I have a long post about library instruction and teaching fifth graders to use Wikipedia, and I have an extremely long post about ALA, OCLC, and some other library initialisms I can’t recall at the moment, but for now I’d just like to make a quick post to complement Karin Dalziel’s opening salvo and Dorothea’s and Meredith’s subsequent blog posts.
I’ve always thought that if I ever got to write a job ad for a library, or at least for my public library, it would simply say, “Must like books and computers.”
One of the skills I don’t have that I wish I did is that I am not a very fast reader, and I’m kind of a picky reader. That gives me a certain set back in a primary part of my job. The question I get asked more than any other is, “Hey, what’s a good book to read?” I haven’t usually read most of the books on our new books shelf. I’ve read only a sliver of the other 20,000 odd books we have in our collection. I can’t always answer that question with a personal recommendation, but luckily, I have some skills that help me out. I know how to say, “well, what are some other books you’ve liked?” I know how to figure out what kinds of things a particular reader is looking for in a book: fast pacing, say, or serial killers, or books about middle-aged women breaking out of their shells, or books set in historical China, or stories where nobody dies. And I know enough about the books in the library that I can usually match people up with something.
That’s the beauty of knowing a little bit about readers advisory: while nothing is a substitute for actually reading the books, you can get pretty far if you know that that book with the cadeuceus on the cover is probably a medical thriller, and the one with the black and red cover and the bold print is probably more violent than the one with the ball of yarn by the fire, even if they are both shelved in the mystery section.
I’ve always taken a similar approach to technology. It isn’t necessary for me, or for any given librarian, to know how to do a customized installation of MediaWiki or Drupal, or write a program, or provide IM reference service. What we do need to know is that there is technology out there and enough about said technology that we can identify what sort of technology might best fit our needs.
When I was planning our website, I knew that I wanted something a little content-managey to run it, but that it didn’t have to be very complicated. I knew I wanted to be able to teach other people to use the system easily, and I knew I wanted to pick something that was likely to be around and supported in a year or two or five. I knew there were websites that ran on content management systems like Drupal or Joomla, and I knew of at least one site that used a wiki, and I knew there were sites that ran on blogging software like Moveable Type or WordPress. In otherwords, I knew a few of the genres of content management systems, I knew of a few examples of people using them, and I had some dim grasp of what kinds of things they could do. I knew about technology in the same way I know about books: I haven’t read all the books, but I know a little bit about them. I don’t like all the books, but I like books enough to be interested even in those I don’t want to read. I don’t know
My mother, who specializes in geriatric psychiatry, says that when medical students come through their psychiatry rotation, there are two things she wants them to know: 1) Geriatric psychiatry exists. 2) There are people who know more about it than I do.
Knowing stuff exists and knowing how to find out more — and enjoying doing so — are, I would argue, the main things you need. Must like books. And computers.