Yes, We Should Talk About the MLS

It looks like Library Journal’s Editor-in-Chief Michael Kelley spun The Wheel of Perpetual Library Topics and it came up on that pesky graduate school requirement, the Masters in Library Science and its related brethren. “Can We Talk About the MLS?” is an editorial that takes on the notion that all roads to librarianship run through an MLS program, arguing that while it is good venue for learning the underlying theories of librarianship it is a terrible platform for practical and extraordinarily varied skills that span the spectrum of library types and jobs. Furthermore, the degree itself is required hurdle for getting a job in the field. Michael concludes by wondering if this “expensive and unnecessarily exclusionary credential” is stopping the kind of talent we need right now from getting into the field and if other routes (such as apprenticeship) are equally viable options.

My gut reaction is that the MLS is here to stay not because of anything to do with the profession but the way that current higher education is structured. Graduate programs are student loan cash cows allowing these institutions to charge hefty tuitions for a degree that is essential to employment. Our license to practice is their license to print money. Factor in the emerging online programs with their larger class sizes (read: more money), larger class sizes (read: more money), and an overall shift towards adjunct faculty (read: less overhead), it would be a hit to the bottom line to eliminate or weaken these programs. Academic inflation becomes the cherry on top of this expensive educational sundae, one that all of us with MLS degrees have been compelled to eat so that we can practice within the field.

If I asked for comments about less-than-vigorous classes that can be found in MLS programs, I could fill this entry with stories as far as the scroll bar would take me. Personally, I’ve heard about an MLS program teaching an entire semester graduate credit class on (wait for it) Microsoft Office. That’s the punchline to a joke I can’t even conceive since my mind can’t wrap itself the process that would make that possible. I’ve heard similar stories about classes of a dubious nature, but that’s the one I always come back to.

I’ll admit that I look at the MLS program through a very skewed lens. I went from a year in law school to a library science graduate program and they simply don’t compare when it comes to rigor. Law school was running a marathon while the MLS program was a nice scenic 5k run. They have radically different undercurrents; where law school is trying to cull the weak, library science programs are a bit more, uh, inclusive. Perhaps if I hadn’t had that experience I would feel differently about it, but it is what it is.

Now, if you were to hold a gun to my head and ask me to recall the names of the classes I took or you’d shoot, I’d have to say, “Tell my family I love them”. There isn’t much I can connect from the classroom to my work, mainly smatterings of community outreach and reference practices. I wouldn’t categorize them as useless but as not being useful for how I ended up in the library field. Perhaps I am more to blame for my class choices, but I can’t say that all the classes I took were exactly memorable either. However, I know my experience is limited to the program that I attended. I’m sure there are many who would come out to defend their programs.

Back to the editorial, I wonder if there is another viable path to librarianship. Rather than apprenticeship, my thoughts went over to the alternate route certification for teachers. While I don’t pretend to know the nuances on how a program like that would work for librarians, I do feel that if one can be developed it would be a way of attracting the needed talent from other fields into the greater librarian fold. A Master’s requirement can effectively slam the door on someone whereas an alternate route method could keep them moving in our direction. If we want evolution in the field, we can start by not inbreeding when it comes to qualifications.

It seems silly and a bit boorish to demand an MLS out of everyone who deigns to work in the field, especially if they are accomplished outside of it. I know there are prominent people working in libraries right now who do not have an MLS. It even feels a bit ironic to promote inclusiveness of a wide variety of viewpoints as well as services but professionally hold ourselves to a cattle-chute credential requirement.  I understand that there are common standards, practices, and principles that all librarians should be drawing from, but I cannot think that there is only one way to achieve that. In a time of varied learning models and platforms, shouldn’t our professional accreditations expand beyond the MLS?

Forget the Horse, Let Me Tell You About My Awesome Cart

Over the duration of this week, there have been about five different conferences going on in which librarians that I follow on Twitter have been attending. I can’t recall all of the conferences nor all of the hashtags; I can only say that each one of them looks like part of a CAPTCHA. As diligently as the people I follow having been tweeting the choice lines from the presentations they are attending, the tweets that bear phrases like “libraries must” or “librarians must” have set off a slow fuse in me.

On the one hand, I get the points people are making. “Here’s how you can build a makerspace” or a digital media lab or Facebook presence or whatever they have successfully constructed and found community acceptance. It’s nice to see the process, the pitfalls, and the benefits and drawbacks. (Unless they skip over the drawbacks to focus on how awesome their project is.) They are there to show off the final product, not necessarily the journey to that point.

On the other hand, I think more often it is like starting to read a story a few chapters in. I can’t seem to recall many details about how they decided to build whatever it is they are talking about. What was their community research? Did they do any marketing to identify groups within their service community that made their project more likely to succeed? How was the need for a particular service identified? I’ll admit that I’ve heard presentations in which they addresses this as an opener for their talk, but it doesn’t get much stage time.

I’m saying this because it feels like most library innovation oriented talks take the tact of describing their project in detail and then spending time trying to convince the audience that it is a necessary addition to their library. Sure, it sounds great, but I really want to know how the idea got rolling. Personally, I think that’s one of the weakest areas in librarianship right now: approaching and measuring our communities for their needs.

So, when and where are those talks happening? That’s when librarians will be able to build better community relationships so they can host the materials and services that are in demand. Whether it is a makerspace, computer lab, digital media center, or lending out gardening equipment, examination of the genesis of these ideas as it relates to dialogues between librarians and their communities is the bigger issue here. I can read someone’s conference handouts on how to do it, but if I can’t figure out how to reach out and get the feedback that I need to start me down the path, then I’m stuck.

You can build it, but you should damn well make sure that they do come.

Send Me the Check That You Would Have Sent to Consultants This Year

(Note: This is a column that I wrote for American Libraries that they passed on using. After reading today’s Gavia Libraria (aka the Library Loon) post, I thought it would be a good time to share it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I made one edit so that it works for the blog. –A)

Brace yourself for I am about to perform an amazing trick: I will divine your library’s future.

Please place your hand on the [screen] and relax. Breathe in through your nose, breathe out with your mouth, and open up your mind.

Aha! Already I can feel the psychic vibrations as they find their way to my mind and open up the portal to your future. For reassurance, believe me when I tell you that I now have placed two fingers to my temple while squinting or closing my eyes, whichever is more impressive. A vision is now forming!

I’m sensing something about money, either not having enough of it or not certain how to spend it.

What, too easy? Let’s delve further.

You have a good rapport with the people who come to your library, but something is missing. There is a need, a want, a desire that your members have expressed but you’re worried. You’re not completely certain how to do it. The picture is now becoming clearer!

I’m sensing that it has to do with something mobile. They want to access the library from wherever they are. You must fashion a website that works on mobile devices and an app to allow them to access their account wherever and whenever they want. The tools are there, just build it!

No, wait! They want a place to build things that uses fancy futuristic machinery. Either lend them the tools while hiring the experts to teach them or perhaps get one of those 3D printers that will make their dreams become a reality! The desire to design is only matched by the longing to hold their creations in their hands!

Hold on, that’s not a toy I see them holding, but what looks like a tablet or eReader. Yes! They want to be able to download books, music, and other stuff from the library. You must work to get the rights to these materials as well as create a platform that will make it easy for them to use. Right now they are trapped in a murky place where the instructions aren’t so straightforward.

The vision is getting cloudy! Ah, now that makes sense! They really want to learn about the cloud. Their confusion arises from hearing about how they can do all kinds of things online. Computer classes for your members and technology training for staff should do the trick. Reach out to them on the social media platforms that they frequent and astound them with details of what they could learn!

But, one moment, there is something blocking this outcome. I see it now! They can’t even get to the cloud because they don’t have a computer at home or there are no acceptable ISPs in the area. They have come to you at the library to find the access that they seek! They want to walk through your doors and be assured that the internet world has not left them behind!

Wait, perhaps not. They have come to the library not for the computers, but for the people and programs. Yes! Your staff, your programs, and the chance to see their neighbors face-to-face have proven to be an irresistible lure in this digital age. They seek stimulation of the mind, the human contact, and a need for “third place” in their lives. Alas, the vision is fading…

And there you have it. I have divined your library’s future.

Admit it. You are impressed. Sure, I was a bit all over the place for a while there, but I still nailed it. Given how many people were trying to simultaneously reach me psychically, I might have gotten some of the signals crossed. But I saw your future in there.

You are most welcome just so as long as your check is in the mail.

(Everything But) National Library Week

If you asked me what library related activities went on this week, I’d be hard pressed to give an answer. The Digital Public Library of America launched on Thursday to much social media fanfare. The Circulating Idea podcast Kickstarter was also launched and within two days was fully funded. After those two events, I can’t really think of anything else significant this week. Something I read in one of the regular columns in Library Journal made me want to punch the screen but that’s nothing new either. No, it wasn’t the Annoyed Librarian because both of their columns were rather banal this week. No, it wasn’t John Berry’s piece either even if it lead to an epic ALA Think Tank thread.

No, what I can tell you about this week is that it was bookended by the bombing in Boston as well as the (currently unfolding) hunt for the bombers. It was a fertilizer factory in Texas blowing up, well, most of the town (This is a map of the blast area with landmarks via Reddit. Skip it if you don’t want to be additionally horrified.) Congress dropped the ball on passing a gun purchase background check amendment to a bill despite widespread support. Chicago got all manner of weather, suggesting that the Bermuda Triangle may now run through Hinsdale. The Gosnell “House of Horrors” trial continued to unfold in ways that would give Stephen King the willies. Iran experienced a scary giant earthquake. I’m stopping here because, unfortunately, I really could go on.

Without a doubt, it has been a rough week. In an age of instant information transmission, it’s hard not to avoid breaking stories which bring all of the incomplete uncertainty with it. Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook can send rumors, speculation, and inaccuracies around the globe in moments. To be fair, it can also send corrections, confirmations, and official accounts in the same time frame as well. But doesn’t lessen the resulting moments of confusion.

The human brain doesn’t like information gaps so it tries to fill those with anything it has on hand, be it real or imagined. Rationalizations play Monday Morning Quarterback to our thoughts as a way of finding reconciliation and closure using causation and correlation that doesn’t necessarily follow through. Elsewhere in the brain, our primitive risk calculating system (best thought of as “the gut”) makes risk calculations that are based on emotional factors, not logic. This can push aside our better judgments in favor of immediate action, whatever that may be.

It’s hard to sit tight and wait for events to unfold so that a bigger clearer picture emerges. Like many people, I want to know what is going on and a lack of larger perspective stymies that. I’m going to try to step away from the computer for a bit to allow things to develop, but I know I’ll have one eye on the screen as I pass it. I try to keep in mind that, as rough as this week has been, this too shall pass. We’ll come out on the other side of all these things a bit older, a bit wiser, and hopefully a bit stronger. It’s just a matter of getting there.

In the meantime, be kind and try to take care of one another.

Support the Circulating Ideas Kickstarter

Yesterday, fellow librarian Steve Thomas launched a Kickstarter campaign to help enhance and expand his librarian podcast, Circulating Ideas. He wants to get some new equipment, better audio software, and compensate the lovely musician who composed the podcast theme music. As Steve does this on his own time, his love for the profession, and his desire to do Fresh Air-like interviews, it’s a pretty damn worthy cause in my opinion. As of the moment of posting, he is about $1,500 towards his $2,000 goal with twenty nine days to go. The first day went really, really well, but it’s still not across the goal line. So, please take a moment to read about the Kickstarter campaign, check out the podcast site (maybe listen to a few either through the site or iTunes), and consider adding your donation. It’s a pleasure to support this kind of work on behalf of the librarian profession and I’ve gladly given to the cause.

Full disclosure: I have appeared as a guest on the podcast in the past. I was also one of the many interviews that Steve did at PLA 2012.

Simon & Schuster Joins the Library eBook Lending Ranks

With an announcement today, Simon & Schuster became the last remaining major publisher to allow for library eBook lending. S&S has started a pilot program with the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Public Library. There isn’t much that hasn’t been done before as far as the terms go: one copy, one person; titles have to be repurchased after a year; the full catalog is available including new titles which are available for purchase at the time of publication. Although, there is actually one very different detail:

As part of this pilot, The New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Library are offering patrons the option to purchase a copy of Simon & Schuster eBooks from within the libraries’ online portals. Since the libraries will receive a share of the proceeds from each sale, this new service offers patrons the opportunity to support their local library, particularly for popular new titles with long waiting lists.

While I’m curious to see how this little twist plays out, I’m still have a mixed reaction to this whole deal. First, it’s an interesting swipe at Amazon in denying them a sale, but it also takes a swing at Barnes & Noble. It may be a well calculated gamble as libraries do not need to make the sale to survive or deal with razor thin margins. Barnes & Noble could belly up in the near future and the placement of books in a library portal gives some maneuvering room for getting books to market. I’d be curious to see how the public prices are set as well as how competitive they would be in the eBook market.

Second, perpetual stewardship of eBook titles is still a long ways off. In bringing the last library eBook lending holdouts to the table, one or two years have been the negotiated terms for service. There doesn’t seem to be any movement towards any deal that includes longer or perpetual terms. (Nevermind anything that resembles the term “ownership”.) This shifts literature archiving or preservation away from libraries and back to the publishing groups. As these titles only require server space, they can be kept as a backlist indefinitely. (Or, as I figure, as indefinitely as someone as a publishing executive allows it.) Not exactly a comforting thought, but neither is it upsetting. The books that stand the test of time will be saved for their profit while others will just fade away like wiped hard drives. Those decisions will be made in the years to come.

Third, I’m always leery about the concept of a public library acting as a retailer. While I think it would be a wonderful boon to offer our library members the ability to purchase material, I have concerns that fall into two groups. The first is the public library as a government entity acting in the retail market as a competitor. I feel that it’s an unfair advantage on private business since we are funded by tax money, not investors or profits. To me it feels like as an intrusion on a market that is better handled by the private sector. The second is that use of tax money to seed the purchase of eBooks that could be sold. My concern is that this sale benefit becoming an undue influence on the purchase of eBooks that can turn a sale versus offering a wide variety of material. Granted, the percentage of the sale that the library gets remains to be seen, but it’s still money that we didn’t have a moment ago. Also, how would this change expectations about the library and the materials that we offer?

Even with these reservations, I still want to see the pilot go forward. I want to follow how this experiment turns out as well as the options and lessons that come out of it. There is still much unsettled, so much to see, and who knows what the technology or market will take us in the next year. It’s hard to wait and see, but there are no better options right now.


I really wanted to give a library member a hug last week. It wasn’t because they had done something awesome for the library, but they were in pain. It was a deep personal pain, far detached from anything at the library. I wanted to put my arm around them, tell them that things were going to be alright, and give offer them comfort in their time of sadness.

I wouldn’t have simply walked over and hugged them (I know how people can be about being touched), but I really wished I had offered them a hug. Even if they had turned it down, at least I could say that I offered it and it was declined. I wouldn’t take it personally but it’s better than feeling regret at not offering them a hug. The impulse comes out of the larger sense of empathy that I feel when it comes to helping people who come to the library. Sometimes a helping hand is the most literal one that offers comfort in a time of emotional stress in a way that no book, database, or service can offer.

I think librarians have a common connection with law enforcement at times; we do not see people at their best. Librarians can see people at their most stressed, most frazzled, and most in need of help. I’ve seen it people typing up resumes desperately looking for work, frustrated by online job applications, and looking for solutions that will get them to the next payday, the next grocery trip, and the next heating bill. I’ve seen people toiling with taxes, fighting with banks and insurance companies, and trying to fit five hours of errands into a three hour window. (I would imagine my academic and school peers see their share as students of all ages struggle with their grades and assignments.) I empathize with each and every one of them and try my best to ease their day. But, that day last week, there was nothing I could do to help someone who is going through such a rough personal issue. A hug was all I could think of, but I couldn’t even bring myself to articulate the simple question (“Would you like a hug?”).

The thoughts of policy went through my head with a customer conduct manual that repeats the line, “Do not touch the patron” through the different scenarios. This line is found in the negative interactions outlined in which the patrons are drunk, being unruly, or otherwise abusive. It’s a pretty good guideline for those kinds of incidents, but it infects other thoughts as well. Would this be crossing a line even if the other person was consenting? Is there some county attorney who would give me trouble for this, even with permission?

To me, this should be easy issue: offer, then act accordingly. Hug or no hug, either way works, and life moves on. But as a white male, over six feet in height and the weight to match, and has been called “intimidating” in the past, it presents its own quagmires. These factors do not work in my favor. The horror stories of sexual harassment accusations have been played time over time through friends and the news. A long time ago, I adopted a “no touching anybody ever” professional policy to safeguard against even the most remote chance of an accusation. I wasn’t exactly a touchy feely person before (save for loved ones and close friends), but this made the personal space barrier even more rigid and inflexible. Even then, it sometimes makes me feel lonely and aloof.

As I was putting this post together in my head, I thought about my friends and librarian friends online who deal with the other end of this question: the unwanted contact. Creeps, jerks, and other obnoxious asshats who find an excuse to initiate touching, whether it is a seemingly casual brush-by or full-on grope. It saddens me that some of my amazing colleagues have to be cautious and aware of their surroundings anytime they are in the public. (I know this goes into deeper societal and cultural issues, but I’m not heading into that territory for this post. I just want to take a moment to acknowledge that they exist and I’m aware of them.) This bothers me to the point where I lose the words to describe my burning, blinding rage. It invokes dark fantasies of vigilante justice involving hammering fingers and crushing larynxes. It angers me that anyone (librarian or not) has to put up this kind of bullshit behavior. If there was an occasion for God to use lightning bolts to smite people right where they stand, this would be one of my top choices.

Over the weekend, I’ve thought about that encounter. I believe it is one in which that I’m not a librarian and they aren’t a library member, but two human beings in the same place where one is going through a tough, emotional crisis. The empathetic side of me told me that the ‘right’ thing to do was to offer comfort by way of a hug. The logic and reasoning side only saw the potential dangers in that situation. In this round, fear won over compassion. And I wish it hadn’t. I really wanted to reach out because I know how even the gesture can make the difference in someone’s life. We are in a business of small acts that lead to bigger and life-changing results. I felt that this was one of those moments and I let it slip away. I just hope I don’t fail to act upon what I think is right the next time.

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

Every now and again, a library member will approach me at the reference desk and preface their inquiry with the phrase, “I have a stupid question”. My standard response comes from Lewis Black (“I will be the judge of that”) which I sometimes manage not to say out loud. Despite their declaration to the contrary, I’ve never heard a stupid question. I’ve heard ones of genuine curiosity, easily rectified inattentive reasoning, and momentary mind farts, but nothing that arises to the level of thinking, “I question the integrity of the oxygen supply to your brain”.

A few months ago, I remember teaching one of my computer classes . As I was greeting people and checking off registered name, a person entering the computer center leaned in and said in a low voice, “I’m the stupid one.” I made a joke to pass it off, but they were insistent. “No, really, I’m not smart.” Oh man. I haven’t uttered one word of instruction and this person has already charted a course that leads towards a failing outcome. How do you overcome that?

I made a point in telling them that, in seeking help to learn more about computers, they’ve already made one smart move. That there were people who had already given up on themselves without even trying to find someone to teach them. Also that I was also there to help them along, to guide them through, and to answer the questions along the way. They changed their tune, a mixture of being taken aback by my bluntness and embarrassment that I would not let go of the point, and by the time they left the class they thanked me for giving them the confidence to use a computer.

It’s this last key point (confidence) that I work to instill when I’m teaching my computer classes. Although it is not an original discovery in any way, shape, or form, but I find that attitude can be equally if not more important than knowledge in the classroom. I could ramble on about how a computer works, the features of Microsoft Word, or the privacy settings of Facebook for hours on end, but if my students don’t have the courage and confidence to use the mouse or type on the keyboard, it’s wasted breath. So many of my students (nearly all older people) come in frightened that they could press the wrong key or click on the wrong icon and the whole computer will crash, blow up, run off with their spouse, and spend their retirement money in Bora Bora. The main lesson I try to impart is approach this as an adventure, that there aren’t any bad screens only unfamiliar ones, and that everything can be fixed (even if requires a family member or friend to help them out). 

I know I’m going to get pushback on this, but there really isn’t anything that is a stupid question in our business. We are there to provide answers to questions, even if they seem rote, basic, or just plain lazy. There is a keen difference between these behaviors and being completely mentally dull. Given the expansive definition of the term itself, some nuance and context are required to figure out what the real issue is (which, I should note, doesn’t rule out the librarian as being out of line in this equation either).

In that interaction, whether it is in the computer lab or the reference desk or out on the floor, the most important thing that we can give our library members is the confidence to ask the next question. While our answer to their inquiry can be overturned by later data, the attitude of the interaction outcome will leave a longer lasting impression. Overall, when we judge an inquiry as stupid (read: beneath us), it can be a dangerous term in which to frame the people who walk through the door seeking our help.

Blind Mellendrama

Mellendrama is a hashtag on Twitter to describe what can only be termed as the ongoing saga of Edwin Mellen Press (EMP) versus, well, anyone who has anything remotely unkind to say online, protections of free speech or well established case law supporting opinion articles be damned. The other post title I came up with was “John Cougar Mellendrama”, but in Blind Melon’s only hit song, “No Rain” (a staple of my generation’s high school music and famous for its dancing Bee Girl video), there’s a lyric I can’t resist for this post.

All I can say is that my life is pretty plain,
Ya don’t like my point of view,
Ya think that I’m insane.
It’s not sane, it’s not sane.

I’ll just leave it at that.

If you want the short version of what has happened, avail yourself of this Canadian Broadcasting article that briefly outlines the lawsuit by Edwin Mellon Press against McMaster University and librarian Dale Askey over a less-than-kind blog entry Askey wrote in 2010. (They dropped the suit against the university, but not against Askey.) If you like a detailed timeline loaded with links, check out John Dupuis’s rapidly expanding post which chronicles the whole affair. And if you want to see someone have a field day with this situation, then TechDirt is the place to go. Really, they dissected it and it’s a joy to read.

The latest salvo is a ‘cease and desist’ letter sent to Scholarly Kitchen, the blog of the Society for Scholarly Publishing. EMP actually sent two letters; one for a blog post and another for a comment to that blog post. Scholarly Kitchen posted the letters they received; here’s the one for the blog post itself.



(I did not ask permission to repost these images, so SK give a yell if you want me to take them down. My apologies in advance if that’s the case.)

In case you’re wondering what kind of horrible things were written, the magic of the internet allows you to go back in time and see it for yourself thanks to the Internet Archive. Furthermore, the comment in question is #5. Go on, give it a read. Meanwhile, the trackbacks to the current Scholarly Kitchen post continue to grow as the word gets out regarding EMP’s latest move.

This activity comes in sharp relief to a statement within the press release in which EMP drops their suit against McMaster University on March 4th.

“The financial pressure of the social media campaign and pressure on authors is severe. EMP is a small company. Therefore must choose to focus its resources on its business and serving its authors.”

Pair this with a statement given to The Chronicle of Higher Education on the week of March 29th, three weeks later.

Mr. Richardson could not be reached for comment on Friday, but in an interview this week he told The Chronicle that his lawsuit against Mr. Askey would not be the last in his fight to protect his reputation as well as the reputation of the press and its authors.

“It’s going to develop and develop,” Mr. Richardson said. “It’s a little bit of a cyclone, and it isn’t quite clear where the eye of the cyclone is going to form. But the eye could be over the practice of people using the social media to anonymously bully other people.”

This would suggest to me that this is just the tip of the cease & desist/ libel/defamatory legal action iceberg. While you might be thinking about how non-anonymous the blog authors have been so far in this saga, their first (and thus far, only) newsletter dated October 2012 suggests that where they are headed. (You can read their newsletter from their website by mousing over the surprisingly named Newsletter tab and clicking on Current Newsletter link.) This bit was at the bottom of the publication.


The first link goes to a 2007 post with four comments on it. My guess is the “anonymous bullies” are the posters being referenced to with the second link that takes you to The Chronicle’s forum pages. (I found it much faster to find the forums they were referencing by Googling “mellen press reputation”. Seriously, it’s the top two results. But you can search for “Edwin Mellen Press” in The Chronicle’s forum search box and get the same results.)

There are multiple threads on the press, some of which date back to 2007. Posters on the forums have usernames, which is the next thing to anonymous when it comes to message boards. Is this where the next series of letters and lawsuits is headed? I would guess yes on the basis of the information available right now.

This story isn’t without a twist, however. Roy Tennant posted the discovery of Edwin Mellen Press by way of a pseudonym registering,,, and back between October 2011 and May 2012. A Google Document put together by Dave Pattern also shows that the Press had registered “” addresses as well back in March 2012. I can’t even fathom a guess as to why either was done. Nope, can’t think of anything.

Overall, it’s been commented that this whole story reads like a case study of the Streisand Effect. In trying to squash the negative press, Edwin Mellen Press has elevated it to a front and center issue that can’t be ignored by librarians, academics, and other publishing entities. To me, the most logical series of events on where it goes from here is this: less reviewers will be interested in evaluating their titles for fear of any kind of reprisal. Less reviews means less opportunities for publicity and exposure in journals and magazines that people use for collection or curriculum development. Less opportunities mean less sales as people never hear or read about the book. Eventually, it’s the end of the business.

I have to admit that this is the kind of drama that I like to watch unfold on the public stage. First, it doesn’t involve me (although since I linked to the offending posts, who knows if there is a letter that will fly my way. I doubt it but that way this case is shaping up it is not out of the realm of possibility.) Second, it can only get weirder from here on out unless they drop their lawsuits and tactics. The academic librarian community is only so large and they work with faculty all the time when it comes to adding titles to the collection. Wayne Bivens-Tatum gives the best spin on this possibly:

I wonder what damages a publisher the most: someone writing a critical blog post, or a series of lawsuits and threatened lawsuits that target a number of academic librarians, which then go public and anger the very librarians who buy (or now maybe won’t buy) so many of the publisher’s books? I guess we’ll find out.

There is a undeniable ripple effect that is emanating out of this and only Edwin Mellen Press can control how large the waves get. At the rate these waves are increasing and intensifying, the only thing I can say is, “Surf’s up.”

Tips for Blogging in Libraryland

As this month marks my blog’s four year anniversary, I thought about the lessons that I’ve learned since I started writing here. For those thinking about adding their voice to the online librarian community, there are certainly no shortage of ways in which to participate. Over the weekend, I jotted down some of those musings that I think will help those starting out or thinking starting a blog. So, without further ado, here we go.

Pick a Name

And for the love of God, pick a better one than mine. While I have grown to truly love the name over time, it really started out as a clever play on words but still doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. A compliment from a friend encouraged me to keep it but, really, take some time in choosing a name. Bonnie Powers was recently writing about her blog name love/hate (her blog’s name is Bring Your Noise) so it got me re-thinking about my own title.

In a quick non-scientific survey of librarian blog titles, a good number of them fall into the "[noun] librarian”, “[adjective] librarian”, or “[adverb] librarian” category. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that (although there are some doozies out there) and there are other library related names (think “biblio”, “libris”, and anything book related), but just take some time to pick out a name. Also, perform some due diligence by doing a quick Google search for any names you want to try out to see if anyone else has used it.

Whatever you decide on, just make sure it is an accurate reflection of you. You will be telling a lot of people the blog title name so you do keep that in mind as well. You may be stuck with it for a very long time.

Pick a Blogging Platform

Do your homework and consider your blogging platform options. Sites like Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, Livejournal (do people still even use that anymore?), and Typepad offer an array of options both paid and free. You want to find a blogging platform that meets your needs.

For myself, I use a free WordPress site (obviously) and write my blog posts in Windows Live Writer (a good solid blogging program and less buggy than the WordPress browser interface). It has served me well for these four years and I will continue to use it for the foreseeable future.

If you decide to host your blog on your own website, that does change some of your options here but doing your homework will find you the right fit.

Write What You Know

It’s a devilishly simple sounding sentiment, but it can be deceptive. This isn’t saying that you should be limited in the breadth and depth of the topics you want to talk about, but an acknowledgement that some subjects will take more time and research to arrive at a coherent blog post. For example, I could write a library eBook post nearly off the top of my head based on what I know as well as remembering recent blog posts and articles addressing the article. If I was to attempt to write about AACR2 and RDA, I’d need to do background work so that I had the faintest of clues as to what I was talking about it. Even then, I’d probably have to focus on the most general of topics around it (such as whether to use it or not) rather than the nitty gritty cataloging details that make me reach for the whiskey bottle.

With that in mind, the quotation “you are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts” springs to mind. Anyone can write an opinion piece on anything in libraryland but presenting a logical and factual persuasive argument is a whole other ballgame. It’s the difference between “AACR2 sucks, RDA rules” and “RDA is the future of cataloging for these reasons…” I may not be a cataloger, but it doesn’t mean I can’t learn as much as I can before weighing in on the debate in a meaningful manner. Honestly, you’re a librarian. The research aspect should be second nature.

Even then, no matter what topic you are writing about, do make allowances for corrections or edits. I’ve made mea culpas in the past and I certainly will make them in the future. There is nothing wrong with admitting you were wrong so long as you fix the error. Learn from these mistakes or missteps and move on.

Find Your Voice

As anyone who writes will tell you, it is an ongoing process that takes months, years, or even a lifetime to achieve. For the sake of simplicity, I’d say it is finding the writing style that most suits you. This is about tone, word choice, sentence construction, and cadence. Anyone could dissect my blog and find the words and phrases that I use over and over again as well as how I structure my sentences. Those aspects are a reflection of me as a writer and a thinker.

As I see it, it’s a translation of my personality to the computer screen. When I write like I would talk, think, or feel, the words come freely and naturally. When I try to make the text a bit fancier or with more flourish, I sputter and get bogged down. It reminds me of the studies about the brains of people when they are lying; they have to work harder since they are inventing the story as they go. When you aren’t true to your style, diction, or temperament, it’s going to be a struggle. Write as the person that you are for people can connect to that in terms of authenticity.

Links, Links, Links

This could also be called “show your work” or “cite your sources”. If you make a reference to another website, provide a link to it. If you got an idea or thought from somewhere else, provide a link to it. If you are talking about a particular issue or topic and there is a good explanation for it, provide a link to it.

I will admit that providing a link is a pet peeve of mine. I hate reading blogs that make a reference to an article, website, or another blog post and there isn’t a link provided. If you are going to take the time to write about something, don’t suddenly take some sort of magical internet “higher ground” and refuse to link to the offending/provoking article because you don’t want to encourage people to visit the website. That’s just completely asinine since it sends the mixed message, “I think this is important enough for me to comment on, but I don’t want you to read it and make your own decisions.”

As much as it irks me, I will admit that there are times when I don’t want to provide a link to something that I consider distasteful, unworthy of direct citation, or simply link bait. It puts me in a very bad mood as I balance out my own pet peeve against the loathing I feel for the article in question. Ninety nine percent of the time, I’ll swallow my disgust and link to the offender. For those rare one percent, I try to at least provide a breadcrumb trail for people to follow to get to the article. I might not link to it directly, but I’m not going to completely deny them the chance to read it themselves and make their own decision. Link as much as you can to cite your sources and references, but make provisions for when you can’t bring yourself to do it.

Edit When Possible

Before I hit Publish for the majority of my posts, I go through and do an edit. This isn’t a long drawn out process, but one to find the regular errors in spelling (usually words that are spelled correct but not in that context), my sometimes creative grammar problems, and my often “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” sentence construction issues. It also helps with organization of the post, allowing me to re-organize points, alter the cadence, or even eliminate unnecessary sentences and paragraphs. It’s not the finest polish I can offer, but it’s enough to take the easy mistakes out of the posts. The time you invest in your posts will show in the final product that you publish.

Be Brave

“Blog fearlessly” is a short mantra I say to myself before I hit the Publish button on a post that I think will generate some discussion or controversy. It’s a tough moment when you can feel the doubts creeping back and the “don’t rock the boat” urge pushing against the back of your mind. Some of the topics will elicit an emotional response or provoke a critical reaction. Be prepared for pushback, disagreements, and (in very rare cases but it happens) character assassination. My best advice is to roll with it: stand firm on the points you can prove or the opinions that you hold, concede the points you can’t, correct the mistakes you make, and try to foster the best dialogue you can. I’d also say pick your battles, but that’s never been a strong suit for me. If anything, it may help you finely tune your own positions as well as be a learning experience to the variety of viewpoints out there.

Promote, Promote, Promote

So, your blog post is up. Now what? Given the cacophony of the online librarian world, if you want to get your post notice you’ll have to do some publicity for it. Most of my traffic comes from Twitter, search engines, and other blogs that link to various posts. Google Reader tells me that I have over 1,700 subscribers and it shows in the number of syndicated views I get for my posts. In addition, I have a Facebook Author Page that helps me share my posts.

When I post something new, I set up some automatic tweets for the next day at different times (for different time zones) and share it on Google Plus (for whatever that’s worth); my Facebook page will automatically post the new entry. From there, I thank people for Retweeting, answer any comments on the Facebook or Google plus posts, and answer blog comments when I have something to say. When I was just starting out, I also posted to my blog on LISNews in order to increase the number of people who saw my writing.

Some people might balk at self promotion, but I believe it’s the best way to get as many eyes as you can on your blog post. If you’re not going to toot your own horn, who else is going to?

What else?

That’s not so much a topic heading as a question left for you, the reader. What else is there to know or consider when blogging in libraryland? Add a comment if you have a question or share from your experiences.