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Archive for May, 2008

I heard it at CiL 2008 and have heard it talked about on blogs. There seems to be and obsession with DRM (Digital Rights Management) with many librarians and with some of the general public. Since I come from a business background I don’t quite understand all the huff amongst librarians. Following is a reply I made to a post on another blog regarding DRM that kind of encapsulates my current thoughts on the issue:

The above comments offer great insights into the whole libraries and DRM issue, but I have a little bit to add, even though I am a public librarian.

(more…)

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Recently over at ACR Log blog StevenB posted the following:

Most academic librarians go through their careers performing a host of jobs and filling a multitude of functions. From selection to reference to instruction and more we are true workplace multi-taskers. But amidst all these different activities have you ever stopped to ask yourself what’s at the center of it all? What defines you as a librarian? What’s your signature statement?

Now I am not an academic librarian and I have not been a librarian for very long, but I found this thought provoking. I am aspiring to be a reference librarian along with the technology side that takes up most of my day. I say aspire, because I have a long way to go, even though I do work the reference desk several days a week. Even though Steven was addressing academic librarians, I think public librarians should attempt to come up with their own signature statements as well.

I originally came across this idea on the Librarians Matter blog, where I posted my signature. My hope is that my signature is a reflection of my personality, job and professional goals. It serves as guide to the way I approach each and every day. I am sure this will change over time, but currently mine is:

Absorb everything, challenge everything and take the risks needed to get it done and excel.

You might have noticed that I did not include the words, library, librarian or technology in my signature. I hope my signature is more about who I am than what job I do. Can I take this signature with my when I leave the library? I think I can.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts or reading your signatures.

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Feed success

I was part of an interesting conversation the other day that stemmed from a post made by Greg on his blog Open Stacks. For today the most relevant part of his post was this:

The children’s librarian was unable to keep it going as she needed to start gearing up for summer reading.

So I did what any father/librarian would do. I offered to keep it going myself. Well, let me rephrase that. I suggested that the parents who were in attendance might do well to try to keep the momentum going and organize our own weekly storytime at the same time and in the same place as the program that was ending. There seemed to be enough interest for me to pursue it further.

It is what happened to an apparently successful program that concerns me. I do not know all the details of the situation, and never will. The apparent abandoning of a program that was working for another touched on some of my own experiences this week at the library where I work.

In two days, I encountered no less than three “because we have always done it that way” statements. This is apparently much more acceptable/common in the library profession than in the business one I come from. Businesses that stick to this mantra seldom last long and are very vulnerable to “sea changes” within an industry. Successful organizations have a culture that honors tradition and their core mission, while allowing for flexibility.

I know that Greg’s library may have been sort staffed, low on funds or in any one of a dozen other situations that may have precluded the continuation of the program he and his son where enrolled in. My point or maybe challenge is to encourage libraries, especially my own, to feed successful programs the resources and staffing need to keep them going and not end them “just because we have always done it that way.”

Libraries that can honor tradition and be flexible/responsive to the needs of their customers will be successful libraries. Not to sound to flippant, but a lot more “can do” in libraries would be refreshing.

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I recently took an online survey that asked for input from both public and academic libraries. From my view point as a public librarian (although a brand spanking new one) is seemed pretty obvious that the survey was geared towards academic libraries.

Quite a few of the questions on this survey asked about teaching users how to use our resources and what teaching methodologies that we might be using. This got me to thinking about “teaching” in public libraries. Should public libraries “teach?” How much time should be spent “teaching?” Do our customers even want to be taught and if so what? How do we reach them?

Now understand that I am just starting to ask these questions and have not formed any hard answers yet. For me this is an exploration and a request for information. I welcome your thoughts and examples.

While working the reference desk, I have interacted with large numbers of individuals seeking information. I can say that very few of them seemed interested in learning how to find the information themselves. Many times I have offered to show people how to find the information themselves, but only a very few have ever been interested. I am willing to say that my selling skills are perhaps not the best, but I have a gut feeling that this is what most reference librarians in public libraries experience. Can you teach people how to do something that they would rather you do for them?

I have watched many public and private schools take tours of my library and then they are turned loose to do “research.” These tours seem to be mostly composed of here are the books, ask for help. I would not call this teaching. The reference librarians also give a tour of the databases we have and the catalog, if the teacher has allowed time. But to cover dozens of databases in ten minutes does not make it very educational. Is this the kind of teaching we should be doing? I would basically call this giving a tour. But is it also leads me to ask, if we are not given the opportunity to teach, what can we do?

So I see two main hindrances so far: one, people don’t want to learn, they just want the information so they can get on with their lives; two, we often do not have the opportunity to teach. We might not ever actually encounter the individual or we may not have the time, such as the school tours mentioned above. So what are some solutions?

Until there are no more reference librarians to hand out answers and teachers have all the time in the world, the above issues will not go away. What about giving how to use your library classes? This might work, but I have my doubts. Let me know if you have had success doing classes like this in a public library. For me the most interesting opportunity to teach in the public library setting is presented by technology.

I will start this thought process by making a couple of big assumptions. I would guess that users that use our websites or the terminals within the library are technically more savvy, more motivated (most importantly) and more willing to learn if we offer them the opportunity. As we go through our website redesign process I am looking for potential learning opportunities that I can sneak in. Many academic and some public libraries use guides to assist researchers, which is a great first step, but not quite far enough. I am hoping to offer very unobtrusive “learning moments” throughout the website, along with guides, screen casts and video training. I just love to make more work for myself!

So I have a plan to help the people already using library technology become better at it (if they choose to). So what do I do to get others to become more motivated self learners? This is the challenge and what I am still trying to figure out. As for the school tour scenario, I see outreach as the most effective tool we have. We need to get into the classroom before they set foot into the library. Sounds easy? No!

So to answer my own question from the title of this post… Yes, public libraries should teach. It’s the how that we have to figure out and get better at. Feel free to sock it to me!

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It seems I have become embroiled in a debate about marketing librarians and not necessarily marketing heir libraries at the same time. My friend Greg over at Open Stacks recently wrote a blog where he talked about being interest in:

“And please note, my interest is NOT in marketing libraries. There are plenty of other people worrying about that. I’m talking about marketing librarians. I hope to find ways to demonstrate the importance of that distinction to others in our profession. Who’s with me?”

I made several pithy (that’s my opinion) statements that basically disagree with this approach. After a couple ruffled feathers and back and forth’s I made the following statement:

“Nothing I said was against passion, quite t[he] opposite in my view. What I am saying is that if we are not effectively marketing our libraries, then marketing a librarian does not do us much good. Also marketing librarians outside of the context of the library and its’ services does make much sense to me. Perhaps a balance[d] approach is what is most needed.”

I stick to my statement. Libraries are struggling to find their footing in the realm of marketing their services, we do not need to redirect energy into marketing personalities, unless that effort is directly tied into supporting the libraries mission.

Perhaps a little bit of clarification of my perspective on the issue of marketing versus public relations will help other understand where I am coming from. I think what Greg and some of the others are really talking about is librarians becoming active public relations ambassadors and not really marketing. If you are marketing something you are trying to sell it or get people to use it. If you are doing the public relations things, you are trying to get people to think positively about you, to develop goodwill when they think of an individual or institution. Now if librarians are going to “market” themselves, the still need to have a library (academic, public, law, medical, special or corporate) behind them. How else are they going to give any service or have anything to market?

Now is there a time that I could see marketing the profession of librarian itself? Yes.

Now I may be totally off the mark here, but I am trying to understand, so thank you for putting up with me!

From the Marrian-Webster Online Dictionary

librarian

Main Entry: li·brar·i·an Listen to the pronunciation of librarian

Pronunciation: \lī-ˈbrer-ē-ən, –ˈbre-rē-\

Function: noun

Date:1 671

: a specialist in the care or management of a library

li·brar·i·an·ship Listen to the pronunciation of librarianship\-ˌship\ noun

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