Friday, July 22, 2011

End of the Beginning

I have long driven my parents and sisters to distraction by holding out on my adventures until I've had sufficient time to process them. At no time was this more true than when I returned from six months of full language-immersion study in Beijing. I left in June and returned in December of 2001; I kept my silence until April.* I like to take the time to absorb experiences before presenting my perspective on them to the rest of the universe, but somehow it feels necessary after this first week - only week - that we'll all be together to say something.

This week has been amazing. It challenged me, brought out moments of my worst (mostly in private, I hope!) and moments of my best self. I have so much to think on and digest, and I'm fortunate that I'll have at least a couple of weeks to do just that before I return to my own corner of library-land to see just how much my eyes have changed. I'm pretty certain by now that I chose the right field and that I'll be able to navigate my way through it, not that that removes the trepidation. There's nothing more I want than to do well, which more often than not means holding back lest I fail. If I've learned nothing else from this week it is that in choosing this field I'm promising not to hold back, not to avoid potential risk. That's going to be pretty damn difficult. But it's also going to be wonderful. So here's to the "end of the beginning of my library career" (R. David Lankes - class lecture July 22, 2011) and all that it may bring!

*It's well worth pointing out that being absent from the States when the towers went down had a major impact on my unwillingness to speak. I went to a foreign country only to return to one even more foreign and feel still the cultural divide of not having shared in an experience so fundamental to 21st-century America.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thread 6: Librarians

Where to start? The entire idea of librarianship has been turned on its head by now, which is exactly why when SU said, "we want you," my immediate response was, "okay!" Like I said before, if I believed librarianship was all about collecting books and being aloof key-bearers to the hallowed halls of the knowledge temple, I would never have considered the profession at all. I don't enjoy rigid hierarchy, and if holding an MLS or now MLIS is all about dictating who gets to answer what questions, count me out. Such use of an education is worthless.

On the other hand, if an MLIS is all we can ever have unless we want to enter the academy, that's a deal-breaker, too. I know myself (it's the one thing you're supposed to be able to do after attending a liberal arts school), and I won't be satisfied stopping halfway up the educational ladder. I will want more training after some time spent in the field, and I'll want it to be well-coordinated, but I don't know that I'll then want to jump into the education field. It's too soon to say for sure. So yes, I agree entirely that the current system of LIS education needs some serious revamping.

At the same time, I have a hard time picturing students majoring in LIS as undergraduates, perhaps due to my liberal arts background. I'm trying to fit it into what I know, which is an environment in which students are encouraged to explore a little bit of everything in the four years they have. Majors or concentrations, while required, are very much an afterthought. Then again, maybe it is workable, and maybe this is one of those areas where the idea of Master's Degree-holding librarians as faculty at undergraduate institutions makes sense. (It's not an immediately familiar convention to me, and quite frankly, it seems a little silly.) I'll have to think on it some more.

Lankes, R. David. (2011). The Atlas of New Librarianship (pp. 137-185). Cambridge: MIT Press.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thread 5: Improving Society

As I make my way through the Atlas, I really appreciate the discussions in this thread. Lankes highlights several terms that I hear bandied about in the library without much explanation as to their importance. Let's take policy, for example. With each change in supervisors comes a discussion of policy, but what the heck is its purpose and how much do we have to have? Lankes argues for as little as possible, only enough to facilitate decision-making (as opposed to removing the possibility of making a decision) (2011, p. 125). A lot of the policy (much of which was unwritten, so does it count?) that was in place when I started working at the library truly was designed to remove all decision-making from our purview. Changes in leadership brought about policy that liberated us to make judgement calls of our own, a freedom I found exhilarating. It's made us a much better department overall. Of course, it also helped unleash the evangelist within that now wants to jump on board the librarian gospel train to spread the good news about knowledge and learning to anyone and everyone who will listen.

Speaking of leadership, there's a lovely section in this thread devoted to just that. After a caution against conflating leadership with bureaucracy (Lankes, 2011, pp. 132-133), the author follows up with a discussion of leadership as risk (p. 134). Really, I find no prospect more personally terrifying or rewarding than that of putting myself out there for scrutiny - it goes back to the power issue. That, of course is where leadership begins: even though failure looms, it's too frustrating to sit back and not try something. So you jump in, perhaps armed with a ball of thread to find your way out, perhaps not.

Lankes turns to the St Crispen's Day Speech from Shakespeare's Henry V for inspiration at such moments (2011, p. 135) Me, I turn to descent stories. Any good story of descending into the underworld is going to include a map of where you're going, the kind of help you can expect along the way, the obstacles you're likely to face and the boons you'll gain from the entire process. Ideally, you'll be able to bring back some of those boons to your community. Let's see, then. "The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities " (Lankes, 2011, p. 117). It may just be that fulfilling that mission looks an awful lot like a journey to the underworld, regardless of how you got there.

Lankes, R. David. The Atlas of New Librarianship (pp.117-135). Cambridge: MIT Press.

Thread 4: Communities

By the end of this thread, we've been called on the tendency to divide ourselves up by library type. It's a familiar practice. I work in an academic library. It gives me the impression that somehow what we do there is much, much different than what, say, school media libraries do or what public libraries do. That's when Lankes brings it back around to the discussion of librarians and mission: it isn't about the library, but the librarian. What we do is make ourselves, wherever we are, indispensable (2011).

Let's rephrase then. How can I make myself indispensable in the context of the academic library in which I work, within and maybe pushing beyond the limitations of what my current (non-librarian) position allows? It's an interesting question, and very exciting to contemplate. A lot of my day-to-day work centers around course reserve management, the requesting end of document delivery, fielding general questions about the library and services, student management and stack maintenance. I sort of feel indispensable with some of this work in that someone has to do it, but for the most part, not so much. It's pretty behind-the-scenes, almost clerical kind of work. Is there a way even we could render ourselves visible at an individual level?

For example, in my joint departments we have people of varying educational levels and backgrounds who all do essentially the same tasks within their departments, minus a few specialized tasks here and there. What the community may not really know is that each of us has developed a fair amount of expertise in subjects of personal interest. One makes a point of keeping up to date on and collecting modern art and art literature. Another is building up a core of knowledge around human rights issues and immigration in particular. Yet another has an encyclopedic knowledge of plants and local plant nurseries. This is all in-house knowledge; some of it is known to certain communities of faculty and students. Why shouldn't it be more accessible to the community at large?

Lankes describes a public library in which the teen members wanted to know the librarians better through blogs so that they knew they could trust them as credible sources of information on teen literature (2011, p. 85). I don't know that blogging is for all of us, but surely greater visibility of us as individuals actively pursuing knowledge for our own pursuits could lend some authority to our voices when we begin explaining to faculty the particulars of fair use. I agree that librarians must jump into the conversations and make their value known, but I'm not content to have it stop there. I'd like to see this philosophy carried down to the next level of service providers who make it possible for the librarians to go out and do what they do. I want us to join the conversation, too.

Lankes, R. David. (2011). The Atlas of New Librarianship (83-115). Cambridge: MIT Press.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thread 3: Facilitating

Wow. After finishing this thread I feel a great deal of trepidation and eagerness toward entering the library profession. There are so many good ideas in here that I want to try in my library, but there's also a wall that divides what I can and cannot initiate. I absolutely don't want to participate in the aloof, librarian/not-librarian dichotomy Lankes captures so well in his discussion of librarianship as empowerment (2011), yet I fear myself inadequate to the task of challenging that dichotomy to the betterment of society. Am I truly cut out for this mission?

Make no bones about it, Lankes has completely recast librarianship as a calling equivalent to that of the most devoted religious leader (2011), and I, like so many reading the Atlas feel compelled to answer it. And that, dear followers is the scariest part of all. The second librarianship changes from logical career move, (which is how I justify to the more confused members of my communities my return to school), to the answering of a call to service, my stake in entering the profession assumes unimaginably huge proportions. Answering that call, as Lankes points out, requires a thorough re-evaluation of power structures as they currently exist in librarianship versus how he believes they should exist (2011).

In order to evaluate power structures, one must examine one's own take on power, and this is where I really begin to falter. I like having power after having felt quite powerless for much of my life. I'm also more likely to feel impatience than empathy toward those in my community whom I perceive as lacking power. If I had to go out and seize power for myself, why can't they? Well, why not? Lankes addresses this question with his facilitation paradigm of access, knowledge, environment and motivation. If any one of these is lacking, the people, whoever "the people" are remain powerless (2011). After all, weren't there points along the way where someone made sure I found my way to potential sources of empowerment and understood how to use them, let me know it was safe to explore their uses and compelled me to try? This is librarianship as a calling. I can only hope I'm worthy.

Lankes, R. David. (2011). The Atlas of New Librarianship (pp. 65-81). Cambridge: MIT Press.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thread 2: Knowledge Creation

From mission we fly straight into knowledge creation. Presented as "the [potentially] boring and dry Thread" (Lankes, 2011, p. 31), I have to admit that any discussion that delves into the particulars of language and psychology and then applies them in a thorough criticism of current cataloging systems promises to be anything but dry or boring. The thread depends heavily on Conversation Theory, the idea originating from George Pask that "knowledge is created through conversations" (Lankes, 2011, p. 31). I followed that idea easily enough, maybe even intuited where some of the conversation would go, but the truly interesting part of the discussion began with the emphasis on relationships over artifacts as the preferred foundation for any ordering system. Seriously, it was striking enough to make it into my dreams.

Lankes points out that the difference between what librarians have traditionally done and what we should be doing is the difference between curating a collection of "knowledge artifacts" and engaging in conversations about those artifacts, the result of which will ultimately lead to new artifacts of knowledge that may become sources of new conversations. The important detail is that every conscious being has a unique way of relating to and thereby conversing on artifacts, thus current approaches in librarianship to systematizing knowledge artifacts are inadequate, to say the least. His solution? Begin designing systems that map relationships, rather than catalog objects.

After reading this thread I suddenly feel I have a much better idea of how social networking fits into the library picture. So much literature talks about blogs, wikis, Facebook or MySpace and Twitter in the context of specific uses that it can become difficult to see their underlying potential, to look at the component relationships rather than the system as a whole. In some ways, it seems our "artifact-centric" worldview has already worked frantically to put these and other social networking tools into boxes and fixed forms, to make artifacts out of them, too. If instead we focus on the relation-driven technologies that make up social media, we might move beyond using them strictly as promotional tools to studying the way they map relationships as a means of creating our own, new systems. I can't promise that this new insight into social technologies will convert me overnight into an outright technophile, but it certainly has piqued my curiosity.

Lankes, R. David. (2011). The Atlas of New Librarianship (pp. 31-63). Cambridge: MIT Press.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thread 1: Mission

For those of you who are not taking this class with me but choose to follow me anyway, be warned that the next several posts will pertain to our textbook for the class.* Rather than chapters, this text employs the concept of threads to organize the main topics; thus each "thread" gets its own post, beginning with thread 1: mission.

Lankes states that "the mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities", pointing out immediately that this text is about the person rather than the place, about "librarianship not founded on materials, but outcomes and learning" (15). What, then, is a librarian? What is it that I'm setting out to become if I take this mission statement wholeheartedly for my own?

Let's start with the second part of this mission. What does it mean to be a facilitator of knowledge creation? I understand this to mean that I, the aspiring librarian have as my personal responsibility in any and perhaps all of my communities creating the space, virtual or otherwise, and then bringing together the necessary people, tools and other resources so that said communities can learn (create new knowledge) together. It's a tall order, and a sharp break with the notions of "librarian" that kept me from looking into the profession sooner. But wait, there's more! As I read this mission, it isn't enough simply to learn or even apply it strictly within the given community. We're supposed to apply it toward society as a whole to make the world a better place; in other words, we're 21st-century superhero-library-evangelists in the making. I can work with that. I've always wanted to be a prophet.

The beautiful part about all of this is that it shifts the focus to oneself and the communities one serves and how they (we) interact. It removes some of the "gatekeeper" mentality that was a part of librarianship when knowledge was still bound up primarily in physical collections. It emphasizes service in a more holistic way, which in turn democratizes the power structures that belong to a gatekeeper-seeker paradigm. We become collaborators, co-conspirators in a not-so-secret plot to enable people to learn how to learn. The challenges then become figuring out who and what "the people" are about and remembering that we absolutely cannot co-conspire alone. It's so easy to take the traditional superhero stance that is nearly indistinguishable from martyrdom, see "the people" in distress and jump in to save them before they can blink. Instead we're being asked - I am being asked - to become a new kind of superhero whose first job it is to know her communities well so that the work can begin. Where traditionalism sought to save, we'll work to create.

*Lankes, R. David. (2011). The Atlas of New Librarianship (pp.15-29). Cambridge: MIT Press.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Social Networking in Libraries

In many ways becoming a 21st-century librarian seems to be as much about proficiency with social technology as anything else. Among our tasks for this class, we're asked to subscribe to various professional blogs and podcasts through an RSS feeder, monitor the class on twitter, set up our websites and maintain blogs of our own. While Facebook has yet to be mentioned in the course, it's been an essential part of our initiation into library school from the moment we received our acceptance emails. The classmates we're connecting with now will be our colleagues in the very near future.

A lot of these social technologies are pretty new to me. I never bothered with MySpace, and I spent several months contemplating the merits of Facebook before deciding to join. I've blogged a little but never had a blog of my own, and RSS feeds somehow never quite seemed essential. Twitter is completely foreign to me. Still, as I begin to play with them, to "test the Web 2.0 waters" in Funk's words (2009), I see the potential for their use within an individual library and their absolute necessity in connecting to new generations of library users, as well as keeping up with the general library community. Our lives are so deeply intertwined online that it makes little sense for libraries to ignore the trends and technologies that are out there and in heavy use by potential "library members", to use Lankes' terminology (2011). (I'm so used to calling them patrons.)

Perhaps the biggest challenge I've already had is determining the life span of a blog, or wiki, or other piece of social technology. Some of the suggested blogs have migrated since they were added to the list while others have been (temporarily?) abandoned; the same is true of podcasts and wikis. As socially networked as we're becoming, why aren't we better at catching these gaps in information? Should we be?

Funk, Mark E. (2009). "Testing the web 2.0 waters". American Libraries. January/February 40(1/2), 48-51.

Lankes, R. David. (2011). The Atlas of New Librarianship (pp.5-6). Cambridge: MIT Press.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

About Me

My name is Katrina Schell, and I have recently begun graduate studies in library and information science at Syracuse University's iSchool. Although I've worked in Hamilton College's libraries for a combined total of eleven years (four as a student assistant in the media library, seven in Burke Library), I spent most of them resisting the idea of becoming a librarian. The last thing I wanted to become was a cranky, people-shushing stereotype, even if I do like to wear my hair up! With year eleven completed and twelve waiting in the wings, I begin my quest to become the very thing I resisted - with significant adaptations, of course. I am so thrilled to be starting this journey with so many creative, interesting people. Together we will rock the library world, I'm sure!

At work I am best known for taking shortcuts over the circulation counter and spontaneously erupting into snippets of song, as well as actually using the range in our staff lounge to fry up large hunks of meat for lunch. I am a lover of tea, dark chocolate, reasonably priced wines, really nice incense and well-executed rituals of just about any persuasion. When I am not working I enjoy gardening, cooking, chessing (yes, I know chess isn't a verb - yet), journaling and daydreaming. I cherish the idea of one day becoming a renowned storyteller and half-way decent mandolin picker in addition to becoming a librarian.