anything.

Popular Culture R Us

Am I too much of an NPR fan or is it not over the top to believe that being a “geek” has become a relatively acceptable term to be tagged with? It is this belief that makes me much less bothered with the idea of being a geek as the centerpoint of their campaign as some of my colleagues in libraryland. I can see how OCLC would think that people may aspire to be a geek on some level if they do not feel that way about themselves already (and let’s just get over using “geek” as a verb shall we, English lives, let’s let it grow).

Go with (insert diety of choice here) OCLC

I say good on you OCLC! This campaign is brand new and bound to have a few wrinkles that need to be ironed out. I think that libraries get far less PR than they need due to lack of funding (frequently caused by lack of PR, oh the vicious circle) and if OCLC has the ability, for whatever probably monetary reason, to pick up the ball and run with it I will not complain. In fact, I welcome this campaign to my poor practically bankrupt State of California. And for the record “I Geek Muay Thai Kickboxing!”

Shovers and Makers 2009: I’m a winner! (So are you.) shoversandmakers.netThere is an interesting phenomenon I have been watching sweep the online librarian world and that is the self appointing of Shovers and Makers. As you may have noted in a previous post Library Journal publishes a yearly list of those whom it deems are the Movers and Shakers of the library world for that year. There are nominations and so forth that go into this decision making process. However there are no doubt thousands of librarians who are incredible powerful although less popular that wonder if there might be some way that some year they too will get recognized. Well they need wait no longer, we can all now shout from the rooftops our gloriousness through the Shovers and Makers site created by The Library Society of the World. All one needs to do is write up all the things one has done to make this award possible and graciously accept. Post it , they will approve (assuming you have followed some simple guidelines) and your in!

Part of me shyed away from this at first wondering if it wasn’t another reminent of the “everybody who plays gets a trophy” generation. Part of me kept hearing Oprah say “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!” (just substitute car for “award” and there we are.) However then I began reading the entries. What an inspiration! So many talented librarians all over the world doing extraordinary things. Those who write up there Shover and Maker acceptance posts are those who are loving their jobs too. We are a special beast the technologically inclined librarian who is passionate about their job. The person whose friends know that if libraries are casually brought up in a conversation we may just burst with our opportunity to enlighten and gush over the fabulousness that is our profession. And so it went, I too wrote up my acceptance and graciously handed myself my self appointed award as one of this years Shovers and Makers. Not only might I help inspire someone else it may help keep me inspired on a less than sparkly day. Out of my way, I’m making a difference!

movers09 It is that time of year again. The time when Library Journal comes out with it’s annual list of people within our profession that are recognized for their leadership and ability to take our libraries to new levels of performance and responsiveness.

I look forward to Library Journal’s list of Movers and Shakers because I find it inspiring. Now so more than ever, the reason being that I actually know who some of these people are and have witnessed their impact. I also know more about how libraries run and what it takes to make things happen. A few years ago when I was still working in the K-12 system I could only imagine what these jobs must be like and what kind of world allowed these librarians to innovate and advocate in the manner that they were being recognized. The job of a K-12 teacher librarian is misunderstood at best, even Library Journal tends to pass over their leaders and that is because a teacher librarian works in a bit of a vacuum being the only one of their kind on their campus if, at this point in time, they even exist on a school campus at all. But that soap box is for another day. Suffice it to say I love being an academic librarian and I look forward to a long and productive career with further inspiration from those who do what I do in this very big international pond.

Congratulations to all who made the 2009 list! For a great rundown of each new member of this exclusive club and links to their blogs I suggest taking a look at Bobbi Newman’s blog, she did a great rundown.