Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The End of the Beginning...

I have survived! My first semester of the masters' program at Syracuse University's iSchool ended last week, and after a few days' decompression I decided it was about time for a blog post. Technically, I started this blog as a class project, but I see no reason to kill it, especially when I'm finally granted the time to write!

I took three classes this past fall, and I'm still digesting them, but as this blog is a record of my library careers and interests, I thought to record some of the impressions taken from each of my classes in fall 2011.

IST511: Librarians rock in every way you can imagine. We make communities better just by being in them. Libraries (the buildings) need to change, and change quickly, or they'll disappear. This is the great challenge facing our generation, especially for those of us fortunate enough to be chosen by the profession.

IST605: People ask bad questions, but practice can make translating them easier. Finders have to enjoy the hunt. Reference is more like jazz than a symphony--lots of improvisation. Resources abound, but librarians need to be as familiar as possible with as many of them as possible in order to use them most effectively. Knowing what you're looking for before you start the search isn't strictly necessary, but helps.

IST614: Everything a business does is based on a set of assumptions, and that theory of business needs to be tested often. Management has to be principles-based, or you're flying blind. There are often many ways of achieving the same results, but equifinality doesn't always mean that all paths are equally efficient or effective.

Outside of classes, the semester proved to be full of opportunities. I've started blogging for InfoSpace, the official blog of the Syracuse iSchool, and I'm also involved with the SYR-LFL Project, where I've jumped into the deep end of web development (with some help, of course). I've made some wonderful friends, and my skill set is continually amplified by theirs.

A new semester is on the way--for now, to rest, to recover, and to recharge.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Terminally Curious

I've been thinking lately about the way I interface with technology. In stark contrast to the way I lived in undergrad, and in my gap year, I'm finding myself able and eager to adopt new tech, fooling around with it to see how it can integrate with my life. I use a smartphone; virtually all of my group work is facilitated by Google Documents, Dropbox, Evernote, & Prezi; and the vast majority of my computing time is spent in my web browser (Firefox, currently).

I see a shift coming. As smartphones, iPads & other tablets, and even netbooks become ubiquitous, I believe that people will stop generating content on those devices. Writing a blog post--even a lengthy email--on a smartphone is cumbersome, as even the largest screens don't allow for terribly comfortable typing (I've tried). Touchscreens don't give the tactile feedback I like (yet. Haptics are coming along in a hurry). The usefulness of mobile devices assures them a place in the future, however--the pace of life is rapidly shifting to require instant communications via SMS, email, even Twitter, and the convenience can't be beaten.

So we enter a binary: The mobile devices we have will shift primarily to output tools--access the information you've left in the cloud, watch a movie, play a game, read a book or an email. That market is full of new options, and continually expanding. Left wanting, however, is a contemporary input terminal--Standard desktop workstations simply aren't getting the attention they deserve, as many companies focus on more portable options. The iSchool has dual-monitor set-ups in their computer labs, and I find them incredibly useful: the style of work I'm doing these days often requires that much space. Because I'm generally immersed in a web environment, I want to have my browser maximized--and a second screen allows for a text document, a conversation space (Google Chat, Facebook, or Twitter), or a workspace. I'm considering building a similar workspace for my home.

This bifurcation of content--creation on one side, delivery on the other--is starting to be reflected in the technology available to us, at least from where I'm standing, but the lack of decent input devices could mean a shift to a more-consumerist internet. I'll be curious to see what happens in the near future, if these observations are a significant trend.

What do you think? Have you seen similar divisions of input/output terminals? Let's hear it in the comments.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Now hear this:

I've been told for years that if you've nothing nice to say, you should keep your peace, but that strategy's not working for me anymore. In the last week, no fewer than three of the people I respect as leaders in my areas of interest have dismissed libraries, and by extension, librarians.

I've had it.

I am new to the field, but hardly new to careful choice. I picked library and information science deliberately, as the best possible course of study for myself and my interests

Libraries are changing. Exactly how may be unknown, though certainly there have been guesses, but gone are the days when libraries are on the fast track to obsolescence.

I'm stunned with the attitude I've encountered lately, namely "Why would you study libraries instead of something useful?" THERE IS NOTHING MORE USEFUL THAN INFORMATION SCIENCE, DAMNIT.

We live in an information-driven world, and the rise of social media and collaborative content ensures that we'll need professionals trained to handle the flood of information most of us can access without a second thought.

People ask bad questions. The "digital natives" that are supposed to effortlessly find, synthesize, and output information simply aren't very good at it. People don't know what information might actually help them. People don't understand that Google hasn't indexed everything--in fact, no search engine can!

Enter the new librarians. Practicing information scientists. Shock troops for the information age, we fling open the gates and help EVERYONE access, curate, and create information, regardless of who's asking. Staying as neutral as possible doesn't mean we can't take a stand, and I've finally hit the point where I'm ready to launch.

Who's coming with me?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Putting In Your Oar

It's been quite a month! I've been blogging here a bit less than I'd planned, and I've been thinking a lot lately about why that might be.

There's a style of writing and conversation that suggests a slow entry, grasping the crux of the topic at hand before "putting in your oar" and offering your own thoughts. It's an image I love, handed to me by Kenneth Burke through Graff & Birkenstein's They Say/I Say. (The bane of my undergraduate freshman writing course, admittedly, but it held ideas that have affected my writing ever since.)

I feel very much in that position--I'm coming to librarianship with an odd mix of background knowledge and utter inexperience, and I've not *quite* caught the threads of conversation yet. There's certainly a surfeit of places to track the conversation, not to mention the many possible conversations to have! Librarians are nothing if not engaged, and you can find them talking about gaming, haptics, copy[right/left], education, reference, and anything else that catches their considerable fancy.

There are some things that help, though:

Read whatever you can find
...-- Librarians are a vocal bunch, and we like to blog, report our research, vent on twitter, and network publicly. Get an RSS feed--Google Reader is perhaps the most helpful tool I have in my arsenal--and start reading! It doesn't matter if you only skim the surface, you'll still get a sense of who's talking about what. Ask your network what they're reading, and how they keep up with the trends in the field.

Ask for advice! --More than just asking what people are reading, ask them where you should be going. Librarians are in the business of helping people, and that includes other librarians! I've never seen a field with more enthusiasm, especially for students coming into library school. Also, librarians are good at networking. Scary-good. Can-get-you-in-contact-with-anyone good. It comes in handy--don't be shy.

Limit your options. A world with no limits can be wonderful, but ultimate freedom can also be paralyzing. Focus your inquiry, and find out if you actually like that aspect of librarianship, early and often. There's plenty of time to explore--lifelong learning is a wonderfully convenient side of what we do.

Put in your oar. Take the plunge. Start your engines. Begin. The rest will take care of itself.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Final Frontier

This week I was lucky enough to have a tour of the F. Franklin Moon library, on the campus of SUNY-ESF. The librarian was quick to point out that the stacks also function as a living room for the community, hosting student groups, providing places to study, to hang out, to play games and do jigsaw puzzles, even to take a quick nap. I was pleased to hear our guide (library director Stephen Weiter) talk about the use of space, and how one of his biggest goals for the library is that students will feel comfortable there.

Part of the reason the tour resonated with me so much is because it dovetailed beautifully with this week's discussion in 511. We spent most of our class considering the implications of space, and how libraries function as places. We looked at the library-as-community-space, and what roles librarians should play as the caretakers of that space. We also talked about the notion of a Third Space, and how libraries can serve as that center of community life.

For me, the question is especially interesting--I'm becoming ever-more confident that I want to use my skills to practice librarianship in non-traditional settings. As an embedded librarian, I likely wouldn't have a space to worry about, at least not in the same way as my public & academic colleagues would.

So then the question becomes, "What sort of spaces WOULD you have to worry about?" I can certainly imagine that I might end up curating a social space on the web--project teams of all types are increasingly virtual, and even teams with regular face-to-face meetings might still collaborate in a digital manner as well. Depending on the situation, the best forms of collaboration might change, so I'd better learn to use all of them. Twitter hashtags are great for public communication, wikis are wonderful for aggregating opinions and information, Microsoft SharePoint might be the best platform for in-house collaboration...you get the idea.

The values are still similar--In a digital space, I still want to create an environment where others feel comfortable, and can create knowledge together. The facilitation skills become slightly different, but the guiding principles stay the same. Knowing the best ways to provide information with/to my chosen community will stand me in good stead.

What are your experiences with space in non-traditional settings? Let me know in the comments!

Credit: NASA, ESA, and F. Paresce (INAF-IASF, Bologna, Italy), R. O'Connell (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), and the Wide Field Camera 3 Science Oversight Committee

Sunday, September 25, 2011

No Muzak, Please

I've had the good fortune lately to spend time with a number of people outside of the School of Information Studies, and in every case (there were three) variations on a common theme became apparent.

"So why are you in this, anyway?"

It's an honest question, and comes from people who want to know more about my field, but it drives home a point--while a mission and worldview are vital to our practice of librarianship, equally vital is a pithy explanation of why we're doing what we do.

A recent post over at Hack Library School gave some wonderful tips on the elevator pitch, a quick explanation of vital points designed to be given in a hurry. As a young librarian, and especially as someone who doesn't particularly want to work in a traditional library, I'm needing to explain myself regularly, and the elevator pitch is a strategy I'm finding useful.

So what do I say?

I believe that the aggregation of information brings clarity to society. However, aggregation isn't nearly enough ~ Collected information must be synthesized before it becomes useful. I do that, bringing together the resources needed to resolve conflicts.

As the ocean of information grows deeper and harder to navigate, a need arises for lighthouses, charts, and safe harbors to prevent shipwreck. As a librarian, I work to provide safe passage both for information and for those who are immersed in it. I nurture conversations, support my colleagues, provide sanctuary for those who need it, hold my lantern high and cast light into dark places.

I believe that equal access to information creates an informed citizenry; that an informed citizenry creates a just society; and that a just society is the ultimate goal of civilization.

Finally, I know that I have the right to edit my views--that everything I come in contact with will effect change in my worldview. Synthesis, after all, is the product of just such a concatenation. I'm new at this, and proud to say so. Ask me again next month, everything may be different, may have evolved.

So what are your responses when people ask you what you're doing, in library school, in libraries, in life? Let me know in the comments.

Photo Credit: Ross Tracy

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Identity Crisis, Part I.

This week, my thinking has been dominated by a Major Decision (caps required). As a first-year MSLIS student, Syracuse U will purchase a membership for me in either the American Library Association, or the Special Libraries Association. Both organizations have storied histories, but how am I supposed to pick?

I'm reminded of an anecdote in Marilyn Johnson's This Book Is Overdue (A must-read for anyone considering the library field, found in Bird Library here, for other iSchool students): When asked the difference between librarians and archivists, the response was simply "different gang colors."

That's the kind of thinking that seems to permeate the ALA/SLA decision--Each organization works hard to promote librarianship and to support their membership, but each one tackles totally different areas of the field.

The American Library Association is the oldest professional organization of librarians, library workers, and libraries in the country. Founded in 1853 (!), ALA has used the intervening century and a half to advocate tirelessly for libraries and those who love them in every arena.

For me, ALA comes coupled with a host of related organizations. The Public Library Association (PLA), the Reference User Services Association (RUSA), and a host of other sub-organizations fall under the ALA banner, and with an ALA membership I'd be able to network with library professionals in all of them.

The Special Libraries Association, on the other hand, is an international organization that supports members in corporate, medical, law, music, and other non-traditional library fields. As I'm interested in a brand of librarianship that focuses on doing library-like activities outside of the classic library setting, SLA would likely be a great source of contacts for me, even now.

Outside Advice
...isn't helping. While I greatly respect the fact that the iSchool faculty, other librarians I've talked to, and the second-year library students have all been neutral in their advice, not trying to sway me to one side or the other, it's not exactly giving me the information I need to pick one over the other.

It seems like most of the other first-year iSchoolers I've talked to are planning to join ALA, and, admittedly, ALA does offer some great resources for students. (Plus, ALA Annual is in Anaheim next summer, awfully tempting as I'm toying with the notion of an internship in CA.)

I need to do some more digging, but feel free to tempt me to one side or the other in the comments!

...Or I could join both.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

...Should you choose to accept it...

And we're off! As a new library student, I've been assigned the task of blogging my way through the rest of the semester, and beyond. At least weekly, you'll see a new post here reflecting on lofty subjects such as information freedom, library science, and what the HECK I'm doing with my life.

Technically, this is a class project. We'll get to that.

Otherwise, I'll be reflecting on the field, my other interests, the conversations we're having outside of class, inside classrooms when professors aren't looking...you get the idea.

So as a class project, after each session of my Introduction to the Library and Information Profession, I'll be blogging. When things catch my eye around the net, I'll be blogging. When I get annoyed, excited, bothered, moved...well, you get the idea.

This week? I'm excited. I have a PURPOSE.
"The Mission of Librarians is to Improve Society by Facilitating Knowledge Creation in their Communities."

Read it, memorize it, love it. Ladies and Gentlemen, librarianship is now a vocation. Hallelujah!
Ok, librarianship has always been a vocation, but from where I'm sitting, this is a far more awesome idea than "take care of books and readers." More Crusader than Caretaker. (Admittedly, the crusaders likely destroyed a great many books and libraries in the swath of destruction they carved through western civilization...but I digress.)

Having a mission gives us a worldview. It's true, this mission comes directly from my professor and our textbook (Which he wrote.), but I've been trying to play devils advocate for a while, and it's just not working. I can't come up with a reason to disagree with this idea, and there's a host of reasons why I support it. Lists, however, are incredibly boring. And really, it all comes back to:

1) See "Vocation," Above.

Having a mission stated in plain language gives me a reason to become a librarian. (Not coincidentally, having a faculty espousing this type of library work inspired me to pick Syr as my training institution.) Part of the reason I seek an MS-LIS is the public-service aspect of librarianship, and having a stated mission gives me (and all of us) justification for that service.

Besides, it's an answer to "You need a master's degree for that? Perché?"

Going back to the "crusader" image above, missions inspire people to do great things. Having faith in an idea is traditionally the only way to accomplish a masterwork--that, and a healthy dose of narcissism. I've the latter in spades, so one can hope that I'll be well-served to sally forth and conquer. In a year or so, that is.

Fasten your seatbelts. It'll be an interesting ride.