On Changes and Looking Forward

Over the course of the semester, as we’ve explored and reflected on Information and Library Science education, we’ve voiced criticisms, questions, anxieties, lessons learned, and ideas for the future. Preparing for any profession comes with uncertainty: am I learning what I need to know? Am I going to actually want to work in this profession? Am I as qualified to work in the profession as my peers? Am I going to be able to find a job? Have I made the right choice? Sometimes the ILS educational experience brings answers to these questions and sometimes it brings doubt and more questions.

Now, we have the added uncertainty of life under the upcoming Trump administration, an administration which the American Library Association may or may not be willing to work with (depending on the day and who you ask), an administration which seems to be against the Core Values of Librarianship stated and adopted by the American Library Association, an administration that will be comprised of people who have made threats to many of the communities libraries serve and seek to empower by providing them with access to information and resources. For example: Jeff Sessions, the Trump nominee for Attorney General, who “has made tougher immigration policies a central priority” (Lichtblau par.12) and who has said he is open to a ban on Muslim immigration (Lichtblau par.13). Then there’s the perceived threat to public education. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, has, over the past 30 years “pushed to give families taxpayer money in the form of vouchers to attend private and parochial schools, pressed to expand publicly funded but privately run charter schools, and tried to strip teacher unions of their influence” (Zernike par.2). With the strong tie between public education and libraries, what could this mean for libraries and librarians, especially those involved directly with public schools?

We’re still in the early stages of the upcoming administration, so there’s no way to know for sure what will happen in the next few months or in the next four to eight years. But all the policy proposals, talking points, and views of nominees seem to make one message very clear: if the wealthiest Americans can’t make money off of you, you are expendable. And if you get in the way of the wealthiest Americans and their money, they will try to remove you and whatever law allowed you to get in the way in the first place. I find this concerning and alarming for a number of reasons, not least of which being that libraries, as they currently exist, do not produce the sort of profit that the wealthiest Americans seem so invested in. Perhaps the services libraries provide as well as the people who depend on those services will be seen as expendable.

Libraries, however, as a whole, have managed to survive difficult times. During the last recession, for example, libraries experienced increased use and provided important and meaningful services to their communities (Beck 2009). And in the climate of the upcoming administration, I think libraries will be just as important, if not more so.

I’ve experienced a lot of emotions since Trump’s election: disbelief, betrayal, despair, fear, horror, but also: determination. I don’t know what will happen to me or to libraries, which is terrifying, but I know that libraries are needed and that libraries are the place where I can do the most good and a space from which I can try to effect change, which I am determined to do. If there’s a course offered to teach the sort of skills I’ll need to do this, that will help me as a future librarian to survive the coming changes, I don’t know what that course looks like. I think we’re going to have to rely on each other and teach each other, which is an area where I think librarians excel.

-Kristin McWilliams

References:

American Library Association. “Core Values of Librarianship.” Accessed online at http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/statementspols/corevalues

Beck, S. J. (2009). This is Our Time to Shine: Opportunities in a Recession. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 49(1), 8-17.

Lichtblau, E. (11/18/16). Jeff Sessions, As Attorney General, Could Overhaul Department He’s Skewered. The New York Times. Accessed online at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/19/us/politics/jeff-sessions-donald-trump-attorney-general.html

Smith, D. (12/2/2016). Trump’s Billionaire Cabinet Could Be the Wealthiest Administration Ever. The Guardian. Accessed online at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/02/trumps-rich-pickings-president-elects-team-could-be-wealthiest-ever

Zernike, K. (11/23/16). Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Pick, Has Steered Money from Public Schools. The New York Times. Accessed online at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/us/politics/betsy-devos-trumps-education-pick-has-steered-money-from-public-schools.html

A nice technique to implement in reference services

It is quite interesting for me to read these posts about librarian careers and reflections on ILS experience written by everyone from multiple perspectives. As an international student who received my bachelor’s degree in library and information science in Taiwan, I would like to share some knowledge and techniques that I don’t see many discussions about in the ILS department but that I gained and was really interested in when I was an undergraduate student. I have been interested in information seeking behavior and information psychology for a few years. In ILS, many courses mention accessibility and usability of resources for library patrons, but I haven’t noticed any of them that provides particular knowledge or discussions on user’s information seeking behavior and their mental models. Although it sounds somewhat boring because there’re too many theories in this field, I still think it’s crucially important for us, especially as a PSA or reference librarian, to have a further understanding on why patrons need information, what they really need, and why they try to gain information through specific ways and not others.

I am sharing an old technique, but it still works nicely and effectively in a reference interview. I benefit a lot from the “Neutral Questioning” technique when providing reference services. Neutral Questioning is a reference interview technique based on Brenda Dervin’s sense-making theory. This technique enables library patrons to freely express their information needs, but at the same time it also allows reference librarians to remain in control of the conversation by focusing on three important elements in seeking information and information use: “situation”, “gap”, and “use”.

In short, “Neutral Questioning” encourages interviewers (reference librarians) to ask as many neutral questions as possible, not just closed questions (YES/NO questions) nor open questions that can be freely answered. In many cases, patrons come to the desk without a clear understanding of their questions and need, and might not be able to give certain answers to questions asked by reference librarians. Therefore, at this point, we should ask neutral questions that allow patrons to freely express detailed clues to the questions rather than closed questions that might block patrons from explaining their need in another way.

For example, instead of asking a closed question like “Are you looking for books or journal articles?”, a neutral question like “What types of resources are you interested in?” might be a better choice to let patrons express more detailed information about their need. For my personal experience, it was a little bit difficult to implement Neutral Questioning technique at the beginning, because I normally wanted to get exact answers from patrons for judging what’s the next step I need to do. Should I search OPAC or article-based databases? Should I search a multi-discipline full-text platform like OneSearch@IU or A&I databases in a certain discipline like ERIC or PubMed? A closed question might help me make the judgement but at the same time keep patrons from saying what they would like to say, because they were answering the questions among the choices I gave them based on my personal assumption, not their real need. However, after I had consciously reminded myself to ask more neutral questions when doing a reference interview for a few months, I found it actually helped me a lot in understanding patron’s questions effectively and efficiently. It not only significantly decreased the misunderstanding between patrons and me, but also saved time for me to precisely locate resources that can really benefit patrons in their research.

This was my personal experience to implement what I had learned in class into a practical work environment, and it succeeded in enhancing the performance of reference services. I remembered that when I was taught this technique in Taiwan, our instructor had several interactive cases in class for students like me to practice it practically, and then we implemented this knowledge and experience in our field internship. I believe that it might be interesting if we have this kind of courses in ILS in the future.

I listed several useful articles below for anyone who would like to learn more about this technique and information seeking behavior. The references in blue can link to full-text articles directly. The first reference in bold was the main article that I referred to when writing this post. Since this is a casual post, the references are ordered by the importance and interest I think rather than formal APA style.

Here are some examples that Dervin and Dewdney (1986) created in their articles.

To assess the situation:

  1. Tell me how this problem arose.
  2. What are you trying to do in this situation?
  3. What happened that got you stopped?

To assess the gaps:

  1. What would you like to know about X?
  2. What seems to be missing in your understanding of X?
  3. What are you trying to understand?

To assess the uses:

  1. How are you planning to use this information?
  2. If you could have exactly the help you wanted, what would it be?
  3. How will this help you? What will it help you do?

Reference

Dervin, B., & Dewdney, P. (1986). Neutral questioning: A new approach to the reference interview. RQ, 25(4), 506-513

Ross, C. S. (1987). How to find out what people really want to know. Reference Librarian, 6(16), 19-30

Dervin, B., & Nilan, M. S. (1986). Information needs and uses. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 21, 3-33.

De Souza, Y. (1996). Reference work with international students: Making the most use of the neutral question. Reference Services Review, 24(4), 41-48.

Dewdney, P. (1988). The effective reference interview. Canadian Library Journal, 45(3), 183-184.

– Yu-Chen Huang

On Choices

Upon entering library school last year, I had few goals. I wanted a degree that would allow me to work as a librarian within a certain geographic region. My first semester was broad coursework, that was labelled as largely applicable to most library settings. It was around mid-semester, when it was time to choose spring classes, that I began to question my goals for the program.

The current program requires 36 credit hours. Most classes provide 3 credit hours. This meant roughly 12 classes. 3 are predetermined. 3 provide some choice. 6 – providing no specializations – are free to choice. The impact of my potential choices was paralyzing. I started planning out when I would take what for the rest of my time at IU. I was frustrated I couldn’t fit everything I wanted to do in. I was beyond terrified that I’d miss something essential and it would cost me down the line.

It was also around this time that I began contemplating a dual degree (something I’m still contemplating), which would pair my library science degree with an information science degree. I felt it would give me more time and allow me a broader skillset.

I chose my spring semester classes. By near miracle, I landed a fantastic internship over the summer that allowed me to expand my work experience to a public library setting. It allowed me to work at a variety of service desks and with a variety of librarians who were beyond helpful with my questions and concerns about the profession. By the end of the summer I knew that if I was given a choice, I’d work in a public library.

Fall semester appeared for a second time, and I’m currently taking classes that I would have never chosen for myself last fall – some information science classes and a materials for youth class. These classes have reminded me that I’ll never get as much experience as I want before graduating. That there are computer programs I’ll walk away from while only barely understanding them. That there are books I will never, ever have the time to read.

It’s been a process. I’ve had to step away many times to remind myself to look at how much I am learning within the program, not how much I’m missing out on. I can create a survey and implement it. I can design and complete code for websites. I can find information within the congressional record or extract information from US Census data.

I chose spring classes a few weeks ago, and while the classes aren’t as technology or information science-based as this semester, they’re still on topics I have little experience with. I’m excited to start them.

-Malissa Renno

No Such Trickery

Being in library school has been a whirlwind of so many different learning experiences. Once in a while life in graduate school leads to moments of burnout, as Tessa described in her post. I believe imposter syndrome as a student also relates to this fatigue.

Placing too much pressure on myself, I often feel dissatisfied with my performance in courses and at work. It is exceptionally easy to compare myself to other library science students who seem to have it all together, while I feel incapable with my abilities. One overwhelmingly dismal week this semester, I had a poor experience struggling during my part of co-teaching an instruction session and also becoming totally lost when learning JavaScript in one of my MLS courses. When the student next to me had already finished all five exercises, I still was stumbling through the first one, of course. And to top that off, I went to edit my resume at the end of the week and found myself completely frustrated with my perceived lack of experience. I became discouraged when looking at my resume and seeing that I needed more accomplishments, like another volunteer experience or more technology skills. Last year, I learned Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator through IT Tutorial workshops and Lynda, but I wished I knew more. Although I probably am not the only one who has periods of major self-doubt, that’s how it felt.

This article from Hack Library School first introduced me to the concept of imposter syndrome, a phrase that describes what I was feeling as a student. I wanted to have more skills and experience with all things relating to libraries. I thought maybe I should help with more projects to feel more satisfied. I continually criticized my answers in an online discussion post because there were so many responses that seemed superior to mine. Working with the SLA Student Group was going well, but maybe I needed to be involved with other student groups. I kept seeing what other students were working on at different libraries and their thoughtful answers during class time and wishing I could be as talented as them. Everything I had accomplished seemed like a deception, and I questioned whether or not I deserved the scholarship or travel award that was offered to me.

I’m a sucker for quotes and my dad always enjoys using the phrase, “Everyone has their own map,” which is something I remind myself of recently. Our individual journeys are valuable and growth is a necessary process. I continue to learn that each individual path is important, including my own. Instead of wishing I was as intelligent or successful as my peers, I’m learning to embrace my achievements and focus on my interests. I’ve learned information from different courses about creating surveys, collection development, and information literacy and applied them to work experience. It’s especially exciting to select a new material and see it added to the collection at one of my library jobs. The library science program certainly has provided many educational opportunities for students, and I’m grateful for these courses and work experiences!

While I have had my fair share of what feels like tremendous failure and mistakes these past semesters, I keep reminding myself to take these moments of discomfort and learn from them. Celebrate progress and not perfection. Although I’ll never be an “all-knowing librarian,” I can accept the skills I have to offer and bring my strengths to the library profession.

-April

On Failure

Tessa’s insightful post back in September, entitled “Admitting to Burnout, Not Failure,” got me thinking – what happens when we do need to confront failure? Throughout my education, failure has been a difficult aspect for me to overcome. I like to get things right. Inevitably, though, I make a mistake, and I’ll find myself mulling over what I did wrong, maybe wallowing in self-pity for a short time (depending on the magnitude of the situation). Eventually, I’ll pick myself back up with the resolve to do better next time. However, sometimes this last step of “moving on” can be really hard for me to do. Often, my immediate, most comfortable reaction to failing is not to try again. In these instances, I’ve found that it helps to have no other choice but to keep moving forward – to be forced to try again. Though it can be scary to re-attempt a task I’ve failed, I’ve discovered that sometimes the best way to learn is to keep making mistakes until I get it right.

One afternoon this semester, while working the reference desk, my colleague and myself found ourselves swamped by all number of inquiries at once. We were juggling numerous chats, we both were fielding phone calls at the same time, and there were a couple of patrons waiting for help in front of the desk. My responses to all of these simultaneous questions suffered. I couldn’t address all of the questions and tasks asked of me as thoroughly or efficiently as I would have been able to if I was given them one at a time. No major mishaps happened, but, when the flurry subsided, it took me a while to shake the feeling that my performance was subpar. I felt guilty that I had not been able to help the patrons I was working with more thoroughly. What if they felt that their experience at the reference desk was useless? How would this affect their future understanding of what they can learn from reference librarians? It was easy to follow this downward-spiraling train of thought. However, I still had a few hours left in my shift, meaning I had to try again, no matter how much I was upset with myself over my past performance. And this turned out to be a good thing: I had two satisfying reference interviews before the day ended, allowing me to leave my shift feeling at least semi-competent. This experience was a good reminder to set negative thoughts aside, and keep trying. The situation at the reference desk got me thinking about other ways in which painful failures have led to valued insight in my work, especially in my teaching experience.

As librarians, many of us will take on teaching and public speaking responsibilities. I’ve encountered failure more times than I care to count in my experience of teaching undergraduate students. From 2013-2016, I taught undergraduate music and culture courses both as a teaching assistant and as an independent instructor at Ohio State University. In just that short amount of time, I learned a great deal about myself and the work I need to do to become a better educator. Sometimes, it seems like certain people are born to be teachers – they are able to naturally engage a class in a seemingly effortless way with no evidence of nervousness or inhibition. Alas, I am not one of these people. It can sometimes be terrifying for me just to speak in front of a group of students, let alone to seek to engage them in a discussion on a subject on which I myself am not yet an expert. This situation puts me in a vulnerable position; if the students don’t respond, or if they respond negatively, I face the daunting task of deviating from the planned lesson in order to improvise an exercise that will engage them, or of dragging out a class session in which the students’ disengagement and lack of interest have become manifest. This is a lot to put on a new teacher, and I, for one, struggled with my inability to master teaching right off the bat. My feelings of inadequacy as an instructor were mixed with a sense of guilt at falling short of providing the educational experience that my students deserved. However, like my situation at the reference desk, despite my sometimes humiliating first attempts at teaching, I wasn’t allowed to just give up. I wasn’t going to be “fired” for failing to convey a lesson as thoroughly as I had wanted to. Though some days I resented the task of getting back in front of a class full of students, I had no other choice. And, slowly, I started to find that some of the things I was trying worked. My confidence grew, and I gradually came to realize that my mistakes did not necessarily mean that I was an awful teacher. Rather, those mistakes were making me better and more comfortable in my interactions with students. I am by no means an expert at teaching now, but my experience, both good and bad, is enormously helpful to me as I learn to teach information literacy here at IU. I know that this sounds cliché, and that the statement “if you keep trying you’ll get better” is an obvious one to make. But when you’re really feeling down about a recent failure, it can be difficult to immediately put your experience in perspective; to see beyond the mess you’ve made to the wiser person you are becoming. (And it is always a process of becoming; I don’t believe that we ever reach a point at which we are finished learning).

Finally, I’d like to note that trying again is important, but we wouldn’t be able to keep up the effort without the support of our colleagues. We’re lucky to be in an educational position where we have the freedom (and hopefully the initiative) to learn from our mistakes and to ask questions from mentors, supervisors, and advisors. We become better information professionals through this process. I’ve found that it’s important for me to stop and remember this periodically, to put my experience in perspective. We all have to learn, and sometimes the best way to learn is just by jumping in, getting our hands dirty, and making mistakes. There are impending failures ahead of me, I know, but I am beginning to accept that I’m becoming a better librarian, educator, and person because of them.

– Olivia

Creating My Own Experience

When I graduated from Indiana University in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Culture and Telecommunications from the College of Arts and Science, I thought my education was done. I was excited to enter the workforce and put my degree to use. I was shocked to learn that it turned out to be a lot harder to find a job in the field I wanted to go into, television and film production, and I quickly learned that it was an extremely competitive market in Bloomington, Indiana and unless I was willing to uproot my life to either New York City or Los Angeles, it was going to be hard to find a job that put my degree to use. I did what a lot of people coming out college have to do, find a job outside of my field so that I could support myself. Long story short, I was unhappy in the work force, doing a job that I never saw myself in. It was time to go back to school.

The first question I had to answer was, what did I want to go back for? What was my passion besides movies? What could put me in the best position to make sure I found a career right out of school? I originally thought I’d go back for computer science. I’ve always had a passion for computers and consider myself a pretty technology savvy person, but after looking into this, I quickly learned that my lack of code background would severely hinder my chances of success in this field. As cliche as it sounds, I love to read, so that is where I went next. How could I apply this passion to a career that I could love? Library school was the answer.

I am so excited to be back in school. I was skeptical at first about going back, but I am so happy that I finally am back. I was out of school for 4 years, and I can honestly say that I don’t miss working 40 hours in a job that had nothing to do with what I wanted to do at all. Best of all, I can take my passion for computers and technology and create my own experience with my degree. I think that was one of the major drawing factors of going back to school for library sciences. I get all the skills required to become a successful librarian but I can also acquire technology skills and get hands on experience with computers without having a heavy background in computer science.

The first thing after I decided to go back to school for library sciences was trying to decide how I was going to use my love for computers and technology and incorporate it into this degree. Luckily for me, someone had already had that idea and it was comforting and great to learn about the Digital Library specialization. As I looked through the courses in this specialization, I got more and more excited that this was exactly what I was looking for: a specialization that focuses solely on how computers and libraries interact. I am so excited after finding this specialization to take some of the courses. This semester I’m taking Database Design and it has fulfilled every expectation I could expect from it. In this course I get hands on experience learning SQL, a database language, and I get hands on experience with Access in order to create a database project of my group’s choosing. My group decided to create a database for a library. Already, in my first semester, I am getting hands on experience with computers coupled with library experience.

As I go forward with this program, I look forward to getting even more technical experience because as technology progresses, there is going to be a bigger demand for people with these skills, especially in the field of library sciences. The idea of libraries is changing and I am excited to be part of that change and hope by creating my own experience while I’m in school, I can find a career that is challenging, exciting, and combines both of my passions.

-Matt Malher

Embracing Visibility

Each time I begin a shift at the Learning Commons Library Services Desk, badge carefully affixed, staplers refilled, I can’t help but be reminded of how soul-baringly visible one is sitting at that desk. Every individual who passes by, whether with purpose or without, has a picture window view of whoever is seated behind that desk, however they are engaged, however they are presenting and, frankly, it can be unsettling to consider this visibility.

Do not misunderstand, this is far from my first foray into customer service. Years of lifeguarding and a whirlwind stint staffing the circulation desk at a public library have provided plenty of face to face interaction. What separates these experiences from the reference desk is that this is my first foray into customer service as an openly gender non-conforming individual.

Gone are the days when I could naively convince myself that my presence behind a library desk was sufficiently nondescript so as to avoid assumptions on the part of patrons. Inevitably patrons with whom we interact in the libraries are primed to make assumptions based on physical characteristics, perceived gender, dress, not to mention the position we occupy before we have an opportunity to so much as issue a greeting. The changes in gender presentation which I have undertaken in the past year are but one factor in the complex calculus informing the way in which patrons interact with me at the desk. Of course, it bears mentioning that we too are subject to these conscious and unconscious biases at the desk, which color our interactions with patrons.

Coming into this position I realized that it would be necessary to confront my discomfort with public scrutiny so as to present myself as an accessible guide to the library and its resources. From the start, the prospect of retreating to a job in which I could remain hidden from public view was tempting. A year of copy cataloging afforded me that luxury but, looking back, I have to question whether my personal growth during this period was as dramatic as the professional. Even though I firmly believed in cataloging with patrons’ needs in mind, I had no way of knowing whether I was succeeding in this endeavor without interacting with them firsthand. The lack of visibility came with a price, which proved to be an understanding of the patrons for whom the library operates.

For some planning on employment in libraries, myself included, mapping one’s professional path requires grappling with the question of how visible one wishes to be. It is important to keep in mind that positions within a library vary in the degree of visibility and public interaction they require and that various individuals’ tolerance for work of this nature will also vary. Working at the reference desk has proved a challenging exercise in pushing past my comfort levels and I still come away exhausted by a four hour shift, however; doing so has also proved an empowering experience cementing my belief in the value of the services libraries provide for their communities.

With each shift the trepidation I felt at the prospect of being so visible has subsided only to be replaced by a sense of purpose, a strong belief in my ability to help chip away at patrons’ library anxiety. I also realize that my visibility at the desk has the potential to empower other gender non-conforming library users, subtly assuring them that this is a space in which they are welcome. With time visibility may become a personal nonissue but, until then, knowing that a willingness to be visible may translate to increased comfort of library users keeps me returning to the reference desk each week.

-Kayleigh Fischietto

The Business of Library Services

Last week, I became unexpectedly agitated while reading an article for a class on manuscripts and special collections.

The article described a historical researcher’s relationship with a special collections archivist as fundamentally an exchange of social capital. Therefore, the author claims, researchers who develop relationships with archivists benefit from that connection or are otherwise disadvantaged.

Near the end of the text the author offers an anecdote as an illustration of when this exchange presumably “fails” from the perspective of the patron: a young scholar, a Ph.D. student, comes to the archives with a fuzzy idea for a project, seeking materials related to this topic. The scholar explicitly requests specific materials related to this emerging project, and the archivist provides those materials. The scholar, however, leaves the exchange feeling disappointed that the archivist had not taken greater interest in his project or helped him to define his research question based on potentially useful materials in the collection(s). The scholar sees the archivist as the gatekeeper of privileged information, inaccessible to those users with whom the archivist does not have an established relationship.

But the real disappointment for the scholar, it seemed, was not that the archivist didn’t perform these particular tasks, but that the archivist didn’t perform the emotional labor that would make these tasks possible. “Emotional labor” is a term used to describe the unacknowledged, unpaid, and often-feminized labor that is required of service industry workers. While it may seem counter intuitive, in this sense, the archivist, like many people who work in service (myself included), spend a lot of time and energy in their workplace providing (unacknowledged, unpaid, untrained) emotional labor in their daily exchanges and interactions with patrons.

Reference librarianship is undoubtedly service work. Reference librarians and public service assistants (like me) are expected to maintain an approachable and personable disposition for good reason: patrons should feel welcome to ask questions without the fear that they’re a bother or that they will be judged. Within our circle of public service assistants and supervisors, I’m grateful for the frank discussions that we’ve had about the emotional labor that goes into the routine performance of public service; we’ve agreed that no one can be expected to hold a perky smile through every single shift. And, as I acknowledge the weight of service work, it’s also very important to me that patrons feel respected and heard.

Unlike food service or classroom teaching, I’m not working for generous tips or glowing student evaluations, but I am, in a sense, trying to “sell” the library’s resources and the skills required to navigate them. And it’s the sharing of skills and collaborating with patrons (also emotional labor) that makes most of my exchanges at the reference desk positive and enjoyable, some even leaving me energized, euphoric.

When I put myself in the position of the archivist in the author’s anecdote, I’m reminded of the numerous times in teaching, in serving, and at the reference desk that a student, customer, or patron has asked something of me that I do not owe them or, perhaps worse, they’ve expected something of me without explicitly asking for it. When the expectation in the business world (or the university classroom) is to satisfy the customer at any cost, I’ve had a tendency to allow my personal boundaries to fall away in service to another. At the first hint of dissatisfaction, I’m bending over backwards to anticipate and interpret the customer’s needs and desires. By force of habit, I’ve carried some of these tendencies from the other world into the library, and certainly, I’m not alone. This is where I start to wonder how and where to draw the line between public services at a library and customer service in a business.

What distinguishes one kind of service from the other? What can I do as a librarian-in-training to emphasize the interactional nature of reference service and to move away from the business-like transaction wherein the reference worker is positioned as the gatekeeper of resources (as the young scholar imagined) and also as the customer service worker who must sell their good service and their positive emotional state for the sake of the patron’s satisfaction?

I’m not sure that I have concrete answers to these questions, but at the very least, we can start by naming emotional labor for what it is and then providing space to account for it and setting limits on how we employ it, all as a form of self-care and burnout prevention.

Here are a few readings that I’ve recently come across that may be useful starting points in approaching these questions:

#critlib chat: Working from within the system to create change
The library as a stuck place: Critical pedagogy in the corporate university
Work for hire: Library publishing, scholarly communication, and academic freedom
Into the Caldron: Neoliberalism, Ideology, Education, and Life Itself

-Leah Cover

On Exploring Possibilities

When I came to Indiana University for library school, I thought I knew exactly what sort of career in librarianship I wanted. For two years during high school I had been a student intern in my school system’s fantastic elementary school library. Then for three years after high school I worked off and on with children in my rural town’s tiny public library, conducting storytimes, crafts, summer reading program events, and more. Early on I discovered my passion for rural public communities, children, and teens, so when I started grad school I was excited to take as many classes as possible about public libraries and youth services.

I was very quickly disappointed when I learned that there were so few courses at IU for youth services, and even fewer for public librarians in general. The majority of our courses have little relevance to public libraries, are almost entirely theoretical and geared toward academia, and few professors are practicing librarians, especially public librarians. Many specific courses that seem to be obviously important courses for public libraries, such as Public Library Services, Advanced Cataloging, Reader’s Advisory, Grant Writing, Genealogy and Local History, and (before this semester) Collection Development and Management, etc. either have not been offered in several years or are simply not offered at IU at all. As such, if a student is interested in these important public library courses, he or she will have to register with IUPUI to take the courses online and have the credits transferred. We are actually really lucky that we are able to do this, but I have not taken advantage of this opportunity as much as I could have. I learned in undergrad that I do much better in a classroom setting than online, which is why I chose a school like IU-Bloomington rather than an entirely online program through another university.

Despite my disappointment in the lack of youth and teen services courses, this also has forced me to choose some classes and talk to some professors that I otherwise may not have. I tried out an introductory cataloging course and absolutely loved it, which is apparently a weird thing to love, but I really did. Next semester I plan to take a class focusing on developing websites in the hopes that the rudimentary website skills I grow from this experience will help make me look a little more desirable to prospective employers. I am also currently considering taking an instructional course about teaching information literacy. And while this course is geared toward instruction in college and research libraries and school libraries, public libraries often offer instructional workshops or help students learn how to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.

I honestly never expected to enjoy the technical aspects of libraries, such as cataloging, creating and maintaining websites, or instruction, but I believe that these skills can be particularly beneficial in rural public libraries, where there are very few full-time staff members, each of whom must wear many different hats and complete a wide range of “other duties as assigned” that do not directly fall under their immediate job title. While I have been disappointed in the course offerings at IU, it has allowed me to try new things and has opened my mind to think about how I can tailor courses that are not obviously relevant in order to fit my needs and interests. I think I might still want to work with children and teens, but this process has given me new insights to other possible areas that I did not previously know I was interested in. It can be uncomfortable and intimidating to explore a topic, skill, or class that you know absolutely nothing about, but it can also be rewarding and even surprising if you are able to think about it in terms of exploring new possibilities.

-Kelsey Shanabarger

Learning to Teach Yourself

One reason I was drawn to librarianship is the profession’s potential for being  pedagogical in an empowering way: connecting people to the resources they seek in order to educate, delight, or otherwise inform themselves fills me with lots of excitement. Of course, as Catherine wrote so well in her blog post, the corporate, capitalistic, job-prep mindset of major universities today is impossible to ignore. Few and far between are the patrons who come to the reference desk looking for a geometry book purely out of personal passion, or for a stack of books on queer performativity just “for my own reading.” That being said, I’ve had both of these rare Pokemon reference interactions stumble across my path; interactions such as these keep me going. As I read Tessa’s post lifting up, with such laudable honesty, her experience with burn-out, I found myself both nodding along and thinking–how can we get out of this? What steps might I take to keep myself believing in everything that drew me toward librarianship in the first place? What steps am I taking already?

First things first, I’ve been trying to walk my talk. I became really unsettled realizing how eager I am to leave the library. What’s this all about? For someone who used to linger in the library for hours, strolling through the stacks and riffling through luxurious mountains of books, a sudden aversion to being in the library should bode some serious ill. But when I’m only here for work or class, the associative box that gets drawn around “being at the library” is not a super positive one. I’ve started stacks-strolling again. I’ve started going up to the PS3000s and tracing my fingertips along the spines of poetry books until one catches my eye/skin/heart.

I found this poem:

Blue Dress

Her blue dress is a silk train is a river

is water seeps into the cobblestone streets of my sleep, is still raining

is monsoon brocade, is winter stars stitched into puddles

is good-bye in a flooded, antique room, is good-bye in a room of crystal bowls

and crystal cups, is the ring-ting-ting of water dripping from the mouths

of crystal bowls and crystal cups, is the Mississippi River is a hallway, is leaks

like tears from windowsills of a drowned house, is windows open to waterfalls

is a bed is a small boat is a ship, is a current come to carry me in its arms

through the streets, is me floating in her dress through the streets

is only the moon sees me floating through the streets, is me in a blue dress

out to sea, is my mother is a moon out to sea.

–Saeed Jones

and this one (both of these included here for pure inspiration, but also for their tie-in with the beauty theme this semester):

Beauty

What is beauty? Ask my soul–

beauty is every extravagance, every gleam,

every flood of abundance

and every great poverty.

Beauty is being faithful and going naked to the fall.

Beauty is a parrot’s plumage or the sunset predicting a storm,

beauty is a stern expression and its tone of voice. It’s me!

Beauty is a great loss and a silent procession of mourners,

beauty is the light touch of a fan that wakens the breath of fate,

beauty is being as sensual as the rose,

or to forgive everything because the sun is shining,

beauty is the cross the monk has chosen

or the necklace of pearl a woman was given by a lover.

Beauty is not the thin sauce poets serve up as themselves,

beauty is making war and seeking your fortune,

beauty is always to serve a higher power!

–Edith Södergran

translated by Samuel Charters

Beyond returning to the library for inspiration and renewal, I’ve also tried to seriously educate myself through the library’s resources this semester. Registering for fall classes last spring, I realized that there was information I wanted that the classes offered by SOIC-ILS were not going to provide: I wanted to learn everything I could about library services in correctional facilities, with a particular focus on library services in juvenile detention centers. There just aren’t classes on these topics (yet?). As a good wannabe librarian, I would have to seek out the information myself.

I registered for a directed reading/independent study and started making myself a curriculum, Almost immediately, I had that feeling, familiar to all who have faced an arcane question at the reference desk, of despair: there aren’t many resources at hand for the serious study of correctional center libraries. But after a few deep breaths and some dedicated search time, I cobbled together a respectable curriculum drawn not only from IU’s stacks and resources, but also from the network of librarians I’ve come to know in the course of getting my MLS, who recommended texts for reading and connected me with librarians facilitating a juvenile detention center’s book group in Johnson County. All of this served to turn my initial despair on its head. Satisfaction fills me when I realize that, between the library, the internet, and some persistence, I truly can learn about anything I want.

Bringing us back to earth from that dewy-eyed (Dewey-eyed? sorry) moment, I’ve got one last self-care suggestion drawn straight from personal experience: picture books. They’re everything a stressed out student/worker/trying-to-be-well-rounded person could possibly want in that they’re short, colorful, inspiring, comforting, funny, and heart-warming. IU has a collection that is equal parts marvelous and alarming, modern and antiquated, housed over at the Education Library, and Monroe County Public Library’s picture book collection is a force to be reckoned with. Need general ideas or particular suggestions? Here’s a few titles I’ve enjoyed lately, but also feel free to ask me in person or friend me on Goodreads (this probably also goes for any other youth librarianship folks, but I’ll just speak for myself).

Promising Picture Books:

The Storyteller by Evan Turk (MCPL)

Pool by JiHyeon Lee (Education Library; MCPL)

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle (Education Library; MCPL)

Jazz Day by Roxane Orgill (Can request from Indianapolis; MCPL)

-Avery Smith

Citations

Jones, Saeed. Prelude to Bruise. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2014.

Södergran, Edith. We Women. Translated by Samuel Charters. Portland: Tavern Books, 2015.