Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Article Note: On Collection Promotion and RA in Academic Libraries

Citation for the article:

Smith, Rochelle and Nancy J. Young, "Giving Pleasure Its Due: Collection Promotion and Readers' Advisory in Academic Libraries." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 34.6 (November 2008): 520-526.

Read via ScienceDirect.

When I went to library school a bit over five years ago, I made it a point to take courses in readers' advisory (RA). In part, I wanted to be prepared in case I went to work in a public library. In addition, as an English major and avid reader, such classes held appeal to me. I have written a thought here and there on doing readers' advisory and promoting reading in an academic library, including this response to another article that Smith and Young cite in the article I just read. Going back to look at the older article made me look back at what I was doing back in 2007 as well as made me look a bit at how things have changed for me in two years. I am in a setting that is very different from the one I was working at two years ago. And yet, I have found that a few things remain the same.

As I wrote back then, I still believe that we should be promoting recreational reading as well as the academic fare. Things have changed for me since I wrote that. I don't have a formal book budget for one, though I do have to say we did get a very small monograph allowance to purchase a few things. I guess something is better than nothing, and I will leave it there since the story is complicated and not really something I want to go into. I will note that I do miss doing subject selection for Spanish as I used to. I thought about this a bit with the news today that Mario Benedetti just passed away. I bought a lot of his works at my former MPOW, even read some of his poetry myself. It was good stuff, and back then I had the opportunity to get that kind of book. That is no longer the case; if I want to read that sort of thing, I have to borrow it from someplace else (or simply buy it myself). But again, I am digressing, so please allow me to get back on track. Overall, I still do my part to promote reading as much as possible.

Looking back at the Smith and Young article, their goal is to give advice for academic librarians to promote and encourage the habit of reading for their campus population. The article opens with a brief look at the NEA's 2007 report "To Read or Not to Read" and its predictions. Walt Crawford discusses the report in the December 2008 issue of Cites and Insights (link to the specific article here), which can help provide some perspective on the report. A quick blog search online revealed to me that a few other librarian bloggers posted about the report as well. I remember at the time making a note to myself to look over it, but not much more. Anyways, that is the context for this article.

As usual, I am just going to make my notes of points I want to remember and then add any thoughts I may have:

  • "If the NEA report 'calls for a national debate on the crisis but does not offer strategies or solutions,' this article hopes to address that void by providing some reflections and modest proposals on how academic librarians can use both our collections and our strengths as information experts to encourage the habit of reading among our users" (520). I like that because we are in a position as academic librarians to promote reading among our students and academic community. In fact, we as a collective, in my very humble opinion, do not do enough to that end. It is one of the things I like about my current job in outreach. It allows me to do things--displays, events, book lists, so on-- that can promote reading in the community. However, the authors do put a little footnote to this quote where they state an assumption they make. The assumption is "that librarians consider reading (by which we mean books) a good thing" (525). This is problematic, not for the authors or for me, but for the profession given the state of said profession. From the consistent 2.0 obsession to the gutting of collections in order to build more hip spaces, it may seem at times that a good number of librarians are embarrassed to even be associated with books. I actually wrote a statement to that effect back in 2007 (see my link above), and I have not seen much change since then. We can't promote reading if we do not have the materials to do the task. And before anyone out there gripes at me some line about how people just moved their reading habits online or they read off a screen, I suggest you go read the article, which does address that issue.
  • The authors do acknowledge that the nature of reading has changed over time in favor of short bites, and this can be problematic as well (521). Why is this significant? Here is why: "It is difficult to do sustained, focused reading online, yet arguably this type of reading is the most crucial kind for the tasks a student needs to perform, in school and in life. Following an idea through to its conclusion(s) rather than continually darting off on tangents (represented, for example, by ubiquitous highlighted and linked words and images on websites), whether the idea is a love story in a romance novel or the unspooling of one of Einstein's thought experiments, is key to participating in conversations and critical thinking that underlie democratic participation" (521). From experience, a good example is simply to listen to people when they get to arguing politics or current events. You can tell right away who is the person who actually reads in depth (as in books as well as the basic news) and who is the one who simply reads or scans the clipped headlines off CNN or Fox News. You can see ability to do critical thinking in one and despair in the other when they get their lunch handed to them by someone who can read better and think better. Reading takes work. It takes a degree of discipline in order to think and reflect that the fragmented nature of a lot of modern reading simply does not have. And I am going to venture and say that much of this goes along with our mission of teaching and promoting information literacy as well. I think it may be something worth exploring.
  • To go along with the above about being well-read: "The concept of being 'well-read' may sound to some like a chestnut left over from a time when the printed word faced little media competition, but it still has practical relevance both for individuals and for society as a whole" (521). There is nothing wrong with reading blogs and other shorter things. I scan and read stuff on two feed readers as well as major news sources. But I also read a good amount of books (for a sampling, here is my reading list from last year). I read books because I happen to enjoy it. I also read books because I feel a need to read something substantial once in a while, kind of like exercising your brain. The article authors go on to add that "in a complex world, the ability to participate fully in societal decisions on global warming, genetic engineering, foreign policy, and other issues may be contingent on being able to stay with and focus on ideas in ways fostered by reading, and more specifically by avid reading, reading for pleasure" (521; emphasis in the original). You have to be able to read through an idea or argument, reflect on it, and then make meaning of it in order to come up with an informed conclusion. That takes work, and it is work that simply surfing the web or reading snippets here and there is not going to accomplish. This is why we as librarians, as well as other educators, need to be promoting reading. Sure, this sounds very noble, but it is important. But if that does not do it for you, maybe think of promoting reading because it is fun.
  • But don't take my word for it. The authors also say that "this is not to downplay the value of an experience like perusing a blog by a soldier stationed in Iraq or using Wikipedia; rather it is to say that the reading of books imparts skills that are important for full understanding of and participation in our culture, skills that other media may not be able to grant" (521). I would personally add that book reading does include things like reading on the Kindle (if you actually read books on it, as opposed to using it to read blogs for instance) and audiobooks.

In the literature review, the Smith and Young look at Julie Elliot's article (the one I link above) as well as review a history of RA in academic libraries. Some points I wanted to jot down from that part:

  • "Ironically, libraries often find themselves attempting to approximate the atmosphere of a bookstore/cafe even as they downplay their physical collections as old-fashioned and out of step with an appearance of promoting cutting-edge research" (521). All I have to say is that the bookstores may have cafes and nice spaces to sit down, but guess what, they still have books (and books people want). Unfortunately, this ironic pattern seems to be a common trend in academic libraries that, instead of aiming for a balance, simply go gung ho on building commons and similar spaces while getting rid of books. I even know of high level administrators who openly question the need for an academic library to have a lot of books.
  • "Students still ask for fun books and current novels: they value this service, and in fact, new students may expect it based on their prior experiences in public and school libraries. Academic libraries should be fulfilling and building upon those expectations rather than letting them languish and losing a crucial opportunity for engagement with the larger community in the process" (521-522). We have addressed this at MPOW with our bestseller collection, a rotating McNaughton collection of popular titles. While, in my personal and expert view, that collection is a little skewed in favor of a couple of very particular genres, it does get used, and we do have some positive circulation numbers. I have a side theory on that, but I will not digress.
  • "Collection promotion involves highlighting materials a library owns" (522). This means you do have to have materials that you can promote. You can't promote what you do not have. And before anyone out there says ILL, I will reply by saying that ILL will only get you so far.
The article goes on to give suggestions on specific activities for promoting collections and reading. There are some very good ideas here, some of which I do already, such as displays (here is one example) and highlighting national events. The authors also give advice for academic librarians so they can keep up with their RA skills. As a group, according to Smith and Young, academic librarians have been out of practice when it comes to RA (524). Those may be other librarians because personally I read avidly, and I strive to keep up with RA sources and the literature precisely so I don't end up like those other librarians who freeze up when some student comes asking "do you know of a good book?" I can proudly say, "yes I do. What are you in the mood for?"

Monday, May 18, 2009

Article Note: On libraries and the reputation of the university

Citation for the article:

Weiner, Sharon. "The Contribution of the Library to the Reputation of a University." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 35.1 (January 2009): 3-13.

Read via ScienceDirect.

This article looks at whether a library adds to a university's reputation. To be a bit more precise, does the library contribute in any way to the university's reputation? That is the basic question. Do keep in mind that this study is limited to doctoral institutions. Also note that the idea of reputation can be somewhat subjective. Weiner points out that the higher education literature consistently looks at libraries as ancillary (4); in other words, they are just part of the campus equipment. She also makes the following point, which to be honest, I thought was somewhat a statement of the obvious: "It is possible that there is a relationship between the decrease in funding and the lack of visibility of the library in the higher education research literature" (4). This is in the context of library budget allocations decreasing over a ten-year period, which Weiner points out as well.

Some other brief points:

  • "Due to accessibility of information online and the simultaneous increase in financial pressures on colleges, there are questions about whether academic libraries are still needed" (4). We know that, on the extreme, some people would be very happy if academic libraries were burned to the ground since they are just air conditioned places for books. Except here, where they actually turn off the air conditioning when it gets hot to save a few bucks. If that online accessibility would just solve everything, but unfortunately, it is not as simple as it sounds for one.
  • Weiner makes an observation about faculty and libraries, which I am guessing from previous experience and observation, is a bigger issue in research universities than in teaching colleges. "Libraries were a factor considered by faculty in determining whether to remain at their institutions or whether to accept positions that had been offered to them. Faculty who perceive that their library's resources were inadequate admitted that this was a barrier to their work" (4). I would be curious how much of a factor that could be in the current economic climate. However, what I really wonder is what about the librarians. If it is a high caliber campus library, I suppose the potential librarian hire would not worry much about resources being adequate. But could that affect a newbie's decision to come to a particular campus? Or, given the current dismal librarian market, is a job pretty much a job no matter how shabby a particular academic library could be? I am probably overthinking.
  • Overall, the findings did show that the library plays a role in the reputation. "The variable, library expenditures, was a consistently significant predictor in all appropriate models" (8).
  • According to Weiner, libraries do maintain their symbolic "heart of the campus" status, and since they are not an academic unit per se, but rather a campus support service (please take that with a grain of salt), it means libraries can continue to serve as neutral spaces on campus. This neutral status can mean better success in activities and functions (9). As an outreach librarian, I am not quite sure how to take that. Success with campus-wide activities the library promotes or implements has been mixed at times. And a view of campus support service is not necessarily a positive thing when it comes to perceptions by the administration. But, as I have learned over time, you work with what you have. On the other hand, I do like the idea of the neutral space where everyone can come together.
  • "This study provides evidence that libraries do contribute to university reputations. Since the library absorbs a very small percentage of a university budget (2.5% average), this study shows that the contribution of the library is disproportionately high relative to its cost to the institution" (9, emphasis in the original). This is clearly a message that we need to convey better to the powers that be.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Article Note: On Information Literacy As Professional Legitimation

Citation for the article:

O'Connor, Lisa. "Information Literacy as Professional Legitimation: The Quest for Professional Jurisdiction." Library Review 58.4 (2009): 272-289.

Read via Emerald.

This article is mostly a historical overview of our profession leading to the point where information literacy became the way to legitimize our professional craft. It is part one of a series, so I have to remember to look up the next part when it comes out. There are still some good ideas here I want to remember or that made me think. O'Connor, the author, provides this overview in the context of Abbott's theory of professions.

Some points:

  • "The essential task an occupation must complete is to create a jurisdiction of expertise. That is, it must identify a set of tasks that comprise its work and make a compelling case that its professionals, alone, are qualified to carry out those tasks" (273). Some of this was accomplished when librarians created a jurisdiction over access in libraries, and it is what is being created, or has been created, with information literacy. Now, where do the challenges come from? The public, and much of this you can likely see in the excessive reliance on Google, for instance, and other professions trying to take some work away. This could be seen in the faculty professors who see academic librarians as invaders of their classroom space.
  • Take this for what it's worth: "at its roots, academic librarianship was not conceived as an intellectual profession, but a technical occupation" (275). Think about the idea of taking jurisdiction over access (a technical endeavor) and moving to information literacy and education (more intellectual). At least, that is the argument that the author is making.
  • Something I agree with: "Representing the most prestigious libraries in America, ARL directors composed much of the leadership in the profession as a whole and controlled a significant portion of the country's library funding, resources, and staffing (McGowan)" (qtd. in 276). For me, what I find myself nodding is basically that organizations like ARL are pretty much geared to the large libraries and their collections. The next quote catches what I have in mind a bit better.
  • "On the other hand, colleges, which generally specialize in undergraduate education, tend to emphasize teaching and service over scholarly knowledge or advanced educational attainment (Farber, 1974)" (qtd. in 277). I think this is still applicable today, but it can be problematic when a college with a teaching mission suddenly decides they want to compete with "the big boys," with the end result they ruin what is likely a good teaching mission and end up doing a lot of things in a mediocre way instead of doing one or two things very well. While I like the pursuit of scholarly knowledge, to an extent, at the end of the day I personally identify with the mission of undergraduate education. It is not glamourous, but it is important work. So this means that big library organizations tend to bother me. From the article, for instance, "within the ARL, these institutions were represented solely by their head librarians, thus the ARL reflected the concerns of those administrators, rather than the librarians working on the 'front line' with students" (277). This is not a new idea either, but aside from a few rants here and there in the librarian blogs, it mostly goes unsaid by the profession at large. And while accreditation has moved a bit more into looking at assessment and teaching rather than just the collections (as it has been historically), there is still ways to go. If anything, technology makes those of us who work in the front lines more vulnerable as we strive to adapt and still serve our students.
  • My kind of people: "Conversely, the concerns of students, though less glamourous and less likely to be lavishly funded by grant-makers [and state legislatures, and donors, and I could go on], were more central in the college environment. College librarians, who were typically less specialized and more of whom worked directly with students, consistently recognized students' need for instruction (Farber, 1974)" (qtd. in 278). And we still recognize that need and work to meet it in spite of the odds against us.
  • The article also looks at the idea of faculty status for academic librarians as a step to get prestige. I probably have mentioned at one point or another that I do not favor the idea of faculty status for academic librarians, mostly because I think it interferes with doing my actual job. Those who enjoy tenure can likely give all sorts of arguments in favor, and if it works for them, so be it. I am a front line instruction librarian first and foremost. Besides, last thing I want to do is be forced to write articles for the library literature to meet some arbitrary tenure quota. It's not that I can't do it. I just don't want to do it. And I better move on while I am ahead. However, the article looks at history and notes that originally faculty status was a default title for academic librarians, since they were actually professors who ended up taking over a library. Once the PhD became a requirement to be a professor, the separation from the rest of the faculty for librarians, who have the MLS as the terminal degree, emerged (279). Personally, I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing, but that's me.
There is more on school librarians as well, but I will admit I did not find that part of the article as interesting. Now, we have to wait for the second part to see where the argument leads.

Monday, May 11, 2009

2009 Poetry Awards and some thoughts

This is my second year now working on the Annual Student Poetry Awards at MPOW. As usual, if you wish to just get the quick facts, the official version is over at MPOW's blog here. This is just my personal notes of the events with some extra stuff that does not go in the official record. If that interests you, then read on. Since I was serving as host for the event, I will say that my notes are a bit thin this year.

This year, the event took place on April 28, 2009. This was part of the programs for National Poetry Month that we implemented. With the outreach coordinator's retirement (my previous assistant, or partner would be a better word), it was my first time completely in charge of the event. I do miss Joanne, but I am happy she has moved on to new adventures (she is director now here). Anyhow, as I recently noted, April is a busy month for me. Once again, thanks are in order. Anne McCrady, generous local poet and friend of the library extraordinaire (link to her blog), helped me out with a many of the details; she also suggested our keynote poet for this year and served as my go-between. I could not have done it without her. My thanks also go to our 2009 distinguished Texas poet and keynote speaker, Mr. Budd Powell Mahan of Dallas, TX. He gave a very good poetry reading for us as well as talked to our student poets. I would also like to take the moment to thank the local Friends of the Arts organization for sponsoring the poet and helping underwrite the reception prior to the event. One of the things that was reinforced for me is that there are a lot of little details, and that you have to mind the little details.

Following tradition, we held a reception and book signing in the recital hall's lobby. Joseph's of Tyler provided the catering for us, and they did a very nice job. I did make a note to hire them next year. The reception was a great opportunity for Mr. Mahan to meet with our student poets and the audience. Both Mr. Mahan and Ms. McCrady were very generous in sharing advice and insights with our student poets. I could see that they are both very dedicated to their craft and very interested in helping out new and upcoming poets. In addition, the audience had the opportunity to purchase and get signed copies of Mr. Mahan's books, Falling to Earth and Harvest. I did get my signed copies (and no, you can't borrow them).

The event started with some opening remarks from our library director. I introduced Anne McCrady, who would the introduce Mr. Mahan. Anne described Mr. Mahan as someone who is very active and involved in poetry organizations and with the craft. Mr. Mahan is a past president of both the Poetry Society of Texas and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. Anne said that Mr. Mahan was "the face" of the Poetry Society of Texas, a generous poet known for his work with students, and a genuine friend.

Mr. Mahan then performed his poetry . He is known for a very warm and heartfelt verse, and it showed in his poetry. He is a bit soft spoken, but as he reads, he comes across as warm, comforting at times.

  • Falling to Earth was inspired by the recovery from a fall. The poem "Night from a 9th Floor" deals with some time spent at the hospital. In the poem, I noticed the little details such as the look of the sky as seen out the window.
  • From the book Harvest, he read some of the animal poems such as "Cats" and "Snake." The cat poem made me think of our two cats at home, royal as they are. "Snake" deals with the legend that snakes bite themselves when in pain to end the suffering. Another poem was "Corn," which inspired the book Harvest. He also read "Mercy" and "50," a reflection on turning 50.
Next we got to the awards ceremony. The student poets performed their award winning poems. They delighted our audience with their diverse themes and verse craft. Winners for first, second, and third place received a small trophy. Fourth place received a certificate. All of them received a signed copy of Mr. Mahan's book Falling to Earth. And in a surprise development that was announced shortly before the awards were presented, our library director revealed that this year anonymous donors had made a gift to the university in honor of the UT Friends of the Arts so a monetary award could be made. Thus, our poets also got a little coin for their purses.

For the record, these are the winners for 2009:

  1. Tina Bausinger, "A Concerned Friend." ($100)
  2. Jason Mars, "My America." ($75)
  3. Caleb Krause, "Dada." ($50).
  4. George Mitchell, "Not easily broken, I stand." ($25).

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Article Note: On orientation and retention of library staff

Citation for the article:

Chapman, Connie. "Retention Begins Before Day One: Orientation and Socialization in Libraries." New Library World 110.3/4 (2009): 122-135.

Read via Emerald.

The only problem I had with this article is that it preaches the same old ideas that a massive job shortage in librarianship is coming, the massive retirements, etc., that we all pretty much know are not going to happen. This is discussed in the opening of the article, and I wrote on the margin that I wish authors would stop repeating this myth of the massive retirements. Especially now with the current economic malaise, there is not going to be any massive retirements. If anything, people will hold on to their jobs as long as possible. And in the case they do retire, very often that job will be closed or frozen. For instance, we have a "flexible" hiring freeze here in my workplace, and a new memo just went out about needing to justify any part time hires (this is more for student workers), which means they are looking for ways to hire less student workers if they can. All I know is I will probably have to make some justification to keep my reference assistant for the evenings, but I digress. The point is every time some librarian writes about the usual "there will be jobs, librarians are getting old and will retire, yadda yadda," it is really a disservice to the profession. I could go on, but this is not really the main point of the article. It was pretty prominent in the opening, which is why it caught my eye.

In the opening, the author also makes the point that, in that decreasing pool of librarians, there will be a decreasing pool of leaders. This would be something I would be curious about, but I know that the lack of leaders is not going to be because of retirements. I have had a thought or two on leadership, and now that I have some small supervision tasks, I get to think about it a bit more. However, I often think of even more reasons I would not want a leadership position, or rather a management position (we do have to make the distinction).

In the opening, Chapman mentions as well that there is little research done on turnover rates for library staff (123). This is something we do not hear about as often, and it may be interesting to look at. Chapman then moves on to make her main point: that a good HR program that integrates elements of orientation, socialization, and retention, will help the library retain good workers. She does go on to define the terms of orientation, socialization, and retention. Now overall I would think that retention is something that you need to consider and maintain if you want to keep your good workers from leaving. Sure, a lot of people will stay put in fear of the job market, but if someone is talented, they will leave anyhow. You need to do your best to keep the good ones.

So what advice does the author offer? Keep in mind that Chapman is looking at organizational literature, the kind of material that applies more to corporations and companies like Wal-Mart; that right there can be a red flag for some people. After all, libraries are very different entities, especially academic libraries. But there are some good ideas here.

One idea is that you need to make sure that you integrate the new employee into the institution's culture in a welcoming way. Chapman cites literature claiming that the failure to do this means a worker can make a decision to leave a lot sooner (125). She also cites literature that stating that "if new employees have unmet or unrealistic expectations, they will leave an organization prematurely" (Simmons-Welburn and Welburn qtd. in 125).

Chapman cites Gering and Conner's recommendation, from their 2002 article on employee retention, for a retention strategy, which "includes a business plan, a value proposition, progress measures and management influences" (qtd. in 125). The business plan part was easy for me to grasp: it involves identifying the costs of employee turnover and identifies solutions to address that problem. The concept of the value proposition was something that made me think a bit more. Allow me to quote that part in full, the comment:

"The value proposition identifies the organization's unique characteristics which can then be promoted when recruiting so as to attract employees who identify with those characteristics. An organization can measure the effect of the retention plan by methods such as noting whether abseentism or tardiness is reduced, whether employees volunteer for community or special projects sponsored by the organization, and whether employees recruit their friends" (125).

Two things for me. One, the idea of whether employees participate in things like special projects or activities sponsored by the organization is crucial. Nothing diminishes your credibility in a community faster than your library sponsoring some event or activity, and the librarians or library staff fail to show up or participate. While no one expects 100% attendance (after all, life happens), when there is a consistent absence of the professional staff at sponsored events, one has to wonder. Two, the idea of the unique traits of the organization made me wonder who has given thought to this in their libraries. As an academic library, we should be asking what makes us unique? For the workers, we should ask why would we want to work here (wherever here happens to be)? In my case, I know a reason or two why I work at my current workplace, but if I had to put it in a brochure, or make the proverbial elevator pitch, I am not quite sure how I would do it. I would not want platitudes for this but good practical points.

Chapman then goes on to cite a list by J.L. Kawasaki for recommendations to work with new workers in the first weeks of their job. This is a good list, so I am citing it here too (see page 126):

  • "provide meaningful work."
  • "provide appropriate tools to do the job"
  • "participate fully in orienting new hires"
  • "provide opportunities to make connections within the library organization and the institution"
  • "create an environment that provides elements for asking and seeking out"
  • "information and professional development"
I am aware of some of these ideas because I used them to some extent in helping to train the new librarians we recently hired. No, we did not go on one of those mythical hiring sprees. The accreditation agency for the university had a say on the matter, but let us not digress. I have tried my best to be helpful in terms of providing the elements for the new hires to ask and seek out any information or help they may need. This is consistent with a point that Chapman makes later in the article that "it is much better to encourage relationships with co-workers who can help point out what is important" rather than just telling them to read the manuals (130). The information and professional development part I don't really have control over, and the way things are, well, I will say it is almost non-existent as things currently stand. Personally, this is a significant point of concern for me, but it is one not for this post.

Chapman goes on to discuss the idea of organizational culture and how it is important to integrate the new hire into that culture. She also mentions that supervisors are the most effective influence during the orientation process (128). This made me think of a book I read a while back that makes the same point. In my case, I don't supervise the new librarians; I just train them and turn them loose, so to speak. It can have the advantage that I can then work more as the person to point out what is important and what is not. This would be an example of informal socialization, if I understand the article right, where "informal socialization had a greater impact on job satisfaction and professional commitment than did formal orientation" (129).

But I can say that back in the day when I had more of an immediate supervisor (as in an assistant director versus just going straight to the top as I do now), she was quite influential over time in terms of how I was brought into the organizational culture at the time. And I did learn a few things from her as well. Chapman adds some additional thoughts on supervisors:

  • "The supervisor is often the bridge between graduate school and the profession as new librarians enter their first job (Black and Leysen, 2002). Supervisors can act as mentors, define expectations, and protect new librarians from trying to take on too much in their first year on the job. Supervisors can also connect new librarians to important individuals and resources" (131).
  • "In an academic library the supervisor can help the new employee by identifying the place and status of the library in the university setting, who the library administration reports to, and how the library is perceived by the university administration and non-library faculty. The supervisor can be very helpful in interpreting these issues as the social, economic and political context in which an academic library operates can be much more complicated than that of a public or special library (Jones 1988)" (131-132). Now, this makes me ask how much is too much in interpreting and identifying some of those perceptions. As any academic librarian knows, many non-library faculty do not exactly have a positive perception of the library, to put it mildly. Often academic librarians need a bit of thick skin to deal with this.

Oh, and another thing I learned in my previous job that I applied now was making sure the new librarians had one-on-one meetings with all appropriate individuals, and I kept a checklist, as Chapman suggests.

Chapman also addresses the need to evaluate retention programs, and in this age of assessment, this is important. It is also important to note that new employee needs to be an active participant as well in the orientation process.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Personal reflection for April 2009

"Confusion never stops/Closing walls and ticking clocks. . . "
--From the lyrics to Coldplay's "Clocks."

With the busy month of April over, I have a very small window of time at the start of May to recuperate, review what was done, what was missed, and make the list of tasks for May and the summer. For an outreach librarian, April can be a very busy month. This is not something I would usually do, but as an illustration, I took a photo of what I call my "tactical board" (my whiteboard where I map out my tasks for a month). Most of the items on the list are crossed out, meaning they got done. In plain numbers, out of 52 items on the board, I only missed 7. I suppose that is not too bad. I do have to clarify that those 52 items do not include the various tasks my director heaped on me during the month, often at the spur of a moment. The additional items not on the board did get done, so I guess in the scheme of things, I was mostly on track. Here is another little lesson for those of you out there who may be thinking about librarianship or, heaven help you, follow a path similar to mine: learn how to balance what you know needs to get done with what your director will inevitably ask you to do that also needs to be done. In case of doubt, err on the side of keeping your director happy.

By the way, if my two readers are curious, they can find the list of the seven missed items with the board's photo over on the scratch pad. If you are not interested, then just keep reading.

One of the things you learn as an outreach librarian, and one of these days I have to do a better post on the things I do, is the time factor. You have to be good at time management; you need a sense of the long term planning as well. And in the end, once you have done your duties, and everything is in place, you have to let nature take its course. In addition, I have known this for a while, but I was reminded of it again during the month of April. You need patience, and sometimes you need to prod people. A challenge for me is dealing with things I can't control. If I make requests from other people, I have to wait on them. If they are not exactly the most diligent people, to put it politely, it gets frustrating personally. But I cannot control what others do. You can prod; you can remind them; you can harass a bit, but at the end of the day, they have to do their jobs so you can do yours. It is moments like that where a lot of patience is required, where you need to remind yourself that, at the end of the day, you can only control your own reality and actions. While I have a couple of specific instances in mind, in the interest of civility, I am keeping them for my private journal. I more interested in the larger lesson here. Oh, and if bad does come to worse, always have a Plan B.

"This will change too, very quickly. Like a planet spinning off into the universe. . ."
--General Patton, from the film Patton.

I barely have the time to reflect as I am doing now. I am already geared up for May, and though May is a slower month, there is still much to do. But I have learned over time that taking some time to think and reflect on what has been done is helpful. For one, some of this I can use for any official assessment the powers that be may require. But more important for me, it helps me to see where I've been. It helps me to see what I did well, what can be improved, and what still needs to be done. The challenge is that moments like this for reflection are few and far between. Indeed, conditions do change quickly as the next task or project comes around. So it is necessary to take those small pivotal moments to reflect. That's what I do because it works for me. I just have to keep fighting for the time to write and reflect.

And moving right along. . . .