Meanwhile, on Facebook…

Working on my final paper for my final class of library school, I posted a status update recently which read, “Struggling with APA style for the last time in my life, FSM willing. From here on out it’s Bluebook all the way, baby.”  As is wont to happen, a discussion on the merits of citations and what they are good for ensued.  My friend M suggested that perhaps hyperlinks were the ultimate citation. The following exchange ensued:

J: “Unfortunately, though it does have ease of use on its side, what is attached to a hyperlink is subject to change (so certain styles require you to note when you accessed the linked information). It is also not self-explanatory in a footnote or endnote, so it requires additional description to make up a full citation.”

M: “Got it. Someone should write a book…”

J: “There aughta be a law!!!”

M: “That sounds like a quote. Could you cite that properly please?”

J: “Bite me.”[1]

[1] Summers, Buffy. (2003). Never kill a boy on the first date. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1(5).

Blowing one’s trumpet

Bear with me, because there are a few threads I would like to draw together here, and they may come together rather messily.

  1. I’ve had a conversation in a leadership class about the difference between actually getting things done and the activities of self-promoting squeaky wheels who don’t actually contribute.  You know what I’m talking about, I am sure: the Peter Principal jerks who get promoted while those who labor quietly and competently get passed over.
  2. But then there is also the difficulty (sometimes) for management to realize who is doing what and the necessity for people to self-promote in a realistic way that helps the organization and themselves.  If you’re doing good so subtly, is management to be blamed for missing your fingerprints on the good deeds?
  3. The perennial issue of libraries in general being given the shaft during bad economic times no matter how foolish that may be in terms of value for money libraries give in terms of net access, help with finding jobs, and other resources.
  4. The historical tendency* of librarians to want to be recognized for the good they and their institutions do by their quiet competence and effort alone.
  5. This post today from John Scalzi’s blog.

Which brings me to the question – are we thinking (or have we been thinking) about what we do as charity rather than a profession?

* I do realize I am oversimplifying, and I do know that libraries are getting better at promotion.  I do think, however, that they are still behind the curve when it comes to proving the economic utility of what they do.

For those about to hunt the job, I salute you.

Some of my library school cohort are graduating now, and I wanted to share some really hard-earned wisdom from old Auntie Jill.

I had to completely rewrite my resume once.  I have never had writer’s block like this before – I would open my laptop, launch the Word file that contained my resume, stare at it in horror for about 15 seconds, quit the program, close the laptop and go off and do… well, anything.

I knew my experience was good. I knew my resume wasn’t reflective of that, and I did not know how to bridge that gap. As a writer, this particularly irked me. Isn’t this what I’m paid to do? To convince people through my words that something is worth doing? Something like… hiring me, say?

So finally, I sat down with a woman at the expensive outplacement center my former employer was paying for and for two hours she had me read all of the bullet points in my resume one after the other. Did this, wrote that, managed the other thing. And to every point she said, “Which resulted in what?” And the truth slowly dawned that showing results rather than activity was the important thing. And that the results weren’t always obvious to everyone, though they were so screamingly obvious to me that it seemed silly to put them down on the page until I was able to put myself in that other person’s shoes.

Anyone can do stuff.  Prove to the world that the stuff you’re doing makes a difference, and don’t take it for granted that the difference you are making is self-evident.  And congratulations, grads.

Preemptive apologies may be necessary for the library neepery.

…..and she breaks her (completely unintentional and oh my goodness how did the time get by me like that?  I know: we’ll blame school) silence.  Lucky you, reader, you get – well, not so much a cabinet of curiosities but a catalog of irritants.  But they’re themed irritants, at least.  They are on the subject of libraries and perception.

Yup – just lost 80% of my librarian and librarian-to-be readers.  We hear this stuff all the time.  We say this stuff all the time.  Well, at least I will have vented my overloaded spleen.

Irritant #1: I recently had a brief conversation (well, okay – it was on Twitter) with an acquaintance.  He moaned about information overload (with the corollary that most of the info he found was crap).  I quipped, “sounds like you need….a LIBRARIAN! (cue triumphant music).”  His response?

“Google is my librarian.”

Let’s back away from that statement for one tiny moment.  Take whatever it is you do for a living – bonus points if you’re passionate about it and think it’s a worthwhile thing to do.  Then, at a cocktail party or on Twitter you find someone who is in need of the services of your profession and they respond that a tool of your profession is your profession.  Just think about that for a moment:

“This pencil is my architect.”

“AutoCAD is my industrial designer.”

“This sledgehammer is my contractor.”

Fill in your own blanks for your own profession.  It somehow manages to miss the point and be rather insulting at the same time, doesn’t it?  Yes, librarians use Google.  They/we use it all the time.  It’s useful in a similar way to Wikipedia – easy, fast, imprecise, with lots of suspect sources.  A pilot trusting to Google’s output for plotting a course might get you to where you’re going efficiently and safely, or they might well be Bugs Bunny: “Dang.  I knew I should’ve taken that left turn at Albuquerque!”

So, Google: interesting tool?  Yes.  Librarian?  No.

Irritant #2: John and I were recently given a copy of This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.  I snagged it for train reading (where I really should be doing homework, but that’s a different post).  It is, I have to say, about what I expected.  Even though the writer takes the public and the media to gentle task occasionally for clinging to old stereotypes about the profession, there is a whiff of Margaret Meade or “Wild Kingdom” about the book.  Watch as Bob stalks the librarian in the stacks – note her colorful plumage, achieved with three colors of Manic Panic, a nose ring, and barely-visible tattoo.  This seemingly shy creature can be found in any urban library when she’s not participating in an ALA Book Cart Drill Team.

Fancy that, librarians are individuals too.  Who’da thunk it.

That part really doesn’t irritate me that much, though.  Yes, librarians can be incandescently weird.  So, I am sure, can the members of any profession.  But the weird does make for better reading and I know that I’m not necessarily the prime audience for this book.  For the most part, I am enjoying the picture of the (mostly public) librarians she paints.  She clearly has affection for those of us who are info-geeks.

The irritant was actually a throw-away bit in the second chapter, where the author describes looking for a copy of Easy Travel to Other Planets.  She finds a copy on microfiche and states, “Though it’s a literary novel, Easy Travel had been stashed on a reel with a bunch of science fiction.”

Excuse me?  A book set in the future with extrapolations based on current science being stashed with science fiction?  Call the cataloging police, because we know that if something is “literary” it couldn’t possibly be science fiction.

From the rerun file – library edition

Periodically, I post reruns from the old, hard-to-navigate version of WoT.  Today, I was reminded of this post about my experiences as a law school work-study student in our library.  The post dates from from April 2005, and it’s especially appropriate now that I am in library school:


Libraries are where work-study grants go to die, especially at a public university. It seemed that every other student was eligible for a work-study grant at my school, and when you can’t get a job as a research assistant for a professor (or, as in my case, the professor you have your research job with doesn’t have a whole lot of projects for you), you take advantage of your grant working at the library. It’s a pretty good gig – you can drop in for as little as an hour at a time, the work is fairly undemanding, and you can read the papers while you’re attaching them to those long sticks.

The unfortunate thing about the library – at least at Maine – was that random, strange calls tended to land at the circulation desk. Since the circulation desk was generally manned by the shifting mass of students on work-study who were working a 2-hour shift (at the longest), it was a poor choice for those members of the public who might be seeking anyone resembling a clue. On the other hand, since the circ desk students were constantly confounded by the old-fashioned phone (the kind with a row of buttons on the bottom that went “ker-CHUNK” when you pressed them to select a line, put someone on hold, or transfer them to oblivion), it was probably a good way for a harried switchboard operator to get rid of annoying callers.

I was whiling away my time at the circ desk late in my career at U. Maine one spring afternoon when the telephone rang. I answered it, and was greeted by a slow, stentorian voice obviously belonging to an elderly gentleman who was most likely hard of hearing. “I would like to speak to the Law Librarian,” he boomed.

Hmm. There was nobody with that title at the library, to the best of my knowledge, and I had worked there for two years. “Er – sir, do you have a reference question, or would you like to speak to the director of the library? There is nobody with the title of ‘Law Librarian.'”

“I would like to speak to the Law Librarian,” he repeated – as one would with a particularly dim child.

“Sir, as I told you, there is nobody here with that title –”

“I would like to speak to the Law Librarian.”

Fine. It seemed my best choices were a.) the reference librarian, or b.) the director. As I had no more information than that, I selected the director by a semi-random selection method: I liked the reference librarian. He was a very decent chap.  Also, the director had a secretary who was probably better-equipped to handle this than either I or the reference librarian. So I said, “One moment, sir,” and put him into transfer mode, got the secretary on the line, put him through, and went back to replacing pocket-parts or whatever other gripping task the circ desk had for me that day.

About a minute later, the phone rang again and I had a sense of doom. Sure enough, when I answered it, I got, “I WOULD LIKE TO SPEAK TO THE LAW LIBRARIAN.” Either my ancient telephone-fu was weak, or he had gotten confused when he was put on hold and had hung up.

“One moment, sir,” I put him on hold again and called up to the director’s secretary’s office. Now she was not there. Hell.

I took a deep breath and got back on the line with my elderly friend. “Sir, nobody is there at the moment. I would be happy to take a message for you –”

That was when he exploded. He began to yell, ranting about how he needed to speak to the fictitious “law librarian” and how he was retired Maine Supreme Court Justice Hoo-Ha, and on and on. The serials librarian, who had been shelving journals in the open shelves behind the circ desk looked at me as I held the phone’s receiver away from my ear. I felt like one of those cartoons where the noise from the phone actually blows your hair back. Finally, his tirade wound down and he ended by sarcastically asking, “So what do you suggest I do?”

I had a split-second conversation with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, took a deep breath, and said, “Well sir – the way I see it you have two choices. You can leave a message as I suggested at the outset or you can continue to be rude to me. Which will it be?”

The serials librarian in the stacks behind me inhaled audibly and I waited.

“Um. I guess I’ll leave a message then.”

Score one for the work-study student.


Beautiful libraries from around the world.

I’m especially taken with the long-exposure photograph of the Abbey Library St. Gallen, Switzerland, making the patrons look like ghosts.

Amen. Pass it on.

The public library is not just about borrowed books. It is about information — the great currency of our time. And the library has, by default, become the bridge in the digital divide because it offers free access to computers. Can you imagine in this digital day looking for a job, submitting a résumé or a college application, or searching for housing without your computer? For millions of people, the library is their laptop.

Political action

Sorry for the lack of postage lately.   And today’s update isn’t terribly exciting, but I thought some of my readers might want to jump on this particular bandwagon.

I sent this e-mail to my state reps and senator today:

Dear Sirs and Madam:

Citizens are turning to public libraries in record numbers. Library usage data across the state is rising steeply — libraries and their services (job search training, new skills and education services, Internet and computer access, safe and free place for families) are helping citizens survive the economic crisis.

That being the case, please consider the potential impact of the following:

  • Maryland public libraries are currently threatened with a 10% cut in state funds for FY 2010.
  • Funding for the county libraries and the Enoch Pratt Free Library would be cut over three million dollars.
  • The State Library Resource Center would have an additional devastating one million dollar cut —- a cut back to a funding level below FY 2003 that would force reductions in services to every county library in the state.
  • A 10% cut will undermine the ability of public libraries to help citizens survive this crisis.

Strong support of the state’s excellent public library system will have a powerful impact on Maryland’s ability to survive and rebound from the economic crisis.  I ask that you please support increased funding — or at least a rollback of the proposed cuts to help our libraries serve their communities.

I signed off with my name and contact details (a thing one should generally do when sending a letter to representatives, FYI — it both reassures them that you are a real constituent and enables them to get back to you easily if they need/want to follow up).

If you live in Maryland, you can find out who your legislators are and how to contact them here.