Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Whom to help first?

Imagine, at the reference desk, you receive reference questions from the following individuals at the following locations through the following "channels," all within ten minutes of each other:

1) An e-mail reference question from a student studying abroad in Germany.
2) A walk-up patron who traveled 20 miles to use the library's collections.
3) A telephone call from a faculty member at home.
4) An instant message (virtual reference) from an administrator in his or her office.

There is some debate about whom to serve first and why. Many people would be inclined to say, "Help the walk-up patron first. After all, she/he made the effort to visit the library, so he/she deserves to be served first."

However, I have to agree with the LibrarianInBlack and others, that "synchronous" reference questions should be handled in a first-come, first-serve fashion. ("Synchronous" meaning a "live" or "real-time.") Thus, if I am helping a patron via chat (instant messaging or some other virtual reference mechanism), I should finish helping that patron if another walks up during the reference interview. Or, if the phone rings at that time instead, I would answer the phone, explain that I am helping another patron at the moment, and could I please call back just as soon as I am done? Asynchronous questions (in this case, e-mail), can be answered when time permits (but, of course, in a timely fashion).

I think our profession's Code of Ethics provides guidance on this issue. We can't discriminate patrons based on their preferred mode of communication; librarians must provide "equitable" service. And, as one reader of the LibrarianInBlack notes, some of those people who can't make it to the library might not be there for a good reason. For example, a person calling from home might be disabled.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Other perspectives

Radical Reference has been previously mentioned in this blog. In order to give some air time to other perspectives in library politics and collection development, I am posting links to two recent articles that, I should say, don't represent my own personal opinions. I think it is fairly safe to assume that they also don't represent the political opinions of (dare I say) most librarians.

Banned Books Week: Smoke screen of hypocrisy

The Loneliness of a Conservative Librarian (subscription to the Chronicle of Higher Education is required; visit a library for access)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

a blow for civil liberties - a win for transparency?

The court decision that found in favor of a librarian and the ACLU who argued that those affected by National Security Letters issued under the PATRIOT Act should be allowed to talk about it has been overruled by a higher court on one matter. The lower court judge gave the government a stay until Sept. 20th to argue that secrecy should be maintained while the case is decided. The higher court extended the stay and is giving the case an expedited appeal. So mum's the word. Except ...

The court itself has revealed who the plaintiff is! According to The York Times "A search of a court-operated Web site offered a pointer to the plaintiffs' identity. There, a case numbered 3:2005cv01256 is listed under the caption, 'Library Connection Inc. v. Attorney General.'" Gee, does this mean the court should be thrown in the slammer for violating the automatic gag order?

The stay will continue as the government appeals the lower court ruling. So though we know who's involved, that party still can't talk about it.



Thursday, September 15, 2005

Finally Posting

Well, here I am: finally coming up for air to write a post about my first few weeks as an MLS student. Life here in Chapel Hill and with SILS is going well. Since I probably have not been in contact with many of you reading this for a while, a brief update on what I have been doing since arriving in Chapel Hill in mid-July.

Mid-July? Yes, you read correctly. One of the best moves I made last summer was when I responded to a fellow SILS student's posting to the new student listserv asking for a cat sitter for a month while she was doing some traveling. Getting to the area a month before most students are heading down is a great idea, especially if you are in my position (homeless, jobless, and clueless). Within three weeks, I had found a place to live and a temporary research assistantship in the Botany Section of the Couch Biology Library. Getting to know the area, and more importantly, the bus system, before being caught up in the whirlwind of classes, studies, work schedules, meetings, and (gasp!) social endeavors (yes, there is life in grad school) is making my transition from undergrad to grad school much smoother. Now that school and work have started, I'm just too busy to get on the wrong bus...

Speaking of work: as you probably know, jobs/internships/assistantships are just as important to an MLS student as great classes and good grades. An employer is going to be more interested in the combination of the MLS degree and on-the-job experience than just the degree alone. When you look for that perfect assistantship, it doesn't hurt to be creative, and it also doesn't hurt to do a little networking: I found my (fantastic!) assistantship in the Botany library through going to a SILS happy hour less than 48 hours after leaving Minneapolis. Believe me, that was difficult: I am not in the habit of going to a bar by myself in a town I am unfamiliar with to meet people I do not know. But being shy/intimidated by library science students is about as logical as being intimidated by librarians. After learning about the open position in the Botany library by word-of-mouth, I contacted my present supervisor and got an interview. The opening ended up never getting officially advertised because there was enough interest generated through word-of-mouth, so I owe my opportunity to gain experience in a specialized branch library (and in a science library, no less!) to a great extent to socializing/networking with other students. Plus, they are fascinating, fun people.

When I'm not working on special projects in the Botany library, I am taking classes in Reference, Collection Development, Information Ethics, and Cultural Institutions (note: I will try to update the link to the current Information Ethics syllabus when I can, and the other two classes are taught by a professor who has not posted syllabi on the web). Reference and Collection Development are, as yet, the only two of my classes that have begun yet: Cultural Institutions begins this Saturday, and Information Ethics will begin in October (to allow time for students participating in an international education program to arrive at UNC from Copenhagen and Singapore). I am enjoying my classes so far, and am very much looking forward to the others starting.

Wait, wait! There's more: however, I have run out of time for going into detail about what we are covering in class, how I am getting involved with student organizations, and current issues and discussions that are buzzing around SILS right now. Stay tuned for a bit more detailed news in the near future!

Should librarians be worried about John Roberts?

Roberts Admits He's Not 'Up to Speed' on First Amendment.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

PATRIOT Act decision

Hot off the press: a Connecticut judge has ruled in favor of a librarian served with a National Security Letter under section 215 of the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act, saying the built-in gag order is a violation of the first amendment right to speech. The ACLU took on the case for a member of the American Library Association. This is the second time courts have ruled the NSLs unconstitutional.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

libraries and conversation

Joan Bechtel made an argument in College and Research Libraries back in the 1980s that conversation was an apt paradigm for libraries. ("Paradigm" was a big word then - maybe “metaphor” is more accurate.) I’ve always found that idea compelling. And now we’re doing it consciously in the library.

The September Project is a world-wide movement to open libraries for conversations about citizenship and democracy. We’re participating this year, along with over 600 libraries in 31 countries, and I’m excited about it. It’s interesting to see how varied the projects are – and the interesting riffs libraries are taking on the theme.

Take a look at the September Project blog if you get a chance – it’ll make you proud of the profession, whether you’re in it yet or not.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Cool new OCLC toy

OCLC has developed a cool interface for browsing classified collections. Try it out.

I'm surprised more online library catalogs don't have this same functionality, whether they use Dewey or LC. People with vague information needs depend on browsing, and such an interface should be easy to program and include as an alternative interface to any catalog system.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Three weeks later...

Wow. Where has the time gone? I started my new job on August 15th and already it is Labor Day. Where to begin?

First, my colleagues at my new job are absolutely wonderful people. They are warm and friendly. They are passionate about their chosen profession. If any of them read this blog, I want to thank them for tolerating my interruptions and persist questions over the past three weeks. They have been patient and helpful and always answered with a smile.

Second, I now possess a real degree of authority and decision-making responsibility. In my previous position, the librarians occasionally solicited my opinions about collection or IT issues. Now I am the one making decisions. For example, already on my first day my colleagues delegated to me the decision of whether or not to keep the previous edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music.

I am finding myself busier than ever. I arrive most days between 8 and 8:15am and often am still in my office long after 5pm. One night I was in until 11pm. Mind you, I am not complaining, but there always seems to be more things to do in a day than there are hours for. It will be challenging, therefore, to keep up with personal professional development activities, such as reading the professional journals and library blogs. My technical services professors warned us that once we started our first professional positions we would find that we have little time for such activities and simply time for reflection. Indeed, I am finding this to be the case. I will have to work harder to accomplish this.

Since my position is "instruction/reference librarian," a lot of my job is building relationships. For collection development and library instruction, I am the library's liasion to the departments of music, history, religion, and church professions, as well as the administrative offices of the campus pastors and the ELCA's local synod office, among others. I have spent a lot of time meeting people around campus, such as at the fall faculty workshop or in a department faculty meeting. I have mailed letters of introduction to all faculty in my departments, letting them know who I am and outlining my general responsibilities. I also included my business card and to the academic departments I mailed "profile" sheets with hopes to better learn my assigned faculty's research interests and teaching areas. I still have a lot more hands to shake, but all of those I have shaken so far have been those of friendly, interested, and interesting people.

Already I'm trying to get involved in the campus community. I contacted one of the campus pastors and volunteered to read one of the readings at the service on the second day of fall workshop. (I read from Isaiah.) The new band director and I connected at the new faculty orientation, and before I knew it, I was in a practice room getting my embrochure in shape to join the band for their opening convocation performance. It was a lot of fun playing in an ensemble again. It has been three years. I then attended the opening faculty recital. The energy and enthusiasm of the faculty performers and the students in the audience was impressive and inspiring.

These are some top-of-my-head thoughts. Hopefully in the weeks ahead I can share some more thoughtful, organized impressions. But what is most important to me is that I am having fun, loving what I am doing, and working with outstanding colleagues. I am learning a lot and hope to contribute to this learning community of which I am a member and in whose mission and purpose I strongly believe.