Wednesday, February 24, 2010

About Me (and this blog)

For a while I've been assuming that the only people looking at this weblog were those I worked with (or knew by extension) in libraryland. Yes, I know it's public, but I believed not many others would read it, hence the lack of an informative "About Me" page common to most blogs. Now seems like a good time to clarify things for anyone who arrives here and is confused.

Who I Am:
I am a Reference and Instruction Librarian at a community college in southern New Jersey. Before that, I was an adjunct librarian at several community colleges in upstate New York. Before that, I was a paraprofessional at the Cornell University Library while I worked on my MSLIS at Syracuse University's iSchool. Before that, I worked in journalism as a freelancer and office manager for a small newspaper. Before that, I bounced around the following departments as an undergraduate (this may not seem important, but the interests continue and seem to crop up in the blog): journalism, psychology, classics, literature, philosophy, and history. Eventually this resulted in a BA in history, with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies.

Blog History:
I started the Librarian's Commute during the 'adjunct' phase of the above biography, when I was shuttling among different jobs and job functions. I used three or four different computers for work every day, and I did not have a true 'home' at work. I also spent a lot of time in the car. I felt the need to have some record of what I was doing, and I looked for a way to make the hours in the car more productive. Hence the name of the blog. I know the title is kind of lame. I would probably think it sounded too stupid to be worth my attention if I wasn't the one writing it. Oh well; at the same time, I still like the idea of the liminal nature of being in transit, when a person is neither here nor there.

Subsequent to my adjuncting days, I found a less temporary position, and at that point I wondered whether I should continue with the blog. For various reasons, I'm still in the car two hours every day, thus I still have plenty of time to ponder things while driving, and so I figured I might as well keep at it.

What this Blog Tries to Be:
Overall, this is my attempt to be a part of, and contribute to, the library community. I am one of many figuring out what a librarian is as the information world changes, and libraries, technology, and higher education are the topics I try and stick to.

Having studied journalism, I'm aware of how difficult it is to be objective, and this is partly why I write from a first-person narrative point of view. Mostly I use this blog as a sounding board while I organize ideas. I try to write in a way that is clear, rational, and conversational, but I'm probably guilty of seeming alternately simplistic and over-earnest. I do my best to be honest and fair.

What this Blog Is Not:
-An official representation of the college where I work. I speak for myself as an individual, not for the college.
-Breaking news. You can find it lots of other places.
-Tech tips, for the same reason as above. I will elaborate on stuff I find useful, but I'm not usually the first to know.
-I don't think of this a place to air my personal grievances, and I don't want to talk about my cat or what I had for lunch here, unless it relates to libraries, technology, or higher education.

Where Else You Might Find Me:
I have private (not particularly library-related) accounts on Facebook and Twitter. I also administer and provide some of the content for my library's Facebook and Twitter pages. I tried to get involved with ning and several other groups online, but they haven't held my attention. I'm a member of ALA, & ACRL, and so I lurk & occasionally post to the CJC, COLLIB, OFFCAMP (DLS), ILI, RSS (RUSA), and NMRT listservs. Locally I try to be involved in VALE, NJ-ACRL, SJRLC, and CJARL.

Relevant Policies etc.:
I attempt to post at least once per week, and I've been able to hold to that so far. When I notice a typographical or factual error, I will edit a previously published post. Because I've been treating this as more of a writing project than a technology project, I've been lazy about adding gadgets and whatnot, preferring to keep it plain and simple. I'm using google's blogger software, which is free free free, and sometimes it shows. I have no plans to monetize any time soon.

The photos are my own unless attributed. At first they were strictly from my commute, and then when I got bored of taking pictures of the road I started posting anything I saw during the week.

For a long time commenting was open to anyone, but then someone submitted a bunch of advertising in Chinese, so I changed the permissions. Recently I changed them back to being more open, but I reserve the right to delete anything I consider inappropriate.

Creative Commons
I just added a license, because it bugged me to think someone might take credit for and profit from my work. It hadn't occurred to me before that anyone would want or be able to do that, but who knows. Please be nice and give me credit for my writing and photos, if you recycle them.

There may be a time when I don't want to do this any more. I'll probably re-evaluate the whole project when it hits five years old. Just because five seems like a good number.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Interesting Feedback...

Thanks to Google Alerts* I was notified about a fairly unpleasant description of this blog, which appears to be written as a class exercise for Meredith Farkas's LIBR246-04/13 Web 2.0 course. The author's name is Marc Schatkun. You can read it here.

I'd like to respond.
1) "Judging by the few comments she receives, it appears that her blog is not very successful."

Wait, so the best measure of a 'successful' blog is by counting the number of comments? I guess I really should quit now then. I've been measuring success differently: I have really enjoyed maintaining a log of what I've been working on and thinking about in libraryland over the years. When I look back I can see where my thinking has developed and where I've improved. Also, I'm really glad to have a professional 'face' outside of my job where I can work through ideas and thinking. Anyone is welcome to comment, but worrying about how many people are leaving comments has certainly never been high on my priority list for this.

2) "I browsed through a few of her writings, and it seems that she is anti-Facebook, anti-Twitter, and anti-social software in general"

Hold up, I am not anti- any of those things! I am the administrator of our library's Facebook and Twitter accounts! Please Mr. Schatkun, do more than 'browse' next time! And give me a little credit for being a bit skeptical about social technologies, unlike many of my young peers.

3) "I like to read about professional topics, not personal diaries (as in the Librarian’s Commute)."

Wait, does this blog come across as a personal diary? Holy moley, I thought I was being really good about Avoiding Personal Topics, & writing about what I run into in higher education and librarianship. I do try and keep the tone light and friendly, but I really don't think this blog is any more personal than other well-respected library blogs, such as Jenica Rogers Urbank's delightful "Attempting Elegance," K.G. Schneider's "Free Range Librarian" and Meredith's own "Information Wants to be Free"

I really don't care whether Mr. Schatkun wants to read my blog or not, but I wish his criticism was accurate! (And yes, a part of me is thinking 'maybe the whole point of what he wrote was to get a reaction and encourage social media participation.' If so I blow a big raspberry to you, sir.)

Next week: Mission statement for the Librarian's Commute, for the next time there's confusion.

* Schatkun's post is marked as being from 2/10/10 -- would have been nice to know about it a little sooner, ahem Google.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Participating Online

Campus buildings, a patch of blue sky, and snow everywhere (still)

For a while I've been wondering what motivates people to give away the kitchen sink online. Bragging rights? Loneliness? Boredom?

But then I caught myself contributing a couple of times recently, and so here's one perspective:

Personally, I am highly motivated to participate online -- in a discussion, Facebook conversation, a wiki, whatever -- when I notice a blatant error. I experience a very strong urge to correct the error. Even anonymously. In fact, I prefer when I can do it anonymously. Now I'm wondering whether I'm unique, if this is a symptom of some control disorder, or if this the same thing that motivates a lot of people. Is this how wikipedia came to be?

That is all, for now. It's been a long week.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How to Best Help

(yep, lots of snow lately)

I've been trying to understand how to provide effective public service, both at the library and more broadly at the college. This may be oversimplifying, but I see two different ways of doing so:

(1) Spoon feeding -- No questions asked, provide an answer or solution as quickly as possible.

(2) Teaching how to fish, as in "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime." -- Show how to accomplish a task independently.

In America, the second approach is widely admired, but when it comes to being on the receiving end of service, people prefer the former.

So when it comes to 18-year-old community college students, is our mission to promote independence, or to continue some of the hand-holding they might have gotten in their K-12 experiences? I think I know the answer, but I resent the abuse that can come along with it. Many students I encounter seem not to have been expected to act independently in the past. This means that in addition to the new academic subjects they are learning in college, they are also being asked to behave like adults for the first time.

I attended an ALA presentation last summer about a study of the academic habits of graduate students. Researchers found that not only were graduate student habits dictated by the preferences and tendencies of their departments and advisors, and that those expectations varied dramatically by department, but also that the graduate students were largely expected to be equipped and qualified for graduate level work from day one. For students who moved from undergraduate work directly to graduate school, this could be bewildering. If they did not get a base of understanding research in their fields as undergraduates, there was no built-in process for them to be brought up to speed in graduate school. They were supposed to already know.

I suspect this also happens during the transition from high school to college. High schools do their jobs with students who are considered children by legal standards. When these children turn 18 and come to college, they are held up to a sometimes different set of expectations. Yet it is possible that no-one ever introduced them to adulthood. I imagine the experience can be disorienting at best, and harsh at worst. And for community college students who already face various obstacles encouraging them not to persist with college, it may be one of those variables that convinces them they are not fit for higher education.

Here are some possible solutions I see that involve the library:
-Greater outreach to the K-12 schools that are feeding students to the college.
-Some kind of mandatory introduction or orientation to college, so that incoming students get the basics of what is expected.
-Some kind of computer prerequisite or test, to establish a minimum level of comprehension. I'm on shaky ground with this one, but I think college students are often given more credit than they deserve when it comes to computers and technology, in particular when it comes to doing serious academic work.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Librarian Tech Support

(pine cone surrounded by snow)

I keep returning to the thought that in the current information environment, which is enriched by computers and technology, librarians are responsible for more rather than less.

Digital objects and the machines connecting to them seem to require as much attention and maintenance as any physical object in the library. On some days, a substantial portion of what I do involves making sure computers work properly: Computer hardware appears to have a shorter shelf-life (ha!) than a book.

In library school, I did not imagine that technical support would be such a major component of my job as a professional librarian, but I am slowly accepting it. Sometimes I feel spread thin trying to learn what seems to be expected from tech support -- digital devices, audio visual formats and standards, digital objects, etc. But often we compose the immediate assistance for the myriad computer applications and programs and systems. If there are computers and patrons needing help, they look to us -- not necessarily because we are equipped or qualified, but because we are present.

As someone with first-hand experience teaching how to print a document ten different times in a morning (yesterday), I am not surprised by librarian resentment over this state of affairs. But whether we like it or not we are at least partially responsible for an array of fallible machines & associated technology. In addition to books, we are now nominally in charge of maintaining and preserving digital devices and objects.

Librarianship has always been about information, but most of us do not have much control over the directions it takes. We are facing increased responsibility, and we can respond in two ways: Cover our ears and hum to ourselves, or roll up our sleeves, do what we can, and try and embrace the new roles we find ourselves in, adding tech support to teaching and research assistance. I'm for the latter.