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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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.

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.

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.

When Presentations Go Wrong

I have a feeling at least 50% of librarians get performance anxiety. Why so many of us still go to conferences and present is a mystery to me. It’s a mystery to me why I do it – when writing an article would be less stressful. (Maybe because presentations are quicker to do.)

Anyway, most of us with stage fright go up to the podium and give perfectly decent presentations. Except for a few “ums” or a misspoken word (that we quickly correct), our presentations go smoothly and as painlessly as possible.

And there are other times that your presentation…doesn’t go according to plan.

I was recently at ER&L. (It’s Electronic Resources & Libraries, for the 15 people who asked me what it was.) I watched everyone else go before me without a hitch, so I was quite sure that everything was all nicely set up for me to go.

But it wasn’t. For some reason, my slides had not been pre-loaded onto the presentation computer. Luckily, I had sent the slides to myself via email. So, I went to my email and pulled up the message. Unluckily, when I tried to open my PowerPoint file, it crashed the browser. So, I tried again. And it crashed the browser. On the third attempt – and third crash – I decided that I would probably never get the damn thing to open.

So, I asked my audience if they were okay with plain old lecture format. And off I went.

I got about a third of the way through by lecturing and describing what I had meant to show them. Then, the technical support strode in. My audience started pointing at them. It was the reason I realized they were standing awkwardly behind me. So, I paused my presentation and let them work their “magic.” On the second try, they managed to pull up my slides. And…I had to go about trying to find my place in my script again, without confusing myself or the audience. I got a little tongue-twisted for a few seconds here and there. But I did manage to make my way through the whole presentation.

I wasn’t disappointed in myself. But I was quite glad there were only about 10 people watching.

So, that’s a story of when presentations go wrong.

©hat and Copyfraud

For those of us back from Spring Break, welcome back. Some of us were very, very bored without you. And envious.

copyright symbolAnyway, while I was cleaning out an old email account, I found out that the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)’s University Library has started a podcast on copyright called ©hat. I am not in anyway a copyright librarian or copyright lawyer, but I find copyright and licensing to be fascinating due to long times spent 1) thinking someone was going to “steal” my writing and 2) seeing how different e-resources functioned due to different licensing agreements. My director also knows that I’m interested in copyright and licensing and so pushes the occasional copyright question to me. So, when I learned the provider of my graduate education was putting out copyright podcasts, I decided I would take a listen.

The Copyright Librarian at UIUC Sara Benson talks to experts on copyright. For the first episode,  she interviews Jason Mazzone, a Professor of Law (also at UIUC).

In the podcast, Benson and Mazzone discuss the concept of “copyfraud.” Copyfraud is a concept that describes when individuals or institutions falsely claim copyright ownership to content in the public domain. Copyfraud is also used to describe circumstances where publishers, museums, and creators claim rights beyond that which copyright law allows. Mazzone found himself interested in the topic while he was doing historical research and archives that required access agreements that restricted Mazzone from quoting or reproducing archival material that was in the public domain. These agreements and restrictions were, as he says, “bogus”: if the material is in the public domain, as were the nineteenth century documents he was studying, these restrictions cannot be enforced.

And thus, Mazzone decided to vent. It started with an op ed piece. And, as these things apparently go in academia, it progressed into a monograph – Copyfraud and Other Abuses of Intellectual Property Law.

The podcast ©hat was short but interesting for someone who is interested in copyright. Listen to episode one here.

“Professor C”

Musing over an empty glass because I had drank all my water and didn’t presume to ask for or go get more, I was sitting on a packed, screened porch with a dozen people who self-identified as “writers” in the middle of the Midwestern United States. As someone who writes fiction, I somewhat self-identify as such. But it always seems pretentious to say “I’m a writer” or “they were writers” – so let’s just call a possum a possum: they were college professors. (And that one chef.)

“I hate going around hearing ‘Professor H,* Professor H,'” said the man sitting next to me. “I just want to go someplace once and be called Carl.”

“Have your students call you that,” I said.

“No, the whole German* department requires our students call them ‘Professor so-and-so,'” he replied. “Otherwise the students get too forward with the female professors.”

***

During grad school, I wanted to make small talk with the one professor I truly admired at the program. So, I asked, “Shauna, did you get time to relax over break? Or did you have to write the entire time?”

My professor gave me a strange look, though she eventually answered.

I think that looked stemmed from wondering why I can called her “Shauna,” and not “Professor Jones.”

***

In the first class of my undergraduate education, my professor asked the class to call her “Ms. O’Neale.” Calling someone “Doctor” or “Professor” sounded too stuffy.

I found that the rest of my professors followed similar – or even more informal patterns. 90% preferred their first names. The others preferred a Ms. or Mr.; one preferred more of a nickname.

***

Now, I will stand in front of classes as the instructor or co-instructor. And the primary teaching faculty will introduce me as “Professor Ciota.” I don’t correct them. Sometimes, I try the moniker on for size. It has a minor thrill to it for a moment.

But I really don’t want to go around being called “Professor Ciota.” “Ms. Ciota” is fine from time to time – it feels more like me. But I really am “Rebecca,” first and foremost. So why shouldn’t students call me by my name?

Like the professor during my first undergraduate class, I find “Professor” too stuffy, too pretentious. I don’t see education as including a “Sage on the Stage” – like a “Professor” or a “Doctor.” (Though, I do think appropriate amounts of either experience or education should be required for professorships.) I want students and faculty to learn alongside each other. Learning is a discussion, not a lecture.

Yes, I want the students (and my colleagues) to respect me and my value as an instructor and scholar. But I don’t particularly care for a constant reminder that I am some lofty being that my students have to crane their necks to loo up to. I want to be alongside them, watching them learn and steering them when appropriate.

I’d rather just be “Rebecca.”

*Names and departments have been changed.

The People’s Knowledge

Earlier this year, the Trump Administration placed a gag order on certain federally-funded scientific organizations, like the EPA and the National Parks Service. While these “gag orders” might be common and temporary, occurring briefly at the beginning of each new administration, there has been a public outcry over censorship.

I’m trying to keep my head about me between hyped up news about “normal” political transition, the more radical leanings of a more radical conservative party, and the outright not-normal political maneuvers – and then craft my responses to each. Plus, there’s the everyday stuff like planning a systems migration at work, or making sure that my horse is happy and healthy. But in light of this “gag order” for scientific organizations, I started to think about what information the public would not be getting.

And I realized gag orders on federally-funded scientific research prevent the public from accessing information they paid for.

I could talk about the various ethical implications for gag orders and other restrictions on the dissemination of information, but that’s for another time. This blog post is about money.

The majority of employed individuals in the United States pay the government a significant portion of their wages or salaries. The government uses that money (idealistically) to fund various public services. Among those public services is scientific research. So, we paid for that scientific knowledge. Now, I understand that certain research might affect national security – but for the majority of research, it should be right in the hands of the citizens who paid for it.

While librarians haven’t been necessarily focusing on governmental gag orders on scientists, we have been considering who pays for information. I worked for acquisitions in a major R1 university; I knew we were paying millions for access to scientific (and humanities and social science) scholarship. And even when we paid millions and millions and had the second largest academic library in North America – we still couldn’t afford everything. Smaller institutions have it much worse. (I know. Now, I’m stranded without even half of what I had at the University of Illinois.)

To mitigate this information gap, librarians (and other education professionals) have been pushing the idea of “open access” – where anyone anywhere can access scholarly information. Several journals and monographs are now widely available online for free. Still, there is plenty of literature trapped behind paywalls.

Librarians push open access with ethical, logical, and pragmatic arguments. Again, these are interesting reasons – but I’m focusing on the money.

As an acquisitions librarian, I am used to paying (a lot of money) for information. And that information comes with lots of DRM. And then, the next fiscal year, you pay more – for the subscription or for database maintenance. I’m so used to the financial aspects of information, this back and forth transaction, that I forget that some of the stuff the library was paying for…I had paid for as well.

I have paid income taxes in Illinois for six years. And those taxes paid for the state universities, which fund researchers. (Plus, plenty of my federal taxes went to those state universities as well.) The research coming out of the Illinois university system, at least for those six years, in part belongs to me: I funded it, I paid for it. So has every other resident of the state. So, now that I’m in Iowa, I’m funding Iowa’s state universities and their research. Why should all that research I paid for be behind giant paywalls?

Maybe it shouldn’t be. (It’s a long argument. I don’t necessarily think all the paywalls should go away. I am, after all, part acquisitions librarian from a large R1 university who is used to paying for the stuff. And open access comes with its own pitfalls.)

But I’m giving a shout out to those publicly-funded institutions that are making their research open and free to the public. NASA gets a special shout out because of their new PubSpace.