In which I introduce Project LISten.

In my IST 511 class (Introduction to the Library & Information Profession) we’ve talked about how good librarians use the resources of their communities to facilitate knowledge creation. Since leaving the bookstore world and starting grad school, my “community” has changed significantly. The people with whom I used to spend 40+ hours a week, at work or socially, are now almost 50 miles away from Syracuse, where I’ve spent most of my time since September. While doing my best to stay in touch with old friends, it’s been important for me to get to know my new companions at the iSchool.

Pondering ideas of community, resources, knowledge, and creativity – and wanting this blog to be about more than just my library journey – gave me the idea for a series of posts featuring my LIS classmates. Inspired by Humans of New York, I first thought of calling it Humans of Library School. But I wanted to incorporate the idea of listening to what one’s community is passionate about (based on a class exercise where we each talked for 2 minutes on a topic of interest to us). Finally, after asking for feedback, as wise librarians do, I’ve settled on Project LISten.Project Listen Logo 2

Each Project LISten post will feature a picture of a fellow student along with 10 sentences, questions, or interesting facts about them. In this way, I’ll learn more about my grad school cohort and be able to foster connections between them and my wider, social media community. Granted, I’ll be making these connections on a small scale since this blog doesn’t have a huge readership (yet). But it’s a start at putting into practice the ideas I’m learning in theory.

In the spirit of marshaling the resources of my new community, I’ve accepted the help of my classmate Lauren, who’s a generous, exuberant person and a wonderful photographer. Whenever possible, Lauren will take the photo that accompanies each Project LISten post using her creative knowledge and a professional-quality camera, an improvement on anything I could produce with my cell phone. I hope that over the course of the project I’ll find ways to incorporate the expertise of other classmates, and volunteer my skills and knowledge in return.

I hope you’ll all enjoy meeting these librarians-in-training as much I have. Look for the first official post tomorrow.

In which I throw a pity party in 350 words.

For the past three weeks I’ve been feeling really unwell. I alluded to this in my post In which I do not over-share but haven’t provided many details*. Because this is a library blog, I’m still committed to a no-TMI, library-thoughts-only policy.

But illness relates to my library adventures in three ways:

  1. Everyone’s having fun without me.
    In the past three weeks, I’ve spent far too little time enjoying myself by learning new, exciting, librarian-ish things. And far too much time in doctors’ offices or curled up in a ball of pain at home.
  2. My professors & classmates are awesome. That almost makes it worse.
    My school friends have been taking notes for me and keeping me apprised of goings-on that I’ve missed. Several have sent personalized versions of “Miss you! Feel better!” messages. My instructors are no less understanding and reassuring, reminding me that my health is more important that school right now. Which is why it’s rotten not being able to hang out and learn from/with these helpful people as much as I’d like.
  3. It started so well. I’m frustrated that this semester, which began promisingly, feels like it’s being derailed. If I hated school and were doing poorly, I might take this latest difficulty as a sign that I’d chosen the wrong path. Instead, I adore school and have been doing great. I hate this random hurdle that’s appeared without warning and can’t be overcome by being clever, studying harder, or exerting willpower.

I’m trying to be positive and serene. But today I’m grumpy and discouraged. I want everything to go back to the way it was three weeks ago when I was rocking grad school and spending the majority of my time with cool LIS people. Medical exams, blood-work, sonograms, and CT scans are all very interesting when happening to someone else. They are not, however, my idea of a good time when there is librarianship to be learned.

*Details I will share: I’m obviously not dying, otherwise I wouldn’t be blogging. My malady is of a physical rather than emotional/mental health nature. It hurts a lot.

In which I ponder librarianship in the wizarding world – Part 1.

On Saturday night, when I wasn’t feeling well, I spent far too much time lying under a quilt, moaning piteously, and watching a Harry Potter movie marathon on ABC Family. However, this did not stop me from thinking profound librarian-ish thoughts that surely no one’s ever thought before.

These questions may have little practical value in the Muggle real world. But they did lend a bit of context to what I’m learning in my classes, and they certainly helped me feel better.

Duke Humfrey’s Library at the Bodleian in Oxford was used as the Hogwarts Library in several of the films. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

In which I do not over-share.

I’ve been trying to post regularly (usually Wednesdays and Fridays or Saturdays), but I’ve not been feeling well this week, so I have nothing interesting to blog about at present.

How I feel: indisposed and boring.
Feeling indisposed and boring.

In my everyday life, with family and friends, I’m usually quite willing to share (and hear) details of illness, injury, or medical mystery. I suspect it’s because of the pre-med biology background of my early undergrad years. Or maybe it’s just my lifelong fascination with the human body, everything wonderful it can do, and all the things that can go wrong with it.  There is very little I personally consider to be Too Much Information, medically speaking.

However, the first rule of Library Blog is: you do not talk about Library Blog you do not share TMI with unsuspecting readers. Suffice it to say that I saw the doctor yesterday and expect to soon be on the mend. In my next post I’ll (hopefully) be ready to reveal details on a fun new librarian-related project I’ll be presenting as part of my Adventures.

In the meantime, to help me deal with the misery of [Redacted to avoid TMI], please tell me whether you’re more of a “Tell me everything!” or an “I didn’t need to know that!’ person.

In which I present a Top 5 list.

Top 5 Reasons Why I Love My Classmates at the Syracuse iSchool:

Rooners Toy Photography https://www.flickr.com/photos/rooners
TARDIS

1. More Whovians than you can point a sonic screwdriver at.
Seriously, I have never met so many other fans of Doctor Who in one place. I can mention the TARDIS or say “Spoilers, sweetie.” and people know what I mean.

2. “Works well with others.”
In school, I hated group projects. Getting stuck with apathetic classmates meant I always did all the work. Fortunately, my library school teammates are enthusiastic and conscientious about what we’re learning and producing together.

3. Creativity abounds.
My peers include a published fiction author, numerous musicians, accomplished (and beginning) knitters, a professional photographer, some graphic designers, and other artists of all types. I’m a little envious sometimes, but mostly inspired by the presence of so many creative people.

4. It’s better to be kind than clever. (But why not be both?)
LIS students at the iSchool are bright and insanely talented. They’re also friendly, generous with their knowledge, and genuinely helpful.

5. Like Super-Grover, only better!

We may not be “faster than lightning.” We may not be able to fly (or crash-land as spectacularly as my favorite blue superhero), but iSchool library students are just as passionate about serving our communities. We’re learning the skills to make us capable facilitators of knowledge creation. And we are cute, too.

In which I shadow a (really cool) reference librarian.

Her official job title is Director of Innovative Family Services and it may well be the best job ever. Margaret Portier is the name of this fortunate librarian. I’m the lucky library student who got to shadow her at the Fayetteville Free Library (FFL) for three hours on Saturday as part of my IST 605: Reference and Information Literacy Services class.

Margaret Portier from the Fayetteville Free Library. Photo shared with permission.

During my observation, Margaret was nominally stationed at the library’s main Information desk, but assisting library members took us to several other areas of the library building, including a small, staff-only back office to reboot a server. The question-askers represented a range of ages and Margaret assisted them with everything from basic information (“Do you have this book?”) to more complicated technology issues (“Minecraft is lagging. Can you fix it?”) I could likely write a 10-page essay relating what I saw to the concepts I’m learning in class, but for this post I’ll limit myself to three areas:

Reference skills are customer service skills.
Although my textbook refers to them as reference skills, Margaret used what I – because of my retail background – call good customer service skills. She demonstrated approachability by making eye contact and smiling, greeting the library members (very often by name), and displaying relaxed but attentive body language. I witnessed examples of verbal acknowledgement (rephrasing what a person said to ensure understanding) as well as open questions meant to clarify the information being sought.

For example, a man wanted to find a book for his wife similar to one she had just read. Margaret began, before consulting a reference resource or dashing away to the shelves, by asking, “What about this [first] book did your wife like best?” Instead of making an assumption, she took pains to understand the user’s need more fully, and this was a perfect way to handle an imposed query. This may seem like a very basic skill in a simple transaction. You might take it for granted because it’s the sort of proficiency that’s not always noticeable until it’s absent. However, if you’ve ever felt frustrated by getting a not-quite-right answer, or suspected the person who’s “helping” you wasn’t paying attention to the specifics of your need, you quickly begin to value the good follow-up question.

Non-traditional reference: the coolest part.
Although Margaret does plenty of traditional reference, answering questions in-person at the Information Desk and over the phone, by far the most unusual (and fascinating) aspect of her job is her role as the library’s Minecraft specialist. In response to the needs of their tween/teen patrons, the FFL has installed MinecraftEdu (the classroom version of the popular game) on their server. Margaret has assumed responsibility for learning the ins and outs of the game from scratch (i.e. she didn’t come to the library an expert but learned it on the job) and serves as the players’ source of assistance in the library. She provides this help not only in person but also from within the game through the player chat feature.

MindcraftEdu image used with permission. TeacherGaming LLC 2015
MindcraftEdu image used with permission. TeacherGaming LLC 2015

Let me repeat: she is providing virtual reference services for library members through Minecraft as part of her job! [I don’t play Minecraft myself, but my nephews do, so I fully comprehend the marvelousness of this service.] I asked what reference resources she found most helpful for her non-traditional reference work and she pointed me towards the Minecraft Wiki and the MinecraftEdu Resources. However, she sometimes facilitates learning by connecting newer players who have questions with more experienced players who know how to get things done in the game. Minecraft wikis and local teens as reference resources? This is innovative librarianship!

They keep coming back.
We didn’t specifically discuss, at this shadowing session, how Margaret evaluates the reference services she provides. However, I took note of evidence that suggests library members value her assistance highly:

  1. At least 4 adult patrons made a beeline for her desk as soon as they walked into the library, and knew her by name. Previous good service clearly made them feel comfortable returning to her for future assistance.
  2. A woman looking for an audiobook recommendation went out of her way to tell me that “Margaret is great. She has never steered me wrong.”
  3. Margaret was the most popular person in the library with the Minecraft gamers. Granted, maybe it’s because they have no other choice of librarian with that specific knowledge, but I doubt it. It was obvious to me that the younger patrons had no hesitation about approaching her for help. She is clearly valuable to their library experience.

As you can tell, I enjoyed my Saturday morning at the main Information desk with Margaret. I’ll have the chance to shadow her for another three hours next month (at the desk in the teen space) and observe a one-on-one instruction session. In the meantime, I’ve signed up for a library card so I can use the computer lab, develop some Minecraft skills, and seriously impress my nephews. I also know which FFL librarian I’ll ask if I need help.

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 it’s all about you. Yes, you!

Last night, in my IST511 class (Introduction to the Library and Information Profession) we did an activity that I enjoyed far too much. Dividing up into pairs, we each spent two minutes talking to our partner about something we were passionate about. I devoted 120 delicious, uninterrupted seconds to geeking out over opera. In return, I was treated to an enthusiastic description of crochet and its increasing popularity.

The purpose of the exercise was to teach/remind us that community conversations are easier when you discover what excites people. A great way to learn what a library members want or need is to ask “What do you love? What can’t you get enough of?”

My desire to serve my community, to connect people with resources, is what drew me to librarianship. Blogging about my journey is a pleasure, but sometimes feels a bit narcissistic. So that’s why this post is now dedicated to YOU. Really!

Word You and single person standing

Instead of writing anymore about myself today, let’s talk about you. Whoever you are, librarian or non-librarian, friend or stranger… what are you most passionate about?

What ideas could you spend two minutes, or two hours, discussing non-stop? Sea creatures? Gourmet cooking? Aboriginal art?

What are the really nerdy things that you wish other people were as giddy over? What topic makes you jump for joy when you hear or read about it in the media?

Please share your enthusiasm in the comments below, whether in just one word, or several paragraphs on your favorite hobby. I’m sincerely curious and I promise to read every word.

P.S. Want to see two good examples of public libraries asking these sorts of questions? The Fayetteville Free Library has a first-rate Community Engagement Survey. Simple but effective, the form allows them to gauge their members’ interests and contact those who might have skills and information to share. The Geek the Library campaign (in the village of Hamilton and many other participating libraries) achieves a similar goal, giving the public a chance to express what motivates and inspires them to learn. How are other libraries initiating these conversations?

In which cinephile humor is essential.

Although I’m enjoying all of my classes this semester, I must confess to some challenges when tackling the readings for IST 616 – Information Resources: Organization and Access. Librarians love acronyms. Although I am generally fond of acronyms myself, I seem to have met my match in this particular class regarding the number I’m able to absorb, understand, and remember: AACR2, DC, RDA, MODS, DACS, CCO, EAD, MARC, CDWA, VRA Core, TEI, CIDOC, ONIX, etc.

Last week, I cheekily shared my opinion that reading the textbook reminded me of this (only with no Robin Williams, so much less fun):

My mind is well and truly boggled by all these acronyms. Only the well-organized lectures of the professor, weekly visits to office hours, and class discussions with other students have kept me from losing my mind. I’m in the midst of making flash cards to aid my memory, but confess that I’ve viewed the above video clip multiple times as a stress-reduction technique.

Tonight, I’ve been skimming the AACR2 section of the RDA Toolkit in preparing for my Friday morning class. In spite of being blessedly free of acronyms, the reading is not without its challenges. My brain seems determined to treat it like semi-comprehensible legalese. What’s a girl to do when confronted with instructions like:

Base the description on the first part or, lacking this, on the earliest available part. For numbered multipart monographs, the first part is the lowest numbered part. For unnumbered multipart monographs, the first part is the part with the earliest publication, distribution, etc., date.

Why… remember her Marx Brothers, of course:

Here’s hoping I don’t have to invoke the Sanity Clause before the semester is through.

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.