Tag: iu slis

A different kind of mobile library: on bookmobiles

Bookmobiles have come up in a number of conversations I’ve had recently, so I thought I’d share some thoughts and links.

Jane Hu wrote a piece earlier this summer for the Awl called “Booktorrent! The Bookmobile as Rural Filesharing Network”. There weren’t quite as many parallels to today’s models of sharing information as you’d expect from the title, but it’s still a good, short introduction to bookmobile service in England and America. She touches on the way public library service first began in cities, leaving those who lived in more rural areas without the free access to information libraries were beginning to provide. Bookmobiles were a way to bring that information and those resources to a wider audience.

One emerging trend in librarianship now is to position the library as a “third place,” a location that is neither work nor home but which allows for social interaction and the establishment of a sense of community. (The more common way to refer to this is as the library as a community center.) But Hu points out that this is something early bookmobiles were already offering:

The bookmobile also provided often-detached rural populations opportunities to socialize. In attempts to appeal to adults, bookmobiles often added late night stops. (I’m a little disappointed these don’t happen anymore.) The goal of the bookmobile to educate and thus “make better Americans” opened up a cultural conversation that spreads each day with the traveling word.

For a more extensive chronicling of the history of bookmobile service in a particular place, check out the articles and photos (such great photos!) that Western Maryland’s Historical Library has collected and made available. In fact, it was in Washington County that Mary Titcomb started the first bookmobile service in America in 1905 as a way of reaching potential patrons who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) visit the deposit stations in general stores and post offices that she’d established throughout Washington County, Maryland. What I found especially interesting was her evolving thoughts on what the bookcart should look like and what connotations it should evoke. She wrote in The Story of the Washington County Free Library:

The first wagon, when finished with shelves on the outside and a place for storage of cases in the center resembled somewhat a cross between a grocer’s delivery wagon and the tin peddlers cart of by gone New England days. Filled with an attractive collection of books and drawn by two horses, with Mr. Thomas the janitor both holding the reins and dispensing the books, it started on its travels in April 1905.

[…]

When directions were given as to painting, we had the fear of looking too much like the laundry wagon before our eyes, and the man was strictly enjoined, not to put any gilt or scroll work on it but to make even the lettering, “Washington County Free Library,” plain and dignified, directions carried out only too well, for in the early days of our wagoning, as our man approached one farm house, he heard a voice charged with nervous trepidation, call out “Yer needn’t stop here. We ain’t got no use for the dead wagon here.” Suffice it to say, that we promptly painted the wheels red, and picked off the panels of the doors with the same cheerful color.

In 1912, the library began using a motorized bookmobile.

However, this bookmobile suffered frequent accidents and breakdowns, prompting the librarian at the time, Miss Nellie Chrissinger, to write in the annual report, “The wagon is a victim of circumstances over which we have no control. Even at best, but eight or nine months can be counted on and wet days, wet roads, and repairs shorten the time of operation still more.”

The Washington County Free Library most recently upgraded its bookmobile in 2004. It can carry up to 4000 books, has four computer workstation outlets, is air conditioned or heated depending on the season, and comes equipped with a wheelchair lift.

It’s interesting to see how much bookmobile service has evolved in the last hundred years!

Hu mentions that bookmobile service was the only way libraries were able to reach many people living in rural areas. I’m not completely sure I’m remembering this correctly, but during one of my courses with Dr Preer during my MLS, she told us that when public library service was expanding across the country, the government provided funds for libraries to develop bookmobile service in their area to reach rural residents. Even then, though, Indiana had something of a libertarian bent, and most libraries declined this funding, not wanting to take federal money to provide a local service. So while other states were sending out bookmobiles and demonstrating the relevance, importance, and general awesomeness of library service to as many people as possible in their towns or counties or service areas, Indiana was focusing on physical buildings and not doing as much outreach. As a result, even to this day, support for libraries isn’t as strong as it could be in Indiana, and library service often lags behind other states in the Midwest. There are still plenty of people who don’t have library service without having to pay for library cards (the white areas on this map show unserved areas), and because library service is still a patchwork of town and county libraries, it’s harder to have state-wide standards for staff qualifications and services provided and operating hours. If only we’d said yes to bookmobiles!

Mary Titcomb wrote, “No better method has ever been devised for reaching the dweller in the country. The book goes to the man, not waiting for the man to come to the book.” But it’s not just country dwellers whose lives are enriched by bookmobile service; bookmobiles across the country now bring the library’s resources to nursing homes or the homebound.

Even elsewhere in the world, mobile library service provides people with access to information they wouldn’t otherwise have. The InfoLadies of Bangladesh bring villagers practical information on agriculture, health, and social services available to them. In Colombia, Luis Soriano is saving children from illiteracy with his “biblioburro.” And across the world, children get library service in all sorts of ways.

It seems like a lot of people have fond memories of bookmobile service. When my parents first moved us to Indiana, we lived in an area just outside of Fort Wayne that was only just beginning to be developed. The nearest library branch was about 20 minutes away, so we made use of the bookmobile service the library provided while they planned and built a branch in our area. While my memories of the bookmobile are pretty hazy–mostly I remember enjoying the coolness after being out in the hot summer sun and the delight I felt in being in a room full of books–my mom still reminisces about how much she enjoyed being able to request specific titles and have them brought to her the next week.

W. Ralph Eubanks mused on his own memories of bookmobile visits during his childhood in Mississippi for All Things Considered earlier this summer. What I found especially interesting was this passage that reflects on both the inequality of life for a black family in the South, but also on the way library service can change our lives:

Even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Mississippi resisted enforcing it. But when my mother, a school teacher, asked for the bookmobile to stop at our house in the summer of 1965, the librarian did not hesitate even though schools were still segregated. By simply following the law rather than ignoring it, the bookmobile transformed me into a lifelong reader and eventually a writer.

The thing I came across most recently that got me thinking about bookmobiles was Audrey Niffenegger’s The Night Bookmobile, a graphic novel about a woman who discovers a bookmobile one night that contains every book she’s ever read. The bookmobile disappears, though, and the woman spends years trying to find it again, becoming a librarian in the mean time.

Being able to bring library service to as many people as possible is part of the mission of any good library. We help those who are able to make it through our doors, but we also need to consider the needs of those for whom visiting the library isn’t possible or practical. We send books to nursing homes, we visit juvenile detention facilities, and we provide ebooks and downloadable audio books, but for many, the bookmobile has a special place in their heart as the way they access their libraries.

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2 Comments September 23, 2010

Make your own finger puppets

When my Youth Services class visited the Greenwood (IN) Public Library in February, one of the things assistant children’s services department head Anne Guthrie mentioned in passing was that you could make your own finger puppets by cutting open a small stuffed toy and sewing in the fingertip of a glove. I loved the DIY aspect of this and was struck by how easy and clever it was, so when we had to do an assignment that required us to plan a library program in detail (like, fifteen-page-writeup level detail!), I outlined a preschool storytime with a “tails” theme and created mice finger puppets that could be used as manipulatives during a recitation of “Three Blind Mice” using Anne’s method.

They took me longer to make than I was expecting, but I think that was mostly due to lack of experience not only with making finger puppets like this but with sewing in general. Even for a domestic arts pro, though, it’d be tough to whip up a batch of 30 the night before a program. If your library has a strong volunteer group, especially including people with sewing experience, this could be a good project to farm out to them.

Blind Mice Finger Puppets
Materials: stuffed mice (I used cat toys from a local pet store), an old glove, fabric scraps for tails, a little bit of sew-on velcro, a seam ripper, needle, thread, and scissors

A close-up photograph of a mouse-shaped cat toy. The toy is made of fuzzy pink fabric and has a long blue tail.

Mouse #1, pre-surgery

1. Using a seam ripper and scissors, cut a finger-sized hole in the bottom of the mouse. Pull out a fingertip-sized chunk of stuffing (and maybe catnip), but make sure to leave in enough stuffing for the toy to keep its shape.

A photograph of a gutted mouse-shaped cat toy. The toy is purple; beside it is a pile of pink stuffing with a sprinkling of catnip mixed in.

This mouse's seam was reinforced with glue, hence the gross ragged edges around the edge of the fabric

2. Cut a fingertip off of an old glove. It helps to put on the glove, put your finger into the toy, and then mark around the bottom of the toy so you know how much to cut off. More tightly-fitting gloves work better than loose ones, and if you plan to have children use these as manipulatives, be sure to plan for little fingers.

A photograph of a hand inside a black cloth glove. The tip of the index finger of the glove is completely gone and the tip of the middle finger is cut off but still on the person's fingertip.

Reminds me of my marching band days

3. Insert the glove fingertip into the toy and sew around the edges. A whipstitch is easy, but if you’re not using a thread color that blends in, it makes the fingerpuppet look a little like Frankenstein’s monster. I also recommend choosing toys made of a forgiving fabric; the knit mouse in my collection really showed off every mistake in cutting and stitching.

A photograph of a surgically-altered mouse-shaped cat toy. The blue toy lies on its side with its belly toward the camera, showing that a glove fingertip has been sewn into the toy to create a finger puppet.

Post-surgery Frankenmouse

4. To create detachable tails, fold a rectangular bit of fabric in half (or in quarters with the raw edges on the inside) and sew the sides together. Then fold over a bit of the end of the tail and sew it down to create an elongated t-shape. Cut a piece of velcro to size, cut off the mouse’s original tail (if it has one), and sew the velcro onto the new tail and the mouse’s behind.

A photograph of a mouse finger puppet made from a cat toy. The mouse has a detachable tail made out of scrap fabric and attached with velcro.

Removable tail--no carving knife necessary!

5. Repeat as many times as necessary to create your own nest/colony/harvest/horde/mischief of finger puppet mice.

A photograph of three mice finger puppets on a hand. The mice are each a different color, one purple, one blue, and one pink. They have detachable tails and beady black eyes.

My mischief of mice earned me an A!

While the storytime I planned was tail-themed, these could be reused for a more general animal storytime, a pets storytime (although the detachable tails are a little sad in that case!), or a nursery rhyme-themed program. They’re not too hard, especially once you’ve gotten a little practice, and they’re pretty cheap, too.

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1 Comment July 14, 2010

On KP Bath and separating the author from the work

KP Bath (Multnomah County Sheriff's Office)

Last week children’s book author KP Bath was sentenced to six years in jail for possessing child pornography. This brings up questions of what librarians should do with his books if they’re held by the library. Should they be removed from the collection? Should they be booktalked and suggested? Should they be featured in displays? In South Carolina where the book won the 2007-2008 Junior Book Award, should the book be stricken from the award list?

Bath was originally arrested in April 2009. At the time I was taking both a seminar on intellectual freedom and Materials for Youth, and I brought up his arrest in both classes to gauge my fellow students’ reactions. While my seminar classmates were all vociferous in their defense of the book (but not the author), I was surprised by how many of my classmates in Materials for Youth would have removed the book from their libraries’ collections, even if they hadn’t read the books themselves. I think that were KP Bath an author for adults, even more cautious librarians would be less likely to pull his works; it’s providing his books to children, the very group he was exploiting, that concerns us.

At the time I hadn’t read any of KP Bath’s books, but by the end of the semester had read both THE SECRET OF CASTLE CANT and ESCAPE FROM CASTLE CANT, the first two books in a trilogy that will now probably never see completion. I thought they were mediocre fantasy novels that started with an interesting world but fell short in their narration style and details. But aside from a few notes about how insufferable adults are (which you’ll find in many books for older children and young adults), there was nothing in the books that seemed unusual or uncomfortable, much less exploitative. So, wearing my librarian hat and separating the author from his work, I concluded that it would violate the Freedom to Read Statement were we to remove the book from our library shelves.

But this also illustrated to me the occasional separation that occurs between my professional ethics and my personal ethics. While I’m not always great at it, it’s important to me to spend my consumer dollars wisely since it’s the only vote I get in the behavior of corporations and the business world in general. And I definitely don’t want to financially support someone who exploits children–especially someone so downright skeezy as Bath. He wrote in one of his chats, “I’m glad there are molesters out there,” and “I wish a 9 yr old was doing that to me. This from a man who’s writing books for 9-year-olds.” While he was enjoying (and trading) videos and images “depicting sadistic conduct, rape, sodomy and bestiality,” he was also volunteering at the Beverly Cleary Children’s Library in Portland. He was volunteering at the local children’s library. It chills my blood to read that sentence. Knowing what I know about Bath, there’s no way I could spend my money on his books, recommend (rather than suggest) his books to any children I know, or in any way not oppose him.

But those are my personal values. My professional values demand that I treat his books as I would have before his arrest and conviction. Normally I feel like my own values and my profession’s values are a good match, but I really struggle with this case. I know that as much as we want it to be or might claim it is, our collection development isn’t objective. I want social justice to be a part of librarianship. But intellectual freedom is at the core of librarianship and is the defense for some controversial things that happen in youth librarianship. If we start making compromises, how can we continue to defend controversial books being on our shelves? If we make exceptions and remove KP Bath’s books from our collections, then how do we retain the works of other felons or of anyone–atheists, gay people–whom someone in our library’s community might think immoral?

But can I really set aside my personal values in favor of my professional ones and be okay with myself? I certainly expect it of any librarians who personally think that (for example) people in the queer community are on the path to hell–I’d still expect them to collect books by LGBTQIA authors. Is the reason I think this is different because the law and a majority of people in our society agree that pedophilia is wrong whereas (in most states at least) homosexuality isn’t a crime?

I struggled with this conflict of values last spring and now that Bath has been sentenced, I’m thinking about it again. Professionally the right thing to do is to treat his books no differently, but personally, I’m torn. Intellectual freedom is important to me, but so is supporting good in the world and opposing evil. I feel okay keeping Bath’s books in a collection and with giving them to patrons who ask for them directly. But can I, with a clean conscience, add Bath’s books to a booklist? Can I booktalk them? I think I’ll probably do so–and feel good about it at work but feel guilty about it at home.

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5 Comments July 12, 2010

Thoughts on Thomas Mann’s LIBRARY RESEARCH MODELS

I mentioned in my recent post for the YALSA blog that since I’m between jobs, I’m reading (among other things) more academic or intellectual library science textbook sorts of books to get some more of the theory in the field. I recently finished Thomas Mann’s LIBRARY RESEARCH MODELS: A GUIDE TO CLASSIFICATION, CATALOGING, AND COMPUTERS.

In it, Mann (a reference librarian at the Library of Congress) explains some of the mental models people use when approaching research in a library. He writes, “a large number of people tend to ask not for what they want, but for what they think they can get” (p6). So what people think the library is and has will shape what kinds of research questions they can ask. Knowing the different mental models people use lets us know what the blind spots in their research methods are and can help us point them toward sources that will make up for those resources they’ve missed.

He outlines five common models and proposes a sixth that he thinks libraries can implement to improve researchers abilities to find the information they need:

  1. With the Subject-Discipline Model, researchers have a list of resources specific to their subject. This allows deep research into a narrow field and promotes browsing but neglects interdisciplinary work and resources and precludes researchers from finding items that are classified and shelved somewhere else even though they’re about a related topic.
  2. The Library Science Model has three components: the classification scheme, a vocabulary-controlled catalog, and published bibliographies and indexes. It’s essential to use all three of these components; many people only know about the classification scheme (that is, they know about call numbers and physical arrangement of the library), but not using the other three components cripples this model.
  3. The Type-of-Literature Model is often taught in library school programs. The idea is that all fields have things like dictionaries and indexes and chronologies, so you need to determine the type of question that’s being asked, and that’ll tell you what kind of resource you need to consult. You don’t need subject experience; you just need to know what kind of resource you’re looking for. (The free-floating subdivisions in the Library of Congress Subject Headings system include things like –Dictionaries, so you can just browse by subject and then look for those subdivisions and you’ve found the resource you need.)
  4. The Actual-Practice Model is how most researchers actually approach their research: through a combination of browsing the shelves, talking to colleagues, following footnotes, and doing keyword searches on a computer. This isn’t systematic and researchers are often told that if they’re real scholars, they shouldn’t need a librarian’s help, so they don’t discover a lot of things the library has to offer.
  5. The Computer Workstation Model centers around what computers provide, including a digitized catalog, full-text searching, and being able to catalog journal articles with the depth that we do monographs (which was previously infeasible since you’d have to have multiple cards in a physical card catalog for every single journal article you held). But this model runs into problems with cost, predictability, feasibility, and preservation. (He goes into a lot of detail on this.)
  6. Since all of these models have benefits and drawbacks, Mann proposes the Method-of-Searching Model in which reference materials are arranged by how you search them:
    • Controlled-vocabulary searches
    • Keyword searches
    • Citation searches
    • Searches through published bibliographies
    • Searches through “people sources”
    • Computer searches
    • Related-records searches
    • Systematic browsing

    This model shows users that they have lots of search options, allows for point-of-use instruction, and is cross-disciplinary and cross-format.

But beyond just talking about these research models, Mann talks about other important issues in library work, like the Principle of Least Effort, which states that people do what’s easy even if it produces low-quality results, so we need to make the best way of accessing information the easiest.

He also points out that the presence of information does not guarantee access to that information. Imagine if libraries still arranged their books by the order in which they were purchased–it’d be impossible to find information on a specific subject without already knowing the contents of every single book the library owned. While that’s an extreme example, there are other cases in which we sometimes confuse information being available in the library with information being accessible to users.

Mann also argues that system design shouldn’t just be a technical problem: we also need to consider the behavior of the people using the system. And studying information-seeking behavior and implementing things based on those findings is a part of library science–one that’s often neglected.

But one of the most compelling parts of the book is when he talks about research in the age of computers when people think “everything” is available online, even though it really isn’t, and how the online research experience is different from the physical.

One of the simpler examples that he provides is that of doing keyword searches instead of using vocabulary-controlled subject headings. If you’re looking for information on the death penalty, you can search the library’s catalog for “death penalty” and turn up a lot of items. But what if the title (or table of contents or even full-text) of the item uses the term “capital punishment” instead? You’ll miss that book and it might have had what you needed. With a vocabulary-controlled list of subject headings and books that are cataloged with that system, you can find the subject heading you need (“Capital punishment”) and then get a list of every single book in the library on that subject, even if those books use different terms or are in another language altogether. You just cannot do that with keyword searching, and that’s why keyword searching is an avenue of access and not a system of access. It’s why we still need cataloging and classification. It’s why researchers using the library need to know how and why library systems work the way they do–and in a lot of cases need an expert in using those systems to help them find what they need.

Mann talks a lot more about what computers can provide that greatly expand research possibilities, but he reminds the reader that computers will never completely replace libraries, at least when it comes to doing deep research. (He also provides interesting parallels between what people predict will happen to libraries because of the rise of computers and what people thought would happen to libraries because of the advent of microfilm technology that I found very interesting.)

So while this book is most useful to academic or special librarians rather than public librarians, I still found it thought-provoking, and I found it especially useful because we didn’t really talk a lot about using LCSH to do research in my reference class and we didn’t talk a lot about why vocabulary control is important in my cataloging class (which apparently isn’t as uncommon as you’d hope–Mann bemoans the lack of familiarity with the Library Science Model even among graduates from library school programs).

So in Thomas Mann’s view, the responsibilities of librarians are these:

  1. Acquiring knowledge records
  2. Cataloging knowledge records
  3. Making resources available in a systematic manner
  4. Preserving knowledge records

We can use technology to help us achieve these aims, but we cannot abandon these as our responsibilities as information professionals because no one else is attending to them.

The only disappointment I had with this book was that it was published in 1993 and there haven’t been more recent editions. I think that Mann’s principles are solid and that his discussion of them is clear and helpful (I really like his writing style), but a lot has changed in the last seventeen years like Google’s ability to massage keyword searches (if you search for the singular, you get results with the plural; if you search for the infinitive form of a verb, you get conjugated forms back) and the lowered cost of online access (databases used to be accessible via telephone for a certain price per minute).

Even if the book hasn’t been updated, though, Mann is still advocating for sanity in technology use and a strong model of library research and I’d encourage you to read his stuff.

So although this book is most useful for people doing or assisting with more in-depth research, I think there are principles we can all take away and use. Namely,

  • There is a set of principles behind the way the library works. Knowing these principles and the rationale behind the systems we have make us better researchers and better librarians.
  • Information can and must be systematically classified, and having using systems of access to those classifications and catalogs is essential for research.
  • People’s expectations of the library shape what they’ll ask of it. We need to be attuned to how people perceive the library so we can help them fill in gaps in their expectations.
  • When we design library systems, we need to consider the expectations and behaviors of the people who will use them.
  • Online research has benefits over using physical resources (like the ability to do keyword searches on full-text documents), but it also has drawbacks. “Everything” is not available online and “everything” never will be available online.
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    4 Comments June 21, 2010

Two challenges to Julie Halpern’s GET WELL SOON–with very different results

One of the characteristics of my MLS program that I enjoyed the most was the diversity in age and experience among my classmates. There were people like me who were (mostly) fresh out of college and whose library experience was fairly limited, but because of the recent changes in Indiana library certification (summary here), some of my classmates were department heads or branch managers or even library directors who had been in their positions for decades without an MLS and who were now in school to get their degrees so they could keep their jobs. This led to a wide range in opinions and experiences in the classroom, which made for great class discussions. It also meant that I got to hear a lot of stories about how things were done in different libraries, many of which had very different policies and procedures.

One of the most disturbing stories I heard during my degree was about a challenge to a book in the teen collection at a particular library. Just for storytelling purposes, I’ll call it the Anonymous Public Library (APL). Because of the worldview of a few board members, APL takes a very active role in deciding what’s appropriate for the library collection. They do not purchase or accept donations of R-rated movies, even if the movie has won awards or broken box office records. The board members who designed and uphold this policy think that APL shouldn’t carry “inappropriate” material like this because children might check it out. Staff members have tried to suggest having adult library cards and children’s cards and not allowing children to check out videos, freeing adults to watch movies for grownups, but the board members remain resolute.

Because of the generally conservative culture at APL, the teen section also comes under a lot of scrutiny. It does serve 6th-12th graders which is admittedly a very wide range, but I’m firmly of the opinion that if a parent is concerned about what his or her child is reading, that parent should be involved in the child’s selection of reading materials–in other words, it’s not the library’s job to be the parent. But APL’s policies differ from my personal philosophy, so no books in the teen collection may contain the F-word, and the board expects the teen librarian to read every book before she purchases it to make sure the forbidden word doesn’t appear and to screen for other “inappropriate” material and themes. If APL were a tiny public library with a tiny budget and few purchases, this might be feasible, but because of APL’s size and budget, there’s no way the teen librarian can possibly read everything before she orders it.

The cover of Julie Halpern's book GET WELL SOON. The cover is yellow and has the text "get well soon" in all lower case at the top. Beneath that is a yellow frowny face, and beneath that, the author's name (again in lower case).

So one of the stories about APL that was told in class was this: a seventh grader checked out Julie Halpern’s GET WELL SOON, thinking from the cover that it would be like a Jerry Spinelli book. In fact, the story is about a girl named Anna Bloom whose parents send her to a residential mental health facility (a “loony bin,” as Anna puts it) to treat her depression. The young APL patron was surprised to find a number of swear words on the first page and showed the book to her mom. Her mom was very angry and brought the book back to the library to request its removal.

In most public libraries, a librarian would listen to the parent, try to assess and reflect back why the parent was upset, and to show the parent that her concerns were important to the library. Librarians usually also try to explain the value of diversity in the collection and the importance of helping kids select their reading material if subject matter is a concern. Then if the parent still wants to challenge the book, the librarian would have the parent fill out a request for reconsideration form. Depending on library policy, a group of librarians, managers, and maybe board members or members of the public would meet, review the book, and make a decision.

At APL, the book was immediately taken to the director, who looked at the first page, decided the book was inappropriate, and had it removed it from the collection. The book itself didn’t even go to the pile of general library discards that’s sold by the Friends of the Library as a fundraiser: it went into the dumpster. This all happened within an hour of the mom’s initial challenge to the book.

And the craziest part of this story is that while this was happening, the teen librarian was on vacation, and when she returned, no one from management told her it’d happened. In her absence, the book just disappeared. She only found out later when the checkout clerk who was the mom’s first point of contact told the teen librarian, which she wasn’t supposed to have done.

Obviously this is a really extreme version of how a challenge process can work in a public library, and it is, of course, up to the community to decide how their library is run. It just makes me sad that the board members who support these policies have such a limited view of intellectual freedom in general and, more specifically, of kids’ ability to choose their own reading material and to stop when they find something they don’t think is right for them, and it makes me sad that the librarians at APL can’t do more to call this out for the censorship that it is.

So it was with great joy that I read the news that the Fon Du Lac School District in Wisconsin had chosen to keep GET WELL SOON on the shelf at Theisen Middle School. Challenges in a school library are particularly tricky because unlike public libraries, the school is acting in loco parentis, so challenges are more likely to be successful. Another school district in the area had opted to put a sticker on another book (not GET WELL SOON) deemed inappropriate for middle schoolers and to require parental permission for students to check it out, so FDLSD’s decision is especially heartening. During the hearings, the media specialist defended the library’s diverse collection and said that if a student checked out GET WELL SOON and was uncomfortable reading it that she would help that student find something more appropriate. This is exactly the right way to handle challenges like this and I’m so pleased with how things turned out.

If a challenge doesn’t get much media attention, the author often never hears about the challenge or the outcome. But in this case, Julie Halpern saw an article about the decision (and noted that no one’d called her) and wrote a blog post about how the challenge affected her writing of the sequel and the role respect plays in reading, writing, and allowing kids to pick their own reading material.

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9 Comments June 18, 2010

Conferences: tips, volunteering, and the student perspective

Earlier this semester I submitted some articles for my school’s ALA Student Chapter’s newsletter. Two of them were accepted and the newsletter was published online today.

The SLIS program at IU is split between two campuses: Bloomington focuses more on academic librarianship, rare books, and the information science side of the profession; the Indianapolis campus does more with public librarianship and school librarianship (it’s actually the only place in the state you can get your school media specialist certification). But because each ALA-accredited program can only have one student chapter, the IU ALA-SC (I’m not sure which website is official, this one or this one) is at Bloomington.

The Indy program is starting to provide some similar opportunities and services to its students with ALISS, the Association for Library and Information Science Students, which was resurrected last fall. Erin and Andy and I are stepping down as officers, but we have a great incoming group of officers with high ambitions and new committees and programs planned, and I’m hoping that next year ALISS and the IU ALA-SC will be able to work together more closely.

Anyway, although the IU ALA-SC is headquartered in Bloomington, students in the program at Indianapolis are welcome to submit articles for the newsletter, attend events, and apply for scholarships. I think Indy students have to work a little harder to stay informed about opportunities organized by Bloomington students and faculty, but subscribing to the Bloomington listserv in addition to the Indy listserv helps a lot.

This semester’s newsletter theme was conferences and since the call for articles went out just as I was returning from PLA2010, I thought I’d write a couple about different topics. “Volunteering at Conferences” and “Conferences 102: A Few More Words of Advice” were accepted and published in the newsletter . A third article, “Attending a Conference as a Student,” was not, so I thought I’d post it here.

Attending a Conference as a Student

Ideas in this article emerged in part from conversations with other Indianapolis SLIS students including Erin Milanese and Katie Nakanishi.

Attending a conference while you’re still in school is a great opportunity. Not only will you have the chance to learn a lot and meet other professionals, but your student status confers unique benefits as well. If you’re thinking about attending a conference before you graduate, consider the following.

While you may feel like a cash-strapped student, conference fees will never be lower than while you’re still in school. Registration fees may be half or even a quarter of the regular member rate. There are also travel and conference grant opportunities for students and first-time attendees. Lodging and transportation are also part of conference costs, but your classes are full of potential roommates and maybe even road trip partners.

Your student status also grants you more flexibility once you arrive at the conference. Even if you’re working in a library already, if you’re footing the bill, you get to decide what sessions you attend. While you’ll want to learn about your current or future specialization, if something totally outside of your area looks interesting, go! Conferences are a great opportunity to stretch yourself, and while you’ve been learning a lot of theory in the classroom, it’s at a conference that you can see where best practices and research meet real-world constraints and inspiration.

While you’re at the conference, your primary mission is to keep an open mind and just soak up everything you can. Conferences, especially national ones, give you the chance to see libraries from a multitude of perspectives you might not get just by taking classes. Local and state-wide conferences can also teach you practical, hands-on tips you may not get in the classroom.

Make sure to take advantage of job placement services or resume reviews, too. People are on hand to help you assess your own strengths and weaknesses and help you turn a critical eye to your resume. Even if you’re not looking for a job, these services can help you decide what your next professional step might be.

Your conference experience shouldn’t be all work and no play, though. Plan to go to a social event outside of the official conference schedule. Many ALA divisions and roundtables have happy hours where you can mingle more casually with other professionals. And if you’ve already made new friends during the conference, going out for dinner or drinks afterward gives you a chance to get to know them better and expand your professional network.

Being a student and not having any purchasing power in your library means you’re not a potential sale for vendors in the exhibit hall, but you can still learn a lot from them about the different products they offer. Just be sure to be clear that you’re a student and be willing to decline freebies or to defer to librarians who may be researching a purchase. Talking to publishers can be a good way to pick up books and ARCs if you want to get a head start on writing professional reviews. If you do pick up swag, paying your own way at the conference means that you actually get to keep all of those sweet giveaways (especially the books!) rather than turning it over to your library when you return.

Going to a national conference may seem intimidating, but as a student it gives you a chance to get your feet wet and see how conferences work so that when you attend another one as an official representative from your library, you’ll be better equipped to pick sessions and to navigate the exhibit hall. It also gives you an idea of what presentations are like so that once you have some accumulated wisdom of your own, you’ll be ready to present at a conference yourself.

Conferences are useful no matter what stage of your career you’re in. Being a student means cheaper conference rates, built-in travel partners, flexibility, having your mind blown by the wide world of librarianship beyond the classroom, opportunities for networking, and lots of free stuff. How can you pass that up?

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Leave a Comment May 12, 2010

The Librarian’s Oath

Last spring during my Seminar on Intellectual Freedom, Shellie and I were discussing how librarianship doesn’t have a professional organization that controls licenses to practice and that while we have the ALA Code of Ethics (and the Library Bill of Rights and the Freedom to Read Statement and lots of other statements from the Office of Intellectual Freedom), there isn’t an oath we have to take to become librarians like (for example) doctors do.

So once we started nearing graduation, I took the general structure of the Hippocratic Oath and filled in that framework with content from the ALA Code of Ethics and did a little tweaking and came up with a Librarian’s Oath:

The Librarian’s Oath
I swear by Seshat the scribe, Athena, Sophia, and Nidaba, and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witness, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and covenant:

I will not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or my employing institution.

But I will provide the highest level of service to all library users and ensure equitable, unbiased access to materials and services, recognizing that a person’s right to use the library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

I will respect intellectual property rights and support balance between the interests of information users and rights holders.

I will uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.

All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.

In all aspects of my work I will strive for excellence and will maintain and enhance my knowledge and skills. I will support the professional development of my colleagues. I will encourage the aspirations of potential members of the profession.

Both at work and in the community, I will be an advocate for the library and I will champion libraries and my fellow librarians.

If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all people and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.

Professor Japzon (Andrea, that is) administered the Oath to a group of us after graduation today; we raised our right hands and recited it in unison (Shellie and I also held a copy of the Intellectual Freedom Manual). It turned out to be a little long for a public recitation, but I really enjoyed being sworn in and made an official librarian by someone in the field. Along with all of the academic regalia and ceremony and tradition of the day, it made for a very official-feeling way to officially join the ranks of the profession.

So now I’m a real, MLS-holding, Oath-swearing librarian!

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9 Comments May 9, 2010

Rigor in reviews, in writing, and in librarianship generally

In February author Zetta Elliott wrote a guest post for Justine Larbalestier’s blog in which she discusses the challenges writers of color face in a field that is largely white. She discusses problems of authenticity and white privilege (there are more books about African-Americans than there are books by African-Americans) and the difficulties in breaking into the field. I don’t see a lot of discussions about race or privilege in the library world (the literary world, sure, or the culture studies world, yes, but not nearly as often from librarians), so you should give Elliott’s post a read.

Elliott’s discussion of race and privilege in young adult writing is bookended by a consideration of the reluctance people show in writing critical book reviews, which Sarah McCarry picks up on in her Huffington Post article, “Faking Nice in the Blogosphere: Women and Book Reviews.” She examines this reluctance through the lens of gender, arguing that to shy away from criticism in a field dominated by female writers and readers does women and girls a disservice, because although we should be promoting good books and negative reviews can be very hurtful (see David Lubar’s post about the startlingly harsh Kirkus review of one of his books), a critic’s job is to have expectations, to evaluate a book, and to create discussion.

McCarry also contrasts the reception of works by male authors and the “cult of niceness”:

It goes without saying that male writers are accorded no such coddling, and that entry into this misty realm of sisterly solidarity requires acquiescence to a strict set of codes of behavior. Nice lady writers don’t rock the boat, they don’t hurt people’s feelings, and they sure as hell don’t write about topics that make other lady writers uncomfortable. But instead of promoting community, this obsession with niceness wields a potent silencing force. If nice ladies don’t say critical things about other ladies’ books, they also don’t talk about racism and sexism within the publishing industry, the enormous barriers facing writers of color and women whose work doesn’t fall into tidy and palatable genre categories, and the refusal of mainstream critics to acknowledge young adult fiction in particular as anything other than the realm of hack (read: female) writers incapable of producing “real” literature.

I’m still relatively new to the library world (I did my undergrad in math with the intent to become a math professor before realizing I needed a career with more room to have lots of interests and hobbies and with more of a human element), but I was really struck in my first semester by what seems to me to be a lack of rigor in the field–at least in public librarianship. We read an article in my collection development class that was published in a regional library journal that was just a description of a very narrow weeding project. There was no theory, no analysis, no critique–just a summary of events. The writing was poor and riddled with grammatical mistakes. It seemed shocking to me that an article of that quality was published in a peer-reviewed journal (not a magazine or a newsletter–a journal).

While it turns out that most of the library science literature dealing with public libraries isn’t as bad as that one article, it still seems like actual research and critical analysis can be difficult to find. Has this always been the case? Is it happening because of the emergence of information science from library science? Is it just public libraries that find themselves in a poverty of research? It seems to me that this ties in with librarianship’s struggle to be recognized as a profession.

I read a fantastic book last year by Roma Harris, LIBRARIANSHIP: THE EROSION OF A WOMAN’S PROFESSION (it’s out of print but can be found used or ordered through interlibrary loan) in which she discusses librarianship’s struggle to be regarded as a profession and the challenges librarians have faced because their field is traditionally viewed as a woman’s field. She draws on examples from social work and nursing, too, to show how librarianship is unique in its labeling as women’s work (in some ways we’re actually better off). Anyway, it’s a fascinating read and a lot of the following is informed by her analysis.

One way librarians have tried to achieve recognition as professionals is by adopting the traits of other professions (think doctors, lawyers, and clergy members). We institute educational standards (the required MLS), we have a professional association that adopts standards for ethical behavior, and we point to an exclusive body of knowledge in which active research is being done, all in the hopes that possessing these traits will make us a profession.

But librarianship is still often seen as women’s work, and public librarianship especially, and youth services librarianship doubly so. And so librarians aren’t afforded the prestige of other professions. I don’t mean to say that there is something inherently wrong with librarians or library research and that until those flaws are mended we will never been seen as professionals, but I do think that public library research lacks rigor. We need more library science doctoral candidates who are interested in public librarianship and youth services, whether that means encouraging current candidates to find research subjects in those areas or for people who are currently working in the field to return to school.

Many things that are regarded as “women’s work” are seen as such because they draw on traditionally feminine values like nurturing and caring and working with children. My call for rigor and criticism and research isn’t a call to discard these feminine traits and adopt more competitive masculine values and basically become men to effectively transform our profession into a more masculine one–our society devalues “women’s” values enough already. (Notice, for example, that more prestige and higher salaries are given to academic librarians, who are more likely to be men than public librarians and children’s librarians in particular–even within a “woman’s field,” being at the masculine end is preferred.)

Nurture and compassion and care for children is essential in our society and in our work as librarians to young people. But we do need to have that exclusive body of knowledge both to fit the traditional mold of a profession (if that’s the way to professionalizing librarianship) and to justify our master’s degrees being master’s degrees and not just bachelor’s degrees, but also to make us better librarians. It is through this research that we will find the best ways to serve our patrons, the best ways to understand them, the best ways to nurture them into successful adults and to create a better society.

Although she writes from the perspective of an author rather than a librarian, I agree with McCarry that we need to not be afraid to be critical in our reviews. I am not advocating nastiness or the destruction of a supportive community for writers, just higher standards and a willingness to hold authors to them. Young adult literature has improved in leaps and bounds since its emergence in the 1960s from children’s literature, but we should always be asking more. We should look for quality writing and plot construction and character development and recognize when it isn’t there. We should examine books from frameworks of race and gender. We should not be afraid to rock the boat. We should not be cruel, but we should analyze and evaluate and spark discussion and in doing so, push for more for our patrons.

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5 Comments April 28, 2010

Patsy Allen on corporate librarianship

On Friday we had our third and final ALISS Luncheon Lecture of the semester. Patsy Allen, an IU SLIS grad and the research librarian at Roche Diagnostics, talked to us about her career as a corporate librarian.

She actually began as a part-time contractor before her position was developed into a full-time one four years later. When Roche was creating the position, there was a lot of debate about what to call the position before they finally settled on “Research Librarian.” Many people in the company handle information of some sort, so they wanted what she is available for to be very clear. She said that some of the older employees didn’t like the name because they still regard librarians as the shushing guardians of the stacks, but that the younger employees who were being hired straight out of school were excited to know that Roche had a librarian for them to come to with their information needs.

Patsy described her position as being “a solo librarian in a global environment” since she’s the only librarian in a company that employs thousands of people. Employees of Roche ask her to find articles and papers, patent data, and lots of other highly specialized information to assist them with their research in biology, chemistry, and engineering, mostly via email (which can be tricky when she’s trying to tease out exactly what a client needs!).

Her manager isn’t a librarian (he works with patent information), so she has a lot of autonomy in her work, which she said she really enjoys. Like Ellen Summers of the NCAA Library, Patsy emphasized the importance of the Special Libraries Association in feeling connected to the profession and having other librarians to help her, although she did point out that corporate librarian positions can be radically different from one company to another. She also talked about how important continuing education is for her, whether it’s through courses at a university or seminars through SLA.

She talked a little bit about how she can’t talk about a lot of her work. Since she works for a corporation that does scientific research, she’s privy to a lot of information that she can’t disclose. The work Roche does is also highly regulated, which introduces further restrictions on what she can talk about. Patsy also talked about the importance of professional integrity: while she may know that two people are working on the same sort of project based on the questions they’re asking her, she can’t tell them about each other.

Patsy spends a lot of energy monitoring copyright issues and explaining them to her clients. Many of them come from an academic environment and are used to being able to pass information to other colleagues fairly freely under the Fair Use guidelines, but copyright rules in a corporate environment are much more restrictive. The general guideline she gives clients is “assume the answer is ‘no’ unless I tell you otherwise.” She also showed us some of the different levels of permission different publishers grant for copying and distributing articles–some allow only paper copies to be made while others allow for electronic copies to be distributed. Roche can be sued by a publisher if an article is posted to the company intranet without permission, so complying with copyright restrictions is really important, and she’s the primary person to educate employees on what they may and may not do. The library also won’t order reports for employees since it requires the recipient to sign off on how they’ll be using the document. She’ll get a client a complete citation, but their department must be the one to order it. She also has to be careful about exactly what she advises people to do, since in Indiana offering legal advice counts as practicing law, which you can’t do unless you’re a lawyer.

Patsy also talked about some of the tools she uses in her work including Medline, Embase, Biosis, SciSearch, Current Contents, ScienceDirect, Wiley InterScience, Google and Google Scholar, PubMed, OCLC FirstSearch, FDA, EBSCOhost Databases, and other STM, business, and legal resources. She said that she works to be really proactive in constantly scanning the media and news alerts and blogs for items of interest and then forwarding them on to clients who might find the information useful before they even ask for it or need it. She said that this not only reminds them of the library’s usefulness but also gives her a chance to show potential new clients what the library can do for them.

Despite Roche being on the cutting edge in their industry, they are by necessity technologically cautious in some ways. Since Roche is a gigantic company, they need to be reserved in how quickly they adopt new technology and new versions of software, so she’s trying to make do with Internet Explorer 6 and old versions of other software packages. She’s also lost her physical library: she used to work in a room full of books but was moved to a cubicle with a computer and a book cart. While lots of information–especially the most recent of research–is available online and she does conduct most of her correspondence via email, she said that she missed being in a proper library.

Although the slow adoption of new technology and constant assessment of copyright compliance seemed at times exasperating, Patsy said that she loves her job. Since she’s helping clients with their scientific research, she learns new things every day just by seeing that information go by. She did emphasize knowing one’s limits in a special library and being able to tell clients that what they wanted was too advanced for her to do, but that she could put them in touch with another person or resource that could help them. Her job is fast-paced and she never knows on a given day what she’ll see thrown at her and she loves being kept on her toes. She also mentioned the social aspect of her job, pointing out that her life isn’t just research and information all day long, but that there’s a human element, an opportunity to help people and to teach them. The analogy she provided was that of being an information bartender–I think that’d be a great thing to put on a business card!

Patsy closed with a quotation from Neil de Grasse Tyson that’s appropriately scientific but also blends with the librarian’s life:

In life and in the universe,
may your signal be high
and your noise be low.

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4 Comments April 26, 2010

More on our work with EPL

Erin–whom you may know as the champion of metadata from her earlier blog post–has a new post over on her own blog about our trip to Eckhart Public Library if you’re interested in another perspective on the project.

She tackles in more detail than I did the difficulty of digitizing certain things and the way best practices can’t always be implemented within the context of real-world constraints.

How many of you have a digital camera? How many of you make sure your photos are TIFF files instead of JPG? TIFF is the current standand for archival quality photos. Which is great and fine and dandy if you’re scanning old documents into your computer, but a bit more problematic when you have digital camera pics that are already saved in jpg format.

Erin also touches on why this project is so cool. Not only are we getting a chance to advance a public library’s project, but we’re also finally getting to apply what we’ve learned in class in the real world and see why things work the way they do and how, as librarians, we can use the tools we’ve learned about to do cool things.

This project is great — not only is it fantastic experience, but its a lot of fun, and I feel like we’re contributing to a pretty cool project. After completing my digital libraries class last fall, I kind of hated metadata — its a lot like cataloging, with lots of rules and details and UGH. But the cool thing, that I’m realizing now, is that with metadata, the rules are always changing. So while it is a bit like cataloging, its much more fun, since we get to create the schema and the fields, and while there are standards to adhere to, the rules we get to make ourselves.

I must confess that I’m not as excited about metadata as Erin, so my current piece of the project, figuring out what metadata we need for items we’re expecting teens in particular to want to include, isn’t firing my jets quite as much as the project in general. But it does hint at the notion that teens understand digital content–and as a result the world–differently than people of other ages might, which I do find interesting.

So go read Erin’s post. She does a good job of discussing something I probably won’t talk about in much detail.

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Leave a Comment March 10, 2010

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