One Semester Down…

Early in the semester, we spent quite a bit of time laying the theoretical groundwork that underlies the entire library profession. I can’t speak for my classmates, but I found a strange sort of satisfaction in pondering and manipulating these abstract concepts: parsing the difference between data, information, and knowledge, nailing down exactly what a library is anyway (which is actually much more difficult than you might think), and working out whether librarianship can be appropriately labeled a “Profession” on par with the medical profession, legal profession, and so on. However, at the end of the day, most of us agreed to disagree with each other about our conclusions on most of these topics. While thinking about and understanding the elements library science is based on is clearly important, and as much as I got a nerdy kick out of doing it, what we learned and discussed later in the semester is what I will really need to take with me to my first job. Having an understanding of information is important for an information professional of course, but ethical codes and leadership qualities have a much more direct impact on daily decisions and job performance, and I am glad we covered both the theoretical and the practical during this semester.

The aspects of library ethics we discussed in most detail (beat to death may be a bit more apt) were equal access to all varieties of people and the right to privacy of all people. Intellectual freedom and the dangers of censorship also made a strong showing. As a Christian English major and Library Science student growing up in what sometimes feels like the only conservative pocket in all of Southeast Michigan, I understand the tensions between wanting people to have uninhibited access to information and wanting to protect people, especially children, from harmful information. These are discussions that I’ve had at home, at church, and in class my whole life. As a future (hopefully) children’s librarian in a public library, these will be discussions I will continue to have for a very long time. I will have to explain why the library can not ban unpleasant people. I will have to explain why the library can not act in loco parentis. Having the opportunity to hash out the arguments, rationales, and words needed to have these conversations now in a low stakes situation will serve me will in the future.

In the convergence of discussing these ethical considerations and the celebration of Banned Book Week, I received some inspiration. As part of Banned Book Week, I wrote a review of the banned book A Clockwork Orange, and liked it so much I wanted to continue doing that in some way. (I just spent the last four years of my life doing literary analysis, so the familiarity of such a project was much like coming home after an extended absence.)  Although it is frustrating to see parents vilify books they haven’t read based on a word of paragraph they heard about from someone else, I do recognize parents’ right to have a say in what their children are exposed to and realize that most parents don’t have the time to read or research all the books they’ve heard bad rumors about that their kids want to read. So, I am planning to start a blog where I read and review controversial kids’ and YA books by commenting on the book as a whole, covering the elements that might be objectionable or more appropriate for a particular age within the context of the whole story in order to help parents make informed decisions about what their kids are or aren’t ready to read instead of making knee-jerk reactions. I won’t say in my reviews whether parents should or shouldn’t keep their kids from reading a book, but rather give an opinion of the literary merit and the content that can allow parents to make decisions based on their own values and the maturity levels of their children. I haven’t settled on a start date for this project yet, but I am planning to begin within the next year, even though new posts will be sporadic while I’m still in school.

It’s impossible to cover everything I learned this semester that will influence my future career. These are just a couple things that stand out to me from my current position. I’ll end by circling back to a point I made during one of our more abstract discussions on what is a library and a librarian after discussing the increasing role of the library as a community center in addition to a repository of information:

The people in the library are not simply librarians (and any other resident experts) and patrons, but also all members of the same community. Of course the expertise of the librarians is important, but I think that thinking of oneself less as an expert and more as a fellow community member with the people one helps provides a good basis for the treating all patrons in the ways librarians are ethically required to do so.

I guess theorizing can have some practical applications, too. Here’s to thinking well and carefully about why we do what we do, and what that means for how we do what we do.


Revisiting Assumptions

During the first week of the semester, I wrote about some of my assumptions about library science coming into WSU’s MLIS program. (You can read that whole post here.) Now that the end of my first semester is in sight, I am revisiting those assumptions in light of what I’ve learned so far. While none of my were completely wrong, some of them have been adjusted or nuanced a bit.

Assumption 1: The modes and methods of librarians have recently been changing drastically and will likely continue to do so, but the underlying function of the librarian has remained fairly constant, and will likely continue to do so.

The invention of the Internet has clearly changed how librarians operate every day. Print indexes of journal articles have been mostly superseded by electronic journals indexed in databases and searchable in many more ways that was possible with print indexes. Google’s ready availability and ease of use has resulted in fewer ready reference questions being asked at the reference desk, and a higher percentage of “stumper questions.” Social networking using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even Pinterest has become an expectation for librarians. (For a full discussion on how libraries are using social networking, check out the excellent blog written by a group of my classmates for one of our projects.) And job titles have changed to reflect all this, highlighted in the title of this year’s Placements and Salaries Survey: “The Emerging Databrarian.” Emerging technologies and digital content management are growing fields of expertise. As technology continues to develop, librarians will continue to adjust their methods to make use of new capabilities to improve the way they do their jobs.

However, that job will remain relatively unchanged at its core. Indexing and other forms of bibliographic control have moved online, but are still crucial to providing access to information. The success of Google Books, although not done by libraries, indicates just how important indexes are in the chaotic information universe that is the Internet. There is an unbelievable amount of information out there online, but without any kind of organization it is unfindable and not helpful to anyone. Librarians’ knowledge of cataloging, information organization, and metadata has only become more important. In addition, the basic values of librarianship, such as intellectual freedom, information literacy, and free and open access to information, remain highly relevant.

Assumption 2: A good librarian doesn’t only do research for a patron, but also tries to guide the patron through the research process in a way that will teach the patron how to more effectively use library resources on his or her own another time.

This is basically teaching information literacy, which is indeed a priority for librarians. The Association of College and Research Libraries branch of the American Library Association has an entire committee devoted to information literacy, and has collected a wide variety of resources for promoting, teaching, and advocating for information literacy. However, the extent to which it is true actually varies by type of institution. Teaching patrons how to use the library is the dominant focus in academic libraries and academic librarians avoid giving students the answers to their questions, focusing on helping them find those answers themselves. Public librarians, on the other hand, focus on providing answers while also trying to help patrons learn something about the library along the way. This was a common theme in the class discussion we had regarding the library visits we made, as well as during class discussions regarding an assignment to pose questions via virtual reference services to multiple libraries in another class I’m taking this semester. As important as information literacy is, sometimes the frazzled mom with 3 minutes left on the parking meter really just needs an answer, not a lesson in how to use the catalog or formulate a better internet search. Recognizing teachable moments is important, as well as recognizing when it’s just not the time.

Assumption 3: The library will always have print books.

While I still believe this, I have to mention that when I said in my initial post I said that “I think that completely digital libraries are about as likely to occur as museums with only digital images of the artifacts that used to be physically on display,” I was rather mistaken. Actually, completely digital libraries already exist in small numbers. The Digital Public Library of America is one example. However, I agree with Neil Gaiman’s assessment that despite the growing popularity of e-books, print books will not go extinct because they offer things e-books can’t. As he says:

Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content.

More content will be “born-digital” continuing into the future, and more material will be digitized over the years, and this offers significant benefits of access, especially for archival material, but there are still bridges to cross before digital content truly comes into its own (particularly digital rights management concerns and developing coherent policies to govern e-books use that can make both libraries and publishers/authors happy), and print will remain alongside the electronic.

Assumption 4: The library profession is a satisfying one.

After doing multiple library visits and talking to various librarians for each of my three classes this semester, this is looking pretty good (whew!). So I’ll just repeat what I said before: as someone who likes reading, learning new things, and helping people, helping people learn new things and find good books (without having to write lesson plans or grade papers) sounds like a pretty fabulous job.


Adkins, M., Clare, A., Jackson, A., Khoury, M., and McElhatton, G. (2013). Social networking: Adoption and impact on libraries and information centers [Web log]. Retrieved from

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2013). Information literacy coordinating committee. Retrieved from

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2013). Information literacy resources. Retrieved from

Digital Public Library of America. (n.d.). DPLA. Retrieved from 

Gaiman, N. (2013, October 15). Why our future depends on libraries, reading, and daydreaming. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Maatta, S. L. (2013, October 17). Placements & salaries 2013: The emerging databrarian. Library Journal. Retrieved from

Stout, R. (2013, August 30). Welcome! [Web log post] Retrieved from

Blogging about Blogs: What are Other Librarians Saying?

For the past several weeks, I’ve been attempting to follow two blogs written by librarians, although this has been difficult to fit in during the busy-ness of end of semester projects and has deteriorated into irregular binge-reads where I catch up on several of the more recent posts and maybe a couple older ones of interest. It didn’t help that my email provider now apparently limits RSS to a widget on the home page that I never go to and has discontinued actual email notifications of new posts, as they informed me with this nice error message: “Yahoo! RSS Feed/Blog Alerts has been discontinued.” Thanks, Yahoo. With my work schedule and class work constantly in flux, leaving me without a stable, predictable schedule, I haven’t been able to consistently work these blogs into my daily routine. Which is too bad, because there’s a lot of great stuff on both of them. Here’s a brief rundown.

Information Wants to be Freea blog by psychologist-turned librarian-turned SLIS professor Meredith Farkas.

It probably won’t come as a surprise after reading her title, but Meredith’s blog focuses on issues relating to open access of information from a librarian’s perspective. She also covers a wide range of other pertinent topics, from information literacy, to technology, to management, to assessment, among other things.

Two posts in particular exemplify the open access focus of the blog. In her most recent post, last week, Meredith criticizes EBSCO for requiring libraries to pay twice for Harvard Business Reviews material–once for regular access, and once for rights to use within a class setting. This post is also a warning to libraries to pay attention to all the pesky details in vendor contracts and not expect to get away with breaking the usage agreements just because they’re “crazy,” as she unhesitatingly called them. Her library refused to agree to the “deal” of paying again for the added privilege of professors included the materials on their syllabi, which ultimately is the only way to put libraries in a position to negotiate fair terms with vendors.

In an October post, Meredith writes about her experience with publishing all her work in her institutional repository as well as in regular journals, and how important it is that authors do so whenever possible. She said she didn’t even have to put up too much of a fight with her publishers in most cases to get the permissions, which was encouraging, but also made it that much more frustrating that more researchers weren’t making their work available that way.

Because Meredith was an academic librarian and is now “General Education Instruction Coordinator at Portland State University in Oregon and an adjunct faculty member at San Jose State University’s SLIS program,” she also writes a lot about information literacy and how to teach college students about effective research. I’ll limit my discussion here to her post about one of her recent projects at Portland State called Library DIY. This project is basically a portal into the PSU library site that is designed to help students learn how to use the library, with entry points like “I need help citing or using sources,” “I need to start my research or pick a topic,” and “I am looking for a specific item.”

Library DIY

Here’s the screenshot of the page, which can be found here.


The Ubiquitous Librarianby Brian Matthews, Associate Dean for Learning & Outreach at Virginia Tech.

Brian describes his blog this way: “This blog is about designing better user experiences and the pursuit of use-sensitive libraries.” His most common topic, at least in the last few months, is technology–what is available and how libraries might be able to put it to good use. He writes about how Twitter can be a great tool for librarians to teach information literacy and interact with students, about his experience testing the new Google GLASS wearable computer device and all its possibilities in the library, and about whether libraries now need to provide monitors at group study tables and/or loan them to students. These posts often offer thoughtful insight and creative implementation ideas for how to use technology effectively rather than simply using it because it’s the new cool thing.

There is the occasional post on a different topic, but technology is the dominant focus. Oh, and if you missed the ALA conference gorilla, he’s got you covered.

Surveying the Field of LIS Publications

This week, I am comparing and analyzing journals in the LIS field to gain an understanding of the scope of the published literature and the field in general. I specifically chose to look at two journals, the Reference and User Services Quarterly, and Literacies, Learning, and Libraries. The following is a brief synopsis of these two journals and a direct comparison.

Reference & User Services Quarterly

This is the journal of the Reference and User Services Association, which is under ALA.

Audience: This journal’s self-described audience is “reference librarians, information specialists, and other professionals involved in user-oriented library services” (RUSA, 2013).

Material Included: The journal covers a range of topics related to providing reference service. A few examples include reference sources reviews and annotated bibliographies, advice for dealing with reference questions, technology and its relation to reference, collection development, and reader’s advisory. Topics are mostly adult-focused but there are occasional articles regarding reference for children, particularly in a school library setting. Topics cover a range of academic, public, and special libraries.

Some issues have loose theme such “E-books” or “The best reference sources of the past year,” but most issues contain a mix of information on patron interaction, copyright issues, training, available resources, and so on. Every issue has columns or articles on reader’s advisory and reviews of reference sources. Most of the recent issues contain articles on information literacy, technology, and social media.

Peer Review: This journal is peer-reviewed. Each submitted article is given to two referees who review the article and make a recommendation as to whether it should be published or not (RUSA, 2013). This means the information contained in the journal is very reputable, since it has been approved by multiple experts.

Other Interesting Features: Each issue has a debate-like article, in which two authors present opposing sides of a tough topic. Examples include use of spine stickers for reading level on children’s books, comparing its benefits for helping kids find what they need and its dangers of promoting self-censorship, whether or not to personally friend patrons on facebook, and the value or problems with using Google for scholarly research.

The editor also often asks conference presenters to write an article on their topic in order to make those presentations available to a wider audience than those who were able to attend the conference.

The reader’s advisory articles could be of particular interest to me career-wise, since I have heard from children’s librarians during observations I have done that general reference questions are declining, but the most common questions are advisory ones.

Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory offered a brief review of RUSQ, written by Amy Jackson (2013), that concisely summarizes what this journal is all about:

As the official publication of the Reference and User Services Association of the American Library Association, this journal communicates information regarding user-oriented library services to librarians in special, public, and academic libraries. In addition to reference trends and e-resources, articles also address professional development, literature reviews, and news of the association. Annotated bibliographies are also included. Recent articles examine participatory web design, campus book clubs, and instruction. A basic title for all library collections.


Literacies, Learning, & Libraries

This is a yearly journal published by the Alberta School Library Council.

Audience: The primary audience is teacher librarians, although anyone interested in education or school libraries will also benefit. The ASLC’s website describes the journal this way: “The Alberta School Library Council published Teacher-Librarian Today, an annual publication the mandate of which is to enhance the competencies of school library  professionals and to increase knowledge, understanding and awareness of the role of school library programs in education” (2010).

Material Included: Topics range from information literacy, serving kids in particular areas like the inner-city, advice on improving a school’s library program, advocacy for school libraries, recognition of awards received by teacher librarians, regional events, and technology and virtual service in school libraries. Articles cover a mix of the theoretical and the practical: “Submissions are requested that will stimulate personal refection, theoretical consideration and practical application ” (Solowan).

Each issue is based around a loose theme, such as innovation, the reality of school library programs (applying theories to real schools), and school librarians as change agents.

Peer Review: This journal is not refereed. Submissions are reviewed by the editor for approval and inclusion. All educators are encouraged to submit articles, but the majority of entries are written by teacher-librarians. These articles are still likely to be of good quality, but they have been evaluated by fewer individual people than articles submitted to peer-reviewed journals, which is something to be aware of.

Other Interesting Features: One issue (2012) included a research article written by two 6th graders, evaluating how 6th graders perform internet research. The article was well done, with all the components of a regular research paper, from hypotheses to research methods to graphs, charts, and tables. I was impressed that a journal editor would be willing to even consider a paper written by 6th graders as worthy of review, let alone publication. This is an unusual method for encouraging students to take education seriously and to produce excellent work, but I like it. It wouldn’t work for every journal, obviously, but this journal specifically focused on grade-school education is a great place for it.

While I do not plan on working in a school library, I do plan to work with school-aged children, so some of the information in this journal may be of interest to me in that capacity.

A Comparison

These journals are quite different in many ways. RUSQ has a broad focus, LL&L has a narrow one. RUSQ is peer-reviewed, LL&L is not. RUSQ is American, LL&L is Canadian. RUSQ is published 4 times a year, LL&L only once. RUSQ is subscription-based, LL&L is available online for free.

But even with all those differences, many of the topics covered are remarkably similar, including e-services, technology, information literacy, and how to best serve the patrons frequenting the readers’ libraries. I think this is indicative of the field of LIS as a whole. There are so many applications of the LIS skills and theory, and the implementation of that will look quite different in academic libraries vs. school libraries vs. special libraries. However, there are common threads tying these otherwise disparate groups together, including concerns with information literacy, access to information, technology and how it impacts library service, and so much more. By applying those broad topics to a designated audience, both of these journals perform an important service to the field as a whole.

— — —


ALSC. (2010). ASLC Journal: Literacies, Learning, and Libraries. Retrieved from

Jackson, A. (2013). Untitled [Review of the Journal Reference and User Services Quarterly]. Available from Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory.

RUSA. (2013). Instructions to Authors. Retrieved from

Solowan, D. G. (n.d.). Guidelines for Contributors. Downloaded from

Knowledge, Theory, and Practice: Mid-Semester Reflections

As I reach the half-way point of my first semester in the Library Science program, I’m going to take some time to reflect a little bit on what I’ve done and where I’m going. 

As I review my previous posts and the things I’ve written during class discussions and for other assignments, I can see that I’m gaining knowledge about a variety of aspects of the library profession. While I came in knowing the kind of job I am aiming for, I’ve developed a clearer picture of what that job entails and how to get there. I’ve also learned about the underpinning of the library that I hadn’t even considered before. I’ve read and thought about everything from what information is to what should be the ethical response to homeless people passing the day in the library. 

All of this knowledge and theory is good of course, and important as a basis for everything a librarian does, but after a couple months of studying I find myself with a nagging worry in the back of my head that I’m not going to be ready. I think this is because at the end of the day, a librarian’s success is based much more on what she does and how well she does it rather than on how much she knows. I find myself wondering if it’s really possible to learn how to do while spending so much time alone in my room reading and writing and learning about being a librarian. I’m taking all of my classes online, which probably increases my concerns. 

Even in classes that teach the skills required, I’m running into these same worries. I’m also taking a reference class this semester and learning about how to more effectively search databases, conduct a reference interview, and locate simple answers in print and online reference materials. I have done (and will be doing) exercises that familiarize me with a variety of resources and how to use them to answer questions, but it still seems like there is only so far I can go with these assignments. Without dealing with real people, I’m worried that I’ll graduate with the credentials to get an interview, but not what I need to actually get the job. 

An experience I had last week while observing a reference desk for class may help illustrate. The librarian staffing the desk had to briefly leave the desk, perhaps to check in the back room for a book a patron wanted or something similar, and I stayed at the desk. While she was gone, a patron come up to the desk with a question. I thought I would try putting my new knowledge of searching and interviewing to the test, but ended up stumbling along clumsily while trying to help the patron find what he was looking for. Then the librarian returned and found the information right away. She was impressed that I had been bold enough to step in and reassured me that it takes time and practice to learn not just the general skills but also to master the library’s specific tools, but I can’t help but wonder how much of that experience I’ll be able to develop on the job and how much I’ll need to have to get a job. 

Obviously, I have a long way to go and many classes left to take before I’ll be out on the job market. I will also be reducing my class load to two classes starting next semester (compared to three this semester) to allow me more time to digest what I’m learning and seek out opportunities to gain experience. I’m currently working at a library but my position as a circulation clerk doesn’t provide me with much of a chance to develop skills more complex than checking books out and collecting fines. However, next semester, when I have some more time and will have gotten a little more established in my job (I just started there in September), I hope to talk to the children’s librarian there (and perhaps also the children’s librarians I met while doing my observation assignment at a different library) about working with her to start getting some experience.

Thinking about Employment, Part 2

Based on my perusal last week, successful candidates for a children’s librarian position will have:

  • An ALA-accredited MLIS degree
  • Knowledge of child development
  • Ability to answer reference and reader’s advisory questions for children
  • Knowledge of effective library programming for children
  • Knowledge of children’s literature and the ability to effectively develop the children’s collection
  • Computer skills
  • Strong customer service
  • Flexibility and willingness to work in other areas as well (circulation, adult reference, etc.)
  • Experience

I already have customer service skills that I have developed throughout my work history thus far, and would be ready to complete a diverse set of tasks beyond the typical children’s librarian position. As part of my undergraduate English degree, I took a children’s literature class and an adolescent literature class, so I have a head start there. I also took a lifespan development class during undergrad, so I have a basic understanding of child development, although I could probably do with a refresher.

My education in the MLIS program at WSU should allow me to gain the other major qualifications needed. I will graduate with an ALA-accredited degree. I am currently taking a reference class and a computer class, and plan to take “Programming for Children and Young Adults,” a collection development class, a children’s literature class to expand on what I learned in college, and “Website Development.”

Interestingly, none of the job postings I saw mentioned a certificate in child and youth services as either a requirement or a desired qualification, so I am leaning towards not adding the extra semester it would take to get the certificate officially, but to use my electives to take classes that are part of the certificate to gain the needed skills employers are looking for. (Taking the classes also leaves open the possibility of adding the certificate later on in my studies if employers do start requesting it.)

That just leaves experience. I am currently working in a library, but not in the children’s department. I plan to find an opportunity, whether unofficially at my job, through an internship, or by volunteering, to gain child/youth specific experience before I graduate. Some of the experience requirements are fairly extensive, however, so I might need to start in an entry level general librarian position and work my way up, which would be fine.

What I discovered this week essentially makes the goals I discussed earlier in the semester more focused and specific. I still intend to learn the necessary skills and gain the necessary qualifications to obtain a job and do it well, but this week’s post specifies what those skills and qualifications actually are.

Thinking about Employment, Part 1

By searching job postings on the ALA website, I was able to find several children and youth librarian positions at public libraries. These postings were all very similar to each other, and spread out across the country, from California to Washington, D. C. 

For example, Churchill County Library in Fallon, Nevada is hiring a Children’s Librarian with the following job description:

The incumbent is tasked with providing services to children including: developing the children’s collection, providing storytimes, planning and implementing the Summer Reading Program, and providing outreach to organizations which serve children. In addition, the Children’s Librarian works the Circulation Desk, answers reference questions, contributes to the maintenance of public and staff computers and software, and interacts positively with the public in person, on the phone and online.

Similarly, the District of Columbia Public Library in Washington, District of Columbia is hiring a Children’s Librarian to perform the following tasks:

  • Provides reference and advisory services to customers in the area of children’s literature.

  • Provides assistance in study-oriented activities and in developing children’s reading interests.

  • Plans, schedules, conducts and evaluates children’s programs and class visits.

  • Develops and maintains the branch collection of children’s literature to meet the needs of the community.

  • Compiles reading lists on assigned subjects and prepares books displays.

The third job posting I focused on was for a Librarian 1 at the Virginia Beach Public Library in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with job duties described this way:

Presenting Every Child Ready to Read curriculum-based storytimes and special programming for children, preparing and delivering education programs for parents (or caretakers) and other adults, to engage them in library services and teach them to help children be successful readers, providing reader’s advisory, reference and information services to children and teens, assisting with the management of the Summer Reading Program and additional system-wide youth programming, providing high quality school-age and teen programming with an emphasis on S.T.E.A.M., creating and maintaining community partnerships, and providing training for staff in youth services. Additional duties may be assigned to ensure the standardization of Youth and Family services programs across the system.

Common elements of these jobs and other similar positions include

  • Customer Service Skills
  • Understanding and Enjoyment of Children
  • Lifelong Learning
  • Planning Literacy and Educational Programs for Children
  • Building Community Partnerships
  • Children’s Reader Advisory
  • Development Collection

Depending on the size of the library, children’s librarians can also have a more diverse job description, including adult reference service and full development collection. At this point, I don’t have a preference between the two. I think I would enjoy either a more diverse set of responsibilities or the ability to focus only on children. 

Nearly all of these jobs require an ALA-accredited MLIS. Other qualifications vary by position, and include things like:

  • Michigan Librarian 1 or 2 certification
  • Computer skills
  • 3-5 years of experience working with children in a library setting
  • Knowledge of children’s literature
  • Experience planning events for children
  • MLIS classes on issues of children’s librarianship

Children’s Librarian positions would likely involve reporting to a public services, reference, or circulation supervisor or a children’s department head. Depending on the size of the library, they could also involve supervising support staff. 

Most of these jobs would require previous experience in entry-level positions. Getting a job as a children’s librarian would likely be an upward move on a career trajectory. It also provides the possibility of continuing career advancement by moving into management positions overseeing the whole children’s department or even all the reference or public services departments. At this point, though, I think I would be content to stay in the middle level of actually working directly with kids and families rather than supervising the librarians who do those things. And with a typical salary for children’s librarians around $50,000, I wouldn’t need to move up to a higher position I would enjoy less just to pay the bills.