Saturday, January 29, 2011

i'm so hip, i have difficulty seeing over my pelvis*

I highly recommend doing a Google Image search for hipsterI've been thinking about this Annoyed Librarian column on young, "hip" (not a fan of this word) librarians and hiring practices. And as usual with the AL, I see her point but I don't quite agree.

(I do agree with her initial assertion that the idea that young librarians are taking over anything right at this particular economic moment is laughable. Several of us on this blog have eked out good library jobs, after a LOT of blood, sweat and tears, but I think we have a while before we're really in position for the true world domination we deserve.)

But I think it's naive to think that youthfulness and "hipness" (not a fan of that word) aren't factors in hiring decisions.

EVERYthing is a factor in hiring decisions.

Let's take this:
But my advice to her and all the other young hip librarians is to tone it down a bit if you want to get jobs and succeed as librarians. Really, no one cares if you’re young or hip, as should be obvious by the sorts of people libraries hire. Nobody even cares how you look...

Just being young and hip in itself means nothing. People respect you if you’re smart and do your job well. If you’re dumb or suck at your job, don’t blame tattoo-less, oldster librarians for disliking or firing you.
When you walk into the door of an interview room, being young (let's leave "hip" aside for the moment) means a lot. As an interviewee, you probably don't know what it means. In a library with lots of other young people, or one looking for fresh blood and new ideas, or one that wants to improve its social media profile -- being young could be in your favor. But it could work against you, seriously against you, in a place that is skeptical of our generation of librarians for any number of perceptions. Not knowing traditional skills like cataloging, not having a lot of experience, not understanding the way the library world works, "coming on too strong" with too many new and crazy ideas about changing the way things work... all of that could turn someone against young candidates before they even open their mouths.

Here's another one:
Self-proclaimed hipsters are concerned with style, but most librarians are concerned with substance. Pretty much any style is fine as long as the substance is there, and if the substance isn’t there, no amount of style will help.
Sure, everyone is concerned with substance, but it's really hard to convey and/or truly perceive substance during a first interview. I've been on both sides of the hiring process, and they both suck, and you have to really think hard about your own conceptions and biases. Hiring managers DO care how you look, because how you look gives clues to how you'd behave in the job. (And sometimes people in charge of creating a diverse workplace are specifically supposed to care about the color of your skin or your gender or your age, too.)

Also, self-proclaimed hipsters like the one quoted in the article? They want jobs too. They're thinking about how to market themselves and how to get themselves hired in the best place they can. I can be as annoyed at hipsters as anyone, but it makes no sense to argue that youth -- and maybe hipsterness, and maybe being tall or having glasses, and maybe having tattoos or not having tattoos -- has no impact at all on whether you get hired. Everything has an impact.


*Zaphod Beeblebrox, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Yes.

Book Club from Hell

I just spoke to a friend of mine who attends a church in Brooklyn. There is a small group of people who meet there and have a book club.

Last night an addict wandered in during their meeting saying he wanted to talk to the pastor, who was also part of the book discussion. The man attempted to take over the meeting and on his third attempt snapped, grabbed a girl with her back to him, put her in a headlock and started yelling. He appeared to have a knife to her throat.

My friend's girlfriend ran up to the parsonage to notify the other pastor and have her call 911. The attacker began yelling at my friend to "get that girl back in here," which gave my friend a chance to get to the door and leave. The pastor, attacker, hostage and hostage's husband remained inside.

The attacker was eventually appeased by some money and left the church. The hostage suffered only a nick to her ear; the believed knife turned out to be a pen.

They didn't catch the suspect but did file a police report and look through mugshots. They also drove around the neighborhood seeing if they could locate him.

This story made me stop and think about all of our library jobs. We are not unlike that church because we provide space to meet. Oftentimes meetings are at night, sometimes even after operating hours. Most librarians are female and we often work alone or in small numbers (thanks budget cuts).

Obviously we can't just start bringing guns to work, but we should have training about what to do in an emergency and self-defense. It probably wouldn't hurt to be trained about how to deal with hostile or chemically altered people, too.

I'm not sure how I would've reacted, but there's a good chance I would've gotten stabbed by an inkpen and then cried myself to sleep that night. I'm so glad my friends are safe.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Remember all those projects you worked on in library school? PowerPoint presentations and projects with their tables, bullet points and random images can still be used.

As the Reference Librarian at my public library I am in charge of teaching computer classes. As I polished up my presentation (I get to play with Smart Board software, clunky building material but so much fun in class) for Word Basics I wanted to really have a good practice session at the end of class. As much as you can have class open a document and start fiddlin' around, you spend time waiting for them to create enough material to rearrange and play with Word. On the other hand, I have files sitting around from grad school with bullets and numbering, tables and clip art. So I went through and found one assignment that was short (5 pages) but with a variety of things for them to delete, reformat and basically mangle.

Unfortunately I can't report on whether or not this worked well, snow came and there was no Word Basic class......

I am totally ready for PowerPoint Basics though and I hope they have fun with my ppt on Snowflake Classification.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Booktalk: The Devotion of Suspect X

I was recently given an advance copy of this book to read and review.  I was excited because it had won the Naoki Sanjugo Prize, which is roughly Japan’s version of the National Book Award.  It has also been turned into a blockbuster movie in Japan (less exciting- I know what Japanese domestic movie hits usually are).  Then I learned it was a mystery.   Now, I don’t usually read mysteries, or at least mysteries for adults.   I used to love Trixie Beldon, The Boxcar Children, and Encyclopedia Brown.  Those, however, are much different than mysteries written for people over the age of twelve.  As such, I started this book with the assumption I would hate it and that I would spend half the time angry at not being able to solve the case.  This didn’t happen.   Instead, I read it in one go (real review now!):

Keigo Higashino’s 容疑者Xの献/Yoshiga X No Kenshin/The Devotion of Suspect X  (trans. Alexander O. Smith) revolves around a single housewife, her daughter, the mathematician who lives next door, a physics genius, several well-meaning cops, and the housewife’s estranged, and now dead, ex-husband.  Higashino’s use of multiple narrators leaves the reader believing they know the whole story almost from the very beginning, but the perspectives ignored are just important as those fleshed out.   Personally, I enjoyed the multiple perspectives the story is told from and the fact that much time is spent teasing the detectives assigned to the case, but found Yasuko (the housewife) a bit stereotyped.   If you like mysteries, Higashino’s work is worth a look—he was nominated for the Naoki Sanjugo Prize five times previous to winning with this book. 

If you want to read this, it comes out in February.  If you can’t wait and are linguistically skilled, it’s available now in the original Japanese, and is widely available from, where I may have found the cover image.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Few Words on Winter Weather

I work in a small rural library system tucked in the Appalachians. This has been an especially difficult winter and has opened my eyes to the challenges that weather can create for a public library. I was spoiled in Syracuse because they city is prepared for mountains of snow and their infrastructure is trained to provide and pay for plowing and salt. However, in my new location the harsh winters are not the norm (thanks, Global Warming) and I think they are unsure about how much money and resources to plan for.

There are many things to take into consideration and I'd love to hear how other libraries handle inclement weather. I think most considerations fall into two categories: staff and service.

Consider your staff's geography.
While my library is located on a main street that receives regular plow attention, most of our employees live "over the mountain" in areas that receive much more snowfall and much less maintenance. Additionally, our branches are in rural areas of the county that get hit harder by snow and ice.

Consider your staff's age.
There's a lot of talk about the graying of the library profession. In my library system most employees are over the age of 40 and a large portion of them are in their 50s/60s. I am terrified that they will fall and hurt themselves in bad weather, especially because our parking lot is a sloppy nightmare. We have enough issues with gout, fatigue and ongoing diseases like cancer that I am convinced we're tempting fate whenever we're open in an ice storm. It sounds dramatic, but I feel like their blood will be on our hands!

Consider your staff's resources.
Most of my library administrators drive SUVs, which is a luxury that many cannot afford. Sure, I can make it in because I have a four wheel drive Subaru, but it's not as easy for someone driving a 1995 Ford Escort. Also, our policies are complex in regards to using leave time due to weather, so many employees can lose time and money if they can't make it in versus no loss of time if the library is officially closed.

Consider your service goals.
Library's function to support their communities. If a library feels strongly that they should be open come Hell or high water, then so be it. However, if a library is open in a community where everyone stays inside on cloudy days, it may be a wiser use of resources to close. It can be frustrating for staff to risk their lives to come in and then have two patrons in an entire day.

Consider your service resources.
Municipal resources are dwindling, which includes money for salt, plowing, and general budgets. We've all read about the cutbacks and closings impacting libraries across the nation. Should a library be open in a blizzard if they can't afford to plow or salt the parking lot? There can also be issues where a library is both autonomous but also a government agency; my director can choose to remain open when other county agencies are closed, which I think muddies the waters in several areas.

I'm not saying that a library should close every time a flake falls, but I also think it's not unreasonable to find a balance between providing great service and expecting your employees to have a sleigh and reindeer to get them to work.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Working Girl

I would like to apologize for the lack of posts from me recently. I've contributed a number of Book Talks, but I would really like to discuss librarianship more.

Things are busy at work right now and I've been using that as an excuse for my absence. I realize that being a librarian means keeping countless balls in the air simultaneously and I definitely envy those who can work and contribute to other things like blogs and Twitter feeds with real content and not just sporadic musings about pop culture.

That being said, here at least is a list of current projects that I hope to talk about later:
  • Branch renovation and moving of its collection
  • Policy and procedure revisions
  • NEA grant-sponsored project via partnership with two other county organizations
  • Personnel supervision
  • Communication with staff in regards to inclement weather
  • Social events in the work place
It's always an adventure in library-land; some days you're the windshield and some days you're the bug!

Book Talk: The Big Short

The Big Short by Michael Lewis chronicles the roots and full bloom of the recent financial crisis based on the subprime mortgage market failure. It's still unbelievable that this even happened and that the American public got so little explanation and so few answers. To read this book is to stand amazed as democracy and hope burn to the ground; to read this book is to become enraged all over again at the antics of Wall Street and the failure and impotent actions of the government to address the real issues. I found myself shaking my head and gasping in sheer disbelief. Lewis's writing is amazingly understandable and I enjoyed the depth of his research and all his footnotes. I think I'm going to read some of his research documents if I can find them.

On a side note, I briefly worked with/for both Bank of America (slash Merrill Lynch) and UBS during the time frame of this book. I was a contracted partner with a separate corporation, but I still remember the feeling of unease as all of this started happening. I didn't realize what was going on at the time though I realize now that know one really knew, and maybe never will.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Weeding isn't for Wimps

Since the spring semester hasn’t started yet, I took the opportunity to weed some of our collection. My purpose was threefold: to get an idea of what circulates (and what doesn’t), remove that really old HTML for Dummies book from the late 1990s, and try to figure out what to collect for some of my different liaison departments. Strangely, I really enjoyed weeding, and I want to do it again as soon as possible.

I learned a lot about our collection, but mainly I learned about my own approach to weeding.

  • Apparently, I am a slash-and-burner; I would much rather get rid of nasty, old, and un-circulated material even if we have no other books on the subject. I want shiny new books, because I know that our students will not even consider touching that dusty book from 1899, no matter how cool I think it is.
  • Gifts from patrons can be a nuisance. We have a number of gifts from participating members of our college community that need to be weeded. In fact, I’m not entirely sure how they made it into the collection in the first place. I feel no guilt weeding gifts from people I don’t work with, but it is another matter entirely if, say, the cataloger donated a self-help book that really is not appropriate for our psychology department. Mainly the gifts that I need to get rid of are out-dated technology books, because who even uses books to learn how to code anymore?
  • Other librarians really don’t like to weed. I have had to justify again and again why we don’t need to keep that book on trends in mathematics education from the 1950s, because even if someone wanted an historical perspective, they would not come to our institution looking for it!
  • I always forget to check what e-books we have and what is available on Project Gutenberg or Google Books. I know in some of my liaison departments, key theoretical works are now available free online. Does that mean I need to purchase a print copy as well? I’m not sure about that one.
  • Weeding is an excellent time to shelf read. I found quite a few cataloging anomalies, missing volumes, and incorrectly shelved books. I was able to reorganize my different sections.

Weeding really opens up space on the shelf. I have purchased numerous new books this past semester, and now they have a home!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Oh my, a Marketing Plan!

It makes me feel good when I can apply what I learned in library school directly to my work. This doesn't happen too often (I haven't had to reference Robert S. Taylor - yet!) but when it does I AM PUMPED. I am heading up the Marketing and Outreach team at my library. The committee/team charge or plan hasn't been updated since 2005. Now, with a new team and dedicated communications librarian (me!) we're on our way to be the coolest library committee ever.

Our first awesome, exciting challenge... and by that I mean time-consuming, annoying obstacle, is revising the GIANT 17-page long Marketing Plan that describes goals, "objectives/outcomes", and tactics. I put objectives/outcomes in quotes because in their current form they are not measureable! And what's an outcome if you can't measure it - amiright? So, each meeting we've tackled about 1 to 2 pages of content. It is painful. The document is 5 years old, so a lot has changed. Even the charge of the marketing team has been revised so some goals aren't applicable anymore.

I am using a textbook, Demonstrating Results, from our Planning, Marketing, and Assessment class. The worksheets in the back should help us make the plan clearer, with more concise and focused goals and outcomes. I plan on having teams of two revise an outcome and the indicators that go along with it. I think I'll also take a page from me and Yogurt Moon's PMA to use as an example. I think it will be less frustrating for my team to write new outcomes using a standard guide and not just trying to fix what's already in the plan.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

book talk: Man in the Woods

Scott Spencer explores the motivations and implications of a man who commits an anonymous scene in Man in the Woods. The protagonist murders a dog abuser and runs away; I liked the tone and pacing of the book but felt the characters were a little flat. It would be a good suggestion for traditional suspense fans who might be interested in leaning toward literary fiction (or vice versa).

Book Talk: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Rhoda Janzen's Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is a hilarious and warm memoir of the time after her husband leaves her for another man. In the same week she is in a horrific car accident and she decides to return home to her Mennonite family to regroup. I love all the references to a deeply religious upbringing but she is never mean-spirited or condescending about faith. The author is apparently a very accomplished poet and if I can write half as well as she does I will be happy.

Book Talk: One Day

One Day by David Nicholls checks in on British chums Emma and Dexter on the same day (July 15) every year from 1998 through 2007. The story is familiar but nonetheless funny, frustrating and heartbreaking. We have all known and loved someone like Dexter and been afraid that we were someone like Emma - at least I have. Nicholls manages to capture the aimless melancholy that is the foundation of young adulthood in characters that remind us of the best and worst of ourselves.

This was the best book I read in all of 2010. (I cut it close and read it on December 31.)