Some information please?

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Spotted on Library Stuff... I love “A bit of Fry and Laurie”, but this is genius”. Stephen Fry plays the ultimate information professional… in terms of knowledge, anyway. Not so sure about the attitude though…

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Back with new technology!

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I’ve been somewhat lax in posting lately, and this can be explained away by a number of factors, namely:

  1. Vacation!!
  2. Heavy workload.
  3. New technology to facilitate blogging!

However, it’s time to start posting again – especially now I’ve acclimatised to the shiny new bit of kit that I’m tapping away on right now 😉

And what better way to start than with that old chestnut, the image of librarians. Now, the stereotypical librarian wears a large quantity of tweed, has her (invariably they are female) hair tied tightly in a bob, and sets off the outfit with a stunning pair of horn-rimmed specs. Add to this the physical trait of a severely eroded index finger (the result of “wind burn” from 20 years of hardcore shushing) and there you have a character that the majority of the public know and, erm… well, do they love them, resent them, laugh at them or just pity them?

An enduring question for me is, why, when numerous generations have passed through modern libraries (be they public, academic or special) that retain very few or none of the 1960s-1980s-style characters described above, does this image persist. I mean, this is the 21st century for crying out loud! Are there really any of these librarians still working? Does any modern library user really recognize this stereotype in their librarian? Anybody?

Ok, I suppose there must be one or two, but this surely doesn’t warrant the persistent perpetuation of this myth.

My (very obvious) theory on the matter is that the stereotype is driven by the media, and in particular lazy journalists who haven’t visited a library for at least 25 years and prefer to fall back on their long-formulated preconceptions about a profession rather than think “ooh, I might actually do some research on this story”.

Even positive stories trying to dispel the myth can leave a slightly bitter taste in the (well, in my) mouth. For example, a recent article by Kara Jesella in the New York Times aims to show that modern librarians do “cool” things like drink cocktails in bars and get tattoos… ooh, and by the way, they do some good work with new technology too…

Well, no s**t Sherlock! Ok, this is probably a little harsh, and it may well be that the author was genuinely surprised that all librarians don’t go to bed at 8pm every night reciting the finer points of AACR2 to their budgies. However, I can’t help feel that the title of the article (“A hipper crowd of shushers”) sets the wrong tone initially, and subsequently the piece never really recovers. Whilst it successfully highlights the fact that there’s much more to librarianship than a bit of book stamping and shelving, the reader doesn’t really escape the overriding feeling of surprise that young people can do what young people do and be librarians at the same time.

So, let me spell it out to anyone who hasn’t yet got the message… we librarians and information professionals are (in the most part) highly motivated, well qualified individuals who are good at what we do and enjoy our work both with people and new technologies… and we do have lives too!! Capiche? 😉

Thanks to the lo-fi librarian for drawing attention to the NY Times article.

Update – It seems like I’m not the only one to take a dim view of this article.  Meredith Farkas, who was interviewed for the article but to her relief wasn’t quoted, seems to agree with much of what I say above.  I very much agree with her sentiment that we should celebrate the diversity of the people working in the profession – working together and being able to draw on a wide range of experiences only makes us collectively better at what we do!

LIShow 2007

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Tomorrow sees the start of the 2007 Library and Information Show.  This is a chance for library suppliers, librarians and old friends to come together for a few days, discuss ideas and plans over a few beers, take in some presentations and generally soak up some new vibes.

I know a number of people are going, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them, but I’m also hoping to see a few faces that I haven’t seen for ages and who I don’t necessarily know will be there.  It’s the surprise that makes such encounters so entertaining.

In terms of seminars, I’m looking forward to hearing my former University Sheila Corrall speaking about the need for information literacy. I’m currently working on developing IL courses for a group of professionals who are mid-career and most certainly not digital natives.  Although the problems posed by this target audience are very different to the ones that you may come across in the HE and HE sectors, there are obvious parallels.  Frameworks for IL like the SCONUL 7 Pillars model are useful guides for anyone approaching the development of IL teaching programmes, especially if you’re a newbie to it like I am.  I covered the subject in my MA with Sheila C (above) and IL guru Sheila Webber, and so I feel like I’ve had a good grounding.  However for what I’m trying to achieve with my courses will inevitably differ from straight workplace and HE IL courses.  The frameworks will, in the end, be just that – guides or theories around which a course could be loosely based.  The difficulty is getting fro A to B in the most efficient manner possible – and I’m very much at point A atm!  Still, it’s going to be an interesting journey.  Let’s hope I don’t end up going via Z!

However, I digress massively.  This is my first LIShow, so I’ll post a brief (or maybe not-so-brief) review when I get back.

Professional organisations

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I haven’t really gone into work details here before, but I’ll briefly mention that I am a UK based librarian who works in the special libraries sector. I am also a solo worker, so I appreciate all the information that I get from the professional blogs I read. I don’t really get chance to discuss policy and strategy directly with fellow librarians, and that is why communication through blogs, best-practice wikis and alike are so important to me.

Now, there are a lot of very useful UK-based blogs out there. Phil Bradley’s blog is an excellent source of information, and Sheila Webber on the information literacy weblog always has excellent advice to give, and points her readers to very useful IL resources that are available online and in print. However, as you’ll see from my blogroll, the blogs I read predominantly come from the US. There seems to me to be a greater buzz around librarianship in the States, especially in terms of pro-active action and adopting new technologies to improve services to users. This “can do, will do” attitude is very appealing to me, as is the lack of inhibition the librarians show when writing openly about difficult topics and stirring debate amongst their readership.

This brings me to my main point. I am a member of our national professional organisation, and, in the main, I am happy with what I get from my membership. However, I do worry that I’m only getting one point of view, and a limited focus. The blogs I read tend to raise issues which, on the whole, I don’t see being addressed here. Wider reading on a subject is always going to be good for developing a rounded view, and networking in different circles will allow exposure to varied points of view. With that in mind I’ve been thinking that perhaps I need access to articles and information that focus in greater detail on my particular field. Then again, perhaps I require comment on the same topics covered by the literature I already receive, but approached from a slightly different angle and with (possibly) a little more zeal. Or, perhaps I need both!

Personally, I’m not sure whether I would benefit more from being a member of an organisation with a narrower focus, or just an organisation that represents different perspectives. Therefore, in the time-honoured tradition of trial and error I’ve decided to try both paths at once. That way I can compare and evaluate the benefits and see if one outweighs the other (or if I achieve a happy medium). Therefore, for a narrower focus I am going to become a member of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) to see what they have to offer. For an alternative perspective on current awareness issues I’m turning to the American Library Association (ALA). These seem like sensible first steps away from what I know best and into new areas where my own knowledge will (hopefully) be challenged, and supplemented with new ideas. They also offer that element of certainty that comes from joining long-established organisations – i.e. knowing (within reason) what you’re “letting yourself in for”. 😉

I am, of course, open to suggestions of alternative bodies to join should anybody have any ideas. If not, I’ll stick with my choices and see how it goes. Once I receive my first contact from them I’ll post my first impressions here.

Wrecked…

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I’m absolutely wrecked this evening. It’s been a long week, and we’re only at Wednesday!

Travel has been the main cause. I’ve been flying all over the country – sometimes for leisure, mostly for work though. I travelled to my organisation’s AGM last night to speak to stakeholders [oooer, management speak!] about the library, its current services and plans for the future. It’s not often I’m presented with a captive audience, so I made the most of the opportunity. Basically, the night turned into one big marketing opportunity – disseminate information to the masses in the presentation and then re-enforce the message later by networking at the soiree afterwards. It’s amazing how effective personal contact can be – as a result I’ve had a particularly busy day, and I’ve also raised interest in a number of Web 2.0 initiatives I’m launching.

Stakeholders always seem surprised when you point out that libraries are actually service providers, and that as librarians we are always looking for opportunities to develop services for their benefit. This is why shouting about it is so important. I suspect that the majority of people I spoke to last night viewed me as the “guardian” of the organisation’s books. I would like to think that the majority left realising that there’s much more to what I’m doing than that, and maybe even thinking about using thinking of taking advantage of new services and resources the library is offering.

Magnum, A.L.

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Magnum, A.L.

Thanks to The Shifted Librarian for posting this excellent video from the people at American Libraries. What an excellent way of celebrating 100 years of the magazine!!