Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review: Mentoring in the Library

Title: Mentoring in the Library
Author: Marta K. Lee
Verdict: Don't bother.  Not very useful.

This book wasn't at all what I expected.  Instead of how to's and advice, each chapter contained a brief review of the literature followed by a case study or two from the author's own institution.  There were a few useful tip sections in the book, but not many - maybe 2 or 3.

The use of case studies was excessive, unnecessary, and quite often irrelevant.  I'm sure for some readers, it's nice to see the applications of mentoring in various ways, but mostly it just felt like the author was tooting her own horn.  Readers do not need to know specifically which hours Regent University's newly hired librarian was assigned to the reference desk nor what hours the other librarians work the desk.  It may have been useful to note that they made sure not to schedule the new librarian at times when no one else was around to answer questions, but that much information would have been more than sufficient.  The author also included an appendix for a form used in her library by an intern working on a VHS/old video format project.  This really doesn't need to be in a book about mentoring.  More useful would be a sample application for a mentoring program, followup questions asked of participants, sample emails announcing these programs, etc.

Additionally, the case studies were all from the author's library.  I recognize that that's what she knows, but it was very repetitive.  The chapter about Mentoring for Promotion talks far more about the promotion process at her institution than it does about how one would go about mentoring someone through the promotion process.

In the chapter on other types of mentoring, the author devotes 3 pages (keep in mind, the book is only 99 pages long) to examples of questions posed to listervs and the responses they garnered.  How this is useful is beyond me. 

I also had high hopes for the chapter on electronic mentoring because I find that it holds many challenges.  However, there was almost no useful information in that chapter at all, let alone information on how to make an online mentoring relationship work well.

In the end, it felt like the author was asked to write a book about mentoring because she's a great mentor and has mentored many people.  While that much seems evident, very little useful advice exists in this book despite what the back of the book claims it includes.  For example, it definitely does not cover "How to establish formal and informal mentoring arrangements."  My advice?  Don't read it.  There has to be something better out there.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Librarians in New Orleans

One of the things for which I am very proud of librarians, and for which I can claim zero credit because I had absolutely no involvement (didn't even attend), is the decision to continue with the plan to hold the American Library Association (ALA) National Conference in New Orleans not long after Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina hit in late August 2005.  ALA held its national conference there in June of 2006, bringing 16,964 librarians to the city.  The decision was based on many factors, one of which was the desire to pump money back into an area that desperately needed it.

In the September/October 2011 issue of American Libraries, Molly Raphael writes in The Big Easy Revisited about that conference and about the most recent ALA conference, again held in New Orleans.  At this 2011 conference, many of the people in the city remembered the librarians descending upon the city in 2006 and thanked them for it.

Makes me proud to be a librarian.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Review: What They Don't Teach You in Library School

Photo by Barbara Slavin

Title: What They Don't Teach You in Library School
Author: Elisabeth Doucett

I read this book because I recommended it to a few soon-to-be librarians, and I thought I should see what it was all about before recommending it further.  I've been a librarian for 6 years, so I'm not necessarily the audience for this book. However, there were a few chapters that I really liked, and the rest were full of useful information for just about any librarian new to the profession.

My favorite chapters were:

Chapter 4: Making "Librarian" a Brand
For some reason, of all professions, people think it is just so funny to poke fun at librarianship. For example:
Ignorant person: "Do people still use libraries?"  OR "Oh, so you read books all day?"  OR "Isn't everything online?"
Kate (well, what I'd *like* to say): "I'm sorry, what do you do again?  I'd like to poke fun at whatever that is."  
However, that's clearly not a productive way to respond to that kind of question.  This chapter talks about creating an elevator pitch to use whenever someone asks you what you do for a living or makes a comment like one of the above.  With the elevator pitch, you can head off the ignorant comments because part of it is to throw in a brief description of how you spend your time.  For example, my elevator pitch (with the three parts recommended by the author in brackets):
[Job title] I'm a librarian, more specifically a reference librarian at a university, which means [brief overview of what I do] I spend a large part of my time helping students find the information they need, either one-on-one or in a classroom setting.  [What I love about my job] One of the things that's so great about my job is watching the transition from frustration to excitement when working with a student.  Students often try to muddle through on their own for a long time before seeking out a librarian, so they can be quite frustrated at first.  However, as I work with them and make suggestions, I see the connections happening, and they leave not only with the information they need but with the skills to find information in the future as well as a more positive outlook on research in general.
The idea is to fit it into 30 seconds, so the above may be a little long, but it gets the point across.

Chapter 11: Promotional Marketing
The importance of marketing to libraries simply cannot be overstated, but it barely comes up in library school.  The chapter is just a very short overview, but is enough to get you thinking about the topic.

Chapter 12: Thinking Like a Retailer
This was a chapter that I've kind of seen touched on in a few places but never quite so straightforward and succinct as this.  There are things about retail that are very intentional that we don't really think about - when you walk into a grocery store, you enter first into the fruit and veggies section.  This is a very visually appealing - neat and tidy stacks of shiny apples, sections of bright green lettuce, etc.  Also, in a grocery store, the end of the aisle displays are for things the store really wants people to buy - that's real estate that sees higher product turnover.  Bookstores are always so neat and orderly as well.  So now I'm rethinking the location of our current displays, the idea of adding a few more, and also trying to create a sense of ownership of the library among our student workers so that they'll straighten more often as they wander around the building. 

All in all, a good read. The short chapters give brief overviews of each topic with suggestions for further reading at the end so if you want to pursue them further, you can.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Improving Productivity, part 2

It's been almost 3 weeks since I turned off the pop-up email notifications in Outlook, and I haven't missed them at all! I highly recommend doing this. It makes me wonder how much work businesses lose due to these notifications alone. It's great to go through email in chunks instead of individually as each item arrives.

I did have to learn to remember to check my email more than once or twice a day, though. You get really used to those pop-ups, so when they don't arrive, you tend to forget you're still receiving email.

Another thing I started doing 3 weeks ago is scheduling out my entire workweek each Monday, in time blocks on my Outlook calendar. This takes some practice, and I usually fall off the schedule by sometime Tuesday. Thus far, I have learned:
  • to allot more time to a task than I expect it to take - that allows for emails and interruptions without throwing me way off my schedule. Also, I often expect things to take less time than they really do.
  • to take the schedule with a grain of salt. Things will come up, other duties will be assigned that have higher importance, and you just have to roll with it.
  • the schedule is great for prioritizing the more important tasks. In the past I've kept a to do list, but didn't have a prioritization mechanism. I still keep the to do list (I love crossing things off a list), but now I use it to plan my weekly schedule.
  • I don't always want to do what I've scheduled myself to do. I think over time I will get better at intermixing the things I like doing with those that I don't.
I don't really want to get into scheduling daily because it does take more time than just following the existing schedule, but it might be worthwhile to do it Monday morning and Wednesday afternoon (I work 1-9 on Wednesdays). I'm always somewhat off the schedule by Wednesday. Not to mention, our staff meeting is on Wednesday, and I usually leave with new projects to do, so a reevaluation would be good.

Despite the few bumps and learning experiences with the schedule, it really is working for me. Less time spent trying to figure out what I need to work on next is helpful. Plus, I have everything prioritized. If I get behind, I refer back to earlier in the week to see what I was supposed to do first. Also, I love organizing things, so planning out my workweek is a favorite Monday morning task.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Get Rid of the Traditional Research Paper in the first years

Barbara Fister has a very interesting article on the Inside Higher Ed's Library Babel Fish blog called Why the "Research Paper" Isn't Working. She argues that the first year of college isn't the time to hammer in the nitty gritties of citation styles. Nor is it time to have students write the traditional research paper.

I heartily agree. Citation styles are ridiculously specific. I find myself telling students all the time that most professors aren't going to give them a hard time about how they cited a website (or other challenging source to site) - in most cases, the professor has no idea how to do it either (nor do I, for that matter - or at least, no idea on how to make it close to perfect).

The traditional research paper is also very hard for intro students. It's hard to go out and research the literature of an unfamiliar field, combine all that data, and produce a coherent paper. Especially when faculty are demanding peer-reviewed articles. I'm always surprised at the number of students in intro courses who come into the library saying they need peer-reviewed articles. I can't even read the peer-reviewed science stuff - why are they asking students to? I understand that becoming familiar with peer-reviewed research is key, but wait until students are beyond the intro courses and have a knowledge base on which to build.

A very interesting article - well-worth a read.

I Love My Job

Walking to work this morning (so awesome, right? I get to walk to work!), I see a car backing out of a driveway. I stop to wait but she waves me on instead. As I get past the car, I hear someone talking to me.

"You're my librarian. I won't hit my librarian."

I assume she must go to Chatham (and also that she won't hit anyone... not just her librarian), and we start chatting. Then she says she's in the Masters of Counseling Psychology program, and I realize she didn't just recognize me as a librarian at Chatham. She meant that I am her librarian. I make a point of telling all the students in my liaison areas that I am their librarian.

And it sticks.

This woman referred to herself as a "very part-time" student. Yet she remembered me.

Such an easy thing to do, but it makes quite an impact.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

ACRL 2011: Mobile Websites

Another big topic at the ACRL Conference, and one in which I was particularly interested, was mobile websites. This is something we are working toward at my library.

I attended several presentations on this topic:
  1. Mobilize Your Library: Creating a Mobile Website. Presenter: Micheal DeMars, California State University-Fullerton
  2. The Library's Swiss-Army Knife: Using Smart Phones for Information Discovery, Content Delivery, and Inventory Management. Presenters: Stacy Brinkman, Jason Paul Michel, Jim Clarke, and Bo Brinkman; Miami University
From these presentations, I learned:
  1. There are a few options for making library information available on mobile phones: create a mobile website, build an app, or a combination. Both of these institutions chose to create a mobile website - because it's easier, updating the code is simpler, and it's accessible on most devices.
  2. If you use Google Analytics, it will show you how many mobile visits your website is getting, as well as which platforms (Android/iPhone/etc) people are using. One library focused on making a mobile website that worked well on Android and iPhone because that's how the vast majority of their users were accessing their site. For us, the iPad, iPhone, and Android appear to be the most important.
  3. For a list of libraries with mobile websites, visit the Library Success wiki's M-Libraries list.
  4. For best practices, see W3C: The Web and Mobile Devices, Apple iPhone Standards (presumably that's somewhere on this site, but I'm mostly seeing info specific to creating apps - maybe that's all they have?), Smashing Magazine, and Android Best Practices (see the list on the left for a section containing best practices).
  5. Both libraries only included stuff that had been optimized for mobile devices.
  6. Categories: Research/Search, Events, People, Help, social media icons (Facebook, Twitter, library blog), Hours, Ask Us (Texting), Computer Availability, Video Tutorials, etc. The two libraries varied on what they called things, but both included social media.
  7. One library uses automatic detection to send phone users to the mobile site, the other has a mobile URL that they publicize. The one that uses automatic detection includes a link to the regular full site, but mentioned that it was hard to override the automatic detection mechanism.
  8. Databases with mobile versions: EBSCOhost, JSTOR (beta), ARTSTOR, WorldCat.
Also, while Google-ing around for other stuff, I stumbled across iLibrarian: 7 Tools to Create a Mobile Library Website (without Technical Knowledge!).

Currently, we have enabled EBSCO's mobile site, we're about to start using Innovative Interfaces' AirPAC, and we are starting to plan out what all to include in a mobile site.

Friday, April 08, 2011

ACRL 2011: Distance Librarianship

I attended ACRL 2011 in Philly last week, and besides enjoying an authentic philly cheese steak (okay okay, I opted for provolone instead of Cheez Whiz - can you blame me?), I learned a lot. Reaching distance students was a pretty big conference focus, and I attended several presentations on the topic.

The best and most relevant to me was Fostering Library as Place for Distance Students: Best Practices from Two Universities (PowerPoint), presented by Heidi Steiner, Distance Learning Librarian at Norwich University and Beth Filar-Williams, Coordinator of Library Services for Distance Education at University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Some points from the presentation:
  • Virtual reference is much harder than face-to-face. You end up making a lot of assumptions, and there are often miscommunications.
  • ACRL provides Standards for Distance Learning Library Services
  • Students need access to library resources and course management from a distance
  • At Norwich, every distance program has its own specific library webpage - to create a place for those students
  • Resources available from a distance are important. This includes e-journals, databases, e-books, Films on Demand, and ILLiad for for seamless ILL transactions. Both libraries will mail books to student; one pays return postage, one does not.
  • For distance students, it is especially important to be available at their point of need - through IM, plenty of research/subject guides, tutorials on how to use the resources, and more.
  • For instruction, both institutions use a lot of tutorials. They have experimented with synchronous options. One recommends Elluminate vOffice. You have to pay for it, but it's only one room, so it's a lesser license than regular Elluminate. EventBrite was recommended for setting up instruction - it allows people to register for an event and also automatically sends reminder emails. Being embedded in course management discussion boards is another option.
  • The presenters also discussed the importance of "Being Real" - making distance students realize there are humans staffing IM reference, not robots. They also mentioned including video clips of librarians introducing themselves on their websites/subject guides.
  • was recommended for sharing your computer screen with a student. They said it is incredibly easy to use - all you do is send the student a URL. And it's free!
  • Two other technology tools they use are free scheduling software tools: and Jiffle. I'm definitely going to have to look into some of these!
I also attended a shorter panel session called Going the Distance: A Closer Look at Uniting with Remote Users. From that, I took away the importance of informing distance students about the services the library offers, the need to offer training on the resources, and the importance of determining if the resources and services are perceived as adequate by the distance students.

Some other distance learning notes from poster sessions:
  • Some libraries use Skype to talk to distance students
  • Screenr - does screencasting, but it has to be done all in one go (no editing!) and there is a time limit (maybe 5 minutes?).
  • Librarians at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse evaluated several free web-conferencing tools. Information is on a LibGuide they created specifically for this topic.
Overall, a lot of info, a lot of ideas, and A LOT of cool tools to explore!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Improving Productivity, part 1

I had a talk with my husband about how to increase productivity and maintain motivation at work. He said it is something he struggles with too, but he had quite a few good suggestions. I'm going to be changing my work habits to include them. Step 1 is actually pretty simple:

Turn off Outlook's email notifications.

Outlook defaults to popup notifications and a sound when you receive new mail. Not only do you see and hear new email arriving, but you get a tiny tantalizing snippet of the email to whet your curiosity. This is endlessly distracting, but for some reason, it never occurred to me to turn it off.

It took a little hunting to locate it, so here are some quick instructions for how to disable this feature in Outlook:
  1. Go to Tools
  2. Then click on Options
  3. In the Preferences tab, click on Email Options
  4. Click on Advanced Email Options
  5. Uncheck all the boxes in the section entitled "When new items arrive in my inbox"
There is no email that I receive that is important enough that I need to respond immediately. I would argue that almost no one gets email they need to respond to immediately. I'll still check it quite frequently; I just won't be interrupted when I'm working on something else.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I feel as though I am floundering a bit in my job. Sure, I'm getting stuff done - lately a lot of number and data crunching. But just that vague feeling that there has to be something more, some truly intriguing project that will make a difference. And it's only going to get worse as summer approaches.

Summer is downtime for librarians in academia. The spring semester is often quiet but summer is even quieter. Not nearly as many classes, very little instruction to be done, mostly self-guided projects. I find the transition to summer so difficult.

Any suggestions for how to self-motivate? Any ideas for cool library projects?