Information Amateurs are born!

May 14, 2010 - 12:19 pm

A couple weeks ago (April 30, to be exact), a mix of early career librarians and MLIS students got together at the Latin American Club for a couple drinks, story-swapping and the type of informal networking that is an awful lot of fun (as first advertised here). Some were friends of mine, some were friends of rockstar cataloger Greg Borman, some were people we’d met on facebook or twitter but not yet met face-to-face. Somewhere between a dozen and a dozen and a half made it out.

It was fun.

This is the part of the blog post were I should be putting up a series of photos of our night out (since a handful of pictures are worth thousands of words). But I didn’t bring a camera. Imagine instead a photo of our three tables cobbled together in a gerrymandered conquest of half the bar’s floorspace; a late-night rendezvous at a taquería where we indulged in tacos, burritos and tortas; margaritas the size of a pint; frenzied debates on the worthiness of Oakland versus San Francisco. Oh, and we talked about libraries too.

It was so much fun that we’ll do it again. Join the Information Amateurs Social Club on Facebook if you want to hear about it when we do.

Post-CARL Review, Pt. 2

May 4, 2010 - 7:14 pm

As an early-career librarian, I went to the CARL Conference hoping to get a glimpse of the latest trends in librarianship, and to come away with a sense of coming shifts in the profession I need to be aware of – a glimpse into my own future. What skills does the modern academic librarian need to have? What do they need to be ready to do? What are library patrons looking for now, and what will they be looking for in the years ahead? How can I shape my career in order to be on the forward edge of coming changes?

Changing the Metrics

The first plenary lecture, by Dr. Peter Hernon of Simmons College, covered a broad span of the issues he sees in the profession and some emerging trends. His shock statistic was that reference desk approaches are down 80% from where they used to be. This confirms what everyone has been saying since the advent of internet search: reference, as a department and core duty of librarianship, is in trouble.

I’ve written about reference before, and made it clear that I don’t believe reference is dead (see There He Sat With An Answer For All and my e-Portfolio Competency I). Still, even as an ardent backer of continued (though diversified) reference service, I have to agree that a MLIS graduate can no longer claim to be solely a reference specialist and expect to find work. These days, a librarian needs to have a wider set of skills; capable of providing reference, yes, but inevitably even a reference department librarian will have responsibilities in library instruction, collection development, electronic resources and so on.

The bigger issue is that many traditional statistics of library usage – reference inquiries, circulation, and so on – often indicate to university administrators that libraries are declining, ergo library budgets get cut. So libraries need to produce research – quantitative evidence – to show administrators all of the benefits of continued library support. It needs to become clear what value libraries are supplying students; what are students getting per tuition dollar provided to the library? New metrics can show just how vital libraries remain (some of the presentations I discussed in the Post-CARL Review, Pt. 1 had examples of just the sorts of quantitative research libraries can be doing).

Early Career Librarians

One of the final-day workshops I attended at the conference was a discussion of issues for early career librarians, hosted by Katherine O’Clair of Cal Poly, SLO. There was a lot of practical advice to be had, both in a general sense, and some for me and my situation specifically. Since it was an open discussion, a lot of the attendees had different points of view; some reiterated the commonly held belief that if you’re a paraprofessional (instead of a librarian) for more than a couple years, you’re stuck being a paraprofessional forever. Others disputed that assumption on the basis of the current economy; hiring managers will be more forgiving of non-professional level work on your résumé given of how few opportunities are out there right now.

The eventual consensus was that getting your first professional level job isn’t a function of how long you have or haven’t worked as a paraprofessional, but rather the relationship you’ve developed with your professional level colleagues, peers and professional organizations. It’s vital to develop connections, attend conferences, and write papers; these activities show a professional-level of interest and can make up for any deficiencies on your curriculum vitae.

Some very good personal advice I received from an established librarian attending the session was that my digitization experience at the California Academy of Sciences, while archival by nature and not at an academic library, still provided me a skill-set a lot of libraries don’t have on staff; he made the point that even if I’m applying for a reference or instructional-heavy academic position, I should promote my digitizing experience. That skill – even if a library hadn’t considered it a priority – could make me a more attractive candidate. I’m capable of stretching a job description (and an FTE) to include new responsibilities, increasing my value.

That concept really holds true to any skill you might have. Don’t discard arrows from your quiver just because they aren’t listed in a posted job description. Make sure a library that is hiring knows all the different things you can do (budgeting experience? supervisory experience? Mention it).

Overall, I feel I came away from the conference with a better idea of current trends in academic libraries and how to better market myself in what is a competitive market. And those are marks of a successful conference-going experience (another mark would be a good time socializing and networking; I did that too!).

Post-CARL Review, Pt. 1

April 19, 2010 - 10:25 pm

I had a great time at the CARL Conference over April 8-10 in Sacramento. There was a lot to digest, in terms of insight and inspiration, and I’m hoping to distill at least a little bit of that wisdom here. There was a wide range of topics covered in the various presentations and speeches, but a couple subject areas jump out as being worthy of further discussion. My next couple posts on this blog will tackle these. First up: Library Instruction/Information Literacy.

About ten of the twenty-four official discussion sessions were focused on information literacy and instruction. Of these, I attended several, and came away with a lot of good ideas and an appreciation for the serious research going on in the subject right now.

Longitudinal Research

Three staff librarians from Cal State-Long Beach presented their ongoing, 6-year research endeavor to determine the effectiveness of their library instruction program. Their presentation, “Are They Getting It: Seeking Evidence of Students’ Research Behavior Over Time” described their grant-funded project from its inception to its current state, two years into the study.

I’m impressed with the depth of their research. They started by developing a large sample of freshman students with the intention of following them throughout their education. Their analysis of the students’ research skills extend to studying the students’ research paper bibliographies for source and citation quality. This sort of extensive, longitudinal study is difficult to implement and ties up a lot of staff time and resources, but the results — sure to be published — will be of use to universities and colleges throughout California and beyond (which is why CARL was the main grant-giving body behind the project). It’s easy to suppose how and why information literacy programs are successful or not; it’s another thing to really study what’s happening in a quantitative manner.

One interesting takeaway from their presentation was their use of a statistician to analyze the substantial data their surveys were generating. You can’t merely collect information — it needs to be analyzed in a meaningful way. Sometimes it is best to bring in an outside expert instead of relying on in-house staff. Their statistician was able to model their data in several dimensions and changed their whole perspective on the information they had gathered — and saved the time and energy of the librarians themselves.

The presenters — Susan Jackson, Karin Griffin and Carol Perruso, all of CSULB — also provided extensive survey details in the form of handouts, including a timeline, survey questions, and project budget. While the survey will run for several years yet, I’m looking forward to their eventual results and what it will teach us about what works and what doesn’t, and how research behavior is evolving.

Working With a Campus Assessment Coordinator

Another example of using outsider expertise came from the presentation “Upstairs-Downstairs: Working with a Campus Assessment Coordinator and Other Allies for Effective Information Literacy Assessment” by Golden Gate University librarians Amy Hofer and Margot Hanson. In this case, their outsider was really an insider: the existing GGU Campus Assessment Coordinator. Still, they were reaching outside the lines of library staff to work with someone with a campus-wide responsibility, and more importantly, an understanding of program assessment.

According to their presentation, the advice and administrative approval they got from their use of the Campus Assesment Coordinator was essential for the success of their program study, which involved the startup of a new, embedded library instruction program that moved away from “one shot” instructional sessions in favor of an ongoing, semester-long engagement with a class. Their Assessment Coordinator started by asking what a successful program actually looked like, who was the audience for their study, and suggesting the use of a control group to put the study’s findings in context. They also devised measures to test discernible improvement in actual information use, rather than relying on the students’ self-assessment of their own information literacy (in the form of traditional satisfaction surveys).

Hofer and Hanson narrowed their research by focusing on a specific segment of the GGU student body, a special program for foreign-born students developing their English-language research skills (the PLUS program). Golden Gate University has an unusually high level of international students due to its emphasis on graduate-level business programs and location in the heart of downtown San Francisco. They were able to measure student research skills based on written tests and an analysis of work performed at the beginning and at the end of the school term, and saw marked improvement in two of the three categories they measured (the hardest area to improve was the students’ choice of subject, which is a critical thinking skill that can extend beyond the library’s sphere of influence).

The Golden Gate University study was a well-orchestrated example of research that would be easier to implement than CSULB’s expensive, time-consuming longitudinal study that would still yield relevant institutional results. More information about this study, including some of the test questions and suggested further reading is available here.

The Post-Google World

The final presentation at the conference I attended was an informative workshop built around information literacy program curriculum, and improving lesson content by reverse engineering the process: start with the (desired) results, and work backwards to build your lesson plan. Korey Brunetti and Lori Townsend of CSU-East Bay were joined by Julian Prentice of Chabot College to lead this session (Let’s Try This Again: Redefining the Content of Information Literacy for a Post-Google World) that combined an initial group presentation with a workshop-style open discussion using Prezi to capture the assembled attendees’ ideas.

There were a few big concepts that emerged:

  • Keep your goals simple — reduce, reduce, reduce superfluous objectives in favor of imparting a few key, simple ideas on your students.
  • Emphasize critical thinking skills across mediums. Ultimately, the source of a citation doesn’t matter (open web vs. subscription database vs. government website etc.), it’s the quality and verifiability of that source.
  • Understand how contemporary students work and integrate better tools and critical decision-making into their existing study patterns.

This sessions’ notes and final “Prezi” will appear in the forthcoming CARL Conference Digital Proceedings.

Take-Home Lessons

I found a number of take-home lessons in this focus on information literacy programs. Beyond the simple opportunity to see how different libraries and universities are pursuing information instruction, it was instructive to see the value of both long-term and short-term research for improving existing programs, jump starting expanded programs and ultimately — and perhaps most importantly — proving the library’s enduring value to campus administrations.

Through each of these sessions were also woven excellent ideas for instruction curriculum in the 21st century; how best to capture the students’ attention and impart meaningful lessons that will actually impact their research methods in a positive way.

My next post will cover some of the career-development issues discussed at the conference, including Dr. Peter Hernon’s plenary lecture.

Information Amateurs Social Club

April 12, 2010 - 7:25 am

Back before graduation, my student colleagues and I were invited to occasional student organization sanctioned happy hours or other social events. When I met up with new Stanford metadata specialist (and former SLIS classmate) Greg Borman for a pint last month we realized we were no longer part of that network of current students, and if we wanted to approximate something similar (ie, keep in touch with our peers socially), we’d have to organize it ourselves.

Thus the idea of the Information Amateurs was born. Early career (ish) professionals getting together to swap stories and job seeking hints, all over a libation or perhaps two. This is a non-discriminatory concept;  I like breaking down silos, so public, academic or special librarians are all welcome, as are archivists, current students or various other denominations.

The first Information Amateurs Happy Hour is going to be Friday, April 30th at the Latin American Club in San Francisco’s Mission District (22nd Street at Valencia). It’s entirely possible it might be just Greg and I. Or 30 people could show up in a crowded bar. So far the invite list includes people I just met this weekend at CARL, people I haven’t run into since a class a couple years ago, some of my closest friends in the profession, and people I’ve never even met that are connected through Greg.

If you’re reading this and haven’t been invited, you’re invited. If you’re interested, contact me via the options on my “about” tab or just respond to this Facebook invitation.

If we get a big response, the Information Amateurs Social Club will officially be born.

Dissecting CARL

April 5, 2010 - 10:31 pm

We’re just a few days away from the 2010 CARL (California Academic and Research Libraries) Conference and I couldn’t be more excited. Last week, my friend and carpool partner Carolyn came over for dinner and discussion of our itinerary and figured out which presentations we most want to attend (subject to change, of course, based on recommendations and momentum once we arrive).

So I thought I’d dissect the schedule and the presentations I’m most interested in seeing. Once the event is underway I’ll tweet my live impressions, and when it’s over I’m sure I’ll post a conference wrap-up.

Thursday, April 8

The conference kicks off with AM and PM “Engage Sessions” for early birds. Since these cost extra and both Carolyn and I are on “underemployed” budgets, we decided to pass on extra out-of-pocket expenses. It’s unfortunate, since several of these presentations sound interesting, particularly “Reference Toolkit Revisited” by Amy Wallace, CARL President. I’ve been doing specialized archival reference at the California Academy of Sciences, so a good refresher on the latest tools and tricks for general reference and instruction would have been worthwhile. Perhaps I can pick Amy’s brain during some of the open conference time.

The main draw for us Thursday is the dinner program from 6-8, which promises to be a great chance to reconnect with librarians we’ve worked with in the past and make new contacts.

Friday, April 9

Friday morning is when the serious presentations begin (and the difficult choices). After an early plenary session with Dr. Peter Hernon, we have to decide between four different presentations to attend late morning, another four after lunch, and a final set of four for the early evening. The three sessions I’m leaning towards attending are as follows (and, of course, subject to change):

  • New Directions in Library Instruction: Keywords, Visual Literacy, and Critical Thinking by Matt Conner (of UC Davis). This is appealing because I consider Library Instruction to be one of my strengths as a librarian and this is an opportunity to see another professional’s perspective and deepen my own understanding of information search. My own philosophy of Instruction is pretty heavily based on what I learned working with Joe Garity and his team at USF so I’m very curious what other perspectives are out there.
  • People Make Research Guides with Jacqui Grallo, Kathlene Hanson (of CSU Monterey Bay), and Jade Winn (USC). LibGuides and similar software are becoming the dominant medium for dynamic research guides (replacing the static pathfinders of the days of yore) and getting a better understanding of how to use these tools will keep me on the cutting edge of Reference Librarianship.
  • Digging into Our “Hidden Collections”: Maximizing Staff Skills and Technology to Enhance Access to Special Collections with Elaine Franco and John Sherlock (UC Davis), Sarah Buchanan (UCLA). I may just be getting suckered into a presentation about a mystery with a fellow named Sherlock, but this sounds very compelling to me. A lot of what I’ve been doing with the California Academy of Sciences has been digging through the back cabinets to find the uncataloged, unheralded and otherwise undiscovered items in our collections. I’d love to learn about Franco, Sherlock and Buchanan’s experiences with similar work on the larger scale of a research university.

Alternatively, there is an compelling sounding presentation on information literacy assessments (AM), library research ethics (PM), and wiki-based research guides (late PM) that could draw me away from my initial choices. The Friday lunch is also exciting: CARL will be introducing the current Rockman Award winners, and it will be my chance to meet the other members of the committee.

Saturday, April 10

The final day of the conference promises to be pretty full, too. I’m less decided on my Saturday “Listen & Learn” sessions, but here is what I’m leaning towards:

  • The Library as a Student Research Site by Anna Gold (of Cal Poly-SLO). Library service always starts with the user experience. Whether you’re trying to provide access to materials, assist in locating information, or performing behind-the-scenes technical services, everything we do as librarians has to be about easing the experience of our library patrons as they seek information, a place to study, to work and to collaborate. This presentation promises to be a well-researched look at how university library users are using the tools at their disposal and how libraries can make their research goals easier to accomplish.
  • Early Career Issues in Academic Librarianship with Katherine O’Clair (Cal Poly-SLO). Well, I fit the bill. I graduated in December and am currently looking for a full-time, professional position, and this session is all about what to do when you’re in my shoes. From the presentation description, this sounds like it could be a great, open discussion, or fall flat if the audience is light and unresponsive. However, given O’Clair’s impressive curriculum vitae, I’m pretty sure she knows what she’s doing and this session will be worth attending — it has the potential to be the most useful I attend all conference.
  • Let’s Try This Again: Redefining the Content of Information Literacy for a Post-Google World by Korey Brunetti (CSU East Bay), Julian Prentice (Chabot College), and Lori Townsend (CSU East Bay). It’s pretty clear that literacy and information literacy have diverged pretty sharply in the Age of the PDF. This collaborative, workshop-style presentation is focused on determining just what the necessary research skills are in our current technology-driven environment and how to ensure university students gain that understanding.

There’s also a snazzy-sounding Saturday late afternoon presentation on LibGuides in case I miss the Thursday research guide session. Saturday lunch is also reserved for brown-bag/Dutch-treat interest groups, and I’ll be joining the Rockman Committee and award winners for lunch at Rio City Café.

All in all, I couldn’t be more excited about my first CARL conference!

On Conferences

March 29, 2010 - 8:43 pm

In 1891 the annual American Library Association conference ventured to the West Coast for the first time. The ALA came at the behest of the San Francisco Free Public Library and its director, John Vance Cheney. He had spent the greater part of the prior conference lobbying for the privilege of hosting the gathering. While San Francisco was already a sizable city – the self-proclaimed Paris of the West – it was still a far-off frontier to the East Coast American library establishment. After all, much of the region between East Coast and West – Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and the Dakotas – had only gained statehood in the two years prior, and Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona still remained territories. It took a three month round-trip for the caravan of librarians to arrive at the City by the Bay, in what sounds to me must have been a fascinating train ride (for the companionship of so many librarians, for so long, crossing a territory so vast). It must have made for quite the “pre-conference”.

The Papers and Proceedings of the ALA for 1891 and 1892 – available freely on Google Books – are filled with interesting personal and professional notes on the event, including one late night tour of subterranean Chinatown haunts (complete with Chinese opera). Librarians have been writing up accounts of their adventures for far longer than the Age of Blogging!

In 2010, the ALA Conference remains a mainstay event, but with far more than the 50 attendees of 1891 (and developed in ways that Cheney, Dewey and Windsor likely never anticipated). Meanwhile, there is an endless number of focused events a librarian can attend based on specialty, region, and various other factors. Some now take place entirely online (robbing us of the charm of the three month train trip…)

So far I’ve only dipped my toe in one library conference, the 2008 California Library Association (CLA) Conference. I was a San José State SLIS student at the time and was able to attend free of charge in return for volunteer hours at the Infopeople Booth. It was a worthy trade. I found a presentation on Zotero to be quite useful, and greatly enjoyed the keynote speakers Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. The booth time itself turned out to be a great hands-on learning experience with a variety of interesting gadgets and gizmos (with varying degrees of library-related usefulness). However, because of other commitments my time at the conference was limited.

I’ll have a more substantial conference experience with the upcoming California Academic and Research Libraries conference in Sacramento, April 8-10. I plan on attending the entire event (I’ll be commuting in each day with my friend Carolyn in lieu of the cross-country train ride). And while my experience in Sacramento may lack late night adventures in Chinese Opera, I’ll still do my best to write up accounts of my adventures on these digital pages here.