SLA 2018: Diversity in the profession

If I had to sum up my SLA 2018 conference experience in one word, it would be diversity.

It’s all about the ribbons, stickers, and pins.

New this year at the conference were ribbons showing years of membership. I did the math and realized I’ve been a member of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) for 20 years, and have attended every annual conference for the last 15 years. That’s a long time — I’ve never even lived in one place for that long.

With my transition to an academic job in the humanities this year, I’ve done a lot of thinking about where I will be professionally active. I joined the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). I even attempted to attend the ALA Midwinter Meeting in February, but I was thwarted by (surprise!) a midwinter blizzard. (I will try again next year.) SLA is not the obvious choice for me, and there aren’t a whole lot of other Germanic and Slavic language librarians in SLA — but one of the benefits of SLA for me is the opportunity to talk to and learn from information professionals with many different backgrounds.

Yes, it is good for people doing similar jobs to talk to each other, and I got some good practical ideas at the Academic Librarians Roundtable. But it’s also important to connect with people doing different jobs in different kinds of organizations, because that is often where innovation begins.

I started the conference by getting to know my fellow candidates for the SLA Board of Directors. SLA’s announcement summed us up: Board Candidates Span Wide Range of Library Environments. We work in a subscription management firm, a large academic library, a banking software company, a specialized academic library, and two law libraries. We come from different parts of the US, and even from outside of it with a candidate from Ireland. (Last year’s slate included a candidate from New Zealand, and our President-Elect is from the UK.) During the conference, SLA inducted the first member from India into its Hall of Fame (PK Jain), in part for his work to grow the SLA Asian Chapter. SLA’s current board includes a member without the traditional library school credential, Zena Applebaum, and she recently wrote about her experience as a non-librarian, non-lawyer working in a law library for 3 Geeks and a Law. I attended the interactive session “A United Vision: IFLA’s Global Vision for the Library Field,” and one of the topics my group addressed was whether the ALA-accredited MLIS was a necessary credential, and the various ways librarians are credentialed in other countries. One of my favorite sessions at the conference was a panel called, “Choosing Your Partners: Strategic Choices for Successful Librarians,” which included both academic and corporate librarians talking about their experiences as embedded librarians.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden gave the opening keynote.

I’m aware that I’ve only touched on a few aspects of diversity. Like most organizations, we in SLA still have work to do to be inclusive and accessible. This conference featured the first session presented by the new Diversity, Inclusion, Community, and Equity (DICE) Caucus. We were reminded that this conference was originally slated for Charlotte, and moved to Baltimore after North Carolina passed discriminatory legislation. The conference included a session on transgender information resources (which I unfortunately had to miss due to a conflict, but I met one of the presenters later and he gave me a link to his list of transgender information resources). Not one of the three keynote speakers was white. I believe SLA is committed to doing this work and making progress on it.

A love letter to running, from a librarian

Boston MarathonMy bio on my Twitter account is “Librarian. Writer. Runner. Dreamer.” For me, those things are all intertwined.

I love running for its own sake, and for the mental and physical health benefits I reap from it, but running has also helped me be a better librarian. Meeting people I’d never have a reason to talk to other than we both happen to love running and want company has helped me develop perspective and empathy. Training for and planning the logistics of long relay races and ultramarathons has taught me as much as any leadership seminar about how to work with teams and plan a project.

Watching the Boston Marathon coverage on April 16, I’ll admit I was relieved not to be running in some of the worst weather the storied race has ever experienced — and that’s saying something if you know anything about New England weather in April. Yet I also found myself falling in love with the sport all over again. Seeing an American woman take the win after a 35-year drought was amazing. Desiree Linden has been recognized on the front pages of newspapers, at an NBA game, on TV, and all over the internet, without unnecessary qualifiers like “female athlete.” Her historic win simultaneously elevated the sport of running and women’s sports.

Later that month, Library Journal published a piece by Steven Bell on using sports as a model for library leadership learning. In it, Bell writes:

One reason we tend to gravitate to sports for leadership examples, beyond our routine American sports obsession, is the team nature of most sports. Rarely do we get leadership stories coming out of the more individualized sports like tennis, wrestling, or golf.

It’s true that we’re more likely to get leadership examples from team sports, but over the past year, US women’s running has shown that individual sports have leaders too. Shalane Flanagan, who ended a US women’s drought in the New York City Marathon last fall, is famous for her encouragement of other runners.

After her NYC win, Linden congratulated Flanagan, who responded not with “thanks”, but “now it’s your turn.” And when Molly Huddle congratulated Linden after Boston, Linden paid it forward with “you’re next.” Succession is a crucial part of leadership and the US women are bringing it.

I loved seeing all the support the leading American women gave each other before, during, and after this year’s Boston Marathon. A skeptic might say it’s a PR move designed to lure sponsors, but I’ve seen it consistently over the years. From Meb opting not to drop out of the New York City Marathon when he was having a bad race, but instead finishing hand-in-hand with another runner, to eventual Boston winner Desiree Linden helping Shalane Flanagan catch back up to the lead pack after a portapotty break, there is ample evidence that there are kind and thoughtful people at the top of this sport.

As librarians, many of us practice what I call “hidden leadership,” without positions of direct authority. (I wrote about this in a column for the Journal of Library Administration.) Even if you are a cataloger working long hours in isolation or a solo librarian without a team around you — or, like me, a subject librarian working in a team of other subject specialists, there are still opportunities for leadership. You might not relate to the roles of head coach or star player, so the lessons on leadership from team sports might not be that meaningful for you. But seeing someone in a very individual sport (see: “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”) display leadership could inspire you.

I’m not saying every librarian should lace up their shoes and start running marathons (though I certainly encourage you to give running a try), but I think it’s a sport that our profession can relate to and learn from.

I also, being a librarian, have a couple book recommendations for you. You might enjoy them more if you have some experience with running, but I think they’re good enough to stand on their own.

Let Your Mind Run is a memoir by Olympian and American marathon record holder Deena Kastor. It includes accounts of her childhood, training, and racing, but also the techniques she learned and applied about mindfulness and positivity — and wonderful descriptions of places she’s visited.

Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is well-known to both runners and fans of Murakami’s novels. Though Murakami writes about races, much of the book centers on the experience of the run and how it ties in with his life as a writer.

Run Wild is not a perfect book, but a nice antidote to the first two, which focus on traditional running events. Boff Whalley (yes, of Chumbawumba fame) is a musician and trail runner. As someone who enjoys the occasional big city marathon, Whalley’s preaching about the excesses of these events wore on me, but I enjoyed his descriptions of running through the woods without gadgets and sponsors for the pure joy of it. I particularly enjoyed learning about how he fit in runs while on tour with his band.

Library blogs reach mid-career

A number of recent events have led me to reflect on how, or whether, I want to keep blogging. First, I applied for a new job, and knew that the search committee would find my blog, last updated two years prior. Second, I got the new job, which happened to be at an institution where I’d previously worked, and discovered that they’d preserved a previous iteration of that blog, last updated thirteen years ago, and that it had been public for about a week before I realized it. (Ack!) Third, I stumbled across Chris Zammarelli’s post, The Future Fades Away Too Fast.

Chris writes about spending “the better part of a week” building a blogroll. (Remember those?) I was delighted to see on his blogroll not only my own dormant blog, but many I remember following “back in the day” that are still active., still putting the rarin back in librarian. Christina’s LIS Rant, still ranting away. Information Wants To Be Free. Librarian in Black. And more. Reading through them felt a bit like what I imagine going to a college reunion would be like. (I’ve yet to go; this year will be my class’ 20th.)

It seems many of us are about the same age and are struggling with the same kinds of issues. Kind of a mid-career crisis. Meredith Farkas (Information Wants To Be Free) wrote Wayfinding and balance at mid-career, which really struck a chord with me. Like Meredith, I’ve been a manager and left that track to go back to being “just” a librarian.

Nearly twenty years into my career, I’m starting my first tenure-track job. While it’s strangely intimidating, I’m also finding inspiration working in such a large library, surrounded by accomplished colleagues (and not managing a single one of them except myself).

And I’m blogging again. Chris pointed to a recent post by Tom Critchlow, Small b blogging, that really gets at the appeal of blogging for me. “Small b blogging” is

something with YOUR personality. Writing and ideas that are addressable (i.e. you can find and link to them easily in the future) and archived (i.e. you have a list of things you’ve written all in one place rather than spread across publications and URLs) and memorable (i.e. has your own design, logo or style).

I don’t think I’ll go back to the kind of frequency I blogged with when the internet was smaller, before social media created other outlets for sharing. If I’ve got something funny to say or a link to share, you’ll find that on Facebook or Twitter. But, if I’ve got something a little longer and more thoughtful to share, it will be here.

I’m back!

It’s been a while since I updated this site — about 3 years — and I’ve been thinking a lot about the name DIY Librarian.

When I came up with it, I was a newly-minted librarian just starting a new job. I was full of the idealism I acquired in library school, immersed in the mindset of punk and DIY culture, and determined not to lose any of that as I started down my career path. I was, I thought, putting in a couple of years at a big state school before embarking on my next adventure.

I stayed in that job for 9 years. Even though I was in the middle of a big campus where football and fraternities ruled, I managed a small library in a research center. I worked with a small staff and a small budget, and when we needed something, we often had to build it ourselves. Do it ourselves.

When I finally did move on, I went about 10 miles down the road to become the director of the American Philatelic Research Library, where, again, I worked with a small staff and put my DIY mindset to use.

After 7 years, I came back to Penn State in January, this time as the Librarian for Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures. I’m no longer the director of a specialized independent library. I’m one of many subject specialists in a huge academic library system. Does DIY Librarian still apply?

For practical purposes, since I’ve been maintaining this blog, off and on, in various formats, for more than 15 years, and since my Twitter handle is @diylibrarian, it makes sense to keep the name.

Letting go of the practical considerations of online identity, I still like the name. When I teach library instruction sessions, I think about whether I am teaching survival skills to get through this assignment, or lifelong skills that can be transferred to another environment. My hope is that I’m teaching my students how to do it themselves.

A special library on an organic farm

I was trying to sort through some old emails this morning, and found a really old one (a year and a half old!) from Eric Schwarz about an MLIS student’s visit to a special library.

The library in question is that of Rodale, a publishing company. The name was instantly recognizable to me as the publisher of Runner’s World and Running Times.

Rodale’s library is located at its headquarters in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, on what was initially J.I. Rodale’s organic farm – a suitable location for a health and wellness library.

This is why I never make much headway in deleting old emails.


Presenting a poster is a great way to share your ideas with colleagues – and it can be a gentle introduction to presenting in other formats.

If you are attending SLA 2012 in Chicago this summer, you have an opportunity to present a poster during an open house hosted by the Social Science, Academic, Education, and Museum, Arts & Humanities Divisions.

Next week I’ll be giving a webinar on poster presentations for anyone considering submitting a proposal for this or any other poster session. The webinar is on April 20 at noon Eastern, and I hope to have a registration link soon registration is now open!

Following are some additional resources for poster presenters:

In my previous job, I taught an annual workshop for graduate students on presenting posters. The idea for the workshop came from a discussion with a faculty member about how to improve the quality of posters at a conference he organized, and evolved over the years as I worked with students.

The guide I created, while tailored to the needs of demography graduate students, provides a summary of design and presentation advice I gathered.

Other resources I found helpful:

Displaying Your FindingsDisplaying Your Findings: A Practical Guide for Creating Figures, Posters, and Presentations by Adelheid A. M. Nicol and Penny M. Pexman (American Psychological Association, 2003)

Poster Presentations: Designing Effective Posters by Fred Stoss (University at Buffalo Libraries)

Developing Poster Presentations in the Social Sciences (George Mason University Writing Center)

Buying over borrowing

ACPL's E-reader fair

E-reader fair at the Allen County (Indiana) Public Library. Photo by ACPL.

The rise of e-reading, a new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, says that e-book readers are more likely to buy books rather than borrow them, and are more likely to start a search at a bookseller than a library.

So does this mean libraries are no longer relevant for these readers?

I don’t think so. Slightly more e-readers than print-only readers reported getting recommendations from librarians or library websites (21% vs. 19% – not a significant difference). And all readers in the study preferred to buy over borrow – except in the case of audio books.

I suspect that starting a search at a bookseller has more to do with availability (or perceived availability) of e-books.

Conference serendipity

Touring the Free Library of Philadelphia map collectionThere is something about getting together in person – just like there is something about browsing the shelves in a library – that leads to discoveries.

At SLA last month, I attended a tour of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s map collection with the Social Science Division Geography and Map Section. I decided to attend because I’ve always enjoyed G&M Section programs in the past, even though I’m not a map librarian, and because I always learn something when I get to visit another library behind the scenes.

I did, of course, learn a lot from seeing the different kinds of maps in the collection, how they were stored, and learning about conservation and digitization projects. The best part of the tour for me, though, came from a casual question I asked as I was about to leave: “Do you have any postal maps?”

The answer to that question led me to a resource that my library patrons can use, a potential collaboration, and to thinking about what other postal history-related collections might be tucked away in unexpected places.

On my library’s blog, I wrote a post about what I found at the Free Library of Philadelphia and more about finding postal history information in libraries. That post was featured in our member newsletter, and literally overnight became one of our most-read blog posts.

Dogs in (and out) of libraries

Kids at one California library no longer have access to a program that aims to help them build confidence and develop a passion for reading. The program, Paws for Tales, allows kids to read to a therapy dog. Among its volunteers was Jonny Justice, a survivor of Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring, now a Canine Good Citizen and certified therapy dog.

The Burlingame library participated in the program but decided to ban pit bulls. When Jonny and his owner protested, based on California law that prohibits breed-based discrimination, the library pulled out of the program completely. Read the whole sad story as report by Jim Gorant (The Lost Dogs) in Parade magazine.

(For happier news about pit bulls and libraries, check out Grant the Library Dog, who gets to listen to kids reading at the Milford Memorial Library in Iowa.)

Of course, you can’t actually check out Grant – he stays in the library – but students at Yale’s law library can check out a therapy dog. In a pilot program starting at the end of this month, stressed-out law students will be able to check out a dog for thirty minute periods. Read more in the Yale Daily News.

The adventures of the special librarian

This video, posted by the Minnesota chapter of SLA, has been making the rounds.

Many people were amused by the librarian with his little black bag and amazing photocopier. Others noted that his work is not that different from what we do today; it’s just the tools that have changed.

I noted that my job is very similar. Philatelic libraries are, in many ways, old-fashioned. While my library’s catalog is online, we routinely use print and card indexes to access the journal literature. Very few publications are digital, and very little of the older material has been digitized. We just started publishing our own journal online this year.

We are making progress, but there is a definite digital library divide. The New York Times recently ran an article about where American libraries stand in terms of digitization efforts: Playing Catch-Up in a Digital Library Race.