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Five Inspirational Librarians from Film and TV

Since the unfortunate passing of Robin Williams, I've come to realize how many of his films in the 1990s defined my childhood. Films like Aladdin, Ms. Doubtfire, Jumanji, Ferngully, Hook, and countless others have and will always hold a special place in my heart. However, in my efforts to both remember Robin Williams for the comedic genius that he was as well as to take a trip down nostalgia way, I got lost somewhere along the way, and what started as a Robin Williams movie marathon turned into an all out nostalgia binge. I'm not exactly sure when I came up with this week's blog post (the last one of the summer if you can believe it?) but its timing could not be any better. What started off as a quest to remember my first real comedic role model slowly morphed into a re-discovery of other characters that inspired me while growing up. And since I'm currently enrolled in a graduate program for library and information science, I thought it would be cool to compile a list of five librarian characters from film and TV that not only sparked my interest in the profession, but also showcased just how awesome being a librarian can be.

1. Marian Paroo from The Music Man: River City's very own 'Marian the Librarian' was really the first time I had ever seen a librarian character in both a film and a musical. Smart, confident, and perhaps the most well-read woman in River City, Marian is clearly very passionate about her love of books and of the library in which she works. Sure, her relationship with conman turned hero, Harold Hill, is a bit unrealistically fast paced, but since it is a musical, I simply overlook that part. At the end of the day, Marian still seemed to be one of the few people in River City who knew how to appreciate good books, even if others considered them to be strange (I'm looking at you Pickalittle Ladies).

2. Wan Shi Tong, aka The Knowledge Spirit from Avatar the Last Airbender: While it is true that I watched the bulk of this series while in high school, that doesn't excuse the fact that a giant, knowledge-seeking owl with a massive library is just simply awesome. Although not technically a librarian, he is a lover of knowledge; his name literally translates to "He who knows ten thousand things". Within his vast library, Wan Shi Tong, who once let humans come and use his library, watches over his collection protectively, fearful of humans who seek to abuse his gathered knowledge and use it towards violence. Although it is a shame that he deems his collection to be too great for the mortal world, it signifies just how highly he values knowledge and his understanding that even those with the best intentions can utilize knowledge for dark purposes. Also, his knowledge seekers/pages are foxes. How cool is that?

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3. Mr. Dewey/the Pagemaster from The Pagemaster: To start things off, Mr. Dewey is played by Christopher Lloyd. That fact alone already ups the awesomeness of this librarian. But that's not all. After Macaulay Culkin's Richard Tyler hits his head on the floor and enters what has to be the coolest animated library ever, he meets the great Pagemaster, who happens to be voiced by Mr. Lloyd as well. The Pagemaster considers himself to be the Keeper of the Books and the Guardian of the Written World. Oddly enough, that rather grand title somewhat roughly fits the job description of a librarian. Hmmm, I wonder if there is a connection between the two???  Even if these two are supposed to be two wholly separate characters, their purpose is still one in the same: to showcase the many adventures and worlds one can find between the pages of a book. These two characters not only showed me as a child the wonders to be had in reading, they also taught me the value of a library card.

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4. Evelyn "Evie" Carnahan from The Mummy: Although I think her actual profession is more along the lines of an archivist, Evie will proudly tell anyone who will listen that she is a librarian. Whether she is an archivist, a librarian, or hybrid of both, Evie not only gets out of the stacks of Cairo's Museum of Antiquities, she also lets her curiosity get the better of her and resurrects the big bad of the series, the mummy himself. Even so, her passion for history has taken her far in life, to both Egypt and later, China. Despite constantly being cast in the position of being a damsel in distress, she gradually becomes more brave over the course of the film series and eventually, can hold her own in battle. Although the first film is really the only one to highlight her profession as a librarian, she is still proves that you can be a librarian but kick butt as well.

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5. Rupert "Ripper" Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Hands down, this is by far the coolest school librarian ever featured in either TV or film. He has saved the world on multiple occasions, vanquished a variety of demons and monsters, rocked an awesome set of tweed suits, and sings, yet still manages to keep his library at Sunnydale High School organized. All joking aside, it's Giles and his eagerness to shift into research librarian mode that helped ensure some of the Buffy gang's earliest victories. While Buffy might be the story of a chosen girl and her constant quest to save the world while going through the drama of life, the show also taught its viewers that sometimes, your greatest asset might just be a musty old book. Even though most characters at one point in the series poked fun at Giles and his library (ok, maybe not Willow), they were still shown appreciating him, his library, and the seemingly endless books he had at his disposal. In a rather strange way, Buffy the Vampire Slayer served as an excellent platform to showcase just how useful a school library and its librarian could really be. Also his reluctance to embrace computer technology in the earliest seasons was both poetic and true.

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And that's it! Can you believe that the summer is just about over? I sure can't. Even so, I'm looking forward to my second year at Simmons and all the amazing things that I am going to learn. I have a feeling that this upcoming semester is going to be a great one!

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New Adventures

This is my last post for GSLIS as I'm graduating in December. I've enjoyed every minute writing for this blog and wish everyone well as they move on to new adventures. As for my journey I will begin this fall as the upper school librarian at Dana Hall school in Wellesley. To read more about my fun escapades check out my blog!
I'm on a school library exchange at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Things are amazing here. Librarians are the luckiest people on the planet. Fact.
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Libraries | People | leave a comment


Cracking the Lock on Open Access Collections

openaccess.jpgIt's no secret that accessibility is a big part of what we do here at GSLIS. Within libraries, museums, archives, and information institutions - many of us act as the tether between information and patrons.

In recent months, a handful of influential institutions across the globe have begun jumping on the Open Access bandwagon - a movement which the Public Library of Science defines as "unrestricted access and unrestricted reuse." A burgeoning topic on the horizon of information science, we as GSLIS students can acquaint ourselves with Open Access collections and create OA projects of our own.

While a number of considerations lay between institutions and the creation of online open access collections, they reveal new opportunities for research, engagement, and scholarship. Once an institution has determined which objects or collections qualify, they start working forward from there to reconfigure the terms applied to the pieces within their OA initiative. For an example of these terms, browse through the specifications stated within the Getty Open Content Program.

While many factors go into the creation of OA collections, we as GSLIS students can begin thinking about how Open Access fits into our ideas as future archivists, librarians, and informations scientists. As an archives concentrator interested in digital collections, open access, and the curation of digital objects, I compiled select objects, news, and resources into a visually charged blog focused around open access collections - just an example of the variety of projects you can get started on today. To see if Open Access collections are an area you would like to explore further - create, connect, and browse through the following resources.

OpenGLAM: "OpenGLAM is an initiative run by the Open Knowledge Foundation that promotes free and open access to digital cultural heritage held by Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums."

Open Glam: Resources http://openglam.org/resources/

Archives | Libraries | leave a comment


Breaking up is just so hard to do

throwing-out-books.jpgThe librarian's best friend and arguably ongoing nemesis is the never-ending task of weeding. To remain on the cutting edge or at least to remain in the realm of the present with your collection it's important to evaluate all of the resources on and off the shelves that the library provides. This means, that in any healthy library there should generally be a project going on that removes, or weeds, outdated items. I am fortunate to work in a very healthy academic library, your very own Beatley Library at Simmons, and I find myself these days withdrawing beautiful, yet ancient, reference books. Let's face it, the future of reference does not lie in the obscure tomes published 50 years ago with the solid leather bindings. However, I stand there in the stacks with The Encyclopedia of Fairies in my hand and I'm sure it's not my imagination that I hear a little cry from within as I place it on the withdrawal cart. These books know where they're going. They know their fate. I assumed they were going to the land where the old books have lots of grass to run around in, playing all day and taking turns reading from their authoritative pages. These concordances of Yeats and Dickens are breaking my heart. They leave these shelves forever and I know there are no quality electronic equivalents. I also know that the only pages that give these books the time of day are the reference students in LIS 407 on their treasure hunts for obscure facts. Night after night I continue to pull from a 30 page list of titles and every time I fill the cart I see the massive furnace the toys from Toy Story 3 faced and think of their gruesome end: stripped bare and recycled. If they're lucky they will be donated to an organization who distributes old library books to underserved populations that will appreciate them. But with shrinking library budgets and the cost of shipping for heavy leather-bound books it's hard to see that future for many of these books. I, of course, enjoy the book art on pinterest and tumblr and I wonder why there aren't more artists mining the weeding projects of libraries. If they can't be read they should at least be immortalized as something stunning that reminds us of the importance of the book. Moral of this story is: I respect the importance of weeding in all libraries but I DO BELIEVE IN FAIRIES! Let's find them a home!

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It Isn't Always Easy Being a Librarian

The experience of throwing out books is perhaps the one part of being a librarian that I do not like. I'm not sure why, but I just find the notion of tossing books away to be kind of sad. Unfortunately for me, this past Friday at my new job working as a library assistant/intern at a law library, my co-workers and I had to toss out a good chunk of the library's collection. Going into the day, I had come in prepared to do some moving, thinking that we were merely going to be moving boxes over to the library's temporary location until the building was finished being renovated. What I did not know was that we would be throwing out books. However, since all these books were outdated and the library could not find any one who would be interested in purchasing them, there was only one solution left. The thing is, in the world of law libraries, things change frequently. Once something is outdated, even if it just under two years old, its most likely going to be useless.

At first, it just felt strange tossing the books into massive recycling bins. I was actually told by my supervisor to just chuck them in, that I didn't need to worry about placing them down gently. Two hours later, a good third of the library's bookshelves were emptied out, an entire dumpster now filled to the brim with law books and other related materials.

"Well that was sure something," I said, my arms extremely sore from all of the heavy lifting and such.

"Yea," a co-worker said, "too bad we have to do this again next week."

I practically fell out of my chair when they said that. We were going to be doing this again?

In school, they prepare us to go out into the world of library and information based institutions and instruct us on how to work with both people and different types of information materials. We learn not only how to properly index and catalog sources, but how to handle them as well. In some classes, we learn the necessary skills to help repair, restore, and preserve materials. What we don't learn (or at least I haven't yet) is to say goodbye when the material is simply no longer needed. To me, books are precious materials. Over the years, I've learned how to treat and handle books with care, to show them the respect that they deserve. Throwing them out into oblivion is not my first instinct when a book is no longer needed, and yet, it is often the only option.

This past Friday, I learned what perhaps others already knew: that being a librarian is not always easy. Even so, in the capacity of a librarian, we often have to get rid of the old to make way for the new. Removing a large amount of books might be a tough reality, but if they removed for the sake of providing necessary improvements to the library, then their removal is at least not in vain. Going into work next week knowing that there are more blue recycling bins waiting to be filled saddens me a bit, but I know that at in the long run, it will all be worth it.

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Visit a New Library

Biblio Burro.jpgI haven't been on a real vacation in over a year, but two weeks ago I unplugged completely and made the drive to Portland, Maine. Portland was everything I wanted it to be and more. I think I really needed to sleep and not look at my email for a stretch.  For anyone who hasn't tried these highly attainable things...you really should. Sleep is luxuriously restorative.  Also, I never fully appreciated how much time I spend on email until I turned off my phone and spent time in the moment in the glorious outdoors. One of my other big takeaways from my mini-break was library tourism. I had never really been aware of this as a conscious act on vacation, but I realize it should be planned into almost any vacation. Check out the local library. See what they do differently. Open your eyes to the way they lay out their space. It's fun to walk into a library that's new to you. You have to experience it from the patron perspective and you can steal some great ideas for your own library. When I say steal I mean borrow, and when I say borrow I mean share in what successful librarians have been doing for centuries. We build off of ideas that are successful. What do you think listservs are for? People share their great ideas and you can grab onto someone's great idea or shelve it for use at a later date.

But getting back to my Portland experience. The Portland Public Library was stunning! From the moment I walked in I was guided past a sunny high ceilinged room filled with café tables and chairs, rows of computers and a circulation/information desk. Beyond that was an area for recent acquisitions (newly released books, audio books and dvds).There was a plethora of shrubbery and greenery and fountain that left the entire space feeling serene. I suppose the moral of this story is. Take some time to visit libraries in your travels. It's inspirational! And when it's not you feel happy that you're taking steps to make your library friendly to the infrequent, but still important library tourist.

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Tumblarians!

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.

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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.  

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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

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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

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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


Rivalries

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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?

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The Reference Desk

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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!

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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 now...how 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 daringlibrarian.com recently posted:

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

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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: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek)

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.

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I might sound like your mother, but...

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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.

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Teaching in the Library

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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?

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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.

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