Archive for the ‘commentary’ Tag

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.

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 »

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