Welcome to the U.S Librarian special... In the spirit of transatlantic communication, LISNPN has asked pertinent questions to three of the most influential (and friendly) bloggers in America - Andy Woodworth (aka Agnostic, Maybe), Buffy Hamilton (aka The Unquiet Librarian) and Bobbi Newman (aka Librarianbyday). Thanks so much to all of them for agreeing to take part, and giving their time.
You can check out their bios in the blog post which introduces the interview - I've posted the whole thing here as it's easier to read in the forums.
Seeing as this is a US librarian special, let's look at some cultural differences first of all. In your opinion is there any difference in the way people in the UK or America view the library as an institution (and the people who work there)?
Andy Woodworth: From what I have read, I don’t believe so. I think there might be a difference in the underlying expectation of government service. Whereas people in the UK pay higher taxes but receive a greater number of government services (healthcare being the major example this year in the US), people in the US have come to expect the government to cover certain basic services. Libraries are one of these services, but opponents of such public money expenditures tend to the frame the institution as a luxury.
Insofar as the staff, I really don’t see any difference between myself and my UK peers.
Bobbi Newman: You know I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this one. I make a point of following people outside of my bubble including UK librarians, but I don’t know that I’ve noticed a difference in thinking. It may be that my focus still tends to lean towards like minded individuals even ones outside of the US.
I've always had the impression, just from my limited experience of Twitter etc, that a greater number of senior professionals engage with social media in the US than in the UK - would you say that's something you've noticed? And if so, why do you think this is? I like it when senior pros use social media because it levels the playing-field - it's communication to anyone whose interested, rather than just to other high up people.
Bobbi: It is my impression that more professionals use social media. in the US, so that would make it likely that there are more senior professionals. We had a huge push towards using social media in libraries here in the US about 5 or 6 years ago. There are still articles in our professional publications detailing why you need an online presence and how to build one, whether it’s a blog or Twitter or a website
If there are more of using social media in general it would stand to reason that there are more senior professionals using it.
Andy: I wouldn’t have a good explanation as to why this is so. If I was to guess, I think it’s because the US just has a larger number of early adoptors since we have a larger professional population. I’d be interested if there was a way to survey the number of professionals who use social media versus the overall professional population so that a measurement of overall adoption could be established.
I do like it when senior professionals use social media because I think it is a great way to communicate ideas from a vantage point of experience. The common complaint is that there isn’t much leadership in the library field and I think that having these experienced individuals on social media counteracts that notion.
Okay last cultural difference question - in the UK we have a concerted New Professionals movement. People who've joined the profession in the last five years or so get bracketed as New Profs and grouped accordingly for events etc. Is there anything similar in America? I've not noticed such a specific move to label the newbies on your side of the Atlantic...
Andy: As someone who graduated with my MLS in 2006 and got my first full time librarian job in 2007, I’m in the New Profs bracket. While I haven’t seen anyone label the new librarians as such in the US unless you want to count "The Unemployed" which is more prevalent than it should be in new MLS graduates. There are not the positions available that had been heralded by the ALA and Occupational Outlook (that’s a US Department of Labor publication that forecasts job growth).
Buffy: Hamilton: I’m not aware of anything comparable other than ALA Emerging Leaders.
Bobbi: We have several listservs for New Librarians or NextGen Librarians. ALA has a New Members Round Table with services like resume review and special sessions for new conference attendees. ALA also offers Mentor Connect as part of ALA Connect, our social site for ALA members . Members can fill out a mentor or mentee profile or both and the site helps them find a fit.
I will say when I was a newbie Mentor Connect did not exist and I wasn’t encouraged by my library to be involved in ALA so I wasn’t involved in the NMRT. I did belong to the listservs but eventually gave them up due to too much bickering and complaining. The connections I’ve made through social networking and the blogs I’ve read have, by far, been the most use to me.
Do you see libraries as being in something of a state of crisis at the moment? What is the biggest threat we're facing - governments, media, public perception, what?
Bobbi: I don’t. Yes I know that funding is being cut at many libraries. The economy is still recovering in the US and all industries are suffering. The latest report from the Institute of Museums and Library Service shows that use continues to rise.
Our largest challenge right now is the diversity of our services; we have our traditional print media, recently added media like music CDs and DVDs, and newly added digital content including databases, downloadable content like ebooks, music and videos. We are becoming more focused on community resources and being services centres with the addition of gaming, complex programming for adults and children. Local, state and federal governments are looking to us for support as they put more forms, instructions and services online and direct people to visit their local library.
The role of the Reference Librarian is no more. The days of sitting behind a reference desk and helping patrons find the tallest mountain in the US is long past, despite the clinging nostalgia of some. Instead reference librarians are expect to help patrons create a resume, open their first email account, adjust their Facebook privacy settings, find their favourite tv shows online, not to mention find resources for papers due tomorrow, help entrepuneurs find the much needed free information to start their own business, break up fights, keep teens and adults from performing lewd acts in the stacks, defend funding to the public, board members and upper level managers. An MLS prepares one for only a small portion of this.
Buffy: Crisis is a really strong word, so it’s one I tend to use with caution, but I would say that in certain parts of the United States, libraries of all kinds (public, academic, school) are in crisis mode as they face significant funding cuts due to the economic downturn in our country. A Nation Without School Librarians is a grassroots effort to document geographic locations where school library programs are being cut in terms of certified school library staffing. In addition, many school libraries are not only facing cuts to certified staffing but also materials budgets.
Andy: That’s a big fat "it depends" answer. For school libraries, any cuts to education spending (whether local, county, or at the state level) tend to take a chunk out of that budget. Schools are under enormous pressure to preserve instruction time and keep class size low, so they take it out of other places. Depending on the state, school libraries are varied state of crisis; whether it is staffing, materials expenditures, or even additional duties, school libraries are taking the hit for budget cuts.
In the public library, there are any number of crisises that libraries are facing all across the US. There have been some big budget battles between librarians and the elected officials with inconsistant results. Some places, like the state of Ohio, libraries were able to recover funding through ballot initiatives where people voted for taxes to restore funding to their library. In other places, like my own state of New Jersey, state budget cuts have been ravaging local budgets and the libraries are being put on the chopping block pretty ruthlessly. For my fellow librarians, it has been a learning experience as to how to get involved in the political process. I think in the long run we will weather through it, but there are going to be some lean years and some rebuilding involved to get back to where we were. However, I don’t think a little time in the wilderness is necessarily a bad thing; it’s that time spent in proverbial exile that allows for an objective evaluation of the institution and where it is going.
(I’m not terribly familiar with academic libraries, so I’m not certain what they are facing at the moment. Same goes for special libraries.)
Overall, I think the enemy of libraries is perception. What people think about libraries is what they believe about libraries, so something erroneous such as "everything is online" or "libraries are unnecessary because of ebooks" can really take off easily on communication platforms like the internet. Perception is so key these days that librarians really need to step
I don't want this to be too negative so let's talk positives – Andy you are passionate about your job and your profession, what is the thing that most excites you about your job, day-to-day?
Andy: Service is what gets me going during the day. I love helping people. There’s nothing comparable to it. There aren’t many occupations where you can say, "I help people improve their daily lives" and mean it. My friend Peter Bromberg gave a keynote at the 2010 ALA Annual conference in which he said "reference saves lives" and I firmly believe that. It’s not obvious in the same way as a doctor or police officer, but the subtle way in which you can change a person’s day can make the difference. It reminds me of the saying that starts with "For want of a nail, a shoe was lost". Librarians can make that tiny difference that sets people onto whole new paths. This I firmly believe to be true and what makes me excited to be at my job.
Bobbi, a lot of people in my own personal echo chamber have similar interests in terms of social media, new technologies, presenting at conferences etc. A big difference between you and me, it seems, is that your job encompasses all that stuff (where as mine occasionally dips into it, but largely the two aspects of my career exist separately) - is there anything you can say about chasing the kind of role that allows you to do all that stuff? How does one achieve job-satisfaction that encompasses all those cool things..?
Bobbi: I can see how it might appear that my job encompasses all that from the outside, unfortunatley it is not an accurate view of how I spend my days at work. I spend a great deal of time at work answering emails, in meetings, serving on committees and writing reports or procedures. I estimate I spend and average of 20 hours a week of my own time investigating social media, new technologies and doing the work (like writing my blog) that allows me to present at conferences. I do it because I’m interested and I’m passionate about what I do, not just the 9-5 part of my work but the professional work I do outside of my day job. In some ways my job does line up with those interests. But I could also see doing it if I worked the reference desk full time, I would still see the digital divide, still encounter the issues I see with ebooks etc, and my personality is such I would research those things even if I had to do it on my own time so I could provide better services to our patrons. Now maybe cataloguing wouldn’t be the best match for me at this point in my career but I don’t feel that a change in title or position would affect how I spend my time.
As far as chasing a role you think you want I would offer words of caution. My title of Digital Branch Manager might indicate I spend all my time with new technology and digital services but it really is a small portion of my responsibilities. Real satisfaction has to come from within, if you know what you’re interested in and you want to contribute be prepared to make those contribution on your own time, if you’re fortunate enough to get a job with some overlap that’s great.
Future trends - what are the developments on the horizon which will change the way we work, or just generally make things cooler?
Bobbi: It is an exciting time to be a librarian! We have more of an opportunity to shape what being a librarian means that any generation of librarians who came before us. My position Digital Services wouldn’t have existed 10 years ago. The ability to connect with others hundreds and thousands of miles away, across time zone and countries means we are exposed to more ideas that our predecessors. Our personal learning networks are huge and diverse, we have access to more help and more minds than any group of librarians before us. I think it is hard to see while we’re suffering growing times, but this is one of the most control we, librarians, have had over our own destiny probably since the formation of the first library.
Andy: The rapidly descending price of e-reader devices will put ebooks as the new major collection edition of the next five years. I predicted at a dinner at ALA 2010 that Amazon will be *giving* the Kindle away within five years when you buy a certain number of books online. With the price drop to under $200 and heading towards $100, I stand by that prediction.
Of course, this will bring up other issues concerning US copyright, the rights of publishers and authors to control their content and where it can appear, and the digitial divide. But I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Buffy: I’m not much of a futurist, but I think cloud computing is already transforming how we work as well as how our students and teachers access, share, and create content. I do look to reports like the Horizon K12 2010 Report when trying to track and anticipate future trends that will impact teaching, learning, and how we expand our concept of literacy at The Unquiet Library.
I really liked that #inatweet meme on Twitter - is there a particular platform or piece of technology you find really useful that you'd like to share with others?
Bobbi: Do I only get 140 characters for each one?
- Evernote is invaluable for taking notes from blog posts and articles online and tracing mentions of you and/or you library.
- Tweetdeck – I couldn’t use Twitter on my desktop without the columns Tweetdeck makes possible.
- Seesmic for Twitter on my phone, allows me to see my lists and choose my retweet style.
- Google Reader, I know a lot of people are giving up on feed readers but I can’t imagine parting with mine. I can’t be on Twitter or Facebook all the time, and this week when I’m spending my time writing, I know that my feeds are waiting for me this weekend.
- Gmail – the threading and filtering of messages is amazing and the searching is lightening fast, the recent addition of priority inbox makes it almost perfect.
- My Planner – I have to throw this in because I recently went back to a paper planner, I prefer it to an online calendar and task list
Buffy: Evernote, SlideShare, Scribd, delicious, GoogleDocs, and LibGuides are my best friends right now in terms of technology tools!
Andy: I think the most powerful tool right now for librarians is the "Share" button on stories. Whether you put it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Livejournal, Wordpress, email, or wherever you are in contact with other professionals, sharing truly is caring.
Buffy, I think a lot of people who don't know about your activities in the unquiet library would be blown away by how much you do, how proactive you are, and how central to the student experience your role is. Is that because a: school librarian's roles are generally misunderstood elsewhere in the profession, b: your particular school allows you to do so much, or c: because you and your colleagues made that happen because of your drive and ambition? Or a mixture of all three!
Buffy: I would say it is a combination of all three! As you know, perceptions change slowly ,and people may not be aware of the roles of 21st century school librarians. Here in the U.S., the Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs informs the principles of a sound school library program and our roles as program administrator, information specialist, instructional partner, leader, and teacher. For me, the participatory librarianship framework dovetails perfectly with these guidelines because it values creating conversations for learning; a focus on supporting learning and creating meaningful learning experiences for both students and teachers is at the heart of any strong school library program. You might want to check out http://www.scribd.com/doc/41363992/Participatory-librarianship-transliterate-conversations-for-creating-contributing-collaborating-and-connecting for how I view how librarians can create conversations for learning not only for our students/teachers, but for ourselves so that we can interrogate our practices to become more effective and innovate.
At the same time, I do have a good deal of passion for what I do, and I think that passion, energy, hard work, and willingness to take risks is how I nurture a library program that is hopefully helping people see new possibilities for what "library" can mean in a school setting. I find tremendous joy in what I do.
What is the best thing about it?
Buffy: I love feeling like I am helping students and teachers learn something new every day. There is nothing like that "a-ha!" light bulb moment in which someone discovers meaning and relevance in what they are doing or to assist people in finding and fuelling their own passions. Feeling as though I am empowering others and making a real difference is what pushes me to keep growing our program and services as I try to practice a model of participatory librarianship and build shared ownership with all of our stakeholders. Being able to l earn something new and find interesting ways to apply and share those insights with others is also gratifying. No two days are ever alike for me at The Unquiet Library!
Is there a single achievement, or event, or change, of which you are most proud in your career?
Andy: I am very proud to be named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker. To be nominated by my friends is quite an honor and I’m in excellent professional company. I daresay it has emboldened me to take confidence in what I write in my blog, to reach out to others in the profession, and to try new things.
Bobbi: I definitely consider my work with transliteracy my proudest accomplishment. The group blog with co-authors Tom Ipri, Brian Hulsey and Gretchen Caserotti has been a huge success. I’m actually blown away by the number of readers we have and the comments from the library community on the need for a project like this. The subsequent creation of the Transliteracy Interest Group, under The Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) a division of ALA was a major mile stone for the cause.
Over the last year I have become more aware of and more focused on the digital divide and more importantly what the divide really means to those on the loosing side of it. The need to be literate is no longer enough to be an active engage member of today’s society. Reports like that of the Knight Commission (Ned let me know if you want a link for mentions like this) clearly demonstrate that we are dangerously close to a new type of second class citizen. Libraries are the most logical organization to tackle this problem and help close the gap.
Buffy: For me, adopting a framework of participatory librarianship as espoused by Dr. David Lankes of Syracuse University in late 2008 is the biggest game-changer so far in my practice. Not only has this approach helped me become a better practitioner, but it has also helped me and the library build a stronger sense of community and ownership with students and teachers. At this point, the implementation of Media 21, a participatory approach to learning that infuses multiple literacies, inquiry, the construction of personal learning environments, and the use of many technologies for accessing, sharing, and creating information, has been my proudest accomplishment because of its impact on student learning (see http://theunquietlibrarian.wikispaces.com/media21capstone-buffy) and helping other teachers see the possibilities of what learning can look like in spite of a test driven climate. In addition, I have been extremely honored by a series of accolades this past autumn:
· 2010-11 GLMA/GAIT Georgia School Library Media Specialist of the Year
Andy, from the outside you seem like an example of how one individual really can make a difference. Is that how you feel, or is library advocacy one of those things where, the more you do, the more you realise how much more thereis to do?
Andy: It is absolutely, without a doubt, one of those things where the more you do, the more you realize how much more can be done. One of the more incredible powers of the internet is that it is a communication platform that encompasses the world. One person with an email account can make a difference. It’s just a matter of application. When I look at sites like Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, and Plurk, what I see is the connections that are being made every day. If I have ten followers and they each have ten followers, one person sharing or repeating my message reaches another ten people. That’s pretty incredible. And if they pass the message on, the audience grows. I’m not always going to give a message that resonates with all ten followers, but if I can get a few to pass it along, then my broadcasts are going to reach a much larger audience.
Now, getting people to act? That’s a whole other story.
Final question, which we're going to ask everyone who does these LISNPN interviews. Take yourself back in time to when you'd only been in the profession for a couple of years - is there one piece of advice you'd give yourself, or one thing you know now that it would be have been useful to know then?
Buffy: Although I have been an educator for nearly 18 years, I’m just now finishing my sixth year as a school librarian. However, I have realized that real change takes patience, faith, and time; nurture those seed ideas but also have a willingness to approach challenges from different perspectives. Don’t be afraid to question everything you ever held sacred about our profession—be willing to question and interrogate your beliefs on a regular basis---I find this to be healthy and it helps me to make thoughtful, purposeful decisions on a regular basis about the "how" and "why" behind my practice.
Bobbi: Get more involved in professional organizations. The libraries I worked didn’t encourage involvement with professional organizations and I wish I’d taken the initiative to do it on my own. I didn’t know where to start and I felt overwhelmed. Believe it or not, I am shy and socially awkward, I find it hard to strike up conversations with strangers and I’m terrible at small talk. Being involved has helped alleviate a lot of those issues. The advancement of the social web helps too, I would have found direction from blogs or Twitter and felt on some level part of the community before just jumping in.
Andy: Since I’ve only been in the profession a couple of years, if I was to go back to the end of graduate school, I would tell myself, "Act with less doubts and less fear. You’re on the right path."
Thank you for your time!