Monday, September 30, 2013

R-Squared: A Game-Changer for Library Conferences

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

Last week, over three hundred librarians transplanted themselves from their home locations and gathered in Telluride & Mountain Village, Colorado for R-Squared: the Risk and Reward conference. Self-declared risk-takers, they spent three days at high altitude forging a new dedication to entrepreneurial thinking in the library setting.
Joining one of four custom tracks – Creative Spaces, Culture, Abundant Community, and Customer Curiosity – they prepared for a journey that they knew would be a dynamic experience, but no one could have expected just how excellent the conference would be. The conference generated a lot of buzz, fully deserved, and I expect that as time goes on we’ll all start seeing disruptive ideas that found their incubator up in the mountains this September.
At more than 9,500 feet above sea level, Mountain Village, Colorado provided a stunning backdrop for the conference. A short gondola ride up over the mountain from Telluride, we found ourselves surrounded by phenomenal views and low population density. By choosing Telluride as the location, the R2 organizers forced participants to take their first risk: getting there. My trip involved a series of flights on progressively smaller planes until I ended up in the 19-seater headed over the Rockies to Telluride. Soon enough, we were on the ground and settling in, trying madly to acclimate to the change in altitude and playing “spot the librarian”; remarkably difficult with this subset of the profession!
I’ve made it to a number of library conferences this year, and they all attracted their own populations. At R-Squared, though, the attendees self-selected into a vibrant, active population, all of whom were willing to dive right in, get their hands dirty, and figure out a course of action. The conference was designed to be a unique experience, and all of the tracks took people out of their comfort zones in one way or another. The difference here, though, is that everyone leapt from their comfort zones with a vengeance, chasing risks to enjoy their inherent rewards.
Every track allowed for that sort of exploration; every track pushed participants to strive for lofty goals in little time, learning just how much can be accomplished with a plan, a team, and a deadline. In my session, we explored the entire pre-brainstorming process and transformed a week of library events, all in a single morning! Other sessions hunted for information spaces out in Mountain Village, explored the possibilities of community expertise, and looked for disruptive innovations to challenge staid thought patterns. The keynote speakers that opened and closed the conference implored us to remember that we are the voice of change–and we should be.
Those changes are going to build, slowly, but R-Squared was the catalyst. We’ve all returned home, some with longer trips than others, and now have to begin the process of applying what we learned in the mountains. The real reason R2 was such a fantastic event is not because of anything that happened in Colorado, though the adventures we had will not be forgotten easily. Rather, R2 brought together an incredible group of people, and showed them what a difference can be made when we all work together. The ongoing conversations will change the nature of librarianship.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Toads and Tinkering

Lots of ideas swirling around my head at the moment, so I'd better begin at the beginning.

Tonight, I found a toad in the garage. I grabbed it to take it outside, and on the way to the yard I stumbled across a red-back salamander. My brain supplied the binomial nomenclature, the product of a few too many hours spent drilling Latin into my head for my classes at Franklin Pierce, and I had a brief moment of longing to be back in undergrad.

It's a cliche that the four years of college are "the best years" of life. Ignoring the incredibly depressing idea that the six or seven decades after age 22 can't approach the same heights of "glory," not to mention the fact that many college experiences are filled with stress, depression, insecurity, and confusion.

What really gets to me is the idea that we can never recapture the attitudes and experiences of undergrad. Certainly, my experience was formative--college was the first time I really had a chance to be on my own, with all the decisions about how I wanted my life to look. I was able to try many things, fail at some, succeed at others, and with still others decide halfway through that I didn't like the look of things and change course.

In library school, I was exposed to the maker movement. While I'd come across mentions of it before, only in the last two years have I been surrounded by people with a constant aim to tinker with the world. It's been refreshing, and inspiring, but it was still "school" again. Does the "best years" cliche somehow require an educational environment? Now that I've graduated, is it all downhill from here?

No. Making/hacking/tinkering is all about curiosity, and the same attitude I developed while crawling in the woods looking for salamanders in undergrad will continue to keep me learning, keep me hunting for more. Others might find a path to the same realization from a particularly inspiring professor, a chance DIY project, or the understanding that by simple, direct action the world came be improved in a thousand tiny ways. Wondering what those ways might be can only give fuel to the fire.

Libraries are a natural place to serve that curiosity, to feed the flame until it becomes an inferno. Certainly, the recent surge in library makerspaces shows one side of that train of thought. Libraries in general have a responsibility to provide access to the information a community needs, and the information a community holds, even intangibly. More than that, I believe that librarians have a duty to inspire. Now, it requires a deft touch--"teachable moments" will be detected and ignored--but we can succeed. We must! Librarians are a corps of people dedicated to lifelong learning, and our very presence can assist (if not cause) great things. We tend to hack our communities, connecting the people who need to be connected, and paying attention so as not to miss anything.

In conclusion, I choose to believe my "best years" are still to come--and that there will be lots of them. I'm still curious, and through librarianship I hope to find plenty of others who want to follow their own curiosity. Wanna join me?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Welcome, New Librarians!

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University on 3 September 2012.

I’ve seen a bunch of posts across the blogosphere welcoming the new class of librarians; who am I to buck the trend? Congratulations! You’ve embarked on an exciting career in the information world.
That said, I remember how overwhelming the first month can be. Here’s how I handled it.
Look for Advice
Checklists are useful. There’s a lot to do during the first semester, and many people have different ideas of what to prioritize. Hack Library School has a series of Library School Starter Kit posts; When I started out, this one was super-helpful.
Besides looking for blogs, get to know your adviser, and the other faculty members you like. Having someone to ask when you aren’t sure exactly in which direction to head can be a lifesaver.
Get Connected
Network with your classmates, as soon as you can. You never know who might end up giving you a reference someday, and library school is better with colleagues you enjoy.
See if there’s a student chapter of ALA or SLA at your school. It’s never too early to get involved with a professional organization! Everyone you meet will be an example; hopefully, most will be good examples, but don’t get discouraged if you encounter some negativity. Joining ALA and/or SLA will give you access to librarians who are already working, and most people I’ve met through the professional organizations enjoy giving advice and sharing their experiences.
I mean this in two different ways. First, there’s no one true way to find success in library school, just as there’s no single path to follow once you’re in the field. Take an experimental approach; what works for you? Where does your passion take you? Tech? Education? Early Literacy? If you don’t know where you want to end up, start trying things, early and often. You’ll figure it out.
Second, librarianship needs people willing to experiment. Desperately. Don’t be shy: question everything. “We’ve always done it that way” should NEVER be an acceptable answer. Ours is an ancient occupation, but change is a constant. Newcomers have the freshest eyes; you’ll see things that “seasoned” professionals will take as writ. Stick to your guns if something doesn’t make sense to you, and find an answer.
Have Fun!
This is the most important part. Enjoy what you do. Library school is an adventure–it should be worth embarking upon.
What else are you doing to get adjusted to library school? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, September 16, 2013


This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 3 August 2012.

What do you get if you take five eager students with diverse interests in librarianship, mix them up with some carefully-chosen readings and classwork, and transplant them to Tuscany for two weeks in the summer? You get a fantastic experience! Led by the fantastic Dr. Sarah Webb, Alec, Ben, Danielle, Sarah, and I all signed up for the iSchool’s Florence pilot program. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but I think I can speak for all of us when I say the reality is exceeding our wildest dreams.
This past Saturday, we assembled our merry band at the doors of Villa Morghen, nestled in the hills northeast of Florence. In less than a week so far, we’ve toured five libraries and a museum in two cities, joined a multinational course on digital librarianship, and still had time to have our own class discussions over gelati.
Every day, as we add more information zones to our list, we gain more context for our discussions, and the value of studying out in the field becomes apparent. When talking about the value of original documents, it helps when you’ve spent the morning looking at the Raphaels and Botticellis you’ve studied throughout your life, but hadn’t seen in person. Talking about the need for preservation becomes somewhat more apparent when you’ve held a book or six from the 17th century. Talking about world heritage gains a new meaning when you’ve stood amidst a multinational, multi-century collection of books that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Taking action is easier when you’ve seen what issues you can address/what problems you may be able to solve/what solutions you can offer, firsthand.
I’m sure you’ll be hearing from all of us in the coming weeks as we spend our time here discussing International Librarianship, visiting every library and museum we can get our hands on, eating some AMAZING food, and writing about the whole thing for credit!  Keep an eye on our personal blogs and on the Twitter hashtag #SUiSchoolFirenze to find out what we’re up to.
We’re looking forward to the rest of the journey–I hope you’ll look forward to following our trip!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Disconnessione per una pausa: Staying out-of-touch in Italy

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 30 July 2012.

iSchoolers are all over the place this summer! Many of us are finishing internships far from the bounds of Syracuse proper, Sam is backflipping his way across the globe, and I’m one of five students studying and talking about international librarianship for two weeks in una delle più belle città del mondo: Florence, Italy. Unlike Sam, though, I deliberately chose to disconnect when I left the states. Here’s why:
Traveling abroad, for work, study, or pleasure, requires a change in perceptions–a change that can be harder to make if the old ways are reinforced by regular contact with them. The five of us (Six, if you count our professor) are already going to be an enclave of Syracuse patterns in Europe, no matter how much we might wish to expose ourselves to solely Italian language and culture. I thought that having a smartphone or a tablet would serve as just another barrier to true immersion.
We’re encouraged to stay in contact, to work publicly, to keep tweeting; but I’m a proponent of living in the moment. Yes, I’m reflecting on things, and writing, and sharing my thoughts as blog posts, but there’s something to be said for lingering over a conversation for hours, enjoying the company of my fellows, and digesting the topic at hand (along with some phenomenal food) without rushing off to get it on twitter. Staying device-less during the days requires me to be present in a way I never am when there’s an entire network to jack into just waiting in my pocket.
I’m so reliant on the network, constantly available as an information source, news feed, and entertainment system, that it’s good to have a reminder that I can live without. In fact, if it comes right down to it, I have to admit that my smartphone is a distraction–I do better work when I’m not constantly checking for notifications. While I enjoy the half-dozen or so smartphone-facilitated conversations I’m involved with most days I’m in the states (Email, SMS, or Tweet-based), taking a short sabbatical from them lets me focus on the things I want to do. As with meditation, half the battle is clearing away extraneous influences and letting the unheard voices take their turn. In our world of information overload, bucking the trend keeps me sane.
Admittedly, I do have contact–a trusty netbook and a wifi connection for the evenings and early mornings–but if I wasn’t required to do some writing and research for class, I’d likely have left that at home as well. Don’t get me wrong, I love being connected; sometimes, though, leaving the tethers behind and reveling in the freedom of being on your own is pure, unadulterated joy.
Have you considered going on a communications hiatus? What decisions did you make? Let us know in the comments.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Halfway There: Three surprises in my first year

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 12 June 2012.

It’s the end of the beginning for me–with my finals turned in last week, I’ve officially done everything I can to finish out my first year in graduate school! Now it’s time to take a breather, start packing, and head off for a summer in which I’ll be working and learning in three states and two countries.
While I can’t wait for summer, I tend to find the end of an academic year is a great time for reflection. Here’s what surprised me the most:
It’s really hard to be interdisciplinary:
At my undergrad, I was in three radically different departments, and I knew a bunch of other people who were multi-disciplinary as well. Especially when I picked a field as wide-ranging as Library and Information Science, I expected to find a similar mix of people–people who took classes in one building while working in another and hanging out with friends from yet a third field. Here, though, I’m finding that the academic departments are much more focused, especially at the graduate level, and it’s a constant challenge to stay interdisciplinary. It’s worth it, though–I joined a chorus my first week on campus, and through the University Singers I’ve made great friends outside of the iSchool and gotten to know some incredibly passionate, inspiring faculty members. I moved to Syracuse to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by such a large institution–why limit your experience to one building?
Your major doesn’t define you:
Even for those students who spend all of their time in one building, at the graduate level the experiences can vary so wildly, “what’s your major?” won’t tell you much. “What are you interested in?” “What do you study?” and “Where’s your research focus?” are much better questions. Everyone I’ve met so far in the iSchool is more than happy to talk about the things that keep them up at night, and get them out of bed in the morning. Going for a masters, let alone a Ph.D., denotes a level of passion about something that makes for great conversations. Finding out what drives someone is a great starting place to get to know your colleagues.
Books are awesome…but not why I’m here:
Okay, full disclosure: This one wasn’t a total shock, but I still wasn’t quite sure how it would turn out back in September. Don’t get me wrong, books are great. Print books are a tactile experience that’s hard to beat, and long-form born-digital writings have awesome potential–but that’s not my area of interest. I want to connect people to the information they need, whether that info is in a book or on Wikipedia or contained within someone else’s realm of experience. I like knowing how to tweak the tools we use, and the design we see, and I’m starting to learn enough programming to do so! This LIS degree I’m earning will prepare me to do some things with books, for sure, but the list of skills I’ll have that are completely unrelated to books is an order of magnitude larger than the one focused on book-handling. I knew that coming in, but I think some of my classmates were surprised when Professor Lankes suggested that a class in database administration should be required, or when other faculty members recommended learning to code.
You’ll be hearing from me on my travels over the summer. For now, suffice it to say that I’m in a good place–I’m still loving it here in Syracuse, and I can’t wait for the second half of my degree, next year. If you run into me in person and ask what surprised me the most this year, you might get different answers than the ones above, but these were some of the big ones. Next year will be full of surprises on other levels, I’m sure, but it will be an adventure in the best possible sense. I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

An Interview with iSchool Alum Ben Goldman on Librarianship

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 3 May 2012.

Ben Goldman is a digital archivist at the University of Wyoming, and will shortly be taking a position as Digital Records Archivist at Penn State University, where he will be involved with digital curation and repository development.  Ben is also a 2009 graudate of the School of Information Studies.  He 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?
Currently, I am a digital archivist at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center, which is a repository of university archives, rare books and manuscript collections. It’s like working in a really, really big special collections library. There are two main aspects to my work. One might be loosely called ‘digital preservation’, but in the jargon of archives, what I am doing is developing practices for the management and preservation of born-digital archival collections, and attempting to address the particular concerns of archives: authenticity, context, etc. The other significant area of work I am engaged in is mass digitization of archival collections.
What surprises me most is how hard I work! Not that I expected to be lazy in this career, but I definitely expected the library field to be paced slower than my previous work in corporate. Not the case at all. There is so much work to be done when it comes to digital library and archives issues, and usually not enough time or resource to do it. I am never lacking for an interesting project or challenge to work on.
2) How were you prepared for your professional life by your iSchool experience?
It would be easy to point to the digital libraries curriculum as being central to the preparation I received at SU, but looking back I realize that a broad range of courses helped prepare me in little ways for all the work I am doing now, including the Management course, and the Planning, Marketing and Assessment course.
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?
I know finding work is one concern all library school students share. Dr. Megan Oakleaf told me to start the job search as early as one year before my graduation date, since I was pursuing work in academic libraries. That was probably the best piece of advice anyone gave me. Starting early helped me understand what jobs were out there, where they were, what they were looking for. It helped guide so many of my education choices and gave me ample time to polish my credentials and develop useful contacts.
The piece of advice I wish someone had told me: get as much experience outside the classroom as possible. As much as the coursework can lay the foundation for work in libraries, it’s amazing how much more you learn actually having your feet on the ground in a library. And when you’re one of 50 new graduates applying for an open job, experience is a significant thing that can distinguish you from everyone else. My  advice to library students would probably be to take a broad range of topical courses, enough to make you conversant in a number of different areas, but to focus heavily on getting work experience (through internships, part-time work, volunteer work, whatever) in whatever area you are interested in having a job in later.
4) What was the most valuable experience you had in the iSchool or at SU? A class, a project, an extracurricular?
The courses I was least excited about when I signed up for them were the ones that have been the most beneficial on the job. I really wasn’t interested in the Management course, and I went into the Library Planning course thinking I’d probably never be in a leadership position that required me to do any planning or project management. In reality, this stuff is relevant every day on the job. The Library Planning course (IST 613, I think) was the best course I took at the iSchool. I give the iSchool a lot of credit for recognizing that preparing library professionals is about more than teaching them MARC, or how to conduct a reference interview.
5) Why did you choose library school?
Certainly not to make money!  I was burnt out and rudderless after eight years of working in corporate IT.
6) How do you keep up with the field? Who/what do you read? Professional organizations?
I really enjoy going to conferences. I think there is so much energy and collaboration happening in professional library and archive organizations–I think it’s more evident than in other fields, to be sure. For anyone interested in finding an academic library or archive job, I find that OCLC’s Research Libraries Group has their finger on the pulse of a lot of critical issues and they are connected to all the movers and shakers in the field. I try to follow them as much as possible.
7) As a new LIS student, what questions should I be asking? Where’s information going?
Recently I had a colleague say to me that he had this vision that his job would one day be entirely non-technical, which kind of surprised me. I think library professionals need to engage technology issues with a critical eye, but I find there is still so much resistance to technology (and to progressive trends more generally) in our field, from experienced and new professionals alike. So it’s not surprising to me that we are so far behind on really important issues like digital preservation, like making our holdings available online. One doesn’t need to be a technologist or proficient with coding languages to contribute to the future digital directions of our profession, so I would hope new LIS students wouldn’t dismiss digital issues too quickly, regardless of their professional interests.