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 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.