but they didn’t teach me that in library school!

If you haven’t participated in — or at least read — a “things they didn’t teach you in library school” thread on a listserv or a discussion board or in the FriendFeed LSW room or somewhere, I am concerned that you have not spent nearly enough time mucking around on the internet.

Such threads are ubiquitous: every few months, someone clearly feels the need to explain that they never learned how to troubleshoot laser printers in library school. Other frequent items include

  • dealing with difficult patrons (especially if they’re intoxicated and/or asleep)
  • “project management” (I have no idea what this is, but everyone seems to think it’s a skill librarians need and one they should have been taught in school)
  • management anything
  • ditto leadership
  • budgeting
  • technology (just name one)
  • web design
  • graphic design

As these threads go on, they tend toward the absurd (“how to stamp books” “Chinese”), and at the end, you’re left with this baffling list of stuff that’s sort of all over the map, most of which will never get incorporated into any library school curriculum anywhere, for reasons of bureaucracy and intransigence and in some cases sheer impracticality.

Aaron Schmidt and Micheal Stephens have a piece in this month’s Library Journal that throws user experience (or UX, if you’re hip) into the mix. They’d like to see library school students learn to interpret and employ user research, to conduct usability testing and run focus groups, to design effective library buildings and graphics.

Now I am pretty down with that whole list. Every building I’ve worked in has major design flaws, and far too many of them have had terrible signage and brochures full of bad font choices. And of course I’m a big fan of usability testing. It all sounds good to me. Good, but unlikely.

I get a little irked with these lists of “things that should be taught” because they strike me as both useless and whiny. My how to improve library school plan has always been short and sweet: Admit smarter people and teach them more stuff. It doesn’t really matter to me what you teach them — if you get the first part of that equation right, they’ll end up learning stuff regardless.

And I guess that gets me to my real point. We’re lucky enough to be in a profession that encourages learning and that is full of helpful people who want to teach you things. If you’re in library school and you’re not learning stuff, then go out and find some things to learn on your own. (Trust me, your coursework will not really suffer, and nobody in later years is going to care what kind of grades you got anyway.)

You can teach yourself to do all sorts of things. You can read blogs and books and articles. You can talk to people. And you can realize that you actually already know a lot of stuff because of other things you’ve done.

Expecting library school to teach you everything you will ever need to know about being a librarian is somewhat akin to expecting your parents to have taught you everything you’ll ever need to know about life by age 18. It’s just not going to happen. And in libraries, as in life, sometimes you just have to learn the hard way.



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.

library education discussions @ ALA

I’m still toying around with my schedule for ALA (if you want to see some of what I’m considering, head on over to my calendar), but there are a few places I’ll be for sure, including, of course, the bloggers shindig on Saturday night. If you see me drooping, please poke me–that’s way past my bedtime.

I’ll also be participating in the Library Education Discussions that Radical Reference is sponsoring. They’ll take place at the SRRT Booth (#3450) in the Exhibit Hall and will be lead by current students and recent grads. There’s a full schedule, with leaders and topics, at the RR events page. These discussions grew out of the Library Education Forum that took place back in March, just as I was getting started at my job here. I wasn’t able to make that forum, but I will be moderating a discussion from 4-5 pm on Monday, June 26th. The announced topic is “Practical Skills,” so please come with your laundry lists of Things I Wish I’d Learned in Library School–and with anything else library-related you’d like to discuss. If you’re not able to attend but have things you’d like to hear discussed, drop me a line or leave a comment here, and I’ll do my best to do your points justice.

goodbye ivory tower, almost

I stopped by Dominican last week to take care of some paperwork and retrieve the lock from my locker, and it occurred to me that, quite possibly, I might never set foot on campus again. Dominican is slated to start offering online courses in the summer (I can’t find any documentation on this using their crumby Google search, but I have it on good authority), and so I’ll be finishing up my degree remotely. I had never contemplated distance education, and I’m still not sure how I’ll like it (though the possiblity of not commuting, finding a parking place, and finding my green Honda Civic amidst the masses of green Honda Civics–thankfully, I at least still have Iowa plates–does seem appealing). Perhaps I shall come to like the university of anywhere.

But I think I’ll make at least one last stop at the bricks and mortar institution. From my Dominican e-mail today:

Michael Stephens is interviewing for a faculty position in GSLIS
Mr. Stephens is an adjunct faculty member of both GSLIS at Dominican, currently teaching LIS 753/Internet Fundamentals and Design, and at Indiana University for the School of Library and Information Science; and also works at the St. Joseph County Public Library in South Bend, Indiana where he is the Special Projects Librarian. He is a candidate for the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Information Science at the University of North Texas in Denton.

He will be giving the following presentation:
WEBLOGS & LIBRARIES: An Introduction
February 8, 2006
10:45-11:45 AM
Crown LIB 310A
A question and answer session will follow the presentation.
The presentations of faculty candidates are open to all GSLIS students – you are invited and encouraged to participate in this process.

You think they might have mentioned that he also runs this little site called Tame The Web. . . . Anyway, I plan to be there.

Library Education Forum: of, by, and for the people

You have probably read about this elsewhere, but if not, let me announce (and if so, let me reiterate) the Library Education Forum, which will be held on March 11 in New York City. The good folks from the NYC collective of Radical Reference are organizing the shindig, and library students, prospective library students, recent and unrecent graduates, professors, and regular old librarians are all welcome to attend. I hope Michael Gorman is listening.

organization: or why I am not a cataloger

This is a post I wrote by hand when my computer was off getting fixed. I didn’t get around to transcribing it until now.

Once my grandmother asked my father and her cousin how she ought to organize her books. One said “Size!” and the other said “Color!” and, well, it went downhill from there. Despite my talk of growing up in a house with a card catalog, I’m not so great at organization myself. I’m amazed by Lindsay’s habits; I’m totally bowled over by Joy’s.

In fact, I sort neither by size nor by color. I have a folder on my computer called “Library School.” It has some subfolders for different classes, but I usually don’t create those until the semester’s over. (And it gets worse–the versions on my computer aren’t usually final–those are mostly saved on my end drive at school, and they’re in no order). I have a single notebook in which I take notes,
and a 3-ring binder with some dividers that holds syllabi, readings, assignments, etc. I keep my calendar in the student handbook that they give out for free at the beginning of the year.

Actually, this all works for me. I generally have what I need; I always have enough to get by. What I’m really having problems with is my del.icio.us account.

I’m seriously mystified by some of the tags I’ve come up wiht. What for instance, does web mean? Surely in some respect everything that I tag could be called web–things tagged on del.icio.us are of the web just by their very nature, though of course they are not necessarily about the web. Perhaps that’s the difference. Tech seems a little more straightforward–at least it did until I started thinking about it. Does it mean actual bits of technology or just stuff related to technology? Is it of or about? And honestly–I have 40 or so things currently tagged tech–how am I supposed to find the one I’m looking for among them? I could go on–what is the difference between tools and tricks? And what about hacks (or rather hack, which is apparently the tag I actually used)? Do I bookmark the blog post in which I read about a new resource (handy because it generally includes a review of the resource) or do I just bookmark the resource itself (more direct, fewer clicks)? You get the idea.

As you’ll see, the problem extends as well to the categorizing of posts on this blog. I was all excited initially at the thought of figuring out what all I was writing about. I’m still interested, but I’m nowhere near finished. I’ve categorized about half the posts, I think, but I’m not totally happy with the ones I’ve chosen. The people who are Technorati-tagging their posts have the added disadvantage of trying either to pick one tag or to come up with all its possible variants–l2, library2.0, library20, etc.
Don’t get me wrong–I love del.icio.us, I love tagging, I love the wisdom of the crowds–but I also have a newfound respect for the catalogers and ontologists of the world. They’ve got their work cut out for them.

Now really–size or color?

this past week. . .

I finished up a collection development project for LIS 721, Library Materials for Children and discovered the existence of phantom reviews. I used Baker & Taylor’s Title Source II to help locate some books and reviews, and my partner used Follett’s Titlewave, and then we’d go look up the full citations for the reviews we found. . . or at least we tried. Let’s say that for one title, B&T said it was reviewed in the July 2000 issue of Booklist. I would dutifully go to Dominican’s databases and start searching for the review. I couldn’t find it by author, title, keyword, or date. I then tried going more directly to the source and looking through the Booklist indexes (which exist somewhere on the ALA website, though naturally now I can’t find them). No luck there either. It was time to get serious. I hit the stacks. I grabbed the microfilm and spent half an hour or so scrolling through Booklist from July 2000 and from November 2000, when Follett claimed it was reviewed. No cigar. And this happened again and again, not just with Booklist, but also with School Library Journal, VOYA, and others. My partner, meanwhile, was having a similar experience with Books in Print, Book Review Index, et al. I wrote my professor. Were we going crazy? Apparently not. She said she’d noticed this problem before. We did the best we could. A few days later, I mentioned this to my professor for LIS 745, Searching Electronic Databases, who pointed out that Baker & Taylor and Follett are, after all, in the bookselling business, not the bibliographic verification business. Still, it’s maddening. My adventures in bibliography were not over, though.

I turned in my final project for LIS 745, Searching Electronic Databases, which was a 25 item annotated bibliography on the subject of state guardianship programs for adults, prepared for my client, the Iowa Substitute Decision Maker Task Force, a group of people (including my mother) who are trying to establish such a program in Iowa. The week before, I did my final presentation on the project. I found many beautiful pictures with which to illustrate my presentation via the Creative Commons search on Flickr. I’m a big believer in giving people things to look at when presenting, but it does make for a monster-sized PowerPoint, which convinced once again that I really need to learn the S5 and/or Jessamyn West version of slides. . . I thought about doing it for this presentation, but as time was beginning to get short, I thought perhaps that would be an untenable exercise in procrastination.

I began the morning of my 30th birthday by oversleeping. I am hoping that this was the last gasp of the past decade rather than a sign of the decade to come. I finished up and turned in the paper on virtual readers’ advisory for LIS 763, Readers’ Advisory Services. Thanks to everyone who commented on my previous post on the topic, and thanks to all the biblioblogosphere folks who’ve created, written about, or fantasized about how we could make OPACs more useful and interesting. Not surprisingly, I found much more material for this paper by searching blogs than I did by searching professional journals. “Folksonom*” as a search term in one of the LIS databases turns up one citation (“Metadatering door de massa: Folksonomy,” by Sybilla Poortman and Gerard Bierens), which looks really cool, but unfortunately it’s in Dutch, which I can’t read. Partly, of course, this is because I was writing about stuff so new that it simply hasn’t made it in to professional literature. In fact, the very afternoon at work before I turned the paper in, I read a couple of new things I wanted to add. But I stopped, went to class, turned in the paper, listened to some cool book talks, and so completed my third semester of library school. One more to go!

And now it’s winter break, which I plan to spend a) reading, b) working some extra hours at my dog-walking job, c) sleeping, and d) getting serious about the job hunt. Expect more on the first and last of those in future entries–I’m also planning to a bit more blogging, now that I have a few weeks free from one of my obligations.

back to school

by the numbers
Originally uploaded by newrambler.

update on 9/21: URLs fixed!

I’ve now started all my fall classes, which are a slightly different line-up from when I last posted on the topic. I’m now taking

LIS 721 Library Materials for Children
LIS 745 Searching Electronic Databases
LIS 763 Readers Advisory Services

All told, that makes for 9 hours a week of class, 19.5 hours a week at the library, 8-12 hours a week of dog-walking, and 8 hours a week commuting, not counting time spent schlepping between dogs. And all told that adds up to lots of time spent on various duties and not so much time for blogging, I expect to be checking in periodically.

Also, may I belatedly add that you should check out the most recent stops of the Carnival of the Infosciences:

scheduling and grumbling

I just registered for fall classes at Dominican, or at least I sort of registered. I’m registered for

  • LIS 763 Readers Advisory Services with Roberta Johnson
  • LIS 722 Library Materials for Young Adults with Jeanne Triner

I’m waitlisted for

  • LIS 745 Searching Electronic Databases with Marilyn Lester
  • LIS 748 Collection Management with Karen Brown

Course descriptions are here. I need to end up with three courses, for financial and health insurance reasons. (Oddly enough, I’d also like to take 743, Reference Sources in Business and Economics, but that woud entail dropping one of the other evening classes and driving to Schaumburg. . . anyone want to tell me it’s worth it?)

If this schedule seems a bit schizophrenic, there’s a reason: I’m trying to strike a balance between things that I think would be useful (e.g. Searching Electronic Databases, which I’d just like to know how to do better) and things that I think might be good to have on my transcript (e.g. Library Materials for Young Adults, since I’m considering the whole teen librarianship thing as well as the reference librarian thing).

I wandered over to the LISSA [Library and Information Science Student Association] Blackboard, where a few people have posted requests for information about classes and professors, and one astute reader of the schedule has noted that there are only 5 morning classes (as opposed to 41 evening classes, 8 afternoon classes, and 7 weekend/all day classes) and that two of these are core classes and the other three meet on the same day at the same time. As the writer points out, evening and weekend classes are great for those who work 9-5, but those of us who work evenings and weekends are kind of screwed. I’m lucky in that I only work a few nights a week and that my place of work is understanding and flexible about my schedule. Not everyone, I assume, has that luxury.

Also of note on the LISSA Blackboard is the “LISSA and GSLIS Request and Suggestion Forum”:

LISSA and the GSLIS administration want your suggestions and questions. Please help us make our school better. We can’t do everything you may want, but we would sure like to try, or at least help you make a difference. Students, faculty and administration are welcome to read and post.

Not surprisingly, there are no messages in said forum. LISSA is supposed to be a student forum and an advocate for students: by opening their forums to faculty and administration, they’ve pretty much guaranteed that students aren’t going to feel welcome. It’s often hard to make honest criticisms and suggestions when you know that the people in charge of evaluating you are, or could be, reading.