library

Book Review: The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Ed.

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Technology in the Library and Lifelong Learning

Review of Nicole C. Engard’s (with Rachel Singer Gordon) The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition. Information Today, Inc. 2012. ISBN: 9781573874533

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One of those ever-famous quotes from library school is that librarians and librarians-in-training must be life-long learners.* The reason for referencing this quote in this review is one of the methods through which Nicole C. Engard gathered anecdotes and examples for her work, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition (TASL) was via a survey sent out to libraries and systems librarians. A general response suggested by many of the respondees was they never expected to be bored. Engard deliberately makes this point 2 or 3 times across the book in varied contexts because one of her main points is systems librarians may go by different titles at their respective institutions, but they are also in charge of teaching staff, teaching patrons, spending a chunk of their scheduled time at the reference desk or some other task in “traditional” library services and keeping current on all kinds of tech services – a task which shows every sign of continual exponential change. Engard’s goal is to explain the types of issues that may fall under the description for Systems Librarian and also the real work/learning load associated with the position.

TASL is divided in two major sections: The first four chapters, titled Systems Librarianship 101 – 104, are followed by 8 chapters with specific titles focused on subtasks and the granularity of higher level involvement and projects. I would suggest one justification for this structure is a quote by Eric Morgan in his penned Forward, “Working with technology is as much about collection development as it is about knowing how to use computers” (xvi). Technology in libraries is not about adding more “stuff” for staff and patrons to learn – though more learning is hopefully the inevitable result. Technology is built into more facets of library work and library services because it reflects the types of resources that are in current use and in demand by patrons. As a pathway to being involved in culture, learning about whatever topic, or checking e-mail, networked systems of all kinds must be maintained in order to make that pathway easier to traverse. Hardware, web applications and other e-formats are simply used in tandem with resources such as magazines, newspapers and books.

Engard makes clear, however, throughout the book the need for constant education. Not simply personally in efforts for life-long learning. This notion we have already mentioned and will be touched upon once more below. Rather, education designed to bring all staff in-line with expectations held by patrons. In other words, many patrons need help with various aspects of devices, software and some hardware. Many libraries (or library systems), including the one at which I currently work, schedule technology classes in order to teach patrons skills as diverse as how to use subscribed databases for genealogy, how to navigate their e-readers to use the library’s e-collections and how they might use social media to collect ideas for new reading interests. And there are so many others Engard details in the book. The point is it takes educated staff members, confident with these same technological resources in the library’s collections/services arsenal to assist patrons. Also, when a patron comes to ask a question, it is okay for the librarian and the patron to learn something together. But, honestly, the staff member should be the “expert” up to a point and Engard suggests it’s up the systems librarian to collaborate with the rest of the staff and make sure this is the case.

How the local Systems Librarian works and what he or she accomplishes is partly up to her and how distributed the technological work load is in the librarian’s respective setting. There are no set tasks declared in the book. There is not an absolute description of what A Systems Librarian is supposed to do because needs vary so greatly. And in this, Nicole C. Engard’s book, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition, has its greatest strength. Sure it lists a ton of web, journal and book resources to learn network troubleshooting, research techniques and modes of instruction. But it emphasizes life-long learning as the mode of interaction across technological “borders,” changes and constant problem solving which fine-tunes that learning.

A strength indeed.

*This is a phrase I come back to pseudo-regularly as I find it of high value to my own motivations.

PS: A copy of my review has also been published at LibraryThing.

Radio Time with Dennis Price

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          In an effort to spread the word about libraries, cycling and some otherwise unwritten thoughts in a fun and conversational mode, I have been invited to be on Fairfax Public Access Radio on 05 Feb 2013 at 8:00 PM EST. I will be interviewed by Dennis Price – photographer, general contractor and radio personality – a man of myriad interests.

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          This marks my second “appearance” on the radio in two years. My first was mostly on the topic of digital projects in a library (bicycles were mentioned though) – that was live on 12 April 2012.

          Please take the time to listen. Approximate time from your day: 1 measly hour.

          Thank you.

In the Virginia Room with Tad Suiter

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On Wednesday 16 January 2013, I sat down to talk with one of the numerous helpful Virginia Room staff members, Tad Suiter, about special collections, the role of local history in the public library’s mission statement and library promotion.

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The role of collections shifts in libraries and when one thinks about local history within libraries, the realization is that patrons who enter the contemporary Arlington Public Library will be checking out books and movies that are generally popular within the current culture, using the community boards and using computers with their free internet access to do everything from applying for jobs to playing web-based internet games. This role may not be as much about books as it has been. One of the resources that will not be used as often is the rare books and special collections found in Arlington County Library’s Virginia Room – a separate room on the first floor designed to act as a traditional reading room (such as the famous reading room in the Library of Congress’ Jefferson building), a linkage to the rare books vault and archival materials housed and managed to be used ONLY in the reading room. Most of these materials are rare and unique to Arlington and thus would not survive normal circulation cycles.

I asked about the Mission Statement of special collections within the Library and two points were made. <I write, “within the library,” because only a fraction of patrons who walk into the Central Arlington Library also walk into the Virginia Room. The Virginia Room houses the Special Collection – not designed to be circulated for numerous meaningful reasons.> The first point relates the Virginia Room’s collection mission to the APL’s Mission Statement as a whole. The APL’s Mission Statement is “The Arlington Public Library provides access to information, creates connections among people and promotes reading and culture–for every Arlingtonian and other patrons.” The Virginia Room certainly is situated to conform to that mission as the collections are Virginia specific with a niche focus on local history and Arlington history. Another aspect of the mission statement, however, makes mention of “other patrons.” One assumes this is deliberately ambiguous because the APL could never foresee the wide use potential of their special collections for work by scholars or writers from around the nation and world. In particular, Tad Suiter mentioned the excitement expressed by a visitor from Japan who noted unique items in the collection that are about Arlington but may be part of some specific interest within the domain of information collection. Sure, many patrons focus on genealogy or request items about the street they or loved ones lived on in generations past, but these special collections, though local in title, are also used by non-Arlingtonians.

The second point relates to this issue of APL’s mission statement, but subtly redirects the use of the collections – this is the point that local collections are useful to “reach out” beyond the local.   In the first place, the Virginia Room houses some of the institutional archives for APL. At first thought, it would seem that local archives are designed for use for APL studies – they are. But a county’s public library archives could just as well be studied in order to explore ideas within a grander scope to reflect trends within county libraries statewide or nationwide. In addition, even though the United States has plenty of diverse lives and diverse life-organizations occurring within its borders, the fact that Arlington is a suburb of Washington, D.C. (a relatively large urban district), means that some aspects of library use and local culture may relate to America generally since DC is where so many important decisions are made and Arlingtonians, many of them, work within these halls of decision. Arlington’s special collections are not just for use by Arligntonians even though the collections are housed within the Virginia Room and the mission statement declares fist the public library is for Arlington patrons. That same statement also declares it is available for other patrons. The above paragraph expresses the potential for extra-local use of special collections.

Truth be told, a theme running through the conversation with Tad Suiter revealed the challenges of promoting special collections. Special Libraries of America certainly believes in promotion of efforts by its members. But even the SLA does not have an “official” definition of what is a special library or special collection. APL has a semi-regular feature on its webpage through which it promotes historical elements found within collections found in the Virginia Room. Tad Suiter suggests he believes patrons would find it very interesting not just to see a piece of history written from artifacts in the collection (a perfectly fine effort for promotion), but also to realize the efforts of digging through the collections and the processing of those items for events, writing, research or other projects. Promotion of libraries runs through much current literature on library use, encouraging wide use and trends in social media. One can even see it pop up regularly in job postings across many fields within librarianship. I suppose this small essay is an act of promotion.

I want to thank Tad Suiter for his time and helpful ideas. The whole staff at the Arlington Public Library is very helpful, but I want to specifically thank the staff of the Virginia Room at this moment. I recommend checking out their special collections, ask questions and maybe send a comment or two here or at Twitter.

Thank you for reading.

Public Library Work – Thoughts?

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I start working tomorrow at a Public Library (details and writing will come in the future); I am making a transition from technical services to patron services. This will involve fewer interactions with varied software (just used in a different way) and increased interactions with people.

I am curious what people really think about their respective public library jobs? This question is not meant to cover ALL the experiences nor thoughts people have, nor every task that is part of daily needs at each person’s respective branch.

One dire facet of contemporary life in public libraries has been the way budget cuts and the economy in the late 2000s has affected services, hours of operation and libraries’ ability to acquire new materials across formats. My job in part has come about, I believe, because of the library system’s ability to expand hours and thus increase the number of staff possible –  an event for which I am rather grateful. So, I am interested in answers to my query that reflect the changing state of your respective public libraries and what you think about your jobs relative to the affects of the economic struggles of late. These changes I know alter who is in charge, what can be offered and other factors. And sometimes these changes can be positive.

Anyway, please do say what you think. You can reply here or @ Twitter.

Thank you.

James B. Hunt Library in Norwegian

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     James B. Hunt, who held the office of Governor for the state of North Carolina in the spot of 69th and 71st has an institute named after him (the Hunt Institute Tweets) – and now a library.  He established his legacy in the state for emphasizing and promoting education. Now, North Carolina State University has named the newest addition to their collection of libraries after him. The building is in-construction currently, but the design plans exhibited thus far have this image as its future. 
     I am not an architect, obviously, but I just want to draw attention to this new library being built in the United States on the east coast because North Carolina State University is known for being an engineering school made of red bricks as far as one can see. The campus even has a brick-yard in a place used daily by thousands of students year-after-year. Image from here. And this library is something different.
  
     A Norwegian architectural firm named Snøhetta won the contract (or whatever method was used to get the right deal for the University). And a good thing too. The influence of Scandinavian architecture added to the NCSU Centennial Campus is only beneficial because it breaks up the aesthetic of that campus quite well. Plus, it looks from what I could see from outside the construction site and from the officially released images that this library will let in a lot of natural light. The history of libraries has seen a lot of metaphors of light tossed about. Why not? But this does not contradict the stated purpose of this library building. The James B. Hunt Library has plans to be the  “best learning and collaborative space in the country.” Obviously, this library’s impact will be felt most directly by the NCSU community, but maybe I too will get a chance to do some research inside its well designed walls. Just wanted to let the library world know about this one while it’s in-progress.  
PS:  There are a few good food joints in the area of the library as well as coffee (which every library researcher needs). 
Thoughts or Comments on the Library are welcome. 

Networked and Networking – 2 Questions

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Wikipedia defines Business Networking as, “a socioeconomic activity by which groups of like-minded businesspeople recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities.” Of course, there are all kinds of other networked human beings who use a similar approach to accomplish goals or tasks that may not on the surface be about business. But Wikipedia seems to have no such entry.  The Riley Guide defines Networking in its own way – which has more to do with humans finding ways to interact with other human beings.
My life as a library worker, volunteer and intern with plans for a lifetime of work in libraries is one that will surely require more and more networking in order to learn new techniques and best practices, gather information about potential projects and to increase the odds of finding the perfect next job necessary to accompany each new stage of my professional development and skill set. There are lots of suggestions as to what tools produce the best results in this area. Within library-dom, there are plenty who say that staying abreast of events and discussions within professional associations produces quality results. I am of course referring to associations such as American Library Association, Society of American Archivists, and Special Libraries of America among others.
I am very interested in reactions – which leads me to my first question: Does anyone have real stories (hopefully about library work) to share that show examples of how networking has grown your professional persona and added to potential (past occurrences or planned) for new jobs or projects? Any productive response that encourages dialogue on this topic is appreciated and can be added as a comment in this post.
There is, however, a second interesting aspect to Networking – that of connected computers. Two years ago, David Fincher directed the very popular and slightly controversial film, The Social Network. Hard to believe that it has already been two years. Since then, obviously, Facebook has entered a new phase of its business model, that of increasing its levels of advertising within its popular platform and floating itself onto the Stock Market with its IPO. But one of the constant mantras spouted by the character named Mark Zuckerberg in the film is that he really wants to connect people. But what happens as the film progresses? Well, most of the groups of people, even supposedly good friends, fragment as the plot moves toward the ending credits. Slightly ironic, but definitely amusing and worthy of note at least for those interested in film. One can’t say this is inevitable. But one can say that the first thing actually connected via Facebook is computers. And in so being connected (networked), Facebook, as only one such platform, has become widely used for promotion, company blogs and updates from all kinds of institutions (including libraries). This shows me there is still a hierarchical aspect to this technology – social media and networking platforms both – which may prove a limitation to internet based networking and knowledge dissemination as a whole.
This brings me to my second question: Does anyone have real examples (hopefully about library work) they can share on how networked computer or internet-based networking tools specifically have grown your professional persona and added to potential (past occurrences or planned) for new jobs or projects? And, again, Any productive response that encourages dialogue on this topic is appreciated and can be added as a comment in this post. 

Thank you.