Archive for the ‘commentary’ Category

In Defence of Volunteer Work

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

If any of you were like me, you often were told in high school, and perhaps beyond, that volunteer experience “looks good on a resume!” I’m not about to argue that. Nor am I going to argue that volunteering isn’t a good thing in general. But volunteering in libraries is a whole other ballpark.

If any of you were like me, you were told to get library experience while still in school. This is sound advice! But there are only so many library assistant positions to go around, so many people will turn to volunteering instead. Imagine my shock when I heard that a lot of hiring managers tend to, overall, discount volunteer library experience!

I can, on some level, understand why: paid positions entail some degree of specialization, or at least different responsibilities than would be given a volunteer. That doesn’t mean I agree. Certainly, if you’re only volunteering for a month or two, I imagine you wouldn’t get that much in the way of experience. But what if you keep at it? I can’t speak for anything but my own experience, but when I volunteered in an information institution (archives), I found myself with more responsibility as time went on, because I was around often enough to prove to my boss that I could handle the responsibility. I won’t say that my experience is everyone’s experience, but long-term volunteer work at one particular place should be enough for someone to take notice.

The idea behind this came from a discussion on LinkedIn, where members were discussing the relevancy of library work. I mention this only because it brought up a solid point that I hadn’t considered: volunteering at a place you want to work at is a good idea. You can show off your skills to potential employers directly, and should a job opening come through, they might just let you know ahead of time. (Note: I’m not saying they definitely will. Please don’t assume volunteering long enough leads to insta-job.)

That’s not the only reason I’m in support of volunteer work. While yes, a volunteer may not have the same duties as that of a paid employee, it can really help familiarize you with the workplace culture of that particular place. Maybe you find you don’t like it – well, in that case, it’s not hard to gracefully make an exit. If you like it, great! Keep on working.

Not to mention, if an institution is looking for volunteer positions at all, that suggests there is a real need for some additional help. Your help could be very useful and appreciated! To say nothing of the skills you could gain – time management, working in teams, or working solo. These skills are always crucial to have, and if you don’t have them already, volunteering can be a great way to develop them!

Just because hiring managers don’t seem to take volunteering as seriously doesn’t mean you can’t. Volunteering can teach you a whole host of related skills that you can put to good use later, in the workforce.

Besides, it looks good on a resume!

The Fetishization of the Library

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

The “fetishization” of books is something that Stephen Abram talked about a long while ago, during the CLA-SLA conference (and which Ryan has discussed more in depth here). You can see examples of this in the dismissal of e-books being less ‘real’ than published ones, or how non-librarians seem to think librarians get to read all day. That’s why topics such as the infamous BiblioTech in Bexar County, Texas provoke such discussion, because it’s a library with no books! No books! Can you imagine it?

But while all of those certainly are important, I’d like to focus on something else I’ve noticed lately that ties into that: the fetishization of the library. Specifically, what appears to be nostalgia for such items as the card catalogue and the due date cards.

For example, the blurb for the shirt above is, “Remember when men were men, librarians were women, and computers were the size of a room? Good times. Don’t let them slip away,” (Unshelved). To fully dissect this statement would mean a small essay, but we see the same sort of dismissal of the digital age as we do with e-books – online catalogues, while more convenient, don’t have the same “soul” as a card catalogue, and the library has ‘lost’ something by switching to digital. There is similar nostalgia for the due date cards: images of them adorn t-shirts and iPhone cases.

Note the dates on that second shirt – they’re all in the 1980s. This phone case is even more dated, with dates spanning from 1926 to 2000! (For what it’s worth, whenever I’ve checked books out at Weldon, the oldest date I’ve seen so far has been the early 1990s.) And while yes, those cards stuck around for a while, I find the deliberate choice of older dates very telling: it’s as if anything more recent isn’t as authentic.

Now, I’m not saying these things aren’t neat or interesting; I definitely think they are! And I’m not saying it’s wrong for anyone to like or want them. But what I do want to say is that it reflects a certain attitude about the library, similar to Abram’s “fetishization” of books – but instead, we’ve fetishized the library of our childhood, back before computers were big, when the librarians still stamped out the date the book was due back on a little card. To be honest, I can appreciate that; nostalgia is a big thing right now, and it would make sense that the bibliophile set has it as well.

However, my biggest concern about this is that is seems to neglect what the library can offer beyond books. Yes, “the library’s more than just books,” has become something of a mantra now, but in this case it’s a true statement. Libraries do a lot for their communities beyond simply giving out books, but focusing on books really diminishes those extra contributions. The library also contains a wealth of digital resources that these items overlook, possibly because having a database search page on a shirt isn’t as attractive. In shirt, the library has more than just books, and digital items don’t need to be shunned.

While I can understand the desire to remember the library of days past, there’s also nothing wrong with looking ahead to the future as well, even if it’s hard to make online catalogues look sexy.

The Truth About Google X: An Exclusive Look Behind The Secretive Lab’s Closed Doors

Friday, April 18th, 2014

The Truth About Google X: An Exclusive Look Behind The Secretive Lab’s Closed Doors

[Note: This is a cross-post from my Tumblr, which was for LIS 9134, Privacy and Surveillance. I found I was posting on Tumblr a lot, but not as much here. Which is unfair, because a lot of these privacy issues concern libraries just as much as anything to do with books. I just found this particular article neat and wanted to share.]

Space elevators, teleportation, hoverboards, and driverless cars: The top-secret Google X innovation lab opens up about what it does—and how it…

(This is a bit of a shot in the dark — I’m not sure how many of us are still active on Tumblr now that term’s done! I think it’s a bit unfair that I’m finding all this great stuff to talk about after term ends, but if anyone’s still watching this (possibly lis9134?) then maybe some of this stuff could be useful for the next time this class is taught.)

I had no idea about any of this. Any of it. It’s almost bizarre to think they’re purposefully aiming for science-fiction-esque concepts as well (in all fairness, I came across this article through this one on Mashable, critiquing the very sci-fi vision of the future Google X is attempting to create.) It does remind me of some of the talk over Google Books — about how secretive it is, employees being driven in and driven out, etc. One man even got in trouble for photographing the Google Books employees as they came and went from the building! This seems much like that, except twice as secretive.

And twice as crazy, in a way. One person’s official title is apparently “Head of Getting Moonshots Ready for Contact With the Real World” (“moonshots’ being [Astro Teller’s] catchall description for audacious innovations that have a slim chance of succeeding but might revolutionize the world if they do [i.e. “shoot for the moon”],” Gertner, par. 1); another has the title “Captain of Moonshots”. Yet out of this craziness, we already have Google Glass, as well as plans for driverless cars, high-altitude Wi-Fi balloons, and more.

Obviously they must be onto something, even if we don’t always understand or appreciate it: the many privacy concerns surrounding Google Glass is indicative of that. The previously-mentioned Head of Getting Moonshots Ready for Contact with the Real World’s (‘real world’ providing an interesting contrast to the theoretical world Google X seems to occupy) whole job appears to be framing these inventions in a practical way:

Later in the day, I take a walk around the Google campus with Obi Felten, 41, who is the team member who tries to keep the group grounded. In fact, DeVaul refers to her as “the normal person” in Rapid Eval[uation] meetings, someone who can bring everyone back to earth by asking simple questions like, Is it legal? Will anyone buy this? Will anyone like this?… Google X tries hard to remain on the practical side of crazy. (Gertner).

I am unsure what to think, on the whole, of this. It seems unlikely, due to practical and material concerns, that we would be getting Google Hoverboards or the Google Space Elevator in the near future. What this does show us is that Google X is attempting to make headway into places far different than simply search engines and social media. It’s tempting to think that they would be doing all this for their own company’s benefit — as the Mashable article points out, driverless cars mean drivers can safely and easily check their Gmail accounts while ‘driving’ — but it’s also interesting to see that maybe, just maybe, they’re also attempting to better the world while they do it.

Even if it’s a world under Google.

Reflection on readers’ advisory

Monday, March 17th, 2014

It is bizarre, and a little shocking, to think that a month and a half has passed by as quickly as it has. When I started my Readers’ Advisory posts in February, March seemed so far away, and yet here we are. The series of posts was for an assignment in Public Libraries. The details of the assignment are difficult to get into, but suffice to say, ‘use a blog for readers’ advisory’ was one of the options given, and me being eager to use this blog more, that was the option I went with. I don’t regret it – if anything, I find it interesting, and it was good to familiarize myself with some of the tools available to me.

I’ve found the process of readers’ advisory fun and challenging – mostly challenging. There’s no better way to say it: readers’ advisory is hard when you’re not dealing with an actual person! Broadcasting general ideas into the internet ether is somehow more challenging than working with a person face-to-face to find something that they would like to read.

I like to think this is because readers’ advisory is such a personal process: everyone is going to want something different, and everyone is going to have different preferences. To try and do something like that through an impersonal computer screen felt almost impossible. I often asked myself, ‘How can I do readers advisory when I don’t know who I’m advising?’ To solve this, I eventually came up with a format, where I would pick one novel, briefly summarize it, and then recommend other novels related to it. This, in my head, answered the question, ‘I like x, can you recommend something like it?’ It is not the only way to do readers’ advisory, but it is the method I went with. Whether or not it was a good method remains to be seen. Read the rest of this entry »

Personal and Professional

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

If you can’t tell, I’ve linked this blog to my Goodreads account. Scroll down a bit – it should be buried in the footer somewhere. (That’s one drawback to this sort of design!)

Why Goodreads, rather than something more direct like Facebook or Twitter? I have personal accounts on both sites, after all – but to be quite honest, I’m not very comfortable sharing something that intensely personal with something that’s intended to be professional. While there’s nothing on there that I wouldn’t want my mother to see, in a sense, there’s definitely a distinction between personal and professional. So Goodreads was chosen for two purposes: it was something I could easily use for both personal and professional things, and as a future librarian, something to do with books always seems like a winner.

Now, I’ll admit that, should I want something more interactive than Goodreads, and something that offers more conversational opportunities, I would be better off creating secondary Facebook and Twitter accounts. After all, in this day and age, I’m sure people have multiple accounts on the same site for vastly different purposes. But the traffic stats for my page aren’t overwhelming, particularly for such a small blog. If the readership base I have grows, then I might consider having Twitter or Facebook, because the core aspect of both is having some sort of an audience to converse with. If I don’t have that audience, and am tweeting into the virtual ether, it feels a little pointless. Goodreads, on the other hand, is something that I could use and enjoy without necessarily needing an audience (though one would be nice!)

But if I can go back to my earlier point for a minute, that about the personal/professional distinction, it ties in to something fellow MLISer Mallory posted recently, about socially aware networking. There, she spoke about how often people feel pressured to be silent for fear of judgement or bullying. I think something similar is at play here, at least with me – I feel a very strong urge to not talk about my own personal hobbies or interests beyond those that seem ‘appropriate’ for a library student (ex: reading) when I’m speaking in a professional capacity. While there’s definitely some distinction to be made, I’m coming to realize that a little bit of that personal quirkiness doesn’t need to be hidden on a professional blog – Mallory’s own example makes that clear. So I feel Goodreads is a step in that direction, as it reveals my own personal reading preferences.

Knowing the speed at which I move, I expect this blog might have a Twitter by, oh, 2015 or thereabouts. It’s a step in the right direction!

Librarians in the media

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

From the Library: The Librarian Stereotype on the Big Screen

Writing about The Librarian brought up a lot of things to think about, and one thing that I wanted to talk about was the genderization of the profession: look at the librarians in the video there, and then look at what they were doing: two reference librarians, a man and a woman, are asked questions. The woman is asked about the dating of Chinese bronzes; the man is asked to compile a bibliography of radar. Later on, the embedded hospital librarian, who is a woman, is able to compile a bibliography for a doctor (taking care to use the most lengthy and difficult term possible, because medicine is obscure like that). Naturally, she has to add that, “the words were difficult to pronounce!” There’s even a segment with a manager and the librarians around him, and it’s important to note that the manager’s male, while the majority of his employees are female.

Mary with a husband, and Mary without a husband. See a difference?

Mary with a husband, and Mary without a husband. See a difference?

That then brought to mind other portrayals of librarians, notably Mary from It’s A Wonderful Life, who is shown in two different ways: one as a very feminine, social woman in the ‘main’ timeline where she’s married to her husband George; and one as a spinsterly, frumpish woman in the alternate universe where George wasn’t born. It seemed like a good place to start since It’s A Wonderful Life is a contemporary of “The Librarian,” and what with Christmas approaching faster than I’d like, It’s A Wonderful Life was on my mind. But then I did some brief searching, and then I found that someone else had discussed it more thoroughly than I ever could have, so I suggest you check it out.

Also, read the comments. This is probably the only time ever that I’ll suggest reading the comments, but there’s a lot of additional discussion going on there, and it’s worth a look.

“Not Your Parents’ Library”

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

“Not Your Parents’ Library”

This is back from August, but since it’s from St. Thomas, where I’m from, it was something that intrigued me: St. Thomas and Elgin County Libraries are offering new sorts of downloads. Now, a library offering digital downloads or access to databases — which is basically what Zinio is — is not new. London Public Library, for example, offers the exact same Zinio subscription. I’ve used it, I’ve looked at IndieFlix, done the whole bit. If anything, it’s a great way to look at magazines without needing to pay for them, even if reading on a computer screen is less than ideal.

No, what’s most striking about this is that there is an article devoted to this fact. Indeed, the closing quote is that this “isn’t your parents’ library,” which definitely says something about how libraries are still perceived. The fact that it needs to be spelled out in black and white only emphasizes this.

But for all that, I do think it’s offering a valuable service — while not all patrons will be able to, or want, to access stuff wirelessly, having it there can be a great convenience. Particularly in a place like St. Thomas, which doesn’t have the bus system that London does, making it more difficult for some patrons to get there. Certainly, it’s up with the times — now if only people didn’t need to be reminded of that fact.

‘Real’ Professions

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Image“These racks and shelves contain a lot of books,” the narrator says, “Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions.”

So begins the 1947 short, “The Librarian,” one of a series created to showcase various professions and their role within the community. The opening scene is not surprising; why would it be? The public perception of libraries as a place to store books has been around for a long time, so for a vocational movie to emphasize that aspect, particularly in 1947, isn’t surprising. What should be more surprising is how, despite the changes within society since then, the public perception hasn’t changed much at all.

Read the rest of this entry »

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