Things I Didn’t Go to School For, Part II

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about all the things that people expect me to do that I didn’t go to library school for.  Basically, that post was about things people expect librarians to know about – even when it’s not really all that relevant to library science.  (Like why would a librarian be an expert on copyright law?)  This post is still about the stuff I didn’t learn in grad school.  This time, though, I want to talk about the stuff I really ought to have learned.  I just didn’t, for whatever reason.

So, here comes another list of things I did not go to library school for.

  • Project Management.
    • In all my pre-professional positions, I was doing tasks.  I was inventorying graphic novels, lending DVDs, mending books, making posters (for outreach), cleaning out the defunct card catalog, shelving, running pick lists.  Little did I know that these pre-professional and para-professional tasks aren’t librarianship.
    • In library school, I learned about reference, pedagogy, metadata, digital preservation, architecture, preservation, and advertising.
    • Little did I know, when I started my professional job, that I would be leading projects of every size.  I’m fortunate I’m naturally a planner and am comfortable delegating tasks…because I sure didn’t go to library school for that.  (But I really should have.)
  • Meetings, meetings, meetings.
    • Again, nothing in my pre-professional or library school life quite prepared me for library administration.  Our library staff is so small that all of the faculty librarians are large power players in the administration and decision-making in the library.  And administration requires a ton of meetings.
    • There was a library administration course at grad school…that I didn’t take.  I really wonder if it would have given me some insight into how many meetings and decisions I would have to make.
  • Managing People.
    • Same points as above.
  • Managing Power.
    • Same points as above.
  • Linux, HTML, CSS, PHP, Javascript, Java.
    • If I had gone into grad school knowing I would be a systems librarian, maybe I would have found my way into a few more courses with more web development and more server maintenance.  I didn’t think I would be a systems librarian, however, so I didn’t go to library school for enough of this.
    • Also, though, I doubt that my grad school offered much in the way of Linux system administration, or working with Java or PHP.  (We did have stuff with HTML and CSS as well as Python, instead of Java.  Again, I should have taken those courses…perhaps a bit more seriously.)
  • Cataloging.
    • Thank goodness I took a metadata course because that has helped tremendously.  And thank goodness that I weaseled an hour of training on copy cataloging.
    • Still, I didn’t take the actual cataloging class, focused on MaRC.  I was discouraged from taking it by mentors and by the way the cataloging course was offered.
    • Now that I am always working with knowledgeable and experienced catalogers on all sorts of projects, I wish I had spent more time in grad school learning more about cataloging (and the structure of MaRC records).  I wouldn’t have nearly as steep a learning curve.
  • Original Research-ing.
    • My library school had opportunities for research, but it didn’t make it easily accessible to all students.  And mentorship opportunities for research were few and far between.
    • Now, I am in a faculty position which pushes for me to produce “original research,” I’m finding that’s easier said than done.  My writing (not learned at grad school either) is fine…but finding something no one else has done, all the while doing 40 hours per week of library work, is quite a challenge.  I wish I had gone to library school to help me think up and execute original research.
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A Day in the Life of a Systems Librarian

In the words of the Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life,” I “Woke up/fell out of bed/dragged a comb across my head…”

Back in 2015, I told you about A Day in the Life of an Acquisitions Graduate Assistant.  If you have been following this blog, you know that I am no longer an acquisitions graduate assistant.  I graduated from library school and started my first professional job as a systems librarian in July of 2016.  Well, now that I’ve been in my current position more than a year, I thought it was time for a description of what a day in the life of a systems librarian looks like.

server room
Server room at Royal Institute of Technology Parallel Computer Center. John Frederiksson, CC By-SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

So, after waking up, falling out of bed, and brushing my hair, I either walk or drive to work.  And then it’s checking emails from the coworkers who get to work earlier than I do.  On Fridays, I run server updates first thing – before any library instruction sessions start.  That includes snapshotting them, running the updates, and then rebooting them.

After that, I have at least one meeting with one of my direct reports.  I have plenty of days where I am inundated with meetings.  Today, though, I was able to focus most of my morning on crafting an information literacy session on robotics.  Sometimes developing lesson plans are quick; other times they are slow.  The robotics one ended up going slowly because I found myself fascinated by the literature surrounding robots, androids, and cyborgs.

Then, I go to lunch with other faculty – a program designed by our dean of faculty to help build community and cooperation.  I like the free food and hanging with my colleagues outside of the library.

After lunch, I have another meeting with another direct report.  And then an hour to do data cleanup.  At 3, there’s a meeting with the library director.  By 4, I’m slowing down with scholarly publication, scholarly reading, more data cleanup, or finishing up various communications to my coworkers.

At 5, I try to “skip town” (leave work) and go take care of my horse and home.

Things I Didn’t Go to School For

As I librarian, I start to wonder what the rest of the world thinks I do.

Yes, there are the people who say, “Ah, you must like books a lot!”  To whom I say, with a dead look in my eye, “I don’t work with books.  I don’t even touch books.”  There are others who marvel that I need a Masters degree to “help people find books.”  Others swear I must really like the quiet, and that I will like to shush people.

Those comments come from only understanding media-presented stereotypes about librarians.  We’re just (matronly) ladies (because men aren’t librarians) that sit around with books.  At most, many people only sometimes go through the public library and see someone sitting at a desk.  (At the public library I worked, it wasn’t even librarians at those desks but clerks.)  The “book-loving” and “shushing” stereotype comes from people with perhaps the shallowest knowledge of libraries.

And then there are people who I swear should know a bit more about libraries.  Namely, academic faculty, staff, and students.  These constituents are around the libraries all the time (particularly the faculty) and yet I have many a time marveled at their requests for the libraries.  Many times, I sit with the question (most often in email format) and wonder what my colleagues think I went to grad school for.

So, what are things I didn’t go to school for?

  • Extensive and authoritative knowledge of citation style and format.
    • First, I come from a generation who simply uses citation generators to create my citations, rather than knowing how to do it.
    • And where in “library and information science” does it suggest that we study APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, AMA, ASA, etc. citation styles?  These are scholarly publication/communication schematics.  So…maybe ask someone who works for those style guide creators.
    • Does anyone else in academia spend their time memorizing style guides?  Why would your colleagues in another department do it?
  • Knowledge of citation management software.  (I think this is somewhat related to the above.)
    • I know that oftentimes libraries will subscribe to citation management software.  Probably because everyone expects us to.  And we are one of the few departments actually considering how difficult it is to create and manage all these resources.
    • But librarians have integrated library systems (ILS) and a variety of other databases to organize information.  We don’t have any real desire to organize one individual’s collection of resources that they found pertinent.  (Unless we’re in an archive, but that still would have nothing to do with citation management software.)
    • I definitely did not go to school to learn how to “demonstrate” Mendeley, Refworks, Zotero, etc.  I did not go to school to even know how the things work.  So, when I am asked to give an instruction session on it, I don’t really know if I am all that knowledgeable about the topic.
  • Copyright law.
    • Librarians have to deal with copyright law all the time – from buying or licensing resources to digitizing for preservation or accessibility to circulating materials.  So, our work is very much influenced by the law.
    • No matter that our work is influenced by copyright law, we are not copyright lawyers.  And yet librarians get asked all the time to clarify what violates copyright, etc.  I oftentimes want to say, “Ask a JD.”
  • Teaching databases.
    • This is probably the closest one on the list to something I ought to have learned at library school.  Some library school classes go over database construction and whatnot.  And many of us would prefer less dreadful course topics.  But I have some training in databases.
    • Still, teaching databases is not something I went to school for.  I learned about acquiring databases and managing electronic resources in school.  And I took a pedagogy course, with a focus on information literacy standards (like the ACRL Framework).  But never did the pedagogy and databases meet.  So, asking me to teach databases is a little odd.  I didn’t go to school for that.

The Trouble with Tech Services, Part III

Every once in awhile I end up realizing how hard it is to talk about library technical services.  You can read about a few of those times here and here.  Well, today it happened again.

As the systems librarian, I handle – wait for it – the library’s systems.  And these systems all interface with each other in some capacity.  But of course, never quite seamlessly or fully.  And I have a rather decent grasp of how they all work together.  Maybe not every single piece of code, but I know how and what each system shares with the other systems.

book sorter
Book sorter, Ames Public Library, Rebecca Ciota, 2016.

However, all these systems and the myriad of ways they talk (or don’t) to each other proves confusing to most people.  Hell, it was confusing to me at the first get-go – and I came in with at least some knowledge of the monster I was dealing with.  People without a library or technical background (or both) find themselves mystified about our systems, what they do, how they work, how they function alongside our other systems, how they might work for constituents outside the library, etc.  And when faced with a room of library technical staff who all use differing jargon (but somehow we all understand each other), a lot of people get at best a little unsure – at worst, frustrated that we keep jabbering and they plain don’t get it and our jabbering doesn’t seem to help.

I understand completely and anticipate the variety of negative reactions people have to technical services chatter.  It’s why when most people try to get me to talk about work, I try to be as vague and nondescript as possible.  Launching into a tirade about discovery layers, Solr indexes, batch uploads, and a litany of other things…just doesn’t make good conversation.  (Ah, yes, the trouble with technical services.)

However – even though I try to avoid talking about the stuff to spare other people the pain of trying to decipher what I’m saying – I love talking about technical services.

Recently, one of my colleagues in the Art department asked me to explain all the moving parts of our systems to her.  I cannot describe how thrilled I was.  I drew charts on the board, explaining what each piece did and how it interacted with the others.  And I really hope I made sense.  I loved describing my systems to a lay person.  I got to challenge my own understanding of my systems when I talk about them to a lay person who wants to understand and therefore asks questions.

So, if you want to know about library technical services, set aside a good few hours and let we tech services librarians (try to) demystify parts of our job.

So, again, the trouble with technical services is that it’s hard to communicate about tech services.  But I like to try.

Link: “Fear of the End of Reference”

Normally, I prefer to write my own content for my site.  But I came across John Hubbard’s blog post “Fear of the End of Reference” and knew I had to share it.

In Hubbard’s piece, he discusses how librarians (and patrons and faculty and a slew of other stakeholders) cling firmly to outdated information-seeking practices.  Like the professor who requires (physical) print sources when more and more and more information is electronic.  Or a patron who refuses to learn the new discovery interface.  Or the slew of librarians who would prefer to search in individual databases, rather than the more comprehensive vendor-provided search tool – which all the students use.

I loved reading this piece, so my advice is go and read it here.

Librarian Superpowers

At the Grinnell College Libraries, we are making trading cards (like Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh cards) for library faculty and staff – starting with the faculty.

With great research skill comes great responsibility
From the Florida Libraries, AskALibrarian.Org.

Well, it’s harder to think of superpowers than one might think.  Or at least, I had a tough time coming up with them.  But here are what are going on my cards – and a little bit of “why.”

  • Basement Dweller.
    • For the past 3 years (and for the foreseeable future), I have been working in a basement.  I think basements are just where libraries put tech services people. (Yes, there is a valid/good reason – but that’s for another post.)

      There was also this wonderful time when I was in a meeting with my supervisor during my time as a graduate assistantship.  My supervisor was telling me what a great time to get into librarianship it was.  “Librarianship isn’t sitting in a basement and not talking to anyone anymore,” she said.  I began laughing because I definitely was sitting in a basement and I definitely didn’t have to talk to anyone if I didn’t want to.  (My coworkers, though, were way too awesome to avoid, so I talked to them.)

      I am a proud Basement Dweller.

  • Technical Services Hierophant
    • A hierophant is a person who interprets esoteric principles and sacred mysteries – usually an Ancient Greek priestess or priest.

      I know tech services talk can be next to unintelligible to the un-initiated, so it probably sounds like I’m talking in tongues or something.  And when I’m trying to explain all the tech services stuff to non-tech services people, I’m definitely interpreting esoteric principles.  (I’d like to say they’re “sacred mysteries” but…that might be getting ahead of myself.)

Pesky Interview Questions

Interviewing for a job is, at the very least, weird. It’s like dating but professional instead of romantic. You meet people with very different expectations that you; and you hear some very strange things. You might even say some of those weird things as nerves and sheer exhaustion addle your brain.

Some of those weird things are questions (and the answers).

I remember a Skype interview I was on where one of the interviewers asked me, “Do you consider yourself a team player?” There was only one way to answer that particular question. Yes. My one word answer elicited an awkward pause, before the interviewer asked me to elaborate (which I did).

Like the question I was posed, people get strange or strangely worded questions posed to them.

One that I see popping up time and again in interviewing advice is some variation of: “What is your greatest weakness?” On forums and in blog posts (including this one), people puzzle out how to answer this question.

I have decided that this question and others like it are non-questions. People ask them to put you on the spot. And you quickly find that any answer you give 1) sounds dumb or 2) doesn’t really fully answer the question. I’ve decided: THAT’S OKAY. In your interview, you do not want to lie or falsely represent yourself, but you’re also showing your best side. You do not need to self-sabotage.

Plus, it would take a very introspective and perceptive individual to truly know the answers to some of these questions.

So, here are how to respond to these pesky non-questions.

  • “What is your greatest weakness?”
    “I am very hardworking and sometimes it’s exhausting to put so much effort into your work. But I always get the job done – with time to take care of myself and my apartment too.”
  • “What will be your biggest challenge in this position?”
    “[Something entirely innocuous.]”
  • “Tell us about a time you had a conflict with a supervisor, and how you resolved the issue.”
    “I can’t recall a time I had a conflict with your supervisor.”
  • “Tell us about a time you had a conflict with a coworker. How did you handle that situation?”
    “I don’t think I’ve ever had a conflict with a coworker.”

 

On Writing

ghost writing on laptop
By SlimVirgin – Own work, CC BY 3.0.

I remember being in high school (and all the grades before that); and writing was so easy. My mother and I joked that all I had to do was click print. Writing just came that easily to me.

Then, I went to college. I had to spend a lot more time on my writing – developing a topic, thinking about what I wanted to say, finding evidence, writing a draft, structuring my ideas, rewriting, sitting on it for awhile. So, the writing took more effort and more thought. And it was “hard” in certain ways if you were tired or didn’t want to write or got anxious about your grades, how your professor would react, etc.

And then I went to grad school and writing became dumbly easy again. I had developed good habits from undergrad – so I was a bit more thoughtful during grad school than I had in high school. But I wasn’t crying tears of blood or typing my fingers raw. Not in the slightest. I used a writing tutor in undergrad on occasion; there was absolutely no reason to use one in graduate school.

So, now, I have my first professional gig. And it requires scholarly publication.

I’ve learned quite quickly that writing, in this context, is really hard. Like undergrad, I get to pick my own topics…so I start with a fire under me, a passion for what I’m talking about. Unlike my English, Creative Writing, and History classes in undergrad, Library and Information Science literature has a fetish for statistics and numbers – and pretentiousness. I find myself more often analyzing data, statistics, etc. than text. And some times that’s fine: I love me some circulation statistics. Ebook and e-jounal download and view statistics too. But I would probably get bored – and my readers too – if I only looked at circulation statistics in every single article or chapter I write.

Then, there are the soul-crushing reviewers required in peer-reviewed journals. My first attempt at submitting an article turned into a strange flip from “We like this and want this” to “This will never be up to our publication standards.” So, when you eventually pick yourself up and brush yourself off from that kind of rejection, you second guess every edit you’re making.

And then I have the existential crisis of knowing that most library literature is pointless. There are plenty of people in my position – writing peer-reviewed articles in order to keep their jobs and/or make tenure. I do not want to write pointless literature, and yet I know full well that I am likely going to contribute to the mush – because I need to in order to progress in my career. Then I begin to wonder if what I am currently writing is slush or not – and how hard I should work to make it not-slush.

So, in the end, writing has become a lot harder than it once was.

LIS Education Lacking

I came across Gavia Libraria’s post on how many people feel that library education is lacking. The “Library Loon,” as the author calls themselves, complains about LIS professionals in a rough job market complaining how their LIS education has not made them the shiny, gleaming candidate that everyone wants. Okay, I get her point – we can’t blame LIS education for a poor job market (at least not wholly).

But I am a person who recently graduated from a top LIS program (in the United States) – and I was the shiny, gleaming candidate that everyone wanted. I had no trouble getting interviews or offers, and had a job lined up months before I graduated. It might very well look like the poster child for a successful and robust LIS education.

And I still feel that LIS education is quite lacking and isn’t (always) helping us LIS professionals out.

LIS education can be so utterly devoid of intellectualism. I came from undergrad straight into my Masters of Library and Information Science program. And I quite quickly decided that library school was a little more like high school in its demands and intellectualism. For a graduate program, isn’t that unfortunate?

The professors I had were not particularly good. Yes, I had a few stand outs – but the bar was so low (due to the majority of the faculty) that perhaps it was easy to stand out. Yes, I know I was at a research university – and not a teaching one – but I would hope that the majority my professors had more of a passion than they decided to show. And they might have had the classic problem of PhDs not being taught instruction, how to teach, etc. We also had adjunct faculty (who were either librarians in the surrounding community or staff members in other academic departments) who class after class lodged complaints about – and it always seemed that the administration shrugged.

I loved my graduate assistantship, and I can’t say I mind the “oohs” and “ahhs” I get when I say where I went to school. But I still think – if the top LIS program in the country had these “problems” – that LIS education across the country must be lacking in something.