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.

Embedded library

While people discuss the value of embedded librarians versus centralized libraries, and the value of having an information professional within the department versus the value of having a library as study, research, and meeting space, I’ve had the best of both worlds for the past 9 years.

I’ve been embedded in a research center, along with my library. Really, this is not so different from the department library model, except that I work at an interdisciplinary research center with faculty and students from multiple departments and colleges – and I work for the research center, rather than the library system.PRI Library

An article on embedded librarians from Inside Higher Ed examines the Welch Medical Library at Johns Hopkins University, which is well ahead of most libraries in embedding its librarians. Some of the commenters note that losing the library as place means losing access to space for patrons who do not have their own offices, losing access to resources not available online, and losing access to collaborative space.

Having an embedded library – a thing that used to be common in NICHD-funded population research centers, but that is no longer being encouraged in new centers – provides immense benefits that, unfortunately, cannot be measured in research funding.

Because my office is in the research center, I know about new projects as working groups are formed or proposals drafted, and can provide assistance. Faculty and students see me in the elevator and ask questions. I overhear conversations that lead me to develop new workshops.

Because the library is also in the research center, graduate students have a place for informal meetings. While they are in the library, they have a chance to browse new books and journals. This is especially important in an interdisciplinary field, because resources related to population are not gathered in one place in the main university library.

As one commenter noted, the one thing I am missing is a connection to my librarian colleagues. In fact, since I work for the research center, I don’t have any formal connection to them. So, instead of having to work hard to connect with my patrons, I’ve had to work hard to connect with other librarians. Overall, though, I think this model has worked.

Grant the library dog

As a librarian with a pit bull, I can’t resist sharing this. Grant is a library dog who is trained to help kids gain confidence reading out loud. Back in February, he made the evening news.  You can follow his adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

Grant is also an American Staffordshire Terrier (AKC)/American Pit Bull Terrier (UKC). Nice to see him working so hard to promote literacy and dispel myths about pit bulls at the same time. (Though I think his job looks pretty cushy!)

My pit bull likes books, too, but mostly she eats them. I don’t think she’s cut out for a library career.