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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Into the future

I wrapped up all the grading today and read lots of discussion posts, news posts, and more. What an amazing experience to see how you all learned so much this semester about libraries and information. 

I'll be looking through the rest of your reflective journals this week and making some additional comments. You'll want to check back on BB Learn next week so see what I've written.  

Mostly I want to say thanks for being such an amazing class, challenging me to make library science interesting and relevant.  There's something special about information and books and learning that titillates my curiosity and makes me want to know more about the world around us, past, present, and future. 
Challenge yourselves to learn about information systems, books, technology, access points and all the other foreign and intriguing subjects that make libraries, archives, and museums the repository of the past and the present.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Other Reading and Loose Ends

The course ends today so you probably have time on your hands.


If you are looking for something to read or more to learn about our cultural institutions, Gorman is a great librarian to read. He's been influential within librarianship. Since he's been around for a while, it's great for me to see you all connecting with what he says about technology and the role of librarians. Michael Gorman, Our Enduring Values: Librarianship in the 21st Century (Chicago: ALA, 2000).


Some other books you might encounter along the way are Marilyn Johnson’s This Book is Overdue! :How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (NY: Harper, 2010). It was reviewed on NPR  March 5, 2010 “How Librarians Can Save The World”


Nancy Pearl, Book Lust: recommended reading for every mood, moment, and reason (Berkeley, CA: Sasquatch Books ; Distributed by Publishers Group West,2003) provides a wonderful list of books to explore when you need that next great read.


No Shelf Required is a blog moderated by Sue Polanka, Head of Reference/Instruction, Wright State University Libraries and Editor of ALA Editions., The books No Shelf Required: Ebooks in Libraries, (Chicago: ALA, 2010) and No Shelf Required 2 (Chicago: ALA, 2012) discussions of new technologies, libraries, publishing, and everything in between?


Then check out Dquarium, a collection of audio and video podcasts hosted by Kayhan B., Erin Anderson and Doug Mirams. Bibliotech podcasts


And for an amazing look at corporate libraries in the 1950s was referenced in Tyckoson's talk.  “Desk Set” staring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Classic about computers replacing librarians, or do they?


Digital Challenges For U.S. Public Libraries (June 21, 2010) discussing the 2009-2010 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation study of libraries for ALA.  

Enjoy these selections, and look for other posts as I continue to explore the world of library and information science after the semester ends.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Microfilm & "copies on demand"

If you were fascinated by microfilm, you should take a look at Eugene B. Power’s Edition of one : the autobiography of Eugene B. Power founder of University Microfilms (Ann Arbor, MI : University Microfilms International, 1990). In his autobiography, he recounts not only the history of microfilm, but the idea of ‘copies on demand’, printing out a copy of a book, dissertation, or other type of publication when the patron asked for it.  What I find most fascinating about Power’s idea of ‘copies on demand’ is that publishing companies have adopted that model and it is actively mimicked today. Just look at Google Books on demand, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others who offer to print out a book for you even if it is not currently in print. Streaming video and audio follows the same basic principle, as do digital downloads of e-books and e-audiobooks. Eugene Power’s 1930s idea is still alive and well in this century and into the foreseeable future.


I'm a big fan of microfilm and microfiche as a preservation tool and as a method of accessing older materials. There's a lot of microfilm in our cultural institutions. While microfilm has been displaced by digital resources, there are still many titles that survive only in this film based format. If you have not used microfilm, check it out. Every librarian and archivist should know how to use the machines and to navigate this medium. I'll leave my ruminations about microfilm here, because I have more to say to my preservation students this summer about the topic.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Libraries as Place within our Communities


Today is the ides of March and I am thinking of my college days when I read Julius Caesar and the other noble Romans. The library at my alma mater has a huge collection of materials where I felt welcome to study and explore the world of books.


The place of libraries in society is ever changing. As I study the history of libraries throughout this Foundations course, I see the building and organization evolve from a place where people shared ideas and philosophies, to one for self-education, to a social place. Libraries are no longer those quiet havens for the thinker but the noisy hub for joint projects and group learning. Evolution occurs whether we want it to or not. But if we don't embrace the change, we get left behind.


At the same time, there are many students who want quiet places to study. Every time I enter the elevator at the library, I see students seeking the upper floors where there are still study carrels and quiet nooks where they can concentrate or work uninterrupted. Good for them. I often wonder how students can study and be productive around all the noise. Then again, I need quiet to read and concentrate on what I am trying to absorb. When I was a student, I had my secret places where I studied in the library. They were tucked into forgotten corners of the building. I could work there for hours without interruption. When I wanted to study in a social environment, there was a huge room where I could go, find a snack (the only place you could eat in the library), and be amidst my fellow students.


I’m reading the new book by Susan Cain Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking (NY: Crown Publishers, 2012). The author is fascinated by introverts and extroverts. While reading her introduction, I wonder if study habit (quiet place vs. study commons) is connected with this personality type. This book is an interesting study of people who prefer quiet over noisy social and work environments, who would rather read a book than go to a party. Since this personality trait seems to run through many librarians, Quiet is important to read so we understand how to make ourselves and other introverts comfortable in today’s society of extroverts.


Place will become more important over time and libraries are in the right place to give students place and space to study and grow. With the current trend of library as noisy place, as social and meeting place, it is important to set aside spaces for those who revel in quietude.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Don’t let technology rule your life

You all struggled and ruminated over the role of technology in the library and the way it takes over your life. Most of all I think that this issue revolves around how librarians and information scientists interact with technology. Does it rule your life or do you use it as a tool? If you looked at Postman’s Technopoly, this question will be pop into your minds. Technostress falls into the same category as the role of technology in your professional lives. Is the technology so stressful that you are no longer productive, because you jump from site to site, from task to task without being able to focus on any idea, thought or notion for any period of time?


David Levy, an important librarian and scholar, thinks and writes seriously and deeply about information and research. He is concerned, along with Grafton and Darnton, about the loss of our abilities to focus and to think deeply. See David M. Levy "CONTEMPLATING SCHOLARSHIP IN THE DIGITAL AGE"


I agree that deep thinking and the ability to focus are important skills to cultivate. As librarians, we must be able to concentrate on the questions before us and to focus on retrieving the essential information, winnowing out the less important "noise" or data. Some might call this active listening, but it is more than that, it is focusing on the entire question during the reference interview, not jumping to work on the question before the patron is finished talking. Master this skill of focus and attentive listening and you will be on your way to being an effective reference librarian.


Technostress is more than the juggling projects and actions. It is the inability to focus on information or projects for more than a few seconds or minutes at a time. Your attention span becomes so fragmented that nothing is accomplished. One way to combat technostress is to unplug from technology, for minutes, hours, or even a day. You have to start small to break away from an addiction to technology, so start with 15 minutes every few hours, or disconnect during lunch instead of surfing the web. Take time on the weekends or your day off to get away from the computer and the web. Just unplug. Instead take the time to talk to friends, take a walk, read a book. You will be surprised at how well you can focus when your attention is not pulled in different directions. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

So you want to be an academic librarian?: Part II

Continuing my previous post on what it is really like becoming an academic librarian, today’s post will follow up on the job search process and take you up to the point of starting your first professional job.

As I reflected on my last post, I thought of more information that some of you may find valuable soon as you begin to explore the jobs that are currently out there.  I strongly suggest starting a preliminary job search now as you begin your time in SLIS.  Why?  Because it may help you narrow down a direction to take, and it will give you insight into how the market is faring.

I started library school at a very unfortunate time.  August 2008.  And while I see it as a blessing that I was living back with my parents and going to school, so having a steady income/job was not a necessity or even my prerogative at first, by the time I graduated a year later the job market had completely tanked.  In the fall of 2009 there were no jobs to even apply for, and the few jobs that appeared on the market often disappeared as hiring freezes went into effect at the start of 2010.  I had two phone interviews in early 2010 that both pulled the jobs after a hiring freeze around February.  I didn't have any more interviews and few jobs to even apply for until late summer.  So consider yourselves lucky in that the job market has improved, albeit slowly and not enough to account for the grossly high numbers of new librarians being pumped out of library schools nationwide, but at least today there are jobs being posted.

It will also help you become familiar with the types of positions, what is expected in them, and what qualifications are needed.  If you’re seeing an influx of jobs that are librarian/web developer, perhaps you should look into taking a programming class or web design class.  Again, you are in charge of how you can best market your skills and your experiences.  The right job is not just going to come to you.  This is an active job market, and if you’re not actively searching and actively improving you don’t stand a chance.  The status quo is over.

Librarian status:
One of the things that I immediately noticed when I started my job search was the vast array of classifications of librarians found in academia.  And I’m not saying that one is necessarily better than another.  However, there are some things you should understand and be aware of as you start looking.

Tenure-track faculty
Some large research libraries (Tier 1 schools are almost exclusively in this category – surprisingly, except Columbia!) classify their librarians as tenure-track faculty.  The major benefit of this is of course the safety net associated with tenure.  This is especially important if you are seeking a long-term position.

The caveat of tenure-track is that it almost universally requires a 2nd masters degree.  Thus, if you do not already have a 2nd masters either you are not qualified to apply for these jobs, or for some positions they will hire you at an Instructor level and you are required to obtain a subject masters within a certain number of years.

Basically the allure of tenure-track is having equal rank as instructional faculty, where you are designated as “professor” and have the rights and privileges that go with that.   The downfall is that, while not as intense as departmental faculty, there is an extent of “publish-or-perish”, in that there is a much stricter criteria and set of accomplishments that you must reach before you can gain tenure.

It is not uncommon in the upper echelon of schools to see job descriptions preferring candidates with PhDs in their respective field, on top of a MLIS.  This I found was especially prevalent in the hard sciences among the Ivy League institutions.

Non-tenure track faculty
The majority of research libraries will designate their librarians in this category.  They still have faculty-rank in terms of benefits (retirement, insurance, vacation), but they are not on tenure-track.  Some schools have their entire faculty on non-tenure track, whereas others have a combination.  If a job description does not list what the faculty is, most likely it will be non-tenure track faculty or some other similar connotation.

My position here is that of an “Officer of the Library”.  Basically Columbia has their professional-rank staff as “officers” – officers of administration, instruction (professors), research, and libraries.  And while my position does not involve tenure, it does include an analogous system of promotion.  I was hired as a Librarian I – i.e. junior rank faculty.  There is a system of promotion that goes from Librarian I to IV, where the final rank is very rare and involves significant involvement outside of the library world as well as within it.  During the hiring process they were looking to fill the position with either someone who would come in as a Librarian I or II, where a Librarian II would have had probably 1-3 years of professional experience.

Some academic institutions, especially those attempting to break collective bargaining on campus, hire librarians as professional staff.  And depending on the institution that can be anywhere from having equal benefits as faculty, to being a completely lower class of professional.  The major concern with this is when you do not have faculty status, it can be difficult to gain respect from the faculty with whom you are supposed to be supporting.  It’s a benefit of being a tenured librarian to be able to throw back to an arrogant professor that you too are a professor, equal to them, and thus deserve respect.

My opinion on these types of jobs are they can be used as a great stepping stone to gaining experience to land that better job in the future, but they are not necessarily the environment that will support you farther into your career.  Likely even if the basic benefits are the same, the more academic fringe benefits will be lacking…such as financial support to attend conferences and being active in the field of librarianship outside of your own institution.

Location, location, location:

I openly admit that this could have been what led me to having such a long drawn out job search.  18 months.  And with my qualifications, that seemed exceptionally long.  However, after an on-campus interview early on in the heart of the Midwest, I realized that I could never be happy in that environment.  I’m sorry, but a 4-hour round trip drive to the nearest shopping mall is NOT okay for me!  I needed to be in a bustling urban environment.  I also needed to have a support system in place – be it friends or family nearby, especially during the first transitional months.  And when push came to shove, I wanted to be in a location that I was going to be happy.  So with that criterion finally in place, I realized that I really should only be applying for jobs in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions…New York, Boston, Washington/Baltimore, Chicago, Philly, etc.

However, at the same time I came to accept early on that the chances of landing a job in Cleveland were slim-to-none.  If you’re a native NE Ohioan, I’m telling you, if you refuse to relocate, you will NOT get a job.  The market is just too bad and too over-saturated (with people also holding degrees from KSLIS - not a way to stand out needless to say!).  There are librarians with significant professional experience unemployed and fighting over the few hard to come by entry-level jobs.

Yes my decision did limit me in the jobs I could/would apply for.  And I suppose when I look back now I realize that I had the fiscal abilities to be picky…I had a job (and several more under the table), I was living at home paying minimal rent to my parents, and I was back on my parents insurance thanks to health care reform.  Not all of you do or will have such a luxury.  And if you do not this might be advice you will be better off ignoring.  But if you have the time to be picky, don’t settle for less than what you believe will make you happy.  I had learned from past experience that certain environments are not conducive for me to thrive.  And I make a point not to find myself in those environments again.

Some say you can handle anything for 2 years...though I think it's different if you are married with a family versus single.  And yes, it’s true that it’s significantly easier to get a job once you have a job.  But I’m young and to me wasting 2 of my best 20-something years lonely and unhappy was not what I signed up for.

I also had the qualifications to be picky.  I had two-dozen phone interviews and eight on-campus interviews.  I only applied for 40 jobs.  I knew that I was going to get a job, it was, as I realized later, all about that fit when it came to on-campus interviews.  Bottom line: if you are not even landing phone interviews, it’s time to stop being picky.

  But if you routinely get to the phone interview stage, you can probably afford to be a bit pickier.

This is an important thing I should have mentioned in my last post but I forgot.  The key to references is a) make sure they are going to say GOOD things about you!!!, and b) that they provide a well-rounded view of you as a person and a candidate.

The first point seems obvious, but I’ve heard stories and know of people who have asked a professor to write a letter of recommendation for them or act as a reference and either they do not write good recommendations, or they hesitate for one reason or another.  Most professors with some degree of ethics will turn down writing a recommendation for a student who they do not feel they can honestly support, however not all will.  Make sure that the people you are asking to be a reference actually know you/remember you and have a reason to say positive things about you.  The last thing you need is a reference that questions your skills or doesn’t know enough about you to speak highly of you.

The second point is less obvious, but equally important in my eyes.  I had 4 references that I used for my job search. One was a biology professor from college who I had for several classes, and was a TA for one of her labs.  She also was my pseudo-advisor, since my actual advisor had little time to actually advise his advisees.  Another was Miriam.  She was my one professor from KSLIS, and she was able to speak for me as a student in her classes, but also as someone who helped do some research for her on the side, and she got to know me as an individual.  My third was my boss from Massillon Public Library.  And my last reference was my mentor from my practicum at CWRU.  I attempted to cover as many bases of my professional personality as I could, showing my academic knowledge in two distinct fields and work ethic, but also my teaching skills, my research skills, and who I am as a person.  Finding references that see you in various roles is imperative to providing a search committee with a clear and well-rounded view of who you are.  If all of your references are professors from KSLIS, all they are going to be able to speak from is your academic knowledge in one area.

Sometimes references are contacted for letters of recommendation immediately after you apply.  Other times references are contacted for letters prior to initial or on-campus interviews.   

Sometimes they're not contacted at all.  But not matter when/if they are contacted you need to make sure they ADD something to your application and to your candidacy.  If they are only going to regurgitate your CV, that's not enough.  They need to be able to speak from personal experience.  This is why it's important to build networking contacts, get to know your professors, and do a practicum.  All of these things, all of these people, can and will make your reference list.  And if you are a more recent college graduate, having someone from your undergraduate program, can often broaden the spectrum of your talents.  For those who are coming up on college reunions, this probably isn't going to be beneficial.  But find prior employers who can speak for your work ethic and your attitude, etc.

The waiting game…again:
It just wouldn’t be an exciting job search if there weren’t another round of waiting!!  After your on-campus interview you will likely have been given a time-line as to when the search committee hopes to make a decision.  Whatever time they give you, double it.  If they say a week, it will be at least 2 weeks.  If they say two weeks, it will probably be more like 3-4 weeks.  This is just a fact of life in academia.  Once you’ve sent out your thank you notes, you’re done.  All you can do is sit back, bite your nails, and consume way too many pints of Ben & Jerry’s while you refuse to talk to anyone else on the phone for fear that they might call when you’re on the phone! (Or maybe that was just my job search….).  Either way, you’re probably a wreck by this point.  And I can’t tell you don’t be, because of course you will.

Depending on the school, there are various methods of carrying out their end of this final process.  Some schools contact references early on for letters of recommendation.  Most do not cold-call references early on.  However, if you are in the final 3 or 4 invited for on-campus interviews it’s possible that your references may be called.  Sometimes if there is disagreement in which candidate a committee wants to extend an offer to, if there are two viable contenders, the committee will contact both candidates references to try and put the odds in favor of one or the other candidate. I’ve found that most institutions, however, only call references when they have chosen their leading candidate.  So the references are just the final step to make sure you’re not a sociopath, etc.  Sometimes they will not let you know they are contacting references, so making sure that your references are keeping you informed can be helpful for your own sanity.  Other times they will contact you to inform you that you are the leading candidate and get permission to contact references.  The latter was how it went with my current job.  And while I sighed a huge sigh of relief, I wasn’t out of the clear yet.  I still didn’t have an informal, let alone a formal offer.

If you do not hear from a school for 6-8 weeks after your interview, it's likely that you are not being considered anymore.  It's your choice to contact them.  Perhaps there was a hold on the hiring.  It can possibly ease your mind.  I never was the one to put myself into a position to be shot down, so I typically erred on the side of not contacting.  Especially, because the likelihood of getting any constructive criticism/feedback on your interview is slim.  Most committees can't give you that information.  Or they choose not to.  This has just been my observation from people I know who have contacted institutions for feedback after they get the rejection letter.  In most cases, it wasn't you or anything you did.  It was just that the competition was so fierce, and the person they chose was more qualified, had more education, or something more political.  Like an internal candidate.

Things that can go bad:
It's not uncommon for institutions to throw out a search.  Sometimes none of the invited candidates were what they were looking for.  Other times there are budget issues that come into play when a decision goes to the upper administration.  I had two on-campus interviews that I know for sure they did not hire anyone.  In one case they informed me, and the job was reposted several months later - in this case the job description had been so poor that none of the candidates (myself included) likely realized what they actually wanted.  The second time around, someone was hired...interestingly enough it was a fellow KSLIS grad who got the job.  In the other case they did not inform me, and it took 8 months to get an automatic canned rejection letter from HR.  The job also was reposted.  I don't think anyone has been hired for this job, it just keeps getting posted and reposted.

Again, this is another reason why it's good to start perusing the job postings now.  You will notice things, red flags, warnings, that you may not be open to seeing when you're deep into the job search.  A major red flag would be an institution that seems to constantly be hiring for the same/similar positions.  Why?  Because it likely means there is high turnover.  High turnover is a sign of discontent.  Other times you will notice the same job always posted but never filled.  This can be a sign that that institution is just putting feelers out and has no intention of really hiring.

The offer:

In academia, there is typically an informal offer where the head of the committee, an administrator, or sometimes the dean will call you and tell you that they wish to extend an offer to you.  This may be where they first inform you of a salary.  If it is over the phone it’s still up for negotiation.  Do not feel pressured to respond right away unless you want to.  Asking for 24-48 hours to think about it is not unreasonable.  This is especially important if you have another interview in the wings or are waiting to hear back about another job.

Having an informal offer in your hand though, gives you significant bargaining power if there is another job that you would like more.  Calling the other institution, informing them that you have received an offer but that they are your top choice can expedite a search on that other institution’s end.  Some will respond, go ahead and take that offer.  This is usually a nice way of saying you’re out of the running already and are not being considered anymore.  I’ve heard stories of people being offered a job on the spot from the other institution, but don’t expect that.  What this does is several things.  It forces them, if you are still in contention, to make a decision.  And it also gives you an edge.  It’s like playing hard to get, there is something attractive about a candidate that they might lose.  All of the sudden they start thinking, well if that school wanted this person, perhaps we do too!  And I’ve even heard of playing with fire if you know that the two schools are rivals, that name-dropping can be effective.  One thing a department doesn't want is for their rival to get someone they could have had...sometimes even if you weren't their top candidate, there's something ultimately thrilling about stealing!  Though I don’t necessarily advocate this, especially as a newly minted librarian.  This is a common tactic in academic departments and with tenured faculty.  It’s not a game for someone new to be playing.

Negotiating a salary.  This is probably the scariest part of the job offer.  It’s imperative to do your homework and determine what the “going rate” is in that location for a librarian at your level.  If the school is falling far below this average, especially if it falls below standards of acceptable living, this may be a red flag.  If it’s average, my advice is to air on the side of caution when you negotiate.  While it might be a pain for them to go backtrack if you ask for a salary over what they initially offer, if you overshoot too much it might end up that way.  Often they will tell you during the interview what the salary range is and state that it’s not negotiable.  If they say this, they usually mean it, and unless there is an extremely serious concern with what the offer is, take it.

Once you’ve established a salary and an informal offer has been determined, you will get a formal offer in the mail that you have to sign.  This is essentially signing your contract.  Until this paper is signed you’re not scotch free.  There have been instances where an informal offer has been agreed and then something happens.  If you have another job offer, don't decline it until you have a FORMAL OFFER!!  Also, don't not apply/interview for other jobs.

Salaries, benefits, and more:
Salaries are a funny thing.  Well, not really, they’re a necessity, but the funny thing is they have absolutely no correlation to the local cost of living.  At least not in academia.  I joke that there’s actually an inverse correlation, but that’s not really the case either.  The thing is, salaries and benefits are a way for an institution to be competitive in the job market...that’s why there’s often a disclaimer on a job posting that says something to the extent of “we offer competitive salary and benefits”, blah blah blah.  If you want the truth of what that often means, it usually means the want the best candidate they can get for the least amount of money.  Which can put you as a recent graduate in a good position.  As a low ranking faculty member, your salary will be significantly less than someone with 3-5 times more experience.  But in this job market there are highly qualified applicants willing (even eager) to take a job that pays them less than they should be asking.

And there are multiple deciding factors in how a university competes.  Some of the most obvious are institutional affiliations (ironic how we judge the academics of an institution based on the NCAA conference they are in....), prestige or reputation, funding (both in research grants and endowments), and location.  These things are not an all-or-none.  An institution is going to play up their strengths and play down their weaknesses so that they can get the best financial deal possible for them, not necessarily for you.  A well-funded research institution in the middle of nowhere may be willing to allocate more budget towards salaries in an attempts to attract the best candidates to perhaps an undesirable locale.  Compare that to a well-funded research institution in the Northeast megapolis...since attracting desirable candidates to urban locations is not a chore, they can afford to drop those salary ranges significantly, and still have a phenomenal pool of candidates to choose from.

Here’s some numbers to explain what I mean.  The average salary in New York City for an academic/research librarian is approximately $64,000 (this is not a starting salary, trust me).  The average salary in Cleveland for the same position is $41,000 (again, not a starting salary).

However, if we were to compare salaries to cost of living, $64,000 in NYC is actually equivalent to just under $30,000 in Cleveland!  So the average salary in Cleveland is significantly higher when you take into account cost of living.  $41,000 in Cleveland is actually equivalent to a little over $88,000 in New York.

Basically, people want to live in New York City.  People will take a significantly lower comparative salary to live in New York City.  In Cleveland, that’s not going to happen.  In Cleveland, and even more obvious in more rural/midwestern parts of the country, institutions have to up their salaries to entice people to want to come to work there.  What it also means is that job searching in desirable locations can mean you might end up in a job that you can’t afford to live.  I found it common in New York for some institutions to only hire local candidates (or even interview!), because they understood that what they were looking to pay is not feasible for someone who isn’t already settled...and as I put it, married to a spouse with a good-paying job!!  I interviewed for a job in NYC that was going to pay a good $15,000 less than my current salary, with no housing benefits...I literally would have been living in a cardboard box, or sleeping on the subway!!

But salary isn’t the only thing that you need to negotiate when you get a job offer.  Sometimes certain fringe benefits also require you to either negotiate, or at least stand up for yourself.  One of these things could be relocation.  The trend I noticed is that, like salary, the more undesirable the location, the more likely they are to pay for things like relocation.  I was very lucky with my job, in that I qualified because of my rank and my prior location, for faculty housing.  And while they did not pay relocation, the benefit of living in faculty housing (with sliding-scale subsidized rent), has been huge.  I was actually able to afford my own studio apartment in a safe neighborhood (close to/on campus) in Manhattan on my salary - something that would have been impossible at market value!!  However, the thing is, even though I was told I qualified for it, I was the one who had to jump through all the hoops to even find out if there was anything available.  Had I not been pushy enough to contact a half a dozen different people and be given the run-around for several weeks, I would not have had this luxury.  

I really hope that this series is giving you all some food for thought on academic librarianship.  My last post in this series is going to be a more in-depth look at what your first job in academia might look like and how to handle that transition.

As always, please email me ( with questions.  I am more than eager to answer any questions or concerns you have, and give you advice as you continue on your grad school journey.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Values & Ethics Redux

We have talked about many of these topics already, particularly in the fourth week of the course when we talked about censorship and collection development. I really wanted to provide some links on the topic, primarily to Ranganathan (1892-1972) and his five laws. If you want to read the original text, it is available at HathiTrust

I found two current articles on the topic that compliment Dr. Rubin’s take on the topic. Both articles are written by librarians and provide interesting perspectives on the role of libraries disseminating information and materials. What do you think?

Cloonan, Michele and John G. Dove. “Do digital libraries violate the Third Law?” Library Journal (April 1, 2005):


Hilary. “S. R. Ranganathan: The Five Laws of Library Science” Vulpes Libris Blog

Monday, March 5, 2012

Copyright, Fair Use, and Public Domain - Sources of information

Ah, copyright, that dreaded word and least understood concept. While we’ve all heard of copyright and how it is important, we don’t’ always understand it or consciously think about it. You can go to to find out what it means. The historical section is the most informative. and puts copyright into an historical, legal, and societal perspective. The history of copyright is fleshed out in two wonderful publications; one is an exhibit brochure from 1970 A Century of Copyright: An Exhibit , the second is a history of copyright by the historian of the Library of Congress John Y. Cole Of Copyright, Men & a National Library: Copyright in the Library of Congress 125th Anniversary . The Association of Research Libraries has a wonderful timeline of copyright laws and events

Many scholars and historians write about the nature of copyright and its impact upon the history of the book and the publishing industry.  One of the current books on the topic is Adrian Johns’ Piracy: The intellectual property wars from Gutenberg to Gates. (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Another important book on the topic is Siva Vaidhyanathan's Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity  (NY: NYU Press, 2003). While the history of the topic is very important for librarians and archivists, it’s equally important to recognize the various aspects that affect our jobs and our ability to provide materials to patrons. Copyright affects our ability to provide materials to users, from e-reserves to inter-library loan, from streaming video to movie night, and from downloadable e-books and audio books to computer software. These are just some of the services affected by copyright.

There are many items in our libraries that are in the public domain. Those items are not protected by copyright laws. In the United States, items published before 1923 are in the public domain, as are many items published by federal, state, and local government agencies. Most government documents are in the public domain, which means they can be used and modified freely. But not all of them fit within this category. That’s a question to ask a government documents librarian. Government documents produced by Britain and any of her Commonwealth countries, including Canada, are held under copyright in perpetuity. Copyright protection in other countries varies. Copyright laws are complicated and vary by country, and there are international copyright laws and protections. Talk with your legal counsel if you have questions. A comic book on the topic of fair use “Bound By Law? Tales from the Public Domain” provides a wonderful primer for understanding how copyright laws work. For guidelines as to copyright duration check out Peter Hirtle’s information Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States 1 January 2012 .

There’s a third component of copyright that many librarians need to work with or be able to identify. Fair Use is a term that’s bandied about frequently. What does it mean? It means you can copy or use an article or part of a work without asking permission from the copyright holder providing you meet these four criteria:
  1. Purpose or character of use
  2. Nature of the work
  3. The amount of the material that is used
  4. Impact on the market
Here’s a link to the description of Fair Use from the Copyright Office at LOC

ALA has a host of tools to help you with copyright, fair use and the public domain

LOC even has a blog on Copyright and Digitization

Almost every month, American Libraries prints an article or two about copyright. Librarians aren’t the only ones concerned about the topic. Archivists have an even thornier time with copyright if items in their collections were unpublished. Thank goodness there’s now a date when unpublished materials enter the public domain.

Creative commons licensing is a great alternative to traditional copyright. It puts articles, books, and more into everyone’s hands with fewer restrictions. I’m certain we’ll see even more of this option as time progresses because it is almost impossible to write and publish materials and put them directly into the public domain unless explicitly stating so. Creative Commons Licensing is the next best thing.

Right now the most pressing concerns about copyright that librarians are dealing with are e-reserves, licensing databases, access to their content and the ability to provide inter-library loan copies from digital journals.[1] Add in Course Management Software, digital rights management for audio and e-books, and streaming video and you have a very confusing subject. 

The Association of Research Libraries just published a report about copyright and fair use for academic and research libraries (Jan 2012) that provides guidelines for today’s librarians. This report contains the newest information on copyright, particularly those in charge of e-reserves and inter-library loan.

Take a course or a workshop on copyright every few years to stay on top of issues that affect libraries and archives. When in doubt, ask the library’s legal counsel. The topic is complicated and nuanced. There’s a place in libraries for lawyers, particularly with negotiation of contracts and licenses for electronic resources.

[1] ALCTS "The Black, White, and Gray Areas of Licensing: A Review and Update for Librarians and Publishers" webinar presented by Becky Albitz, Bob Boissy, and Tracy L. Thompson-Przylucki on February 29, 2012. Contact ALCTS for access to the recorded webinar 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

So you want to be an academic librarian?

After talking to Dr. Kahn, and hearing about some of your discussion on my previous post about life as a new librarian, I thought I would add some more insight into academic libraries in particular.  I think that while most are you are at least vaguely familiar with the process of becoming a librarian in general (i.e. in a public library), many of the nuances of academia are often forgotten in library school and the reality of what that environment is like comes as a shock when you first step out into the job market and then again when you enter that first professional job.

I’m going to cover a few major points to take you from your time in library school, to the job search, to settling into your first job.

This is a tricky point, because the thing is, much of what you need to do to prepare for this career path has already been done (hopefully).  Let me spell this out as simply as possible.  Librarians are heavily dominated by three undergraduate degrees: English, Education, and History.  If you possess any of these degrees, you’re not unique…sorry to tell you that, but it’s true.  And you will inevitably have a very hard time finding a job in academia.  Why?  Because:
  1. Everyone else is going to have the same education as you,
  2. The number of subject librarians in these areas are small, therefore reiterating point (1) enormous numbers of people are qualified, and
  3. The competition for generalized academic librarians is outrageous.  
Think HUNDREDS of applicants, not dozens.  It’s not uncommon for even a subject specialist position to have 200-300 applicants.  A generalized [reference] librarian could have upwards of 500+ applicants.  This is where my “unique value contribution” from my previous post comes into play.

If you have a background in the hard sciences, social sciences, math, engineering, law, music, etc.…you have more power and have a better chance at getting a job as a subject specialist.

Either way, get as much experience as you can in libraries and try to tailor your past experiences to boost your credentials.  For example, as an undergrad I was a TA for several intro-level biology labs, so I had teaching experience (also helps that my parents are both retired elementary teachers so I grew up spending time helping in their classrooms).  I also worked in fast food, which is a crash course in customer service and multi-tasking!!  Not to mention my work in research.  I also am involved in using web 2.0 tools like blogs, and have experience coding HTML by hand and doing website design (if you have the opportunity to take the E-publishing course I strongly suggest it!!).

I will talk more about education (specifically the importance or necessity of having a 2nd or subject Masters degree) as it relates to things like tenure in my next post.

What is a CV and why is it different from a resume?
A resume is a short (1-2 page) description of your qualifications, such as your education, work experience, and skills.  A CV ("curriculum vitae") is a ridiculously lengthy document that literally spells out everything you have ever done in your academic career, including (but not limited to), education, relevant coursework from your graduate program, work experience, professional organization participation, published works (books, articles, anything and everything that you ever remotely authored or helped with), presentations and poster sessions, and more.  This is something that you definitely need to go and get advice in how to create.  Of course newly minted librarians will not have much in the academic world, but that is where you need to pump up your past experiences.

Another thing that is key to CVs is a summary statement.  NOT an objective.  Obviously your objective is to get a job – don’t dupe the institution by saying your objective is to get that exact job, they know you’re applying for many jobs.  What they really want to know is not that you want a job (duh), but rather why you are the best candidate for their job and why they should hire you and why they want to hire you.

The language used in a Summary Statement is unique.  For example, these are the first two paragraphs of the summary statement I used for my job search:
“Goal oriented and motivated library professional, with excellent researching skills. Demonstrated oral and written communication skills. Significant reference experience in both public and academic library settings. Extensive teaching experiences with a variety of ages and abilities. Practical experience designing instructional materials. Experience working with diverse socio-economic and ethnic groups. 
Experience performing bibliographic instruction for medical, dental, and nursing students and faculty. Significant experience in teaching undergraduate biology students. Interest and experience in emerging technologies, Web 2.0 tools, and social networking applications as they pertain to libraries.”
You can see it is not in complete sentences, but rather detailed and active in tense.  It's not a first person narrative.  It's a quick and dirty breakdown of your qualifications, your skills, and what you hope to do.  This is a great place to put those "keywords" from job descriptions so that the automated machines will pick out your application over someone else.  There are certain words and phrases that you want to use to highlight what skills and experience you have.  Words like "extensive", "excellent", "significant", "practical experience", "demonstrated", etc, all provide the reader an idea as to how competent you are in that skill set and in what context.

On finding and applying for jobs:
The KSLIS listserv posts jobs.  There are also many other LIS programs that have websites and blogs that post jobs.  My favorite was the UT iSchool’s JobWeb.  There are also many library job listservs out there, but many academic jobs fail to be listed on these lists.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has an extensive job database of academic jobs with auto-alerts.  There are other websites and databases for jobs in academia, like the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC), and  And lastly professional organizations, both national and local often have job banks.  Job aggregates like Indeed and Monster are also invaluable resources for finding jobs.  I had 3 indeed job alerts send to me daily, along with 2 from the Chronicle.  The other sites I checked at least weekly.

Academic jobs are often online applications, and some require you to fill out an application, attach your cover letter and CV, and submit and an automatic reply will be sent to your email saying they received your application.  Often this may be the only communication from that school you will receive.

Other times you will just email your CV and cover letter to the hiring manager.  In this case make sure that you direct your cover letter to that person.  Find their address and write a professional business letter with the address head.  I also would copy the body of the letter (everything but the address heads) and paste it into the email body.  I would also sometimes put a sentence at the beginning saying that my CV and cover letter are attached that would not be in the hard copy.   In this case you will usually receive personal confirmation that they received your application.

There are some institutions that are still old school and require paper/snail mail applications.  In this case you will usually receive a response in the mail from them stating they have received your application.

No matter how you apply, make sure your turn your documents into PDF files.  Not only is it more professional but also it eliminates any concerns that the receiving person/program might be unable to open or read your files.  It also makes sure that all formatting stays true.  I have noticed on my CV that sometimes when it is opened in another program as a .doc file or printed out it all of sudden changes and screws up the very delicate page balance.

The waiting game:
Rather than tormenting yourself, just assume you will not hear back from an institution.  And if you do it may be 6-8 months later with a canned automatic response saying they have completed the job search.  That way, if you are contacted for an initial interview it’s a pleasant surprise.  This is also a good piece of advice because you will go crazy otherwise.

Academia is not known for being an efficient machine.  You are dealing with an environment where they likely are creating a committee to decide who will be on the committee that will decide on this job.  And academics are not HR specialists.  Often they do not understand the delicate nature of what they are attempting to do.  Sometimes they even write horrible job descriptions that in no way actually describe what they want for the position.  They are also famous for changing the job description (internally) after the have posted it (externally), so you might be applying for a job that you think you’re qualified for but little do you know they’ve since change what they actually want and added a, b, and c to eliminate the brunt of the candidates or just because someone realized that there was some other duty they wanted to delegate off!  Also, you must remember, they have more important things to be doing than this job search.  It may be your top priority but it is not theirs.

The phone interview:
If you have been selected for a phone interview, you have made it through the worst of the screening process.  Every single candidate selected for a phone interview is qualified for the job.  What the phone interview is attempting to do is gauge if you are the same person in person as you are on paper, and what your motivations and personality are like.  They are going to most likely ask you questions about your experience, perhaps a scenario question or two, or questions specific to the job description to see if you really are capable of handling what there is to do.

The worst part about phone interviews is that you may be on a conference call with the entire search committee in a room.  You will hear rustling of papers, coughing, whispering, and more-often-than-not, confusion on their end.  Again, these are not HR specialists.  This is not their daily activity.  They are probably just as nervous and uncomfortable as you are.  Also, you can’t gauge their reactions to what you are saying.  For all you know they could be rolling their eyes, checking their emails, or sleeping.  Being concise but also giving enough information to be informative is imperative.  I am known to be long-winded (as if you couldn’t tell already!), but I made a conscious effort during phone interviews to simply answer the question and be done.  I found the hardest part was finishing the answer without it being awkward.  I don’t think I ever really mastered that.  I also had so many phone interviews during my job search that I found myself answering questions that hadn’t even been asked yet by accident!!

One thing I like to tell people about phone interviews is try as best you can to make a personal connection to each and every person on that call.  They will usually go around and introduce themselves.  After each introduction say a quick “hi ____” just so they know that you are acknowledging them as an individual.  It’s a great way make that personal touch in a very impersonal interaction.

And don’t forget to send thank you’s within 24-hours of the phone interview.  I typically send email thank you notes for phone interviews, sometimes even sending out a single one addressed to the head of the search committee with “& committee” and CC the other committee members.

As for how to address people…my rule of thumb always was if when you receive an email from them and they use your first name and their first name, feel comfortable addressing them by their first name.  If they stick to something more formal, you should follow suit.  The same goes for your thank you emails.

The on-campus interview: Is this a legal form of torture?
Ahh, academic interviews are not for the faint of heart.  If you get to this point, you are one of likely a very small pool of candidates (usually 3-4) they have invited to campus.

Be forewarned, they are long, grueling, and often feel like an attempt to break you down to the point where you will willingly divulge your deeper (nasty) side.  In most institutions the latter is not really the intent, but it never fails to feel this way as your exhaustion makes you say things that perhaps otherwise you would have kept you yourself.

I will give you some numbers to put this into perspective.  My shortest interview was 5 hours long.  My longest interview was 3 days long.  And I know you’re thinking, holy cow, what on earth could be asked in an interview of that length?!

Remember, academic interviews are not just with a single person (such as an HR representative or hiring manager).  The “search committee” is made up of usually between 5-10 staff members, often a mix of librarians from that institution/library, perhaps some paraprofessionals, and depending on the job, students and/or faculty from the school.  But there are also many other parts to an on-campus interview.

A piece of advice: Bring a water bottle with you.  Some institutions will offer you water, but don't expect it.  You will likely be talking for the next 5-8 hours.  Be prepared.  Also bring a box of Altoids or Tic Tacs, or some hard candy.  These are great to pop in your mouth on a quick restroom break and help you regain your voice and your composure.

Most on-campus interviews will include all of the following:
  1. Tour – depending on the institution it may just be a tour of the library.  Some places will give you a tour of the entire campus.  Regardless, wear comfortable shoes!  If you never wear high heels, don't decide to wear them to a job interview.  I had an interview where I swear I must have walked easily a mile around the sprawling midwestern college town campus.  My favorite trusty black pumps that I wore to every interview finally bit the dust while in NYC for my Columbia interview...if that didn't tell me that I was destined for this job I don't know what would!  Granted, since living in New York I have worn through both a pair of heels and a pair of riding boots...(subway grates are deadly!!).
  2. Panel interview with the search committee – they will go around in a circle and ask either canned questions from a list or questions they think of based on your CV/cover letter, which will be in front of every member.  This usually lasts about a hour, but I had one interview that consisted of TWO panel interviews, each a hour long.  Again, be concise, but answer the questions fully.  Use direct examples and anecdotes to illustrate your point.  Don't just say you have great customer service skills.  Tell them a story of how/why you have these skills.
  3. Presentation – a 15-30 minute presentation is inevitable in academic interviews.  The topic may be defined for you, or it may be something you can choose.  Some topics are very general and are meant to showcase your public speaking abilities.  Other topics are much more specific and ask you to teach them something.  Especially for positions that are instruction/teaching on top of reference, the latter is the norm.  Following the presentation is usually a Q&A session.  Sometimes this is just for your presentation.  At some institutions though, this Q&A is the time when many staff members who are not directly associated with the search are able to meet you and ask you questions.  I was asked during presentation Q&As everything from how I would react to specific situations to what was it like to study abroad in Australia for a year, on top of questions about my presentation.
  4. Lunch – you will likely be wined & dined (well maybe not the former) by at least several of the committee members, usually either at a campus restaurant or a local relatively upscale place.  Remember, they are trying to win you over just as much as you are trying to win them over!  And while the meal is meant to be a time to relax, DON’T!!  I’m not saying be on edge, but don’t get too comfortable.  And even if that meal is with someone who is not necessarily on the search committee, you can guarantee that they are being asked about what you said after.  This is a time that you can ask them questions and talk about yourself beyond your basic credentials. 
  5. Meeting with HR or some other administrative/higher-up person – this is where you may get some insight into benefits, salary, etc.
There may also be individual meetings with members of the search committee or staff, a social event (such as a coffee break meant for mingling), and more meals (dinner the night before and a drive/tour around town is common in the Midwest/college towns – less so in the Northeast megapolis, sometimes someone will meet you for breakfast before the interview as well).

Most institutions will cover air-fare/gas and hotel for candidates who come from out of town…usually there is a mileage cut-off to determine if you drive or fly.  This should be stated explicitly when they invite you for an on-campus interview.  I would be very wary personally if a school was not willing to pay for this.  Some institutions will also cover meals beyond the lunch provided (not all though), and most will cover transportation to-from the airport if you fly.  Again, find out what they cover and go from there.  And save EVERY receipt!!

Again, don't forget those thank you notes!  You will/should learn a time frame during the interview...if not ASK!  If they are planning on making a decision in the coming days, you must send an email immediately when you return home.  If it's going to be a couple weeks, I found it nice to send emails within 24-48 hours, and then also send a hand-written thank you note to the head of the committee.  This time it's important to send individual emails, to every person on the committee, and then if there was anyone else who was important in your interview - someone you had lunch with, or someone who picked you up from the airport, or just someone that you had a nice conversation with.  Bring up these personal details in the thank you notes.  It not only helps them recall these interactions, but it shows them that you appreciated what every they did or that you remembered what you talked about.  It shows them that you had a personal investment in that interview and in that individual interaction.

A few last things on the on-campus interview.

ASK QUESTIONS!!  Don’t ask dumb questions that a quick search can answer.  Do your homework.  Study their website and any other information you can learn about the library and the institution as a whole.  Read the campus and the library mission statement.  Find out what programs they offer.  And formulate 3-4 really GOOOOD questions.  I also had an arsenal of questions that were great for asking individuals and groups, such as “what do you like most about working here/living here?” and more.  Remember, you can learn so much just based on their responses.  I had a staff member respond to that first question with “vacation time”.  Now, I understood they were just happy that it was a school that gave ample vacation time to their faculty (heck, we all love that!!), but I read it as if that is the best part about working at this school is NOT working, what type of environment is this?!

And remember, if you have reached the point of being invited for an on-campus interview, you are in a very exclusive club.  Not only have you survived the initial weeding that 99% of candidates get knocked out from, but you made it through the phone interview and gave the committee a good enough impression of you that they wanted to bring you to campus.  At this point they know that you can do the job.  Every one of the candidates they brought to campus can DO THE JOB.  Now they want to find out not just who can do the job the BEST but who will be the best FIT.

The on-campus interview is all about fit.  Search committees are made up of human beings. And at least for entry-level positions they are made up of the direct co-workers for this position.  That means the bias and insecurities of that committee can come into play.  They are not going to hire the best candidate for the job if s/he is someone that they don’t like and can’t see themselves being friends with.  This is human nature.  So the key to on-campus interviews is to be likable.  Provide just enough personal information that they see you as a human being (not just a CV/candidate) and as someone whom they want to get to know and spend considerable time with.

A co-worker told me a few weeks ago or so about how much fun they had during my interview.  It was fun, more fun than I had ever had on an on-campus interview.  It was comfortable and personal and I felt like I really got to know everyone and them me.  There was actually a point during my presentation where the entire thing was derailed to discuss Harry Potter brought up by one of my now-colleagues!  At that point I knew I had found myself in a very special place...once of course I overcame my initial shock that we spent 5 minutes discussing Deathly Hallows during a presentation on using subject headings to search PubMed!

Now that I know I have completely overwhelmed you all, I will close this part of my discussion on academic libraries.  Later I will talk about more specifics, such as faculty status and tenure, teaching, and more on the daily life of academic librarianship.

See: So you want to be an academic librarian?: Part II

Again, please shoot me an email ( and I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have!