the new Cody library, my sort of new job, and other news

I realized long ago that I was never going to be a newsy blogger. There are plenty of other people out there reporting on new things, so I don’t. Sometimes, however, I really ought to report some news about what’s happening at my actual librarian job.

I came out to interview for this job in January of 2006. That same week, the Cap Tax II campaign to fund a new Cody library kicked off. I arrived on the job in March and got to work on that website not too long afterwards. That November, I got to celebrate not only the trouncing of the Republican majority in Congress but also the passage of the cap tax. (In fact, I was on the road on vacation the day after election day. We stopped in Farson to get gas, and I called the library from a payphone to get the news.) Some months after that, I started work on what would become the Park County Library website , and last October I attended the groundbreaking for the new library.

This Saturday, the old Cody library will close its doors for the last time. The new library will open six weeks later, on October 4th, and it should be a site to behold: three times the size of the incredibly overcrowded current library (where the branch manager and the circulation manager both have desks right behind the circulation desk, and boxes of donated books line the walls along the entrance).

I’m thrilled that I’ll get to be there. And since, although they’re not really connected, my progress in my job and the progress of the Cody library project have been intertwined in my time here, I’m also excited to tell you about the ways my job is changing. While I’ll remain as a librarian in Meeteetse and continue to do collection development and instruction and programming there, I’m turning over a lot of my administrative duties to my extremely able coworker. That will give me time to be a traveling librarian one day a week and a virtual librarian another. I’ll be traveling to the Powell and Cody libraries to do staff training and, eventually, to teach some classes for the public. And one day a week (or, more likely, hours throughout the week that add up to about a day a week), I’ll be working on our virtual branch, developing web content (like this silly little screencast I just made) and learning more about whatever I need to learn. (I’ve got a ways to go before I’ll meet Mabel Wilkinson’s requirements , but maybe someday.) I look forward to continuing to grow with the library system where I work.

the how I became a librarian story

I’ve enjoyed reading stories about how people became librarians, and now Iris wants me to share mine . I am a lazy blogger, and thus I will just say that my story is exactly like Iris’s, but with the following differences:

  • for English major, substitute Classics major
  • for MA in literature, substitute MFA in nonfiction writing
  • for "they’d take me back into the Ph.D. program," substitute they wouldn’t accept me into a Ph.D. program

Our stories otherwise are eerily similar. I, too, had never thought of being a librarian, had never asked for help from a librarian, had never considered what kind of education a librarian had. This is embarassing on a number of levels, since I visited libraries of one sort or another probably four out of any five days for most of my life, and since my great aunt is a library director. I, too, had a mother who said, "Have you considered being a librarian?"

I did actually try off and on to get part-time work at a library, because it seemed like a good kind of part-time job, but I had no luck whatsoever until I started library school. After a semester there, I got a youth services assistant job at a library in the Chicago suburbs. It still cracks me up that, after I got there, someone said, "Oh, we were so glad to get your resume, because everyone else who applied for the job had just worked at Starbucks." I had applied to work at Starbucks stores in various places three times in that decade and had never been accepted. You’re always wrong until you’re right.

I started library school with the goal of becoming an archivist specializing in activist and labor history. How I ended up where I am is another story for another blog post.

I’m tagging the rest of the LauraCon: Laura Carscaddon and Laura Harris .

cover letter madness

I am in Iowa for a couple days longer, but before it goes out of style, I thought I’d post my contributions to the whole cover letter meme. (If you are looking for true cover letter hilarity, you may wish to visit my friends over at Hermits Rock.)

Cover letters, like letters of recommendation, are, I think, very hard to write because usually when you start out, you’ve never seen a cover letter. Sure, you can get a book with examples, and you can get some advice, but you just don’t see a lot of cover letters until you actually have a job and have hired people or served on a search committee. (Of course, now that I think of it, I did see a whole stack of cover letters once while visiting a friend whose mother was hiring a new teacher for the school district. Said letters were uniformly awful, but presumably at least one of them was successful, which is more than I can say for most of mine). And the business of cover letter writing and resume writing is so convoluted. You’re trying to brag without sounding like you’re bragging, and you’re trying to make the things you’ve done sound more official than they often actually were. During our senior year of college, my house mates and I spent an afternoon cracking each other up by translating our resumes so they’d say what we’d really done: “Assisted in the planning and execution of department events and functions” became “Brought soda,” and so on.

I have applied for many, many, many jobs in my life and have gotten almost none of them. I looked through my file for a representative cover letter from one of these fruitless searches, and while it’s not exactly representative, the letter I sent to the Enyclopaedia Britannica in 2004 is illustrative of the worst of my cover-letter-writing faults. To wit:

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to apply for the Copy Editor position that you have advertised at copyeditor.com. Actually, I am writing to apply for any position you have open for which I would qualify. Since my chief training is as a writer—I completed an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa in May 2003; prior to that, I studied at Vassar College, where I received a BA in Greek in 1998 and did extensive coursework in English and history—I’m going to start this letter by telling you a very short story.

When I was ten years old, my mother and I returned from seeing The Gods Must be Crazy with a burning question: where in the Kalahari desert was the “edge of the world” over which Xixo threw the Coke bottle at the end of the movie? What ridge in Botswana would be high enough that you could see clouds below you? This was before the internet (which I just used to track down the name of the protagonist and the country the movie took place in, both of which I had forgotten), so when we got home, we pulled several volumes the Encylopædia Britannica off the shelf, laid them on the floor, and carefully unfolded the maps that lay between the tissue-thin pages. As it happens, we had the eleventh edition of the Britannica, which is a bit out of date, but though the national boundaries have changed quite a bit, the topography was accurate enough that we easily picked out several possibilities. Years later, in college, I learned that Denis Diderot believed that an encyclopædia was a book designed “to change the general way of thinking.” That’s a bold statement, and probably not one we would want to associate with tomes designed as objective sources of information. But if you spend any time reading encylopædias and have any imagination, you do start to think, and think differently, after a while. You realize that the world is round to some and flat to others, and you start to think about what those differences mean.

I have worked as a newspaper columnist, a graduate instructor at the University of Iowa, and as an adjunct teacher at a private school in Iowa City. I have been proofreading, fact-checking, and doing general editing work for friends for years. I would greatly enjoy the chance to work at the Britannica in the digital age, and perhaps on into whatever comes next.

Sincerely,
Laura E. Crossett

Translation: I have absolutely no job skills but I like to be a show-off anyway.

When I started applying for library jobs during library school, I decided I had to figure out some way to make a lot of disparate pursuits sound as though they were actually useful and related to the sort of work I would be doing as a librarian. To that end, I first divided up the work experience section of my resume into parts — library experience, teaching experience, and sometimes journalism or writing experience. I then used those divisions as the basis for a cover letter. My letter was, in effect, a five paragraph theme:

Introduction: I would be good at this job because of my experience as a librarian, a teacher, and a writer.

Paragraph 1: library experience

Paragraph 2: teaching experience

Paragraph 3: writing experience

Conclusion: My experience as a writer, teacher, and librarian would make me perfect for this position.

Dull, but it got the job done, and it was a way for me to structure my largely unstructured experiences in a way that made them sound a little better. Below I is the letter for the job I have now. I used the same letter for every library job I applied for, although I changed some introductory details for each job to show I’d done a little research about the place. I sent out three letters and got two interviews and a phone call saying “we really wish we could interview you but we need someone yesterday, but we’ll keep you in mind if we have other openings,” so I must finally have done something right. It’s a long letter — almost two pages — but I don’t think that’s a bad thing, so long as your pages contain actual examples of skills and successes you’ve had (or possibly haven’t had — I think my “regular contact” with the junior and senior high librarians was more like “attempted contact” — but hey, I tried).

Dear ______:

I am writing to express my interest in the position of Branch Manager at the Meeteetse Public Library. I saw the advertisement a month or so ago when it was posted on LISjobs.com, and I have been reading up on Meeteetse ever since. It sounds ideal. Although I currently live in the suburbs of Chicago, I have, like my fellow Iowan Buffalo Bill Cody, long been drawn to the West. I am a believer in the strength of rural areas, and Meeteetse seems like a community where I could use my skills as a librarian and educator and a place where I could feel at home.

Although I will not complete my MLIS degree from Dominican University until May 2006, I am applying now on the very off chance that the job will still be open then—or on the chance that the job will still be open in January and that I can arrange to complete my coursework through a distance-learning program. One never knows.

I have worked in three major fields: libraries, education, and journalism. Each of these professions has given me different, though related, skills; taken together, these skills make me ideally equipped to be a jack-of-all-trades librarian in a position such as the one in Meeteetse.

I currently work as the Young Adult Services coordinator at the Franklin Park Library in a working-class suburb northwest of Chicago. I manage the young adult collection, organize programming for older kids and young adults, provide reference and readers’ advisory services in the children’s room, and help out with computer troubleshooting throughout the library. With the cooperation of the adult fiction librarian and the Technical Services department, I have established a young adult graphic novel collection. Over eighty kids aged 10-14 participated in the young adult “Superheroes: Powered by Books” summer reading program this past summer through reading books, attending weekly programs, and entering the contest to design a library superhero. I keep in regular contact with the librarians at the local junior and senior high schools, and I look forward to collaborating with them on some programs in the coming year. One thing that I noticed in reading the Wyoming Rural Development Council’s Rural Resource Team Report on Meeteetse was that, as is the case in many small communities (and some big ones), there is a great need for activities and outlets for young people. I am enthusiastic about getting young people involved in their library and in their community.

Prior to beginning library school, I spent three years teaching at the University of Iowa, where I received an MFA from the Nonfiction Writing Program and took courses in the Education Department. During my time at Iowa, I taught both at the University and at Willowwind School, a private alternative grade school in Iowa City, where I taught Latin and tutored students in a variety of subjects. Additionally, I ran a Saturday drama workshop for kids in kindergarten through second grade. Teaching at a school like Willowwind, where the schedule was rarely the same from day to day, and where the staff worked cooperatively and creatively on everything from how to supervise two different classes sharing the same room to how to get the toilet unclogged, has given me the flexibility to change plans quickly and the good humor necessary to take disaster — or at least creative disorder — in stride. When not teaching, I have worked as a freelance writer for a variety of publications addressing an array of audiences, from the readers of a campus newspaper to those of a weekly alternative tabloid to those taking standardized tests.

The skills that I have gained through my work as a librarian, a teacher, and a writer have prepared me to work and communicate effectively with the public; my schooling has provided me with a foundation in education and librarianship. I would bring to the job of Branch Manager my enthusiasm for books and information and my zeal for getting people, young and old alike, connected to the world of information and imagination not just as readers and absorbers but as creative participants. I would bring my familiarity with a variety of technology and my willingness to learn more. I would bring my love of open spaces and my belief in community. I realize that you may need to fill this position as soon as possible, but if it does remain open, or if another position should open up in the Park County Library System, I hope that you will keep me in mind.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Please feel free to contact me via e-mail [fancy Vassar alum email address] or by phone at ________.

Sincerely,

Laura Crossett

a personal interlude

I’m writing this in Iowa City, where I am, unexpectedly, for a week or so. As you may or may not know, I have another blog, which in theory contains things not related to librarianship, which is supposedly what this blog is for, although there is an invariable overlapping, which is why I mention this here. If you follow this blog in a merely professional sense, this is largely irrelevant, but because I’ve become close to some of you in the biblioblogosphere and care about what is happening in your lives, I wanted to alert you to some of the things that have been happening in mine.

three little candles

I’ve been trying to remember lately how I first figured out RSS and when I got myself set up with a Bloglines account. I remember that Morgan told me there were a lot of great radical librarian bloggers during the summer of 2003, but since that was before I even thought of going to library school. I stowed that information away somewhere, I think, and dimly remembered it when a friend sent me the Wired article about Jessamyn West. I know I saw the early announcements for Radical Reference through some lefty discussion list in the late summer of 2004, just as I was starting library school.

I can’t quite figure out just how I got into this reading blogs business, but I do know that three years ago today I decided to plonk my marbles down into the virtual dirt circle that is the blogosphere, and I started a little blog called lis.dom.

she started to sing as she tackled the thing

Meredith Farkas says such nice things about me that I’ve had to spend the better part of the last few days keeping myself from repeating them, ad nauseum, to everyone I know. (I feel rather like the other lion at the end of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe: “‘Us lions,’ he said, ‘us lions.’ That means him and MEEEEEE!”).

Dorothea Salo says things that are so true they hurt — though I mean that as a compliment. You get more points in this world for being pretty than for being truthful, and we ought to acknowledge that, unpleasant as it is. But it is true that if not for Dorothea and the goth cats, my knowledge of open access would be close to nonexistent. It’s also true that if Meredith (among other people) hadn’t responded so kindly to my first half a dozen or so idiotic questions about editing wikis, I might well be one of the people who goes around saying they can’t do wikis (or blogs, or cataloging, or whatever.

I do not generally get questions about how to become a rock star (in fact, I’m fairly sure I’ve never gotten one). Since I’m not particularly a rock star, this doesn’t bother me, although I will add, for the benefit of anyone hoping to glean such information from this little ditty, that moving to a town of 351 people is not really the best way to go about rockstardom. (Had I only thought to move to a town of 300 people, and acquire a coyote, and live in a cabin, and take beautiful photographs! Ah well.)

In the course of thinking about all these things, though, it has occurred to me that perhaps the way I go about things is a little peculiar. I am the branch manager of a tiny public/school library. Most of my day at work is spent reading book reviews, ordering books, helping patrons find stuff (mostly books), doing various interlibrary loan tasks, walking down to the post office to get the mail, organizing programs, submitting people’s timesheets, and trying to remember to schedule people to work on Wednesday nights. Now that I’m also (by self-declaration) the virtual branch manager, I do a little website maintenance and a little statistics gathering from databases and such, too. But there’s really very little call for me to know much about open access, or link resolvers, or college-level bibliographic instruction, or any of the other things that I spend time reading about almost every day.

There’s no call for me to know all of that as the Meeteetse librarian, it’s true, but I feel there’s plenty of call for me to know it simply as a librarian. I can’t advocate for net neutrality or open access as a member of my profession if I don’t know what they are or how they affect it. And, quite frankly, like Dorothea, I can’t imagine going through day by day without at least trying to learn something.

I’ve been lucky to have found myself a place where I can do some of that learning and a community of people who provide friendly encouragement and answer even the stupidest questions. This morning I started my new project, which is learning PHP. PHP is actually directly related to my job, in that I’m learning it in part in order to build a little application for the library. All I’ve managed to do so far is build a little form that captures a word you type in and redeploys it as part of a sentence. Not much, but it’s a start. And, thanks to the many people I know out there doing cool things, I felt that it was a start that I could make. My mantra in such projects is always, “Hey, if John Blyberg / Jessamyn West / other librarian rock star can do it well, then surely it’s worth it for me to do it poorly.” Or, as the godawful poem I learned in third grade put it,

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That maybe it couldn’t, but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.

my tech-nots

After Jenna and Rochelle. . .

It once took a friend and me three or four different tries to watch a movie. First his DVD player got busted. Then we tried to use the set up our friends had at the coffee shop, but there were way too many remotes. Then we tried someone else’s setup, which I think finally worked when someone else came in to press buttons for us. I myself only recently acquired a DVD player. So far it hasn’t given me problems, but we’ll see. . . .

I’ve never used Skype or done any video or audio chatting.

I had an iPod, but it just bit the dust, and it pisses me off so much that they’re only made to last a few years that I’m not going to get another one. Besides, I like listening to my LPs and cassettes. I plan to go on using both until they completely fall apart. Occasionally I think I ought to get some kind of mp3 player that I could use to listen to downloadable audio books, but really, the process of downloading audiobooks and synching them to devices is one of the banes of my existence.

I am generally intimidated by cash registers, fax machines, and telephones with more than one line.

I don’t know how to use Photoshop (or the GIMP), although that’s something I’d like to learn (and is on the endless list of things I’m planning to teach myself, if I ever get around to it).

I have nothing against gaming, but I don’t do it myself. Ditto Second Life. (Well, I may have some issues with second life–if we’re going to bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old, let’s do it here in first life first, please.)

Probably as a result of being a life-long Mac person, I am extremely ignorant about computer hardware. When people start talking about core processors and graphics cards and things, I just hope they aren’t going to ask for my advice.

I get asked a lot of techie questions both in my library system and in my town. A few I can answer right away; some I can’t answer at all. And the rest — well, I do my best to find answers. After all, that’s my job, right?

sociability

Last Friday we hosted a little get-together for thirteen librarians from northwestern Wyoming. Meeteetse has a four-day school week, so that meant we could use a school computer lab for the sessions, which turned out to be an even better deal than I thought.

In the morning, the school’s IT coordinator talked to us about viruses, anti-virus software, and basic computer security and troubleshooting. I learned that shortcuts on your desktop take up extra space, and I resolved to get better about scanning, defragging, and generally maintaining our library computers. I think everyone learned something from the presentation. Yay IT guy!

We all went out to lunch at the Elkhorn, and then we returned to the lab so that I could talk a little bit about social software. Here’s where the computer lab set-up came in handy–and where I got to feel that there was a practical reason for using Jessamyn’s slideshow set-up rather than simply an I-hate-PowerPoint reason. The projector (which had worked fine in the morning, of course) decided suddenly that it didn’t want to turn on. So I gave out the handout, told everyone to bring up the presentation page on their computer, and gave the talk with everyone following along. Since their computers were hooked up to the school filtering software, I couldn’t show them my lame MySpace page, but on the whole, it worked pretty well.

I haven’t completely figured out how to give presentations of this sort. It’s hard to know how much detail to use when you know some of the audience wants a “and then you click on the blue box” type of thing and others want a “here’s a bunch of stuff–go out and try it” deal. This time I leaned very much toward the latter, with a lot of “please feel free to contact me if you need to know when to click on the blue box” interjections.

I also installed a Meebo Room on my site thinking that it would be fun to let people play around with it during the presentation. We did not end up using it, in large part because I made the fatal error of assuming that everyone is as fond of multitasking as I am. Several people said, “But I can’t chat–I have to take notes!” It’s good to be reminded of these things once in awhile.

in which I ask for your advice

Dear Blog Readers,

Most of you are far, far cleverer than I am in many ways, not the least of which is your knowledge of all things technological. It dawned on me just recently that instead of muddling around on my own, I might get some advice from the biblioblogosphere. And so, dear bibliobloggers, I have two questions for you–a hardware question and a software/reader’s advisory question. I’ll put them briefly first and then expand.

Short Version

  1. What kind of new computer should I buy?
  2. What books or other things should I recommend to a potential budding computer program programmer? [thanks, Greg]

Long Version

  1. I have an iBook that I got in 2003. I like it (though I curse myself on a regular basis for getting just the CD-ROM drive and not the combo one), but the battery is dead, and it currently runs at the speed of frozen molasses, especially if you want to do something really crazy, like run more than one program. I have deleted extraneous programs and done other things that people have suggested. Lately, though, people have suggested “Get a new computer.” I am trying to talk myself out of the idea that I need to have a Mac, but as I’ve been using Macs since 1986, I’m not having much luck. From what I’ve seen of Windows Vista, I do not like it, although I guess I’ve gotten used to XP. There is the whole open source operating system option, which could be good, but realisitically, I am not going to buy an old computer and install Ubuntu myself, so if I went that route, I’d either have to buy it already installed or find someone to do it for me. And finally, although there are many nice ergonomic aspects to having a desktop, I’ve had a laptop for ten years now, and I think I’d like to continue with them. So, any suggestions?
  2. There’s a kid in town who seems like a budding geek, or at any rate a potential budding geek. He said to me one day, “I’ve learned more from 15 minutes of talking to our sys admin than I have in 5 years of computer classes.” Earlier this summer I showed him Jessamyn’s Ubuntu video, and he got interested, so I downloaded it for him and he brought in a CD so he could burn a copy and play around with it on one of his old PCs. He now routinely comes in and talks to me about partitions and other stuff about which I am totally clueless. Awhile ago he asked for “some books about computers.” I couldn’t determine from the reference interview exactly what that meant, so I got him one about website building, one reference book, and one copy of Beginning Programming for Dummies (translation: the three books in the system that were less than five years old–I admit that we have no books on Ruby on Rails–but we also don’t have much demand). He’s gotten very interested in the programming book. I’m going to recommend The Cuckoo’s Egg for one of the books he has to read for English this year, and perhaps some Neal Stephenson. What else should I point him to, either educationally or recreationally?

Thank you all in advance for whatever advice you may have–you can leave it here in the comments, e-mail it to newrambler at gmail, or catch me on IM sometime. I am happy to return the favor should you ever have any questions about chronological order vs. publishing order in The Chronicles of Narnia (though actually Wikipedia has that covered) or how to translate things into Latin (though mine is kind of rusty) or recommendations for serial killer murder mysteries (I don’t read them, but my coworkers do).

accomplishments

Though I’ve mentioned them in several other places already, I’d like to mention a couple of things once again.

This past week I did two things: I finished my last library school class and I finished paying off the last of my credit card debt. I am actually much, much prouder of the latter. When your parents have three doctorates (two Phs and an M) between them, it’s a little hard to get excited about a master’s degree, even if it’s a second master’s degree. School has always been easy for me, but money never has been.

I tend to tell people that my credit card debt was the result of unemployment and moving expenses, and while these things are partly to blame, the average $3000-$5000 I’ve carried since I graduated from college was really the result of plain old stupidity. Since a lot of people have problems with debt — some smaller than mine, some greater (and it’s worth knowing that I still have another year of car payments and many more years of student loan payments) — I thought I’d write a little about how I finally got mine paid off.

I will note at the start that it is much, much easier to pay off debts when you have an actual job. The job that I have now is the first full-time job I’ve ever held — I got through my twenties on temp jobs and tutoring and graduate employee stipends and dog-walking. It is also a lot easier to pay off debt if you are a single person with no dependents and live in a place where the rent is cheap.

I was never given much of a financial education. I was told, of course, that I ought to pay off credit card debt in full every month, but I was also lead to believe that actually doing so was optional. I never learned to make a budget, and though I was frugal in many ways, I also had expensive tastes, most notably for travel and food. But the lack of a budget and a plan meant that every time I got the debt paid off, it soon rose again, because something came up — my car broke down, or my cat got sick — and I didn’t have the money budgeted to pay for it.

This year, thanks to the advice of Jessamyn, I started using Pear Budget to track expenses and to make sure that I was putting aside money each month for car repairs and school tuition and visits to the vet and various other exigencies. I used the calculators at Bankrate.com to help figure out how much I needed to pay on various debts each month, and I took a lot of the various advice they offer on that site. I also realized that it wasn’t a good idea to deprive myself totally, and so I thought about what kinds of things most improved the quality of my day, and which of those could be substituted or given up. For me, that meant that I stopped buying books and CDs but still got to have goat cheese and good coffee.

In writing about this, I feel like maybe I’m making it sound easy, which it wasn’t — but it also wasn’t as impossible as I once feared. Now I have no credit card debt and I have money in the bank to cover most minor disasters. In a few more months, I should be able to cover at least one major one. In two weeks, I go on vacation with a plane ticket I’ve already paid for. I am, yes, feeling a wee bit chuffed pretty damn proud of myself.