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… aka friends reunited


Fresh back from the LIShow in Birmingham, and as usual things have piled up at work. I’ve spent most of the day catching up on enquiries and web-site edits that my colleagues would like me to carry out. It didn’t help that I was finishing early today to go off to a CILIP group meeting. That said, the meeting was very useful and we were all remarkably productive for a sunny Friday afternoon! However I digress.

I haven’t been to the LIShow before, so this year I decided to go for the full 2 days and take advantage of a friend’s hospitality (thanks S!). I’ve often wondered why people only go for one day, and I can kind of see why now. Although when you first enter the designated hall there seems to be more trade stands and paraphernalia than you’ve had hot dinners, once you’ve made your way systematically through the stalls (sampling the odd free glass of wine and picking up the usual freebies in the process) you’ve reached 3pm on the first day and you’ve seen all you need to. I suppose I’m not helped by the fact that I wasn’t really looking for any specific technology solutions as we rely primarily on open-source software to advance our services. However, as the title of this post suggests, I did meet a number of old friends that I hadn’t seen for some time, and most were looking for something specific for their workplaces. They were more than happy to let me tag along on their missions, and it was enlightening to see the different needs of different organisations, and how they were looking to new technologies to solve their problems. One friend was looking at the use of social bookmarking to improve the functionality of their organisation’s intranet search facilities, whereas another was looking at hybrid self issue machines in an attempt to solve a conflict between the use of RFID and EM security systems in her library.

The main draw to the show for me was, however, the series of seminars given over two days. Perhaps with the typical one-day-visitor in mind, he programme seemed to be split largely so that talks appealing to academic and special libraries occurred on the first day, with more school/public library talks on the second day (with, of course, some notable exceptions).

As I mentioned in a previous post, my former lecturer Sheila Corrall was speaking about information literacy, and as usual her talk was very inspiring. She spoke out in favour of Information Literacy (IL) teaching (both formal and informal) as a key mission for librarians from all sectors in the 21st century. Whether it be delivering specifically designed training to patrons, or a public librarian answering a query from a user, we all have the opportunity to pass on our knowledge to others. It is obviously something that we have been encouraged to do for some time now, but it is surprising how easily opportunities can be missed. I have personal experience of answering information requests from my clients and then thinking afterwards that if ‘d approached it from a different angle in the first instance I could have passed on some valuale information about search techniques or new resources to the user, thus adding value to my service.  I make a conscious effort to do this as much as possible, but in the heat of the moment and when time is of the essence this isn’t always easy.  Remote enquiries (which are what I mainly deal with) pose more of a problem as you have no personal contact, so gentle instruction can be more difficult.  However, this is no excuse.  Adding value to your services gives people higher expectations and greater respect for what you do, and this has got to be a good thing both in terms of increasing library usage and awareness of the librarian/information professional’s value to the organisation.

Karen Blakeman’s talk on RSS, Blogs and Wikis was pretty much a concise version of the one she gave at the UC&R Group event in Birmingham in December 2006,  but she is such an engaging speaker and so enthusiastic that it’s hard not to come away from her presentation with at least a few nuggets of new information and a renewed desire to implement more Web 2.0 applications for the benefit of your users.

Thursday also saw some interesting talks, but the most eagerly anticipated (and most well attended) had to be that of Jason Hanley from Google.  He spoke about Google’s services for librarians, including their booksearch facility (where he made every effort to stress that no copyrights were being broken!) and their Librarian Central site, which incorporates a blog of new developments.  However, I was most interested in the Google Co-op application, which allows you to build your own search engine, focusing on only sites you select yourself.  It’s a bit like what Rollyo has been doing for some time now, but with the power of Google’s search algorithms behind it.  I haven’t yet looked into it in detail yet, but I would hope the Google effort doesn’t limit the number of sites you can add to your personalised engine.  This would be a real advantage, and would allow for some excellent professional applications.  I’m currently working on a social bookmarking site targeted specifically at our user-base, and the ability to add all the relevant resources to a dedicated search engine would prove to be exceptionally valuable for meeting their information needs.  Indeed, some form of mash-up of the 2 sites to show the search box along with the bookmarking site itself would be great.  Using a service like superglu or a library blog to incorporate multiple Web/Library 2.0 features together is becoming an increasingly simple process, and it’s definitely something I’d consider.  The less places my users have to traipse for their information the better as far as I’m concerned.

So, to wrap up, from a newbie’s perspective the LIShow proved to be a very interesting experience, with lots of new technology on show and key thinkers in the LIS field empowering the rest of us with ideas on how to use it all!  Ok, so 2 days may be a little long for one person, but putting in the effort was worth it for the ideas that I came away with.  And as a bonus, I shan’t need to buy any pens for the library for at least 12 months now!! 😉

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.