Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Change is Inevitable, Wisdom is Sought

I am struck by the similarities between widely divergent topics of discussion that I’ve experienced lately. As I was driving to school Monday, I was listening to a podcast of “The Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour,” which I’d downloaded (legally!) to CD. One of the featured guests was an African-American blues singer and musician named Bobby Rush. As guest and host were talking between numbers, Mr. Rush related an exchange where a “young lady…about 18” told him “I don’t want to hear about the blues because it reminds me of slavery.” He went on to say that fewer and fewer “black musicians” are playing the blues, while more “white” musicians and audiences are taking an interest in the blues. Mr. Rush’s response was that “Slavery is a part of history. It happened… and you must know about that.” I agree that if we do not know where we have come from, we cannot truly know where we are going.

In a less-profound way, the cataloging and organizing of information is facing a similar turn away from the past. I am currently taking a class on cataloging, and I can see in my classmates’ reactions that AACR2, LC, and Dewey are just something to put up with. A part of me feels the same way as well. With all we’ve learned about organizing data, why hasn’t someone invented a better way to classify and arrange books and other materials in a library? But as I struggle to learn and use the tools we have, I see that, while inconsistent, culturally-biased, and far from perfect, these rules and procedures have real value, and are a laudable attempt to organize something that is determinedly inconstant. As our profession moves to embrace the power of the latest technology -- Web 2.0, Library 2.0, Subject Guide 2.0 -- let us remember to bring forward the lessons learned by Dewey and others. Our profession strives to provide the best and easiest access to any information our patrons want. Let’s use that knowledge and experience to influence and guide the future of information searching. If we do not, we will end up either re-creating the next millennium’s version of the AACR2, LC, and Dewey; or we will simply settle for something of poorer quality, and trading the power knowledge for the vulnerability of ignorance.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Little Things and Big Questions

Usually I spend Tuesdays working on homework, and by the time the afternoon rolls around, I find inspiration for my blog. Today, however, I spent the morning on a conference call, my first one in an academic setting. I was reminded that no matter how whiz-bang fantastic a new technology is, the success or failure of its implementation/use is highly dependent on non-technological stuff, namely the environment and behavior of human beings. As an example, the conference call I participated took place in a room that had a large, donut-shaped table about a dozen feet across. The tabletop was made of finished wood, and looked great, but the hole in the middle prevented the leaders from putting the conference phone in the middle, where it would do the most good. Of the ten people present, only a few projected their voices well enough to be heard from where they sat. The rest had to take turns moving to the head of the table, and even then some were so naturally soft-spoken that remote participants had a hard time making out their words. One of the remote participants, obviously using a handset instead of a speakerphone, kept blowing her nose at very inopportune times, interrupting or completely obscuring important content. Finally, another participant tried to dial in using a cell phone, and for several minutes everything she said had an echo. I don’t know how others felt, but these distractions both tried my patience, and reminded me of the fragility of any multi-person endeavor, no matter how carefully planned and pre-tested.

Taking a step back, I have worked in a variety of jobs and environments. I have worked in a major call-center, where I was judged more by the number of calls I handled than the quality of service provided. I have worked in childcare, where every time you turn around another child’s natural needs demanded your full attention. I’ve worked on a production line for Keebler, a cog to help turn out cookies by the thousands. Every position I’ve worked has had its share of demands, busy times and slow times. But the time I’ve spent as a Graduate Assistant has been the most laid-back, evenly paced, take-the-time-to-learn-first work I have ever done. Observing reference librarians’ work, they too seem to have a bit more time to take doing their work than anything I’ve ever done. And, like one’s health, one often does not appreciate what one has until it is threatened, or gone. How do I share what I’ve learned, seen and done with other librarians? What words and/or actions can I employ that will encourage them to see that every time someone’s profession is downgraded (e.g., some forms of outsourcing, or having untrained personnel serve in Reference positions), all our professions can be called into question?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Blog Surfin' for Ideas

Some weeks I come to the process of blogging with an issue I want to discuss, or at least comment on. Other times I surf the feeds I’ve subscribed to via Bloglines, hoping to be inspired. This week is one of the latter, and two postings, one thoughtful and one humorous, are worth commenting on. First, from Infoblog, some of the “Prognostications from CLA 2007, Part 1”, and my thoughts thereon:
In the future…
*Library users will choose from a variety of convenient borrowing plans – enabling them to check out more items for a shorter loan period, or fewer items for a longer loan period, or have all materials due on the same day each month, etc.
*Retiring baby boomers will demand elaborate summer reading programs for adults.
*The library will become a primary destination for consumer health information and services such as flu shots, well baby clinics, etc.
*Libraries will broaden – and improve - their pool of applicants for customer service jobs by omitting the word "library" from recruitment ads.
*Demand-based dynamic shelving algorithms will replace the Dewey Decimal System
Inspired and creative thinking like this is essential if libraries are to survive, and remain relevant as society evolves. While I was unemployed in the summer of 2006, a friend, who had just graduated from IUPUI – SLIS, talked me into enrolling, saying that someone with my combination of computer skills and a strong customer service ethic would be a valuable contributor to the profession. In a cynical mood, I asked if Google and the Internet would make libraries irrelevant, or would there really be a job for me when I graduated. I’ve learned that what I thought was an either-or proposition turns out to be a kind of “both-and” choice. We all know the inroads Google has made into areas such as ready-reference. So, how else do we get patrons in the door, and expose them to the variety of resources we offer that are not easily or not at all available at their fingertips? We possess the tools and skills to make the power of information available to all. Why not tie this in with community services such as flu-shots and well-baby clinics? Our local Boys and Girls Club has a mini-branch of the library within. Why not put mini-branches in daycare centers, with specialized resources for parents? Or in malls, with Consumer Reports, fashion magazines, and money-management resources prominently displayed?
Yet, I am no different from any other job-seeker. I want this degree to guarantee me a position that pays decently, and will last many years. Otherwise, why spend all the money and time to get an advanced degree? Truth be told, as I look at the richness and diversity in the library science profession, even when I am (hopefully) awarded an up-to-date MLS, I feel like a surfer who has missed most of the good waves of the day, and the seas are beginning to calm. Do I have to run twice as hard as those already in the field, fighting and clawing my way through crowds of tech-savvy, highly experienced professionals, just to find my niche? Sure, there are libraries out there that are farther “behind the times” than I am; but will they even be interested in the education and skills I have to offer? I can be as averse to risk as anyone, but I would prefer to work in a place where such aversion is the exception, rather than the norm.
In the future…
*The majority of new library construction will be "green" – and LEED certified.
*Libraries will take steps to become carbon neutral.
For a profession that saw the advantages for organizing information, I say, “It’s about time!” When I first joined ALA and subscribed to the Social Responsibility Round Table, I thought that this was what they would be all about: challenging the profession as a whole to call for environmentally sound practices. I will celebrate the day when libraries actively strive to be “green” and carbon neutral.
In the future…
*Library users will schedule personalized reader’s advisory sessions with a "reading coach."
Watch this YouTube video for a humorous interpretation of this one. (If I can’t end my blog with thoughtful questions, at least it will end with a laugh!)