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Monday, July 12, 2010

The Evolution Begins

After completing the chapters in The Portable MLIS, I am beginning to see things differently. (Haycock, 2008). Some of my blogs reflect those of an MBA trying to apply the black and white of the corporate world to a public service institution. You can almost feel me wanting to break out a balance sheet, develop a quadratic equation and mathematically explain the librarian's value to his or her community.

Let's not forget the cost-cutting drive. Someone from Peru contacts your drained reference staff via an online chat for information? Hand them off to a Peruvian library. Do it quickly. We will be recording how much time you spend on out-of-scope activities. We will review this weekly and roll it up to management monthly.

Chapter 15 in The Portable MLIS contains a powerful discussion of the librarian's role in our shared global community. (Ford, 2008). As the author Barbara J. Ford states, "The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that human beings have the fundamental right to have access to all expressions of knowledge, creativity, and intellectual activity." (Ford, 2008, p. 196). Contemplating those words, I find myself changed.

I considered going back through and retrofitting some of my posts to fit my newly developing librarian consciousness. Thankfully, I read Sutton's "The Weird Rules of Creativity" first. (Sutton, 2001). According to Sutton, "Naïveté can also come in the form of people who are experts in some other area, which allows them to see-and perhaps solve-problems from a new perspective." (2001, p. 99). Maybe my different perspective will help shed more light on librarian value and provide tools for librarian advocacy.

As the blog subtitle states this is "My journey to a new career in librarianship." I am thrilled to begin the journey with all of you.


Ford, B. (2008). LIS professionals in a global society. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 195-203). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Sutton, R. I. (2001). The weird rules of creativity. Harvard Business Review. 79(8). 94-103.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Reflection on Powell’s Research Chapter: An Opportunity?

In an earlier blog, I suggested that further research into the core competencies provided by librarians and their value to the librarians’ communities was required in the face of public funding cuts. Using the research methods presented in Ron Powell’s chapter in The Portable MLIS as a guide, I will highlight how I would design a study to quantify school media specialists' value to their communities.

I would target a population of school media specialists and survey enough of them to build a statistically sound result. (Powell, 2008, 171-172). The survey would elicit details on the work the librarian completes in a day including work completed in support of long-term goals (ex: information literacy, improved school test scores), daily tasks (selecting material to support classroom lessons, booktalks, etc.) and the percentage of time spent on each item. Comparing the data (comparative librarianship), I would create a statistically accurate composite of the school media specialist’s role. (Powell, 2008, 174).

Admittedly, determining the value of the school media specialist to the community, would be more challenging. First I would define the communities to study (school, school district, greater community). Next, I would deconstruct the composite school media specialist role and devise focus groups within each of the targeted communities to determine the qualitative value the community places on the librarian's work. (Powell, 2008, 173). In order to impact policy, quantitative studies within the community would be required as well perhaps through statistically relevant surveys. (Powell, 2008, 174).

I have had some experience quantifying intangible value in my profession. To do so, we might ask the community to rank order lists of items that have known, quantifiable value. In each unranked list furnished to the subject, I would also include a school media specialist responsibility that is not readily quantifiable. As a result of the subject's ranking of the list, we may be able to pinpoint a quantifiable value range for the school media specialist's services.

Powell’s disclosure that LIS research “has not been as rigorous or as plentiful as would be ideal” surprised me. (Powell, 2008, pp. 177-178). Despite some reservations about joining a profession without benefit of scholarly studies to support its mission, I view this as an opportunity. I look forward to investigating this over the next two years and joining the academic conversation.


Powell, R. (2008). Research. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 168-178). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Reflection on Chelton’s How To’s for Readers' Advisory Services: I Can Do This!

While some classmates have expressed discomfort with the Web assignments and others are anxious about delivering presentations, I may be the only library student in this ardent bibliophile group who is concerned about the readers' advisory portion of our coursework. Yes, I adore selecting books for my kids that help foster a lifelong love of reading. Yes, I am an avid reader. But I struggle with selecting books for myself.

That is why I want to grab scissors, cut Mary K. Chelton’s chapter right out of The Portable MLIS and share it with all of my local librarians. As a business school graduate, the concept of the librarian as a merchandiser translates very well for me. (Chelton, 2008, pp. 164-165). Chelton has helped me unlock why the library of my adulthood invokes stress in contrast to the haven I found in my childhood library. My current library does not appropriately merchandise. Most books are in dimly lit stacks, and it is hard to differentiate them.

If we analyzed my patron habits, we would undoubtedly learn that most books I select for myself are culled from the one adult fiction shelf permanently located in the children’s area that contains 10-20 selected titles for Mom and Dad. This is clearly good merchandising, but it means that in most of my trips I never make it to the adult fiction section. With more intentional merchandising, I would enter the adult section. I would most likely look at more than 20 books. The library would again be a haven, and I might even start engaging as a more vocal library advocate as my usage rose.

This chapter gave me hope. Chelton has provided me with some ideas for fostering advisory services including book club leader support, suggested listservs and websites and, my favorite, staging a "city-wide book club". (Chelton, 2008, pp. 162, 166). These suggestions and an explanation for my own challenges selecting books in my home library provide me with the confidence to become a readers' advisor.


Chelton, M. K. (2008). Readers advisory services: How to help users find a “good book”. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 159-167). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Reflection on Tyckoson’s Reference Service –World Domination?

With my own library experience limited to my role as a patron and a vendor, David A. Tyckoson’s chapter in The Portable MLIS provided me with a helpful overview of the reference librarian. (Tyckoson, 2008). Tyckoson’s discussion of how reference attorney tasks have evolved with technological advances was enlightening (Tyckoson, 2008, pp. 135-137, 139-141). That being said, Tyckoson only tangentially mentions globalization when describing how the Library of Congress was able to provide more comprehensive service by developing an international network of libraries that provide cooperative reference services to their collective patrons (Tyckoson, 2008, p. 137).

Globalization, though, could potentially be a huge impact on a library’s already limited reference resources. Allowing patrons to query reference services professionals via online chat, video conferencing and co-browsing tools rather than solely through face-to-face interactions means that there is the potential for the patron base to grow significantly. The library should carefully define its patron base, determine the criteria for supporting patrons outside the defined patron community and draft a communication strategy to communicate with those the library is unable to support due to resource constraints (i.e. provide alternative libraries that may be able to assist).

In conclusion, Tyckoson references the 1957 movie Desk Set as "the best library-themed film ever made". (Tyckoson, 2008, p.130). Although I have not yet seen it, I am thinking it can not possibly top this 1947 vocational film titled, The Librarian. Enjoy!


Holmes (Burton) Films, Inc. 1947. The librarian. United States of America: Iowa State College. Available from

Tyckoson, D. A. (2008). Reference service: The Personal side of librarianship. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 127-146). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Reflection on Weedman’s View of Information Systems: A Mini Case Study

My professional focus has been in information publishing and, therefore, Chapter 11 of The Portable MLIS was very interesting as it provided a customer perspective of the information publishing field. (Weedman, 2008). In my reflection, I will provide some specific examples of how the information publishing company I work for has intersected with some of the issues Weedman raises in her design and search sections.

Weedman states that when designing a system one should focus on “learning everything you can about the people who will be using the IR system”. (Weedman, 2008, p. 115). We use inexpensive, somewhat expensive and very expensive methods for learning more about our customers in support of design efforts. One inexpensive technique we have used is to employ information gleaned from customer interactions with our phone support staff to determine if our market requires new products or features to augment existing offerings. In the more expensive category, I have participated in market research sessions where we share a database design and then conduct qualitative and/or quantitative market research to determine if the features meet or exceed the market’s needs. Other sessions have examined customers’ experiences with our systems by capturing their mouse clicks and eye movement on the screen. This helps us determine if the design of our system is intuitive and efficient. Our most expensive approach is embedding ourselves in our customers’ offices observing how they search, when they search and why they search in our content. This laborious method has resulted in some of our most innovative and successful new products.

Design is engaging, challenging and inspiring work. Many times, though, working within our legacy systems’ search constraints is draining. As Weedman shares, “How the document is represented affects the ability to retrieve it”. (Weedman, 2008, p. 124). We hadn’t had a major infrastructure overhaul from the 1970s until a few years ago. As a market leader, we were a victim of our own success and did not have a driving force encouraging us to redesign our platform. As our market became more technologically sophisticated and Google searching ubiquitous, we struggled making our now archaic information systems seem not so archaic. Customers were frustrated because in order to find an on-point document, the customer first had to know which one of the tens of thousands of databases it resided in. This seems ridiculous by today’s standards but until the recent past, this was still considered industry-leading legal research.

Our recent major investment in a platform redesign has facilitated customer searching greatly. As Weedman states, "a user's need has to be represented in a way that the system can process." (Weedman, 2008, p. 125). The redesign was successful because the embedded market research enabled us to experience first-hand our customers' frustrations and then use this information to create a system that enables very efficient searching.


Weedman, J. (2008). Information retrieval: Designing, querying, and evaluating information systems. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 112-126). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Reflection on Evans’ View of Information Service Collections: A Practical Perspective

With years of collection development experience in different librarian settings, G. Edward Evans provides important insight to students of librarianship in The Portable MLIS. (Evans, 2008, p. 87). His discussions on information collections versus book collections, vendor relations and media dependence were most interesting to me as an information publishing professional.

His statement that he experienced “a curious resistance to the idea that libraries are in the information rather than book business” resonated with me. (Evans, 2008, p. 91). Although my employer has been a legal information publishing technology leader with our flagship electronic product released in the 1970s, until very recently there was a strong need to offer all of our content in print as well. My interaction with customers at conferences and research sessions revealed that while they valued the efficiency of online searching, they would often use the results of the search to locate the appropriate title in their print library. Print was the preferred medium for reading. The print percentage of our business, though, has been in a steady decline as the next generation of customers focuses on searching, browsing and reading their information in electronic format.

With my aforementioned customer contact viewed as a valuable part of my work, I was disheartened to read that vendors are sometimes viewed as “’the enemy’”. (Evans, p. 94). I have participated in office visits, market research and direct phone calls with our customers to learn their needs first-hand. The same is true of many of my colleagues. We glean something (and often more than one thing) every time we meet with our customers. I do recognize that many want our information to be inexpensive, but we create significant value-add for our products including many that require attorney analysis. There are other considerable improvements in infrastructure that customers would only notice if they were not there (and a search took minutes instead of seconds).

Reading this chapter, I'm reminded that the author, as a librarian, represents one of my industry's customers. His frustration regarding the numerous purchases of Grieg’s Holberg Suite that are required as a result of audio technological advances, puts me into publisher mode. (Evans, 2008, p. 92). How can we alleviate this inefficiency Evans identifies? What if publishers sold the content and then upcharged a relatively small incremental fee for media delivery? Customers would not have to pay the full price for content they already own, and publishers might see that customers upgrade to new media earlier than they did under the traditional model.


Evans, G. E. (2008). Reflections on creation information service collections. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 87-97). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Reflection on Rubin’s Foundation: Not the Ammunition I Need

In the first chapter of The Portable MLIS, Richard E. Rubin suggests that a study of the history of libraries and librarian values will enable supporters “familiar with our roots” to advocate for libraries to counteract those who feel that libraries are “expensive, inconvenient, unresponsive, and, with the ubiquity of the World Wide Web, unnecessary”. (Rubin, 2008, pp. 3, 4,). After reading the chapter, I am not convinced that Rubin achieved his mission.

Despite carefully reading the historical sections, I am not equipped with the ammunition needed to advocate for scarce funding. His description of the modern library is too general to accurately convey its societal significance (“many broad-based services have emerged”). (Rubin, 2008, pp. 8, 9). His discussion of early public librarians focuses on their low wage due to limited funding; this does little to fortify advocates’ arguments for more funding. (Rubin, 2008, p. 9).

Although enlightening, the values section also falls short. While “Intellectual Freedom”, “Service and the Public Good”, “Education” and “Preservation” are worthy tenets, how is the American Library Association (ALA) ensuring that they are upheld by all librarians? (Rubin, 2008, pp. 11-13). Does the ALA maintain a profession driven by these values with a comprehensive program of certification, continuing education and ongoing assessment?

I require more detail stripped of any temporal trappings. Card catalog, e-books and ubiquitous internet access aside, what value does the library and librarian provide our society? What are the core competencies of the library institution? What are the core competencies of the librarian? What value does our society place on these competencies? Admittedly societal value will be challenging to assess, but we need to make a worthy attempt to preserve libraries for future generations.


Rubin, R. (2008). Stepping back and looking forward: Reflections on the foundations of libraries and librarianship. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 3-14). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Reflection on Social Networking: Delegate some of it!

I have used social media to build relationships with colleagues worldwide. Blogs, wikis, Sharepoint, Yammer and homegrown online collaboration software are our Web 2.0 tools of choice. It was interesting to contrast my current profession's use of Web 2.0 with that of my future profession; according to the American Library Association’s “Social networking and libraries” 2010 State of America’s Libraries Report, few libraries are actively engaging in social networking. (American Library Association, 2010). I believe this may be in part due to resource constraints.

From my experience, social networking is most valuable when it culminates in an ongoing conversation: Blogs published, Wikis moderated, Twitter feeds created, Facebook updated, electronic comments addressed. Without this dynamic flow of information, the audience stops participating in the dialogue and, ultimately, stops accessing the content. Given that many librarians are already employing traditional communication channels to meet the needs of those without convenient computer access, they may not have the time to also frequently engage patrons through electronic channels as the “Social Networking Moderator”.

As a compromise, perhaps the “Social Networking Moderator” role could be shared with carefully selected volunteers interested in building their Web 2.0 toolkits. To guide this approach, the librarian should provide a comprehensive yet succinct online strategy for the library and moderator guidelines. This documentation will help ensure a consistent library message despite multiple communicators. Please note that I am only advocating delegating some of the responsibilities associated with serving as the only moderator for a large organization. The librarian should still stay engaged in the Web 2.0 conversation to make sure the messaging is appropriate and patrons are heard.


American Library Association. (2010). Social networking and libraries. In The State of America’s Libraries. Retrieved June 30, 2010 from