Academic Libraries, Perspective

Academic Libraries & What’s Happening Now

Böcker

It’s an exciting time to work in libraries. In many ways, libraries share a lot of features of a young industry: there’s a lot of change, a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of new ideas to sift through. There’s also a lot of enthusiasm and a willingness to change and grow to fit the current market. As a culture the ways that we interact with social institutions has, as a natural progression, changed as our needs have changed.  We access information in new ways. Students do research and study in new ways, meaning that academic libraries have had to reevaluate their priorities to better serve their users.

An important emphasis for the academic library is a physical space. As books circulate less and less and university enrollment increases, study space is at a premium. The physical building has become an important and much demanded study space. And because technology is easier to update than a building, many library spaces need to be updated and re-purposed to better serve student needs. Electrical outlets, for example, were originally installed with only vacuum cleaners in mind. But now that students unanimously use laptops, libraries have had to install hundreds more plugs. Physical books are used less and less, but student enrollment continues to climb, and study space is at a premium.

Special research collections are what make academic libraries unique and so are increasingly important. Books and database access are often duplicated between two different university libraries, while archived material is not. Having a strong research collection is an important asset for a library — it attracts researchers and funding. It allows your library to specialize in a specific brand of knowledge. GIS data mapping is another a specialized skill set that is becoming more and more important — having librarians who can work with this kind of data lends a specific skill set and specific assets to a library that set it apart and make it essential.

The Digital Humanities are also an area that is facing expansion, an area that can attract librarians and researchers with unique skills. It’s an area that people are excited about, and an area that seems likely to remain relevant for a great deal of time. However, defining and understanding what the digital humanities are is a difficult task — one that I hope to explore soon in another post.

Working so that the library remains a place that is useful and necessary never has been an easy job, and it never will be. But it’s a job that is essential: we are entitled to knowledge and access to that knowledge — in fact, as citizens of a democracy, it is essential.  And change, especially widespread, fast-paced change, is terrifying. But it’s also inevitable. Perhaps most importantly, what libraries are doing now is setting a precedent for the future of libraries — and that precedent might not be specific methods or procedures. The precedent might be as simple as innovate or face irrelevance. As librarians, we have a there is a choice. It’s easy to cling to old ways and sink into oblivion. It’s much harder to be innovative and creative and come up with new ways to meet the needs of your patrons. But it’s also much more interesting, much more useful, and much more fun.

I have the privilege to be working in an academic library at a large research university in Southern Ontario for the next eight months. I hope to use this blog to explore my experiences and thoughts during my time in this position. Please note that the views expressed here are my personal views and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, intentions, plans or strategies of my employer.

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Perspective

Makerspaces in the Public Library

The Edmonton Public Library is incredibly inspiring. Their makerspace is beautiful, innovative, and (by all appearances) functional.

But Linda Cooks’ remarks (in the video above, at 1:36) about the decline of circulation are naturally a source of some anxiety. What is happening to the traditional library? What does the future hold?

It’s hard to ignore: the information landscape is changing, and libraries along with it. Library users are “increasingly viewed as customers in a marketplace” (D’Angelo, 1). Give the people what they want! Or they might go elsewhere! It’s a mentality that has been passed down from the shopping malls, from Chapters-Indigo, from Amazon. But it’s also one that is increasingly prevalent. People readily identify themselves as consumers.  Consumers are motivated by excitement. Services like coffee shops and pop-ups are exciting. Espresso book machines are exciting. It’s a hard trend to fight.

Tod Colgrove’s article, “Editorial Board Thoughts: Libraries as Makerspace” (published in Information Technology and Libraries in March 2013) was incredibly encouraging. Colgrove presents the idea of a makerspace as a way to revitalize the library as a center of learning, as a way to build “users’ literacies across multiple domains and [function as] a gateway to deeper engagement” (Colgrove, 2).

Our last class ended with a heated debated about gendered spaces in the library. The contention that makerspaces tend to be predominantly male (and whether or not that would discourage other patrons from using the space) is one that deserves consideration. While it’s wonderful that some have never experienced discomfort based on their gender, I think it is naïve to consider that gendered spaces are no longer an issue. I also think it is fatalistic to think that there is nothing we can do to change that. As was also mentioned during our class discussion, women and children have used the library space for years for crafts and games. Why not extend these kinds of resources to include the entire library? Change is coming, and we have to be prepared to meet it and make changes of our own.

As the business model that libraries subscribe to changes, that as budgets are re-written, the way the library operates will change. Change is inevitable. And as it comes we have to be aware of changing trends in the library. Awareness doesn’t mean stagnation. It doesn’t mean becoming irrelevant. It means keeping our eyes open and making sure that libraries, as a public institution, continue to meet our mandate, whatever that may be. For a public library, this typically means a commitment to free and open access for all. Changes mean we must constantly be prepared to create new policies and decide on the new customs of the new library. I don’t see an expiration date on the concept of the public library. It’s important to remember, “technology merely gives management the tools to carry out its policies” (D’Angelo, 1). How can we continue to meet the mandate of public service that has already been set? Catering to digital literacy and having access to the kind resources that makerspaces can provide is certainly one way. The EDL is a great example of a library that is forging ahead, working hard to meet its mandate in a changing landscape. Anyone in their brave footsteps should proceed, but take care to do so with caution, with their eyes open. Libraries have the power to make a real impact on people’s lives.

References

Colgrove, Ted. “Editorial Board Thoughts: Libraries as Makerspace?” Information Technology and Library. (2013): 2-5. Web. 7 Feb. 2014.

D’Angelo, Ed. Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library: How Postmodern Consumer Capitalism Threatens Democracy, Civil Education and the Public Good. 1. Sacremento, CA: Library Juice Press, 2006. Print.

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Perspective, YA Posts

At the Guelph Public Library

Out of necessity, I visited the Guelph Public Library’s downtown branch.  Though I’m not a member, the reference librarian was very helpful and accommodating. She signed me into a computer and helped me print my readings for school.

Since beginning the MLIS program, it is impossible for me to enter a library and not try picture myself working there. I was (pleasantly) surprised to find that each floor had its own reference desk. I was also surprised by how young the librarians were, as I’ve been told time and time again that many librarians are due to retire soon.

After my readings were printed, I set off to explore the library.  The top floor of the library was brighter and more colourful than the other floors of the library. It took me a moment to realize that I was in the children’s section.  Worrying suddenly that I was very obviously out of place, I approached the desk, trying to think of a reason to be there. After I asked for a stapler, the librarian took out a small plastic box of office supplies and, unsmiling, carefully watched me staple my readings. Apart from being a little uncomfortable, it was also a stark contrast to the academic library where I work, where staplers, hole punches, and scissors are always available and always being replaced. It was a good reminder that public libraries exist for different reasons and prioritize difference services. I was very impressed by the programming the library offered. Displayed on a big calendar, it was clear that the staff were making an effort to reach out to teens and young adults as well as children.

The city is in the planning process for a new downtown branch – after looking carefully at the library, it’s obvious why. The current building is older and overflowing. The space is well used but crowded. It was mid-day on a Thursday and there was only one available seat on the main floor. The table I eventually settled at was smushed between computer work stations, microfilm readers, a battery recycle bin, as well as the Guelph Mercury archives.

Though the children’s area was by far the brightest and most open, I felt uncomfortable settling down to study there. What if I was violating some unspoken rule? What if someone asked me to leave? I left and heading back down to the main floor.  In retrospect, I wonder what it was exactly that made me feel so uncomfortable.  Maybe it was the unfriendly librarian? Maybe it was just the bright décor that made it obvious that the area was intended for younger library users. I find it very interesting that the effort made to encourage one group of users has the opposite effect on another group.

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Perspective

(No) Social Media On My Blog

 

You may have noticed that I don’t have any social media presence(s) linked to this blog: no Facebook, no Twitter, no Pinterest. I have decided that in the interest of keeping this blog as professional as possible, I will not be trying to reach my readers on any other platform.Layout 1

This choice has been the result of a great deal of careful thought. This blog was created as a platform to establish a professional identity for myself as an MLIS student, an identity that I hope will continue after I graduate and become a librarian or information professional. This site is a place for me to express myself professionally, and not a place to post pictures of my dog and complain that I dislike my most recent haircut.

There is a time and a place for selfies and rants, and this is not it.

The choice to link my Facebook or Twitter account to this blog would necessitate serious curation of my current (and past) posts on those sites. Alternatively, I could create a separate account under a pseudonym. At the present time, I can’t see how this would enhance my site. I want this site, and by extension my online professional presence, to display critical thinking and thoughtful opinions. WordPress, as a platform, works well with my goals for my online presence. My posts and my readership are simple and humble enough that I don’t feel that the immediate gratification of Twitter would do much to improve communication with my readers.

In addition, I feel that as it is, social media already uses enough of my time. To be perfectly frank, I would rather be outside. Or reading a good book. Or, best case scenario, outside with a good book.

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Beautiful Libraries, Perspective

Information Access & Why It Matters

I belong to one of the first generations to grow up with computers. The Digital Age shaped my childhood, my adolescence, and continues to shape my life: I do not remember a time before the Internet.  Compared to previous generations, I have spent my whole life with an unconsciously high degree of computer literacy.  Perhaps because of this fact, I have always accepted both computers and access to the web as a way of life, I never considered the theoretical implications of access to information until I discovered the opportunity to study information sciences.   I realized that although I have always been privileged with access to information.   This is not a universal reality, even for people in my own community.  It is my desire that as librarian I can act as an integral link between the public and information.

Initially, Michael Buckland’s categories of information seem self-evident: information-as-thing is required for the process of informing, which in turn is required for information-as-knowledge. However, unlike Buckland, I never separated the tangible from the intangible, the carrier from the content.  This distinction is important: the carrier must be available and accessible for the content to be available.  Just because the information exists does not mean that those who need it have access to it.  The basic purpose of a library is to enable open access to information. I believe that it is incredibly important to understand how and why information is organized and that access to information is essential. When you consider the wealth of information available online, it seems overwhelming. I chose to remain in an academic environment in order to better my understanding of how information can be accessed, obtained, and used. It is my goal to use this understanding to inform and educate the public with the ability to inform themselves.

In order to educate and inform themselves, the public must first have access to the information they need. As information professionals, librarians have a special understanding of information access. It is the profession’s responsibility to make sure the rights surrounding intellectual freedom (and access to information) are protected. These rights are an integral part of democratic rights as citizens. Intellectual freedom and access to information are important issues, and as such need professional advocates. The grave error of conflating neutrality with professionalism has barred the librarianship from their desired status as professionals. Professional neutrality is not only impossible, but also counterproductive for the librarian profession. The concept of a professional obligation of social responsibility (as critiqued by David Berninghausen) is equally ineffectual. In order to receive respect as professionals, librarians must advocate for library values. In order to be effective advocates, they must have clearly defined values. The profession must stand behind the professional definition of their values and defend them, not only because it is their mandate as professionals and as citizens, but, more importantly, because these values have immense societal value.

My decision to pursue a Master’s in Library and Information Sciences reflects my belief in the importance of access to information and my desire to understand and organize information so that it is readily available for everyone.  The advancements Digital Age should not present a hindrance or confusion but rather more open accessibility to information.  Information as a commodity should not be expensive. It is a commodity that should be widely available and open for all. It is a commodity that is a privilege but should be a right. My goal as a librarian is to inform and connect users with the information that they need and the ability to process and pursue the information that they need.

BDP Photography graciously granted me permission to use his beautiful images of this library. To see the rest in the series, and to see more of his work, please click here.

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Perspective

Libraries: A Historical Perspective

Libraries are ancient institutions. The concept of an information organization is one that has existed for thousands of years, well before the existence of books or the printed word. Necessarily, information organizations and their priorities have shifted with the times. Because they deal with knowledge, information organizations cannot be separated from the broader political, economic, social, and technological context that surround them.  To watch this video, originally produced in 1947, it doesn’t seem like much has changed. At least, not at first.

Libraries still begin with working with people. The video announces this, and it remains true: libraries serve people who are young and old, people who are from all stations of life.  The first requirement, as the video details, is a love for people and a love for books.  As far as I can see, this is still true. Reader’s Advisory is alive and well (and so much fun)! However,  for the modern library, some kind of IT knowledge is also needed. Librarians need to work a computer, operate search engines and databases, and have a good degree of competence with certain software.

It is still true that librarians serve a wide audience; they might work in rural areas, in busy urban centers, in the far North or in a slow suburban town. (The video even makes mention of bookmobiles – do these still exist? I certainty hope so.) As the video says, there are still many different types of libraries, each with their own special characteristics.

The video breaks different role of librarians into categories: catalogers, reference, circulation, working with children, working in a school.  All of these positions still exist today. It mentions collection development and special competencies, outlining administrative positions and technical roles, all of which remain important roles in the modern library. Even though the technology has changed, the end goal, improvement of service to library users, is the same.  It is true today that librarians are always developing new resources and new visual materials, working with new technology.

A bookmobile! Image from knottcountylibrary.com

A bookmobile! They do exist! Image from knottcountylibrary.com

One notable anachronism is the purported need for ‘thousands’ of trained librarians. Our economy has created conditions that are far from ideal.  The job search for new graduates in competitive and scary, based on what I’ve heard. Otherwise, based on this video, it seems easy to conclude that librarianship hasn’t changed much. But one of the aspects of librarianship that is most attractive to me is missing for this video: community involvement and political advocacy for information access are also crucial aspects of being a librarian. Both are necessary to keep the profession relevant. Both allow librarians to work as an important part of a community. I feel strongly that librarians should not remain neutral on political issues, especially those pertaining to a library context; namely, anything surrounding information access and intellectual freedom. Samuel Trosow’s perspective on open access is an excellent example of how political advocacy can (and should) be exercised by information professionals. Click here to read his ideas about open access and further explore his blog.*

This video promises that a library career is secure, challenging, and rewarding.  It advertises a competitive salary and assures you, as a librarian, it satisfying to feel that your work is valuable and essential. I don’t think much of that has changed, and I’m really looking forward to it. I cannot wait to become a librarian.

*Librarians and political neutrality is a topic I intend to explore in a later post. It may be obvious that I feel strongly that librarians and other information professionals should be active politically. To read a perspective that advocates for neutrality, check out Candise Branum’s excellent blog post, found here.

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Perspective

Why I Chose Library School

Ongoing social and technological transformation means that the way we approach information is constantly changing.  In light of this rapid change, it is essential to understand how to access and organize records and documents.  Access to this information is a fundamental aspect of learning and a necessary component of education.  Completing a Masters of Information will enable me to work toward my goal of finding a career that is rewarding and important. I believe that libraries provide an essential service to the community and feel that, considering my passion for knowledge and learning, a career as a librarian would be rewarding and worthwhile.

library feetMy choice to pursue a degree in English literature reflects one of my first passions: reading books. I love stories and words. Working in a library setting would allow me close proximity to books and reading, as well as a way to share them with a wider community.  In addition to traditional books, I am an advocate for non-traditional forms of reading and writing: the last twenty years have produced an onslaught of Web-based reading from outlets such as online newspapers and magazines, personal and professional blogs, and online book publishing.  It is important to be able to understand and access this kind of information and to enable others to do the same. Another task that I feel particularly drawn to is the preservation of material, in particular the preservation of books and documents for future generations.  This may be in part because I feel strongly about the importance of research.  My undergraduate experience has taught me the necessity of solid research: without research, it is impossible to understand concepts properly and it is impossible to learn.  As technology becomes more advanced, the nature of research and learning shifts.  As a librarian, one must understand new research systems and be able to pass this knowledge to others.  The organization of information is an essential service, especially considering recent advancements in technology.  New technology is a fascinating concept. It is important to learn and be able to control technology as it changes and grows. As our technology changes, organizing and controlling information on the Internet becomes even more important.

During my time at King’s University College, I became an active member of my school’s community. As a member of a small community, I have learned to appreciate the value and importance of both teamwork and volunteering. Great things can be accomplished when solid teamwork and passion come together.

After completing my Masters of Information, I hope to pursue a career working in public libraries. I would enjoy running classes or other programming for seniors, or giving instruction about technology.  I intend to organize programming for children, events such as story time, crafts and special workshops. I am drawn to the idea of helping people to connect to stories they will enjoy and knowledge that they will find useful.  Fostering a love of reading in children is incredibly important. I feel strongly that providing resources for those who cannot otherwise afford them is an essential service.

A library provides support for community groups and clubs. It is a place for people to meet and connect. Belonging to and supporting a community is an aspect that I find particularly appealing. I believe strongly in the importance of investing time into your own community. Working together, it is possible to make a true difference. Although libraries will change as technology changes, they remain traditional in the sense that they are a centre for a community. A library is a public place intended for learning. A library is very important to the community it serves; a library is a special environment, a welcoming place that fosters knowledge and literacy in its community.  My passions for education, knowledge and community service can all be realized working in as a librarian.

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