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On Libraries, Teaching, and Learning…and Learning and Learning – A TTW Guest Post by Darren Ilett

This past semester I had the opportunity to take part in Michael Stephens’s Hyperlinked Library course. The course, especially the readings and discussions on reflective practice, teaching, and learning brought together for me the professional and the personal. A little bit about my background: my previous career was in German Studies, but a couple years ago my contract as an Assistant Professor wasn’t renewed. My wonderful, supportive colleagues said again and again that it was due to budget pressures, but deep down and for quite a while I felt I had failed. What the experience offered me, though, was a chance to reflect on where I had been and where I wanted to go.

From Germanist to Librarian

What drew me to LIS is the emphasis on helping others. I realized while reading the Rubin (2010) textbook for one a core MLIS class that the professions—teaching, librarianship, medicine, etc.—are about service. And several of those are the careers that have appealed to me. Yet something that had always bothered me about German Studies was my perception of its relevance. Certainly, some of my former students use their language and cultural competency skills (or become more open-minded and critical) because of what they learned in German classes. However, I still cannot articulate the purpose of the research I was doing (except, formulated a bit cynically, to get tenure). It was enjoyable and interesting to me, and perhaps a handful of other people read it. But that turned out not to be enough for me. In fact, being laid off brought this reality into relief because I could acknowledge my doubts more directly.

It seems much clearer to me that LIS careers have the potential to change people’s lives for the better and perhaps even to transform them. I see this in my work as a volunteer at the public library, teaching mostly older folks computer skills. An hour of caring, engaged conversation and guided play on the computer can change their mood and attitude and help them to begin overcoming their fear of technology. What matters most is that someone cares about their lives, needs, and problems and will take time to listen. They often tell me that the people in their lives won’t or can’t do that—or that they don’t have anyone they can turn to. Working at the public library is the best part of my week because I can often see its positive impact. And people often return repeatedly so that we get to know one another. This is the sort of work I can pour my heart and life into.

Learning across Disciplines

One aspect of changing careers that has caused me to grieve, however, is the notion that I had wasted over 20 years on a field that is no longer a part of my daily life. However, the readings on teaching and learning in the Hyperlinked Library course showed me the many connections between LIS and language teaching and learning. It has taken me time to understand and believe this, but no learning is wasted time or effort. Here are some connections between the two fields that will inform my work in LIS:

  • Engaging in the practices of a given field leads to real learning. Contrary to traditional approaches, learning (actually, acquiring) a language is not primarily about memorizing grammatical structures or wrapping one’s mouth around strange sounds. Rather, it’s about communication of ideas and feelings among people, no matter how “imperfect.” Proof of this is that speakers of a language usually don’t correct a learner’s errors unless they interfere with comprehension (Shrum & Glisan, 2010). Learners need to use a language, not just learn to analyze it. The same emphasis on real practices applies to LIS education, as Michael points out (Stephens, 2011). We LIS students need to use the actual tools of the profession and engage in dialogues with practicing professionals, not just learn procedures and facts from a textbook. This is also something to keep in mind whenever we encounter teaching situations in our work as LIS professionals.
  • In order for such practice to happen, learning cannot remain within the classroom, nor can communication be restricted to each individual student speaking with the teacher. In language learning, learners need to communicate with a wide variety of people about a range of topics, not just listen to canned dialogues, parrot preset responses back to the teacher, and fill in the blanks of a verb-ending worksheet. Again, Michael addresses this issue (Stephens, 2011) when he talks about LIS students sharing their learning products beyond the classroom on an open platform. It is within a conversation that learning happens.
  • Learning is a lifelong endeavor. People frequently ask me how long it takes to become fluent in a second language. (First of all, what does fluent mean?) My stock answer is “forever” because one is always learning language, even a first language. Continuous learning in the LIS field is crucial as well, especially because of the constantly changing nature of what we do. As Grant and Zeichner (2001) argue so eloquently, if we aren’t reflective in our professional practice, we simply follow inherited practices and unquestioned routines, which can have horrible, oppressive consequences, such as fixating on procedures and forgetting our mission serving people’s needs. Reflective practice means being open to learning new ideas that may upset our longstanding way of doing things.
  • Mistakes are a good thing. Research in language acquisition shows that errors are a sign of learning. A common example is the over application of the -ed ending to mark the past tense in English. Children go through a stage in which they produce forms like “goed” or “eated.” Why? Because they have correctly understood that “-ed” is the marker for the past tense, so they apply it everywhere despite the fact that they hear adults saying “went” and “ateinstead. This proves that children are applying rules, not just repeating what they hear (Lightbown & Spada, 2006). Frequently, errors are evidence of the learning process. Along the same lines, Michael writes (Stephens, 2010, March 2) that the new gaming generation shows us that learning is fraught with errors. Instead of a negative, errors offer rich opportunities for learning. We can impart this attitude to our library members as well. It’s one of the main things I want the folks at the public library to take away from computer instruction sessions with me. I model for them problem-solving strategies when things go wrong. Equally important is the modeling of affect: “If things go wrong, let’s look around for ways to fix it or find someone who can help.” It’s my way of combating the tendency stare at the monitor, afraid of making a mistake. Being open to risk is a crucial component to learning.

So I’m going to take my own advice. Nothing was lost in my career change, and I didn’t fail. In fact, something was gained. Ending one career has enriched my life and helped me find a field I can devote my efforts and heart to.

I know that many folks come to LIS from previous careers and other fields. I wonder what your experiences have been.

References

Grant, C. A., & Zeichner, K. M. (2001). On becoming a reflective teacher. In J. H. Strouse (Ed.), Exploring socio-cultural themes in education: Readings in social foundations (pp. 103-115). New York, NY: Pearson. Retrieved from http://www.wou.edu/~girodm/ foundations/Grant_and_Zeichner.pdf

Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2006). How languages are learned (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Rubin, R. (2010). Foundations of library and information science (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

Shrum, J. L., & Glisan, E. W. (2010). Teacher’s handbook: Contextualized language instruction (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Heinle.

Stephens, M. (2011). Beyond the walled garden: LIS students in an era of participatory culture.

Student Research Journal, 1(2). Retrieved from http://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1067&context=slissrj

Stephens, M. (2010, March 2). The hyperlinked school library: Engage, explore, celebrate [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://tametheweb.com/2010/03/02/the-hyperlinked-school-library-engage-explore-celebrate/

Darren Ilett - Guest PostDarren Ilett is currently in his third semester in the MLIS program at San José State University. At the moment he is enjoying an internship at the Fine Arts and Design Library at the University of New Mexico where he is helping to create online instructional materials. Upon graduation he hopes to work as a subject librarian in an academic context and with a focus on instruction. In his spare time he likes to play Scrabble, read Patricia Highsmith novels, and watch old German movies.

 

 

Office Hours: Listening to student voices

However engaging, thought-provoking, and even polarizing the speakers were at the Future of Academic Libraries Symposium presented by McMaster University and Library Journal, they couldn’t match what five McMaster University students had to say. “Hearing from Our Users: What Students Expect,” moderated by Mike Ridley, CIO and chief librarian at the University of Guelph, offered the most striking, honest, and emotionally charged views of the entire day. It gave symposium participants a glimpse at students’ perceptions and opinions.

Ridley urged the panel to “tell us what we need to hear,” and they did. While all five own a smartphone, not one said they had ever accessed library resources on their device, although all were involved in extracurricular activities, had part-time jobs, and volunteered their time.

Comments from the panel were telling, humorous (“the food at the library sucks”), and eye-opening (“we need more one-on-one interaction with the librarians”), offering much to ponder. Some of the takeaways that resonated for me should directly impact LIS curriculum.

What they said 

Our stuff is hard to use and not very simple to navigate for answers or resources. “Why do so many of you start with Google?” Ridley asked. One concise answer spoke volumes to the crowd: “Efficiency and accessibility – the simplicity. The library website is hard to use. You should not have to teach us how to use the [web]site – it should be obvious.”

student who is very fond of books always starts her research in the stacks. “It’s hard to figure out what database to use and that’s where the disconnect is,” she said.

What we should do 

Information architecture, usability, and emphasis on user experience and design should be included in every LIS student’s program. It’s hard to imagine a professional position that might not include creating content, designing web services for users, or performing some form of instruction related to the site. If a site is difficult to navigate, will students ever want to return to it when the simplicity and “just in time” allure of Google calls?

What they said 

One of the panelists reported he had been unaware of most library services until he took a course in library use. “We’re going to teach you to search…,” the librarian said in class, and he responded with a big “eye roll.” He soon realized how useful that knowledge could be.

Students don’t want noisy messages from the library; they’re a problem. Be in the social spaces, the panelists urged, but “don’t flood us with the same old stuff you always send….”

What we should do 

Marketing and creating a presence that reaches out to students is just as important as having usable sites. Many LIS students take a User Instruction course, but they need a broader view on how to interact with student users via various channels. Such instruction might provide more insight into student behavior as well as tactics for getting the message out about what’s available at the library.

The study explored in “Can We Handle the Truth?” (Office Hours, LJ 1/11) echoed these ideas: we need to move from source-focused to research process – based instruction. And we should find ways to do it at the point of need for students because many are not coming to ask the librarians waiting for them in the library.

What they said 

The age-old confusion about what a librarian does still exists. In fact, when Ridley asked the panel “What defines a professional librarian,” their comments weren’t surprising. One “had no idea” what a librarian was until it was explained to her in the car on the way to the symposium. Another stated what many students, and public library patrons, think as well: “it means everyone in the library to me….”

Ridley followed with, “Do you care if it’s a librarian, or not, helping you with your research?” The consensus was a simple, “No, we just want help,” and frankly librarians are mostly a “last resort.”

More difficult truths 

One panelist asked that librarians “focus on things we want to talk about,” not just on how to search. This goes beyond designing sites and services to something deeper – that human connection forged when we understand each other. How can we reach students, how can we have a tangible impact on their education and their lives, when the disconnect from these articulate, thoughtful young people is so pronounced?

One audience member questioned the group: Were they typical students or high achievers? The panelists agreed they were typical – but even if that’s not the case, it shouldn’t devalue their opinions or any of the opinions our constituents have. We need to hear, understand, and respond to all of these voices. We need a higher level of engagement and understanding of all our users – students, faculty, people.

This post was originally published as “Listening to student voices” in Library Journal. Stephens, M. (2011). Listening to student voices. Library Journal136(11), 44.

Office Hours: Goals of an LIS Educator

Presenting at the Educause Learning Initiatives (ELI) conference last January in Austin, TX, was a seminal moment for me. I found my tribe of like-minded educators and technologists examining what it means to be teaching and creating learning environments in the 21st century. What I didn’t find was too many librarians; roughly seven to eight percent of the 500-plus attendees were librarians. (Note to readers: put this dynamic conference on your radar. We should be there to represent and participate in the conversations.)

Beyond the benefits of finding like-minded thinkers, ELI forced me to articulate my personal goals as an LIS educator. On day one a tweet went up in the conference back channel: “Digital literacies discussion brings the same concept to the surface each year: Sure, you want to use tech but what’s your GOAL?”

That tweet sent me back to work on my upcoming presentation about the technologies I use in teaching at Dominican GSLIS. I spent the night updating my slides to frame what I was doing within a larger context. This exercise helped me clarify my philosophy of LIS education. Some of my goals include:

To prepare LIS students for a decidedly digital future in libraries. With titles like Digital Strategy Librarian, User Experience Librarian, or Strategy Guide, jobs being advertised speak to an evolving skill set that not only includes a solid understanding of the core values of LIS but a strong knowledge of information architecture, online user behavior, and the ability to build networked resources and services. We do our students (and programs) a disservice if they graduate with only a cursory understanding of library tech–emerging and otherwise.

To remember that 20th-century policies don’t always work in 21st-century learning/sharing spaces. I still post library signage on Tame the Web that shows how backward some library policy is. There’s just too much competition from other third places for us to greet our user communities with placards proclaiming No this and No that. Beyond signage, do our user policies extend the library to our constituents in ways that benefit them? Is the library usable? (See Aaron Schmidt’s LJ column, The User Experience, for more on this.)

To promote truth and open communication. For over two years, Michael Casey and I wrote The Transparent Library column in LJ. Transparency–open planning and open communication–should be key in managing our organizations in this post–Web 2.0 world. Institutions bound in secrecy and controlled information flow cannot thrive. New graduates with different mindsets can be change agents–hire them.

To give students environments for exploration and experience. With Dominican GSLIS grad Kyle Jones, I’ve built online communities for each of my classes. I want my students to experience writing on the open web and not behind the firewall of Blackboard. New grads will find few jobs where all of their time will be inside a firewall or hiding in the back of the library. As a service-oriented profession, many of our services have, or will have, an online component. Other jobs/services will take the librarian physically beyond library walls into academic departments or the community.

To immerse students in the spaces and communities where they may work upon graduation. What better place to explore these realms than throughout the curriculum. I applaud the classes I see running in Drupal on the open web or taught via Facebook and Twitter. The tools will change, but the ideas behind them will not. With this comes a chance to reflect on privacy, anonymity, and how best to represent oneself to the professional linked-in world.

To acquaint students with the human connections created by social media. Beyond shiny toys, the tools at our disposal can enhance and augment human relationships. When the technology falls away, we’re left with two or more people having a very human conversation. Anyone can write a blog post touting the library’s next event; it takes some talent to craft a post that prompts users to respond and share. The more we learn what works to engage and enlighten our communities–virtual and physical–the more we can tap into them.

To help students create their own personal learning network. This is key. Actively participating in various channels that create a learning network–like blogs, Twitter, Facebook group–sets them up to be more connected, to garner interviews and that first professional job. Wouldn’t you rather hire someone who understands the ins and outs of the dynamic community of practitioners available to us online–globally?

To learn by doing. The sage on the stage model of lecture no longer flies. Students should explore, play, experiment, and figure things out for themselves. As a teacher, I should serve as a trusty guide, giving them some resources and ideas to spur thinking and set them free. That’s the type of learner we want steering our libraries in the future.

That’s the goal toward which we should also be striving. To prepare all learners/patrons/users for a decidedly digital future.

This post was originally published as “Goals of an LIS Educator” in Library Journal.

Stephens, M. (2010). Goals of an LIS educator. Library Journal, 135(19), 32.

Office Hours: Heretical thoughts

By Michael Stephens

I recently had a phone chat with a valued colleague who runs a university library. He had been working hard to streamline staffing and budgets owing to a financial shortfall, while holding steady to a strategic plan anchored in creating useful information and collaboration spaces for the student body.

I asked the question I always ask when I’m talking to someone who hires new librarians: “What other skills and competencies should a new librarian have?”

His response? “I want risk-takers…innovators…creatives….I don’t want someone who’s afraid to make a move or make a decision without getting permission.”

We chatted longer about skills that are becoming more important, usurping some of our longstanding curricular mainstays.

Strategic thinking and planning

As budgets fall and library use rises. LIS students need a solid foundation in project management and planning. I honestly can’t recall too much devoted to strategic, technology, or long-range planning in my own graduate work. I do remember watching reference books being wheeled into the classroom and explained one by one. That class time would have been better spent developing a mock plan for phasing out part of our print reference and the ins and outs of acquiring, leasing, and paying for online resources.

Programs drawn from schools of business and public administration would be a good fit for the soon-to-be-librarian. Our students need grounding in concepts like decision-making, advocacy, human resources, administration, and management of nonprofits.

As staffing structures change, a newly hired librarian may be called upon to take over departments or projects. Here’s an intriguing assignment for students: give a group a plan halted in midstream, with directions to pick up the pieces and “make it work”–complete with roadblocks from administrators above and front-line staff below.

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In my classes the dreaded group project becomes a real-world example. How do we LIS educators–and others–create pragmatic projects to reinforce the importance of planning?

Creativity and innovation

Thinking and planning are important but so is innovation and creativity. I’ve used Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind in my Intro to LIS class to highlight the importance of right brain thinking. Pink argues that the logically focused left brain, though necessary in professional work, has given way to the more artistic and conceptual. Creative work is what remains after outsourcing and turning repetitive work over to computers.

Pink also stresses the importance of empathy and the power of story to transform products and services. Solutions to common problems can come when librarians tap into their creativity and inventiveness. For example, we could create and deliver library services built on human emotion that add to the ongoing story of a community, as they are doing at the DOK Library’s Agora in Delft, the Netherlands. [For more on DOK, see "What's Your Story?" LJ 9/1/10, p. 26-29.]

Not all students are ready to take this on. Some can only operate within the constraints of their own limited assumptions of what library work is. To conclude last semester, my LIS701 class walked a local labyrinth, as Pink describes, to engage the left brain and free the right to explore new ideas. “Think about your professional practice,” I said before the walk. “What can you do to encourage the heart of your library users?”

I caught up with one of the students from that class, Tara Wood, and asked her what she thought about it. “I think that it is just as easy for students to fall into a certain ‘comfort zone’ as it is for librarians. We get used to coming to class, listening to lectures, writing papers, etc., but these are not always the best methods for learning. At first, we all felt a little silly walking the labyrinth, but by the end we felt differently…. [I felt] a sense of clearing out the ‘junk’ in my mind and being able to focus.”

Focus on the heart

As a teacher, I practice radical trust. I will never look over shoulders and scold a student for peeking at email or the score of the big game, or practice scare tactics to make sure they do the assigned readings. They’re adults. In exploring the idea of fear as a mechanism for learning, Seth Godin writes in Linchpin that instead of “fear-based, test-based battlefields, [classrooms] could so easily be organized to encourage the heretical thought we so badly need.”

What are your heretical thoughts about libraries and LIS education?
Personally, I never give exams and focus instead on writing and personal reflection about the practice of librarianship. The strongest student papers are usually those with a personal slant that tell a story as a means to show comprehension of course material.

I don’t want students to memorize facts. I want them to understand what it means to be in the ultimate service profession. Being a good, innovative, librarian means to take a humanistic stance toward policy, decision-making, and experimentation. It means a focus on the heart.

Originally published in Library Journal December 2010

A Whole New Mind or Using Your Whole Mind: A TTW Guest Post by Terri Artemchik

awholenewmindA Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink explores the capabilities of the brain and spirit in this conceptual age where high touch and high concept aptitudes are gaining serious ground. Emotional intelligence is becoming just as important as IQ due to abundance, outsourcing, and automation. People are now required to use both sides of their brain. L-Directed Thinking pertains to sequential, literal, functional, textual, and analytic thinking. R-Directed Thinking is simultaneous, metaphorical, aesthetic, contextual, and synthetic. No longer can we just be knowledge workers. We must be attuned to the big picture, how things work together, patterns, and above all, the synthesis and meaning of life.

Daniel Pink details six concepts, which he calls The Six Senses, that will help people survive and thrive in this adapting and often uncertain world.

The Six Senses

Design

The British Museum Whether a building, a toilet bowl cleaner, or a website, design affects our day-to-day lives. Pink describes the ideal design as beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging. Function is no longer enough. Librarians have a plethera of design issues to consider every day – interior design of the library, website design, marketing materials design, message design, and instructional design- to name a few. Library websites play a huge role in getting users to use the library resources and take advantage of librarians’ expertise. In many ways, we’re competing with Google. That’s tough competition! The more intuitive and attractive the site is, the better the experience for the library community. Pink’s Portfolio section provides useful activities you can do to increase your design palette, from keeping a design portfolio to help you stay attuned to design that works to the C-R-A-P-ify method which can come in handy when creating promotional materials for libraries.

Story

Pink expresses the concept of story perfectly with this quote, “When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact” (p. 193). Stories live at the library through books, video, and people. The reference desk is often the place where students and community members tell their stories. Listening to peoples’ stories is one of my favorite things about my job and often necessary in order to glean what they need help doing/finding/getting. “I need information on ethics,” for example, usually comes with a story. It’s a librarian’s responsibility to figure out the story.

Symphony

SymphonyThe ability to relate concepts, make patterns, and synthesize embody the symphony aptitude. Relationships are at the core of symphony. Boundary crossers, inventors, and metaphor makers are able to pull ideas together from seemingly unrelated concepts. Librarians must be boundary crossers in their profession. They are often called up to bridge the gap between faculty departments, communities, and concepts. Seeing the big picture comes into play when we think about information literacy. Yes, we want students to know how to search in databases or how to do an advanced Google search, but really, our goal is to make them independent, self-directed lifelong learners. More importantly, our goal is to inspire them to be curious about the world around them. Pink’s Celebrate Your Amateur section revels in the idea that we are all learners, forever. Marcel Wanders writes, “I am best at what I can’t do. It has become my ability to feel strong and confident in these situations. I feel free to move, to listen to my heart, to learn, to act even if that means I will make mistakes” (p. 157). It reminds me of Char Booth’s comment recently in a lecture for our TransTech course, “Stay brave and vulnerable.”

Empathy

The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is paramount in libraries and in life. It ties with the story aptitude in so many ways. Just listening to someone’s story can put you in the position of understanding their perspective. Subtle clues like facial expressions can tell you how someone is feeling- if they’re overwhelmed or confused. In teaching, it’s necessary to read people’s faces to gauge their level of engagement, their comprehension, and their annoyances. A librarian can learn to adapt their sessions based on these reactions. Empathy also comes into play when it comes to workplace relations. Learning to work collaboratively with colleagues takes openness and delicacy. Being open to your colleagues’ perspective can sometimes make all the difference in how you interact.

Play

playPlay is monumental and necessary. It adds a joyfulness and positive spirit to any learning process. Just the fact that it’s called play provides a light-hearted mindset. Introducing play into a library instruction can be freeing for students. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to research. Every topic will lead you in a different direction and having the openness of mind to follow a topic through all the tangents, nooks and crannys, and caveats should be fun – not a chore. Pink mentions laughter as one of the key elements in having a spirit of play and I am a firm believer that trying something new and knowing that you will most likely make a fool of yourself – but everyone else will too – inspires laughter and openness. On the right is an image of me trying flying trapeze last fall, and yes, it was slightly terrifying the first time. But the second and third time, pure excitement and freedom! My friends and I laughed and played during the entire experience. When teaching or learning new things, play can make all the difference in the experience of learning.

Meaning

meaningThe This Emotional Life series on PBS recently took on the topic of Happiness. It relates so well to Pink’s section on Meaning. We are all looking for the key to happiness and it comes from our social relationships – whether that’s parent/child for an infant, friends, colleagues, or partners. We want to feel fulfilled and supported in our lives. So, it seems, relationships are also the key to meaning, in addition to symphony. When a relationship is off at work, at home, in your life, it affects you. Meaning and mindfulness also go hand in hand. Simply being more mindful through labyrinths, through empathy, through perspective from gratitude, by giving yourself the permission to play and rest, dedicating your work, and re-claiming your priorities as Pink suggests, can create a framework for what you want your life to look like. At some point, it will become second nature and you’ll be living the life you seek.

Closing

As the words flow through my mind after writing this, I stop on these. Openness. Mindfulness. Vulnerability. Heart. Relationships. Empathy. Perspective. Life. Going through your life, your career, it is necessary to reflect on yourself, your relationships, your career, and your contribution to society. Even if you lead a small life, like me, you can glean little things every day that serve to enrich your life and fire up both sides of your brain.

 

References

Terri at Westminster Abbey
Terri at Westminster Abbey

Booth, C. (2011) Reflective teaching, effective learning: Instructional literacy for library educators. Chicago: American Library Association.

Pink, D. (2006). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. New York: Riverhead Books.

Terri Rieck Artemchik is an Adjunct Librarian at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois. She is currently enrolled in the Post-Master’s Degree Certificate Program at San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science and received her MLIS from Dominican University in 2011. Terri’s interests include emerging technologies, digital services, information literacy, and Learning 2.0. 

Note from Michael: This is an example of the “Context Book” assignment from #hyperlib.

Office Hours May 2012: Professionalism Matters

By Michael Stephens

As the school year wanes, I’ve spent the last few days grading electronic portfolios for a cadre of SLIS students. The portfolio is part of their culminating experience at San José and serves as a lexicon of learning, detailing experiences and evidence of their mastery of our competencies. It promotes a high degree of self-evaluation by articulating a statement of professional philosophy. Truth be told, both students and practitioners can benefit from careful consideration of what it means to be a professional in libraries in 2012.

A crowded field

In a market where one library job may have 200 applicants, how do you set yourself apart? Demonstrating skills is one way. A well-crafted cover letter outlining pertinent experience and pointers to an e-portfolio or online vita with links to social networking presence and other evidence is a good start. [For sample cover letters that work, see opencoverletters.com, the brainchild of LJ Mover & Shaker Stephen X. Flynn.--Ed.] Focusing on professionalism, foundational values, and service throughout all of these resources can set you apart. No library experience? Seek out an internship or volunteer opportunity to establish some evidence of your own contributions to the field.

Model online behavior

Professionalism matters online just as much as it matters in the physical library or information workplace. As a professor, I can model the characteristics of a professional to my students online via our interactions in class chat, my lectures, blogging, and Twitter. But my students are also learning from those they meet virtually. If you are a professional participating in online conversations, be aware that you are influencing the next wave of librarians even before they graduate.

Quality over quantity

A student recently asked if she should include the number of Twitter followers she has on her résumé as she applied for a technology position. I advised that a carefully worded statement about her experience participating, teaching, and sharing online might make for a better selling point than citing those figures. I reminded her of a blog post from Seth Godin that included this advice for up-and-comers: “There’s no limit now. No limit to how many clicks, readers, followers, and friends you can acquire…. Instead of getting better, you focus obsessively on getting bigger” (ow.ly/aueUA). I urged her to provide substantive details of what she could bring to the job instead of an indication of her reach.

The online world so easily becomes a popularity contest. Folks fall over themselves to get retweeted, liked, linked, and noticed. Sometimes it feels like a weird, online version of high school. I’m more interested in those folks who are working hard, with little notice, day in and day out, to enact change within their communities. Teen librarian Justin Hoenke, a contributor to my blog, Tame the Web, shared a success story with me: one of his teens recently gained U.S. citizenship.

Contributions matter

Lasting contributions can be made online. It does not matter where you write, but you must write professionally and with an eye toward the future.
I still return to seminal blog posts such as Karen Schneider’s “The User Is Not Broken” (ow.ly/aueEZ), as well as other blog posts, LJ articles, and studies that have inspired me. Professional writing, no matter whether it’s on a blog, in a professional journal, or an academic paper, should always be of the highest caliber.

The nature of professional contributions, however, is broader than just mass appeal on blogs or Twitter.

Framing the future

Defining one’s approach to professional contributions should begin in library school. One section of our e-portfolio asks students to summarize how they will contribute to the cultural, economic, educational, and social well-being of their communities. The act of writing this frames students’ future work around the people they will serve.

I recall a writing exercise as part of a staff development day right after I finished my MLS. Looking back, I realize now I was being asked to craft my own professional philosophy. Later, when I moved to LIS education, I was asked to articulate my philosophy of teaching. If you haven’t done an exercise like this, give it a try.

What is your current professional philosophy? Include a focus on who you serve (the public or internal staff), how you will contribute to the purpose of your specific workplace or environment, and how you will continue to learn. Find your professional focus and stick to it, developing it as you go.

Let your actions speak louder than your words, however; professionalism matters, popularity is illusory, fleeting, and short-lived. Your contributions to the field, enhancing service, creating new models to replace outdated practice, quietly working to improve communities, matter most.

2012 May Library Journal

The Road Ahead

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

We’ve been writing this column for more than two years, and though it’s been a wonderful experience, it’s time to move on to other projects and topics. We appreciate the feedback we’ve received on the LJ site, via emails, and in person—including all of those wonderful “please keep this anonymous” stories.” Since April 2007, we’ve seen the rise of Twitter, the closing of libraries, and the burgeoning of social applications, among numerous changes. One constant: an open, flowing conversation is best to involve and engage everyone. In closing this column, we present one more list of suggestions.

Be kind.
Kate Sheehan, Darien Library, CT, told a group at the Computers in Libraries conference that the “chief export of the library is kindness.” That rings so true with us. Michael S. recently suggested performing a “Kindness Audit” of your spaces and services. How user-friendly are your policies and spaces? What message does your signage carry to your clientele? Can you justify limits on services? How do you treat staff? And in an era when people go to libraries for everything from job searches to filing for government assistance, how do we treat them?

Be human.
As stated in The Cluetrain Manifesto, “A human voice sounds human.” Indeed, we’d much rather hear the real story about anything related to your library than a PR message. Monitor the social networks for talk about your services and respond in a true voice, supported by library administration. Managers, if this makes you uncomfortable, get a grip. It’s not going away.

Teach them.
Who knew we’d become teachers in our jobs as librarians? Take every opportunity to teach your patrons how to access collections and get the most out of the library. Ranganathan said it best: “Books are for use.” These days everything in your buildings and online should be as available as possible to all. Don’t have time or resources to do this? Re-allocate. Managers and administrators should spend time on the front lines helping out.

Learn always.
Roy Tennant offered this touchstone: “We are born to learn, but somewhere along the way many of us pick up the idea that we must be taught in order to learn.” —”Strategies for Keeping Current,” LJ 9/15/03.
In the age of Learning 2.0 and the content-rich web, there’s no excuse to fall behind on current practices and emerging trends. Conference budgets are tight, but we can still learn and exchange ideas, locally or online. Launch a learning blog for your staff and accept contributions from all. Record a video at your desk about your recent successes in tough times and share it.

Shine, but be humble. In our “Be Selfish, Promote Service” column, we urged library staff to shine—to do their best helping users and promoting the profession. Those writing blogs and making presentations at conferences should shine, too. The biblioblogosphere and other online venues have allowed many librarians to stand out.

But, shining stars, please be humble and acknowledge your home library and those who have helped you. You are representing the profession to the next wave. They will learn from what you do, what you say, and how you act online and at that vendor reception.

Encourage one another.
Administrators and colleagues should let the stars at your library shine—and everyone can be a star in some way. Celebrate little successes and big ones, outside achievements, and inside accolades. Acknowledge great customer service and rewarding ideas brought to fruition.

We still hear whispered horror stories of recent Movers & Shakers who feel like outcasts at their jobs or who have had to leave for other pastures. Remember “Check Your Ego at the Door”? Administrators, remember to grow your talent, encourage staff, and promote their accomplishments—big and small.

Finally, say yes.
New ideas, new methods, and new services can thrive in a culture of yes. Our column “Turning ‘No’ into ‘Yes'” argued that the culture of perfection can hurt an organization while a culture of experience and curiosity can lead to better things, such as library use, public awareness, and recognition.

Consider the DOK Delft Library and its innovations with Microsoft Surface and user interaction. Its motto “keeping stories, sharing stories, and making stories” should be part of every Transparent Library’s mission.

We hope these columns have helped you toward transparency.

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

September 15, 2009 Library Journal

It’s Fine to Drop Dewey

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

We think it’s good news that the Rangeview Library District, CO, is experimenting in one of its branches with an alternative to Dewey.

MC: I started highlighting Dewey’s failings when I was helping build and open a new branch library. I asked the many contractors and vendors if they used the library.

Many responded that they had gone as kids but that they never continued use into adulthood. Many said they went to the book superstores but had given upon the library. Why? Coffee, collection, and classification.

Today’s busy, working adults want to find what they want, quickly, and be able to have a latté or iced tea while they browse. And Dewey, no matter how good for librarians needing to locate a book fast, is simply not suited to a popular collection intended more for browsing than research.

Missing the big picture
MS: Recently, while visiting a library in a distant city for a meeting, I entered the building with a librarian who was about to check how series titles were cataloged, saying, “So many libraries do it wrong.” Such granularity of concern among some colleagues bothers me. Some commenters on the Rangeview news story can’t understand why more signage placed on top of the Dewey framework wouldn’t fit the bill. Another suggested that the Rangeview people were just making the library “more confusing.” One person noted this approach had been tried in the 1980s, serving browsers well but not folks seeking a particular item.

MC: Does this mean libraries should become bookstores? Absolutely not. We offer services that bookstores simply cannot. Libraries are nonprofit public service organizations. That doesn’t mean we can’t experiment with ways of providing better access to our materials. Compromises include better subject signage and improved shelving layouts. The West Palm Beach Public Library, FL, is trying something like this with a mix of bookstore categories and Dewey classification.

MS: The response from Rangeview director Pam Sandlian Smith (who used to run West Palm Beach) is spot on, because she recognizes customer convenience and the DIY movement. Amen. User-centered self-service and easy-to-access collections should be the order of the day. It pains me to think we still expect people to come to the librarian behind the reference desk—the gatekeeper of all knowledge—to beg for some snippets of information.

Findability issues
MC: Findability can be complicated; to some it means locating things easily while browsing and to others it means finding things precisely after doing a catalog search. The relationship between shelving style and findability has a lot to do with the size of the collection. Smaller collections (perhaps 100,000 volumes or less) are probably better suited to de-Dewey shelving strategies. Improving findability will not take us closer to becoming bookstores nor will it lead to the “commodification” of libraries in general. It will make access to our materials easier for our users to understand, which will improve use, which will result in happier library customers. And this is what we want, right?

Improving service
MS: Each semester, during an intro class unit on organization of information, we discuss these issues. Dewey designed a system that worked well for its time—and way beyond—but it has deficiencies we’ve tried to cover with Band-Aids, like more signage. We listen to Marshall Shore interviewed on NPR about the original project at Maricopa County Library District’s Perry Branch. Then the students share their views and personal experiences—and many echo what Michael mentioned above.

Smith has an answer: “WordThink allows library staff the freedom and creativity to develop collocation relationships that could never happen in Dewey. [It] allows staff to anticipate customers’ inquiries and shelve items that have natural affinities.”

What a perfect duty for librarians: creating connections among materials to inspire users. To me, this naturally pairs readers’ advisory with the foundations of collection management.

I have no idea where these innovations may lead, but I’m glad others are following the initiative at Maricopa. Isn’t focusing on innovation, creative thinking, th edelivery of intuitive user-focused service, and streamlining workflows a bit more important and timely than worrying if the catalog is perfectly correct?

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

July 2009 Library Journal

Be Selfish, Promote Service

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

Now, more than ever we need to deliver our best customer service. No library users should walk away feeling that their questions or needs were not fully addressed. No teen should come to the reference desk only to be met by a sarcastic answer and a hand gesturing them to some distant region of the stacks. No senior should be expected to use our newest technology without being offered a training session.
Is this hard in today’s tighter economic times? Absolutely. Time is at a premium, as is money, but right now you need to be selling yourself.
This isn’t about “the library,” but as in “Reasons for Optimism” {LJ5/15/09, p. 20), it is about you, the librarian, and the individual, making yourself stand out. You need to be the most energetic, multitasking, forward thinking, driven librarian you can because administrators, managers, and your fellow workers (who may be your future bosses) are all watching to see what you’re doing.
Economic hardship and crisis make life difficult in libraries. Budgets are being cut, staffs are being stretched thin, and morale is being tested with every cutback and increased job responsibility. Many staffers respond with complaints and unproductive annoyance.

Smiles and energy.
So what can you do, especially if you’re already busy and working as hard/fast as possible? As silly as it sounds, bring a smile to your tasks. Volunteer for teams and committees. This is a great way to get yourself recognized by administrators and management.
Ask your supervisor if you can cross-train in another department, perhaps filling in for someone on leave or simply helping an understaffed section. This is a great way to grow your big picture understanding of your library.
When, you’re at the desk helping customers, be sure to get out from behind that counter and walk customers to the shelves. Use that time as an opportunity to tell them about new services your library might have. Are there up-coming events you can bring to their attention?
Spend a little time talking to the customers. Find out what they’re looking for in a library. Do they expect to see or find things that you don’t offer? Do they want training or classes in areas your library doesn’t currently provide? Potential new initiatives abound.

You’re a librarian, so read.
Begin reading a bit more about libraries. Cruise the many librarian blogs for new ideas and initiatives. Read through the professional journals to find out what other libraries are doing to address today’s economic challenges. Keep an eye on other organizations for how they might be adapting to deliver quality customer service more efficiently.
Read outside the profession, too. Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us (Portfolio) and David Weinberger’s Everything Is Miscellaneous (Holt) are two favorites that can illuminate your thinking and your work. Scan the best sellers lists. Spot trends in Wired, Fast Company, and other publications. Check out TEDTalks to hear some big thinkers share their insights for free.
Look for ways to improve efficiency and see what you can do to share and implement them. Is there a team or taskforce that accepts ideas for review? Can you talk with your manager? And remember: always couch your ideas constructively, not critically.

No immunity for the boss.
Administrators and managers don’t get off the hook when it comes to standing out in times of crisis. But if you’re the boss (or one of many) and you’re working 60-hour weeks, your staff may have no idea. Take a walk out onto the floor before you leave for home so everyone knows you’re still there. Make it a point to talk to staff about the increased workload, mentioning that you, too, have been pulling extra hours in an effort to keep the library on track. Stop by a branch library while driving home and ask how everyone is doing—facetime is very important.
We don’t work in a for-profit world but rather in public service, nonprofit agencies. We need to serve more people with less because what we do is so darn good and important. Everyone from front-line staff to the top dog needs to understand this. But it is possible to excel during times of sacrifice.
If you can find it within you to embrace this downturn as an opportunity to shine and to grow as a team player, you will find that when better times return, you will be rewarded. Anyone can shine when money and time are in abundance. It takes a positive and progressive individual to stand out when things are difficult.

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

June 15, 2009 Library Journal

Reasons for Optimism

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

These may be tough times, but libraries are more important than ever. We find reasons for optimism and also offer advice to new graduates.

Libraries are going through some difficult times right now. What gives you hope?

MS: Libraries are forging ahead with low-cost technologies and new initiatives. Many nimble librarians are adapting quickly to the current economic climate, offering access to government programs, résumé workshops, and projects centered around saving money. We can and do think on our feet.

MC: I’m encouraged by the number of libraries that offer training classes in various basic skills and services. Community outreach now means instruction in using Word and PowerPoint to put together job application packages, career nights with tutorials on online job search databases, and evening seminars in career-centered social networking.

As my library goes through a strategic planning process, this is an amazing time to be looking ahead. We’re being asked to do more and more with less. We’re using computers for longer cycles and refreshing those computers and making them function in new ways. And we’re creating teams for more innovative services, getting projects off the ground and managed without needing to hire or transfer many staff.

Does this add to the workload? Yes, but staff are stepping up and delivering. They realize that the top performers now are the ones who will be recognized when some of the difficulties pass.
This is not the time to retrench or retreat. Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, reminds us, “Never allow a crisis to go to waste.” For libraries (and librarians, as we’ll discuss below), now is the time to look around and ask ourselves, What could we be doing that we’re not? What additional services could serve some of the increasing numbers in need of assistance?

What should MLS students be doing to make themselves more marketable in this tighter job pool?

MS: I just concluded a section of my favorite class to teach: LIS768 Library 2.0 and Social Networking Technologies. Centered around the concept of participatory service, the class encourages students to experiment, play, and think critically about improving services in a changing world. I close the session with some counsel to students as they head out into the job market.

• Make Issues Opportunities. Look at any of the issues impacting libraries right now, for example, the economy, new converged devices, and digital streaming and downloads. Then look at what innovative thinkers have done regarding such issues. Learn to be such change agents.
• Never Stop Learning. By graduation, our students should have learned, through successes and stumbles, how to address a problem and find solutions via evidence and their own thinking. When one student expressed her excitement at mastering Facebook, I commented, “Now you can take on anything.” The master’s degree is just that, not an end point for librarians’ learning.
• Be Curious. Marketing guru Seth Godin suggests, “To be curious means to explore first.” New grads should emphasize this trait and even add it to their résumés, saying something like, “I’m curious about how libraries and librarians can help change the world, one library user at a time.”
• Focus on the Heart. No matter where they find work, new grads should remember they’re human-focused. Consultant and blogger Karen Schneider reminds us that “the User is the Sun.” If we help people achieve the best they can-satisfying information needs, providing entertainment, enabling social connections-we’re reaching the heart.

MC: It’s difficult to get a foot in the door; I think library administrators are looking to hire people not only with a good philosophical understanding of the role and purpose of libraries but also with a solid working knowledge of customer service. With tight economic times and shrinking budgets, libraries need to know that they’re getting the absolute most for their money.

It’s not enough that you have an MLS and can quote Ranganathan’s five laws. You must understand customer service and be willing to do everything and anything thrown at you, whether it’s shelving, weeding, working the desk, or reading a story to kids. The new keys are versatility and flexibility.

Don’t give the impression that menial tasks are beneath you. It’s not an option to sit at the desk updating your Facebook status while waiting for “real” reference questions. Help where you can, and meet the users’ needs.

Veteran librarians and administrators should be honest and open with new librarians. Far too often, we make it look like everything we try and everything we do is a success. Sometimes, it’s not. We should learn from those efforts and do better. Librarians, especially new ones, need honest encouragement, not quixotic tales of generations past.

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

May 15, 2009 Library Journal