Ten Things You Won’t Find On Your LIS Class Syllabus

I generally try to avoid posts comprised of a list but every now and again I get inspiration to put one together. I give credit to Jill Hurst-Wahl for providing a catalyst with her blog post “What I want LIS students to know”. In doing my own reflection of the last couple of years, I’d like to offer my own advice on this avenue. So, without further ado…

1) Don’t buy into the “Old vs. New” librarian generation meme.

At its most basic form, it is the idea that young librarians are just wishing for older professionals to die or retire to make room for them in the job market. In its advanced concept, it is the notion that older professionals are resistant to change and are actively engaged in the prevention of new ideas from being heard, implemented, or otherwise considered.

This is bullshit.

I wouldn’t rule out that the “get out” idea hasn’t passed through the mind of a new librarian. It’s a normal upward pressure felt when new members are trying to make room in a field that is crowded. Nor would is it completely unlikely that an older professional squashed, outmaneuvered, or otherwise dismissed an idea from a young or new librarian simply because they are set in their ways. But to me the embracing of the meme means two things: first, that older professionals are an obstacle to the development of younger librarians; second, that the older generation is incapable of handling change. That, simply put, is asinine shortsightedness. Without the older generation of librarians, there are no mentors, no guides, and no retained professional intelligence that can be passed onto the next generation (and likewise when the current young group becomes the older hands). Nevermind the notion that the older librarians cannot handle or manage change; it’s a rehashing of the saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. There is no age limit on being a progressive librarian. One cannot pass around a video of a woman over one hundred years old using an iPad or learning a new dance and praise it while then saying that older librarian generation cannot handle change.   

Don’t get caught up in this meme. It’s a waste of your time.

(Some people will have a problem with the use of the term “progressive”, so I define it as someone moving towards new services, materials, and policies that better reflect the needs of the communities they serve. You may now argue it from there.)

2) The mission is static. The implementation is dynamic.

It’s an oversimplification, but the mission of a library (any library, either public, school, academic, or special) could be summed up in a simple phrase such as “to provide service to a community”. Along with other core librarian values, they do not change regardless of the setting.

As it relates to how services are rendered, collections are maintained, and policies are outlined, that is a whole different train of thought. Furthermore, it is highly influenced by the circumstances under which the library operates. What works at one library may not scale to another. It doesn’t mean that it is wrong or a bad idea, but that it just doesn’t fit or apply to another situation. Be open enough to recognize the differences in libraries and how different approaches work towards similar outcomes.

Libraries are not a ‘one size fits all’ prospect, but they are operated under the same philosophic ideals and principles.

3) Libraries are not information vaults, but information launch pads.

Like Mrs. Hurst-Wahl stated, the profession is in flux. It is a paradigm shift from being one of few source of information and literacy to one of many. Libraries are not the end of the line for knowledge, but now a gateway to the greater intelligence networks of the world. Communication and computation have made global sharing of collected wisdom the new reality of a connected world. That is the concept that we have moved towards: the people who can make the connection between a person and the information or literacy that they seek. It will be the evolving measure of success for the library and a key element to future measurements of library effectiveness.

4) Service matters.

The passive service model in which a person sits at a desk and waits for inquiries is half dead. While there is merit to having someone on hand to answer patron’s question, it is up to librarians today to provide service remotely. Whether it is by phone, email, chat, text, mobile, or website, people are going to be looking for information on other platforms. It’s up the profession to provide additional reasonable access venues to meet these emerging or established means.

In becoming more connection oriented, the emphasis on customer service has never been greater. It is about creating, cultivating, and maintaining a relationship with the patron community. For myself, I think about the kind of service I like to get at store and restaurants and put that into my efforts to help my patrons. I want them to leave not only with satisfaction, but the desire to come back.

5) Advocacy is the new norm.

In my opinion, advocacy is now integral to librarianship. The days in which the library did not have to sell itself to its community are past and gone. While marketing library services, materials, and programs is important, it is important that the profession be able to articulate and demonstrate the value of libraries to their communities. It’s not simply a matter of reaching those who come to the library, but reaching beyond to those who do not but still support the mission of the library. Whether it is politicians, adults, students, superintendents, provosts, or corporate officers, the ability to show value for the investments placed within the library is an ongoing and important endeavor. In times of need, it is integral to have the ability to call upon supporters.

6) Politics is not a dirty word.

This is simply not limited to elected officials, but the social politics that exist in other settings. While there has been a distain for engaging in such lobbying as we pride ourselves for being neutral and objective, I find there is an important difference between offering information objectivity and being active in the politics of those who make decisions regarding the fate of the library. There is no taint to creating and maintaining relationships with decision makers. I would argue that there is no conflict of interest; in fact, it would be in the best interests for the continuation of the library to curate these friendships.

Politics (as political science or social politics) is something that librarians have been involved with in one way or another for many years; this end of the spectrum should be utilized to the best advantage of the library.

7) Professional development is in your hands.

While there are great libraries and systems out there that provide excellent monetary support for attending continuing educations classes, workshop, and seminars, it’s up to you to find the resources that will further your career. They may send you to the state or ALA conferences, but it’s up to you to attend the programs and talk to the people who share your interests. Beyond that, I’d suggest delving into other professional outlets, whether it is trade publications, academic publications, or online in the form of sites, forums, blogs, and/or social media.

Where there are opportunities, utilize them. Where there are not, make your own. Only you can advance your career.

8) Know your library’s basic maintenance.

For anything that has more than a handful of moving parts, requires electricity to work, or has a computer within it, I’d highly recommend learning as much as you can about it. Whether it is a computer, toilet, fish tank, printer, fax machine, copier, or electrical/plumbing system, you don’t need to know how to repair it, but should have an idea of what to do when things go wrong. Stopping a bathroom from flooding due to a leaky sink, helping graduate students from losing their minds when the printer isn’t cooperating, or being able to figure out what to do if the lights go out or the fire alarm malfunctions, these are the things they don’t talk about in an LIS program. As someone working in the library, you are a first responder to these issues and you should prepare yourself for these situations.

For myself, I’ve learned how to read and reset the fire alarms, reboot and reprogram the phone systems, check for sewage or other plumbing problems, who to call for animals in the library, and the basic fixes for all of our printers, copiers, and a few of our testier computers. No matter what the library setting, knowing your building is an important bit of knowledge to possess in my opinion. Under the right circumstances, this advanced knowledge and preparation can save the day.

9) Be yourself, no matter what they say.

There will be trying times. There will be trying situations. There will be obstructive people, whether they are coworkers, administration, or patrons. The important thing is to remain true to who you are as a person and what you believe in about the profession. Everything else will follow after that. And if you can’t be who you are or follow what you believe, then it’s time to hit the trail in search of a better fit.

That’s it. Be yourself, no matter what they say.

10) Have fun.

For myself, I love what I do. I enjoy what I do for the community I serve. I also like to have fun with what I do. Over a year ago, I started the “People for a Library Themed Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Flavor”  Facebook group because I thought it would be fun to do and to promote. It has serious undertones that relate back to advocacy and awareness, but the first impression was meant to appeal to people’s sense of fun. Same thing for last year’s librarian online gift exchange (which I will be doing again this year, just working out details/logistics) and with the #andypoll stuff on Twitter. Look at what my fellow librarians and friends Justin and JP did with the Project Brand Yourself A Librarian over 8bitlibrary; they had people getting tattoos!   

The bottom line for me is that I can act in a professional manner, enjoy what I do, and have some fun at the same time. I think people forget that last aspect at times, but I hope that this will remind them. Take what you do and bring some joy to it. Trust me, it is totally worth it.

Now, go forth and change the world. Or your little corner of it.

Fight the Power 2.0: Young Turks edition

I’ve been following the ALA 2009 conference on Twitter for the last couple of days. It’s been interesting to pick up bits and pieces of people’s experience at the conference (as well as a ton of librarians to follow), but earlier today there was two tweets (here and here) from a librarian pal that grabbed my attention. (Based on the tweets around them on my timeline, I’m guessing they are regarding the ALA Council I session on Sunday morning. If I’m wrong, someone correct me in the comments.) While I was not there to listen to the remarks, I did retrieve the platform that (now) ALA President Camila Alire ran on. Here is the passage as it relates to advocacy:

The Advocacy Initiative will focus on “member-driven advocacy“ content and training – for librarians, library staff and supporters of all types of libraries. This complements ALA’s existing advocacy efforts focusing on local, state, and federal legislative advocacy. This front-line advocacy features a most critical emphasis on the competencies and content needed to advocate for the library and library needs within the library structure and within our respective communities — cities, counties, higher education environments, and schools/school districts. A Leadership Workgroup will be formed and will build out the vision, articulating both what it is and what it isn’t; identify target audiences to receive and deliver the message; and establish goals for the Initiative as well as outcomes for members. In addition, the Leadership Workgroup will create products, match delivery and content to target audiences and determine marketing and public relations to deliver content to target audiences.

There was also a mention of the formation of a “Young Turks” type of group within ALA so as to increase young librarian involvement in organization. My gut reaction to these ideas was pretty positive; to me the ALA is still an organization of mysterious purpose mentioned in passing by colleagues and friends. I’m not entirely sure what they do (the subject of debate in some library circles, so I hear), but the concept of reaching out to young librarians like myself and expanding the advocacy issue make it more appealing. In turning this over in my mind over the course of the day, the initial luster wore off. It could be my aversion to the political syntax of the passage, it could be that I somewhat uncertain as to what a “Leadership Workgroup” actually means (despite looking it up), but the passage as a whole feels a bit dated to me. I don’t presume that it excludes Web 2.0 and other technological products, but the steps listed appear to be rote marketing practices.

For me, I am still fascinated with the power of the grassroots as expressed in my first library advocacy post. The highly social and collaborative efforts of user generated content has undeniable appeal for putting current and accurate information into the hands of the end user. The virtual word of mouth was a powerful advocacy tool in organization lobbying efforts, rallies, and documenting everything from protesting patrons to signs of support. Personally, I leads me to believe that the librarians in the figurative trenches have a better gauge as to the points to emphasize in their respective debates and can tailor it to their patrons and audience. The initiative presented by ALA President Alire feels very “top down” when the library advocacy movement feels very grassroots at the present time.

However, I’m still curious enough to see how a Leadership Workgroup would take shape and what sort of proverbial seat at the table awaits my generation of librarians (in both advocacy and “Young Turks” groups). Personally, it does beg a larger question about future membership with the ALA and involvement; something that has been encouraged in the past but no attractive opportunity has arisen until now. As mentioned in “Fight the Power 2.0”, there needs to be a change in the dialogue; libraries need to be portrayed as an essential service for digital literacy in an information driven economy. Libraries are no longer a community luxury, but a population necessity.

In taking the macroscope view of library advocacy, I personally think that there is a fundamental societal flaw that needs to be addressed because it directly affects the underlying nature of our work. We need to confront the fact that we as a society in America are not serious about education. Our state and national priorities and spending habits betray us on this point, for we provide unequivocal support for education up to the point when we get the bill. I believe that we will not see widespread support for lifelong learning that the library provides if we can’t even bring ourselves to pay for the best education possible that we mandate for our children.

I will readily admit that the fixing of our educational system is far beyond me and the scope and purpose of the ALA, but more importantly I believe the cause for lifelong education is intrinsically linked with childhood/teen education. We can (and should) find allies in other national education oriented groups for the purpose of promoting this ideal. I believe we should start looking to our fellow educators and their respective organizations for alliances in the much larger picture. Surely, we cannot pretend that an effect on one education oriented institution does not have an effect on the other. Our common cause is our calling, our strength, and the requisite bond to speak as one voice in the name of education. Let us act accordingly.