Back to the Future: A Library/Technology Lesson from 1983

Heading up to my office, I noticed this little nugget hanging on the bulletin board by the staff elevator:

Microcomputers for Libraries

“Microcomputers are most certainly the key to the future.”

Wow! Now this is why I stay away from making technology predictions. The book is: Microcomputers: How Useful are They? Written by Jane Beaumont and Donald Krueger, it was published in 1983 by the Canadian Library Association. According to WorldCat, there are still 214 libraries that hold this book–well, make that 213. The reason it was spotlighted on our bulletin board is that it’s headed to the “withdraw” pile.

Inside, the preface is a bit chuckle-inducing:

In January 1981, I was discussing career prospects for information specialists with a colleague. He ominously discussed the impending demise of librarians who fail to recognize and respond to new technologies. “Microcomputers,” he emphasized, “are most certainly the key to the future.”

…I sensed my curiosity being whetted by his cogent contentions and my ears succumbing to his stentorian tones. No doubt I encountered feelings which are not unique, a vague professional malaise and a timid personal hesitation which might have indicated a desire for change restrained by fear of personally initiating it.

Despite the laughs, the premise still holds true today: libraries and librarians must adapt to new technologies. However, I think “adapting” to new technologies places us in a reactive mode when we need to be in an active mode. This point has been most exemplified with the recent decision by HarperCollins to restrict its e-book lending to only 26 check-outs before the license expires. The Twitterverse exploded on Friday with tweets (search Twitter for #hcod)  from angry librarians (completely justified, btw) responding to the new terms of service.

But how do we get from being reactive to active? The Librarian in Black blog is a good starting point. Check out posts on eBook User’s Bill of Rights and Library eBook Revolution, Begin. Short of getting a librarian appointed to corporate boards of publishing companies, what else can we do? Lobbying publishing companies, educating authors and e-book readers, partnering with the American Library Association, promoting changes in digital rights management and copyright law all come to mind. A boycott of HarperCollins now started, too. Beyond protests, I’d like to know from librarians as to what concrete steps can be taken. I’m not an expert in this, but would like to be a part of the solution. Let me know!

Childhood Library Memories

Due Date | Garrett Public Library | Garrett, Indiana

Due Date | Garrett Public Library | Garrett, Indiana

So was I destined to become a librarian from the beginning? One of my earliest childhood memories is of the library. In my small Indiana hometown (and you know it’s a small town when the library website’s top link is to an ‘obituary index’!), the Garrett Public Library sponsored a “Tuesday Toddlers” program: story time with the children’s librarian. I was always mesmerized by her awesome felt-board shows (do they still do those? Or doesn’t that keep toddlers’ attention anymore?). A few years back, my parents were preparing to move into a new house. I was helping to clean up in the attic. There I found a much used, grubby looking book, Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss. According to the due date card inside, I had checked it out in 1983. I hope becoming a librarian excuses me from the overdue fine. Or maybe becoming a librarian was my punishment? I kid! I kid!

In elementary school, the small Catholic school I attended had a library housed in a camper (true story!). Unfortunately, during a thunderstorm, it was struck by lightning. The resulting fire destroyed all of the books. However the teachers came up with an idea: to help build a new library collection, each student would donate a book on his/her birthday. It was fun to “check out” other students’ books. I also got a kick out of it years later when younger cousins who attended the same school would check out books I had “donated.”

Visiting with my Grandma Janice would usually involve a trip to her local public library. Her library, the beautiful Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, Indiana (here’s a pic I snapped on a visit last year), was exactly the type of library that I think most people picture in their minds: the old book smell, magazines, comfy chairs, wood paneling, large windows. My grandma was one of those people who always had something checked out from the library. I felt special when she would let me pick out a book and check it out with her library card. She spent a lot of time inside just browsing (usually looking for a book on the Kennedys). When the weather was nice, I would sit outside the entrance and read my books. Or sometimes I would go to the little park out back and read by the fountain.

Now lots of people can surely relay stories of “bad” childhood library experiences. I have only one. And it’s not that bad thinking back. When I was in 7th grade, I picked out a book at the public library and took it to the circulation desk. I was told that I couldn’t check it out because it was from the ‘adult’ section and you had to be at least 14. Really? As a 13-year old, I thought: “There’s nothing in that book that I haven’t seen on TV or heard my dad utter!”  The librarian told me I had to have my parents’ permission. So, I decided to show her! I only lived a block away, so I dragged my mom with me back over to the library. We marched up to the circulation desk. I told the librarian that I wanted to check out the book and I had my mom with me. “Are you going to let him check out that book?” the librarian snarled. My mom replied, “Well, I didn’t have my Wheel of Fortune interrupted for him not to…so check it out!” I got the book. And many more.

These libraries helped to educate me and entertain me. They set the stage for life-long learning. They are the public trust. Let’s keep ’em funded.

What are your childhood library memories?

Eckhart Public Library, Auburn, IN

My grandma’s library – Eckhart Public Library, Auburn, IN

Mr./Ms. Library Director: Tear Down This Sign!

A question posted to the ILI-L discussion list concerned QR codes and cell phones. The questioner wanted to know about libraries’ policies that forbid the use of cell phones. How could QR codes be implemented if you can’t use your cell phone to take a picture!? It got me thinking about library signage and policies. Here’s my favorite photo of a “no cell phone” sign:

Image from Flickr, courtesy of Travelin’ Librarian.

I don’t know what to focus on! You get a red “X,” red lettering, capital letters, exclamation points, and it’s signed “Library Director,” to boot. It’s a bit much, don’t you think? Libraries need to adapt to changing technologies. Not everyone on a cell phone is having a conversation. They could be browsing a mobile version of the library’s website, or a database. Maybe a patron just texted a call number to him/herself (I do that all the time!)? And yes, they could even be using the camera to take a picture of a QR code, or of a book they find interesting. For another “negative” sign, check out this photo from Flickr–another jumble of negativity!

For me, common courtesy (no loud conversations, take extended conversations to lobby, etc.) and common sense policy (e.g., creating “quiet zones” and “noisy” zones) are key. Working to create a comfortable, inviting, and courteous environment is more useful and advantageous in the long run, than one that’s inherently negative. Do you want to be the “shushing” librarian stereotype? I don’t.

If you haven’t browsed the Library Signage group on Flickr, it’s definitely worth a look. Take for example, a “positively” worded cell phone sign from Community College of Allegheny County. Or you can even be a bit more “informal” (yada, yada, yada) as is the Republican Valley Library System in Nebraska. When I worked at Southern New Hampshire University, we had a sign that read Texting Encouraged – suggesting a viable alternative without being negative.

Texting Encouraged

Texting Encouraged

What are your thoughts on no-cell phone signs, library policies, and library signage in general? Got some examples? Please share!

Library Instruction: No More Lecturing, No More ‘Death by PowerPoint’

How do you ‘connect’ in the classroom? I can remember some of my first library instruction sessions I taught back when I was a newbie librarian. Those sessions were, in a word, boring. It involved “Death by PowerPoint” screen shots of canned searches from the library catalog and databases. The students didn’t even have computers to follow along. They didn’t want to be there, and neither did I.

However, I gradually improved and then became quite comfortable with library instruction. Gone were the PowerPoints of canned searches (hey, it’s actually fun when the librarian fails during live database searches!). I liked asking students for their research topics and using those as search examples. It’s stump-the-librarian time! A new computer lab allowed for more interaction and hands-on training. I also began to diverge from lecturing for a majority of the class time. Turn the students loose, walk around, and conduct mini “research” sessions as you go. I began to see information literacy as my favorite part of the job.

Now when I meet with first-year or introductory courses for library instruction, I start with an activity to help connect with the students, set the stage for what we’re going to cover, and to actually show them that they do possess some of the skills we’re going to use. If I’m remembering correctly, the activity I use was originally posted on the ILI-L discussion list. If you’re the librarian who originally posted it, let me know, so I can give you credit. A co-worker (the awesome Debbie Campbell at Millikin University) and I tweaked it for use in our classes.

Here’s the activity:

On a whiteboard, I write out: Where does information come from? (in general, not just for assignments/class projects)

Students inevitably answer things such as: books, Internet, journals, magazines, newspapers, Google, Facebook, cell phone, TV, people, etc…
We discuss that information comes from a variety of sources.

Then I ask: What do you want your information to be like?

Popular answers are usually: truthful, accurate, authoritative, easy to understand, quick to find, brief (short).
Then I emphasize using authoritative and accurate information. And although it’s nice if the information is “short,” that might not always be the case with the research process. But I point out that we’re here to help them navigate through it!

The last question I ask is: What do you want that information to do for you?

Popular answers include: give me examples, give me ideas, help support my opinion, make my writing better, get me a good grade.
I point out that these are all good examples. Then I make the case that they use the skills of finding and evaluating information everyday (You just showed me up on the board!) and that they just need to take those skills and apply it to the library’s resources.

In total, the activity takes around 5 minutes, but helps get students thinking about the information they use, or are about to use. Then I segue into a demo of the library’s resources applicable to their assignment. I also show them how to get to the LibGuide that I have designed for their class. Don’t throw the kitchen sink at them!  The demo/search examples lasts around 15-20 minutes, and the remainder of the class time is given to the students to do their own research. I supplement the individual research time with a search strategy handout (example I used at SNHU). I rove around the room while the students do their research and complete the handout.

I’d be interested in hearing from other library people on what they like to do in library instruction sessions!

Where does information come from?

Brainstorming with students

Does it matter where you get your MLS?

Interesting question posted to the NEWLIB-L discussion group: Does it matter where you get your master’s degree in library science? Short answer: nope! The questioner wanted to know if transferring to a more prestigious library school would make a difference when it came to job hunting. Unless you’re focusing in a narrow aspect of library or information science (preservation, archives, etc…), it probably doesn’t make a darn difference.

I’ll go a step further: if you’re thinking about library school, research the schools you are interested in and go to the one that costs the least amount of money, or the one that gives you the most financial aid assistance or scholarships. If you live in a state that does not have an ALA-accredited program, look at some of the out-of-state schools that offer in-state tuition to those residents. If taking classes in the online environment works for you, research the schools that offer online-only MLS degress.

Never once on a job interview has anyone commented on the library school I attended (at least prestige-wise). I don’t even recall being asked about my grades. Some were interested in the courses I took, but that’s about it. The search committees I’ve served on (my experience is in academic libraries) have never given much thought to the pestige of the library school–primarily because I would regard the MLS as a professional, as opposed to “academic” degree.

My advice: don’t worry about the “prestige” issue. What’s more important is experience. If you have not worked in a library before, get some experience in library school, if at all possible. Get a job as a library assistant at the academic library, or your local public library. Do an internship or a practicum. Do a class project where you can partner with a library (collection study, public library programming, library web site design, etc…). These are the keys that will help you get a job. Just taking the coursework is not enough. For me, it was the library work I did–not the coursework itself, that helped land me that first job.

Won’t that put you out of business? Library Adaptation

Over Christmas, I received a shiny new gift: a Barnes & Noble NOOKcolor e-reader. During vacation, I was showing family and friends my latest gadget when my (always astute) dad commented: Won’t that put you out of business?

Now there’s a question! Cue the elevator speech. How do libraries adapt to the e-reader market? The recent Borders bookstore bankruptcy (like the alliteration?), though attributed as much to mismanagement and missed opportunities, has also seen its sales done in with the public’s appetite for e-readers. Just last month, Amazon reported that its Kindle books have outsold paperback books. So, what’s a library to do?

  • Loan out e-readers – Let people test them out and decide what they like. Load some popular books onto the device and let users take it for a spin. Despite prices coming down, I still think of an e-reader as a ‘luxury item.’ Loaning out e-readers follows the library tradition of making materials accessible to everyone. The library at Southern New Hampshire University, where I used to work, loans out Amazon Kindles and Sony e-book readers. A user can select an e-book (library will purchase, up to $25) from the Amazon or Sony e-book store and the library loads the e-book onto the e-reader and checks it out to the patron. Of course the library lending of e-readers is a sticky wicket, as discussed by Peter Hirtle on LawLibrary Blog, Meredith Farkas in American Libraries, Audrey Watters on ReadWriteWeb, and even back to 2009 in Library Journal.
  • Library as the “public square” – this is not new, but WE know that. Does the general public? We must continue with our outreach and marketing efforts. How do we reach out to people like my dad who made the comment about putting libraries out of business? He rarely visits his local public library. But in fact the last time he DID visit was when he was invited to the library’s “hobby night” show. It featured townspeople and their hobbies–baseball cards, quilts, artwork, etc.  (my dad is an antique fishing lure collector). Libraries are historically busy during economic downturns. We need to emphasize our free services: books & media for check-out, community programs, computer classes, job hunting & resume help, etc. Just today, my city library – Appleton Public Library (WI) – was conducting or hosting: exercise classes, reading programs for children, crafting time, a movie screening (Secretariat), story time for autistic children, and a Wisconsin authors meet n’ greet. The “Anythink” libraries concept in Colorado is another great example (just don’t call me a guide; I’m a librarian!).
  • Learning and Technology – Libraries were one of the first institutions to bring the Internet as we know it to the masses. Keeping with this tradition is important, too. There are still a lot of people on the wrong side of the digital divide. A library helps provide access to computers and technology. Free public wi-fi at all libraries would be start–and a huge promotional tool for a community. But it takes fund raising, grants, and political lobbying to do it. I’d like to see more colleges and universities partnering with public libraries for services: the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library serving the city of San Jose, CA and San Jose State University; the Cole Library serving Mt. Vernon, IA and Cornell College; and Cy-Fair College Library, serving the Harris County (TX) Public Library system and one of the community colleges in the Lone Star College System, come to mind. Universities–particularly ones that may not have campuses located conveniently for working adults–should collaborate with public libraries for learning spaces. In academic libraries, offering up the latest software and technology to assist in collaborative student work should become a priority.

So, should libraries still buy paper books? Absolutely. That’s not going away. And it shouldn’t. But we need to reach out, adapt, and engage. What are your thoughts?

I Need “The Source”

Have you ever had a reference transaction that just sort of ran off the rails? In my eight or so years of a being a librarian, this is my own personal favorite reference encounter while staffing the desk:

Patron: “Do you have the source?”

Me: “What source?”

Patron: “The SOURCE!”

Me: “Do you know the name of the source?”

Patron: “It’s just THE SOURCE.”

Me: “Is it something you need for your class?”

Patron: “YES! The professor said you had it.”

Me: “Is it something your professor put on reserve, like a journal article?”

Patron: “No.”

Me: “Well, can you describe the source? Tell me more about it?”

Patron: “It’s a book that lists words of other words.”

Me: “Oh…a THE-SAUR-US! Yes, I have a thesaurus. It’s right here behind my desk.”

Yep, true story. A simple miscommunication (and mispronunciation!). Ahh, the art of the reference interview. If I had asked the patron to describe “the source” in the first place, we could have avoided this whole mess. And you know what, it was my fault. I should have more readily assessed the patron’s ability to describe “the source.” The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) posts guidelines for the reference interview. In short:

  1. Approachability – Stop looking at your computer screens, reference librarians! See Will Manley’s American Libraries column on this.
  2. InterestStephanie Willen Brown writes that indicating her interest in the patron’s question also helps her buy time in thinking of appropriate resources to use. Clever!
  3. Listening/Inquiry – Here is where I could have improved. The patron did not have a “research” question. He knew exactly what he needed. A simple clarification could have solved the issue immediately.
  4. Searching – The teaching moment. When it’s a research question, I’m always emphasizing what keywords to use and why. I help brainstorm different keywords with the patron (Searching for heart attack? Try myocardial infarction, too!). I’ll often write them down for the patron in case he/she will be searching independently later. Interesting debate as to whether librarians “teach” at the Reference Desk from Edward Eckel. My view: if it’s more than just a simple directional or ready reference question, then teach ’em to “fish”!
  5. Follow-up – I like showing patrons how to get to the Research Help page on the library’s website. Good common sense customer service.

So, have you had a reference transaction that’s gone down the drain? Share it!

Nailing the Library Interview

In keeping with the spirit of moving into this WordPress thing, I’ve folded the Nailing the Library Interview site into my WordPress blog. Originally, it was on PBWorks, but this will allow me to more easily update it. Also, it allows for easier feedback from readers.

Nailing the Library Interview is divided into four sections:

I’m always looking for suggestions of questions to add, etc.. so feel free to comment!


I’m a librarian. I like to read. A lot. Go figure. Always an avid reader of professional librarian blogs, I’ve never done it myself. I’ve always thought, “I don’t have time to blog!” I tweet regularly–and lately I’ve started using services such a Twitlonger and to extend my tweets past the maximum 140 characters. It dawned on me: if you can’t keep it short, then blog it! My job as an academic librarian has focused on instruction and reference, but I also keep up on instructional technology and social media. Topics I plan to post on include:

  • Libraries
  • Reading
  • Technology
  • Books/Publishing
  • E-books
  • Information Literacy/Library Instruction
  • Social Media
  • Library Job Advice

I started a new job in January and thought it would be a good time to think about important issues that affect librarians. I’ll plan to post 2-3 times per week. Thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you soon.