School & Work

I had no prior experience working in a library when I came to Indiana University. However, my goal in getting an MLS degree (or now MIS degree) is clear: to get a job in a library working with information retrieval systems. So naturally, my expectation from ILS courses is to get practical knowledge that I can apply to my future job. However, since my first semester, I realized that most of the lecturers lack field experience; they have spent their career life only in the academic field writing papers. They are supposed to be teachers, but they do not learn to teach. Unless I am interested in getting a Ph.D. in Library Science, I do not see how the courses would help me in getting a job. Hence, I started utilizing my student status to apply to many jobs that I’m interested in.

I was terrified too at first, of overwhelming unnecessary assignments and insufficient time to learn many terms that I have never heard before, such as PHP, PKP, open source, java, XML, Dublin core, Darwin core, Fedora, Sufia (no, it’s not a person’s name) and etc. I was worried I would not be able to understand the systems and terms in such a short period of time. However, as time passed, I adapted well to the environment due to my jobs in the library. Compared to courses, having a real life working experience in the library or collection is a more efficient method of learning what it needs to become a librarian. I’m saying this not because “everyone else is doing it,” but for the following reasons that one will not get in a class:
a) emotional involvement on the job
b) repetitive process of utilizing particular technical skills set
c) on the job training

Working at the reference desk might not seem directly related to what I am interested in, but it is a lot more relevant than what I thought. Reference desk shifts give me a break away from the backend of archival and digital library work with the paleontology collection, IT heavy Scholarworks and the MDPI. Interactions with patrons or observations of the patrons at the front end always teach me something about the user’s perspective of the library. For instance, when patrons are willing to share their thoughts on confusion with library services and showing me how they use the library website, etc. And the fun part is that I will analyze and apply that user experience into system development for improvement. Even grumpy phone calls and rude patrons provide me a training ground to train on my EQ.

I think diversifying your work experience through different library jobs is far more important than attending courses. It’s a fortune out of misfortune that there are many library related jobs available to students.

-Wen Ng

On alienation

Honestly, I came to library school as a professional development decision, not out of any real passion to fondle decaying books or work closely with children. You see, after having spent my undergrad years in Bloomington, I had been killing some time working in service and flirting with the idea of pursuing a PhD wholesale, hoping that, at any moment, some life event would transpire and clarify what I was “supposed” to do. This three-year period of wheel-spinning and ruminating resulted in an appropriate degree of quarter-life angst, and in a moment of “I can’t take it anymore!” I considered the prospect of returning to school to pursue an MLS, and subsequently, a job as a librarian. No matter that my motivation and my goals were vague, I applied in December and enrolled a month later. The whole thing happened pretty fast: in the span of a week I went from working 45+ hours/week on my feet as a barista to taking ten hours of classes and sitting at a library service desk for eight more. It was an odd downshift in pace, and I had unwittingly brought a few too many expectations into the program: I had idealized library school, anticipating an intellectually stimulating atmosphere that would serve as a practical synthesizer for my disjointed interests and abilities. I was disappointed.

Looking back, of course, I can’t really solely blame this program for not meeting my expectation of fulfillment–that was simply displaced existential anxiety. Still, though, I can’t honestly say I’m happy with my time spent on the academic side of this program, and I don’t think I’m alone. My difficulty with it stems from a lot of what was mentioned byTessa, Dean and Catherine in their earlier blog posts: it’s an odd mixture of feeling over-burdened with minutiae, bored with redundant or irrelevant material, and maybe a sense of futility/fatality in the shadow of the university-cum-corporation. A lot of people just seem kindabummed; even some of the faculty come off as totally disinterested in their participation in the program. After a semester and a summer in classes, I’m left feeling some of that same ennui that drove me to library school in the first place. Of course, this could be a personal predilection for cyclical self-flagellation, but I still think there’s a shred of universality here: we can’t help but feel alienated from our coursework, and I mean that in both the emotional and the Marxist sense.

As Catherine notes in her post, we’re students in a program run by a corporatized university whose prime motive is capital. If we’re being really cynical (hell, let’s just go with it), the courses we take have no real “value” in the eyes of the Trustees beyond what we pay for them and the symbolic gesture towards continuing the fine field of library science. Conversely, the value I’ve gleaned from this program has mostly come from experience here at the Reference Desk (and with its librarians), critical interactions with other students (always outside of class), and small, skill-based, workshop-like classes and sessions. In order to un-alienate us from our program work, why can’t library “school” instead be more like a library “apprenticeship”? Why should a youth services librarian have to take a course on the History of the Book because it’s the only one that fits with her work schedule? Why don’t we read some critical theory and bring that to bear on our library work instead of spending two hours on an activity that just illustrates that categories are arbitrary? It depends on what kind of librarian you want to be to know what is involved in becoming one, so why are we trying to academically homogenize a heterogeneous group? What would it take for “becoming a librarian” to mean a critical, fulfilling personal engagement with reference services/cataloging/digital librarianship/etc. instead of the ticking-off of requirements on the way to a degree? Can we make that shift happen? I’m doubtful, but it’s important to frankly appraise the structures that be, is it not? And as for me, nothing has ever been quite as motivating as a healthy dose of pessimism; now that I know fulfillment won’t necessarily come from this program, it’s my responsibility to fight to seek it out wherever I find glimmers of it, be it at the desk with an affable patron or in a conversation with a like-minded colleague. If you’re feeling that, too, maybe we aren’t so alienated.

-William McHenry

On Keeping an Open Mind

Since I first started to work different part-time jobs as an undergraduate, I was always drawn to jobs that involved some type of public or customer service. In each job I had, the moments when I got to engage and interact with the people who came to the particular coffee shop/ school/ library where I worked was always my favorite aspect of each job. So when I started to look for part-time jobs at the IU libraries when I came to Bloomington last year, I focused mainly on trying to find reference and instruction work. Not only do I enjoy working with different library patrons in person, I also really enjoy having the opportunity to try and view problems and situations from someone else’s perspective. Whether the issue at hand is trying to find a particular article, dealing with an uncooperative printer, or creating instructional materials that will teach new undergraduates what the library has to offer them, I value the chance to step outside myself and look at things in a different light. I think that kind of practice helps me to stay open-minded and check my own biases and assumptions from getting in the way of meaningful interactions.

This past summer, however, I found myself struggling to maintain that kind of positive attitude during an internship at a public library about thirty minutes outside of Bloomington, where I focused on developing the children’s summer reading program. While working in areas like reference and instruction in an academic library definitely require librarians to try to understand the perspectives of the people they work with, it never felt like a huge stretch for me to try to view the library from an undergraduate or even faculty perspective. I knew how intimidating the library could be from my own experiences as an undergrad, and I had talked with enough faculty members over the years to gain some understanding of how they approached the library. But during this internship, I traveled each day to a small rural public library, and from there would travel to even smaller and more remote branch libraries to put on the children’s program for that week. Having lived near a major city in the Northeast for most of my life, and also having never worked in a public library before, I mainly spent the first few weeks of my internship dealing with some serious culture shock. The lifestyles and ways of thinking that I encountered out in these small towns were worlds away from anything I’d ever really known, and I instantly started to judge everything and everyone from the moment I encountered them. In focusing on how different everything was and whether I approved or agreed with what I saw, I struggled to get past those judgments and actually talk to and connect with the children and parents who came to my programs.

A few weeks into my internship, I ended up chatting with one of the branch librarians, who started to tell me about her experience moving from Phoenix, Arizona to tiny Eminence, Indiana. The shock and discomfort that she felt upon first arriving exactly mirrored my own feelings, and I was relieved to find someone who could relate to what I was dealing with. But as she talked about how all of those feelings changed once she actually took the time to get to know the families and patrons who came to the library, I started to feel slightly ashamed of how I’d been acting. Rather than making an honest effort to really get to know the families that came to my programs, I had been refusing to engage at all because everything was so “different.” But I hadn’t traveled to these towns to pass judgment on their lifestyles; the whole reason I was there was to try to motivate kids to come to the library, and to do that effectively I needed to be able to relate to their families and approach my programs from their perspective, regardless of any personal opinions. If I couldn’t do that, I was seriously limiting my ability to create programs that were not only fun and meaningful, but that could potentially foster a better relationship between the kids, their families, and their local library.

I made a conscious effort from then on to try to push back against those thoughts and feelings that kept me from truly interacting with those families. It took a lot of work on my part, but it was also one of the most rewarding part of my internship. I had the chance to experience an environment and culture that I never thought I would experience, which challenged my own assumptions surrounding librarianship and allowed me to see the world of public libraries and the relationships between libraries and their communities in a different light. In the process, I learned so much about how these different families felt about their public libraries, their thoughts and opinions on the children’s programs I was creating (which helped me to create far better programs), and about the overall value that the library held for them. It was also a very humbling experience – confronting a world that was truly different from my own forced me to honestly examine the biases I held, how they impacted the work I was trying to do, and what I needed to do to get past them. Because as a librarian, no matter where you work or what type of library you end up in, you will inevitably work alongside a patron with whom you (at first) appear to have absolutely nothing in common. But as cliche as it sounds, I’ve learned that if you take the time to get past initial judgments and step into someone else’s shoes, you really can find out that you have more in common that you first thought. And maybe along the way, you’ll learn just as much from them during that brief library interaction as they have hopefully learned from you. It’s been the biggest takeaway from my education in librarianship so far, and regardless of whether I stay in librarianship or eventually move beyond it, it’s a lesson that will stick with me.

-Sarah Klimek

Disappointments in the Edu-factory

In reference to Tessa’s much-appreciated post about mental fatigue and self-care, I would have to diagnose myself as nearly burnt to a crisp on the burnout scale. My burnout, however, is specific to a particular type of library setting: the Great American University. To be perfectly honest, I find myself exhausted by the increasingly corporate culture pervading campus. Just the other day at the Research Assistance desk, I was approached by a student with her intro-level history assignment in hand and upon reading the document for context, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Along with requirements and expectations, the project was prefaced with an overly utilitarian justification for assigning a research-oriented assignment.

To paraphrase, the main rationalization behind the assignment was to prepare students to meet the analytical and information-seeking expectations of the job market. Sound familiar? It shouldn’t be hard to recall instances where this type of education-as-job-prep rhetoric has appeared, whether it be in previous courses or even library instruction. And to be frank, I’m really sick of it. When did the Great American University begin to prioritize student marketability over intellectual cultivation? When did job preparedness rather than individual growth become the main goal of academic institutions? When did corporate values replace academic ideals within higher education?

The moment this existential shift emerged within the university setting can be observed if we take a brief sojourn into American history. In the early 1970’s, nearly three-fourths of college freshmen indicated college attendance was essential to them in order to develop a meaningful, more well-rounded philosophy on life while only a third indicated financial well-being as the prime motivator for admission. Since then, those fractions have dramatically swapped (Berrett). So what happened? In the wake of the Cold War, higher education underwent a major structural adjustment influenced partly by the broader socio-political shift toward free-market orthodoxy, economic strain, and an increasing linkage between university operational budget and industry-related contracts (Berrett). It is at this point that corporate culture hijacked the traditional academic values. Thus was born the edu-factory in which “students are neither ‘customers’ nor ‘consumers’. They are the ‘industry’s’ ‘inputs’ and ‘product.’ The purchasers of the products—private, corporate ‘employers’—are the customers” (Rhoades & Slaughter 14).

Thus began the desperate pitch for the continuing relevance of liberal arts education in the wake of this reorientation towards economic competitiveness of its products (i.e. students). Although corporate interests ultimately stand as the beneficiaries of university efforts, student recruitment is also important for drawing in enough raw product for the university-manufacturer to ultimately yield its finished goods. While higher education was once lauded for developing young people’s potential—to think, to question, to reason—today it is instead presented to students as vocational training, to the point that these corporate values become widely-accepted and even expected by students. As a part of this recruitment strategy, universities offer world-class amenities, among which the university library stands as a major selling point. At my most cynical (and trust me, I’ve been feeling pretty cynical these days), the academic library merely signifies a marketing hook on a university’s recruitment brochures. For the corporate consumers of the student-product, on the other hand, the library represents a reliable brand which provides a type of collateral to hiring said student-product. And Area Studies librarianship—the field I am (was?) interested in pursuing—then would allow the university to check off its “‘multiculturalism”’ box and prove its ability to form a globally competitive workforce to both potential students and corporate interests. So then, where does that leave us future librarians?

It is impossible to completely detach the work we do as librarians, even when engaged in library instruction, from the “context of contemporary labor, capital, and the corporatizing university” (Eisenhower & Dolsy 306). I do not deny that many librarians are engaged in critical pedagogies that at times serve as alternatives to this corporate narrative. But I have to ask myself if information specialists and their critical approaches to teaching and library practices are even making a dent in the prevailing corporate culture. These thoughts I have been grappling with as of late are perfectly encapsulated by Eisenhower & Dolsy’s line of questioning: “What kind of work does our defiant speech do? Is it defiant enough? Is it defiant at all, or simply the expected questioning spirit that is finally disciplined by power arbitrarily executed?” (314).

-Catherine Fonseca


Works Cited

Berrett, Dan. “The Day the Purpose of College Changed: After February 28, 1967, the main reason to go was to get a job.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 61 (2015). Accessed online:

Eisenhower, Cathy, and Dolsy Smith. “The library as “stuck place”: Critical pedagogy in the corporate university.” Critical library instruction: Theories and methods (2010): pp. 305-18.

Rhoades, Gary, and Sheila Slaughter. “Academic Capitalism, Managed Professionals, and Supply Side Higher Education.” Social Text 51 (1997): pp. 9-38

Baffle Library School

Over the past few months, I have been reading and enjoying a lot of The Baffler [1], a magazine that bills itself as “a journal to blunt the cutting edge.” I’ve found this magazine’s salvos to be consistently engaging, provocative, and incisive. Take, for instance, David Graeber’s essay on animal play, in which he pokes fun at evolutionary theorists’ efforts to explain animals’ fun away in rational, economic terms. Some other articles that immediately come to mind:

But what does The Baffler have to do with libraries? Well, if I had one regret regarding library school, it would be that I didn’t pursue my wish to turn my subscription to The Baffler into an independent study course. I’m mostly kidding, of course, but I daresay the magazine has influenced me as a librarian perhaps as much as library school itself. To give an example, I’m inclined to think that parts of the library school curriculum focus rather myopically on “information” as a theoretical concept, to the extent that we can easily lose sight of the ineliminably political dimensions of the regime of information capitalism within which we undertake the work of librarianship–and, by extension, the ineliminably political dimensions of that work. Reflecting on this view of mine, I find echoes of Evgeny Morozov’s excoriation of tech criticism appearing in The Baffler, especially where he writes, “The lines demarcating the technological and the political cannot be drawn by those forever confined to think within the technological paradigm; one needs to exit the paradigm to get a glimpse of both alternative explanations and the political costs of framing the issue through the lens of technology” (para. 43). Just imagine what library school could be like if it had more of The Baffler‘s verve, perspective, and spirit–and if we, the students, were the ones to make it happen!

One’s education in library school is in good part what one makes of it, however trite that may sound. At its best, library school gives us indispensable practical experience and know-how; it affords us the opportunity to become a part of a community of professionals and the space to consider the world of libraries and the issues it faces with (relatively) fresh eyes and to reflect ultimately on what we want the work of librarianship to be. These are the things that make library school worthwhile, even while library school (like any academic institution) also has its distractions, from the drudgery of writing on uninteresting topics to the pressures to accept as given certain ideas and arguments that should be controvertible. For myself, it has admittedly taken a concerted effort on my part to look past these small distractions to focus my attention on what I find interesting, engaging, pertinent, or otherwise useful. However, to have the freedom to make one’s education here one’s own: I regard the thought of this to be both reassuring and liberating, especially as a librarian who sometimes feels disaffected with the zeitgeist prevailing in Library Land today.

It is a freedom, too, that can make one’s education in library school more enriching and relevant. I’ve ventured far beyond the confines of the library school curriculum during my studies here. I’ve drawn upon my “outside” interests and research to inform my work as a student and a librarian, for instance by bringing ethical philosophy and the idea of human dignity to bear on management theory. Come to think of it, given the interdisciplinary nature of the library school curriculum, shouldn’t we feel free to baffle library school and to determine for ourselves what falls inside the scope of our studies and our librarianship?

-Dean Ericksen

[1]: IU Libraries does not appear to have a current subscription to The Baffler, although IU Libraries does provide online access to issues from 1988-2010 and to an eBook version of No Future For You, a collection of salvos from The Baffler that was published in 2014. There are also two other, older collections of essays from The Baffler that are available through IU Libraries: Commodify Your Dissent (1997) and Boob Jubilee: The Cultural Politics of the New Economy (2003).

Admitting to Burnout, Not Failure

I have a confession to make: I’m not entirely sure I want to be a librarian anymore.

This may be as shocking to you as it was for me to realize. I’ve known I wanted to be an academic reference and instruction librarian since my sophomore year of undergrad. Working in the reference department at the University of Louisville, I discovered my love for teaching and helping students with research. So, I went right into library school at full steam, scouring professional job ads, working multiple jobs on campus to get as much experience as possible, shadowing and team-teaching with instruction librarians, volunteering for outreach events, presenting at conferences…I’m exhausted just running through the list.

And now, going into my second year of the library science program, I’m overwhelmed by the feeling that all my momentum has backfired. Instead of doing a few things well, I feel like I’m doing lots of things very poorly. At least in the end I’ll have an impressive CV and maybe even a job offer with a salary and paid time-off and weekends and everything! As I’m frantically juggling classes, a leadership position in the ALA Student Chapter, the instruction and outreach team lead position, a fellowship project in assessment, and managing two small libraries all at once, I’m finding it harder to have patience and empathy for patrons at the reference desk. I no longer get excited when I get an actual reference question or research consultation. Instead of seeing an opportunity to teach, learn, and grow, I feel like their question is just another task on my to-do list. Interacting with patrons is time away from getting something else done instead of, you know, the whole reason why I’m here in the first place–to become a librarian.

Reference librarians sometimes get a bad rap for appearing too busy and unapproachable at the desk. You’ll hear patrons apologize, “I’m sorry to bother you, but…” as you hurriedly close ten tabs to pull up IUCAT. According to the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers, a successful librarian “is poised and ready to engage patrons. The librarian is aware of the need to stop all other activities when a patron approaches and focus attention on the patron’s needs.” This seems like a fair expectation: we’re here to help. We’re expected to not only put aside our homework, but also our subjectivity and identity. This is where it gets complicated, I think, as a student working at the reference desk. It can become taxing, emotional labor to appear friendly, interested, and focused while a million other things are running through your head. This can lead to burnout.

According to Maslach and Jackson, “Burnout is a syndrome of emotional exhaustion and cynicism that occurs frequently among individuals who do ‘people work’ of some kind” (1981, p. 99). Burnout is often a symptom of larger problems. For many instruction librarians it can be caused by their marginal status in academia and the pressure to assess their impact on campus-wide student learning from only one instruction session. It can also stem from the discord between one’s internal emotional state and the external poise and interest one must display when teaching or at a public service desk.

This summer, I interned at IU Southeast as a library instruction assistant with my personal role model and superstar librarian Maria Accardi. I saw a lot of myself in Maria and what I strive to be. She cares fiercely for the souls of her students, but also for herself.

Recently, Maria’s scholarship has diverted slightly from feminist pedagogy and library instruction to include library burnout. She even has a blog dedicated to sharing other librarian’s stories. I had the opportunity to attend the KLA-LIRT conference at the University of Louisville, where I heard Maria speak about her personal experience with burnout. In her keynote speech, she talks openly and honestly about the feeling of exhaustion and cynicism that comes from library work, especially when the professional privileges the personal.

She also suggests ways of preventing and combating burnout–pulling out the weeds as she illustrated with bountiful garden metaphors. Here are my takeaways:

  1. Say no to things that don’t nourish your roots.

This is a big one for a lot of us, I think. As librarians-in-training, we are conditioned to accommodate and please, to be proactive. At least for me, I feel like I can’t say no to opportunities that could get me a job down the road. But cancelling a meeting or turning down a program isn’t going to ruin me.

2. Reject a false balance of work and home life.

The line between work and home life is especially blurred for students who have little consistent off-time. We don’t walk out of the library at 5 o’clock on Friday, we’re here all the time. Prioritize your personal life and well-being. Create boundaries and take time for yourself. Practice self-care. When looking for a job, find a culture and administration that supports this as well.

3. Find a cause you’re passionate about.

For Maria, it’s empowering students in the classroom and approaching her work through intersectional feminism. I’m still searching for my exact calling, but I’ve been invigorated by feminist pedagogy and critical theories.

These things have been especially hard to practice with my current schedule, but I plan to cut back as much as I can next semester. I won’t admit to failure yet, but I will admit to self-inflicted burnout. A big part of my ILS education has been learning about myself and what I really want in life. Maybe I’ll go straight into a library job next year, or maybe I’ll take some time to explore other interests. Be wary of burning out too soon. We have our whole lives and (separate) library careers ahead of us.

–Tessa Withorn


Accardi, Maria. “From Cynicism to Empowerment: How Instruction Librarians Can Resist Burnout.” Kentucky Library Association Roundtable Retreat, 15 July 2016, Ekstrom Library, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY. Keynote address.

Maslach, Christina and Susan E. Jackson. “The Measurement of Experienced Burnout.” Journal of Occupational Behavior, vol. 2, 1981, pp. 99-113.

Reference and User Services Association. “Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers.” Retrieved from

On the Process of Becoming a Librarian

Hello and welcome back to the Wells Reference Blog! For those of you just tuning in, this is where the public service assistants of Herman B Wells Library reflect on librarianship and librarian-related topics. In the past, this has often taken the form of highlighting services and resources in the Wells Library. Last year we took a different approach and we reflected on what it means to be a librarian. This semester we’ll be focusing on the process of becoming a librarian and what that means.

How does one become a librarian? What sort of education and training are required? What aspects of the education we receive seem necessary and useful? What are we putting into practice now as we work at Wells Library and what will we put into practice in the future? How does this vary based on the type of library and area of interest? Who are the people instructing and mentoring us? What are some things we wish we could learn more about? These are the type of questions we’ll be asking ourselves this semester.

Having recently started my second year in the library and information science program at Indiana University, when I think about the education I’ve received and am receiving, I think back to where I was when I started the program and started working at the reference desk at Wells Library.

I had a class and a shift on the reference desk on my first day, which also happened to be the first day of classes for the semester. Returning to school after several (and several more) years away, having no previous experience working in a library, I was excited and terrified. Most of my peers were younger than me, seemed sure of their areas of interest in librarianship, and seemed to know exactly what they wanted to get out of the program and their time at Indiana University. I had an idea that librarianship would be a good fit for me based on my strengths and interests, but no concrete proof, and an interest in youth services in public libraries that I was reluctant to admit to anyone, including myself. I was terrified that I didn’t belong and that I was going to be told I was all wrong for librarianship.

My first shift at the reference desk, I kept hearing a dinging noise and finally asked the librarian I was working with what it was, only to be told it was the chat. Then I couldn’t figure out how to get to the window for the chat application. Not a promising start. But I was also excited to learn and work toward a goal that I had enthusiasm for and believed in.

Since that time, the most important thing I’ve learned in the program is that I can be a librarian. Actually, that may be the second most important thing. The most important thing I’ve learned is that I can be myself, as cheesy as that may sound. Last year, I was overwhelmed and terrified working my first shift at the reference desk. This year, I proudly wore a shirt with a detachable cape to my first shift at the reference desk, to the astonishment of several patrons. And while my education isn’t complete yet, and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more in that time, whatever happens, I know that at the end of this process, I can become a librarian. And I’m hoping I’ll get to become a librarian who wears a cape at least every once in a while.

-Kristin McWilliams

Saying Goodbye

Tracking down full-text online access to the correspondence of Giuseppe Garibaldi. Banging out that 10-page report you saved until the last minute. Putting your jeans on after eating an entire pint of ice cream. Some things in life are just inherently difficult.

Saying goodbye is pretty high up on that list for me. While I’ll admit that not every moment of my time here at IU Bloomington has mirrored the picturesque conclusion of a classic Disney film, the experiences and opportunities this university has afforded — as well as the amazing people I’ve met — have shaped me into the capable, passionate librarian who now faces the prospect of leaving all those things behind.

While I could write endlessly about the creative, intelligent, engaging librarians and library students I’ve had the honor of working and building relationships with while here — and I sincerely hope you all know who you are — I’d like to focus this final Spring 2016 blog post on the privilege it’s been to edit the work of some of those very people.

If you read my first blog post of the school year, you might remember the somewhat grandiose plans we (myself and Nicholae Cline, Scholarly Services Librarian) outlined: To paraphrase, we wanted to create a space where we (the public service assistants of Wells Library) could talk about what being a librarian means to us. To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what this was going to look like. I listed a few ideas librarians had already posed and hoped that would be enough to get us through the year without too many kinks in the system.

I never could have imagined what this change would actually inspire, the enthusiasm I would see from so many bright young minds. Not only did we share our thoughts on what it means to be a librarian — How far do our duties extend? Have we turned into automatons? How do you measure the value of a library? — we told you about the lessons we’ve learned so far, talked about exciting new innovations in our field, shared our fears about life after IU, recommended some excellent reads (Asian/Pacific American works here, other blogs here, comfort reading here, graphic novels here, queer books here, and short stories here), and wrestled with tough questions about the past as well as the future of librarianship.

What I’m trying to say here is I think somehow, without any real direction, myself and my fellow public service assistants really did what we set out to do. I think this blog became the written embodiment of the passionate, critical, jumbled brains that truly belong only to those people brave enough to call themselves librarians.

-Kaitlin Bonifant

Ephemera and Librarians as Scholars

As I’m sure many of my colleagues remember from my many emails requesting shift coverage, I recently attended a conference. The theme of this year’s Nineteenth Century Studies Association’s conference was “The New and the Novel.” The conference is interdisciplinary and welcomes scholarship that explores all nations. In addition to panels centered around my interest in American and British literature, I learned about French etiquette, Australian brush fires, and American national portraiture.

One of the more interesting presentations I attended engaged my interest in ephemera. A woman was beginning a study on a specific 19th century ballad. She traditionally studied 18th century literature so she was new to navigating the world of ephemeral resources. I use a lot of old newspapers, broadsides, and other ephemeral works in my writing, so I can understand the difficulty she faced as I have had to learn how to find these resources myself. Neither of my departments (English or ILS) has taught me how to locate these materials and I often resort to combing through searches that return thousands of hits.

I have since been in touch with this scholar and she has asked me if I can keep an eye out for ballads and song sheets related to her subject. I would like to, but where do I begin?

This is a different type of request than we usually receive from scholars. It is not a single question, a research consultation, or a request to help navigate a specific database. Library science is a service field and we are more accustomed to helping patrons in this way. How do we then treat these requests from scholars who treat librarianship as a type of scholarship? These requests suggest we establish a more long-term relationship rather than a limited series of exchanges. How long do we stay in contact with these patrons? How much work do we put into assisting them if they are not “our” (i.e. our library’s) patrons? Do we do extra research outside any that we are already doing or do we email whenever we happen to stumble upon something of interest?

This brings up interesting questions, ones I believe some of us will encounter as we attend conferences, work with patrons who are visiting on fellowships, and move from one job to another (hopefully keeping in contact with patrons from our last institution).

On a last note, if anyone knows anything about databases of ephemera, broadside ballads, or songs sheets from the late 18th and 19th centuries, will you let me know?

-Steph Luke

Lessons Learned

The end of the year is upon us, and while the summer is just a short break until next fall for many, some of us will not be returning. (Pause for tears.) I graduate in May along with a number of my peers in the Department of Information and Library Science who worked behind the reference desk with me, and I am given over to reflect on my time working reference and instruction at the Herman B Wells Library. I have learned a lot in my time here. I learned from my instructors, peers, supervisors at various jobs, but I also learned quite a bit from the students and patrons I have served the past two years. I wish to share with you a little bit of what I will take away from my time behind the reference desk.

First, I have had to learn to control my outward show of emotion. I have been told by past supervisors that I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I have had to learn to wear a metaphorical jacket to cover those sleeves. This way when a well-meaning patron decides they need to teach me the most ineffective way to search for resources, I can calmly say, “Well, what if we try using this database instead and using this search term and just see what we get,” without any hint of amusement. This also helps on the reverse when I have failed to understand a patron’s needs until well into the conversation and have just wasted their already limited time. Showing frustration or getting upset helps no one and does not solve the problem.

Second, I have learned humility. As a budding “information specialist” I often wanted to believe I could answer all patron questions and help them find the resources they needed. That is until one of the Kelly students or, my favorite, medical science students asks you something using words you have never heard before and you have to repeatedly ask them to spell sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. (I promise, it’s a real thing.) It is at these moments I have learned to swallow my pride and refer them to someone who knows where to find the top five companies worldwide who posted the highest third quarter earnings in 2006. Alas, unlike my wife, I do not know everything. (Just don’t tell her I admitted it.)

Third, I learned procrastination is alive and well. I am not alone in my devotion to it, and it in fact has many adherents whose faith is far greater than my own. I would venture to estimate that 8 out of 10 requests for an article or book are needed for assignments due the next day or, and I have had more of these than I can count, assignments due that very same day. I have therefore had to learn to remain calm and think outside the box a bit. This has meant sending patrons to the Monroe County Public Library or even Barnes and Noble. There are few feelings in life as good as when you have helped save a fellow procrastinator from themselves.

I will end with this. I have learned so many more things in my time working the reference desk here at the Hermie B library than I could mention in a single blog post. I have learned about a plethora of different subjects from so many different fields of study, many of which I know I never would have if not for the patrons seeking help. Most importantly, I learned that working in an academic library is what I want to do with my life, and I have my peers, superiors, instructors, and also the patrons of the library to thank. So, to you all, I say a heart felt thank you.

-David K. Kloster