Growth of a Librarian

Library Love
March 24, 2012, 7:20 pm
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It has taken me quite some time to think of anything further to write about on this blog, but after reading The Library Book I’ve finally come up with a few ideas.  It was interesting to read about the quirky libraries that various authors had known and loved as children, and the impact those buildings had on their lives as adults.  This started me thinking about the libraries I grew up with, and the impact they had on my life.

I have always loved libraries, because I have always loved books.  As a kid I went through books at an astonishing rate, and the only way to have new books on a regular basis was through my local library.  Luckily I had parents who encouraged me to read by reading to me when I was very young, and by taking me to the library on a regular basis throughout my life.  The local library in the town where I grew up was quite small, but it was the perfect size for a child.  I could wander around without fear of getting lost and felt entirely at home.  The staff were friendly, there were children’s, young people’s and adult books (both fiction and non-fiction), a fascinating card catalogue, and even a big cage with three or four chirpy budgies.  Every summer there was a summer reading program that included events and prizes (mugs and stickers were common) for reading a specified number of books.  I seem to remember completing the reading challenge twice in some years.

When I was a young teenager the public library temporarily moved from the building it had been in my whole life to an empty store in our local shopping mall while a new building was built on the old site.  The location in the shopping mall was noisy and cramped, and I remember being very disappointed about the move initially.  The new layout forced me to explore new parts of the library’s collection, however, since I couldn’t simply settle in my accustomed corner.  It also meant that I had the unique experience of being a teenager who eagerly awaited trips to the mall not to go shopping but rather to go to the library.

The new building that finally opened to house the public library has always been somewhat disappointing.  It seems too big, almost cavernous, for the number of books it houses, and although modern inside it lacks any sense of character.  Although I continued to use this new library off and on for several years, I never connected to the building in the same way that I did to either of the previous two locations.  Perhaps the difference in my age had something to do with it, but the new building never seemed to have any magic.

It might seem that one public library (in three various locations) would be enough to shape one child’s love of libraries, however, for me it was only the beginning.  My elementary school had a beautiful old library, which I loved very much.  The building had originally been built to house a high school, so the library was not scaled down to the size of young children, and  retained its original wooden shelving which I perceived as towering to the ceiling.  The library was also overseen by a friendly librarian, who read stories, taught us about the Dewey decimal system, and helped us pick books for our assignments.  Every year in elementary school we had ‘library class’, which meant a trip to the library once or twice a week for a class with the librarian.  It was one of the constants that could be depended on each year, and was something I missed very much when I went to middle and high school.  Although both my subsequent schools had libraries, we rarely went there as a class, and never on a regular basis, so that leaving elementary school behind also meant leaving behind regular trips to the school library.

Other public libraries played smaller roles in my childhood.  There was a branch of a public library in a larger city down the road from where I lived that had a much larger collection housed in a much larger building.  As a kid it was always very exciting to stop at that library on a day out, where I was literally overwhelmed with new and unexpected choices in books.  The library itself was housed in a lovely building with big bay windows in the children’s area and a cozy fireplace in the reference department.  As I grew older I began to frequent other branches of the city’s library in search of new books, and it continued to be a keen pleasure to revel in the expanse of choice through my teenage and adult years.

Finally there were the public libraries that I stopped at briefly while on trips with my family.  My parents have always been very fond of car trips, and we spent weeks each year travelling across the country by car.  Scenery was not of great interest to me between the ages of five to twelve years old, and books were indispensable as a way to pass the time.  At six years old my favorite stops (I have been told) were at playgrounds and libraries.  I can easily believe this, since I clearly remember a small public library in a town near the entrance to a national park where my family often went camping.  Especially on rainy days my parents would sometimes take me to the library for a break from the rain, and I remember feeling at home among the well-worn chairs and books.

In looking back at the libraries that were important to me as a child, it doesn’t seem at all surprising that I should choose to work in a library now.  If anything it is only surprising that it took me so long to work out that this was what I wanted to do.  Clearly I am drawn to libraries as places that are homely, inviting, reliable, interesting and exciting.  I may not remember exactly when my fascination with libraries began, but I do know that they are unique places that I continue to love to this day.

December 3, 2011, 5:54 pm
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Finally at the end of CPD23!  A bit late, but finishing none the less, which is quite exciting!  Right at the moment I’m mainly pleased for having seen this programme through, and I’ve definitely learned more about all sorts of ‘tech-y’ things and feel in the loop just enough to know what things like Twitter, Evernote, and LinkedIn are all about, even if I’m not actively using them (never did become a big Twitter fan, just can’t think in short, unconnected bursts!).  I definitely got some good ideas for sprucing up my CV and cover letter, and am going to sit down and do an overhaul of them before I start applying for jobs again in the next 9 months or so.  I have every intention of giving it a month or two before I start on that, however, and am looking forward to an uncluttered Christmas, with no new Things to think about.  Which isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed this process, just that I enjoy the holidays even more!

Once more I must also add how much I’ve enjoyed following along with others’ blogs, and have really learned a lot in the virtual classroom/common room that seems to have developed out of this programme.  I’m not sure if I’ll continue with this blog, mostly because I’m not sure what I would say without a topic provided to me, but I am hoping to at least occasionally add some library-related entries.  Perhaps my new year’s resolution should be to make the effort to keep writing, so do let me know if you have suggestions of topics to ease me in!  Until then – happy holidays and happy libraries to all!

Making a Difference
December 3, 2011, 5:39 pm
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At first I was confused by the issue under consideration in this Thing – that volunteering might not be a “good thing”.  I grew up volunteering as an active Girl Scout (Girl Guide for you Brits out there) where I learned about the importance of giving back at a very young age.  Volunteering my time and whatever skills I may have has always been a part of who I am, and I have been saddened and confused to find the issue of volunteering under such heated debate in England, where there is a tendency to replace paid staff with volunteers.  To me this misses the point of volunteering entirely.  It seems to me that volunteering should be a way of brining people in for small blocks of time, for specific tasks, or for efforts where sheer numbers are required, as a supplement to paid staff.  The work that volunteers can and should do seems inherently different from the work of paid staff in any given organisation, and the loss of either role seems a great pity to me.

That being said, I have never actually volunteered in a library, although a great deal of the experience I have gained in other volunteer roles has been useful in my jobs in libraries.  Partially this is because libraries are where I work, and when I volunteer I want a chance to try something new, and partially this is because I have been uncannily lucky so far in finding paid library work when I need it.  The volunteering I have done ranges from weekly scheduled shifts in local museums or with Scout/Guide groups, to one-off litter-clearing days or buying and packing Christmas gifts for children in need.  My first two visits to England came about because I was volunteering here, full-time, for several months at a time.

These varied volunteer experiences have all given me the chance to try something new, and have given me a wide range of skills to draw on in different situations.  I’m better at public speaking, have experience teaching children basic math and reading skills, learned my way around London, and learned to work a till and a fax machine, for example, all because I have volunteered.  Demonstrably then, volunteering not only benefits the volunteer by providing useful and enjoyable experience, but as the name implies it also benefits others.  Absolutely there are environments in which volunteers can be taken advantage of, and where staff are replaced by volunteers (my only personal experience with this issue has been through organisations in the UK, but it must happen elsewhere), and this is definitely bad for everyone.  In cases where the essential division in the function and purpose of volunteers and staff is clearly maintained and respected, however, then there are only benefits for everyone involved.

Interests and experience
November 12, 2011, 7:19 pm
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Although I didn’t write anything down for Thing 21 (my CV has been recently up-dated and polished) I was intrigued by the idea of incorporating skills and experience from personal interests into a professional application.  I’ve always done a lot of volunteering (see thing 22 post, when I get around to writing it), and have referenced many of those positions in job applications, but have generally thought rather cyncially of the personal interest section of a CV as largely HR fluff.  After reading some other bloggers’ responses to this Thing however, I began to re-evaluate my own personal interests  in light of possible professional applicability.

My on-going personal interest is in puppetry, and this has obvious potential to be useful in just about any job involving interaction with children.  I’m convinced that it could also be applicable in other settings (anyone fancy an advertisement for their library in which the books begin to talk, for example?), but have not been brave enough to attempt to push the issue with any of my potential employers yet.  In any case my presentation skills have been improved through this particular hobby, so that’s one practical outcome.  I do of course also love books and reading, and quite frankly that has obvious applicability to the library and information profession. Actually, my whole personality tends towards a desire for information, I always want to know the ‘why’ behind everything, and I love sharing information with other people, mostly because understanding things (everything, anything, I’m not particularly picky) is so essential to my own happiness.  That and I’m really quite insistent upon the necessity of making the world a better place – if something seems wrong to you get out there and fix it!  This drives my incredibly patient and easy-going partner insane, since it means I am frequently irritable and impatient with the way things actually are, but it’s just a part of who I am.  It is not, however, a part of my personality that is immediately obvious, and probably never comes across in an interview, but I suspect the drive to improve would be a desirable quality in a new employee in a lot of settings, so perhaps I ought to figure out how to work it in a bit more.

As for any advice I can offer in terms of job hunting, the best I can do is to offer an example of the best and worst experience I have had in an interview, and what I learned from it.  The best experience was one where I was most naturally myself.  It was for my first library job, in fact, and was a position I very much wanted but did not honestly think I would get.  I had applied as a bit of a lark, and was totally shocked to get an interview.  One of the questions I was asked in the interview was about how you prioritize work.  Although I went for the neutral answer, that I prioritze based on the advice of my supervisor, the deadline for the various tasks, and other factors, the people interviewing me pressed me for a more specific and personal answer.  So I responded with the truth, “If there is no reason not to, I tend to do the tasks I like least first, to get them out of the way, because I’m more likely to make time to do the things I want to do.”  One of the people interviewing me laughed, and suggested that this logic was similar to eating your vegetable first, to which I responded that this was precisely my point “you always have room for dessert!”  When I got home after the interview I told my partner how embarrased I was that I had talked about dessert in an interview – that’s not very professional!  My partner, who had much more practical experience in the workforce at the time, assured me that the people interviewing me were likely to appreciate me being honest and natural, and that it might even make me memorable.  In the end she was right – I got the job and learned something valuable about what ‘making a good impression’ actually means.

The worst experience I have had in an interview was a phone interview for a job with a volunteer organization that I did not get.  This set up was awkward to begin with, since I am uncomfortable speaking on the phone since I find that I rely heavily on people’s facial expressions in conversation.  There was one question in particular, in which I led into a response in a somewhat round-about way, and was cut off by one of the interviewers before I got to the part that was actually relevant.  Unfortunately this meant that a very significant part of my experience that was relevant to the job was missed entirely, since I was too flustered to work my way back to the subject later.  This experience did at least teach me something about the need for brevity in interviews, and for the need to remain as calm and unflustered as possible.

November 6, 2011, 6:52 pm
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My previous post about how I got into librarianship pretty much covers the basics of this Thing, but I did have a look at the Routes wiki and enjoyed hearing a bit about others paths into and through the profession.  It seems common for people to wander into librarianship from other fields, or through overlapping interests.  I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of the vast variety of areas that are relevant to information professionals, or if most people end up in careers through a process of trial and error, but the wiki certainly provides a renewed sense of the scope of variation out there in the profession.

Reflecting 2
October 23, 2011, 6:15 pm
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The very first thought that strikes me about cpd23 at the moment is that I have fallen behind!  This pains me somewhat, since I like to be organised and timely, but circumstances being what they are lately I don’t have any guilt on the matter.

Despite falling behind, I definitely want to finish the programme because it has introduced so many interesting gadgets, ideas, etc.  Those 23 things have been pretty interesting so far and made me aware of a lot of new gadgets and applications that I never knew existed.

Interesting as this whole process has been how been, however, I don’t feel as thought I have actually implemented many of the things in ways that changes my workflow or professional life at all.

The blog has still been my favorite part of the experience, both as a way to reflect on aspects of librarianship and a way to find out what other professionals are doing out there.  Reading blogs, commenting, and working through cpd23 has definitely given me a stronger sense of being part of a profession of networked individuals.

As for using the various social media platforms and internet-based tools, I’ve explored each and implemented some but not used any in what I would consider a truly professional capacity.  In a lot of ways I feel as though I am storing away the information about a lot of these things so that I know they’re out there in case I ever come across a project or situation where I need them.  The things I’ve used the most have probably been in the realm of social media, like Twitter and Linked In, which I’ve put ongoing time into exploring, although I still feel somewhat unsure as to their ultimate usefulness for me as an individual.

Video pods
October 9, 2011, 1:54 pm
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I’m going to address podcasting first, since it is a format I’ve had some experience with.  Although I have never created a podcast, and can’t see myself needing to anytime soon, I have listened to others’ creations before.  I tend to think of podcasts as the internet’s answer to radio, where anyone can contribute and listen at their leisure.  A nice thing to know about and make use of,  but not something I have employed thus far in a work capacity.

As for screeencapture videos, I think this technology is brilliant.  Combining sound with image is far preferrable to formats that only allow one in isolation as far as I am concerned, and although I have seen some videos made in this way before I didn’t know that the programs necessary to make such recordings were free.  Definitely something I shall have to try out!  The main advantage does seem to be for training purposes, and it could be useful for providing information about how to navigate a website or new program, or how to perform a specific task.