Several people, perhaps considering their own 2015 applications, asked me about my experience as a 2014 American Library Association (ALA) Emerging Leader and how I felt the program helped me develop my leadership skills.
This prompted a bit of reflection on my part. I’d say that the line between the Emerging Leaders program and leadership training is actually an indirect one – but that’s a good thing.
There are other opportunities ALA provides – such as the ALA Leadership Institute – more directly focused on traditional leadership training, if that’s what you are interested in. The structure of Emerging Leaders is more in line with another subject I was interested in this year: project management.
[A project is] a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result. A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies.
My 2014-2015 professional development goals at my place of work included gaining project management skills. My official vehicle for achieving that goal was attending a wonderful CARL preconference session led by California academic librarians Margot Hanson, Annis Lee Adams, Andrew Tweet, and Kevin Pischke. But the convergence of the preconference session and Emerging Leaders was perfect, as the experiences complimented and built on each other. Emerging Leaders gave me the practical opportunity to work on a project team and implement the concepts I learned at the preconference.
Emerging Leaders is structured as a team-based project that checks off all of the definitions of project management: a temporary group activity, designed to produce a product or service, with a defined beginning and end, and a defined scope and resources. Various divisions and roundtables of ALA propose projects. Four-to-six member teams of Emerging Leaders are assembled around those projects and given a discrete deadline (a poster session at ALA Annual) when they reveal their final products.
I was part of Emerging Leaders “Team C,” along with the wonderful Mari Martínez, Annie Pho, and Kyle Denlinger. We were asked by ALCTS, the ALA division for library collections and technical services, to deliver a white paper on social media practices with recommendations for how they can improve their outreach to early-career professionals. Beyond that straightforward request, we could develop the project as we saw fit.
Team C(at) with our project poster. Here we are later with our hair down.
We dealt with several moving parts: we had to investigate social media best practices for professional organizations, analyze how ALCTS is currently using social media, discover how ALCTS members and potential members would like to interact (or not) with ALCTS online, and put everything we learned into a cohesive “white paper” (we actually developed a website) that ALCTS leaders could refer to. The camaraderie we developed kept us accountable to each other, despite not having a traditional “leader” or supervisor. The four of us lived in different areas of the country, and would not actually be in the same room between Midwinter and Annual, making coordination crucial. It made for a perfect little capsule – it was petri dish project management. We had fun and put out a product we believed in.
Emerging Project Managers
I opened with the suggestion that the line between Emerging Leaders and leadership training was indirect, as there is not a special focus on the skills of individual leadership, or advancing into management roles in our professional careers. But I do think project management skills are very applicable to a different kind of leadership needed in our workplaces.
Our work as librarians invariably involves team-oriented, discrete projects: implementing a new service, redesigning a library website, and so on. We often will work on teams with no designated “leader.” To be able to work as a team, with a cohesive plan, without creating unnecessary workplace friction, is a valuable and necessary trait for librarians, and applying the principles of project management can be the key to success. That is the type of leadership we need as a profession moving forward.
I still wouldn’t suggest renaming the program “the ALA Emerging Project Managers.” Emerging Leaders has a better ring to it. And also a ring of truth.
I’m hopping on a plane in a couple hours for Las Vegas for the 2014 edition of the annual conference of the American Library Association. There’s so much going at the conference of thousands, and I’m still figuring out my schedule. But here are the places I’m sure I’ll be.
Friday, June 27
The first day is busy, with the Emerging Leaders cohort of 2014 gathering for a workshop from 8:30 to 3, which leads directly into the Emerging Leaders poster session and reception running from 3-4pm. My group — EL Team C, comprising of Annie Pho, Mari Martínez, and Kyle Denlinger — has been working on a social media plan for ALCTS, the ALA division for collections and technical services. It has been great working with Annie, Mari, and Kyle. We just had a natural chemistry from the start and the process has been very satisfying, even if it did involve herding cats. You can see a preview of our advice for ALCTS — a dozen social media tips we shared on twitter yesterday (under the hashtag #ELCtips) — and if you’re at ALA, please come by the poster session!
Friday night? I can’t dance, but I might try.
Saturday, June 28
Day two features the hearing on the new draft framework for information literacy instruction. Classroom instruction is a big part of what I do, so this attending is a must. I am also going to seek out the Alexandria Still Burns project to see if I can participate. Otherwise, my Saturday afternoon is up in the air. Saturday night? Tumblarian meet-up, then Afterhours with EveryLibrary and the Librarian Wardrobe book release party.
Sunday, June 29
There’s a lot of good stuff going on Sunday. The session I’m most excited about is about threshold concepts, the model of information literacy instruction that heavily influenced the new framework. Two of the presenters — Korey Brunetti and Amy Hofer — had a huge influence on me early in my career when I saw them speak at the CARL Conference in 2010. I’m curious what they’re talking about in 2014.
Monday, June 30
Oh, Monday. Usually the cool down day of the conference, a chance to catch your breath, see a few people you’ve missed, and blow off steam as an attendee at Battledecks (or, as it has transmorphed for 2014, The Library Games). Not this year. Monday morning: I’m a panelist for #TumblarianTalk, moderated by Kate TkaPOW!. Monday afternoon: I’m the moderator, for What I really want to do is direct: First-time library directors discuss their experiences (join us! And be part of the chatter on #iwannadirect). Monday evening, I’ll be heeling it up as one of the agents of the Library Security Agency, or LSA, at The Library Games.
For the last couple conferences, Tumblarians have been sharing headshots so we can all recognize each other. Here’s my face, with my longest-ever beard that I’m taking to the insanely hot Las Vegas, because I am insane. If you see me walking down the hall, please say hi!
Registration is now open for the California Conference on Library Instruction, the best little conference that could. It’s an annual, one-day conference focused on librarian-led instruction and information literacy.
CCLI played a critical role in my career. A couple months after graduating library school, while working part time in a temporary position, I attended CCLI. The keynote presenters that year were Nicholas Schiller, Char Booth, and Karen G. Schneider. I had (once) previously met Karen, but it was my first time seeing any of them speak.
Nicholas Schiller presented about engaging students by teaching Google search strategies, SEO, and how Google Search works under the hood. Char Booth presented topics from her (then) new book, Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning, including how to be a self-aware, reflective teacher. Karen Schneider spoke about incrementally transforming a small academic library. In addition to the keynote speakers, there was also a panel that featured Nicole Greenland discussing faculty outreach through technology training.
Nicholas’ presentation formed the nucleus of a freshman workshop I developed later that year, a workshop that has evolved but is still in use for our first-year English students. Char’s presentation gave me confidence and inspiration in finding my voice as a teacher, something that at the time I had very little experience with. Four years later, I’m happy that I can now say I am friends with both of them. But equally importantly, Nicholas and Char gave me ideas to use when discussing library instruction and librarianship during a job interview I had a month later. I was a green, inexperienced librarian, but I approached that interview like I knew what I was talking about. Thanks to CCLI.
That interview was with Karen and Nicole. They hired me into my first (and current) librarian position.
CCLI is small, and compared to national conferences, affordable. It’s only a one-day commitment, and I guarantee you will learn new things and come away with practical ideas. If you’re a northern California instruction librarian or MLIS student, it’s a great place to be.
I got an anonymous question on Tumblr:
I’m really trying to stay on top of current trends in the academic library field without having a ton of money to go to national conferences…what are your favorite blogs, listservs, tumblarians, etc. to follow or even websites to get news from our community? I feel like I’m always behind…or following things that are more just noise than good sources of trends. When I was in library school it was easier but now not as much. Thank you so much!
This question may have been inspired by my last post, where I wrote “be able to name trends! Be able to discuss trends! I’ve seen candidates be confused about this question. How does that happen?”
So — staying on top of trends. First, two pieces of advice before I recommend a few blogs:
- There may be local conferences in your area that are more affordable than national conferences. For example, where I live, there’s an annual one-day conference on library instruction called CCLI. These types of local conferences — with no travel costs, hotel costs, and a lower registration fee — are more feasible for those with a limited budget, but still supply a ton of value. They connect you with local professionals, help you learn trends relevant to your area, and you often learn about forthcoming jobs before they hit national listservs. I don’t know if I’d have my present job if I hadn’t attended CCLI four years ago, when my (then-future, now-present) boss was a keynote speaker.
- Find a local mentor you can sit down with, hopefully someone who doesn’t work at your institution (if you’re employed). Getting the perspective of someone who works in a different environment is a good way to learn what’s happening beyond your local silo. I had lunch yesterday with the librarian who mentored me when I was an intern and it was tremendous, and made me realize I should do that more often.
Reading is free
If you can’t afford conference travel (without the workplace support I get, I wouldn’t be able to either), the most affordable way to keep up on the profession is following smart, interesting bloggers (whether or not you always agree with their viewpoint). I’ve seen a few folks out there bemoaning the current state of library blogging, but I still find a lot of good ideas and information out there. Here are a few (not all) of the blogs that I follow:
- Char Booth, info-mational.
- Meredith Farkas, Information wants to be Free.
- Jessica Olin & guest contributors, Letters to a Young Librarian.
- Brian Mathews, The Ubiquitous Librarian.
- Jacob Berg, Beerbrarian.
- Chris Bourg, Feral Librarian.
- Karen G. Schneider, Free Range Librarian.
Full disclosure: one of these is my boss. Some of the others are my friends. I am not bias-free. Who is?
(again, partial — I follow well over 500 total tumblrs):
- The Lifeguard Librarian
- Library Journal
- Libral Thinking
- John X Libris
- Danielle Westbrook
- metadata princess
Some of these are professionally focused, some are not, but I enjoy following them all. I enjoy the mix of personal and professional on tumblr.
I also follow a lot of public librarians (you can good ideas to port over!), institutions, and submission blogs like Librarian Wardrobe. You can browse the tumblarian list for both institutions and individuals to follow.
You should also check in on C&RL, the open access journal of the ACRL, and C&RL News, its non-peer reviewed outlet. I also like the OA Communications in Information Literacy. I prefer to support open access LIS journals, which are accessible to those who don’t have the advantage of institutional access.
I’ve got an interview Friday for an academic librarian position (electronic serials). What was your hiring experience? Any interview prep you would suggest that is unique to the academic environment? Thanks! – librarian-wanderer
Hi! First of all, good luck!
Going into an interview, comfort and familiarity are your friends, from wardrobe choices to the topics that will be discussed. Look professional but don’t make yourself so uncomfortable that you squirm and sweat.
While there can be some unique questions and concerns that come up in an academic environment, you’ll also get many of the same boilerplate questions asked in every job interview everywhere. For me, when I’ve been on an interview panel and a candidate flubs one of these questions — which I consider softballs — they’re out.
- “Describe [x]# of trends in [electronic serials/ERM/digitization/technical services/academic libraries/etc.]
Be able to name trends! Be able to discuss trends! I’ve seen candidates be confused about this question. How does that happen? If you asked me about trends in academic libraries, I could name 20 before I have to take a breath.
Yet I’ve seen candidates fumble around, mumble a short response, and look up hoping the question is over and we can move on. That was the softball! Hit it out of the park. If electronic serials aren’t actually your specialty, get to looking in a few journals, or find blogs written by electronic serials librarians. Get up to speed before the interview.
- “Describe an situation in which you [did the wrong thing/failed/could not complete a project] and what you learned from it? Be specific.”
There’s always a question like this, and others that ask you to describe specific scenarios, positive or negative, from your past work life. Have a few anecdotes in mind going into the interview so you’re prepared for this. Candidates who don’t have examples in mind before the interview starts always get flustered at this point. Don’t be that candidate.
- What makes you want to work at [University/College]?
This is the slowest pitch softball in the game. Heck, this is a swing at a t-ball. And yet…I’ve seen some of the vaguest answers to this question (which often comes first — and first impressions are important).
If you’re asked why you want to work there, and all you can say is that you need a job and your skills matched the job description, that’s not going to cut it.
Talk about the institution — why that particular institution is a perfect fit for you. That means doing a little research in advance. Know what that school is proud of. Look in every corner of their website. Walk around the campus if you can. Read the school’s mission statement, and if the library has one, read that too. Incorporate that vibe into your response. If nothing else, even the cynical panelist will respect that you did your research.
Doing your research
Speaking of doing research, use your investigative skills and go in knowing what types of library systems they use. If you’re savvy, you should be able to figure out what ILS they use, what ERM product they use, and whether they focus on “big deal” journal package purchases from publishers or on aggregation databases, just from looking at their website. That familiarity can then come in handy when you are talking to them (it’s always odd to me when a candidate doesn’t come in with a sense of how we operate).
Also be ready to talk about how the work of the electronic serials librarians can influence other aspects of the library’s work — this, of course, can apply to other specialties as well.
Finally, does the library director or any of the librarians at the institution blog about their work? That’s another way to come in with a sense of how they operate (although don’t spend the whole interview saying, “Well, I saw on your blog [this] and [that]” — use the blog as background research, don’t keep citing it in the interview! That comes off sycophantic.)
There will probably be some very specific technical discussions. But those revolve around things that can be learned. It’s when the candidates can’t even hit the softballs that I get worried.
Originally posted on tumblr, February 26, 2014. Comments are closed here but open on tumblr.
What I’ve known for a couple weeks now is finally official. I will be a part of the American Library Association’s 2014 class of Emerging Leaders. I’m very excited to take part in this program; some of the librarians I admire most are alums, and I count several friends among the 2014 class.
I’m also excited about the number of names I don’t recognize. There are a lot of great people doing great work around the country, and I look forward to making new connections and learning from what they’re doing, starting with the ALA Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia, a city I’m happy to go back to (although as a Californian I’m not quite sure how to deal with being back east in January. I literally have no “winter” clothes).
One of the exciting aspects of Emerging Leaders is that it takes a cross-section of the profession — public librarians, academic librarians, special librarians, and school librarians; information professionals of every stripe. I’m firmly in the academic librarian camp, but there is so much we can learn from what our colleagues from the other divisions are doing in terms of collections, outreach, marketing, and instruction. If we stick to our silo, there’s so much we miss out on.
Onward to Midwinter!
Last week a tumblr user asked the following question:
Question from a soon-to-be-graduating MLIS student, if you don’t mind: did you have any publications under your belt before being hired as an academic reference librarian? Also, how active were you in professional associations/organizations? With graduation so soon and the market still so saturated, I am worried that I don’t have the on-paper qualifications to land an academic library job (can you tell?).
I replied on tumblr, but thought I would expand on my response here.
I’m in my third year as an academic librarian, and I still have never published. I’d certainly like to; I have a couple ideas bouncing around my head. The degree to which it matters depends on the institution you are applying to. An academic institution with tenure-track or faculty-status librarians will generally have higher expectations regarding professional publishing, but many academic libraries don’t expect their librarians to publish. Read the job ad closely and look at the librarians on staff. If they have extensive CVs, it’s a good bet that institution has publishing expectations. If you haven’t published and you are applying to an institution that expects librarian-led research, address your interest in participating in research and publishing in your cover letter.
But you can definitely get a job without having published. I’d recommend having another outlet for your writing — a professionally-focused blog, for example. The pressure of updating a blog can feel like a burden (see the frequency of posts here). However, it can be a venue to practice and improve your writing (an essential skill for both unemployed and employed librarians, from cover letters to grant applications), engage with the professional community, and think more deeply about pressing industry issues. It doesn’t necessarily matter how many people do or don’t read your blog. It’s the fact that it is there when you apply for a job; it is essentially the special extended edition of your résumé & cover letter — it shows the hiring manager just how connected you are to issues within the profession.
In terms of other professional activities, coming out of library school I was already active in my local professional organization (in my case, CARL). Through a mentor librarian, I was offered a position on a CARL committee around the time I was graduating from SJSU SLIS. I also attended the CARL Conference in that year, and the conference of another local organization, CCLI. Attending those conferences at the tail end of my education was transformative; I went from speaking the theoretical language of my graduate program to speaking the practical language of working professionals based on the quality content of their presentations.
Being able to show professional involvement by attending conferences and joining a committee did my otherwise limited résumé a world of good. It made it clear that I was committed to academic librarianship, and what I learned in the conference presentations and workshops gave me the language I used writing my cover letter and during interviews. Major national conferences like ALA and ACRL are incredibly expensive once you factor in conference registration, travel, and lodging. But those local conferences are often much more affordable, and you’ll be meeting local people — the same people who might be advertising a position in their library shortly thereafter (or at the conference itself).
The other thing I did before landing a permanent gig was co-found a meet-up group for local librarians. Right around the time we were graduating, a library school friend and I were lamenting the end of library-school organized activities, so we just decided to start organizing our own. We’ve since held a couple dozen gatherings and have nearly 200 members. People meet people at these kinds of events; it can lead to jobs, or just good conversations that keep you talking about libraries even when you’re not working in one. Above all, it’s fun, and there is always something to be said for that.
To sum up my recommendations:
- apply your writing skills to a professionally-focused blog;
- volunteer for local professional organizations;
- attend whatever local conferences you can afford to, and;
- seek out (or create!) a social group of librarians in your area.
That sounds like a lot, especially if you have other professional or family commitments. But you don’t have to update the blog every day, there are volunteer positions that don’t take too much time, conferences are infrequent, and a social group can start with just a few local friends. It’s doable, and it will make you a stronger candidate.
- Becoming a more thoughtful library job seeker: Look beyond the bullet points | Veronica Arellano Douglas, College & Research Libraries News (coincidentally posted the same day as my post above, with very thoughtful advice for job seekers; h/t to laura-in-libraryland).
Originally posted to tumblr, Sept. 2012.
I was giving a friend cover letter advice for a librarian position and she suggested I go public with it.
My admittedly limited credentials: I have written cover letters that were ignored, I’ve written cover letters that got me interviews, and I wrote the cover letter that got me my job. I’ve been on hiring committees where I have read dozens of cover letters for both full time and part time librarian positions, and I remember what made some stand out while others headed straight to the circular file. I’m not an expert; the following are just my own opinions. Feel free to agree, disagree, or add your own perspective in the comments.
My headline suggests an unobtainable goal. It is absolutely impossible to write the perfect cover letter. The fact is, every hiring manager, library director, potential boss, or hiring committee will have different criteria and a different perspective. Some institutions have an expectation of formality, while others have a preference for informality, and unless you know personally the person who will read your cover letter, you’ll never know which is the perfect approach.
However, you can do a bit of research to improve your odds. Read the job ad. Read any ancillary posts about the position (such as the library director’s blog, if s/he has one). Try and get a sense of the library’s personality from their website and current outreach methods: are they formal and fussy? Are they casual and fun? Try and match your style to what you can tell about their institutional personality.
Once you’ve done your research, focus on the objectives of your letter. First up, and I feel this is the most important point:
- Your cover letter is not a recitation of your experiences.
That’s what your résumé is for.
- The goal of your cover letter is to paint a picture: you want to the reader to envision you, in their available position, solving their problems.
The cover letter is a narrative. You are telling a story in which you are the protagonist — a problem-solving, enthusiasm-generating, can-do person who has the skills they are looking for and directly addresses all the areas in which they need help. They should get a sense of who you are and your personality, because that is what sets you apart.
The side benefit of conveying your personality in your cover letter is that if they don’t hire you because of your personality, then they were unlikely to be a good fit for you!
Now for a hail of bulleted advice:
- Instead of listing your experiences, you are relating your experiences to their job.
- If their job ad mentions three main areas of responsibilities for their new position, you better mention all three in your cover letter, and how your skills, attitude or experiences specifically prepare you to fulfill those responsibilities.
- If you’ve been working in a different type of library than the one for which you’re applying, address that in your cover letter. Make it clear that the type of position they are offering is genuinely your career goal, and your experience at other types of institutions just brings you perspective from (x) field that will help you in (y) field.
- If you live far away, make it clear you are willing (and in fact excited!) to move.
- If you’ve had a gap in employment or other red flag, address it.
- This might sound obvious, but…no typos, no grammatical errors, and no spelling mistakes.
- Formatting matters. Put together a clean, attractive page, not just a standard Word template (also true for your résumé).
- Have a responsible friend read it and give you unfettered criticism.
- Always throw away your first draft.
Another question that comes up a lot when discussing library applications: yes, both your cover letter and your résumé can be over a page. This is a professional-level position you are applying for. There are different standards!
Questions? Thoughts? Replies? Rebuttals?
This past week I got to attend my very first American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference, a dizzying gathering of over 20,000 librarians (a far cry from the 1876 inaugural event, with its paltry 103 attendees). I got to attend various professional presentations, meet online contacts and make friends in real life, explore New Orleans by foot, trolley, and ferry, and, much to my surprise, perform in the improvisational slideshow competition Battledecks.
I have organized sessions I attended and events I participated around a couple of the most recurring themes.
Cushing Library is currently implementing a new tool for our end users to use for search and retrieval of our items in our collection. This system, called WorldCat Local (WCL), finds and retrieves items be they print or online, and whether they are book, article, journal or other media. WCL and similar products are referred to as “Discovery” systems within the librarian profession.
I attended several programs relating to the implementation of Discovery systems. Two directly related to the implementation of OCLC’s WCL technology, tasks I am involved in right now, and another on the rate of return various libraries have seen since their implementation of Summon, a competing but similar product to WCL offered by ProQuest. There is strong evidence, from both libraries operating WCL and from libraries utilizing Summon, that full-text article retrievals are up, most notably from smaller, more specialized sources. At WCL libraries, print circulation tends to rise post-WCL implementation as well.
For example, the University of Idaho, which has implemented WorldCat Local, has seen usage over print materials rise 20%, interlibrary loan requests rise 34%, and a 78% increase in full text article downloads. Summon libraries, such as the University of Houston, saw a 50% rise in full text article retrieval. They have also found that the Summon search service is pushing users to finding underutilized resources, such as special collections and multimedia items, and that it favors direct journal services (such as Sage) over aggregators such as EBSCO.
Part of my continuing duties at Holy Names University is my role as an instruction librarian. I provide information literacy education to students via workshops and research help sessions.
One of the best instruction-related programs I attended was Making Information Literacy Instruction Meaningful through Creativity. The three speakers were current or former faculty for ACRL’s highly-regarded Immersion Program, a “boot camp” for instructional librarians, and the session reinforced many themes that are part of Immersion training — creative lesson planning; interactive, motivational presentation styles; and pedagogy grounded in research and assessment.
In addition to these presentations, I also had chances to sit and talk shop with a good mix of other instructional librarians, such as Michelle Millet, Tiffini Travis, Lea Engle, and Nicholas Schiller. In Schiller’s case, I’ve been reading his articles and stealing his classroom ideas for a year so it was great to get a chance to admit that to him. He didn’t seem to mind.
Out and About
New Orleans: what a city. While I admit I’m not such a fan of colorful drinks in plastic cups — I’d rather have one well-crafted cocktail than a half dozen cups of syrup-flavored alcohol — I have to admit that New Orleans knows how to have a good time, and a good time I had, passing from place to place with a gang of roving librarians I befriended. It’s hot in New Orleans in June (that’s not a newsflash, I realize), but the heat and humidity didn’t keep me from walking continuously from the Garden District, to the Warehouse District, along the river and into the French Quarter, and back again throughout the conference. Café Du Monde was naturally a regular destination, both late at night and after lunch, and I was shocked that a plate of three beignets was only two dollars and change — here in San Francisco, our tourist traps won’t sell anything for less than five dollars.
While I expected to meet hip, smart librarians from Brooklyn (and did) (stereotypes for the win!), there were smart, interesting people coming from all corners of the country — Indiana, Texas, Florida, and even Southern California. In between the beignets, coffee and occasional cocktails there was plenty of sharp chatter about information services, instructional technique, and emerging tech. All of it pointed to my original thesis in founding the Information Amateurs Social Club — that the best, most enlightening professional conversation happens in the informal air of casual conversation. Preferably with a drink in hand. Between the ALA Dance Party, the ALA Tweet-up, the ALA Facebook Afterparty, the Radical Reference Social, the HackLibSchool Social, and all of the more informal connecting in between (including a trip to the Voodoo Museum), I met many of my internet heroes and formed some genuine bonds of friendship I’m going to hang onto. And hopefully, someday, all of them will move to San Francisco. It’d be killer.
No report on the goings-on in New Orleans would be complete without mention of Battledecks, the competitive, improvisational battle of slideshow presentations that concluded the conference Monday night. My participation was not strictly speaking voluntary, but it was thrilling to speak right between Lisa Hinchliffe, President of ACRL, and widely known executive and public speaker Stephen Abram. However, I’m going to save my extended thoughts on that experience for a future post — once the videos have weaseled their way online and I can embed my performance right here on The Pinakes.
Locke Morrisey, Head of Collections, Reference and Research at the University of San Francisco’s Gleeson Library, passed away today, the victim of cancer. Locke served as my supervisor during my internship in Gleeson’s Reference Department in the fall of 2008 and I cannot begin to describe the degree to which he influenced my career, and I’m sure the careers of countless others.
Locke set the bar for reference services. He was an expert not just at finding answers or doing research but in showing others how to do the same. He was patient, his explanations were measured, and he also knew how to make you laugh or smile in the midst of teaching you. He could not be flustered.
He took great glee in the challenges of the profession — his “Intern Quiz” was legendary for its toughness, the most obscure, difficult and challenging reference inquiries he had ever received in his career (he claimed they were all real, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple were embellished for difficulty). His real objective wasn’t to see if you could come up with the answers. With many of the questions, we couldn’t, or it would take us days to figure out. His real goal was to see your process. How you went about performing research, and the depth of your knowledge of the different tools in a librarian’s toolkit. You weren’t punished for the questions you couldn’t answer; it simply gave Locke the opportunity to teach you the skills you needed to have in order to have answered it.
When USF librarians Joe and Penny stepped in to mentor interns during Locke’s absence this fall, they admitted they couldn’t figure out half the answers themselves!
I came to USF in 2008 having taken a year’s worth of classes in librarianship at San Jose State. I had never worked in a library, and still wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to do with my “career”. Five months at USF under Locke’s tutelage completely changed that. After coaching and coaxing me into being a competent reference librarian, he encouraged me to try teaching information literacy and research to students in a classroom, something I had never thought of doing or pursuing. Today classroom teaching is one of my specialties and one of the most important components of my job. Heck, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to work in an academic library before going to work for Locke. It was seeing his example of professionalism, his commitment to spreading good ideas, and working as a part of his incredible reference team — even if only as an intern — that completely shaped how I view what I do and why I do it.
Ever since interning at USF I have encouraged virtually every MLIS candidate I have met to intern at Gleeson Library before they graduate. While I enjoyed my experience in library school, nothing taught me more about being a librarian than trying to act like one under Locke’s guidance. I’m sorry that new up-and-coming students won’t get the opportunity that I did.
Two years after I worked for Locke, he didn’t hesitate in providing the referral that helped secure my librarian position. The last time I saw him — July this year, when I was about to start at HNU — he cheerfully waved and said that now that I was a librarian myself he looked forward to seeing me on the conference circuit.
I’m sure a thousand people knew Locke better than me – his family, his partner Al, his coworkers at USF, and so on – and I mourn with them. I mourn a man who served his profession, who valued his friends, who loved to laugh and teach. The world could use more men and women like Locke, not less. Rest in peace.