Recently in Libraries Category


I spend way too much of my time every day online.  I am fully aware that it's a problem, but not one that's going away any time soon.  It's gotten even worse lately, as I've been trying to use social media to learn more about archives and archivists, and have been working on networking through Twitter and tumblr (since I'm so terrible at doing it in person.)  I'm not entirely sure about the librarian/archivist community on twitter, but the tumblr community of tumblarians (tumblr+librarians) is vibrant and very friendly.  (I'm libromatic on tumblr, by the way.)  The wonderful thing about tumblr (and Twitter, too) is that if you're shy and nervous about posting a lot when you're not entirely sure you know what you're talking about, reblogging (and retweeting) are completely acceptable ways to share ideas!

If you're not on tumblr already, and you're looking for ways to meet people in the library/archives field, here's how to get started.  After joining the site, find people to follow.  A list of library and librarian tumblrs can be found here; a list of archive and archivist tumblrs can be found here.  I started out following just about everyone, and gradually cut down the list to just the ones I really enjoyed reading.  Library Journal posted a "Tumblarian 101" starter kit that has a lot of good pointers, too.  One thing I love about tumblr is that it is such an image-based site; as librarians we're surrounded by words all the time, so it's a nice change.  (Not that there's anything wrong with text!  But it's definitely a good thing to mix it up once in a while.)

Connecting on social media to people in the field is something almost every professor I've had in GSLIS has mentioned as a great way to make connections - and possibly get a job down the line.  Besides that, it's a wonderful way of sharing knowledge that doesn't cost anything but time.  And, you know, it's also a lot of fun.

Libraries | Technology | leave a comment

Being a Librarian 20 years ago... today

Today I worked in a library system 20 years ago. Ok, that's a lie. I don't wake up every day, hop in my time machine and travel back to the simpler age of the card catalog. Though, if I did have a time machine I would choose a much simpler time with cooler clothes and become friends with Billy Shagspar (see Bill Bryson's biography of a certain Elizabethan playwright). No, today my colleagues and I were mostly immobilized by the World Wide Web (the birthday present it re-gifted to us). Our circulation program, Millennium, just decided not to work. We began running around like chickens with our heads cut off for a good fifteen minutes, calling every supervisor under the sun to no avail. What could be done? Without computers how do we run the library?library-cards-digital-scrapbook-paper.jpg

Technology is not the maker and breaker of libraries these days, although it seems like it. If it were the only thing holding a library together then there would be very little point to getting an MLS degree.  The cooler heads of librarians do prevail over the fickle lords of the technology dance, though I had no idea in my moment of crisis. Librarians think ahead. They have contingency plan after contingency plan in place for just such a moment. They're like four star generals going into battle to serve the patrons to whom they are dedicated. What was in place for me after I talked to the 3rd on-call supervisor was the following: write down the information on a spreadsheet (provided) for all of the books being checked out. That was all: write it down, get all of their information and call the people who fix Millennium.

I don't want to admit that this is why I should strive to pay more attention to the history portions of my classes here at Simmons. I probably can't admit to myself that there is indeed a great deal to learn from our collective past. Having worked in a library from the past today though I can see why it's useful and why I will tell you that I'm on my way to talk to the oldest librarian I can find and pick his or her brain ASAP. Card catalogs: not so ridiculous now.

Libraries | leave a comment

Little Libraries

One of the first things I learned from working in public and special libraries was that even though they all provided more or less the same services to the community they served, there were countless differences in how they functioned and what people even meant when they said "library."  The wonderful thing about libraries is that they don't have to exist in a certain way. They can be the giant buildings with borrowing littlelibrary04.jpgcards and policies, but they can also just be a small shelf of books that people are invited to take and replace as they will, all for free. 

Little Free Libraries are a network of tiny libraries set up on street corners and curated by anyone who wants to put in the work, who have free books that anyone can come along and take, and leave their own books in.  There are 10,000 - 12,000 Little Free Libraries set up around the world, including seven in the Metro Boston area, mostly in Cambridge and Somerville.  They each have their own eclectic selection of books, so they're all worth visiting. littlelibrary01.jpg

Simmons GSLIS has its own Little Library for GSLIS students to borrow from freely.  It's stocked by the PLG (Progressive Librarians Guild) student group, and free for anyone to use.  It's located in the second floor lockers in the Palace Road building - just look for the one with the red and black "Locker Library" label right outside the Tech Lab.  The combination is on the outside, too.  It's a fun way for GSLIS students to share resources with each other, and the collection inside the locker is always changing, so it's worth it to check several times a semester.  

Libraries | leave a comment

Weekend at the Boston Public Library

Sitting right outside of the Copley T stop are two connected buildings that couldn't appear to be more different. The first building is old and scholarly, the type of historic landmark that is almost begging to have its picture taken. Its classic charm makes one feel as if they are about to enter some sort of sacred place, an historic institution where knowledge is both value and shared.  The second building seems to lack the romantic charm of its brother although that does not seem to hamper its popularity amongst the general public. Everyday, a wide range of people pass through this modern building's rotating door, each looking for something different amongst the building's vast collection and other offerings. Although both buildings might appear to be aesthetically different, they are actually one in the same. Together, these two buildings make up the Boston Public Library.

Over this past weekend, I had the pleasure to visit the BPL not once, but TWICE! Starting with Saturday, I took a friend who's lived in the city for the last three years; this was his first time ever stepping inside the BPL. I had to remind him that since he's friends with someone working towards a degree in Library and Information Science, he should expect more library-based adventures in the near future. A self-proclaimed 'non-reader,' I had never expected my friend to enjoy the library as much as he did. In fact, I think he got more into it than I did. Together, we strolled through the McKim Building, also known as the research part of the library. To give you an idea of what the McKim Building looks like, imagine a smaller version of the New York Public Library, complete with beautiful murals and ornate details. And the books! There were so many beautifully old books scattered about the three story building I didn't know where to look first. Of course, all of these antique beauties were kept locked up so all I unfortunately could do was stare longingly at them through old glass. But still, I wasn't going to let such a minor detail interrupt my fun. Together, my friend and I poked our heads into each and every room, most of them containing non-circulating research materials and very studious patrons. Even my non-book loving friend ended up confessing that the BPL was a pretty cool place to check out.

As for my second visit, the two of us spent the bulk of our time exploring the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, which coincidentally is the same place that I work. Currently enrolled in a Master's program at Clark University studying Geographic Information Development and Environment, she thoroughly enjoyed the map center. My eyes might glaze over in awe when I stare at gorgeously old books, but my friend, she nearly swooned at the sheer collection of maps that the Leventhal Map Center has at its disposal. Just to clarify, the map center happens to have in its collection about 200,000 maps and 5,000 atlases, the bulk of which has already been digitized and can easily be accessed online. All you map fan boys and girls should plan a visit to this overlooked gem ASAP. While we did venture over to the Johnson building, which houses the BPL's circulating collection, we did spend most of our time in the map center, flipping through some of the many atlases that can be found in the research center, located right behind the gallery itself.

For those of you who haven't yet had a chance to check out the BPL, I strongly suggest you should. Besides its extensive reference collection, the library frequently offers programs for people of all ages, and often has at least two special exhibits on display.

Boston | Libraries | leave a comment

Papercut Zine Library

papercut01.jpgThe Papercut Zine Library takes up the back corner of Lorem Ipsum Books in Inman Square, Cambridge.

Zines have been around since the rise of punk subculture in the '70s, and continue to thrive as small handwritten or typed booklets today.  There are zines on every topic imaginable, and thousands of new ones produced every year.  I've always loved the personal stories found in most zines, and the time and energy put into making them tends to mean more to me than simply reading a blog entry on the same subject.

The Papercut Zine Library is home to more than 15,000 zines, with new arrivals constantly being added to the collection.  A year's membership costs just $12, and unlimited zines are lent out for 4 weeks. 

Better yet, at least for me, they are always looking for volunteers to help out with cataloging the zines and running the zine library, and that was what really interested me.  I still haven't taken a cataloging class, but what better way to navigate the tricky cataloging rules than to learn by doing?

When I worked at the public library in Vancouver, BC, they had just started a zine collection and were still in the midst of figuring out how best to explain the collection, and zines in general, to the library's patrons.  They now have almost 1,000 zines in their collection in a variety of topics, so it's pretty clear that the collection has been a big success!zines.jpg

Papercut, while the largest public zine library in the Boston area, isn't the only one.  Leslie University's Sherrill Library also has a zine collection that the public may browse (though only Leslie students can borrow), and the Framingham Public Library has a small collection of YA zines. 

The Papercut Zine Library

@Lorem Ipsum Books,

1299 Cambridge St.

Cambridge MA


Libraries | leave a comment

Get in Line for Story Time

 Are you sick of hearing me write about stories? Too bad, friends, because here comes another event too good to pass up. Next Saturday at Boston Public Library in Copley Square, MassMouth will host its 3rd Annual Storytelling event. Why do I get so amped about storytelling? I suppose it's the rush I get when I go on stage and share an experience from my life with hundreds of people. It could also be the looks of surprise on the faces of the kids that come to my story time when I tell them that a WITCH has come to the window. BOO! Mostly, I tell you about these events and the glorious hilarity of it all because when it comes down to, it stories are meant for sharing. I tell this to you as I tell my 6-year olds at storytime: we are storytellers. All of us.  Come to a storytelling event at MassMouth. Stop by Copley next Saturday for a half an hour. In a half an hour you can hear 2 or 3 personal stories. If you go early in the day you can take a workshop and learn to tell your own stories. You don't have to take the storytelling class to be a storyteller (although it is one of the best classes I've taken at GSLIS). All you have to do is stand up and tell: no props, no book to hide behind, just you and your imagination. DSC00192.jpg

Libraries | leave a comment

Call Numbers: Why they are Awesome

For those of you who don't know, when one enters the Simmons GSLIS program, there are a number of core classes that they must complete. Besides an introductory course, LIS 401, there is another core course that they suggest we take in our first semester, LIS 415, Information Organization. Within LIS 415, we learn about the processes behind information organizations, which includes topics like classification, descriptive metadata, and resource types. Whenever I'm asked by my non-library friends to describe this class, I summarize it by saying that, essentially, we are learning all the behind the scene processes that make a library function that way it does. Amongst the variety of things that help ensure that a library isn't one massive chaotic mess, librarians use call numbers to make sure that every book has a place on a given shelf. If you have ever gone to a library to find a book, then I am sure that you are acquainted with call numbers. Without them, it would be like trying to find one specific needle in a stack of a million needles.

Fortunately for us, most, if not all libraries, have some form of call number system. Some libraries use Dewey, others use Library of Congress; a few even use their own personal classification system but at the end of the day, they all do the same thing: they help us find the thing that we are looking for. Now until I took LIS 415, I never gave call numbers a second thought. However, after spending a weekend creating Dewey and Library of Congress call numbers for an assignment, I think they deserve a bit more credit.  Seriously, think about it this way: imagine trying to find a book on cooking French cuisine but you do not have any idea where to start. There is no master plan depicting where cookbooks are shelved and the books aren't organized by author. How in the world are you going to find it? Perhaps through the power of patience and careful reading, you would eventually find it; do enough shelf reading and you can find anything. Thankfully, we don't have to resort to such measures. Thankfully, there are classification systems that provide us with maps to our designated destination.

So the next time you are in a library and trying to find a book, take a moment think about how wonderful it is that we have a string of numbers and letters to act as our guide.

Classes | Libraries | leave a comment


warrior librarian.png

This whole week has had me thinking about competition, about the deep-seeded rivalry that forms for no reason other than loyalty and pride. I mean, let's face it, why do we get so worked up? Most students aren't from Boston who go to school here, so why are there so many heated exchanges at the bar? I think back on the golden years of SNL with Rachel Dratch and Jimmy Fallon as the diehard Sox fans.

So this week and last we saw governors placing food bank bets, the St. Louis Symphony and the BSO brassing off, and other such competitions in defense of their beloved teams. Back to Jimmy Fallon: No, you aaaah! No, you aaaaah!! Nomaaaah Garciapaaaaraaa!!!

So, my question is this: if competition is healthy, and rivalry is about demonstrating loyalty and devotion then where's the rivalry in libraries? Who are the Sharks and the Jets in the ALA? Is it YALSA versus AASL? That would be a fun librarian-off to watch. Ok, it would be a fun competition to watch for me and other librarians who work with young adults. I hear all the time from professors in the know that within divisions of the ALA there are disagreements on a myriad of issues. Catalogers disagree on what schema to use classifying metadata. Librarians disagree on the future of the print book. School librarians disagree on the role of the librarian as a teacher in school. So, I ask again: where's the competition and where can I buy tickets?

Libraries | leave a comment

The Reference Desk


My professor in Literature for the Humanities also happens to be a reference librarian at a large university.  He offered each of the students in my class an opportunity to shadow him for a day. I never pass up such great learning opportunities.

My "typical" day had varied experiences, including a Library Instruction class and a meeting with a new faculty member to discuss how the library could support his research and students, but my favorite part of the day was our shift on the reference desk.   It was an exceptionally busy day at the reference desk, with both walk-ups and email chat questions, and so my professor just looked at me and told me to go to it.  Huh? Me? I appreciated the vote of confidence so without a missing a beat, I jumped right in to be a reference librarian, alongside my professor.  Here I was in an unfamiliar library, suddenly helping a student with an obscure search related to the reproductive systems of pigs and cows.  Yep, former history major turned librarian was helping with pre-veterinary reference questions!  The amazing piece of this experience was how transferrable our librarian powers can be, from one discipline to another. (Okay, they aren't "powers" exactly but it felt that way at the time...) That afternoon, I delved into RefWorks, MLA citations, bovine uteri, sports-enhancing drugs, and Japanese literature. All these walk-up students were on last-minute deadlines, and they needed librarians to connect them with the right resources.  I quickly navigated my way around a university catalog I had never used before, and uttered silent prayers of thanks to the wonderful specialist librarians who had created useful LibGuides for these unfamiliar subjects.  The sweetest piece of the day was when our pre-vet student gave us both a hug - she was that grateful for our help!

Libraries | leave a comment

Okay Google Now...

I need to talk about Google.  Most librarians have a love/hate relationship with Google as it is such a useful tool, the ultimate federated search, but also often perceived to be the biggest threat to our job security.

With my last tuition payment this month (cheers all around!), I celebrated by finally joining the smartphone world.  I opted for a Motorola Droid phone as they have good antennas and I live in the boonies, and I expected to love being able to check email and have a really nice camera with me at all times.  I did not expect to fall in love with its excellent voice recognition software and my ability to ask Google whatever I wanted to know. 

I remember when a computer with far less processing ability than my little phone would literally fill a room, so I am enthralled with the power in this little device.  My favorite feature is "Okay Google, now..." which allows me to ask it anything. 

Gasp!  A librarian who is having an affair with Google.... We librarians need to get over ourselves and applaud any efforts that make information more accessible. We don't need to feel threatened as truth is, Google is a great FIRST step in gathering information, and it is awesome for ready reference questions like "Okay Google long is the Golden Gate Bridge?"  We don't need a master's degree to answer that question now, nor did we in the age of print encyclopedias. The world does, however, need all our librarian skills to conduct useful searches on more in-depth topics, whether on freely available internet sources or through subscription databases or through WorldCat, the world's online catalog (which still gives me goose bumps when I think about it.).

I recently joined a faculty member on a busy reference shift at UMass, where students sought our help when their basic Google searches didn't quite give them what they needed. That's right, they came to us.

The recently posted:

 librarian quote.png

Point taken.  I really don't think we have to worry.

Libraries | People | leave a comment

Banned Book Week

censorship.pngThis year the American Library Association (ALA) has deemed the week of September 22-28 to be Banned Books Week. According to the ALA website:

"Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community -- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types -- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship." (Get more info at:

The lofty goals of this movement are very noble. Censorship is a huge issue that needs to be discussed more openly and this week brings a lot of awareness.  That said, in my opinion, talking about banned books can quickly become very dramatic. The concept of Banned Books Week seems somewhat outdated. Although books are challenged in isolated incidents on a regular basis, the reality of our society is that it is very hard for a title to actually be banned.

My doubts aside, I decided to put up a display at my library to highlight titles that have historically been challenged or banned. Using bright yellow paper I made signs that say "Banned," "Censored," "Challenged," and "Forbidden" and put them in front of books have have ever faced resistance. My goal in selecting titles was to shock patrons by choosing books they might not know had ever been considered controversial. This wound up being much more successful than if I had taken another route and purposely chosen scandalous titles to highlight.  My goal was to make a point about classics being challenged, not to highlight more controversial books.

challenges.pngThe display was much more successful than I had anticipated and actually provoked conversations with patrons! Many people were shocked at some of the titles on display. We discussed how our views have changed over time and the importance of access to books and information, I felt like an important dialogue was started. I'm very pleased that the simple book display went better than expected, bright yellow paper goes a long way!

A coworker and I discussed the possibility of the library hosting a forum or discussion about intellectual freedom and censorship after seeing how interested patrons were in discussing the display. I'm not sure if or when that will happen, but I love that part of my job involves engaging the public to think about censorship.

Libraries | leave a comment

I might sound like your mother, but...


I am old enough to be your mother, so it's okay.

I know you are so busy that the thought of giving your time away might seem near impossible.  Like many of you, I have a job, a home, a family, and of course, school. We are all in different stages of our lives, and so some of us have a cat, others a spouse.  Many of us have kids - ranging from the tiny squirming variety to adult children, and everything in between.  We rent apartments, live with our parents and own homes.  We commute minutes and hours, and we are so tired and busy.  I know what you are thinking. "I don't have time to volunteer."

I got my first library job in recent years by volunteering at the library first, and then working my way up as positions became available. I volunteered in a prison library and found my passion to be a correctional librarian.  But I am revisiting this topic (I have mentioned it in previous blogs...) because Tuesday night, I ran into a young man who had, several months ago, asked me about library school.  He is 24, about the same age as many of you, and he had worked a little in his college library, was living at home with his parents, and struggling with what to do.  My advice to him was "Try out some libraries by volunteering in them.  It makes for good resume lines and it gives you a risk-free opportunity to see what you like.  And it might even land you a great job."

So, he did.  First, he volunteered with me at the public library.  Then he moved on to the archive of a local college.  He really liked the college, he told me, and so when a very part-time (4 hours a week!) position came open, he applied and got the job.  They knew him, liked his work, and he knew he wanted to work there.  A short time later, a sudden staff departure opened up a night circulation position for 20 hours a week, and he got that job.  Now he is getting great experience and saving for library school. Win, win.

So, even if you don't listen to your own mother, consider listening to this mother. Try a library on for size and find your passion.

Archives | Libraries | People | leave a comment

Teaching in the Library


I want to talk about librarians as teachers, and I don't mean librarians in schools.  I mean librarians everywhere.

I have encountered many academic librarians who talk about teachable moments at the reference desk.  I have had many teachable moments in the public library, too, and in the prison library.  Teachable moments come in different varieties, just like patrons.  Some of my recent "students" include: 

  • An older gentleman who reminisces about the old card catalog and hasn't a clue how to search and find on the OPAC.
  • A ten year old girl who wants to know if we have more books "like this," as she holds up her latest read.
  • A teenage boy who is watching Under the Dome on TV and wants to know if we have King's novel on CD...and while he is here, what other Stephen King books do we have?
  • An inmate who wants the next book in a Science fiction series.
  • A middle-aged woman who has gone back to school and wants to learn how to use our databases.
  • A homeschooling mom who needs some guidance on choosing appropriate history curriculum materials.
  • A new colleague who needs to learn how to navigate our website from the administrator side.
  • A retired professor who needs to know if I can get an obscure title on inter-library loan.

All these requests were teachable moments, times when instruction in information literacy had the power to connect a reader with his book at that moment but also in the future.  Taking the time to give instruction, not just answers, is the greatest gift we give our patrons.  Even if you don't plan to work in a school or an academic library, you may find yourself doing instruction at the point of need or creating web tutorials or suddenly giving eReader classes.  I can't say enough about the benefits of the User Instruction class I took over the summer.  I thought I knew how to teach my patrons, but now, using what I learned, I can feel the energy as my patrons become empowered.  Excitement in the library!  Who knew?

Libraries | People | leave a comment

Dissemination of Information

I have a week off between the end of my internship and the start of my full-time job! If you are interested in some of the cool things I found while going through the Cambridge Public Library's old vertical file take a look at the Cambridge History Room Wordpress. And what am I doing with my time off? Reading, of course. And drinking Mayan coffee from the Simmons Café....way too good.

But one of the books that I just finished up is True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society by Farhad Manjoo. Among the many interesting points Mr. Manjoo brought up in his book; this passage really struck me...

"It is a common mistake in the digital age. New technology gives us access to vast new stores of data and tolls with which to understand them. On the Web you can find seemingly any number you want: an instantaneous county breakdown of live election results; a census of illegal immigrants in the United States...Through my local library's Web site, I can get thirty-year-old American public opinion surveys regarding SALT II without ever having to leave the house...All of this data is empowering, certainly. It gives us a peek into fields where only experts once dared to tread. It breaks down barriers. It allows us to check on the elite. Yet at the same time, in the absence of expert comment, we find ourselves drowning in a sea of facts divorced of meaning, trying to keep afloat in all the numbers." (p 112)

I think I've addressed this issue before on this blog but I think it's a very pertinent one. As a library student so many people comment on whether librarians are not going to be needed now because of the internet or make remarks like, "You need a Master's for that?" when they don't understand that the massive influx of information makes librarians and disseminators of information even more needed in this present age.

Manjoo's excerpt above comes from a discussion of a mathematician who took the numbers she found about the 2004 presidental election in Florida and used them to further the hypothesis that the election had been rigged. Although her numerical data was correct she had not placed it into the larger context of the political history of the area, a context that refuted her claim. This happens so often nowadays online when people grab at the first piece of information they see or in our fast-paced world don't even bother to take the time to put the correct information into a larger context. These are skills librarians are taught to cultivate and can pass on to their patrons.

Libraries | leave a comment

Library Lesson Learned IV

As much as I am looking forward to having the perfect library job, I am not quite so naïve to think that such a thing will fall into my lap, especially on my first attempt. In fact, I would argue that no job is perfect - there is always something that renders even one's ideal job just short of utopian. For my current part-time public library job, teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) classes is that something.

Now, before the ESL police come knocking down my door, let me clarify a few things: 1) I fully understand that ESL is a crucial program for an urban library population, 2) I have seen firsthand how much the ESL students appreciate the classes, 3) I think it is fantastic that many ESL programs (including the one at my library) are taught by volunteers, and 4) As a strong candidate for an Introvert of the Year award, talking/teaching for two consecutive hours is not really my thing. It's not you, ESL; it's me.

I dread ESL like a routine visit to the dentist. Every Monday night I hope enough volunteer teachers show up and my services are not needed, but since that rarely ever happens I regularly find myself teaching English. I have been working at the library for ten months now, yet the initial feelings of anxiety and discomfort still haunt me each week I sit down with a group of ESL students.

Despite those initial feelings, ESL (like the dentist) is never that bad. Spending two hours with people from all over the world - Brazil, India, Nepal, El Salvador, Colombia, China, and Haiti, to name a few nationalities - is sometimes frustrating, often interesting, and always rewarding. People come to ESL because they want to improve their lives here in America, and if they walk out the door having learned just one thing, then I did my job. I had no idea that ESL was part of my job description until that first Monday night when volunteers were scarce, but ESL has been a crucial part of my personal and professional development at the library.

Pardon the cliché, but doing things that make one feel uncomfortable or hesitant generally makes for a better person. Over the past ten months, ESL, that dreaded something about my public library job, has forced me to grow and learn about myself in ways that circulation and shelving do not allow. In that sense, it's a blessing that no job is perfect. If I ever think I have the perfect job, I'll know that I am either not being challenged or not trying hard enough.

Jobs | Libraries | leave a comment

Privy to Privacy

I haven't heard much, if any, nitty-gritty library lingo since classes ended in April. In my GSLIS experience, it seems that most of the jargon-y, theoretical stuff happens in the classroom while the more practical, practice-oriented application occurs in outside jobs, internships, or volunteer activities. Anyway, a big news story caught my attention last week not only because of its national ramifications, but also its parallels to things I have learned at GSLIS - right down to the jargon.

Throughout the day last Thursday I followed an article on the New York Times website called "U.S is Secretly Collecting Records of Verizon Calls." I will spare you the details of the article (its title alone provides a succinct synopsis), but the main thing that stood out to me about this news story was the amount of library lingo being thrown around.

A senior Obama administration official was quoted as saying that the government was only collecting the metadata about, not the content of, the phone calls. It is one thing to... Wait, hold on a second. Did someone just use the word "metadata" outside of a library setting? "Metadata" has to be one of the most jargon-y of all library words, and there it is on the front of the New York Times website. GSLIS offers an entire course about metadata, and I'm pretty sure that any GSLIS student can corroborate the importance, implications, and utility of metadata. How dare you try to belittle metadata, senior administration official!'s coverage of this news story mentioned Jim Harper, a communications and privacy expert at the Cato Institute who questioned the practice of subjecting the call metadata to pattern analyses that might help intercept terrorism. Sounds like data mining to me! Data mining is hardly exclusive to libraries, but is something that has been discussed in my technology, reference, and knowledge management classes at GSLIS. Library databases contain people's personal information and check out (as opposed to buying) habits, both of which could be of great value to a number of for-profit companies. Thankfully, libraries are required to keep that information under wraps, except for the potential enactment of a little thing called...

The Patriot Act, which is why the government could legally obtain those phone records. In order to detect and prevent terrorism, federal agents can "ask a court for an order to obtain business records in national security terrorism cases." The issue (for some people, anyway) with "Verizongate" is that there doesn't seem to be much in terms of probable cause for stalking businesses' phone records. The Patriot Act has come up in GSLIS classes because for national security purposes, the US government can demand that a library turn over its records. This may horrify some people who don't want Obama knowing that they read 50 Shades of Grey, but for many it infringes on their fundamental right to present a library card and anonymously check out what they want.

Libraries face privacy questions every day. The questions may be on a smaller scale than this phone records scandal, but the issues are still significant, especially in this digital age. Regarding the importance of privacy in an increasingly digital world, Al Gore tweeted "Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?" To justify the validity of the court orders sanctioned by the Patriot Act, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said "If we don't do it, we're crazy." I don't know what gives, but I do know this: libraries are a safe haven for many different people for many different reasons, and the Patriot Act shouldn't change that.

Libraries | People | leave a comment

The Friends of the Library Book Sale


The majority of my weekend was occupied by the Friends of the Library Book Sale at the library where I work. Most people don't give much thought to library sponsored book sales, other than, "Do I have books to donate?" and "Oh, such great deals to fill (and overfill) my book shelves!"  Like many other public library Friends' groups, our library's Friends raise money for all kinds of programming expenses and museum passes, and we rely heavily on their continued support and generosity, especially in these lean fiscal times.  The most vital piece of the Book Sale that I had, until recently, overlooked was how much this was a community event and what community really means for public libraries.

Here are all the pieces of COMMUNITY that came together to make our Book Sale a great success:

  • Donors - So many members of our community cleaned out their homes and donated great books and movies.
  • Town support - The Firefighters and the Community Church shared their tables with us so we had a great organized space in our beautiful library community room.
  • Boy Scouts - We could not have done it without you!  The town's boy scouts came over the night before to move all the heavy boxes of books into the sale location, and again after the sale to help clean up.
  • Volunteers - Many members of the community showed up to set up tables and organize materials for the sale.  Others helped to man the check-out table and keep things running smoothly the day of the sale.
  • Giving back - My library director has a strong sense of community and made gifts of many items to smaller libraries, and the prison and halfway house where I volunteer.
  • Patrons - I saw regular library patrons and many new faces, of all ages.  A most memorable shopper was about eight years old with a pink purse and a determination to acquire as many Junie B. Jones books as we could find.
  • The Garden Club Plant Swap happened right outside on our lawn at the same time!
  • The Transfer Station - Even my dump run to the "Used Room" with the unsold encyclopedia sets had a sweet sense of community as the transfer station employees helped to unload my car, in the hope that someone will give those encyclopedias a home.

It was a weekend that celebrated the best of a small town community library!

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The Interview


If you have followed my journey from mom to batgirl, you already know that I have committed myself to an unusual career path - correctional librarianship.  A year ago, I did not see this coming.  After my first semester, the possibilities for my library degree seemed endless and in fact, I was a bit worried that I would never narrow down my interests.  Other than motherhood (which was my first calling), I did not expect to experience a vocation, a calling, an overwhelming need to pursue a very specific career.  Then I set foot in a prison library, and my life changed.

The problem with a desire to be a prison librarian is that there aren't that many prisons or opportunities for pre-job experience. The good news about wanting to be a prison librarian is that the skills I acquire in a public library setting are very applicable. On top of that, I am a champion of the benefits all around to volunteering, and my desire to learn everything I could about prison libraries turned into a great interning opportunity in a state prison library. I can now pursue this path with eyes wide open.

This week, I went on my very first interview for a position as a prison librarian.  It doesn't matter how old you get, interviews can be intimidating. A room full of candidates with unknown qualifications and the overriding fear that you didn't anticipate the right questions can make for sweaty palms.

I think/hope that my interview went well, but no matter what the results, here is what I learned:

Do your homework! Learn as much as you can about the place where you are interviewing and the job you are seeking.  I would not have had a good experience if I had not already studied the facility online.  If this had been a public library, a pre-interview visit would have been in order, but being a secure institution, I did not have that luxury.

Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer!  I know I have said this many times before, usually in the context of my being fortunate to fall into my public library position after volunteering there, but my prison library involvement as a volunteer intern made all the difference in this interview experience.  One, I really knew what the job was about, and two, I could discuss relevant issues and ask pertinent questions. I had experience.  My questions were sincere, and their answers mattered to me because I could look at this job opportunity and see how it compared to the good and bad of my internship. 

You might wonder what the interview and job at the end of the rainbow have to do with choosing Simmons GSLIS over some other program.  How is this relevant to you before you apply?  Aren't all MLIS programs the same? I will tell you that my being at Simmons GSLIS was met with respect.  The librarian on the panel also happened to be a Simmons alum so she knew the values of our program.  Beyond that, though, I credit the GSLIS faculty.  On day 1, at Orientation Day, we were all advised to get involved, join professional organizations, volunteer... I took that advice seriously and it has repeatedly proven itself.  I have also been fortunate to have many professors who have encouraged me to pursue my interests, push myself outside of my comfort zone and go forward with vision.  Yes, we learn all the necessary skills to be librarians - the theory and the practice - but it is the GSLIS environment of excellence that drives us to be better, to pursue that dream job, to reach higher than we ever imagined and to do so with confidence.

Jobs | Libraries | leave a comment

What's the name of that book...?


Working in a public library, I often have requests for a book with an unknown title.  These requests come in many varieties.  A few of my favorites are listed below.

  • It has a brown cover, sort of, is about this thick (patron displays width with fingers), and has an Indian on the front.
    • Answer: The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
  • It is blue and was sitting right here on the New Shelf when I saw it about three weeks ago.
    • Answer: Benediction by Kent Haruf
  • I am looking for a book I read as a kid in the 1940s - it had a train and some kids...and they passed messages with the conductor or something...
    • Answer: The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit
  • We listened to an audiobook a while ago - it had some weird clock and something to do with eyes...and there might have been gypsies or something like that...
    • Answer: The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski

I love these kinds of questions. I heard today about another local library that did a whole display called, "I am looking for a book...It has a red cover..." and the library displayed all their red books!

No, I really do love these questions. I love the challenge, and although you'll laugh, I get an adrenaline rush as soon as someone says, "I am looking for a book, but I can't remember what it is called.."  It is such a cool mystery to solve, and patrons are always so thrilled when you find the answer.

How do you find answers to these kinds of questions?  Yes, there is always the Google search...or a or even  But I also recently discovered a great forum on for those times when you need a little help.

In the Fantasy and Science Fiction genres, try this one:

And don't forget the collective librarian brain.  I usually get at least one email per week from another librarian who has posted his/her question on the library listserv. 

Have a book from childhood that you just want to read again but can't remember the title or author?  I promise you there is a librarian out there waiting to be asked!

Libraries | People | leave a comment

Information Overload

The whole world knows what happened in Boston this past week. I don't wish to ruminate on the agonies, rather focus on the lessons. As common with tragedies, there are many. One that I came across, that might seem minor in the scheme of human suffering this week, nevertheless is the one I want to focus on because of its tie-in to library science.

There has been much media coverage over the "social media aspect" of the Boston Marathon Bombing and in the horrific misidentification of the suspects in the New York Post but even before the New York Post coverpage there were thousands of people on Reddit and other websites trying to solve the crime like amateur Sherlock Holmes. I do believe their intentions were good but more and more I saw links to the supposed Twitter of the suspects, their Facebook, statements such as "if this is the same so and so then they worked here" or "if this is the same guy he won this award in the year X".

We've already seen the dangers that come from jumping to such conclusions too rapidly. And it reminded me of lesson from my reference classes at Simmons. Mainly, that the first answer you come across isn't necessarily the right one. You have to be sure of your sources. You have to know how to sift through the useless data. You have to be able to not only find the information but validate it.

People ask all the time, in what they think is a funny way, why one has to go to school to be a librarian or why libraries are still useful in the digital age. This is why. Yes, there is information at our fingertips. There is information overload, in fact. There is more to reference than finding the first answer that pops up in Google. You need to know where to start and also where to stop.

As a law librarian I am reminded of this every day. If I did my job the way the Reddit users approached the Boston Marathon "investigation" I could put the lives of innocent people in jeopardy. I need to be sure the person I am looking up, the article I am seeking by a defendant or an expert witness is really their work and not just another John Smith from L.A. Information may be instant but your judgment cannot be.

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