Thursday, April 13, 2017

Three Things That Worked for Me in My First Professional Librarian Position, by Emma Olmstead-Rumsey

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I was hired for my first professional librarian position in March of 2016. The rash/generous institution that first gave me the ‘librarian’ title was the Cromaine District Library, a public library serving a small town and the surrounding rural area in the southeastern part of Michigan. Librarianship is not my second career, so this was the first time I’d been given any professional responsibilities, let alone ones that (theoretically) required an MLS.

I’m sure I could have taken it as a vote of confidence, but after brief trainings on the building, emergency procedures, administrative procedures, the ordering system, etc., my manager pretty much left me to my own devices to work out how best to spend my 20 hours per week. Here is what I found worked well for me in the first few months.

#1: Read a lot…
Unless you work in one of those rare libraries that is hands-on about training, you’re going to have a lot of time on your hands for the first few weeks. Keep yourself busy by reading everything you can about your new library and community. I read our Wikipedia page, the town’s Wikipedia page, and a bunch of demographic information from the U.S. census on my first desk shift. I also looked through all the brochures, quick reference sheets, etc. that had accumulated on the reference desk. I even spent an entire afternoon in the back looking over our staff intranet and opening any folder that sounded like it had information I should know about. It gave me a lot of useful context for my work, although obviously not everything turned out to be current or relevant. Which brings me to…

#2: …but don’t believe everything you read
Library workers are hoarders, of documents as well as items [Editor’s Note: Ain’t it the truth?!]. If a policy is updated, you can bet good money that instead of trashing the old one, the new one will be saved as “Policy revised mm-dd-yyyy” in the same folder, and the file name will only be changed if you are lucky. Also, the policies and procedures in practice never look exactly like their written versions. Accordingly, pay attention to what your coworkers actually do and say, not just to the written policies. I was fortunate enough to be in easy earshot of the circulation desk when I was at reference, so I spent a lot of time eavesdropping on the staff there to learn how it was normal for staff to talk to patrons, and vice versa. Similarly, it was what I focused on when I was shadowing my manager and colleagues on the reference desk, because I already know how to conduct a reference interview. This helped me a lot to learn which "rules" existed only on paper, and how the librarians and the clerks divided up responsibilities. It even helped me make educated guesses about who was the best person to go to if I myself had questions or needed help—whose response style would fit me the best.

#3: Get a project (I recommend weeding)
Although you’ll have a variety of responsibilities other than staffing the desk, a lot of them can be hard to pick up when you’re new. For example, my library schedules programs months ahead of time in order to advertise well. That turned out to be a good thing, since it was a big challenge for me to figure out what would and wouldn’t go over well with the community, and to do that I needed some experience and information that would take time to get. But if you don’t have anything to do but be on the desk, you might go a little crazy. The project that saved me was weeding. I was assigned my areas of collection management right away. I had a written collection development policy to reference, training in weeding tools, and familiarity with the principles of public library collection development. In short, I had everything I needed.

Making weed lists kept me entertained on the desk when it wasn't busy, and spending time in the stacks when I was off-desk helped me get to know my collection really well. I was a little worried that I would get a reputation for getting rid of library materials rather than adding to the collection, and I sort of did, but not in the negative way I was expecting. My librarian coworkers didn't pay much attention at all, but the clerks and the pages (who have to pull items on hold and re-shelve materials, and thus don't appreciate overfilled shelves) noticed my work and as a result I started out on good terms with them right away. Heavy weeding early on also left me in excellent shape later when I got busy with my other responsibilities. I could let weeding slide for a little while, knowing that I had plenty of space in my collection areas for new materials.

I have just passed the one-year mark in this position, and this approach continues to provide a good foundation for my work there.

How about you? Would you do anything differently?


Emma Olmstead-Rumsey fell into public librarianship as a fortuitous result of dropping out of a Ph.D. program in history and received her MLS in 2014. She is currently an Adult Services Librarian at the Cromaine District Library in Hartland, MI and a Public Services Librarian at the main branch of the Capital Area District Library in Lansing, MI. Some of her areas of interest are accessibility, collection management, and evidence-based practice.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Self-Care Revisited

Seven months ago, I wrote a post that was all about self-care. With the state of things in national/international politics, and the fact that today is National Library Workers Day, I figured it was time to write another self-care post. So, here are some things to bring you joy or smiles or hope or at least satisfaction.
  • Joy: Finding a new favorite author. A couple of years ago, I noticed a bunch of people talking about the work of Seanan McGuire, and after a couple of more pointed discussions (one with Jenica Rogers, I remember), I decided to give McGuire's books a try. And now she's my favoritest author.
  • Smile: Taking the plunge and hanging out with Science Twitter. I'd been flirting with this part of the Twitterverse for a while, but I saw a recommended list of STEM people of color and followed them all. Then I followed some more scientists. Among other things, I've gotten to learn about: bird identification, scat of all kinds, and awesome sharks. Bonus - they love librarians! (If you want a rec for who to follow, look at who I'm following on Twitter and search for "science".) The smiles are so frequent.
  • Hope: I'm planning to attend a March for Science on 4/22. I haven't decided if I'm going to DC or to Philly, but I'll be attending with a work friend - one of our science professors. 
  • Satisfaction: I've made some good progress on a couple of work projects that got held up by other work priorities.
  • Joy: Binge watching. I had to take a couple of sick days last week (not as joyful, I know), but I watched two whole seasons (that have recently been added to Netflix) of The Great British Bake Off and wow how I love that show.
  • Smile: My cats. There has been Puddy Wrestlemania levels of tussling lately, and a couple of days ago Viktor tried to hide behind my feet while Zephyr walked by me. She saw his tail sticking out, and pounced, but the whole thing made me grin.

So how about you? What is bringing you joy, smiles, hope, and/or satisfaction?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Just For Fun: Don't Dream It's Over

You know how it usually works when you revisit something you loved as a child? You read or watch or listen, and are deeply disappointed. Sometimes it's because you know better now, like oh my GOD, the casual sexism and racism of M.A.S.H.. Other times it's because you've moved on, such as how I'm embarrassed by how much I loved Garfield and Duran Duran. So when I recently decided to revisit the music of one of my earliest favorites, Crowded House, I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only does their music live up to my early memories - I've actually got a deeper appreciation of their skills now than I did back in 80s.

Maybe it's the power of nostalgia, but I don't think so. I think this is just an amazing band that everyone should be listening to. When I listen to other acts that these people were involved with, such as Finn Brothers and Split Enz, I'm still completely enthralled. And here are some songs to get you going (or for you to enjoy again, if you're already a fan):

The song that made me fall in love with the band:



A favorite from their second album:



The song that most people have heard, and lots of people have covered:



And a bonus from the band they were before they were Crowded House:



So, what do you think? Love them, too?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

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I was recently asked about the experience of future students walking into an academic library. At first, all I could think about was a building where I used to work that was completed in the early 90s but that was outmoded by the late 90s. The rise of mobile devices and the need for power outlets everywhere made a practically brand new building seem dated. That’s just one major change that completely altered the experience in a library. That kind of upheaval can and will happen again, so I know I can't specifically describe the academic library of the future. And I'm not the only one... I read an article last week that flat out stated: “The array of forces that impact upon the library’s operating environment makes any modelling of transformation during the coming years an almost impossible task.” That was written by someone at Carnegie Mellon University - if someone at a school that size doesn't feel up to predicting the future in a meaningful way, how could I?

So then... what are we to do? I mean, other than designing flexible spaces and hiring flexible people...? How can we be ready for the future? Here's how: we need to concentrate on the people. We need to work on making members of our community feel welcome in the library. And I mean all members. I keep thinking about something Verna Myers said at ACRL: "Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance." And that feeling of being asked to dance, of truly belonging, should be our goal for the people who walk through the doors of our libraries.

So, how do we do this? How do we make members of our community, especially our students, feel like they belong in the library? We do it by meeting their needs. And by treating them as whole people, not just academic entities. We've already got them academically. Accommodating and supporting academic needs is the main mission of an academic library. Especially at small, liberal arts colleges like mine. We do course reserves, information literacy, shape our collections to support the research and curricular needs of our parent institutions. But that's just the beginning.

We also need to accommodate the social needs of our community. Yes, most (if not all) of us are giving our students places where they can talk or be quiet, as they choose, but I’d like to see it go further. It’s great to do a display for African American History Month or Women’s History Month, but we shouldn’t restrict it to just those months. Making sure to include writers of color in all displays, not just in February. Including nonbinary authors and women and beyond. We should spend time making sure visual branding is representative as well. We want students to have a sense of ownership of the space, and so partnering with them will be crucial. Making sure they see themselves reflected is crucial.

This is a place where some academics might balk, but providing ways to relax, beyond comfortable chairs, should also be part of our mission. As I said above, our students are whole people and we need to support the whole person. From popular reading materials to board and video games to fun activities sponsored by the library. Therapy dogs and gaming nights and arts &crafts and movie nights might seem on the surface like things only public libraries should be doing, but if we want our students to feel welcome and supported as whole people, we need to do these as well. Even if there’s a public library in town, they aren’t always open nearly as late as we are. Further, even if the public library is right off campus, students - particularly those who aren’t from the local area - aren’t always going to feel comfortable going off campus. Besides, letting our students see us in a social light will help us build the relationship so students will feel more comfortable coming to us for academic help.

It's all well and good - and a bit fun, I have to admit - to think about how technology will shape the future of libraries. Will we be more Starfleet Academy or more Johnny Mnemonic? Gattaca or Jetsons? But, no matter which direction the tech takes us, we will be fine if we remember to focus on the people.


What do you think?