Shelf Check #450

Shelf Check 450
FYI: In 2008, Jamie LaRue posted the contents of a letter he'd written in response to a patron's request that Uncle Bobby's Wedding be removed from the picture book area (it's cataloged as a picture book in LaRue's system). The letter is polite, well-considered, careful, concerned, solidly argued, and awesome. You can read it here.


Image Generators for Library Displays

I've been slogging through the hundreds of "saved to read/bookmark later" posts in my doomed Bloglines account and came across this faux newscast generator, which seems ideal for Banned Books Week (replace Dave & Jan with staff photo?):

Tuxpi [Photo Effect: Newscast]

We've used free online image generators from time to time at my branch to beef up ye olde 8 1/2" x 11" book display sign in the Lucite frame. This license plate generator helped for a display of Minnesota Book Award-winning books last Spring--

--and this highway sign maker for an audio book display in summer 2009:

The black top and bottom, "Traffic," and "It's better with audio" and were added in Picnik, a simple but quality (and free) online image editor. Some image generators automatically add a stamp with the generator's URL ("sign-generator.net," etc.), and you can crop them out quickly in Picnik.

Then there's the classic receipt maker--

--and the Magic 8-Ball Generator

Public domain images make good sign inspiration, too. My genius coworker Marni (also responsible for our Eden Prairie Library by the Numbers Display, which was great for bringing home what the library accomplishes during a budget crisis) used some in my favorite book display signs from this year:


More image generator sources: The Generator Blog, Custom Sign Generator (lots of good ones, lots more not-so-good ones), ACME Laboratories, Image Chef (small, don't enlarge well), RedKid


Shelf Check #446

Shelf Check 446
(click to hear Hole's "Violet")



"Multicultural": not a genre. Again.

Still no new toon--just feeling kind of brain-beat this week. But this rerun is for my colleague JC, who was hit hard with requests for "multicultural books" today (first week of high school in our town):

Shelf Check 260

[Says JC: "To all the teachers out there sending their students to the public library for a book, please, for the love of God, "multi-cultural" is NOT a genre. What is multi-cultural to me is someone else's culture and to call it multi-cultural is insulting. Be specific! To the white kid, the East Indian kid and the Somali kid all standing in front of me, I say what? 3 books on Inuits, here you go."]


Response to "The Master’s Degree Misperception, Ctd."

Via Twitter, Andy Woodworth directed me to his response to my response to The Master's Degree Misperception, which I respond to now below. Tomorrow: maybe a comic!


I understand what Andy was getting at in discussing image--how librarians are perceived. I think "I didn't go to library school to end up having to [fill in the blank]" is never a good way to phrase it. No one goes through pregnancy to end up having to clean up baby puke, but it happens. A lot. It's not the reason you had a baby, but it's part of the job, especially if you're short-staffed. I think the impression some people have that "librarian" is not a job you need a master's for, though, might come less from having witnessed a librarian help with a copier, and more from the general public just having no idea what librarians do, especially NOW--now that there are computers and databases and more than just books and quiet. There is still a widespread assumption that librarians get to read books at work, and that libraries are peaceful places to work.

Folks having no idea what librarians do is similar to the image problem I think we work harder and focus more on, which is folks having no idea what libraries offer. We market our programs and offerings and there are still people coming into libraries wondering how much a library card costs, or shocked that our computer classes are free, or that with a library card they can access thousands of full-text journals and magazines from home. We do our best to publicize what we offer. And, if it bothers us that folks think librarians don't need degrees, than it is on us to publicize the degreed-level work we do.

Unfortunately, the general public is not as likely as we are to spend hours at the Library Day in the Life wiki reading up on all the different ways to be a librarian and all the different projects on which librarians work. So how do we publicize what we do?


That's a question I need to think about more. The other I think Andy's asking is, "What should degreed librarians be doing?" What should their work days look like, etc. If you're a degreed librarian and don't think you should be working the ref desk, helping with copiers, etc., then the ideal thing to do is to find a job where that's not required of you. A large number (a majority?) of the folks who participate in Library Day in the Life are not working ref desks, so we know these positions exist (though we also know that, right now, both these AND ref desk positions are hard to find).

Andy got two different kinds of angry response yesterday (and some happy and relieved responses, too). There was my kind: I felt it was implied that having an MLS automatically, by definition, makes one better equipped to perform certain tasks--and makes one more deserving of opportunities to perform them. The latter (deserving) I can swallow more easily. The first I disagree with (key words: automatically, by definition).

Others were angry because they felt like Andy was saying that some work was beneath him (really, beneath degreed librarians, but it read kind of personally), but not beneath them (this was not what bothered me about the post). If it had been phrased, "I wish my daily work was more challenging, and more related to what I studied," it probably wouldn't have hit folks the way it did. If it had been phrased, "I need my daily work to be more challenging, and more related to what I studied," then more people may have been moved to respond with practical advice, which sounds to me like what he may have wanted: "What should we [the degreed] do?" It's a good question. I think it is valuable to have degreed librarians working the ref desk, but yes, many inquiries do not entail challenging work. To me, that's just part of the job. I imagine that rote, non-intellectually-engaging tasks make up part of the days of neurosurgeons, architects, college professors, and so on, too. I think Andy is saying that maybe that shouldn't be part of the job if you have an MLS--that it would be great if the ref desk had the equivalent of Gmail's new Priority inbox, and filtered and forwarded the less quotidian tasks to the degreed librarian. The trouble to patrons is that having someone say, "Let me call a librarian out to work with you" slows down the transaction and makes it less seamless. The librarian has to trundle out from the back room where s/he has been working on more intellectual stuff, the patron has to restate his or her inquiry, etc. Maybe this should be the case. Andy argues that it hurts the image of librarians when librarians are seen helping with copiers instead of on inquiries like these, and this approach would make librarians seem more "special," somehow. It does seem nonsensical, though--although I know some unions require it--to call a librarian out if the paraprofessional on the desk is perfectly capable of fielding even the more complicated inquiries. If you've got knowledgeable paraprofessionals, you (the librarian) might never or only very rarely be called out to the desk (perhaps about as often as one turns to a print reference source). That presents its own image problem: for who are you then? If you're not out there often, you know less about the needs of the community, and they know even less about what you do and how you do it. They might even (shudder!) start to think of the paraprofessionals they see daily, and who after all can answer 98% of their questions, as the branch's "librarians."

It could be that the library jobs that allow one to use one's "master's degree brain" are ones that just don't involve working with the public that much. What to do if you want to use that brain but DO have to work with the public that much? I guess, try to bring an ok attitude to the mundane stuff (so you don't feel miserable), and think and write and design and implement and present and, also, do what Andy's already doing: engaging that brain not just at a local branch level, but on an international stage like this internet of ours. If you are not given opportunities to shine and think hard at work, you can make them to shine and think hard online, and this might help somewhat in terms of wondering how one's really using one's degree on a daily basis when one feels mired in printer troubleshooting. Maybe blogging at the award-winning Agnostic, Maybe; spearheading a campaign to get Ben & Jerry's to have a library-themed flavor, running #andypoll on Twitter, and so on, are the ways in which one uses one's library degree. I know it hurts (annoys, bores) one to not be able to use it as much as one would like at one's place of work, but at least we do have this space in which to think and ("unofficially," and without pay) contribute to the profession and do the kind of work we want, need, or--as I hear in Andy's tone in both posts--feel we "have a right" or "deserve" to do.


Shelf Check #443

Shelf Check 443
Apple: iTunes: Ping (at Apple)

Response to "The Master's Degree Misperception"

It is exceptionally rare that I get offended enough by a librar* blog post to respond to it with more than pulling a coworker over and saying, "Get a load of this," but Andy Woodworth's The Master's Degree Misperception at Agnostic, Maybe, got--as we used to say in high school--on my tits. Read it, but here are two excerpts:

On any given day, I can be standing at the circulation desk side-by-side with a support staff member doing the same thing that they are doing. So long as this arrangement exists, the perception that librarianship does not require an advanced degree will continue to taint the image of the profession.


It is a disservice to the education, to the degree, and to the profession when the bulk of a librarian’s daily tasks could be performed by someone with a GED...[H]ow can we separate the MLS from the paraprofessional? Should the profession insist on a greater separation of duties? Should we surrender the reference desk over to the paraprofessional and adopt “research hours” where we can sit down with people who have actual reference questions? What needs to change in how we approach the job in the context of the library?

While I do like the idea of "research hours," I'm afraid I'm fairly sure my paraprofessional self could handle them as well as many--though certainly not all--professional librarians.

I've worked in libraries on and off, mostly on, for 16 years, in both circulation and reference. I've worked in two academic and three public library systems (my personal preference is for public, because of the greater diversity of tasks and of patrons served, but I'll admit that at my last academic job I made twice what I do at my current public job). I have consciously, actively chosen not to obtain a master's degree in library and information science for the following reasons:

1) I want to work in public libraries, and librarians in public libraries don't make much unless they're in management,

2)I never want to be in management, and

therefore, 3)I can't bear the thought of the expense of the degree in comparison to how much I am likely to make after obtaining it. I don't want to be paying for my MLIS for years to come, especially as I have a high school junior and a seventh grader who want to attend college. If I truly, deeply thought that I would be learning things that would make me far, far better at my non-management, non-cataloguing job, I might go for my MLIS. But folks: I can read professional journals, I can read blog posts and professional presentations, I can engage in seminar-like discussions with professional and paraprofessional library staff in the blogosphere--I--anyone--can learn so much on my own online and in conversation with colleagues, that I really don't feel that not attending school limits my acquisition of knowledge about the work I do. I learned about Ranganathan's Laws by Googling them after seeing them mentioned in a blog post, and they were the same five laws you learned about in library school.

I love school. If someone handed me a full scholarship to library school, I'd happily go. I don't think library school is a joke or a waste of time. But I'm disgusted with tuition hikes in this country, the turning of learning into little more than a business, and will not go into hock for a degree.

If it's important to you that people outside libraryland understand why your work requires an advanced degree, and you don't think that working the public library floor contributes to the perception that it does, I suggest working in academic or corporate libraries, being in management in public libraries, or--as I prefer to, degreed or not--giving such awesome and knowledgeable service on the public desk that people are dazzled by the depth and breadth of what you can show them. This last does not require an advanced degree. It requires a hungry and dedicated mind and attitude, and a constant willingness to search out new ways to meet your patrons' needs. These days, I'd argue that it means you need to know about tools like superscreenshot.com, zamzar.com, and fillanypdf.com--little things that make your patrons' lives and work much easier once you've demonstrated them. It means keeping your eye out for the good stuff.

More on Woodworth's "someone with a GED" remark and college-as-business: in case you haven't noticed, most service staff have undergraduate degrees now, at least in my town. What's more, several service staff folks working in my county have master's degrees in library science. The jobs aren't there, people. And frankly, again because of the "businessification" of college, degrees hardly mean shit any more. It doesn't say much about your intellect, these days, if you have managed to complete a master's degree. Sure, you worked hard, you learned some stuff, fine--but the degree was ultimately a purchase. One could say "an investment," but if we're looking at the financial picture for most public librarians, it's an investment without much of a payoff.

One of my favorite library-related quotes is from Frank Zappa: "If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library." Now--I realize Zappa's talking about undergrad here; I'm not suggesting one goes to library school to get laid. BUT the point is: you can learn a lot in a library. And one extension of the point is, when you work in a library, you learn a lot. The library's original raison d'être--or one of them--is to make opportunities to learn available to folks who might not otherwise be able to afford to learn. So it seems especially ridiculous when library staff, like Woodworth in this case, assume greater intellect and ability on the part of folks who have been professionally educated and that it's best for autodidacts to stick to telling patrons where the bathroom is. If ANY profession should value the self-taught, it's this one.

I may have blogged this before--I know I've thought it before--but, even when it comes to medicine and law, I would rather be treated or represented by an intellectually-engaged, enthusiastic paraprofessional than someone with a degree who's complacent and resting on his or her laurels. Degree ≠ competence. Degree ≠ good service. A degree simply means that you worked for and obtained a degree. It has nothing to do with whether you'll be a good or dedicated librarian in practice.

Woodworth concludes his post, "I’m not ignorant of the fact that this post will not apply to some libraries that have a smaller staff; nor that there will be times when there is a crossover of duties between librarians and paraprofessionals. I’m simply saying that this will continue to be an image problem so long as it is found [that paraprofessionals and librarians often do the same work] in the majority of public libraries around the country.

To my mind, the best way to solve an "image problem" is to provide patrons with knowledgeable, kick-ass, "I can't believe how much time you just saved me," "I can't believe you were able to find a book series that my reluctant reader devoured"-type service. And to have a good, helpful, I-want-to-make-your-day-easier attitude when, yes, telling folks where the bathroom is or helping them figure out how to make double-sided copies. Because they'll remember it, and when you seem friendly, they might (they often, in my experience) decide to ask you another question, a more, in Woodworth's words, "actual reference question" (that they may not previously have felt comfortable asking, or as if it was worth "disturbing" a librarian about) after they take their leak.

(please also see follow-up post)