For those who don’t know Ned Potter, he is a librarian in the UK and the co-creator of the Library Routes Project. This fascinating project asks librarians to write about their journey to the career and what the road was like for them. Over one hundred librarians have shared their story and there is always room for one more. Go and read some stories or share your own (this is my entry for the project). Ned is also brilliant for his work tackling the library echo chamber and looking to outside sources for insight and perspective into the library world. He’s a gentleman and a scholar, and I am pleased to trade tweets and emails with him.
Awhile back, Ned asked if I would agree to do an interview for the UK based LIS New Professionals Network. The site for the group describes itself as “an online network for new professional in Library & Information Services”. The interview itself was all done via email to which I wrote my replies and sent them back. It was part of a group interview in which my answers would be combined with two others: Bobbi Newman and Buffy Hamilton. I’ve excerpted my answers to the interview below, but you should go and read the whole thing.
[Note: These answers were written a few months ago. So the ebook one is a bit out of date already. –A]
Seeing as this is a US librarian special, let’s look at some cultural differences first of all. In your opinion is there any difference in the way people in the UK or America view the library as an institution (and the people who work there)?
From what I have read, I don’t believe so. I think there might be a difference in the underlying expectation of government service. Whereas people in the UK pay higher taxes but receive a greater number of government services (healthcare being the major example this year in the US), people in the US have come to expect the government to cover certain basic services. Libraries are one of these services, but opponents of such public money expenditures tend to the frame the institution as a luxury.
I’ve always had the impression, just from my limited experience of Twitter etc, that a greater number of senior professionals engage with social media in the US than in the UK – would you say that’s something you’ve noticed? And if so, why do you think this is? I like it when senior pros use social media because it levels the playing-field – it’s communication to anyone whose interested, rather than just to other high up people.
I wouldn’t have a good explanation as to why this is so. If I was to guess, I think it’s because the US just has a larger number of early adoptors since we have a larger professional population. I’d be interested if there was a way to survey the number of professionals who use social media versus the overall professional population so that a measurement of overall adoption could be established.
I do like it when senior professionals use social media because I think it is a great way to communicate ideas from a vantage point of experience. The common complaint is that there isn’t much leadership in the library field and I think that having these experienced individuals on social media counteracts that notion.
Okay last cultural difference question – in the UK we have a concerted New Professionals movement. People who’ve joined the profession in the last five years or so get bracketed as New Profs and grouped accordingly for events etc. Is there anything similar in America? I’ve not noticed such a specific move to label the newbies on your side of the Atlantic…
As someone who graduated with my MLS in 2006 and got my first full time librarian job in 2007, I’m in the New Profs bracket. While I haven’t seen anyone label the new librarians as such in the US unless you want to count "The Unemployed" which is more prevalent than it should be in new MLS graduates. There are not the positions available that had been heralded by the ALA and Occupational Outlook (that’s a US Department of Labor publication that forecasts job growth).
Do you see libraries as being in something of a state of crisis at the moment? What is the biggest threat we’re facing – governments, media, public perception, what?
That’s a big fat "it depends" answer. For school libraries, any cuts to education spending (whether local, county, or at the state level) tend to take a chunk out of that budget. Schools are under enormous pressure to preserve instruction time and keep class size low, so they take it out of other places. Depending on the state, school libraries are varied state of crisis; whether it is staffing, materials expenditures, or even additional duties, school libraries are taking the hit for budget cuts.
In the public library, there are any number of crises that libraries are facing all across the US. There have been some big budget battles between librarians and the elected officials with inconsistent results. Some places, like the state of Ohio, libraries were able to recover funding through ballot initiatives where people voted for taxes to restore funding to their library. In other places, like my own state of New Jersey, state budget cuts have been ravaging local budgets and the libraries are being put on the chopping block pretty ruthlessly. For my fellow librarians, it has been a learning experience as to how to get involved in the political process. I think in the long run we will weather through it, but there are going to be some lean years and some rebuilding involved to get back to where we were. However, I don’t think a little time in the wilderness is necessarily a bad thing; it’s that time spent in proverbial exile that allows for an objective evaluation of the institution and where it is going.
(I’m not terribly familiar with academic libraries, so I’m not certain what they are facing at the moment. Same goes for special libraries.)
Overall, I think the enemy of libraries is perception. What people think about libraries is what they believe about libraries, so something erroneous such as "everything is online" or "libraries are unnecessary because of ebooks" can really take off easily on communication platforms like the internet. Perception is so key these days that librarians really need to step
I don’t want this to be too negative so let’s talk positives – Andy, you are passionate about your job and your profession, what is the thing that most excites you about your job, day-to-day?
Service is what gets me going during the day. I love helping people. There’s nothing comparable to it. There aren’t many occupations where you can say, "I help people improve their daily lives" and mean it. My friend Peter Bromberg gave a keynote at the 2010 ALA Annual conference in which he said "reference saves lives" and I firmly believe that. It’s not obvious in the same way as a doctor or police officer, but the subtle way in which you can change a person’s day can make the difference. It reminds me of the saying that starts with "For want of a nail, a shoe was lost". Librarians can make that tiny difference that sets people onto whole new paths. This I firmly believe to be true and what makes me excited to be at my job.
Future trends – what are the developments on the horizon which will change the way we work, or just generally make things cooler?
The rapidly descending price of e-reader devices will put ebooks as the new major collection edition of the next five years. I predicted at a dinner at ALA 2010 that Amazon will be *giving* the Kindle away within five years when you buy a certain number of books online. With the price drop to under $200 and heading towards $100, I stand by that prediction.
Of course, this will bring up other issues concerning US copyright, the rights of publishers and authors to control their content and where it can appear, and the digital divide. But I can’t wait to see where it goes.
I really liked that #inatweet meme on Twitter – is there a particular platform or piece of technology you find really useful that you’d like to share with others?
I think the most powerful tool right now for librarians is the "Share" button on stories. Whether you put it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Livejournal, WordPress, email, or wherever you are in contact with other professionals, sharing truly is caring.
[Note: David Lee King has a nice little blog post about #inatweet. -A]
Is there a single achievement, or event, or change, of which you are most proud in your career?
I am very proud to be named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker. To be nominated by my friends is quite an honor and I’m in excellent professional company. I daresay it has emboldened me to take confidence in what I write in my blog, to reach out to others in the profession, and to try new things.