This blog is officially inactive as I return to graduate school. Cheers!
Okay, I’m trying out this Flock built in blog editor. Hello World!
Exhibit I: The U of Iowa recently instituted mandatory electronic deposit of all graduate theses and dissertations henceforth. Again, I am generally in favor of this, and newsflash, this is the way the academic world is heading. My own U is trying to go 100% digital for graduate T&D’s starting this fall. These documents will be made publicly available in our institutional repository.The U of Iowa, of course, is home to the most famous MFA program in the country, the Writer’s Workshop. As the MFA is currently structured, it is considered the terminal academic degree in the field. As such, the final product of the degree is considered an academic work, created w/in the academy for academic purposes.
Only, that’s not really how it works. Although it may look like and academic degree and act like one in the job market (after you have a publishing career anyway), students in MFA programs think of themselves as writers, not academics, and the MFA is usually a period of intense, focused work geared toward the production of a saleable manuscript. I think it even says that in a lot of MFA descriptions–you need a booklength manuscript to graduate. That’s a measure that reflects the demands of the marketplace, even if the degree is earned in the academy.
So you know where this is headed. U of Iowa MFAs don’t want their TD’s electronically accessible. They are afraid that having a clickable version online will disqualify that work from consideration by publishers. They might be right–we don’t know yet, although there has been no trouble for writers of more obviously academic work getting their stuff published once it has been made electronically available. It also remains to be seen just how visible these ETDs will really become. Institutional repositories are not indexed by Google or any other web search engine. They are stuck underneath layers and layers of library gateways. To find one, first you would have to know it existed. Of course, you could just make a habit of frequenting the IR’s of schools whose ETDs you wanted to keep abreast of… it would be possible to find them, but it’s not like you could just type it into Google and wham. At least not yet.
This is a quandary for me, as both an MFA student and an MLIS student. I resent the attitude of exceptionality displayed by the departments in question at Iowa–the idea that their work should be exempt from a policy geared toward the general good, not toward any kind of desire on the University’s part to make money from their creations. That’s paranoid, but also a sign that the academics and librarians who support open access are not getting the message across (although Peter Suber always tries). Getting control is not the point behind this, the point is maintaining access. If your work is different from other products of the university academic community, then maybe you ought not do it within the academy. Letting you off the hook (which is exactly what the Dean eventually did) sets a precedent that could allow departments to beg off and defeat the whole… well, movement sounds a bit ideological, but a movement it is.
On the other hand, well, if having my MFA thesis online means I can’t publish it, that sucks. And I’ll have to raise a fuss about it when the time comes for me to upload, although I kind of doubt that the Deans at my school will take my concerns as seriously as Dean Lopes at Iowa. In fact, I should probably start raising this issue now if I have any hope of getting around it…
The only real solution, I think, would be to require some kind of critical piece or let the artists’ statement alone count for the actual “thesis” in question and make the manuscript of creative work part of an unpublished defense process, b/c simply letting MFA’s off the hook is problematic both to the status of the program w/in the academy and to the process of gaining control of academic work.
There’s a discussion getting started in the biblioblogosphere that is near and dear to my library student heart, and I’m glad to be listening in.
Dorothea Salo kicked off with her post Naturalizing Systems Librarians.
Jenica Rogers-Urbanek, Michelle Boule, and Meredith Farkas all responded. I hope they keep talking, because this comes as great encouragement to a library student looking at the gap between here and there and getting ready to jump across. I’m excited by the job listings I now see that require web dev. skills along with instructional skills, XML know-how along with cataloging know-how. I’m also gearing up to learn as much as I can to get myself ready for those jobs, and often finding it a frustrating process. And, other than a curriculum that tries to pretend technology hasn’t happened, my biggest enemy has often been myself. Before I know it, when I don’t understand why the Apache server I’m trying to configure isn’t doing anything or why my fonts are all wonky after I’ve attached the CSS file, I have sometimes ended up saying to myself what I cringe when other people say: “I’m just a librarian.” It’s a common line, sometimes delivered humbly, sometimes defensively, sometimes arrogantly (go figure). All of these deliveries hurt us when we say them to others and worse say them to ourselves. But I have learned to remind myself that there’s no “just” about it. Not in the world I want to work in.
I’m encouraged to hear librarians saying that it is not only possible but necessary for librarians who never expected to be hackers to get a working skill set. I’m also encouraged by their personal stories of having no structured opportunity to do this in library school but being able to learn it as they went along nonetheless. The learning process they describe–play until it breaks and then learn to fix, copy and paste as much as you can and then learn what you can’t, think about what you actually need to know to serve your library and then find a way to get it–is very much like the one I’ve been using and hope to use much more in the future. I can do that. I won’t be perfect and I may not be fast, but I can put my head down and keep trying. And that’s a good thing, I guess, b/c that is not only what I want to do in my library career, it’s what I might find myself doing regardless.
I was particularly interested in Meredith’s questions here:
“What does knowledge of 2.0 tools mean? You have a blog? You read blogs? You edited the Wikipedia? You have a Facebook profile? It’s important for librarians to keep up with the hot technologies, but does it make someone a techie? No. Can you install MediaWiki software on a server? Have you moved blog content from one software to another (say Moveable Type to WordPress)? What do you do when your blog or wiki’s database becomes corrupted? What mechanisms would you use to prevent spam on a blog or wiki? Can you customize our blog or wiki to look like the rest of our website?”
So, with that said, I’m trying to come up with a desiderata for what I should try to put in my own skill bucket. The list right now is:
- learn much more about servers and how you maintain them
- work through that Python book I keep checking out
- get some server space somewhere so I can learn how to install, tweak, and migrate content into my own WordPress
- learn how to build a database-driven website
- slurp as much alphabet soup as I can stomach: PHP, SQL, Java, Perl, and whatever else is floating around in those job postings
The next question is, how to do this effectively and in a way that might demonstrate that i have these skills to others? I’m keeping an eye out for student-discounted education opps via ACRL and projects that I could volunteer for that I can justify learning these things for. I’m also investigating the tech training education options that my school sponsors–seems like there used to be quite an extensive list of self-paced courses you could access. In the meanwhile, I’m lucky to be working at a library with more tech books that I could ever need, so spending my own money that server space might be the impetus I need to stop browsing and start coding or copying or whatever it is I determine I need to do.
Somewhat belatedly–but it was a great conference and I’ve had a lot to think about since I got home late on Friday night.
Last week, I attended the SARC IV, a regional conference of the SLA, as a student travel grant recipient of the Florida & Caribbean chapter. The location, St. Pete, was lovely and the hotel had great wireless. Not that I got much chance to use it–I was busy soaking up everything I could.
Here’s a run-down of the presentations I attended:
Collaboration: Erasing the lines in the sand–presented by Ruth V. Fuller
- Team-oriented collaboration is more in vogue than leader-oriented collaboration, but in all cases a variety of political issues are likely to come into play. Successful collaborations are built on mutual benefit and firm deadlines.
Live Library Instruction for Distance Learners–presented by Catherine Levallée-Welch
- Covered the use of Elluminate for distance library instruction. Of particular interest was the use of Elluminate for virtual office hours.
Core Competencies for Information Professionals of the 21st Century–presented by Rebecca Vargha
- Moral of the story: learn how to change and change again. Track your professional and emotional competencies for suriving in the profession.
Managing Space Age Content–presented by Jeff Wolfe
- Just about the coolest presentation ever. Mr. Wolfe discussed his use of InMagic’s Presto to build a digital library of shuttle images for NASA. Specific challenges were supporting diverse users and managing user permissions for SBU (sensitive but unclassified) information.
The Library: the Biographer’s Greatest Asset and Greatest Threat– presented by Graham Farmelo
- Farmelo reflected on his experience at libraries and archives while writing his forthcoming bio of Paul Dirac. He has some questions for us: how can we improve security for unique documents while maintaining user accessibility, how can we offer better external research services such as translation & reasonable scanning/copying, and how can we work to create good archives of contemporary scientists’ lives.
Creating Digital Libraries, Practically Speaking–presented by Barbara Shearer, Inez Dinwoodie, and Deborah Balsamo
- Shearer discussed building the library collection for the FSU School of Medicine, serving med students spread across the state and mandated to be 95% digital. She keeps an eagle eye on database subscription fees as even small fluctuations hit her budget hard. Her advice: if anyone ever offers you the chance to build something from the ground up, take it.
- Dinwoodie discussed the information services at a federally funded research center in VA. Focused on access, maintaining visibility, and delivering value-added, filtered information. Keeping the info hub in the spotlight is important for continue existence. Uses an in-house product for social tagging of info resources.
- Balsamo discussed creating a dig. library for the EPA national library network. Ambitious project to scan over 50k internal documents.
Maybe you can tell, I’m really into digital libraries 🙂
Overall, I was impressed and inspired by the professionals that I met, the projects that they are taking on, and the tenacity with which they confront the challenges of operating a library in a setting that may or may not appreciate its value. At least, it needs to be reminded constantly, which is increasingly true for all libraries. Rebecca Vargha used a phrase I particularly liked to describe what it takes to thrive in this world: a determination to accept reality. Phrased like that, it’s quite a strength. Wishing for things to be better never gets you as far as working with what you have.
Fun times, free pens, big questions. This conference has definitely got me thinking, in a broader way than ever before, about what I hope to bring to this profession.
As cited in ALA Libraries Direct this week, the Contra Costa County Library is going to place book vending machines in public transportation hubs. I love this idea, and I hope it works. The press release has some very promising angles. First, the emphasis is clearly on meeting readers where they are, and finding a way to fit in to their hectic life/workflow and lowering the barriers to access. Secondly, it sounds like this is being seen as a genuine collaboration on both sides. It is the BART Board President, Gail Murray, who proclaims, “BART has a history of being at the technological forefront. Being the first in the nation to install the book lending machines continues this tradition. This project falls right in line with BART’s overall goals to help protect the environment, enhance accessibility and improve service to our customers.” Bingo–the library mission is interconnected with other public service goals. It’s wonderful to hear that coming out of a non-librarian’s mouth.
And of course, the whole principle of this is simply cool: the library (not just information) is an entity that is no longer tied to single physical spaces, but a large idea from which offshots can adapt and grow into new areas.
I want to print out the opening line of this article on using the Web to find accurate medical information and stick it on the wall behind my desk:
When Mary Ryan’s 4-year-old nephew, Nick, landed in the hospital with a serious infection, her brother called her in a panic. Ryan isn’t a doctor. She’s not a nurse. She’s a librarian.
Yeah she is. Right on.
Besides a nice shout out to savvy librarians, the article does provide good tips for med-surfing, such as
- Use PubMed to find review articles that give a broad overview of current research
- Invest half an hour in the PubMed tutorial
- Click on information about annual meetings related to medical specialties
- Find smart bloggers with your disease
This piece by Christina Wodtke on Boxes & Arrows is full of gems for people who are on the verge of a new career–like, of course, yours truly as I near the final semester of my MLIS. I particularly like this passage:
It feels like “artist” or “writer”—something inherent in your makeup that chose you, and you didn’t choose it at all. But don’t be fooled! A curious person of talent and intellect can end up many places. A rocket scientist could be just as easily an engineer, a theoretical mathematician, or a concert pianist. The left and right brain play nicely with each other in certain people.
Probably, a lot of librarians feel just this way. Our stock in trade is sensing the idea behind the action and performing that action that makes the idea live. I love academic work; I am also inspired by technical challenges and being tangibly helpful to others as they seek information. I like projects that are intensely creative as well as projects that are have a grunt labor, applied theory dynamic to them. I think I like these two kinds of mind work so much that I often tend to seek out aspects of both of them in any project I am doing, even if it is not obviously either of those two things. So, not surprisingly, every career test I’ve ever taken has come up woefully inconclusive. Yet I constantly seek that one perfect livelihood that will match all of me, and I worry when a drastic change seems appealing. As Wodtke asks,
Think of the places where you hit a self-imposed wall in the past: the opportunity to become a product manager, the time you took a programming class and loved it yet didn’t follow through. Was it because you were afraid of losing your sense of self?
Yes, often it was, so it’s encouraging to read that others feel the same way and somehow have made it through. I’m beginning to realize that I may never find the perfect field for me, but what I will do is find a series of jobs that I can find challenge in. Somehow, I hope, if the job market willing 😉
Okay, a recent internship interview has really got me thinking: if I want to be a techie librarian (more or less, although I have no illusions about my long term prospects as a general market techie), but still at core a librarian, how much tech is enough and which skills are the truly useful ones? This came up b/c the internship involved metadata creation, which for some reason I assumed meant writing XML code, I guess b/c that is how I am used to looking at it. But duh, of course it doesn’t–it involves filling out a form that creates the XML code for you. The real skill is filling out the form perfectly. As a librarian, I might just be wasting my time if I try to take it further than that.
But then when I read blogs like Caveat Lector and Shifted Librarian, I start to wonder how I’m going to know just when I’m going too far and possibly wasting my librarian learning time. These librarians clearly have some, um, mad skills. Jenny writes “In my previous job, one of my tasks was to create authentication scripts for remote access to databases for my libraries.” Wow! That sounds pretty awesome, how did you learn to do that, and how did you know that was a good thing to do? I guess part of the answer is in her next sentence: “This was something I proactively pursued because most of my libraries didn’t have a programmer on staff who knew how to create these scripts, let alone a server to run them on.” Jenny responded to a need that no one else at her institution could meet. It would have been her job to bring the problem to the dedicated tech staff, if there had been one. But there wasn’t, so it became her job. It seems probable that the main answer to my question about what to learn and fiddle with and suffer through is “can anyone else already do it?” If the answer is yes, then it’s not a good use of my time.
Still, I’m wondering how one can decide which skills to work for as a librarian in training that will translate best into a wide variety of potential future jobs, b/c the market I see now may not be the market I am entering six months or a year from now. If I am at an institution that has a tech staff, how do I get/stay up to speed enough to transition to a situation that is less helpful? Or will there come a point when most places have a tech staff, and really I need to be honing my coordinator/patron advocate skills to communicate w/ that staff to get stuff done?
Aaron at Walking Paper writes about libraries starting cafe branches, i.e. bring the library to the cafe rather than the cafe to the library. He goes into much thoughtful detail, so I recommend reading the post, but reading it triggered a connection for me: how can the library become rhizomic?
The cafe branch idea reminds me of an article about successful television shows that the NY Times ran a couple of weeks back. Basically, the critic’s idea was that shows that are currently successful have a rhizomic (root with many branches that can take on a life of their own) model rather than a single, grand entity. The example was Heroes, which has fan fiction and the potential for spin-off’s and interconnecting worlds, versus Friday Night Lights, which is perfect but more or less complete w/ out participation of the viewers. Libraries think of themselves as single entities, often, but there might be a way to think about ourselves as a something that can spawn many smaller, equally vital offspring… and enough of that metaphor already, but I like the model as a way of imagining future libraries. If access to information is the root, what are the branches?