Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Money to attend library school!

If you are considering library school, know that there are a lot of individuals and organizations that want to support you. Consider this recent posting I came across:

CLA Reference Service Press Fellowship
Deadline: June 15, 2005

The CLA Reference Service Press Fellowship encourages college seniors, college graduates and beginning library school students to prepare for a career in reference/information service librarianship.


Applicant must be a college graduate or college senior who has been accepted in an accredited MLS program (documentation is required). A graduate student already enrolled in an accredited MLS program (either part-time or full-time) may also apply if no more than eight credits have been completed by June of this year.

Applicant must be either:
(1) A California resident attending or planning to attend an ALA-accredited library school masters program in any state


(2) A resident of any state planning to attend or attending an accredited library school masters program in California.

Applicant must be interested in preparing for a career in reference or information service librarianship and must agree, if awarded the fellowship, to take at least three classes specifically dealing with reference or information service.

For more information and application, see

If you are an Illinois resident and considering library school, you may want to consider applying for the Secretary of State/Illinois State Training Grant for the Master of Library and Information Science Degree. I won one of these grants. You can, too!

The American Library Association also provides scholarships. Apply for one today.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

what's so special?

There is a category of the field usually referred to as "special librarianship." Personally I think ALL librarians are special - sort of like FBI agents, who are all special right up to the SAC (Special Agent in Charge) - but it's another career path into specialized work for law firms, corporations, or agencies with particular information needs. According to this story in Career Journal, though there was a downturn in jobs, it's picking up again. Worth investigating if you're particularly keen on seeing the research process through to the anaylsis stage.

There was a bit of an identity crisis a couple of years ago - the Special Library Association considered calling itself something without the L word in it - but in the end they voted to keep the name.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

presto chango

Here are some questions given in library school exams at a Canadian university in the 1930s. Interesting to see what had changed (no fear, filing order is NOT on the test any longer) and what hasn't. Several of the questions, dusted off, are ones we still think about.


Sunday, April 17, 2005

have libraries every mattered?

Here's an interesting piece on the question "do libraries still matter?" Turns out, public libraries have asked themselves that for over a century. (Apparently, though the details differ, it always boils down to "yes.") This historical look over the shoulder has some cheering numbers - over 60% of adults in the US in a 2002 survey were card-carrying library users.


Saturday, April 16, 2005

keeping up

Still processing all the buzz from the ACRL conference (yikes!) but meanwhile new things keep popping up on the Web. It's a big challenge of the profession to keep on top of it all, or at leas the bits that might turn out to be important, or just too cool to miss.

According to Publisher's Lunch, Random House (the parent of many, many US publishing houses) is finally talking to Google about digitizing their books for Google Print. They've been part of Amazon's Search Inside since it launched, but baulked when Google offered to make their front and backlist books full-text searchable. They'll run a pilot and take it from there.

If they decide to go ahead, it could be a big boost for searching book content in Google. But I have to wonder if it'll slow down the work they're doing in libraries.

Meanwhile, Google Maps has added amazing satellite images. Click on "satellite" in the upper right-hand corner. Zoom in and move in any direction using arrows. Hard to tell how current "current" is - but the refresh rate is amazing.

Some of us will visit Carelton College library next week to see how they're handling GIS - Geographic Information Systems. This way of working with information has enormous potential - it's exciting, but sometimes a little scary.


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

An academic library job interview

For readers in library school or those on the job hunt: I'm getting ready for my first professional academic library job interview. Wish me luck. The interview begins this Wednesday with dinner with the search committee chair and the library director. Thursday is a long day: meetings with the Dean, the library director, the library faculty, and the reference manager; lunch with the search committee; and a teaching demonstration. I will be exhausted afterward. But no rest for the weary: I have indexing and abstracting homework to do and surveys to send.

I am most anxious about the teaching demonstration. Luckily, I have some great colleagues at work who are willing to pretend to be first-year students during a rehearsal I will conduct tomorrow. I think my anxiety comes from my desire to be flexible during instruction while at the same time providing some structure. That, and I only have 20 minutes to demonstrate how to search for articles, explain how to distinguish between types of periodicals, and suggest ways to think critically about choosing articles for research, all while engaging the class. :) It's ambitious, but so are most one-shot library instruction sessions. I may have packed in too much, so tomorrow's practice is crucial in determining how I've planned for time. That, and I'm looking for constructive criticism on my teaching style and instructional methods.

But if there's one thing you want students to remember from instructional sessions like these, it's "Ask a librarian!"

For those of you who are curious: did I spend any time at the placement center at ACRL? No, none at all. I'm not aware of anyone who is ever hired on the spot, and I have more than enough sources of job openings and reviewers of my resume. I spent my time attending the sessions, learning more about academic librarianship.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Initial ACRL conference comments

Barbara, Michelle, and I all attended the twelfth annual conference of the ACRL. (This acronym stands for Association of College and Research Libraries. If you choose to enter this profession, you'll find out that there are hundreds of acronyms to learn.) I had hoped to see and catch up with Michelle, but throngs of librarians surrounded Barbara and Michelle during their poster presentation. (Note to next year's conference planners: please provide adequate space for posters!)

As a current library science student, this was not my first library conference. Last year, I attended the conference of the American Theological Library Association (ATLA), in Kansas City. I'll also be attending the same conference this summer. The Association has generously made travel grants available for student members, allowing me to go to last year's and this year's conferences. Thank you, ATLA!

The focuses of this year's ACRL conference were instruction, marketing, and "millennials." There were several workshops, paper and poster presentations, and panel discussions about these topics. The Minneapolis-St. Paul StarTribune published an article about one of the conference presentations on the millennials. It shouldn't be a surprise that college and university librarians are trying to better understand the students they serve, although I am concerned when we generalize about students.

Although I am applying for reference/instruction positions and did go to a couple paper presentations about instruction, I went to a number of presentations and panel discussions covering a breadth of librarianship, including ones on management, government information, and cataloging.

Why did I attend sessions on these topics? In my limited experience and in literature reviews I have done in various classes, I'm more convinced that in a time of stagnant or slashed budgets and rapid technological change, that librarianship is moving away from technical aspects to managerial aspects. And to be an effective manager/administrator, one must be aware of all pertinent issues that may affect library services.

Also, probably due to my liberal arts background, I'm inclined to look at the bigger picture and try to find connections. And in librarianship, connections there are. For example, a reference librarian must be familiar with general cataloging rules to effectively search, make sense of, and explain the online catalog (what we librarians call the OPAC). So, we reference librarians need to be generally aware of the world of cataloging, and, that world will indeed be changing soon, as I learned: there is a major new revision of the cataloging rules in the works--tentatively called AACR3. (Definition of AACR.) This new revision will incorporate FRBR terminology and concepts. (See "What Is FRBR?" from the Library of Congress.) There are also major changes coming in the ways that the government will be distributing and preserving its information in the future, as I learned at a paper presentation by Judith Russell, the Superintendent of Documents of the United States. As we (or you will) learn in library school, the U.S. government is the world's largest publisher of information. And, as citizens, we need to be concerned because access to government information is necessary for a functioning democracy.

As you can see, connections in the library world are important. Unfortunately, our libraries are almost always structured administratively by function, which discourages connection. For example, many libraries have two major divisions: technical services and public services. Technical services might include such functions as acqusitions, cataloging, preservation, and serial control, whereas public services may include collection development, reference, and instruction.

Because of the importance of connection and the shift to managerial tasks, there are voices in the library literature that have called for "integration." Christian M. Boissonnas especially laments these divisions and calls for a form of “integrated” librarianship. He explains that the complexity of today’s world and the drive for efficiency after World War II are the leading causes for the division of labor by function in libraries: “We still define ourselves professionally by the kind of job we do (acquisitions, cataloging, reference, etc.) and our professional association exacerbates this division by creating ever more narrowly focused groups and subgroups that mirror the increasing specialization of librarians in their work environment." But there are dangers to such a division: “Functionally oriented departments set their own goals, and these do not necessarily relate to user needs. …the split leads to the underutilization of professional expertise.” Also, over-specialization, while possibly increasing efficiency, hurts service: “…over-specialized librarians can be outstanding technicians in their specialties but lousy librarians because they lack a sufficiently wide comprehension of their professional environment."

Boissonnas’ solution is “deep integration.” The first step, he believes, is for library personnel to stop “referring to themselves and what they do in relation to where they came from” and to “[rally] around the mission” of the institution. Instead of functional units, library budgets must be set according to programs or services. Not only does this redirect the library’s efforts to users, but it helps library staff work together. After all, we need each other even more these days: “Librarians in all positions want this integration to happen because the problems that we are trying to solve are complex enough to require the combined applications of the sum of our knowledge and staff. … We can succeed only if we successfully integrate…” Certainly there are objections to this approach. Stephanie Ognar notes that some librarians do not deal well with change. Mary Ellen Kenreich observes that integrated workspaces can decrease efficiency through extraneous visual and verbal stimulation (e.g., non-work-related conversations). Indeed, a balance and careful planning are needed to integrate functional units to focus on specific outcomes: if integration causes an extreme decrease in efficiency, affecting, for example, the rate that records are added to the catalog (and thus affecting access and service to users), integration is a failure. But, as difficult as it is to achieve, I believe, like Boissonnas, that an integrated approach is necessary.

One example why collaboration is necessary today is the complexity in delivering electronic resources to users. Consider all the parties and tasks involved in this description:
To provide access to electronic materials, acquisitions librarians must collaborate closely with subject specialists who wish to get access to the intellectual content of the information, with systems office staff who need to support the technicalities of the access, with campus legal counsel who often are the final authorizers of the license agreement, with purchasing departments who need to understand what is being purchased, and with reference staff who assist the users in accessing the information. The acquisitions librarian is often the pivot point in the process, working with all parties in a collaborative effort to bring the data to the user. (German and Schmidt)
As this illustrates, no one person could select, acquire, and provide access to electronic resources alone.

Because of this need for integration and the rate which technical skills become obsolete, library school students really should focus on course work that covers the major aspects of librarianship to get a thorough grounding in the profession's values. Indeed, if librarians focus on technology instead of their users, then they may soon find themselves irrelevant or unemployed. Jeff Rutenbeck, in his article on “The Five Great Challenges of the Digital Age,” writes under number three, exclusivity: “The pace of growth and change today shows no signs of slowing down. The skills and sensibilities that are cutting-edge today will be commonplace tomorrow, replaced at the forefront by yet another level of sophistication and complexity.” (As someone with an undergraduate computer science minor and four years of work experience in various IT positions, I feel that I can speak with some authority and attest to this rate of obsolescence.) Library school is too short, so if you were wanting to learn how to program, design Web pages, or set-up networks, find opportunities to learn these elsewhere, like a community college (those sorts of courses will be cheaper there anyway). Instead, focus your course work on what ALA President-Elect Michael Gorman suggests "form the basis of a core library education curriculum": collection development and acquisitions; cataloging, reference and library instruction; circulation, maintenance, preservation; systems; and management.

Over the course of the next several weeks (hey, I have a job interview coming up and lots of homework), I hope to summarize and reflect on some of the sessions that I attended at the ACRL conference. You'll also eventually see my more complete reflections on technology and the library profession.

[Full disclosure: Some of these comments have been adapated from a paper I recently wrote for the class "Technical Services Functions" at the University of Illinois. This paper is titled "The Value and Values of Technical Services in the 21st Century." The course is taught by professors emeriti Kathryn Luther Henderson and William T. Henderson, who always encourage their students to think about values and how they relate to the profession of librarianship.]


Boissonnas, Christian M. “Technical Services: The Other Reader Service.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 1, no. 1 (2001): 33-46.

German, Lisa, and Karen Schmidt. “Acquisitions.” Advances in Librarianship 24 (2000): 139-155.

Gorman, Michael. "What Ails Library Education?" The Journal of Academic Librarianship 30, no. 2 (March 2004): 99-101.

Kenreich, Mary Ellen. “Physical settings and organizational success.” Library Collections, Acquisitions, and Technical Services 25 (2001): 67-79.

Ognar, Stephanie. “Holistic Librarianship.” The Serials Librarian 43, no. 3 (2003): 37-50.

Rutenbeck, Jeff. “The 5 Great Challenges of the Digital Age.” Library Journal netConnect 125, no. 14 (Fall 2000): 30-32.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Reports from the Front!

We're lucky to have Alec Sonsteby joining the blog. A Gustavus grad, he's currently a student at what a lot of folks would argue is the top-notch library program in the country, the LIS school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (I hear this a lot from those of my colleagues who got their degrees there...) Alec and I touched base at the ACRL conference in Minneapolis - it was good to catch up, even at a crazy-busy conference. I'm looking forward to more of his posts from grad school and in the job search. Nothing like having our very own front-line reporter.

One last thing - Alec was the person who I first heard use the word "blog" - this was quite a few years ago, so he was hip to this phenomenon when it was brand new.


Readers' advisory

One aspect of reference librarianship that has received a fair amount of attention in the library community as of late is readers' advisory (RA) . Here's a definition from the Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science:
Services provided by an experienced public services librarian who specializes in the reading needs of the adult patrons of a public library. A readers' advisor recommends specific titles and/or authors, based on knowledge of the patron's past reading preferences, and may also compile lists of recommended titles...
Joyce Saricks, a national leader in readers' advisory, gave a talk last week at the Graduate School Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Earlier in that day, she had delivered a lecture about nonfiction RA in the Adult Popular Fiction class. Nonfiction RA is an emerging topic of discussion and area of research. (A book about this was recently published by Libraries Unlimited.)

At the talk, she covered a number of aspects of RA, first discussing its beginnings. She noted that modern RA as we know it was truly a grassroots movement that developed in the 1980s. It has evolved into the establishment of an American Library Association committee on the topic in the mid-90s, courses in library schools (here's the syllabus for one such course at GSLIS), and workshops and conferences. Librarians have practiced RA for at least a century, but earlier, librarians had a "we know what's best" attitude and "recommended" books for patrons. Typically, these books were literary fiction or those which were deemed "educational." Modern RA instead focuses on the library patron's interests. A readers' advisor first listens, determining what aspects of fiction appeal to the reader, and then suggests possible books that may be of interest. Modern RA also tends to involve mostly popular and/or genre fiction.

She talked briefly about the Fiction_L listerv, which she called "the premier RA service." It is a free resource that readers' advisors can use to ask for book suggestions. For example, in a recent post, a librarian asked for "read-alikes of Shannon Holmes, La Jill Hunt, Nikki Turner and Teri Woods." People also ask tricky reference questions, like, "I have a patron who remembers reading a book about a woman who disguises herself as a rodeo clown. She doesn't remember the title, but would like to read it again. Anyone know what book she might be describing?" It is rare for the librarians on this list to be stumped by such questions.

There are a number of current issues/problems in RA. The first is simply coming to grips with the huge volume of fiction published every year. Another is the crossovers occuring in fiction, making it difficult for librarians to easily separate fiction by genre. For example, a number of books have elements of romance and science fiction. Should the book be placed with the romance novels or the science fiction? A third issue is the eventual evolution for RA to include (as previously mentioned) nonfiction and audio and visual formats.

She closed her talk by reminding us that "libraries are still the only place to get free books."

If you are interested in learning more about RA, I recommend Saricks' book, Readers' Advisory in the Public Library (3rd ed., Chicago: American Library Association, 2005). This book describes how to start an RA program in your library and how to conduct the RA interview. This book and her Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (Chicago: American Library Association, 2001) suggest a plan for becoming better acquainted with genre fiction. This second book also introduces the reader to the major genres of adult fiction and each genre's "appeal factors." Third, Diana Tixier Herald's Genreflecting: A Guide to Reading Interests in Genre Fiction (5th ed., Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 2000) provides large lists of popular adult fiction books in all of the major genres and can be a useful tool for the readers' advisor looking for possible book suggestions. It also lists major review sources and award lists for each genre that are helpful sources a librarian can use for collection development.

As a final source, I suggest perusing the syllabus of the Adult Popular Fiction class taught at GSLIS. It includes a number of supplementary readings and covers relevant issues like marketing and audiobooks. The syllabus was originally developed by Dr. Frederick A. Schilpf, current director of the Urbana Free Library (Urbana, IL). It was adapted by the course's current instructor, Mary Wilkes Towner, Adult Services Librarian at the Urbana Free.

In closing, I want to say that an important part of RA is being able to talk about books. Remembering the plot isn't nearly as important as discussing other characteristics, like setting, characterization, and pacing. Your ethusiasm is important, too. What books have you read lately? Or, as a good readers' advisor might ask, "Tell me about a good book you read recently." Feel free to leave a comment, sharing such a book and why you liked it...