In which I hope I would do better.

Know what makes me happy? Stories about librarianship changing lives for the positive.
Know what makes me sad? Stories about libraries falling down on the job.
Of course, I’d prefer to share the former type of story on my blog. My purpose, after all, is to promote all kinds of librarianish goodness that I encounter while pursuing my adventures. But I think it’s also important to remember that librarians make mistakes and examining those mistakes can be a learning experience. So, I’ll share a tale of library failure in the hope that I won’t make the same mistake if I’m ever in a similar situation.

In researching ways that public libraries support the health and wellness needs of their communities, I came across A Pilot Study of Health Information Resource Use in Rural Public Libraries in Upstate New York by Mary Grace Flaherty and Michael E. Luther from 2011. (Unless you have access to the scholarly journal Public Library Quarterly, you’ll probably only be able to see the article’s abstract, but not the full text. Sorry about that, but I’ll do my best to summarize.) I was particularly interested in this study because I live in rural upstate New York and am generally very pleased with the services I receive at my own public libraries. I was expecting to read good things.

53247514 - questions and answers on scrap paper, presentation slide background

In their study, Flaherty and Luther sent recent graduates of a Master’s of Science in Library and Information Science program into 10 libraries to ask the reference question, “Do vaccines cause autism?” The point of this was to discover what kinds of health information resources the library staff would point the questioners towards. What the researchers found was that in only two cases out of 10 did library staff provide material from credible sources that actually addressed the question asked. In eight of the 10 cases, library staff provided material that did not even answer the question. Resources provided were often out of date or non-authoritative, and some were anecdotal and non-scientific materials that warned of the dangers of vaccines, rather than information from current, reputable, medically-based sources.

Think about that for a second… 80% of libraries did not provided resources that addressed the question that was asked. That’s an astounding failure rate. It’s especially concerning if you consider the trust that people place in their libraries when seeking health-related information. According to a Pew Research Center article, “73% of all [people surveyed] ages 16 and over say libraries contribute to people finding the health information they need.” Patrons are relying on library staff to guide them to appropriate resources to answer their health-related questions and (at least in the case of the Flaherty & Luther study) 80% of libraries are letting them down.

I know the sample of size of this study – 10 public libraries – is very small and generalizations cannot be made from it about all public libraries. I know the article reporting on the study is from 2011. Maybe things have changed for the better since then. It’s also worth pointing out that the people asking the questions in this study were library students who presumably knew how to find answers from credible sources on their own. But I’m disappointed to think of all the patrons who may not be getting good information when they visit those eight problematic upstate libraries.

Since I hope someday to work at an upstate New York public library, what lessons will I take away from this situation so that I don’t do what other library staff did?

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Note to self
  • Of course, I’m going to remember that I am a librarian and not a healthcare provider, so I won’t offer medical advice, but point patrons towards reliable resources that can help answer their health-related questions.
  • If I’m the one answering reference questions, I’m going to make damned sure to direct patrons to up-to-date, credible resources. Off the top of my head, I’d probably make MedlinePlus my first stop in directing people to health-related information, since it’s run by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  • It’s probably worth checking out the new Libraries Transform Health Literacy Toolkit from the American Library Association and National Network of Libraries of Medicine. I’d hope this would help me learn about other current, authoritative sources of health information that I could use in my work.
  • I might even pursue a Consumer Health Information Specialization (CHIS) certification offered by the Medical Library Association if I want to be really hardcore in serving the health information needs of my community.
  • If I’m the library director and not the one answering reference questions directly, I’ll develop a library policy regarding answering health questions and encourage and empower my staff to learn which resources are preferable to others for this purpose.

Now that I’ve pontificated for a bit, I’d like to hear from you. Have you ever sought health information from your local public library? Were you happy with the answer you received? What resources do you use when you have a health-related question? How do you know they’re authoritative?

 

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In which I license this blog under Creative Commons.

In my IST 601 class (Information & Information Environments) we learned a little about copyright. Basically, “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression” – like my writing and any original images, audio, or video I might create for this blog – are protected under U.S. copyright law. This means that I have “the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, license, and to prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work.” (For some reason that last sentence makes me want to childishly chant “Nyah, nyah, nyah!” just for fun. I don’t know why.)copyright-30343_640

Basically, I know that I have rights to my original work. And, though I can’t imagine anyone beating down my door and demanding permission to reproduce my work, I’m actually perfectly willing to share the creative content of this blog for public use, with a few restrictions. That’s where a Creative Commons license comes in.

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that provides free, legal copyright licenses indicating under what terms I (and others) are willing to share our work. In my case, I’ve chosen a Attribution-NonCommercial license, which means you don’t have to ask permission, just go ahead and share, copy, redistribute, or adapt what I’ve created, as long as you give me appropriate credit and don’t use it for commercial purposes.

Creative Commons License
The Adventures of Library Heather is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://libraryheather.com.

Although I’ve only scratched the surface in learning about copyright, fair use, public domain, and Creative Commons, I find the whole subject area completely fascinating. I’m planning to take a copyright class before I finish grad school.

If you’re interested in learning more about copyright and Creative Commons, check out this short video:


Wanna Work Together? from Creative Commons on Vimeo.

In which I learn a new skill.

Today at work, I did something very exciting. Although I’ve been a Wikipedia user for many years, today I became a… *insert trumpet fanfare*… Wikipedia editor. I even got a whole page of shiny badges to show for it. Granted, I did so by completing a fairly simple, step-by-step tutorial. But a new skill is a new skill, and I’d argue that learning how to write and edit Wikipedia articles is a somewhat valuable skill. I really love learning how to do new stuff. I must not let this new-found power go to my head.

Badges? We don't need no stinking badges! (But it's nice to have them anyhow.)
Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges! (But it’s nice to have them anyhow.)

In which I am tempted to over-commit.

On the first day of Reference class, Professor Jill Hurst-Wahl shared a list she’d compiled of “Advice and Wisdom for New Graduate Students.” I’m finding it quite helpful. Take a peek and you’ll see that I’ve already highlighted a few of the most useful phrases. One of them is:

“Network, don’t be shy. Volunteer. Be active in any of the out of classroom activities.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not shy. Unless I’m feeling particularly introverted, networking, volunteering, and being active in extra-curricular activities are my idea of fun. And there’s so much to get involved with. I’ve been attending weekly meetings of the Library and Information Science Student Assembly (LISSA), the iSchool’s chapter of the American Library Association (ALA). As a result of those meetings, I’ve already signed up for the following activities:

Based on opportunities I’ve heard about elsewhere, I’d also really enjoy:

Completely reasonable, right?
Completely reasonable, right?

Oh, and I’m currently taking three classes and working 20 hours a week. I also have a husband I enjoy spending time with, a niece and nephews who live close enough to visit, and friends in Hamilton whom I miss. Do you see the problem? In the absence of a TARDIS or a time-turner,  I cannot possibly do all the mega-interesting things I’m convinced I simply must do.

Which brings me to the second crucial piece of Advice and Wisdom from the Reference class handout:

Don’t over-extend yourself.

I wondered (aloud, in class) how to reconcile those two contradictory bits of wisdom: get involved but don’t over-extend yourself. In response, I received the wisest tip yet, not from the handout, but from my professor:

You don’t have to do everything. It’s OK to say no to some things.

Simple advice, but will I listen? After a series of deep breaths and the donning of my thinking cap, I’ve crossed some non-essential items off the second list. (I’ll leave you to discover which ones.) We’ll see if I can become a more balanced person who commits just enough but not too much. Please wish me luck!

What about you? Do you over-extend? Wish you volunteered more? How would you prioritize my lists if you were me? I’d love to hear from librarians and non-librarians alike.

In which I start a blog.

Welcome to the Adventures of Library Heather. I’m a brand-spanking-new Master of Library and Information Science student at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies. Having survived my first week of grad school (after a 14 year hiatus from academia, mind you) without running mad or fainting, I decided that the infant steps of my new career would be an excellent topic for a blog, even if I’m the only one who reads it.

I may eventually submit this blog as a Maker Activity project for my IST 511 class, but honestly, it’s something I was already planning to do, and my intention is to continue it through grad school and into my career as a librarian.

This way to librarian adventures.
This way to librarian adventures.

(What is a Maker Activity, you might be asking? That’s what I also asked when I started exploring graduate programs and started following librarians on Twitter. Librarians these days are all about maker spaces – and I say that in an awe-filled and enthusiastic tone. The short answer: places to create knowledge, ideally, sometimes with physical objects to show for it. The Fayetteville Free Library has three makerspaces. I’ll be checking them out in a few weeks.)

In which I explain my blog post titles
Being a voracious reader, I’ve always pictured my life as an adventure with myself as the protagonist. I try to live by Nora Ephron’s advice, “Above all, be the heroine of your own life, not the victim.” As a fan of 18th- and 19th-century English novels, I enjoy reading about the thrilling changes of fortune and often unbelievable circumstances found in novels like The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. I especially like the old-fashioned literary trope of using a descriptive title to summarize the whole chapter, usually styled as “In which the hero(ine) does such-and-such.” Although I trust my library career will follow an upward trajectory, unmarred by wicked schoolmasters or bigamous marriages, I believe it will still be an exciting and occasionally amusing quest for knowledge, both for me and anyone who kindly reads this blog.

Please join me on the journey.