It’s been a while since I posted here; I have to chock it up to the frenzied nature of my last semester of grad school and travel-filled summer. But I have been maintaining a list of topics I want to write about, so expect to see more content over the coming weeks.
My biggest news right now (and also part of the explanation for my long absence) is that I finished graduate school and have started my first professional position! It’s been a series of transitions, endings, and beginnings over the last six months, so I wanted to take some time to note the changes and reflect on some of the roles I’m moving away from.
Graduate School (GSLIS, specifically)
It’s been 4 years since I started at the Graduate School of Library & Information Science. I came into library school not really knowing what my specialty would be. I knew I enjoyed research, public service, and working with interesting resources. And I knew I liked the people, both patrons and colleagues, that I’d worked with in archives and libraries in the past. I didn’t know I would end up staying past my MLIS to complete a Certificate of Advanced Study, much less on library marketing and outreach. But luckily life can take you to interesting places and I ended up meeting wonderful people along the way who pushed me to push myself: I was able to present some of my research in Spain; I helped create the first student-led conference at GSLIS; I became an active board member in the student chapter of ALA and went to ALA Annual as part of the student-to-staff program; I gained so much experience and so many amazing LIS skills; and I connected with so many wonderful students and faculty. I also came to think more critically about LIS education (through my involvement with the Symposium on LIS Education and other commitments). Despite the fact that I’ve graduated and moved on to the workforce, LIS education continues to be one of my major interests.
The culmination of my time at GSLIS was finishing my CAS project, which is now accessible online through the University of Illinois institution repository: Library Marketing: Education & Practice. It was a labor of intellect, passion, and love, but I am glad that it’s finally finished. I am currently seeking out publication opportunities and will hopefully have more news on that front in the coming months.
Funk ACES Library
Oh, the Funk. I ended up accepting a graduate assistantship at the Funk during my second semester in grad school and stayed there for 3.5 years. It was a long ride that involved developing a number of skills (e.g. instruction, exhibits, digital exhibits, marketing & grant writing, reference services, virtual chat reference), meeting fabulous people, and growing so much as a library professional and a person. While perhaps not as structured as other graduate assistantships, my experience at the Funk really allowed me to dive into my interests and work on projects that contributed to the library in meaningful ways. Also, as the eventual “lead GA” I was able to contribute to the training efforts and materials for future generations of Funk GAs.
Leaving the Funk ended up being slightly more emotional than I predicted. It was the longest running position I’d ever had and the connections I made there are still very important to me. My last major contribution was to create a GA Project Management wiki that will act as project portfolios for the new GAs. I hope it serves them well!
Hack Library School
While I was in grad school I also became part of the Hack Library School community. I started following the blog during my first year and then when they opened up a call for new writers in 2012 I applied and was accepted! I stayed on for nearly three years, through the summer of 2015. I was able to write about a variety of topics within an incredibly supportive community that continually produced high-quality content both online and elsewhere (HLS has hosted events and conversation starters at ALA, as well as producing an ebook!). I’ve turned to people within the HLS community (current and alumni) for advice, assistance, and even speaking engagements (we ended up with an awesome HLS alumni panel at the Symposium on LIS Education). It is an amazing, evolving community of engaged students and I am very happy to have been a part of it for so long. It definitely enhanced my writing skills and also allowed me to experiment with social media outreach in my position as the blog’s Community Manager. This past summer I turned over the social media reins to a new Community Manager; now my involvement in HLS is just as a supportive alumnus and new writer mentor. But I look forward to connecting with past and future HLS writers throughout my career!
My New Gig: Reference & Information Services
So, needless to say, it has been a summer of conclusions and wrapping things up. It felt very strange to step down from roles and move away from comforting, familiar places. However, I’ve also been able to start a number of new things, the most exciting of which is my new position: Reference and Web Services Specialist. My position is within the Research & Information Services department of the University of Illinois library. I get to work on all kinds of fantastic projects, most of which have to do with web services (e.g. page redesigns, internal pages/services, etc.); more on these to come! I’ve only been in the position for a few weeks but I’m already enjoying it immensely. The environment is full of collaboration, innovation, and hard-working, passionate people.
Transitions are bittersweet, but so far I’m happily embracing the variety of new beginnings in my life right now. I have high hopes for a lively semester of productivity, teamwork, and a more consistent writing schedule. :)
I’m finally finished with my grant project!
Over a year ago I spearheaded a proposal for grant funding for a marketing/promotion project at my library. We were able to secure the funding and it has been a long process to figure out exactly what we want, design it, and acquire the deliverables. But just yesterday I sent off the final report to the grant committee and can now breathe a sigh of relieve and satisfaction. And share the results with you lovely folks!
Our initial goal: to create materials that the library can use at tabling events to promote the library location, services, and collections. We never send a representative to orientations, large departmental events, or information fairs in our college because we have no materials, large or small, to use at such events. Our first idea was to have a large informational poster that could be set up beside or on top of a table, along with a small giveaway.
This idea eventually morphed into what we have now: a large, Velcro-friendly blue board display; 17 foam-mounted images (including a header) that attach to the board – some illustrate library services (printing, study rooms) while others illustrate our various subject areas; and a colorful, two-sided informational bookmark with our hours, location, contact info, and key services. The board display is flexible – we can customize it to any event at which we want to promote the library. And the bookmark has the basic information about our library, so new visitors know who we are, what we do, and where to find us.
Working on this project was a blast! I was so glad that the marketing committee chose our proposal. We were allowed the freedom, within our budget, to create some fantastic materials that will last us many semesters and help promote the library. There are at least a few events this spring and summer where I’d love to use our new tabling set-up. Additional photos and stories of the materials in action are (hopefully) forthcoming!
Time, once again, for a recap of a year’s worth of reading. I did not hit my goal of 40 books or 15,000 pages. But, I did read some pretty great books and was about on par with 2012-me. I ended up reading a total of 33 books and 11,000 pages, which is nothing to sneeze at. I stretched myself to try out a variety of genres (mystery, true crime, romance, YA, graphic novels, etc.); I kept up my desire to read more non-fiction, and I even pushed through a few “classics.” Here are the books I read in 2014, with tiny tidbits as needed (for full reviews, see my Goodreads page) (as always my must-read favorites are marked with *’s):
- Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, David Foster Wallace
Mmm this had its amazing moments, but oh man can DFW ramble on and on at times…
- One Day, David Nicholls
Bleh. This was a disappointing rip-off of better stuff (e.g. Time Traveler’s Wife and When Harry Met Sally).
- Me Before You, Jojo Moyes
So sad but still pretty good. You were warned.
- Anne of Green Gables,* L.M. Montgomery
Yes. This series will always be a favorite, particularly the early books.
- Anne of Avonlea, L.M. Montgomery
- Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery
- Prayers for Rain,* Dennis Lehane
This was a surprisingly good mystery. Makes me want to read more Lehane. Very gritty; would recommend.
- I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and the Inside Story of the Mafia, the Teamsters, and the Final Ride of Jimmy Hoffa, Charles Brandt
Ah, the spring of true crime. This was interesting and well-researched.
- In Cold Blood,* Truman Capote
Ooof. So good. Long, but I have no idea what could be cut. Occasionally takes liberties, but overall amazing.
- The Areas of My Expertise, John Hodgman
Mmm. Not my favorite. My inner-history-major doesn’t like fake facts, even if they are funny.
- Defending Jacob, William Landay
This was fairly decent throughout but the ending felt like a let-down. This is a common problem I have with mysteries…
- The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories,* Carson McCullers
Oh, Carson McCullers. Such pure Gothic delight and goodness.
- The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
Not as Gothic, but definitely still a lovely slow burn.
- And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini
OH my goodness this book just became an endless parade of sadness. Every character that was introduced I just thought “Ok, what the most horribly poetic way for this person’s life to go terribly wrong,” because then it happened.
- To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
Oh, the classics. Picked this one up again after abandoning it in undergrad. Slow, but with some amazing reflections on gender roles.
- Outlander,* Diana Gabaldon
I am not ashamed! This book is guilty-pleasure goodness. Might give a few more books in the series a try…
- People Are Unappealing: Even Me, Sara Barron
Fluffy and entertaining memoir.
- Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
Oi. Read this in a weekend. First Vonnegut. Can understand the appeal. He is different and strange and definitely not for everyone.
- Eleanor & Park,* Rainbow Rowell
This book is a lovely illustration of mid-teen years and awkwardness and longing. SO much good stuff about having a less-than-ideal family situation but somehow not wanting anyone to know/empathize/whatever. Gave me all of the feels. Would recommend.
- Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays,* Joan Didion
Oh sweet beautiful non-fiction. Some people have a problem with Joan Didion. I have no such problem.
- White Bird in a Blizzard, Laura Kasischke
Read this one after seeing the interesting-looking movie trailer. Whipped through it quickly and loved the creepy tone Kasischke establishes. Still haven’t seen the movie, but want to…
- A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
Oh man. I had a variety of feelings about this book. Some parts (e.g. soldier friendships, his blunt writing style) were lovely, while others were horrendous (portrayal of women as crazy/crazed/ridiculous/stupid/vapid). Yikes.
- Relish: My Life in the Kitchen,* Lucy Knisley
This short graphic novel was sweet and cute. I love a food-based memoir. Give me all of the food-based memoirs.
- What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty
While I was initially against reading this book-club book (overt, gratuitously sad books piss me off), I ended up enjoying it for the most part.
- 11/22/63,* Stephen King
YES. Such a good suspenseful novel about time travel and JFK and love and LIFE. Read it. I would recommend this book to ANYONE.
- The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri’s writing is beautiful. I still think I prefer her short stories, but this book is enjoyable.
- The Arrival, Shaun Tan
A graphic novel without any dialogue/text that succeeded in making me cry. Enough said.
- A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail,* Bill Bryson
This book is highly entertaining and will make you want to go thru-hiking.
- The Maze Runner,* James Dashner
A very great start to what is hopefully a good series. Cannot wait to see the movie. (Although, ugh, they better explain why the group of teenagers who are charged with saving the world is ALL DUDES plus one lady…)
- A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
Enjoyed this much more than his fiction. Apparently he *does* have respect for some women, which is encouraging. Wish he could have finished the book himself, as I’m sure it would have been better. Would recommend.
- Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay
This book is amazing you should read it now. My favorite non-fiction of the year. Never has my desire to photocopy chapters and mail them to friends and family been so strong. Favorite essays: How to Be Friends With Another Woman; Blurred Lines, Indeed; The Solace of Preparing Fried Foods and Other Quaint Remembrances from 1960s Mississippi: Thoughts on The Help; The Alienable Rights of Women
- Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
Read this for book club; felt mixed about it. It’s a slow burn and achieves a very distinct tone. However, parts felt gratuitous and it’s hard to enjoy a book with a (seemingly gratuitous) body count. Oh well…
- Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned,” Lena Dunham
Read this book to see what all the hype was about. Feel pretty much the same way about the book as I do about Girls: presents some interesting/underrepresented stories; does not (and should not be expected to) speak for the entire female population; is an interestingly unapologetic spectacle.
Have decided to scale back my 2015 reading goals a bit: I want to read 30 books or 10,000 pages, whichever comes first. I want to maintain my commitment to reading new genres, conquering classics, and throwing in some non-fiction here and there. Happy reading, everyone!
My last big project of my summer job at a health sciences library was to create the “welcome back” fall bulletin board. I’d previously worked on exhibits and displays, but never a bulletin board! Luckily the library was well-equipped with giant letters, poster board, and colored paper. While I have no desire to become a youth librarian, I do find an amazing amount of zen-like joy in cutting out paper square and rectangles. I also follow a Library Displays Tumblr, which did help me develop my own board’s design.
Luckily, I was able to work with the content from last year’s “welcome back” board, so I mostly just had to update the map and some of the information. People seemed pretty pleased and it was a lovely way to spend my last few days.
While my normal job doesn’t currently have a library bulletin board, there has been talk of getting a fancy electronic bulletin board. So perhaps there will be new forays into library bulletin boards in my future!
Last week I had the experience we all dread: a bad-beyond-bad reference interaction. The problems were twofold:
- I did not know enough about the subject of the patron’s question to be very effective (at least right away).
- The patron was very disgruntled and clipped, shortly telling me to leave.
The bulk of my customer service experience comes from a job at a college bookstore where I was regularly yelled at and treated badly by customers who were angry about book prices, glitchy financial aid systems, and a variety of other problems. Therefore I can usually remain fairly unfazed in the face of hostility. But this particular patron got to me. I felt very deflated and upset after the interaction.
But with the space and time to heal, I have been able to pull two positive results from the fiasco:
- The subject of the patron’s query was our new scanner. I, unfortunately, had not been able to experiment much with the scanner, which led to my ineffectiveness during the reference interaction. The next day, I set out to remedy this oversight – I sat down at the scanning station, fleshed out a number of scenarios, and typed up more extensive instructions, with screen-grabs, to post at the station.
- In an attempt to figure out what had set the patron off on me so intensely, I brought the interaction up to a coworker, who happened to have worked with the patron before. He assured me that the patron is one of the most difficult he has ever encountered and that it took multiple interactions for a sense of positive feelings to emerge between them. He explained that most of this patron’s questions are about scanning, technology, and privacy. It was at this moment that a fuller, less caricatured portrait of this patron started to form in my mind. This patron was not a spiteful, heartless person (as I had come to view them in my mind), but a person who struggles with technology and library anxiety and, while short on patience with others, needs a certain amount of patience from others.
All of this is just to say: while I dreaded the return of this patron for a few days, I’ve now come full circle: I want this patron to come back. As soon as possible. While I’m on duty! Instead of flailing, becoming flustered, and ultimately walking away on the verge of tears, I want to assert that while I may not have the right answer immediately, I can be of service and we can figure out the new scanner – together.
Last week I had the interesting task of creating an inventory of books that were originally donated by a retired professor. Many of the books were historic textbooks from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. I couldn’t resist peeking inside a few, much to my fascination and dismay. Want to assure yourself that time travel would not, indeed, be fun? Read a medical textbook from the 1920s; we’ve come a long way since then.
But there were also a few amazing finds that I couldn’t resist sharing with my readers. First off, the opening image from The Modern Apothecary: A Compendium in Four Parts (1941), which is a drawing of the “prescription department of the Wade Drug Company, Cleveland, Ohio.”
And the other interesting finds, which were slightly harder to inventory as they were never actually published, were a set of day-books used by a doctor (or multiple different doctors) from the 1880s to the 1920s. They are fascinating primary documents that the donor must have picked up at auction or an estate sale somewhere. Each details the patients, number of visits, paid status, and sometimes specific ailments.
It’s always a pleasure when archives and special collections pop up in unexpected places. Though I did end up with red rot all over my hands and pants (from resting the spines on my legs as I typed the inventory). Learned my lesson on that one!
There are posts all over the internet (many on my beloved Hack Library School) about defending the LIS field and developing your elevator speech. And while being prepared to counter the arguments of “Isn’t the internet making you obsolete?” and “Oh, so I guess you don’t want to make any money…” is definitely important, I’ve found some other recent conversations to be more interesting/engaging.
These conversations were less attack/defense than some can be, and instead about engaging on a personal level with people about their ideas about information, the role of libraries and librarians, and the connections between LIS and other disciplines.
The first example is a humorous one that I detailed on my Tumblr: an auto parts store employee, upon learning that I am an LIS student, exclaimed something to the effect of, “Wow, that’s awesome! Librarians make so much money!” This came as a bit of a shock to me, as librarianship is widely (and for the most part, correctly) considered a “labor of love” profession – you probably won’t become rich doing it, but you will experience intellectual fulfillment and you will be able to help your community thrive and grow. Rather than brush him off or counter with “What…” we ended up having a conversation about the realities of being a present-day librarian and how many in the LIS field are undervalued and underpaid. It ended up being an eye-opener for both of us, to say the least.
The second and more recent example came on a weekend trip with friends when, over lunch, one of them inquired about my LIS degree: “But you guys are doing some cool stuff, right? Since books are kind of going away? What do you have in the works?” It was, again, refreshing not to have to start with “no, my field is not obsolete because of the internet.” I explained that not all paper books are going away, particularly in the cases of high circulation copies of new books and classics in public libraries and of special collections/unique original materials. And then we got into the fun new stuff – digital libraries, e-books and e-journals, data management, etc. And we ended with a discussion about stickers (as an engineering tech, he frequently has to de-sticker things, which also occurs in the library world).
Both experiences were great examples of the changing perceptions around the library science field. I relish conversations like this, as they serve to clarify and expand ideas around what librarians do/can do/will do. Plus, they make me happier than the ignorant alternatives. :)
I’m back in action with an extra gig! This summer I’ve taken on a new position as a grad hourly at the University of Illinois – Chicago Health Sciences Library in Urbana. Basically it is a branch library of the health sciences library at UIC in Chicago that serves the branch medical program located here in central Illinois. So far working here has been a great way to expand my experiences in science librarianship, as the patron base, subject material, and policies/work environment are all slightly different than my steady gig over at the Funk Library.
My first big project was to help with the recovery from a flood they had this past spring! The library is housed on the 1st and 2nd floors of the Medical Sciences building. A few months ago pipes burst on the 3rd floor where renovations have been ongoing for months, leaking gallons of water right onto the bookshelves! :(
Luckily this happened during business hours, so staff members leapt into action and moved hundreds of books out of the watery area. Unfortunately many books were damaged beyond easy/cheap repair; therefore, the library’s insurance will likely pay for the repurchasing of most of the damaged books that the library still wants.
Thus, one of my first projects this summer was creating an inventory of the damaged books, including current availability and price, to submit to the administration and insurance company. It was definitely a dirty job (with occasional mold; yuck!) but also very necessary for the library to eventually bounce back. In the meantime, the construction is still ongoing (but hopefully now with less book damage!) and I’m on to more projects, which I will detail later in the summer. If you’re in the area, feel free to stop by and visit!
Library of the Health Sciences – Urbana
102 Medical Sciences Building
506 S. Mathews
Urbana, Illinois, 61801
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30AM-5PM
I don’t often lend a great deal of airtime to local and state-level libraries issues that aren’t in Illinois. While there are exceptions, I generally assume that there are many local factors at play and I try to defer to the judgement and statements of the affected local librarians. That being said, last week’s news from California definitely caught my eye…
California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Greg Lucas, a man with no library background or training, as the state librarian. Now, as an Illinoisan, I don’t really have much ground to stand on here. Our “state librarian” is lumped in with the title of Secretary of State. And while I, like everyone else, respect and admire Jesse White, our long-time Secretary of State, it is a bit of a bummer that we don’t have a dedicated state librarian. Thus, I really envy states that are, by law, required to appoint a “technically trained librarian” to the position, as is supposed to be the case in California. Brown is skirting around this issue by insisting that Lucas will be “pursuing additional technical training through San Jose State University’s library science program in the months ahead,” even though he has had no training at the time of his appointment.
While I don’t want to be too quick on the trigger, I do think that someone with librarian training and experience would bring background knowledge and a sense of purpose that would enhance the position. While Greg Lucas is a political blogger and writer and, thus, may very well do an excellent job advocating for libraries and librarians in California, it still does not sit well with me that the governor felt it appropriate to appoint Lucas. Why should the librarians of California be represented by someone that has never even walked a single day in their shoes, knows nothing firsthand of their struggles and realities, and has not even begun his study of the theoretical frameworks and issues surrounding modern librarianship? It frustrates me to see this happening to my coastal peers.
As mentioned above, I usually try to seek out local librarian viewpoints before making my own decisions. I leave you with the thoughts of a Sarah Houghton, a California librarian whose blog, Librarian in Black, is consistently fantastic and insightful:
I am disturbed by Brown’s appointment, but will reserve my final judgement until we know more about Lucas and hear directly from him. Hopefully that will happen before his confirmation hearing […] As a librarian it’s my job to advocate for my community[…] I, for one, am not yet convinced that this appointee is good for my community. I sincerely hope that he is–that he’s the best damned State Librarian we’ve ever seen. But until he is confirmed, I encourage my colleagues in positions of power within the state association and state government to ask the questions that aren’t being asked. Our California communities deserve no less.
I will be interested to see what becomes of this appointment, as I think it represents one of the key struggles that librarians face today: asserting and justifying our importance and value as trained professionals in our communities.