Challenging. Time-consuming. The first semester of this academic year has been…well, just that. I can’t remember a more busy time in my career as a librarian since 1998/99. (That’s another “perfect storm” story altogether.) And most of what I have been entwined with recently comes from outside my typical sphere of duties. Our institution is currently involved in the re-accreditation process, and I have landed on several self-study committees either as a chair or a resource person. Anyone who has been through the re-accreditation process (this is my 2nd go-around) understands what that means.
Honestly, most of my work energies over the last 3-4 months have been devoted to something outside of the library, and I kinda miss my job. (I should also note that I lament being socially MIA on Twitter, etc. with my peeps.) Special activities like re-accreditation are beneficial and much-needed. Nevertheless, at times I feel like a school kid wandering the streets in the middle of a weekday looking over my shoulder for a truant officer. (Am I abandoning my post?) Other times, I feel like Cinderella must have felt to be left scrubbing the floors while her sisters went out to the big event. (Am I missing the fun?)
I’m ready to be a librarian again…and in more ways than one. I’m ready to get back to what I know and love best. At the same time, I have been reflecting on just what it is that I know and love best.
Perhaps one of the benefits of this time away from my normal duties has been the ability to step out of the mix somewhat and reflect. I have been doing some soul-searching, or–more precisely–some mission-searching. Actually, I’ve been reflecting on “mission,” “purpose,” and the like for about a year now. Maybe this semester was the match to throw on the charcoals that I have been soaking in lighter fluid. When I heard from some of the library staff that they had a good conversation this week about the library’s purpose and identity, I knew that I was onto something.
So here’s what we as a library staff are going to do. In January we are going to hold an informal library staff forum to talk about our library and its role in our institution and higher education in general. We will reflect on:
- Who we (the library) are.
- What we do.
- How we do it.
A family meeting, so to speak. Who knows? We may even invite the academic dean and the president. (Open communication is golden.) The plan is simple: Talk, listen, and respond and then see what happens.
New year resolution. Spring cleaning. A first step. Utter nonsense. Call it what you will. We’re going to talk and listen, and hopefully we’ll come out on the other end all the better for having done so.
Time to go. I’ve got more re-accreditation work to do before breaking for the holidays.
Today marks a significant double milestone for me. On August 30, 1995 (15 years ago to the day) I began my professional career as a librarian. On that same day I also took my first steps on the Erskine campus as an employed library staff member and faculty member. What an incredible experience it has been.
I vividly remember the excitement, enthusiasm, anxiety, and cluelessness that I felt as a greenhorn to the profession and the job. Over the years I have leaned on the training that I received from so many great instructors in library school and have learned even more through trial and error, flying by the seat of my pants.
I look back over the past decade and a half, and I see a lot of personal and professional growth. I look ahead and see room for even more. Today I would highlight 5 general concepts about librarianship that I have absorbed over the course of the last 15 years. They are (in no particular order):
- Change is inevitable. Tradition is informative. Adaptation is invaluable.
- Connecting with the library user is just as important as assisting the library user.
- It’s not about the tools/toys; it’s about what can be done with them.
- Seeing things from the vantage point of the user can be constructive and inspirational.
- Libraries and the library profession are much more than the average public perception.
Rather than provide commentary on these points, I have decided to simply list them and allow you, the reader, to reflect. Feel free to comment. I’ll be glad to respond.
And now for some fun…
Being the history and technology buff that I am, I thought I would compile a few historical facts to help put into perspective how far things have come since 1995.
Internet Explorer debuted (the now famous “blue e” logo was still a year away)
Netscape (anybody remember that web browser?) was only a year old (free only for academic and non-profit organizations; for all others, it would set you back $49)
Microsoft’s Windows95 operating system was released as was the short-lived Microsoft Bob
Web search engine AltaVista launched
The World Wide Web was only 5 years young (and the commercialization of the Web — the “dot-com bubble” — was just beginning to happen)
Facebook, Flickr, Google, iTunes, MySpace, Wikipedia, and YouTube did not exist
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google, were meeting for the first time at Stanford University
Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, was 9 years old (and the launch of Facebook was still 9 years away)
The first wiki, WikiWikiWeb, appeared
“Social Networking” meant attending a party
If you typed with your thumbs, you were kind of…weird
Text messaging (SMS) was a fledgling activity (on average, only 0.4 messages per customer per month in 1995)
The Bulletin Board System, or BBS, was at the peak of its popularity (Our library had one.) What’s a BBS, you say? Watch this.
Nobody was asking, “Do you provide Wi-Fi access?”
Pagers were more popular than cell phones
Amazon.com website launched (company founded in 1994)
eBay debuted (known then as AuctionWeb — The name “eBay” didn’t arrive until 1997)
Craig Newmark began craiglist
Apple introduced its first color laser printer, the Color Laser Printer 12/600PS (Cost? $7,000)
CNN joined the internet, debuting CNN.com
The History Channel debuted
Sony PlayStation was released in the US (Cost? $299)
TV show Friends was only one season old
Jerry Garcia died and the Grateful Dead disbanded
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in Cleveland, OH
Top song on the Billboard charts on August 30, 1995: “You Are Not Alone” by Michael Jackson
O.J. Simpson trial took place with O.J. found not guilty in murder of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman
Shannon Faulkner became the 1st female admitted to The Citadel
Cost of first-class postage stamp: $0.32
Average gas price: $1.15/gallon
[Except where noted, all images in the 1995 timeline come from Wikipedia or Wikimedia Commons.]
Yes, a lot has changed since 1995. Here’s to the next 15 years of librarianship and watching taking part in the change that will continue to reveal itself.
I am planning a regular series of posts highlighting books that I would recommend reading. Good Reads, if you will. These will be books coming from my personal reading list related to librarianship, information, and/or technology. So for those who like to curl up with a good book (or ebook reader), I hope you will find something from these recommendations that pique your interest.
I thought it fitting to kick off the “Good Reads” series with a book by Nancy K. Maxwell entitled, Sacred Stacks: The Higher Purpose of Libraries and Librarianship (ALA, 2006). Maxwell, a veteran librarian currently serving as the library director at the Miami Dade College North Campus Library, reflects in Sacred Stacks on the nature of the library profession, drawing correlations to the sacred/religious. The book grew out of her experiences while a librarian on a Catholic university campus.
An initial reaction might be to assume a religious motivation and focus for the book. Actually it is a professional reflection on the “higher purpose” of librarianship that suggests similarities between libraries and religious institutions–between librarians and ministers. (A quote from the Encyclopedia of Career and Vocational Guidance appearing at the beginning of Chapter 2 helps to illustrate this point nicely.) Following two “introductory” chapters that set the stage for sacred correlations for libraries and librarians, each subsequent chapter deals with a specific aspect of libraries/librarians:
- Organizing chaos
- Bestowing immortality
- Uplifting individuals and society
- Providing (sacred, secular) space
- Promoting community
- Transmitting culture to future generations
The book ends with a final chapter of implications for libraries and charges to librarians.
As a fellow librarian, I can appreciate some of Maxwell’s observations about libraries and librarians. More specifically, as a librarian at a church-related academic institution, I can identify with her perception of libraries as analogous with the sacred. I have always considered my career choice a “calling,” and that perception is confirmed for me daily in my tasks and interactions with library users.
Take a preview of the book and then find a copy that you can read from cover to cover. It has a lot to say about a profession/institution that serves a higher purpose for society.