Monthly Archives: August 2011

When AutoCat gets catty…from tumbleweeds to torrents.

Alright, you caught me with a triumphed up title–though not entirely.

My previous post didn’t mention AutoCat but part of the reason for writing it came from the listserv. There has been much talk, and some borderline catty posts the past couple of weeks about qualifications for a job posting. This week, the discussion turned into questioning some job postings to the listserv since some of the members believe that there was a lack of value to the job for what it was and was asking of applicants. Then today, posts poured out about if/should catalogers work the reference desk and why reference librarians weren’t in turn then expected to work hours in tech services.

Such huge issues that dared to turn sour at first actually mellowed and became quite fascinating and thought-provoking. Wanting to post to AutoCat but knowing I had much more to say than just a few lines, I jotted down notes at work–on the back of my sudoku calendar page today–to wait for a proper post tonight. Tomorrow morning, I’ll email the listserv a link to this post and we’ll see if anyone comes to visit and for a read. Here’s hoping! Please comment if you do and feel inclined to say something!

Should tech services librarians work reference? I tend to agree with those AutoCat posters who said each job type offers a lot of responsibilities, enough to not have people cross over. Unless it’s a really tiny library or branch that can run on less people with multiple hats, I believe public and tech services should not cross schedule librarians in departments. That being said, there is much to learn from each other.

I propose open communication between the different departments and librarians and paraprofessionals to explain to each other “this is how I do what I do and why”. Sounds like a huge undertaking? Not really. Informal talks, the briefest of presentations, work tours/demos, brown bag lunch discussions–any of these ideas could be used to stimulate and educate the staff about what goes on and why in all areas of the library. We are a team, after all, so why not understand each part of the process and have an overall picture of what everyone does? With a holistic view of the library, everyone will be valued and seen as valuable if their part and job is tied into the story of the workplace as a whole.

What would be discussed? There are highs and lows to every position, great challenges and rewards. At ALA in DC, NCSU explained their unique yet template-reliant course pages–how sweet and helpful would those be at the reference desk? Each English page can have standard content yet unique material related just to that course such as database links. And the University of Michigan’s library website added patron tagging abilities to pages, even record pages–how great would that be if students and staff and patrons were encouraged to really attempt to tag during each use, with relevant information. The possibilities for subject headings give me goosebumps, but that will be the topic of another post. The point is to get across to everyone on staff what is vital for each position, and in getting people to assess and explain their job will engage them to be more thoughtful and hopefully propel them into the future with more passion and drive to be a part of something greater, which everyone on the team values. (Perhaps I’m seeing too many business motivational and team building items lately–wanna know about difficult people and how to deal with them?!)

Why is this important and is there value in understanding all aspects of the library? Yes, a resounding yes. I know from personal experience. During undergrad, I worked in tech services during all four years doing numerous tasks that eventually lead to me being initiated into working with records and inserting closed author dates. Also, during the summers I worked the Circ Desk, then got a second job shelving during the year as well. At the Law Library, during grad school at UMich (GO BLUE!), I did citation research and database/website upkeep, interned for acquisitions, and cataloged. I had a sense of public and tech services from many aspects and I am so much better for it. First, I learned what I did and didn’t enjoy, as well as my strength and weakness, and perferences. Sure, I can work a Circ Desk but I get nervous and bored, to be honest, waiting for patrons, so I didn’t pursue jobs at reference desks. The tech services jobs reenforced that I was detail oriented and really cared about getting things right so that patrons could find just what it was they were looking for. Without having actually gotten experience cataloging, though, I wouldn’t have felt confident applying for full-time catalog positions; I was pretty sure that I’d be good at it but it wasn’t until I cataloged as a student job that I knew it would be something to keep me engaged and excited to go to work everyday. And it does–I love working for ProQuest as a Catalog Librarian.

While I’ve already set out how to work with current staff to create a shared knowledge about the inner (vital) workings about the library, there’s an even more effective way to ensure a brighter future for librarians and libraries…catch them in school and give them the taste and knowledge then. I made my own path and learned value and lessons from every position I had as a student, whether I liked the job or task, or not. Look, no one likes doing inventory with old shelf list cards–but I knew how to read a card and how to remove those poles from the trays (and I took a little fencing in college so don’t mess with me around a card catalog for sure!)

Why not give student workers a Tour of the Library by having them work hours in each aspect of the library? Maybe at a reference desk they can shadow experienced staff to get a sense for how different librarians interview then help a patron. If there’s no way for a student to even do copy cataloging, why not spend those hours going through the basics of a MARC record and the standards of cataloging your library uses? Hours on a Circ. Desk is a no-brainer (i.e. easy to train and let a student work the desk) and teaches customer service and prioritizing time with tasks and service. And who doesn’t love shelving? I did so much of it but I appreciate books in order and have an eye for, and pull now, books that aren’t You never know when you’ll find a missing or out-of-place book, or hidden movies–boy, do I have stories. The point is, having been in all these areas and seen what goes on, I have a genuine appreciation for everyone who has a part in making things work. Heck, I even did some scanning for a day one summer for ILL in undergrad but it was way too dull for me to pay attention–I value anyone who can get in a zone and do that right, since ILLs tend to be popular.

Perhaps it’s my natural disposition to find meaning and lessons in what I do, otherwise it’d be impossible for me to have gotten through some of the tasks and jobs I’ve done. Yet I believe a rotational position for students, either undergrads who are thinking about librarianship or just applying because they don’t want to work in dining services, and especially graduate students in library school, should be part of their learning. I gained and saw so much from my various experiences. Also, talking with other students who are doing the same is important too. While I never worked a reference desk, my husband Steve, now a reference librarian at the College of Wooster, did and he shared many of his insights with me. He was lucky to work at two very different desks with stark, contrasting patrons and needs, so he had a vast knowledge about what can occur and how to deal with things at a reference desk. I also shared my stories about work with him, which helped me digest and articulate things, while getting feedback and questions to engage me further. Dialogue, not just thinking, is important to understanding.

Reiterating a point from last week, we as librarians need to ban together as one, not just for the patrons and funding and support but for ourselves and the sakes of our libraries. We must understand and value each position and person in the library staff, seeing how all the pieces work together in order to make them run smoothly.


Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Uncategorized


“Psychology, Industrial”, or are failed academics tainting librarianship?

It’s Friday. I’m sitting in the Andrews Library at the College of Wooster, waiting for Steve to finish work at five and even though my weekend’s already begun, this post is on my mind–time to write. The novel I’m half way through will just have to wait a bit longer.

This week, I used a subject heading that, at first encounter, seemed odd and likely wrong. “Psychology, Industrial” doesn’t create any possibility of self-explanation as other sub. heads but before I deemed it ill used for the record, I went to the LC Authorities. Turns out, it is quite a catch-all that was perfect for the item, however, I doubt a patron (let alone this cataloger) would ever have searched for it. Here’s a screenshot of the narrower terms:

It is a useful sub. heading for this type of topic but again it’d really only be useful after the patron, or librarian, was already aware of its meaning and use. It’d be great help once you’d found it, though. I remember Prof. Edmund Kern at Lawrence University telling me, during a meeting about a paper for him, that the trick was finding the sub. headings that were about what you wanted and then searching them, sometimes turning up other related sub. headings to search as well.

As interesting as I find this subject heading, what does this have to do with anything other than my item and fond memories of my alma mater? Well, Annoyed Librarian’s recent post got me thinking and things just clicked this week. Why do people become librarians? While AL’s post is about the loss of tenure for academic librarian positions, there are a few paragraphs about failed academics becoming librarians:

“One thing I’ve noticed about people with PhDs is that they’ll put up with anything to stay in academia. They don’t listen to reason before getting their degrees, and by the time they’ve spent ten years at their underfunded university earning a degree they’re not suited for anything else.

But librarians? Most librarians theoretically have skills that are marketable outside of academia, and except for the ones that are failed academics who still don’t listen to reason and think they’ll get cushy jobs, those librarians aren’t necessarily wedded to academic librarianship. If they’re good enough to get jobs at all, they can probably gets jobs elsewhere.

I guess there are all the librarians who believe library schools and the ALA that there is a librarian shortage will still be desperate, like all the PhDs who mistakenly thought the world would owe them a job just because they wrote a dissertation on an extremely obscure topic.

Depending on how the profession goes, it might even be the same group of people, who go back to library school thinking, “no, this time, I really will get a job!” Because that’s exactly what librarianship needs, more people who failed at other things before “settling” for librarianship.”

I’ve left AL’s hyper links in but please visit the post, linked before the quote, for the whole piece, which is worth the read.

The idea of “failed academics” becoming librarians isn’t new and it was a topic talked about among students at library school, at least for me. Are failed academics tainting the field? Do they detract from those of us (i.e. me and my husband, Steve) who chose to become librarians as our first profession?

No to both questions. On the contrary, I believe people with other degrees who then become librarians offer much value to the profession.

For starters, they have specialized knowledge that can be helpful for researchers and students in certain topics. During my time as a student worker at the UMich Law Library, I wasn’t allowed to work reference because only Law students worked the desk, besides the Law librarians with JDs. Also, I’ve seen job descriptions in which, such as a Science librarian position, a PhD was required and an MSI/MLIS was optional. Sure, library service skills are easier to learn and people can be trained, where as specialized topical knowledge can make a difference in helping a patron find information or know where to start looking. This raises the question, are library degrees even needed? Having earned mine in April, I’m in the camp that deems they are, but could be a whole other post.

Also, some people are more passionate and find their niche in something only after they’ve tried another thing. There’s a plethora of reasons why we all do what we do, when we do it, and why. Who says those “failed academics” won’t make great librarians who can really help people well since they know their subject and sources throughly? Perhaps I’m being optimistic in my assessment but let’s take the best case possible. Why wouldn’t you want a people with Chemistry, Biology, and Astronomy degrees working the reference desk at a college or university? Having various degrees represented on library staff makes sense. It’s not always possible, but if it is and there are interested people for the jobs, why not?

MasterChef season 2 just finished–did you catch it? It’s still on Hulu, if not. The premise is home cooks from America (though the series is international, but the American one gets Ramsay!), without any formal training complete against each other. Suzy, a neural engineer, said she’s going to pursue becoming a chef and cooking from now on, finally having found her true passion in life. So why can’t libraryland just embrace paraprofessionals, first-career librarians, “failed academics” who became librarians, and all those in between that make up the library field that so desperately needs to ban together especially now when library funding and support keeps waning each year? We may provide free services and information but if we don’t speak up as a whole, things will just keep slipping. This isn’t to say that nothing is being done–there are certainly many libraries and communities fighting for maintaining and increasing funding and support–but there could be more comradery amongst the different types of librarians and libraries.

Lastly, AL ends by asking if we should dissuade people from becoming librarians, telling the readers to “think very carefully”. At the end of the day, I got a job and so did my husband. Many of our fellow library graduates are still looking, and interviewing for the lucky ones. The economy is tough right now, for everyone. If you want to go into librarianship, do it. Just do what makes you happy and earns you a living–that’s my philosophy. While Steve and I both landed jobs, we live three hours apart and commute on weekends to hangout, and Skype during the week. It’s not an ideal arrangement but we are both working at jobs we love, that make us happy, so for now the arrangement works.

It’s 5 pm, the library is closing, and in moments the lights will automatically go out here at the Andrew Library. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, it’s been on my mind throughout the week but now that it’s on the screen, it’s time to post and sign out, then enjoy my weekend with Steve in Wooster!

Comments Off on “Psychology, Industrial”, or are failed academics tainting librarianship?

Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Uncategorized


5 going on 6 weeks…already?!

My one month working for ProQuest passed without much notice, which is delightful since it means I enjoy work and have been kept too busy to notice how long I’ve been there. Cataloging, yes, I’m a dork, gives me joy.

Why do I love cataloging? It’s technical yet artsy, rigid yet fluid, structured yet variable. Each item is unique yet patterns and combinations exist. Once you figure something out it’s likely that you can use it again, in some way. It’s much like a puzzle, though there are many ways to do a record and interpret subject headings.

So, what’s happened this month? Besides cataloging e-books and streaming videos, I posted to Auto-Cat–twice! Also, ProQuest has continued the “Summer of Service” idea annually and so I volunteered on the company’s behalf at a local library. I weeded and withdrew nonfiction children’s books, as per the librarians there, which went into the book sale pile. In fact, I’m going back tomorrow with a colleague to do a couple more hours. There are lots of volunteer opportunities and drives at ProQuest, making me even happier to work there.

One last insight, for now–from AutoCat it’s easy to see many of the flaws and shortcomings and opinions in cataloging but yesterday I came across a brilliant subject heading that I just love.

I appreciate it’s eloquence, as a writer/reader, and it’s conciseness, as a cataloger: cultural competence.

One description from the LC Authorities for the phrase is: A set of congruent behaviours, attitudes, and policies which come together in a system, agency, or among professionals and enable that system, agency, or those professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.

This made my cataloging so much more fulfilling yesterday because I was searching for how to nail this idea, or post-coordinate as the case is usually. Finding this made my day, perhaps even month. When subject headings are bad, they can be very bad but when subject headings are good, they can be very good!

Comments Off on 5 going on 6 weeks…already?!

Posted by on August 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

%d bloggers like this: