Welcoming Words to the Latest Class of Library Science Students (Now Get Crackin’)

Right now across the country, there are new graduate student arriving in the classroom (both real and virtual) to start their academic journey towards a Master’s degree in Library Science. It’s hard for me to believe that I only graduated six years ago and have only been on the job in a librarian capacity for five years (this September will be my fifth year anniversary). It certainly has been a roller coaster ride for me in those five years and has taken me in directions that I didn’t think I would be ending up. After struggling with a previous career in commercial horticulture and a misfire by way of a year in law school, it is been a relief to finally find my niche in the world.

As such, I’d to offer advice to the incoming MLS class in the form that most commonly unsolicited counsel takes these days: a blog post from a peer in the profession. So, without further ado, here’s what I advise the newest and latest class of librarians.

“You Are Not Prepared”

It has become a common refrain online that the MLS program does not prepare its graduates for the larger and exponentially more complex library world. It raises the expectation that graduates should be trained to handle any possible situation that could ever arise in any type of library. I guess it makes sense when people expect doctors and lawyers to finish their advanced degrees being able to treat any illness or disease known to humankind or file any legal document and be able to present flawlessly in any level of court.

Oh wait.

It is my fervent hope that the degree will prepare graduate students in the principles of library science, knowledge of the canon elements of the degree (*coughCatalogingcough*), and some strategies for dealing with issues at the library, be it personnel, building, or community related. More importantly, I would hope it would nurture critical thinking skills that act within the framework of philosophies of library science so that projects, services, and solutions can be built and/or adapted to your current working environment. Maintaining the mission of the library within a shifting environment (be it funding, oversight, community, or technology) requires assessment and critical thinking skills that incorporate the beliefs of the profession.

Because, in all seriousness, nothing in grad school can prepare you for dealing with obstructive administration, cut throat vendors, staff ennui, and/or people who insist on shitting on the bathroom floor. There is no preparation for these aspects except the real deal.

Learn Paper, Breathe Digital

I take this lesson from my first semester at law school. We were not given Westlaw and LexisNexis accounts because, well, those things are expensive. My class learned how to research a brief based only what was available to us through the case books. It gave me a new appreciation for the texts and how they would lead me down other trails where the arguments and law were in contention.

There is a truth to the common refrain, “Not everything is online.” Hell, in my library, there is an entire vertical file full of things that are most certainly not online, a few maps from the 1800’s that are not online, and a bevy of local resources that will never ever show up in a Google search. Anyone who has done any genealogy work knows that the digital trail goes cold quickly and that the path to the past is in musty burial records, old church notes, and trapped in a paper medium somewhere waiting to be discovered. The information in the offline world still dwarfs that the seemingly limitless online one.

This is not simply to sing the praises of physical resources, but to know the when an online search will suffice versus when to hit the physical materials. A lot of the ‘reference’ work that happens these days can be handled by a simply online search, but the more in-depth questions can and will take you offline. It’s about knowing both worlds and being able to flow between them; it’s about being able to straddle the old world of print and dust with the new world of digital and platforms. The analog world has not been abandoned in the slightest, but drawn into greater contrast with the digital one.

Join A Library Organization (But Only If You Plan On Showing Up)

Library organizations are like gyms: anyone can join them. You can join one to have another line on your resume which only tells your perspective employer that you have the ability to fill out a registration form and sign a check that won’t bounce. Congratulations, you’ve shown an superficial interest in your chosen field!

You have to treat it like a gym: great that you’ve joined, even better that you’ll show up and put in the time to build a better you. Why? First, it’ll never be cheaper to join. Whether you are joining the ALA or your state organization, the student rate is cheap compared to the regular membership rate. Second, you can get more than just one resume line out your membership by showing that you can work on projects and committees that relate back to your field of interest. It’s showing a commitment to what interests you in the field and how you are playing a part in changing or furthering it. Third, there are excellent networking opportunities that allow you to make contacts that will help you finding a job. The last research statistic I saw on this topic is that the leading factor in finding a job was getting a lead from someone you know; library organizations are excellent at this kind of relationship building.

Use these aspects to your advantage to get a foot in the door, a better idea of the field, and start off your career with a slight advantage over others. It’s this kind of small boost that will make a difference when an employer is sifting through dozens of applications looking for the right person.

Whether you maintain your memberships after you get in the field is up to you. Personally, I’ve dropped mine for various reasons. There are advantages and disadvantages to keeping or discarding them so your mileage may vary. While I work well with others, I did not work with other’s bureaucracy or social dramas. So I’ve stayed outside for the time being, but that’s a whole other post.

Be Flexible

When I started my graduate program, I thought I’d end up in a law library. I was just coming off of law school, so why not? Then I thought I’d work in an academic library just as I had as a graduate assistant and an intern. But I ended up in a public library and never felt more at home.

My point is not a new one; the path we take in life doesn’t always the straight kind. But recognizing the existence of different paths and opportunities is something to be mindful of as the graduate program will expose you to other types of libraries and other kinds of librarians. Take the time to examine other paths and field before you really settle down on one or two. I entered graduate school with one idea in mind, left with another, and ended up in a completely different spot. It worked out well for me and it can for you.

You Don’t Need Permission

For a multitude of reasons, there are still those within the profession beholden to the idea that one has to wait their turn, make their bones, or otherwise have to ‘earn’ the right of recognition in order to start or carry out professional projects. This is fantasy bullshit, an enduring relic of a belief that awards subject to whose turn it is rather than who merits it, that those new to the profession must bolster the old guard before striking their own paths, and that seniority within the field is the measure of a person’s worth and the lens in which their contribution must be measured.

Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

In the five years I’ve been working in the field, I’ve organized conferences, spoken at events, carried out local and national advocacy efforts, written for a professional journal, and probably a bunch of other things I’m forgetting. Some of those things, others have failed, and more are somewhere between the two points. Certainly for some of these things I had to seek permission for one thing or another at some point, but it wasn’t at the moment I decided to do it. This isn’t a license to run on a whim, but to take an idea, do some homework, and get it off the ground. The world will not wait.


I’d be curious to see what other advice my peers would offer to new Library Science graduate students. I hope they’ll leave a comment or link to this post on their blog. I’ll have to revisit this in a year and see if it holds true. In the meantime, welcome new graduate students and best of luck in your endeavors.

Copyright Enforcement: The New Prohibition?

This is just a quick post urging you to take a gander at a post on TechDirt entitled, “So Many Similarities Between Copyright Law And Prohibition”. It links to a paper written by law professor Donald Harris who compares the efforts of Prohibition against the effort of the RIAA against filesharing. It’s a very good read, so make the time.

For myself, it’s the first parallel situation that makes sense to me in looking at filesharing, copyright, and failed enforcement. Like Harris says in the paper, it’s not a perfect analog but it does hold some truths to it: the content industry is attempting to enforce a set of laws that the majority of society does not feel are just or moral. There has to be a better system that will encourage a greater measure of compliance with creator rights but also balance the need for access.

I need to think on this awhile and let it roll over a few times in my brain before I can answer, but what do you think?

Save the [Insert Noun Here]

David Lankes wrote a blog post at the beginning of August in which he urges librarians to drop the “save the library” mentality and embrace an aspirational public relations model that advocates how libraries help their communities thrive. I’m inclined to agree with David; the ‘library in crisis OMG OMG OMG’ card has been played so many times that it runs the risk of support fatigue. Given that the actual closing of libraries has been disproven, it becomes disingenuous to proclaim that the end is nigh when reality points the other way.

Personally, I think there is trouble arising out of using the term “save”. First, it implies a conservation of the item or place or thing and a maintaining of the status quo. Not an expansion or an increase of support, but a maintaining of current levels. In other words, “we need your support to keep everything as is”. That doesn’t seem like an ideal position to pivot from to ask for additional funding, personnel, materials, or other public support. It’s playing defense without a plan to get out of our own half of the field.

Second, the term “save” has become ubiquitous to any cause around the world. In doing a simple Google search for “save the”, here are things that are looking to be saved in the first few pages:

children, frogs, manatees, internet, chimps, families, ta-tas, whales, tigers, the artic, Narragansett Bay, music, the Upper St. Lawrence River, plastic bags, rain, rainforests, mothers.

That’s a lot of stuff to be saved; it’s not even the exhaustive list. I’m wondering how far I would have to go and how many other causes I would pass before I found my first “save the library” website. It makes me ponder whether people actually hear the noun that at the end of a “save the” phrase; with the constant call to save something, what is yet another species/place/object in peril? I would guess people have learned to tune it out.

To continue down this path, my fear is the future of library advocacy will become a series of dewy eyed librarians looking into the camera while the saddest Sarah McLachlan song ever plays in the background. At 1am, you’ll find yourself  sitting on the couch bawling, between sobs saying the words into the phone, “Dear God YES I want my $30 monthly pledge to save a librarian from a life of literary neglect and absence of information access.” I don’t think is the progress we are looking for in terms of library issues.

To go a step further than David, I also think there is a victimhood mentality that gets a lot of play in the library world that needs to be dropped. We must to buy eBooks at their outrageous terms and prices or else our members will leave us. We must subscribe to these databases at their outrageous prices and conditions or else we are failing our students/faculty/administration. We must provide access in every way, shape, and form or else we are going to lose every successive generation from here to the end of time. We must give our members what they want no matter the circumstances or else the library will burst into flames and be swallowed up by the earth on its descent to Hell.

You get the idea.

It implies that we are hostage to our circumstances and are relegated to simply bemoan our predetermined fate. We couldn’t possibly seek to change the terms of a contract, agreement, or other arrangement if service or access hangs in the balance, no matter how shitty a deal is being dangled in front of us.

How can we empower our communities if we can’t even empower ourselves to walk away from the negotiation table over terms that are not in our best interest nor the people we serve? Why are we surrendering control in situations we really don’t have to?

Control. Exert some. And not just on subject headings, either.

Libraries and eBook Publishers: Friend Zone Level 300

In returning from vacation last week, today’s social media catch featured a wonderful juxtaposition of library eBook oriented links: the ALA’s Digital Content & Libraries Working Group report, “EBook Business Models for Public Libraries”, along with Library Journal’s Francine Fialkoff’s editorial “Too Many Ebook Cooks: Ineffectual Committees Aren’t Fast Enough To Ensure Robust Access”. The report is an all too brief recounting of the current state of library eBook affairs, a showcase of current models as well as a handful of points to help ‘make our case’ to encourage publishers to allow library eBook lending. I can only presume there is a larger report to follow, but I’m not sure how one will be able to stretch the benefit of “Readers Advisory” into longer than three sentences. Francine’s lament editorial calls upon the ALA to stop forming committees, workgroups, taskforces, interest groups, battalions, and pep squads to talk about the eBook situation and, well, do something. Despite the fact that there will be no “one size fits all” eBook solution, she points to two gentlemen (Jamie LaRue and Patrick Losinski) who are doing something about the eBook issue in their respective communities (the former pioneered a library eBook ownership and lending model, the latter formed an ebook advocacy organization which I guess doesn’t count against Francine’s original ‘too many groups’ complaint.)

These two articles provide an excellent bookend to a brilliant blog post I read before I went on vacation, Sarah Houghton’s “I’m breaking up with eBooks (and you can too)” (Take a look at the link itself, folks!) Sarah’s post about eBooks paints them as a crappy boyfriend, but I think the relationship is more akin to being put into the friendzone, an term that could be broadly defined by one party looking for more in a relationship while the other is unwilling to consider a change in the status quo.

Consider the situation: unless the publishing industry has been living under a rock, it knows that public libraries have a keen interest in lending eBooks. Publishers certainly like libraries (and have sent out the rosy platitude laden press releases to prove their fond rapport) but balk at allowing them to lend eBooks. “Sorry, libraries,” they are saying, “We like you very much, but not in that way.” On top of that, libraries get to listen to publishers complain bitterly about their relationship with the retail giant Amazon about how they are getting a ‘bad deal’ in the eBook arena. Really?

Personally, my sympathy train doesn’t stop at the station anymore for the love-hate-love-hate-hate publisher-Amazon relationship dynamic. It’s a liaison that is so awful and so terrible that publishers were forced into collusion with each other and another eBook retailer (*coughApplecough*) in order to save their archaic business way of life. It must have been agonizing to conspire to artificially inflate eBook prices while cashing Amazon’s checks for their part of the sale in a market that has seen record sales increases over the past few years.

I’ve grown tired of the oft expressed line when it comes to the Big Six publishers and eBooks: “We just need to talk to them.” Uh huh. I guess sending a top ranked ALA delegation to meet with them in New York City, having a major library trade publication provide actual research into member borrowing/buying patterns, and countless news articles, blog posts, and social media utterances just hasn’t reach them yet. Like some wide eyed naïve Jerry Springer guest, librarians feel that publishers will change if only they could only listen to our hearts, hear the purity of our cause in the name of literacy, and let the love overcome their fears. Yeah right.

For the record, I will fess up to being one of these If-they-only-knew-us-they-would-love-us types desperate to make that connection, that breakthrough in which publishers suddenly see the light and start allowing reasonable library eBook lending. Thankfully, this is has given way to cynicism, bitterness, and that crazy little notion known as ‘reality’. I’m sure those big publishers hear us for vast and many reasons and rationales, they just simply don’t care or don’t want to change the relationship. Case closed.

Quite frankly, I’ve heard enough about a demand for leadership to rise up and lead the Pickett-like charge for library eBook lending. I want to see leadership for the “walk the fuck away” camp, an ideology centered around not wasting time, energy, and resources on deals that don’t serve the library as an institution, the community as a dependable and enduring resource, and our stakeholders as a wise investment. There are other publishing entities out there that are worthy of our attention and our budget lines. Let’s find them and build ourselves a better relationship.

It’s time to get out of the eBook friendzone.