on reading cover letters and resumes

The invaluable Swiss Army Librarian posted some Notes on Reading Resumes a few weeks back. At my library, I am also on a committee that is evaluating 40+ applications for a single position. Some of them are very good. Some of them are very bad. Many of them need. . . help. And so in the interests of providing some of that, I thought I’d make a few notes of my own.

  • File format does matter. Like Brian, I think PDF is the best choice you can make at present, as it will be sure to preserve your typography and spacing and such, and it’s fairly standard. If you have Microsoft Word 2007, you can save any document as a PDF. If you don’t have Word, and don’t have money, Open Office is free and will let you do the same thing. We got one letter that came as a text file, without about two words per line. It was so unreadable that I’m not sure anyone on the committee took it seriously.
  • I am biased toward people with some kind of web presence. No, I don’t think it’s a requirement, but it is an excellent way to demonstrate your fluency with technology and to show off any nifty work you’ve done — tutorials, pamphlets, reading lists, videos, whatever — that doesn’t necessarily fit well into a standard letter/resume. Again, it’s not necessary to have money to do this — I’ve seen some excellent portfolios that used Google Pages, Weebly, or wordpress.com, among others.
  • Appearances matter. Be consistent in your formatting, and use standard (or at least semi-standard — as Brian notes, doing a little bit of spiffy design work is a good way to show off your computer aptitude) professional typefaces. Comic Sans on a resume just does not inspire me to take you very seriously.
  • When applicable, say something in your letter about why you want to move to the place where the job is as well as why you want the job itself. If you’re moving from one suburb to another, this isn’t probably as important, but for jobs out here, I’m always a bit worried when people don’t say anything about wanting to live in the rural West. We are over 100 miles from a mall, an interstate highway, or a Target, and that’s a problem for a lot of people.
  • As with most things, some of how your resume comes across will just depend on who’s reading it. Brian likes objectives; I don’t. There’s not much you can do to anticipate who will read your resume or what reaction they will have, so when it comes down to it, do what seems right to you.
  • Specifics really help a letter. Don’t just say, “I ran a summer reading program.” Tell us how many kids participated, what ages they were, how many books they read, any other detail that will help show us what it was really like.

There is a lot of information out there on resume and cover letter writing. If you are in school or are a recent graduate (or sometimes even a long-ago graduate), your school will have an office of career services that should be able to provide you with everything from resume help to mock interviews. At the very least, ask some friends to look over your materials, as another eye can be useful in catching typos. And lastly, let me make one additional plug for social networking in general and for the Library Society of the World in particular. There are several LSW FriendFeed room denizens who are starting library school and/or new jobs, and I know they’ve gotten a lot of help from the people who hang out there. We’d be more than happy to help you, too.

girl meets copyright

The other day, a friend called to tell me that she was getting published in an international journal. The first words out of my mouth were, “Be sure you read your copyright agreement.” Yup. Not “Congratulations,” not “That’s great,” not “When can I get a copy?” Nope. I am such a librarian that the first thing I told her to do was to check her copyright.

I spent my formative years, as most people do, blissfully unaware of the intricacies of intellectual property. In fact, I’m fairly sure I didn’t run across that term until I was in graduate school (my second graduate school). Oh, I’d looked at the copyright statements in books from time to time, to see when they were written, and I’d realized that sometimes the copyright date didn’t really tell you that, because it was the date the copyright was renewed, or it was a copyright for that edition or something. I’d seen the battered paper sign taped up by the copy machines at the public library that gave dire warnings in small print about photocopying copyrighted material. I knew that when my favorite used record store put up a cutout of Garth Brooks saying you shouldn’t buy used CDs, it was making fun of the movement started by Brooks and other artists to clamp down on the sale of used CDs because they supposedly cut into their profits. But on the whole, copyright wasn’t something I ever thought about. The phrase “public domain” had not yet entered my consciousness.

How I got from those days copy ignorance to my current state of copyawareness is an interesting, and, I hope, instructive story.

This blog has had a Creative Commons license on it since it started back in 2005, which is around the same time I learned of the existence of Creative Commons, and since all the hip librarian bloggers were doing it, it seemed like the Thing to Do. And it resonated with me–I liked the idea that I could specify how people used my work, though it wasn’t something I had ever thought about before.

About a year later, I got asked to contribute something to a special issue of Counterpoise being edited by the Homelessness, Hunger, and Poverty Task Force. Graduate school, multiple jobs, and life being what they are, I ended up deciding to give them not something new, as I’d hoped, but rather a column I had written back when I wrote for the Daily Iowan that I thought would be appropriate. I had been in library school for long enough at that point that I had a dim idea I ought to ask the paper about reprinting it. I did, and they said, “oh, yes, you can do that; there’s a form to fill out and the publication that wants to reprint it will need to pay a $10 fee.” Um.

So I asked for the form, and I filled it out to the best of my knowledge, and I sent the company a check and thought, “well, I guess I got paid $16.50 for this, so I still made a profit on it.”

Several years later, when I was fully employed as a librarian, the Iowa thesis and dissertation open access policy came out. Basically, it required everyone submitting a masters thesis or doctoral dissertation at the University of Iowa to submit it electronically and make it part of an institutional repository that would be fully searchable and available online. Iowa’s was not the first such policy, but it was among the more controversial, largely because it aroused the ire and wrath of the writers.

Before I became a librarian, I was a dog-walker, and before that, I got an MFA from the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa, which is the unfamous cousin of the much more widely known Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I was a heavy library user. I loved books! I loved bound periodicals! I even loved that I could find newspaper articles via LexisNexis, via dialup, from my home. I loved libraries! But I did not know diddley-squat about them, or about copyright, and neither did most of my writer friends. And so when that mandate came out, my old graduate program listserv, which I still subscribe to, which is mostly a sleepy little thing with occasional posts about residencies or calls for submissions or announcements about readings, went crazy.

Graduates who had written essays using the real names and identities of people went apeshit at the idea that those essays might get digitized and the people might find them whilst Googling themselves. People who’d had things published fretted about the consequences of having those things, often in earlier draft form, digitized. People who hoped to have things published worried they’d never be able to because no one would publish stuff that was already out there on the web. To some extent, these concerns are legitimate (although to the “I used real names” people I wanted to say, “and you were not concerned about the people who could walk into the library and take your thesis off the shelf and read it? Or find it in a library catalog and request it?”–neither of these is, of course, comparable to late-night ego-surfing, but it would be enough to give me pause when mentioning people in a piece of writing), because most mainstream publishers are still freaked out about electronic text and believe that no one will ever pay for things any more if they can get them for free somewhere else. And their concerns were, eventually, listened to — the current policy allows MFA students to choose open access electronic deposit only if they want to, and there is strong language about how paper theses will never be scanned.

Recently, an old friend asked if she could get a copy of an essay of mine that she wanted to teach as a part of one of her classes. Library geek that I am, I immediately went off to see if the journal it was published in was indexed anywhere and if full-text from it was available. Somewhat to my surprise, it was, but not until a few years after my essay was published. So I fetched my copy of the journal from home and scanned a copy and then, good librarian that I am, went to check out the copyright situation.

If you’ve ever watched a VH-1 Behind the Music documentary, you know that there are several things that happen in the life of any musician. There are drug and/or alcohol problems. There are a succession of drummers. There are breakthrough albums or songs and later disappointments. There are quarrels with bandmates. And there is financial ruin brought about by the fact that the band was so excited that someone wanted to sign them that they didn’t bother to read the contract that says that all their money is going to their agent and their record label. Writers are much the same way, at least in my (limited) experience. You want to publish me? Oh thank you thank you thank you! And then you call all your writer friends, or at least all the one who you think won’t hate you, and you go out and drink toasts, and you get some paperwork from the journal editor and you send it back, and many months later, you get a few copies of this journal with your essay in it, and, well, there is no high like the high of seeing your name in print. I have never had a book published, but I’m guessing it’s a similar thing on a much larger scale. Oh yeah, there was that paperwork I signed about them printing my essay or publishing my book, but I just kind of glanced at it.

Well. Ha. I knew better now. I was a librarian. I had been reading Dorothea Salo religiously since library school. I knew you did not just glance at your publishing agreement. But of course back in 2003, that’s all I did. So this time around I went to go look it up. Literary journals, generally speaking, as I now know, retain the copyright on your piece until it is published, and then it reverts back to you. So sent my friend a PDF of my essay and told her the copyright was mine and she could use it with my blessings. She thanked me, in a slightly baffled fashion, and it was then that I realized that while I’ll always bridge two worlds, I will also always be a librarian.

Other people have written about open access and the humanities, and about why humanists, of all people, should be cheering the California Digital Library on in its boycott of Nature Publishing Group.* My librarian friends are mostly still afraid to talk about these issues when it comes to the creative writing types, though. But I’m not. I am a creative writing type, or at any rate, I was, and I can tell you that this stuff does matter, even for the creative folk.

So you want to complain that open access will destroy the marketability of your work? Okay. Fine. But then don’t complain when books cost money, and when that course packet of essays you want to put together for your class turns out to cost a lot of money, and when the library and the department send you nasty notes about the illegality of making multiple copies of copyrighted work for your classes. Because you know what? All those other writers want their work to be marketable, too, and their publishers all told them that the only way to do that was to clamp down on all these people trying to steal their stuff for free.

Do you want your school to go on subscribing to The Georgia Review and Granta, not to mention the little little magazines — all those obscure journals where you got your start? Then it’s very much in your interest to support things like the CDL’s fight against NPG, because library budgets are not forever expandable. Librarians want to give you access to the things that you want. It’s what we live for. Well, that and watching David beat Goliath. If you’re a writer, there’s a good chance that in addition to buying books, you use, or have used, a library heavily at some point in your life. There’s a good chance that you have generally positive feelings about libraries, albeit mostly as places that contain books. We are that, and we will continue to be that, at least in part. We want to do for your work what librarians have always done: collect it, preserve it, and make it available, in whatever ways are best suited to the time and the place and to patrons’ needs. (Translation: yes, we are looking at digital stuff. Yes, we may some day want your work in digital format, too. Yes, we think this is a good thing. Yes, we understand that you have concerns, and we do take those seriously. And we really don’t think you want to go back to the days of books in closed stacks findable only through searching gigantic tomes. Do you also want your book not to appear on Amazon.com?) But in order to do all of this, we need money, and right now, we are being gouged. California has decided they aren’t going to take it any more. I hope you will support them.

*As Dorothea notes, the CDL vs. NPG thing is only very tangentially an open access issue, and I realize I’m conflating a lot of things here that shouldn’t all necessarily be conflated. But they are related, and they are all often equally scary, and so I am treating them as kind of a big IP monolith for the sake of this particular exercise.

it’s always a little more complicated than you think

Yesterday I was scrolling through some shared items in Google Reader when I stumbled on a post from BoingBoing about the Salvation Army requiring proof of US citizenship before they gave children gifts. I tend to get a little irate about anti-immigrant policies, and so, casting aside all my good librarian skills, I immediately forwarded the piece — without even reading it fully — on to my mother and my friend.

Now as it so happens, yesterday my mother and my friend both beat me at the information literacy game. My mother clicked through to the actual post and saw the update from Cory Doctorow, wherein a Salvation Army PR person explains that they don’t require proof of immigration status; they just ask for things like birth certificates and Social Security numbers to make sure that people aren’t double-dipping. My friend, who is a Lutheran pastor, clicked through and saw the update and wrote to me a little more about her own experiences with the practice:

when I provide Salvation Army services I’m required to take their social security number. It’s one of the hardest parts of my job with them. People, as you might understand, get really upset saying that just because they are poor etc, they shouldn’t have to give their ss number to me. However, as it is is a unique number to each individual it’s a very convenient number for the Army to use.

As a national charity that is more reputable than the Red Cross they need to be able to track the needs of the people. One such example might be an influx of foot traffic from the South to the North as people seek jobs, or an increase in women and children seeking emergency housing due to abuse as unemployment rises. That said, there are ways around all of these stipulations and the article doesn’t do the Army justice about this. I have a woman right now who isn’t able to provide a social security number for her son because the card is with his father, but I’m still going to fill out a voucher for him to get a new winter coat, and some clothes due to their emergency relocation.

If you read through the comment thread on the original post, you see a little of the same thing happening. There are a lot of knee-jerk reactions like mine to start out with. Then there are some people who come in with defenses and explanations. Then there are counter examples, some with citations. And of course there are some more snarky comments (I mean, it is BoingBoing, after all). But the end result of reading through all of these things is, I think, that one feels more confused than convinced — and I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That confusion forces you to think about things like poverty and homelessness and charity in a practical way. It’s easy enough to say, “no one should be homeless.” It’s much harder when you have to run an actual shelter, and then suddenly you have a fire marshal to deal with, and zoning regulations, and the needs of a variety of people to keep in mind, and suddenly you do have to institute rules and turn some people away, and that’s terrible, but it’s also reality. If you have too many people in your shelter, the fire marshal will shut you down and you won’t be able to provide shelter to anyone. Librarians reading this blog are, I suspect, all too aware of the difficulties.

But I’m getting away from my topic. This morning I was reminded of this whole little saga by a couple of threads in the LSW Room on FriendFeed which further the eternal question of how we teach people to interrogate information, to ask whether it is credible or useful or even accurate. And the answer, it seems to me, is always that it is much more complicated than you think.

The ability to judge information depends on a lot of things. It depends on avoiding knee-jerk responses, and it depends on having a set of criteria you can use, and it even depends on having some previous knowledge.  I can’t teach all of that to a class of fifth graders in a one-shot session. I doubt you can teach all that to a class of college students over the course of a semester. Oh, you can help them find criteria, and you can help them gain a bit more of a knowledge base, and you can probably help them get better at this whole information literacy game. But as with many things, the only way you actually get better at this game is by playing it and playing a lot of it. I, for one, have a good deal left to learn.

visiting libraries

Back in October, I went on vacation, and, somewhat unusually for me, I took a bit of a busman’s holiday while I was there and visited a number of libraries. I saw the zine library at ABC No Rio. I got a tour of the SUNY Maritime library (which is in a fort!), courtesy of a friend who works there. I strolled through the library at Vassar, where I went to college. One of my hosts, Jenna Freedman, showed me around the Barnard library, including its zine collection, and John Blyberg very kindly gave me a grand tour of the Darien library, where I also got to meet a number of other staff members (hi, all!), who are all just as great as Kate says they are.

Walt Crawford has talked about not being a fan of the “one big library” concept. I must admit I’ve always had a fondness for it, probably at least in part because of its echoes of the IWW and their “one big union,” but Walt’s point is worth taking: libraries are — and should be — as different as the communities they serve. There are a lot of neat things that I could point out about all these libraries, from the kinds of periodicals they have at SUNY Maritime to the automated book return system at Darien, but what I’ve been thinking about most in the weeks since I returned is how radically different these communities are and how the library not only reflects the community but also shapes it.

As I have noted before, I never once spoke to a librarian when I was in college, and though I spent over an hour wandering around there, I did not talk to any librarians at Vassar on this visit. In part, that’s because I didn’t set anything up ahead of time and didn’t want to bother anyone, but largely it’s because I still have no idea where the librarians in that building are.

I love the Vassar library. It is everything people say libraries shouldn’t be these days. It does not have much in the way of comfortable furniture (though there is more than there was when I was there, but there are still plenty of long wooden tables with hard wooden chairs). There isn’t much in the way of group study space (or if there are such spaces, they are well hidden). It is one of the most confusingly laid-out places I have ever been. It’s made up of a few large rooms and then a series of interconnected small rooms. You’ll be following along with a call number just fine, until suddenly you’ll get to the end of one of these small rooms, and then you have to figure out where the rest of your call number continues. I think the continuity is somewhat better than it was when I was there, but it looked to me as though there were still some big jumps. And, as I’ve mentioned, the librarians are conspicuously hard to find.

But you know what? I love that place. When you walk in the door, you go up a few steps, and you’re standing in a sort of central courtyard. In front of you is one alcove with a gigantic stained glass window depicting the first woman to get a bachelor’s degree. To either side are longer alcoves with long tables running down the middle (long tables with rows of green-shaded lamps that look just the way you think an old, woody library should look) and rows of stacks on either side. There are mysterious staircases and all sorts of nooks and crannies. I have a recurring dream — one of my very favorites — wherein I discover a set of stairs I’ve never seen before, and it turns out to lead to a whole other section of the library that I’ve never been to, and it is even more gorgeous than the rest of the building.

Now, I’ve been to a lot of college libraries, and in many of them, the whole reference and instruction and group study stuff is much more apparent. But I didn’t choose to go to those colleges. I chose this one with the gothic architecture and the weird nooks and crannies and the leaded windows, and I learned to find my way around it, and though I never spoke to a librarian, I ended up being one. There’s a place in this world for the library as beautiful place filled with interesting books. It’s not the hippest, to be sure. But it’s still legitimate.

The Darien library has some architectural similarities (I have a semi-annotated photoset on Flickr). It’s been made to look like a sort of old-fashioned library with new-fashioned accoutrement (the Thomas Ford Memorial Library in Western Springs, IL has the same kind of feel). But it is also very consciously designed to be a community space, and a particular kind of community. Thus you’ll find many of the things you’d expect in a great new library — new books front and center, lots of information about programming for all ages, a teen room with comfy furniture and Rock Band, and kick-ass technology everywhere. But also caters to — or shapes — the community. There’s a room called SoHo, which, if you are into office equipment and supplies, will just make you drool. Computers, fax machines, scanners, paper cutters, staplers — they’re all there for the use of patrons with small offices or home offices (hence the SoHo name). All that equipment, out there and available, made me think that the library really is a place to make things, and it made me think — how ever incongruously — of the zine library and activist space I visited on the Lower East Side, ABC No Rio.

When we talk about libraries as community centers, it is places like ABC No Rio and various infoshops around the country that immediately come to my mind. Why? Because these are places that are about making things: making zines, making music, making art, even making food for Food Not Bombs. No, I’m not advocating that all libraries immediately open up their kitchens (though that would be cool — but it would also quite probably be a disaster). I would kind of like it if every public library had a sign that said PROPERTY OF THE PEOPLE OF ____, because our libraries are the property of our communities, and communities should be given pride of place.

What I am advocating is that people think about their libraries not only in terms of how they reflect their communities but also in terms of how they shape them. I was shaped by that Vassar library. I was shaped by the group study rooms at the Iowa City Public Library and by their public LP and CD players (you could even combine the two — if you took a stack of CDs to the circulation desk, they’d put them on and pipe them into your group study room for you) and by their wall of flyers and pamphlets from all the sorts political and social community groups that now show up now in their local associations database. And I hope that the people who come to the library here are shaped by it — shaped to consider the world as wide and vast and varied, even in this tiny little town.

i sent my raise to the louisville library

Today happens to be payday for me, and it also happens to be the first paycheck we got that reflects our annual cost-of-living raise (thank you, Wyoming energy industry, for continuing to flourish in these scant times).

Today is also the day after a flash flood hit the Louisville Free Public Library, where my friend Greg Schwartz works. He posted some pictures yesterday (and here’s one from the newspaper), but perhaps what got me the most (oddly, because despite my frequent postings about technology, I really think of myself as a book person) was his tweet from this morning: “Watching the h2o being poured out of our servers. Depressing.”

Libraries aren’t just stacks of books: among other things, they are stacks of findable books, organized books, books that can be checked out and checked in again, books that can be loaned to other libraries. Servers are part of what make that work possible, and one of the things that Greg does is look after them.

A lot of people want to send books to libraries who have been hit by disasters. This is a noble thing to want to do, but it is a very bad idea, because, as Catherine notes as Rachel notes and Catherine echos, your idea of what they need and what they actually need may not always match up. If you would like to help, though, you can send money. Checks can be mailed to The Library Foundation, 301 York Street, Louisville, KY 40203.

Steve Lawson has also started a Library Society of the World fund drive for the library. If that link isn’t working, the details are also available at Iris’s place. The gist of it is that Steve is collecting money (send donations to lsw.lfpl@gmail.com via PayPal or checks made out to Steve to the Library Society of the World Clubhouse, PO Box 7893, Colorado Springs CO 80933.

I just sent in the amount that my paycheck increased by because of my raise, but any amount at all will help get books back on the shelves — and, just as crucially, get the servers that help keep the library running dry, safe, and back to doing their work. And while you’re at it, why not run through Dorothea’s little checklist and see how secure your data is in the event of a catastrophe. I know our data curation could use some work.

this is not a post about cats

“As librarians we have to remember to select books whose effects we will never know.” –Roger Sutton [link]

I was sitting at the front desk at the library and trying to catch up on some blog reading during a quiet spell when I ran across Elizabeth Bird’s post on Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag. Head on over to her place to read about the history of the book and to see some gorgeous illustrations from it. I don’t know if it is the best picture book of all time — it has never gone over particularly well when I’ve read it for story time here — but it will always be a book in my canon because of Hazel Westgate.

Hazel Westgate was the children’s librarian at the Iowa City Public Library throughout my youth, and for many years before that. She is the reason the library has a collection of children’s book art (mouse over number 10 on the map to see it), and every year she ran two contests — a Halloween story contest and a cat-drawing contest inspired by her favorite picture book, Millions of Cats.

I was never even an honorable mention in the drawing contest, but being a winner of the story contest two years in a row is still one of my proudest accomplishments. Hazel Westgate spent the summer dreaming up the opening lines for stories. When school started, those lines would be passed out, and you picked one and wrote a story that began with it. Winners got to do a reading and signing of their stories, just like grown up authors, and the event was broadcast on the library’s public access channel, and, in the two years I won, we also got an illustration for our stories, done on gel like a cartoon frame and matted.

But here’s the thing: I never spoke to Hazel Westgate. I knew she was the lady with the frizzy hair who read stories to us at story time, and later I knew she was the person who wrote those opening lines. And she knew who I was — my father took me and my friend to story hour every Saturday for years, and when he died, my mother later told me, Hazel Westgate sent us a condolence note. But I don’t ever remember talking to her.

When classes come in to the library here to choose books, I leave my office and hang out, and sometimes a kid comes up to me with a question, and once in awhile I sense they are looking for some help, and I go offer it. But most of the time I just stand there and watch — watch them picking up books and looking at them and sometimes taking them and sometimes putting them back, and sometimes talking to each other and sometimes off by themselves.

I know that nowadays we are supposed to be all about reaching out to patrons and meeting where they are and building radical trust and all that, and to some degree those are all good things. But my connection to libraries (and Steve Lawson has written before about this same thing) was not about the librarians: it was about the books. I never talked to Hazel Westgate directly, but I communed with her many times. I wandered the stacks, I picked up the books she chose, and I took them home and read them, and many of them I still remember to this day.

On the days when I feel I’m not doing anything interesting or innovative at my dinky little library, the days when I berate myself for not doing more programs or putting out more exhibits or running contests, I try to remember that it wasn’t just the story times and the contests that made Hazel Westgate great. It was also the books. And I am indebted to Hazel Westgate, to Barb Stein and Victoria Walton, the librarians at my grade school, and to many librarians since then whose names I don’t know and whose faces I may never have seen.

As librarians we have to remember to select books whose effects we will never know. That is part of our purpose, too.

on first looking into the Darien Statements

One evening in junior high I was sitting at our kitchen table (which was my great grandparents’ kitchen table and is now my kitchen table) studying for a test on the explorers, and at some point I asked my mother if she’d quiz me. Magellan, Vasco de Gama, Ponce de Leon, all that was fine. But then we got to Cortez. “Oh,” said my mother, and went off to fetch a book. “Listen to this,” she said, and then she read me

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
. . .
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific

Now of course Cortez did not discover the Pacific. (Neither, technically, did Balboa, who usually gets the credit — the Pacific did not require discovering — it was there already, it’s just that Europeans hadn’t run across it quite yet.) In any case, I pointed out that this poem, however lovely, was unlikely to be of much help to me, since it was inaccurate, and my mother said that it did not matter that it was inaccurate because it was so good. Such was the danger of asking my mother for help with school work. In high school, our geometry textbook asked us at one point why the Greeks considered the 30-60-90 triangle to be the most beautiful triangle. I thought my mother might have something pithy to say on the subject, so I went to ask her. Several hours and multiple volumes of C.S. Lewis and Plato and probably something else I’m forgetting later, I still didn’t have a pithy answer, but I had learned quite a bit.

“On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer” is one of the first poems I ever deliberately memorized, and so it floats through my head fairly often. I’ve said to myself while waiting in lines or trying to fall asleep. I said it the first time I ever gazed on the Pacific, standing on Ocean Beach in San Francisco the summer I was twenty.

The poem ends not simply with Cortez staring at the Pacific, for there are others with him:

— and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

As I’ve read The Darien Statements, and the various reactions to them over the past week or so, Keats’s lines have been floating through my head a bit more often, and so has that evening when I was trying to remember the date Magellan circumnavigated the globe and my mother first read those lines to me.

Some days it’s important to remember the dates and places and times. Some preliminary knowledge about the world and its shape and its features and its history is useful — even necessary — for getting by in it. But some days — not all days, perhaps, but some — it’s also important to stare at the Pacific, to glance around at your compatriots with a wild surmise, to stand silently and contemplate the awesome mysterious wonderfulness of it all.

Similarly, it’s important to run your library. It’s important to get the books on the shelves correctly, to have a diverse and up to date collection, to provide timely reference services to your patrons, to keep your public computers running. That’s all important. But sometimes it is important to stand back from that for a few moments and think about what it is you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If the Darien Statements do anything, I hope they help us all feel for a moment like the men on that other Darien, as though we’ve discovered a new old world, or an old new world, all over again and ought to contemplate just what it is and what we are and what we should be doing and why.

So go read the Darien Statements, if you haven’t. And if you’d like, you can read the rest of Keats’s sonnet, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation. The Wikipedia page on it is not half bad, either.

as promised, shovers and makers — and more

Shovers and Makers 2009: I’m a winner! (So are you.) shoversandmakers.net

I’m there, and so are a lot of other people you probably know — and, perhaps more importantly, people you probably don’t know but might like to meet.

I’ve said before that the Library Society of the World was a happy accident born of frustration and social software, and I stick by that. The LSW has been taking trivial things seriously and serious things trivially since its inception. As the Nerdboys put it, Shovers & Makers is a joke, but it’s a serious joke. Look at the site. Look at some of the things these people have done, and the things they plan to do, and the things they hope to do.

Have you ever had a reference question you couldn’t stop answering? One where you kept finding more and better resources, more things you felt you had to take to the patron? That’s how the LSW in general and the S&M in particular make me feel about libraryland. There are more great things out there. There are more great people out there. There are more great ideas out there. Won’t you share them with us?

moving, shaking, shoving, making

It is customary at this time each year to write a blog post congratulating the people who have been named as this year’s Library Journal Movers & Shakers. And if you move in the circles I do, it’s also customary to note and link to all the M&S you are friends with or whose blogs you read or who you saw give a presentation once.

I’d like to do all of those things, and so I congratulate the winners, with shouts out to Jenica Rogers-Urbanek, whose writing and thinking I’ve admired for years; Jason Griffey; Karen Coombs, who once reassured me that yes, the OPAC did indeed suck; my gracious session presenting partner from Internet Librarian 2008, Sarah Houghton-Jan; Michael Porter; fellow Rad Refista and excellent silkscreener (and apparently pie baker) Lia Friedman; LSW Meebo Room denizen and whacky perl script generator Dave Pattern; Lauren Pressley; Lori Reed; Jamie Markus, who is here at our very own Wyoming State Library and who ran the Get on the Bus program; and Dorothea Salo.

Some of these people I’ve met; others I just know from online, and I’m kind of bowled over that I know so many in this great group of people — and I’m particularly pleased that my nomination (with able seconding from Steve Lawson) of Dorothea Salo got her on this year’s list. (I hadn’t quite thought through the implications of the my mythological allusion when I wrote up the nomination, and I fervently hope that neither Dorothea nor open access meet such an end.)

Librarianship is a small world, and some days I feel it’s all just a circle of people all boosting each others’ PageRanks and otherwise virtually scratching each others’ backs. That is not necessarily a bad thing — I’ve certainly benefited from it. But I’m also happy to read about the work of Movers & Shakers I don’t know. Lisa Harris runs literacy programs for people in prison and for their children. I remember emailing my mom about Women’s Health News when I ran across a link to it some years ago. I didn’t realize until now that its author, Rachel Walden , was the whistleblower on “abortion” being made a stop-word in the POPLINE health database. Ingrid Kalchthaler started libraries in homeless shelters. It sounds like J. Drusilla Carter turned a whole library system around by working with the community to develop teen activities, literacy programs, prison libraries, and a Spanish language collection. And the list goes on. . . .

Last Monday, word of the Library Society of the World Shovers and Makers started to trickle into the feed of the LSW Friendfeed Room. As my good friend Iris has noted, there’s already quite a bit of overlap between the current crop of M&S and the LSW membership (insofar as the LSW has a membership). I know there are all kinds of awesome librarians out there whom we haven’t heard about. I hope we’ll learn more about some of them soon.

behind the curtain

As you will remember if you’ve seen the movie (or read the book!), the Wizard of Oz is not the great and terrible voice that overwhelms the supplicants who come to the Emerald City. He’s actually just an ordinary man manipulating things behind a curtain.

In the past couple of weeks, I have been doing several things that have gotten me thinking about that curtain and what is behind it. I did a teleconference for the Education Institute in Canada that was basically an expansion of my Internet Librarian presentation on our website, and I did a webinar for Get on the Bus: Join the Online Social Library Community, which is Wyoming’s 5 weeks/learning 2.0/23 things program. There are few experiences eerier than sitting in front of your computer and talking over the telephone to people in other places whom you can’t see. You don’t have any of the normal cues you get from an audience, and you have no way to tell whether they’re following you at all or falling asleep or even there. You are doing education all wrong — with the exception of a question and answer period at the end, there is no interactivity. And yet I think we will see more education done this way, not less, and so it behooves us to figure out how to make it as good as possible.

But I also recently did an in-person training on EBSCO databases for a group of regional librarians. I called it EBSCO Behind the Curtain in part because I was thinking about the machinations of the database and in part because it gave me a good excuse to use an image that has ascended into the public domain. (You can see the results on the handout [.doc].) One of the biggest difficulties libraries face, I think, is that so much of our content isn’t visible. We have about 25,000 volumes here in my little library. You can wander the stacks and pick things up and flip through them, you can look at covers and tables of contents and indexes. You can get a sense of what is there. But for all the information contained in those 25,000 volumes, there is even more stuff that you can’t see — specifically, the contents of all our databases. So this time, I thought I’d start by asking the question I ask fifth graders when I go teach them about doing research: How does stuff get on the internet? Who puts it there? You have to know what there is to find before you can go about finding it.

So we talked about what there is in different places. What’s on the internet? What’s in the catalog? What’s in these mysterious databases? And, perhaps even more importantly, how does the tool that we use to find the stuff work? Many people have a dim idea of how Google works (looks for keywords, checks for popularity), but very few people I’ve asked can tell me what order the results are in when you search the catalog, and even fewer have any idea of how complex databases work. So we talked a bit about indexing and finding and item types and why different databases work differently. And I’m not really sure how enlightening it was, but it has gotten me thinking about how as technology trainers and librarians we can get behind that curtain and how we can show the machinations that take place behind it to the world.

I suppose a lot of the world doesn’t really care about those machinations and doesn’t want to — but they should. And we should encourage them to learn. As more and more of our data leaves the open stacks and hides behind the curtain of the internet, it is incumbent upon us to know what’s back there, and to know how best to work the system (the systems, really) to get it out.