Some thoughts on SLA

Elections for the SLA Board opened today. I’m a candidate for Division Cabinet Chair-Elect. (If you don’t know what that means, you might want to read my post, What is Division Cabinet?)

If you are an SLA member, please take the time to learn about the candidates and cast an informed vote. Over the past few months, all of the candidates answered a series of 5 questions on the SLA Blog. I’ve enjoyed reading my fellow candidates’ thoughts about SLA.

Here are my answers to the 5 questions:

1. What sort of advice would you give to professionals, both newly minted and more seasoned professionals, who might be interested in nontraditional career paths?

Advice to someone interested in a nontraditional career path

2. When did you first join SLA? What made you decide to join then, and why do you still belong today?

Why I belong to SLA

3. What is the newest “techie” gadget that you have/would like to have, and how do/would you use it to improve the work relationship that you have with your primary clientele?

The only gadget I need

4. How has your work with SLA over the years helped you grow professionally and personally?

SLA, for everything I didn’t learn in library school

5. SLA is an international organization. How can SLA involve and reach out more to members outside of North America?

Making SLA truly international


Still blogging after all these years

Blogs have gone from hot new thing to just another communication channel. They’re not dead – in fact, after reading Walt Crawford’s survey of the library blog landscape, But Still They Blog, I conclude they’re very much alive.

I don’t blog the same way I used to. I don’t post as many personal things, mainly because I have other, more appropriate channels (like Facebook) for those. I don’t post as often as I used to, which could be because I have other channels, or could be because I’m busier than I used to be. I don’t follow blogs the same way I used to; I’m more likely to find an interesting post via Twitter or Facebook or even a Google search than I am to find it by reading my RSS feeds. (Perhaps relatedly, the popular feed reader Bloglines announced it is shutting down on November 1.)

But, there are some things for which my blog is still the best channel. I think (based on the number of comments I get) that more people follow my blog, or find my posts somehow, than did in the early days. I’m used to thinking of myself as a pretty small-time blogger, but I have been around for a while. (I was somewhat surprised to find that DIY Librarian is included in the pioneers section of Crawford’s book – but I have been blogging since mid-2003!)

Mac Slocum quotes from an interview with Anil Dash about why blogging still matters:

That was the promise we had when we all first discovered the web. Someday it would bring us all together and we’d be able to have these conversations. It’s not perfect. It’s not ideal. But in some small way here’s somebody like me — with no portfolio, I didn’t go to an Ivy League school, I didn’t have any fancy social connections when I started my blog — and it has opened the door to me having a conversation as a peer, as somebody taken seriously, in realms that I would have never otherwise had access to. That’s the greatest privilege in the world.

My blog has allowed me to have conversations, both real and virtual, with people I wouldn’t have otherwise had a connection to. In the early days of this blog, I contacted Jessamyn West of (one of the true library blog pioneers) for advice, and she wrote back to me.

Next week, I’ll be speaking on a panel at PaLA about blogging and personal branding. Back when I started this blog, it was still unclear whether blogging helped or hurt your professional reputation. This blog has helped me professionally, and I hope to demonstrate how with a little self-awareness blogging can help other young professionals too.

A day in the life of a philatelic librarian

Last week I started a new job as librarian for the American Philatelic Research Library, and this week is far from the typical quiet week in the library because it is our first Volunteer Week and we have four volunteers in the library sorting old journals.

Volunteers sort journals at the American Philatelic Research Library

Volunteers sort journals at the American Philatelic Research Library

So when I first saw that this week is Library Day in the Life, round 5, I thought that I wouldn’t participate because this is clearly not a typical time in this librarian’s life. Then I decided it was actually a good time for me to participate, as I begin to explore what exactly a day in my life will be like. I’ve been keeping a diary at work, so this is kind of a public extension of that.

Here’s a little recap of my day, from my Twitter feed:

Run, breakfast, bike to work, say hello, talk about volunteer work week at the library. THEN check email.

Met member of board of directors for the first time. (This is my second week on the job. Trying to remember names and faces!)

Also, I actually do get to read a lot at this job. Reading up on the library and society history to start.

Morning train just went by. I love my new office.

Met with board member about library blog, digitization, union catalog. Volunteers busy sorting journals. No time for snacks.

Biked home for lunch. Came back and sent introduction letters to other philatelic libraries and librarians, because I’m new.

The volunteers already finished their first project! Wow.

I also learned how to send mail. Important when you work for a philatelic library!

Finished my correspondence. Went out to help volunteers sort old journals. Favorite title: The Precancel Optimist.

I’m running for the uninsured

2010 CVIM Marathoners for Medicine team with homorary coaches Joe and Sue Paterno and Greg Fredericks

2010 CVIM Marathoners for Medicine team with homorary coaches Joe and Sue Paterno and Greg Fredericks

Please indulge me in a rare post that has nothing to do with libraries, but everything to do with communities.

On April 19th, I will join a group of local runners in running the Boston Marathon to raise money for Centre Volunteers in Medicine, Centre County’s free medical and dental clinic. This is the fourth year I am doing this, and it is by far the hardest year.

I got lost on a snowshoeing trip at the beginning of February and ended up with 6 frostbitten toes. I am very fortunate that frostbite was the worst of it, and that I was able to keep all of my toes. I am unbelievably fortunate that I am able to run 26.2 miles so soon after this injury. (At least, I think I can…)

Frostbitten toesI couldn’t run for a month, but I am back out there and will be at the start line in Hopkinton on April 19. I was able to recover so well because I wasn’t worried about going to the doctor — I had good health insurance. I went first to my family doctor, then to the emergency room, and then to a wound care specialist. (Apparently frostbite is not that common, even here in central Pennsylvania!) This experience made me think about the kinds of choices people make when they don’t have insurance. What if I had to choose between treating my toes and paying the heating bill?

Thanks to Centre Volunteers in Medicine, people in Centre County do not have to make that choice. Please consider supporting CVIM with a donation – any amount helps and every cent goes to CVIM.

You can donate online through CVIM’s website.

On race day, track my progress on the Boston Marathon website and send kind thoughts to my toes! I’ll be wearing bib # 15042.

Oh, and this is a little bit library-related: the Boston Marathon finishes in front of the Boston Public Library. The marathon I ran to qualify for Boston, the Richmond Marathon, starts in front of the Virginia Commonwealth Library.

What were you doing in 2001?

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Google has made its 2001 search index available. [via E-Tech]

In 2001, I started my current job, which resulted my my first real web presence, courtesy of a profile page in our staff directory. (I tried to see what my profile looked like in 2001, but it isn’t accessible via the Wayback Machine. We do have a long-standing web presence, dating back to the pre-Google era.) A 2001 search on my name doesn’t find me on the first page (though with a little more searching I was able to find a mention of me); searching now reveals several pages about or by me, as well as a lot of other Tara Murrays.

I was just starting to think about a blog in 2001. (DIY Librarian made its debut in 2003.) I was probably starting to search on DIY Librarian to see if it was taken yet.

While I was indulging my internet nostalgia, I came across a newsletter my center produced in 1999. It has a section about the library. What were we doing back then? Showing off our catalog. Discussing the pros and cons of distributing working papers online. Teaching an introduction to online literature searching.

What did I do today? Demo our catalog. Encourage people to submit working papers. Teach an introduction to literature searching.

The more things change…

Small libraries and smaller libraries

In a letter published in the April 1 Library Journal, Stephanie Chase asks the magazine to provide more coverage of truly small libraries—not small like LJ’s Best Small Library in America, a county library with a yearly budget of over $400,000, but really small like those libraries where the budget is not even equal to a decent professional salary.

I work in a tiny academic library. With 3 full-time staff serving about 75 faculty and a somewhat larger number of graduate students, we are a good size for what we do, but we are a tiny flea compared to the behemoth University Libraries next door.

This always presents problems when I fill out a research survey (which I try to do whenever I am asked). If select “Library Director” as my job title (which it is) and “University” as my type of institution (which it is) it makes my job seem a lot bigger than it is. Yes, I do have my own budget and make purchasing decisions, but my budget is so small that some vendors won’t even return a phone call. “Department Manager”, while also appropriate, doesn’t usually make sense because I don’t report to another librarian.

I rely very heavily on the resources of the behemoth next door, so in some ways I am as much a library patron as a librarian. However, I also do a lot on my own, and this was, in part, the inspiration for DIY Librarian.

I relate to the stories of very small rural libraries Jessamyn West tells at These libraries are quirky. They have limited resources, but they know their communities very well. While my budget probably seems like a dream to these libraries, in the academic world I think it is probably around the same level. We have good computer support and quality equipment, and we can easily purchase books that are priced for academic libraries and run around $100-$200 each. But we can’t purchase online databases or journals because of the price and because of technological issues (our users don’t have a defined IP address range because they are scattered across campus).

Marathons and libraries

The Richmond Marathon starts right in front of the Library of Virginia. Yes, take me anywhere, and I will find a library!

Richmond Marathon

The Los Angeles Marathon finishes in front of the LA Public Library, or at least it did the year I was there and trying to visit the library.

My Old School

I went back to my old school last week, and of course I went to the library. This is where I decided to become a librarian.

Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Library

I found one of the librarians who was there when I was a student, and we chatted about the state of the profession, ALA, other Bard students who went on to become librarians, and the exciting things they’re doing with their archives.

The library looked great—full of students, even on a beautiful Friday afternoon. My old dorm was another story.



In addition to the house-buying, a couple other things are keeping me from blogging as much as I might like. One of them is a semester-long class on supervision I’m taking through my university human resources department.

Many librarians “fall” into supervisory roles and do not have formal training. (See, for example, Rachel Singer Gordon’s The Accidental Library Manager.) I only took the management courses in library school because they were required, but I do remember one professor telling us that almost all librarians are supervisors—if not of full-time staff, then of students or volunteers. That woke me up, because I had no intention of being a supervisor.

I’m glad I was forced to take the courses, because here I am, a department manager. Even so, I felt unprepared for my first supervisory job, and still feel like I have a lot to learn.

Staff are the majority of my budget. I’ve spent a lot of time honing my tech skills and learning my subject matter, but relatively little time on improving as a supervisor. I come away from the keynote speeches at leadership events feeling really empowered—but that feeling fades after the event. With a weekly class and homework assignments, I’m forced to apply the things I’m learning.

I’ll try to report on the things I learn that are especially relevant for librarians. My first discovery is that I have shifted from Introvert to Extrovert on the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. What a long way from the kid who was so shy her teachers wondered if she could talk! I’m sure that my supervisory experience and leadership roles in professional associations played a part in this transormation.

One of the issues I hope to investigate during the course of the semester is how delegation is different in libraries than in other departments because of the separation between MLS and non-MLS staff.