Monday, August 26, 2013

Online Tools and Tips for Group Collaboration

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 26 March 2012.

This semester, I (and about 30 of my colleagues) enrolled in IST613: Library Planning, Marketing, and Assessment . This is a course in which balance is key–student teams work with host libraries to write project plans, marketing plans, assessment plans, and literature reviews in relatively short succession, and we’re constantly looking ahead and revising older work. It’s something akin to standing on a roof on a windy day, singing at the top of your lungs in an unfamiliar language while trying to control pitch, tone, and tempo within a hairsbreadth of perfection. Needless to say, it’s a bit of a challenge, and exhilarating. One of the biggest challenges is simply organizing projects with your team, as there’s certainly enough work to go around!
My group has found that our collaboration is greatly helped with a number of tools, and I thought I would share a few of the best with you all.
The Google Suite
We started with Google Docs, which forms a practical workspace for us to record our ideas and wrestle with content for each of our plans. The four of us share the documents, and the ability for simultaneous work afforded by the system comes in handy on a few levels. First off, it’s great to host each document in the cloud so that we can all work on it from any terminal we please, at any time. I’ve signed in through the computer labs, edited from a netbook, written from my laptop, and referenced it from my smartphone.  Also useful is the ability to collaborate in real-time, virtually. Getting four people with radically different schedules together in person is a challenge, but working virtually is a great alternative, and Google Docs makes it easy. Also, working within the Googleverse allows for Google Chat, which is one of the most streamlined, sleek IM applications I’ve seen. (Also, don’t forget email! For non-timely or lengthy communication, email still reigns, as far as I’m concerned.)
Once documents are closer to finished, we pull them off the cloud into a Word or Open Office document, and share them via Dropbox. I’ve known a lot of people who love Dropbox to keep their files synchronized across multiple devices, but I think the ability to share a single folder among multiple people is even more useful. Once we have our final document in a relatively finished format, it’s super-handy to be able to access it from anywhere, and Dropbox feels a lot more stable than Google Docs–it doesn’t allow for simultaneous collaboration, but that’s a good thing once we’ve all agreed on a final draft.
Finally, it’s impossible for me to write a productivity post without mentioning Evernote. Though we’re not using it to share thoughts and notes as a group, I use it almost daily to keep track of research, class notes, post ideas for my blogs, things I need to check out at the library or across the web, and more! Specifically, I love that I can grab quick notes or snapshots on my phone, and have them waiting for me when I get back to my laptop. Or vice-versa: I’ve even used it for grocery lists–I can write them item-by-item when I think of things, and it’s all waiting on my phone when I get to the store!
The semester’s getting hectic, but Google Docs, Evernote, and Dropbox are helping me and my team stay on top of things. What are your favorite collaborative (or personal) apps and tools? Let us know in the comments–I’d love to hear what other people are using!

An Interview with iSchool Alum Erin Dorney on Librarianship.

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 23 February 2012.

Erin Dorney is the Outreach Librarian for the Millersville University Library, and a 2008 graduate of the MS-LIS program here at the School of Information Studies. She has also recently joined the crew at In the Library with the Lead Pipe, and maintains a blog at Library Scenester as well as tweeting @libscenester. She was kind enough to answer some questions for me on life, careers, and SU’s iSchool.
1) What is your career, and what aspect of it most surprises you?
I am the outreach librarian at Millersville University, a regional comprehensive Pennsylvania state school with a 2010 FTE of approximately 6,970 undergrads and 583 graduate students. I’ve been at Millersville since the summer of 2008, just after my graduation from the iSchool. As outreach librarian, I provide leadership in marketing and promotion of library initiatives, programs, activities, resources, and services; design and coordinate library communications in conjunction with University Communications and Marketing; maintain social networks and create library identity guidelines; develop library outreach program and campus collaborations including library involvement in freshman orientation, new faculty orientation, information technology fair, Student Senate, and orientation team leaders. I also provide research help and library instruction for undergraduate and graduate courses; serve as subject librarian to the departments of Communication & Theatre and Art & Design.
The most surprising aspect of my career at Millersville has been the wide variety of job responsibilities. In a given week, I can be found experimenting with non-library specific technologies to investigate how they can make the academic library experience better, applying nonprofit and commercial marketing principles to library resources, events and services, and last but not least, doing traditional library work (providing research help, teaching classes, collection development). The most rewarding aspect of any of these tasks is working directly with the student body. I continually seek out opportunities to bring students into our workflows and decision making, including supervising undergraduate and graduate interns, employing student assistants, gathering feedback and brainstorming with our Library Student Advisory Board (LSAB).
2) How were you prepared for your professional life by your iSchool experience?
The iSchool prepared me by pushing initiative and self-direction. It began with time management and discipline in my online courses and grew into intrinsic motivation that has time and time again pushed me to become engaged in the broader conversation of librarianship and information. On both global and local levels, I have become an active member in professional organizations and am driven to succeed because I truly believe there is a place for librarians in our new technological age of information. No one is going to simply invite us to the table; it’s up to us to courageously step up and show the world what we have to offer. The iSchool prepared me with the skills and background to make that step.
3) As students, we’re given lots of advice. What was the best piece of advice you received? Is there anything you wish someone had told you?
The best piece of advice I was given as a student was this: If you see a problem, provide a solution. This mantra has served me time and again as a librarian. There are far too many people out there complaining about the state of information. It’s not enough to just point out the issues – we need to bring creative solutions to the table or we are just part of the problem.
4) What was the most valuable experience you had in the iSchool or at SU? A class, a project, an extracurricular?
The most valuable experience I had in the iSchool program was the ability to take classes asynchronously online while I worked in an academic library. I took 2-3 online classes a semester and worked part time at the Rochester Institute of Technology as a staff member. It was incredible to see the intersection of classroom theory and the everyday workings of a library. I was able to test ideas out, get feedback from librarians, and build my personal network. I also did an internship at the close of my MLIS program which provided an additional opportunity for hands-on working. I would encourage any student entering the information field to get as much on-the-job experience as possible, ideally simultaneously with their coursework. You can try out different areas of specialization, meet friends and mentors, and most importantly, witness how environmental context can impact the theoretical framework the iSchool equips students with.
5) Why did you choose library school?
As an undergraduate student at St. John Fisher College, I worked in a few different areas of the campus library, including periodicals, circulation, and shelving. I began to realize how much I enjoyed helping people and connecting them to the information they needed. I also identified a variety of unique skills that I could bring to the table as a new librarian, including graphic design, writing, marketing, and technology. Many of these were skills I was learning in my undergraduate program of study (Communication/Journalism & English) and I realized that I could combine all of my interests as a librarian. After graduating, I investigated local LIS programs and decided to attend Syracuse based on the availability of online classes and its reputation as a technologically-forward thinking institution.
6) How do you keep up with the field? Who/what do you read? Professional organizations?
I keep up through my membership with ALA (particularly with ACRL and NMRT) as well as the Pennsylvania State Library Association. I try to attend conferences and do committee work to learn, meet new people, and improve libraries. I also participate in the conversation surrounding issues and innovations in our field by blogging about my experience as a librarian, in the hopes that other students or new librarians may be able to learn from both my successes and my failures. Some blogs I would recommend to iSchool students include:
7) As a new LIS student, what questions should I be asking? Where’s information going?
Information is going everywhere! Whether we like it or not, the future won’t be neatly organized into schemes or fit into our traditional silos and constructs. At some stage, we’ll need to embrace the mess and investigate points at which libraries can insert themselves into the chaos to make access to and evaluation of information more seamless and effective. As an academic librarian, changes to the infoscape signal to me that we need to open our doors even wider in terms of partnerships on campus and much needed changes in scholarly communication. It’s an amazing field to be a part of – never a dull moment!

Monday, August 19, 2013

A New Take on Professional Development

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 10 February 2012.

Even as a library student, “professional development” seems to have an ominous ring to it. Visions of mediocre webinars and uninspired speakers compete with the certainty that professional development will be expected, even required, as we move into the library field. However, that sort of thinking is outmoded. Change your expectations, and professional development becomes diverse, interesting, and something to get excited about.
Take Advantage of Learning Opportunities
Every profession has a skill set; in library-land, these skills include community relations, reference, and library advocacy; web development, blogging, and other virtual ventures; organizational and cataloguing skills; and dozens more! While there might be certain minimum standards for entry, even professions that require advanced education don’t expect practitioners to know everything right off the bat. Professional development should supplement your knowledge, build on your education, and keep you current within your field.
At Syracuse, there are myriad opportunities to explore. Lectures, brown-bags, student symposia–informal and formal concerts and talks are given nearly every day during the academic year. Other universities are much the same, and often their programs are accessible to the local community—check with your local college to see what might be offered!
Sharing Knowledge
Something I’ve noticed about librarians is their willingness to share with and teach each other, and that seems to hold true throughout long careers. That sharing “counts” as professional development, even if people don’t think of it that way. If you have a colleague you especially respect, find out if they’d share their insight with you.
Graduation, even from a terminal program like the M.S. in Library and Information Science, marks the beginning, not the end—after a basic foundation, where do you want to build? What interests haven’t been explored yet? The art of professional development lies in (re)discovering curiosity, and holding on to it for dear life. Once you’re curious, find people passionate about those topics to answer your questions, and the “professional development” will happen without you even noticing.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Five Important Factors in Your Internship Hunt

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 19 January 2012.

It’s time to gear up for the spring semester, and for many of us, that means finding the perfect internship. But where do you even begin? Here are five things to consider when you’re weighing internship options:
      • The Network: Will your internship give you an entry into your field? Will you meet people who can help you along, as you progress into your career? This isn’t to say that internships are all about name-dropping, or climbing the corporate ladder, but a good internship will build your network of contacts, and the best internships will also give you a mentor or advisor who can help you stay on-track as you start your journey into the professional world.
      • Transferrable skills: We all gain skills as we move through life, and we’re constantly refining and redirecting those skills as we enter each new position. Good internships should give you an opportunity to refine the skills you already have, and direct them in new ways. For example, before I was a student at the iSchool, I worked in a non-profit, and among other things I managed their social media efforts. These days, my professional goals have changed— I’d like to be in the corporate world, possibly still working with social media and community management. Because of that, I want to find an internship that will help me take the skills I already have and apply them to a new area. Mentors (see point 1) are great resources for this.
      • New skills: Perhaps the biggest single reason people think to take internships are the new skills they might gain. Especially with unpaid internships, the assumption is that you’ll earn valuable experience and get new skills in lieu of payment. The real question becomes, then: what new skills do you need to gain? (Yes, this is another good question for your mentor, or for your academic advisors. Or for anyone else in your field. Or anyone you talk to. #YouGetTheIdea)
      • Resume builders: Will an internship give you project experience, or will you be fetching coffee and sorting mail? If the latter, it might still be worth it for networking reasons, but optimal experiences will grant you the chance to solve actual problems in your field, and will also let you take credit for those fixes when you leave. (References, anyone?) It’s becoming more and more important to have a solid resume or CV when you’re applying for jobs—even first jobs—and internships are easy ways to add to yours. Make sure you’re working on interesting projects, and if you’re not? Ask for one.
      • Insight: Do you really want to be doing the things you THINK you want to be doing? Internships are valuable opportunities to find out! Try and intern in a similar setting to the one you think you want to work in. If you hate it, that’s…really good to know. If you love it, that’s also good to know, and there are plenty of things to learn in between. Maybe you loved what you were doing but hated the company—so you’ll know what sort of setting to avoid. On the contrary, maybe you loved the setting and your job was fine, but you did a stint with the art department and now you want to start doing information design. The world is interdisciplinary, and internships help you figure out which threads you want to pull together.
So how do you go about getting them? At the iSchool, we have our very own career services office, and it’s chock-full of great folks who can help! Most colleges and universities maintain similar offices, and it never hurts to network! Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for internships, and you might just be surprised what you find.
How would you optimize your internship, or help others optimize theirs? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, August 5, 2013

One Librarian’s Resolution for 2012: Battle the Stereotypes

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 4 January 2012.

WHEREAS, Librarianship is a changing field, and;
WHEREAS, too many people inside the profession seem content to rest on old habits, and;
WHEREAS, too few people outside the profession know what lies on the cutting edge;
BE IT RESOLVED, that I, Christopher Daniel Warren Lawton, refuse to be pigeonholed, and further resolve to spend 2012 combating the stereotypes of librarians wherever I encounter them.
In the last year—ever since I started talking about getting a degree in Library & Information Science—I’ve been constantly faced by the assumptions other people have about librarians, and librarianship. Even in the School of Information Studies, some of my colleagues are often surprised when I talk about the sheer breadth and depth of my degree.
Librarianship is an odd paradigm. We are at once expected to be both generalists and specialists, knowing something about nearly everything imaginable, and knowing a great deal about a particular topic of interest when people ask us for detailed information. Certainly, we learn and practice skills to help in that regard (yet another reason why you need a master’s degree to be a librarian), but even with experience, it’s not always easy.
Complicating things even further is an inherited series of stereotypes that every new librarian has to address. I’ve started to feel like a broken record, constantly advocating for a new approach for librarianship—unfortunately, some of the resistance even comes from practicing librarians, who seem to think that “We’ve never done it that way!” is a perfectly valid reason to dismiss ideas, innovation, and enthusiasm stemming from librarians-in-training.
Here’s the deal: I’m one of those librarians in training. I’m not exactly shy, and I’m already a contradiction to some of those stereotypes. How?
I’m male, and relatively young. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked about becoming a librarian, only to be met by raised eyebrows. Even today, the stereotype of librarians is that they are women of a certain age, gathering dust behind a stack of books nobody will read. My cohort at the iSchool is one of the youngest they’ve ever had, with a number of my classmates entering directly from undergrad, or (like me) after just a year or two in the working world. Librarianship will change, as we change it—we’re a generation (or two) younger than many of the people we’ll soon be working alongside, with all of the differences that implies. We all can learn a great deal from each other.
I don’t have my nose stuffed in a book all the time. Or even most of the time. I read, and enjoy reading, but I also enjoy playing card, board, video, & tabletop games; writing, performing, & listening to music; and more! I read, but most of the time I’m not reading print books—instead, I’m following blogs, keeping up with my friends’ posts in the social universe, or link-diving on wikis, learning about whatever might strike my fancy.
I’m interested in technology. In keeping with “Books aren’t everything,” I’m curious about the future of technology. I like learning about haptics, guessing what might be next for information creation & retrieval, trying new apps, finding the coolest resources for my own use, and then sharing them with everyone else I know. I’m interested in web development, in coding. I like making things, both offline and in the digital space—and I don’t just mean knitting new socks for my cat.
I don’t feel forced to work in a library. More than that, I’m not sure I WANT to work in a library. Certainly, I’m becoming a librarian, and I will practice librarianship, but that could be with a library, embedded on a project team, in a hackerspace somewhere, or beyond. Librarianship is not so far removed from information architecture, information management, info design, taxonomy, education, leadership, or advocacy—I could easily see myself in any of those areas as well. Library & Information Science, as a degree, amplifies the skill set I already have, and gives me the tools to add to those skills.
I enjoy challenging assumptions, and I’m sure I’ll keep doing so throughout 2012 and beyond. Who’s with me? What stereotypes do you see in librarianship? Do you fit them? Do you break them? Let us know in the comments.