Monday, June 29, 2009

Article Note: On evolving services at academic libraries

Citation for the article:

Morris, Jim, "The New Academic Library and Student Services." Journal of Access Services 5.1/2 (2007): 31-45.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

While the article is not perfect, and at times it seems like the library at Lake City CC has lost control rather than "just letting go," the article does present some pretty good ideas for outreach as well as validate some of the work that I do already. Personally, to get it out of the way, I am not convinced about the liberal permissive food policy they have. Here spills are an issue, and they usually happen on a late night when there is no one to replace a keyboard that had who knows what spilled, thus rendering a computer someone could be using inoperative. So, the thirty dollar keyboard's small price, as the author puts it (33), is not really that small of a price. In our case then, the food stays out of the lab, and all drinks with a lid on it. I think the overall point is you have to know your environment, then do what works. But having said that, yes, taking some risks overall will probably be for the better.

As for the idea of "just letting go," while it may sound very cool and zen, I think we need to be careful with that. If it means letting go of what libraries traditionally do in favor of just being cool and hip, then I do not think this is the way to go. Replacing entertainment for the educational element is not an improvement. And we are still talking about an academic library, with a mission to serve the needs of the campus. What I would suggest is that the entertainment supplement the educational mission as well as meet the campus students' recreational needs. Sure, have your talks and music events, but you better also have books and materials related to those events. If you show a film, have experts come in to discuss and put it in context. That is what we have done here, and something we hope to continue. For instance, turnout at our Darwin Day event was very good, drawing people from the campus as well as the community at large. A frequent comment we got was "you need to do more things like this." So we know it can work. You just need to keep some balance, a concept I think is often missing in a lot of libraries that simply try to imitate the big box bookstores and the arcades of old.

Some other good ideas I am making a note about:

  • "However, we have come to understand that the social element of the library, even the academic library, cannot be ignored" (33). You won't get disagreement from me in that regard. While I may not agree with some of the article's more liberal (read permissive) ideas, there is plenty here to provoke some discussions and dialogues. You can't ignore the social element. Best is to address it head on. Try some things out; feel free to experiment, learn from the experience what works for you locally, then adjust accordingly.
  • A "growing DVD collection of foreign and independent films" (33). That is just a wish for me. Given our funding (and some campus attitudes I would rather not address), it may take a while to build a growing collection. But we are taking some baby steps in that direction and with me advocating. We'll see.
  • As for magazines in the library for students to browse, you have to have the actual magazines. With the ever growing reliance on online databases, the attitude in many places, including my place of work, has been to cut back on print drastically. Our attitude here is, if it is on a database, we do not need the print. Not exactly something I agree with, but it is the reality I face. It is something I do miss from my former MPOW where we did have a decent collection of popular magazines in print, which students did browse and read.
  • Use of original art on the library walls.
  • The key is support from the powers that be. "Such events require broad institutional support, from the President who may have to field complaints about material read at the open microphone, to the art instructors who have their students' work on display, to the music instructor who brings his jazz band, to the liberal arts faculty members who come and support the event and who grant students extra credit for participation" (34). You need a library director who will go to bat for you, so to speak as well. And you need library staff who will lead by example, participating or at the very least being present at library events as well.
  • "Regarding reference books, my staff members have authority to let them go out" (35). We do this in a limited way for faculty. I think it may be time to revisit that policy to make reference items easier to circulate. Another thing I have been doing is when some items you would usually place in reference arrive, I ask that they be cataloged to be placed in circulating collection instead. Let the item go free, so to speak.
  • And I love their Cafe Politico concept, "an open discussion group that brings together students, staff, faculty, and the community to discuss current topics of political and social relevance. . . our topics have included same sex marriage, the world response to the east Asian Tsunami and to Hurricane Katrina, Civil Liberties and the Patriot Act, and the war in Iraq and world terrorism" (35). By the author's admission, some discussions can get heated, but the library still sponsors the event. Given our community make-up here, it may take some work to get something like this off the ground, but I do like the idea. It is one I would like to explore further.
  • Music events. My boss was asking about some possible Jazz event in April, since it is Jazz Appreciation Month. I don't know if I can pull it off in April, with all the other stuff already going on that month (National Poetry Month, National Library Week for instance), but who is to say we can't have a music event any other time of the year?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Article Note: On the role of public libraries during recessions

Citation for the article:

Rooney-Browne, Christine, "Rising to the Challenge: a Look at the Role of Public Libraries in Times of Recession." Library Review 58.5 (2009): 341-352.

Read via Emerald.

This article pretty much confirms a lot of the anecdotal evidence we have seen about what public libraries do for their communities. The author looks at statistics and anecdotal evidence from libraries in the United States and the United Kingdom. The article is fairly even when it comes to covering both places. Her claim is that there is growing evidence that there is a link between public library use and recessionary times. I don't think this is news. All we have to do is look at the various news accounts about libraries these days to see the evidence. Unless you happen to be the governor of Ohio, in which case you choose to cut library funding in your state just as libraries are needed the most. Maybe the governor needs to read this article to get a clue more than I do.

Some highlights and comments then:

  • "In these challenging economic times, public libraries are emerging as 'recession sanctuaries' (Jackson 2009) because they promote an ethos of borrowing over buying; offering citizens access to innumerable free resources, such as books, newspapers, magazines, information advice, workshops and entertainment" (342). OK, we do have to note it is not really free. Taxes, in one form or another, pay for the libraries. But the services are paid for so the community as a whole can use them. Personally, my only problem with the statement, and similar ones, is that for this to work, the library has to have items you actually want to check out. When it comes to entertainment items, like DVDs, my local public library is pretty pathetic, as in they don't have squat, and I have no compunction about saying it. And yes, I have made the suggestion, and no, nothing seems to be happening. But I disgress, and aside from that, the point about the library being a sanctuary is still valid and significant.
  • The problem with the article, if any, is that it "must rely on anecdotal evidence, available via newspaper websites, forums and blogs to develop an initial understanding of how public libraries are affecting the lives of individuals and communities" (345). It is a problem because this is basically reliance on the many "feel good" stories that local papers seem to publish every so often about their local library, usually around the time when the economy is bad or the library is trying to get extra funding. We do need to work on some more evidence besides "touchy feely, the library is good" stories.
  • "In addition to an increase in traditional services such as book borrowing, libraries are also experiencing huge demand for workshops, seminars, and training sessions targeted at helping users survive the recession" (345). This can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Libraries succeed in spite of their poor funding, doing more with less (as the old cliche goes), so the powers that be figure the libraries can keep going without any additional support. And yet, libraries are not going to turn people away. Helping people is what we do in libraries, so we do what we can with what we've got. However, this often means librarians end up doing the role of job counselors, advisers, and even social workers. Heck, at one point I was considering going back to school to get a social work degree. I may as well given that some of the work I do is more in terms what some social worker might do.
  • Some of the things librarians are doing now, according to the article: help people search for and apply for jobs, create resumes and CVs in electronic forms (and this goes from typing them up on Word to help with how to write them and format them to putting them online), setting up e-mail accounts for communicating with potential employers, and even help prepare people for job interviews. These are things you would think a career placement office or similar would do, and instead, the libraries are doing it. In this economy, we need libraries more than ever, especially if you want to get people to work, or back to work.
  • Of course, politicians don't always think ahead or practically. As I heard in some other place I can't recall, cutting library services now would be like cutting cops' salaries during riots. Research findings, according to the article, find "that when local authorities were faced with cuts in their expenditure, public library investment suffered; book funds were cut, vacant positions were either not replaced or deleted and opening hours were reduced by 60 percent" (347).
At the end of the day, we can point at politicians, like that governor in Ohio, who are willing to cut library services in a time of crisis. But we also have to look at the people who vote those politicians in. We also have to point the finger at the people who whine that their taxes may go up in order to fund the library (or other public service). If you want libraries, you have to pay for them. Libraries are a public good, and we all benefit when they are available. The stories are out there to prove it. And if your politicians are not defending libraries, then it is time for you, the voter to hold them accountable. Be active. Contact your elected officials. Express your opinions in letters to the editor, blogs, forums, etc. Make your voice be heard, and in the end, vote them out of office next time to drive the message of what is important to you and your community. If you stay silent, or you are not willing to put your money and effort where your mouth is, then you deserve what you get (or fail to get).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

For job interviews, remember to prepare, prepare, and prepare

My three readers know that I usually don't like to discuss specifics about my places of employment. I will discuss things in general, but I keep specifics to a minimum, mostly for self-preservation purpose. Ok, it just avoids certain hassles. But this time I am posting as a public service announcement to any librarian (recent graduate or old hand) out there who may be applying for jobs and coming up for an interview (phone or campus). The main point I want to make is to be prepared. This old Boy Scout motto will serve you well when it comes to interviewing for a librarian position, or any other position for that matter.

As of this writing, we have an open position. We may have another one soon, but you did not hear that from me yet (you know, the whole you can't announce things outside of channels thing). We have done some phone interviews, and let us say that some of the candidates could have done a few things better. I can now say that I have been at both ends of the interviewing process. I was in the market not too long ago interviewing, and I have now been involved in phone and campus interviews. So, I have learned a thing or two, and I hope to share them with my three readers. Again, the main thing still boils down to preparation.

  • Candidates need to research the job. You need to read and understand the job description as provided in the advertisement. You need to address what is on the job description. If we ask you about what tools you may be using for acquisitions of library materials, we really do not want to hear about your use of Facebook (unless you belong to some group on FB that actually discusses acquisitions for instance, and I am stretching here). In other words, it is a specific question, don't turn it into some vague "I use 2.0 stuff" answer. It is an acquisitions position, we want to hear about your experience in that area. Not discussing it makes us wonder if you read the ad, or if you just applied because the job title said "librarian" in it.
  • A bit more on technology. If we put specific technology items in the job description, we expect candidates who are knowledgeable in X or Y technology or software. For example, if we ask about using and working with a link resolver and serials management tools, that is what we want to hear about. Not knowing what a link resolver is or what it does for that kind of position will pretty much guarantee you will not get farther than the phone interview.
  • You need to research the library. A library without a website is very rare. Most libraries, especially academic libraries, have a website. Look at it before you go into the interview. We don't expect you to know every nook and cranny of the website. We do expect that you took some time and effort to look over the website so you can talk about it intelligently. This would be especially applicable if we are hiring a webmaster, for instance. A question may be "what do you think we could improve on our site?" Or we could ask you for other ideas on the site. Therefore take the time to look at it.
  • You need to research the campus. Again, use the web for this and pull up the university's website. Take a look around. Often the sections about the campus and for prospective students or visitors give you some idea about the campus, location, etc. Don't go in with the mentality of working at a Research I campus if it is a small liberal arts school or a community college. Also, check to make sure if the job is tenure track or not. There are different expectations depending on whether the job is tenure line or not. You should know this going in. Ask someone there if you need to (though this is usually advertised on the job ad, which you should read closely).
  • If we ask you about supervisory experience, have some ready answers. And here is a friendly bit to my teacher brethren. If you taught in a classroom with 40 kids, you can sell that as supervisory experience. But you do have to make it relevant in terms of classroom management, conflict resolution, and other skills a manager would need. Supervisory experience in our profession is one of the hardest things to come across. Those positions rarely come open, and when they do they often hire an outsider who was already some kind of administrator instead of growing from within. It was part of the reason I left my previous position: to seek some supervisory experience, which I am getting now. But in the lack of it, there are ways to answer the question. You can speak also about how you have been in charge of specific projects or maybe how you lead a team. You have to start somewhere but have your answer ready.
  • You are likely to be asked a variant of the "where do you see yourself five years from now?" question. Personally, I dislike the question because, in a way, it can encourage people to lie. You are either thinking that you will use X job to get ahead to Y job down the road, which a hiring manager may not want to hear (no one really wants to hear you are planning on leaving in three years or so), or that you want to settle down to do a good job at what you do. That latter one could be my answer, but managers tend to think then you have no ambition. In the end though, conveying a sense of stability and a desire to learn and grow are the way to go. It has worked for me. But again, think of this ahead of time so you don't end up trying to wing it in the interview.
  • You are a librarian; act like one. The following is especially applicable if you are going to be an academic librarian. Read the library literature. Have a sense of what some of the trends in our profession are. By the way, it is more than just 2.0 talk. Then be able to talk about them intelligently. There are many tools to help you keep up. Use them. If you do not know the tools, or what to be reading, ask your peers. Heck, in a pinch, send me an e-mail, and I will be glad to help you. Just don't don't go to an interview where they may ask you something about the profession uninformed. And, for those coming out of library school, make sure you do read up too. If your classes or professors are not teaching you about this, take some initiative and act. It makes a poor impression on hiring committees when we ask you something basic about the profession, library technology, so on, and you appear not to know about it. It also makes a poor impression about your school for not teaching it to you. Actually, I am considering another post on "things library schools do not seem to be teaching" based on what we have recently seen while interviewing. Again, be prepared.
  • Do think for yourself. This is a bit personal. There are certain trends in our profession, and certain segments where if you do not toe the line, you get labeled as "not getting it." That works in the blogosphere (or at least they can get away with it), not so much in the workplaces. I can mention at least one place where I was asked about trends and 2.0 things, then asked to offer some specific critiques. In other words, they wanted to hear what I thought worked and what I thought did not work and why I thought that way. One of the best interviews I faced, and no, it was not asked at my current workplace. I mention it only to show that experiences can vary from place to place. It helped that I was prepared.
Let me see, a couple more things. When you are on the phone, try to have everything you need in front of you. Also if possible, find a quiet spot to do the interview. It will help you relax and stay calm as well as block outside distractions. When I would do a phone interview I learned to do the following:

  • Again, research everything. If you can have your personal computer in front of you, that is good. Keep it on, use tabs on the browser, and have open the campus page and the library page. If you have done any web work (created a website, a guide, etc.), have that open too (and you should have included that in your cover letter or resume as may be).
  • If you can't have the computer in front of you, make printouts of relevant stuff.
  • Have your vita or resume in front of you.
  • Have the cover letter you wrote in front of you. The hiring people will cite from it; you don't want to get caught having to answer to something you may or not remember that you wrote (or worse, mix up the one position with another one you are also applying for).
  • Have the job description in front of you. Make notes on it. One thing I do is to highlight all the relevant skills an employer wants, then relate them to my resume and cover letter. That way, when the interview gets rolling, you are ready to answer any questions they may throw at you. For example, if you are applying for a job as instruction librarian, you should be able to answer questions about teaching philosophy, skill with teaching technology, and experience working with students. These are things you can think about ahead of time. Again, preparation.
  • Stay calm. Do not panic. Taking a pause to think some answer over is ok. Asking for a question to be repeated is ok too. Phone interviews are awkward because you are not seeing people face to face. Speak clearly and listen closely.
  • Learn from the experience. Not all interviews will lead you to a job offer. Not all phone interviews get you to a campus visit and interview. Learn from the experience, reflect, then get ready for the next one. The interview process is a learning experience overall. You are trying to learn from them as they are from you. A rejection is not personal. It may be something as simple as you were not "a right fit" for the place (which can be a very subjective thing). Point is learn from any mistakes you make and get back on the hunt. Prepare better if necessary.
I hope these small and very humble thoughts will help someone out there. The market for jobs in our profession is extremely tight, no matter what the professional organization or library schools say to the contrary, and we can all use as much help as possible. To conclude, I have made some notes on job hunting and interview questions in my scratch pad Alchemical Thoughts. Feel free to jump over there and read some of it as well.

Good luck on your job searches.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Article note: Short one on roving librarians

Citation for the article:

Lavoie, Lisa. "Roving Librarians: Taking it to the Streets." Urban Library Journal 15.1 (2008): 78-82.

Read online as the journal is open access. Main page here.

This is a small piece advocating for the use of roving librarians. The idea of roving librarians is not a new one, but this small article makes a nice case for it. I have seen it mentioned at least here and here. I did find a bit unrealistic the notion of carrying around a laptop and a wireless printer along with a heap of "hot reads" books (79), but then again, the author does state her campus got a grant for the project which facilitated buying the hardware. I still thought it was a bit much to be carrying around in a campus, unless the campus is mostly in one building like my old workplace (and they have gone on to construct other buildings). Here, I can see us getting a good quality laptop, but a printer and a bunch of books? That would not be as likely. The article did not seem to specify if more than one person did the roaming, which makes me wonder because, again, I think that what Lavoie is suggesting in terms of gear may be a bit much for one person to carry. Additionally, for us, the books may be an issue (buying "hot reads" is a very low priority here, to put it politely). Let us put aside the logistics because overall I do think there are some very good points to this article, and personally, I think the idea could work for us on some level, so I don't want to worry about the logistics as much now. By the way, the context of the article is community college, but much of what she writes is applicable to any small campus.

Lavoie makes some very good points about the power of conversation, which I think are important to make:

  • "The roving librarian has to be a great conversationalist" (79).
  • Expanding on another study, "the current study posits that if knowledge is indeed created through conversation, and libraries are in the 'knowledge business,' then librarians are also in the conversation business" (79).
  • "But most of all, librarians have to be accessible and adept at hosting a conversation" (79).
Roving can also be helpful when it comes to retention, and this is something I can attest to from personal experience. It is also something I have pondered here and there:

  • "We know that personal interaction with a librarian can increase the retention of at-risk students in college" (80). This has to do with the idea of establishing personal connections both in academic terms and social terms.
  • "Roving librarians can play a role in this linking as we share personal and friendly interchanges with students while providing some direct or incidental learning. We also learn more about our students and their current interests and curiosities during roving than we would have in the traditional reference setting" (80).
  • "Personalized assistance for developmental college students has been proven to not only aid in their academic success, but to provide a means of mentoring students to continue with that success (Cousert, 1999; Thomas, 2000)" (qtd. in 80).
  • I liked this particular quote, which I identified with strongly because it was the type of work I used to do at my previous workplace. And I will admit that is work that I miss doing. It was something where I knew I could make a difference in some small measure. The quote then: "In this role, the roving librarian's work extends beyond librarianship to that of instructional and personal interventionist. We listen to students' academic trials and personal obstacles and we advise" (81). Keep in mind, we don't literally advise as an academic advisor would (I would send them to the actual advisor for that kind of thing, but some personal advice, it was given if asked).
Overall, this is a short read at four pages, and it makes some very good points. Now go pound that pavement.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Article Note: On library promotion and buttons

Citation for the article:

Luedke, Jill E. and Sarah K. Laleman Ward. "It All Started With a Button. . ." Urban Library Journal 15.1 (2008): 67-77.

Read online. Journal is open access. Link to journal main page here.

I continue reading items on outreach for academic libraries. This short article has some good ideas for promoting library services. I particularly liked the idea of using small one-inch buttons as promotional tools. The size seems a bit more practical than the larger size ones we can make here. We do have a button maker, which was barely used until I arrived. It makes the two-inch or so larger ones, which are nice, but the size is a bit on the big size. I wonder if the smaller size, and the way that the authors integrate the buttons to instructional materials as well as outreach could be something that might work here. I am always looking for a new marketing and outreach idea. One challenge we would face would be the finding of materials. The authors work for an art library, so they can likely draw from a broad range of visual materials, something we are lacking here. But having said that, I think the button card idea is quite feasible for us. The article does provide some illustrations so readers can get an idea how the concept works.

The article also features a reminder for outreach librarians to reach out to campus organizations and orientation activities. This is something we do here where we set up a table for events like Patriot Preview Day. However, I don't think I am quite ready for the black "librarian" tee shirt idea they suggest. Here they usually prefer a more professional look (I would wear the tee; I just don't think the powers that be would go for it), but they did give me a couple of embroidered polo shirts for the library I can wear for events.

There are a couple other ideas I liked in the article as well such as the library "facebook" display. I can always use another display theme, and this could be something we could do at the beginning of a semester when new students are arriving.

Overall, a short article worth a look; it is a good example of a "how-to" article.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Article Note: On Promoting Leisure Reading in Libraries

Citation for the article:

Bosman, Renee, et. al. "Growing Adult Readers: Promoting Leisure Reading in Academic Libraries." Urban Library Journal 15.1 (2008): 46-58.

The journal is open access. Main page here.

I am not sure if it is because it is summer, or it is just the type of article that has caught my eye as of late, but here is another one on promoting reading in the academic library. We are talking here about reading for pleasure, which I personally believe we should be doing more in our academic libraries. This barely gets a nod from library administrators, many who think that if you just put a small shelf with some popular fiction, that such will be good enough. Sure, we need to offer the materials, but we also need to work on promoting them as well as promoting the importance of reading for leisure overall. The article I am featuring this week gives some specific ways to promote leisure reading in an academic library. It can provide a good starting point. I like how they consider it literacy outreach. I certainly intend to use that term as I work to expand our efforts here.

The authors, who are from Virginia Commonwealth University (link to their Center for Institutional Effectiveness. From there, you can get the plan as a PDF), refer to their campus's strategic plan which makes references to focusing on the student experience in terms of research, scholarship, and creative activity. Since I am a curious boy, I rushed to go over and look at our own strategic plan, only to find it does not say as much on the matter. I am going on a limb here, but the plan does leave a lot of things out. It is big on learning for the workplace and being global and blah blah blah, but I don't see a whole lot about focusing on the student experience. It is more about cranking them out so they can be ready for the workplace. The point for me, after I managed to put aside my disappointment, is that I may have my work cut out for me. Then again, the way I see, it may mean job security for me. Anyhow, I do think reading promotion is important given the many benefits students gain from it and skills that will serve them throughout their lives.

Some notes then:

  • The kind of job I would like to have in an ideal world (or one of the jobs I would like to have): The VCU folks created an "Undergraduate Services Librarian" position, and in 2004 actually hired two people for the position to "design, promote, and assess library reference services that further undergraduate teaching and learning initiatives on the Monroe Park Campus" (47). That just rocks. Some of this is the kind of stuff that our Instruction Librarian and myself, as the Outreach Librarian, try to do in a scattershot approach. What we need is better coordination of the efforts, a very serious look at what we do now and what we could be doing, and then put it in a vision and goals so we can start implementing some things. I am thinking that now that our new reference librarian is here, we can probably put her to work. Plus, the library director recently requested that I rewrite and update our reference services standards. I am thinking the opportunity to put a few new things in is now.
  • What do we do here now for literacy outreach (that is mentioned in the article)? We do have a small browsing collection. We call it the Bestsellers Collection, and it is basically a McNaughton plan for popular fiction (well, it is somewhat narrow in the concept of popular, but let us not digress) and some nonfiction. I usually do a blog post when we receive new books for that collection, providing a brief note on each title. Sample here. This is dependent on whether the Acquisitions people send me a list in a timely manner for me to do the post. Since we do not get much rotation of the collection, months going by without something new is common. I use the library blog to do some reading promotion. The sample post is one way. I often try to announce literary awards with inclusion of notes on titles we may have. The challenge for me is that often we do not have titles that win awards. And yes, I have pointed this out to the powers that be. A lot of this is simply a budget matter, but also a lot of it is this kind of attitude. Another thing we do is display cases for various observances and themes. This can get challenging too (again, the lack of books in certain areas), but I am learning to improvise where I can.
  • Other things we do that are not mentioned in the article? How about here, here, and here? Yes, that is some of my handiwork, so to speak.
  • "While there are numerous studies that examine the reading behaviors college students, literature concerning the promotion of recreational reading and examples of literacy outreach resources are scarce, particularly those that frame these services within the context of the campus library as the 'third place,' regarding both its physical and online space" (49). I like that idea of the third place in the context of promoting the library not only as the place where the computers are at but also as the place where you might find some books you actually want to read.
  • I definitely liked the idea of their blog for books, Book reMarks. As described in the article, it seems a great tool to promote pleasure reading. According to the article, the blog was started "with the purpose of highlighting the VCU Libraries' collections and identifying leisure reading materials for our students and faculty" (51). A great idea. I don't think we need to have a separate blog just yet. I think we can use The Patriot Spot (our library blog) to do some of that work. I have been giving thought to diversifying the content on the blog, and this may be one way to do it, if I can find enough books to highlight. We need more than the usual academic fare we get in the new books section (when we get something in the new books). And yes, I have thought of spreading the work, so to speak, but getting staff collaboration has not been easy. As the article points out, "it can also be difficult to solicit enough reviews from busy library workers to ensure a steady stream of fresh content" (52). Again, new librarians (we have two) may mean I can try again to get a collaborator or two. We'll see, so stay tuned.
  • An idea from the article I liked: "A recent edition of reviews commemorating Women's History Month written by members of Sigma Lambda Upsilon/Señoritas Latinas Unidas help meet the goal of using library outreach services as an innovative way to foster dialogue with patrons" (51-52). I think I can reach out to one or two of the campus groups here to do this kind of thing. I really like this idea, and it sounds like something to explore for fall.
Overall, this is a nice little article with some good ideas that can get a librarian in an academic library started. VCU is bigger than we are, but I can see that these ideas can work in a smaller university like ours.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Booknote: Reading Matters

A note from my GoodReads List:

Reading Matters: What the Research Reveals About Reading, Libraries, and Community Reading Matters: What the Research Reveals About Reading, Libraries, and Community by Catherine Sheldrick Ross

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is a very good overview of the research available in the area of reading for pleasure. The organization of the book is very good looking at history of reading and what we know from the research. This is followed by specific chapters focusing on what is known about children, about young adults, and about adults. In addition, the book contains small sections at the end of the chapters for what can libraries do to apply the lessons of the chapter. This is very useful and practical advice. Also, there are small segments, in gray boxes, that look at small case studies or other interesting details. A reader can easily read the whole book, or he can choose to browse the parts of interest. Some of the material I read here I had seen in other books about reading I have read. The strength of this book is not so much on novelty, though there are some new things, but on the excellent synthesis of various sources. The book is well written; it is engaging, and it makes some very good points about the need and desire of reading for pleasure. I think that librarians and educators alike should be reading it as well as anyone with an interest in reading.

Finally, as a small exercise for myself, this is a partial list of books mentioned in Reading Matters that I have read. By the way, the book provides a convenient title index in the back, which made it easy for me to go back and have a look. The list then:

  • Janice Radway, A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle Class Desire. I don't quite recall when I read it, but it was a few years ago. It is not listed here in GR.
  • Diana Herald, Genreflecting: A Guide to Reading Interests in Genre Fiction,. I read it in library school, and I still consult it on occasion. I keep my copy in my office. One of these days I have to list it here on GR.
  • Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading. I read this one years ago, so it is not listed in GR. I have to reread it one of these days.
  • Jim Burke, I Hear America Reading: Why We Read, What We Read,. This one is listed in my GR list.
  • Jonathan Kozol, Illiterate America. This book came out in 1985. I remember being very moved by it when I read it during my undergraduate days. Since it was so long ago, it is not listed in GR.
  • Robert Burgin, Nonfiction Readers' Advisory. This one is I have listed on my GR list.
  • Harold Rabinowitz, A Passion for Books. This one, a favorite of mine, is also listed in my GR list.
  • Joyce G Saricks, The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction. I read this in library school for my RA classes. Not listed in GR. I also read her Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library for the same classes.
  • Dilevko and Gottlieb, Reading and the Reference Librarian: The Importance to Library Service of Staff Reading Habits. This one is listed in my GR list. It makes an excellent point on the need for librarians and library staff to actually read (yes, believe it or not, a lot of my brethren do not read outside what little they may need professionally).
  • Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran. I do not have this one listed in my GR page, but if I did, it would be on the "dropped" shelf. I simply could not get into this book, which I found pompous and pretentious at times. But hey, if it is your cup of tea, go for it. Remember the old adage: never apologize for your reading tastes. This book was simply not within my reading tastes.
  • Sara Nelson, So Many Books, So Little Time. I have it listed on my GR. However, it was not a particularly good book in my estimation.
  • Harold Bloom, The Western Canon. Read this in graduate school. Not listed in GR.

View all my reviews.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Could this be the mother of all reading lists?

Maybe, maybe not. This is a big reading list. Arukiyomi has compiled the list of 1001 Books to Read before you die in a somewhat convenient spreadsheet (you have to download, then unzip a file, then calculate). I took a look over the list, since I can't resist a book list, and I sure as heck can't resist seeing how I stack up. However, this is one of those lists full of highly literary books, the kind that I rarely read these days. There are reasons why I left the English doctoral program I was in to pursue library school; the freedom to read what I want when I want without some pretentious snob telling me how I should read a book is one of them. Don't get me wrong. I do like some aspects of literary analysis, but I also like reading the cool stuff, and this list is not it (in my humble opinion). So, how did I do?

  • Out of 1001 books, I have read 85.
  • I marked only 17 as "to be read." And those are ones where I like the authors, like Mario Vargas Llosa, or books I did intend to read anyways.
  • A lot of the books I read on the list were books I read in graduate school or that I was forced to read in school. Yes, I use the word "forced." There are some items on that list that probably should not have been inflicted on a high schooler. As for the ones I read in graduate school, a good number of them actually bring back bad memories. When I think about it, it's a miracle I still like to read. But then again, graduate school did have some cool classes (like Dr. Papa's drama classes. Wherever you may be now Doc, thank you for igniting an interest in theater and the powerful messages it can convey. Oh, for the cool stuff too).
  • And by the way, my selections from the list I did read are heavy on classic Spanish and Latin American because I went to high school in Puerto Rico. Had I gone to high school in the states, it would probably be more heavy on classic United States literature.
The likelihood that I will pick out books to read from this list in the coming year is next to none. The chances are slim and fat. There are authors on the list that I simply do not care for, like John Updike. Still, it is interesting for me to see a list like this and to see what I have read. The calculator on the spreadsheet says I would need to read 25 books per year to complete the 2008 edition of the list. If I focused on the list, that would be pretty easy since I can easily read about 100 books in a year. But I dislike the idea of giving up on my pleasure reading in order to follow the whims of some snobbish high brow list. If this was the Hugos list or something like that, I would be there.

And in case my three readers are curious, here are the titles I have read from the big list. I will note the ones I read in Spanish. Oh, and when I note "Spanish edition" as opposed to "Spanish," it means that author does not write originally in Spanish, but I read him or her in Spanish translation. This usually applies to people like Coehlo (Brazilian, writes in Portuguese) or Saramago (Portuguese):

  • Mario Vargas Llosa, The Feast of the Goat (in Spanish).
  • Paulo Coehlo, Veronika Decides to Die (in Spanish).
  • Arturo Perez Reverte, The Dumas Club (in Spanish).
  • Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried.
  • Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia.
  • Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry.
  • Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate (in Spanish).
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions.
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved.
  • Isabel Allende, Of Love and Shadows (in Spanish).
  • V.S. Naipaul, Enigma of Arrival.
  • Alan Moore, Watchmen.
  • Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (in Spanish).
  • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale.
  • William Gibson, Neuromancer.
  • Marti Amis, Money: A Suicide Note.
  • Isabel Allende, The House of Spirits (in Spanish).
  • Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children.
  • Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose.
  • John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman.
  • Mario Puzo, The Godfather.
  • Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (in Spanish).
  • Chinua Achebe, Arrow of God.
  • Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange.
  • Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook.
  • Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths (in Spanish).
  • Gabriel García Márquez, No One Writes the Colonel (in Spanish).
  • Joseph Heller, Catch-22.
  • T.H. White, The Once and Future King.
  • Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man.
  • J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (Salinger should be grateful anyone wants to do a sequel of this piece of tripe. No wonder Salinger has been a recluse. What people see in this novel is beyond me).
  • Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude (in Spanish).
  • George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  • George Orwell, Animal Farm.
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince (in Spanish edition).
  • Graham Greene, Brighton Rock.
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit.
  • Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.
  • Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.
  • E.M. Forster, A Passage to India.
  • Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt.
  • Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence.
  • Sinclair Lewis, Main Street.
  • Juan Ramon Jimenez, Platero and I (in Spanish).
  • Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth.
  • Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness.
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
  • Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie.
  • Kate Chopin, The Awakening.
  • Bram Stoker, Dracula.
  • H.G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau.
  • H.G. Wells, The Time Machine.
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
  • Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
  • H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon's Mines.
  • Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island.
  • Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady.
  • José Hernandez, Martin Fierro.
  • Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days.
  • Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass.
  • Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth.
  • Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
  • Charles Dickens, Great Expectations.
  • Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary.
  • Henry David Thoreau, Walden.
  • Herman Melville, Moby Dick.
  • Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo.
  • Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Facundo (in Spanish).
  • Edgar Allan Poe, The Pit and the Pendulum.
  • Edgar Allan Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher.
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.
  • Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal.
  • Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels.
  • Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe.
  • Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote (in Spanish, and baroque Spanish nonetheless, not some sissy abridgement. In high school. Just for this I should get a pass on a lot of the list).
  • Anonymous, Life of Lazarillo de Tormes (in Spanish, back in high school).
  • Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo, Amadís de Gaula (in Spanish, and similar to Don Quixote too, and read it in high school).
  • Fernando de Rojas, La Celestina (in Spanish, another high school selection).
  • Anonymous, The Thousand and One Nights.
And for the curious, if they stuck this far, here is what I marked as "to be read." It mostly means to me stuff I would like to read, but I may or not read it.

  • Roberto Bolaño, 2666 (yes, in Spanish).
  • Paulo Coehlo, The Devil and Miss Prym (likely in Spanish ed. I happen to like Coehlo, so pretty much anything he writes is on my TBR list).
  • Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives (in Spanish).
  • Tomas Eloy Martinez, Santa Evita (in Spanish. This author has been on my TBR for a while now).
  • Jose Saramago, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (in Spanish ed. This is another author that has been on my TBR for a while).
  • Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (been on the TBR for a while too. I am a bit reluctant since I am told he can be similar to Terry Pratchett, and I did not like the one Pratchett novel I read. But I did like the film, so maybe there is hope).
  • Anais Nin, Delta of Venus.
  • Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire.
  • Mario Vargas Llosa, The Time of the Hero (in Spanish).
  • Carlos Fuentes, The Death of Artemio Cruz (in Spanish).
  • Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land.
  • Juan Carlos Onetti, The Shipyard (in Spanish).
  • Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ (I have seen the film, so curious about reading the book).
  • Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye.
  • Ian Fleming, Casino Royale.
  • Isaac Asimov, Foundation.
  • Isaac Asimov, I, Robot.

A hat tip to CW at Ruminations.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Article Note: a bibliography on Sufism

Citation for the article:

Francesconi, Danilo. "Sufism: A Guide to Essential Reference Resources." Reference Services Review 37.1 (2009): 112-124.

Read via Emerald.

It may be a librarian thing, but once in a while I like reading over bibliographies, especially ones on topics that can help me learn new things. I will admit that Sufism is not something I know a lot about, so I certainly wanted to read this article to get an idea of where to start if I wanted to learn more. The article did just that, and it also gave me some ideas in case I have to help out some patron who may starting to investigate the topic. The author provides a list of works meant for a general reader; he introduces "essential works about this broad subject, its fundamental doctrinal concepts, its basic ritual practices, its ethics, and the history of the main Sufi masters and their groups" (112). He also mentions that this guide can be useful for small public libraries to develop some collections on Sufism (113). I will argue that this guide can be also useful for small academic libraries as well. It certainly would be a guide I would use to develop our holdings related to Sufism.

Francesconi provides a brief historical timeline and briefly discusses some of the challenges in doing research in this area. A big challenge is that a lot of the resources may be scattered, and this is where the librarian comes in to help the researcher. There is a good listing of electronic and print sources from basic reference sources (like encyclopedias) to good books and databases. The article is not meant to be exhaustive, but it will give you a good start.