Recently I realized how much library school is changing my life in unexpected ways.
Now I go to the grocery store, pick up some Draino, and think to myself, “Problems with infrastructure.” I attend a lecture, like the presentation recently given here at UIowa by Bridget Draxler, and think about how the work of librarians is a process on a process. I read about problems with higher ed, and decide that we need more rubrics in the humanities. I see performativity everywhere, and am constantly on the lookout for creative disruption. Actually, I think I may want to be creative disruption.
I have debates with my classmates about documents vs. information and about what constitutes a collection. Sometimes we even make a collection, although usually its a collection of something edible, like chocolate. (We carefully selected a pretty amazing collection for Valentine’s Day, but that collection was destined to be impermanent.)
This is my brain on library school. And you know what? I love it!
I had a plan. I always have a plan, but sometimes the plans life has for me are different than the plans I had in mind. I was reminded of this on the day of my computing midterm. Not only was the midterm more difficult than I’d imagined (and I’d expected it to be quite challenging), but the next day I came down with food poisoning and was unable to keep anything down for two days. This was definitely not what I’d had in mind. It took me much longer to recover than I wanted, and suddenly the time had come to begin projects and reference observations. Then I was finishing projects and writing final papers as the end of the term drew near.
My plans may have been changed for me, but in the process I learned something important: to let go. As a bit of a control freak, letting go is not easy for me, but by allowing myself to loosen my grip on my life, I found joys I might have missed otherwise. I stopped caring that my plans were foiled again, and I just enjoyed the opportunities that came my way. Instead of stressing about all the things I needed to accomplish by the end of the semester, I focused on enjoying the challenge. The last few weeks weren’t all sunshine, of course, but I weathered them surprisingly easily, and came through believing even more than I am on the right path now.
What does this have to do with librarianship? I think that in a field undergoing so many changes, letting go may be an important lesson to learn. We need to learn to embrace the changes that come our way, and use all we have learned in life to take our field, and our libraries, in the best direction possible. I hope that’s what I can do as a librarian.
Returning to graduate school (as a non-traditional student) has my brain working harder than it has in a long time, but I am enjoying all of it immensely. Currently my brain is processing numerous aspects of librarianship, but reference service in particular. As a first-year student in the University of Iowa’s SLIS, I had a slot for one elective in my schedule this first semester. After debating my options, I chose to take Reference and Information Services. Coming into this class, I had no idea what to expect, not just because I am new to librarianship, but also because I assume reference has changed greatly since I first began going to the library, due to the technological advances that have taken place. I realize that what I’m about to describe will date me, but the truth is that I grew up at a time when reference in my school library consisted of print editions of Encyclopedia Brittanica, a world almanac, a dictionary, and a thesaurus. In contrast, the university I now attend has more online databases than I can count. Such change has surely affected reference services, but what does modern reference look like?
My class has approached this question from many perspectives, from that of librarians, from that of patrons, from theoretical perspectives, and from ethical perspectives. While I was considering these perspectives, a post by Jessica Olin, “My Reference Desk Conundrum,” showed up in my RSS reader. Since I am hoping to become an academic librarian, I was particularly interested in this post. Having a strong educational background myself, I do believe that instruction should be a part of every reference interaction in an academic library. I realize that sometimes students just want a quick and simple answer, but I also believe that it would be doing an injustice to those students to not show them the steps the librarian performs to find that answer. I realize that time is sometimes a constraint, but I think an academic librarian should always be providing as much instruction as time will allow. These beliefs have been supported both by the articles I have read for class and by the librarians I have met who are providing reference service in academic libraries. I also noted that many of the commenters on the post above agreed that instruction is an important part of reference service at an academic library.
Such instruction is one thing in a face-to-face reference situation, but how does this work in a virtual reference environment? As another post by Jessica Olin explained, “Chat Reference is a Weird Beastie.” Can instruction still be an essential part of reference when the service is provided through chat or email? It may be a different environment, but walking a student through the steps to conducting an effective search is still instruction no matter what the environment. As long as librarians performing virtual reference take the time to outline the steps they’re taking, or even to walk the student through those steps, the student is still receiving instruction on how to use resources.
As a lifelong learner myself, I believe strongly that the skills I learned at the library helped me change my life. Those skills helped me find a way to work through a chronic illness, and have since helped me find a new path for my life. I want others to have those same skills so that someday when they are in need, they can have the confidence to seek quality information for themselves. This is why I am becoming a librarian. As the sea of knowledge grows greater and greater, librarians can show others how to navigate those waters without getting lost. Reference gives us that opportunity.
The past few weeks have reminded me that the experience of beginning graduate school is much like starting at any other new school no matter what the grade. There have certainly been moments over the past few weeks where I felt like a scared little kindergartner, wondering what school will be like and if I will be able to make new friends. I also had to go to the store to buy school supplies for the first time in a long time, and found myself shopping with many mothers and their young children, although the items on our lists probably differed. (I did buy a nice pencil case, though.) Another group of mothers, this time with older children, were my companions while shopping for appropriate back-to-school clothing. Having run a business from my home for ten years, and worked for much of that time in yoga pants, I believe my semi-professional wardrobe is rather lacking. While the mothers of teenagers worried about the length (or lack of length) of the inseam in the shorts available at the store, I worried more about looking like someone my professors would take seriously.
So, too, have I experienced a move away from home, like a first year college student, although instead of moving away from my parents, I am moving away from my husband and most of my kitties. (Thankfully two are coming along with me, which should make my little apartment much less lonely.) This is a strange experience, after sixteen years of marriage, and yet I know I have to be brave and move forward. Besides, I can always go home on the weekends.
As I face my own fears, I recognize that many in my cohort may be experiencing similar fears, as may many of the first-years on campus. With time, we’ll all begin to adjust to our new environment, and so it is with any life change. I’m beginning to understand that the willingness to adjust is an important skill in and of itself, and one that will likely be important for me as I become a librarian. Libraries have changed greatly since I was a child, and are changing still. I hope someday soon I will become part of that change, and be brave enough to help libraries and librarians keep moving forward.
After noticing a podcasting giveaway at ALA Annual in Anaheim, I decided to look for some library-related podcasts to listen to while driving from home into town. (Keep in mind I live way out in the country, so the drive into town takes about 45-60 minutes, depending upon the final destination.) While searching for some appropriate podcasts, I found this blog post by David Lee King, which also included a link to a post by Bobbi Newman. Their articles were both informative and helpful, so if you have an extra moment, please check them out. You can also find an extensive list of podcasts at the LIS Wiki, which lists both current and inactive podcasts, and there are good number of podcasts listed at The Librarian in Black.
Here are a few of the podcasts I decided to try after discovering them in my search:
- Circulating Ideas by Steve Thomas – an interview podcast featuring different librarians each episode.
- Bibliotech - this podcast “discusses all things digital technology” as pertaining to libraries.
- Adventures in Library Instruction - covers, you guessed it, topics in library instruction.
- ACRL Insider - seems to cover a wide variety of topics, focusing on academic libraries. (The sound quality isn’t always the greatest, but the content is informative and worth a listen.)
- The WGIL Room - as the website states, “issues in library instruction, information literacy, and emerging technology.”
- Digital Campus - Discusses how technology affects “learning, teaching, and scholarship at colleges, universities, libraries, and museums.”
- Tech Therapy - This Chronicle of Higher Education podcast features Chronicle reporter Jeff Young and tech consultant Warren Arbogast, together leading discussions and interviews.
- NPR Technology - All sorts of tech topics are covered in this weekly podcast from NPR.
Book and Education Podcasts:
- NPR Books - Features book reviews, interviews, and news stories related to books and readers.
- NPR Education - Covers a wide variety of topics related to all levels of education.
In order to listen to the podscasts in my car (a Honda with an aux input), I downloaded Google Listen for my Android phone. While there were a few other choices in the app store, Google Listen looked like it was easy enough to use, and I liked that it would sync with Reader, which I already use extensively. Installing it only took a few moments, and then I was ready to begin subcribing and listening. Although not all of these podcasts were available through the “search”function, I was able to subscribe to them through Reader and then move them into the Listen folder. Google Listen synced immediately, and the episodes were available to add to my listening queue. For me, it was easier to download the podcasts and then listen to them, rather than trying to stream them, especially since my 3G connection is spotty in a few places along the drive. Once I’d downloaded a number of podcasts, though, I was ready for my next trip to town.
So if you’re driving through Eastern Iowa and you see a woman in a red Honda Fit laughing and nodding her head, that just might be me listening to a podcast!
I have long believed that life is for learning, and that it is indeed possible to “learn something new every day.” After running my own business for over ten years, though, I found myself yearning to learn about something new, and take my life in a new direction. My search for this particular “something new” led me to a logical place: the library. No, I didn’t do research there, not this time anyhow. But I did conclude my search there, for it was there that I discovered what I wanted to learn about: librarianship.
Libraries have played an important role in my life beginning from the time I could read. From summer reading programs at the public library to a weekly visit to the school’s library, the information I found at the library helped my curious young mind discover new horizons. I was sure the library had everything I wanted to know, if I knew how to find it. Even when my third grade teacher couldn’t help me find a book that explained where words came from, and why a cow was called a cow and not a rose (“Why don’t you look for something else this week,” she pleaded with me.), I was still sure the book was there somewhere and I just hadn’t effectively communicated my needs. Too bad the word “etymology” hadn’t yet entered my vocabulary!
I still have fond memories of spending summers reading books from the public library, tucked away in the little reading nook my parents had helped me create under my lofted twin bed, and I also remember how happy I was to obtain my first job, working as a page at that same public library. Shelving books for hours may not have been mentally stimulating, but the kindness and generosity of the librarians and staff there made my days enjoyable. When I left that position to go off to college, I found a new delight in the wonders of an academic library.
But even graduation from college did not end my library patronage. Important life decisions, like purchasing a new car, were researched at the library, and when I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, the library helped me learn about my condition and how to cope with it. So too did the library help me learn how to turn my fiber arts interests into my own business.
Throughout my life, librarians encouraged my curiosity and helped me find the answers I sought. Now I believe it is my turn, and so I hope that as I gain the skills necessary to become a librarian, I can help others and teach them the skills necessary to become a lifelong learner.
This is my new direction, one that I am proud to be pursuing.