Archive for October, 2006

Naughty Librarian for Halloween?

If anyone doubted that the stereotype of the librarian is alive and well, check out this costume being offered this Halloween for $56 (ouch!) from costumesinc.com. This item was brought to my attention by a student posting to a listserv at Rutgers SCILS. I don’t know if you can make it out, but the costume features a button that says “Naughty Librarian.” That is, I guess, what you pay the 56 bucks for since the rest is just a short skirt and phony glasses, low-cut top and push-up bra which most women could scrounge up cheap (or indeed may already have in their closets).

When we get done laughing at the ridiculousness of the get-up, marveling at the idea that numerous women will pay 56 dollars for the outfit, or grinding our teeth at yet another portrayal of the (harmless) librarian stereotype, I invite all of us to think again.

As one who has deeply studied the librarian stereotype I have come to view these media representations as far from harmless, with serious, anti-intellectual, and anti-feminist messages. Gary Radford and I wrote an article in The Library Quarterly that used Foucauldian and feminist thought to analyze the stereotype. Our analysis led us to ask a number of fundamental questions such as:

“Who is speaking through the stereotype of the female librarian, and to what ends? What interests does the stereotype serve (certainly not those of women)? How can the image of subservience and powerlessness that it affords to women be challenged and changed? It is not enough to cry out that the stereotype is ‘wrong,’ ‘inaccurate,’ or ‘unfair.’ Such responses are expected, common and futile. It is time to dig deeper, to describe the conditions from which the stereotype is made possible, and to analyze the systems of power/knowledge that go to the very heart of what it means to be male and female, powerful and marginalized, valued and devalued” ( p. 263).

The stereotype of the male librarian, although less prominent, is also unflattering to the profession. Usually portrayed as prissy with the ubiquitous horn rimmed glasses and bow tie, he is distinctly feminine and also therefore is accorded the low status of the female librarian.

So, the “Naughty Librarian” costume we may see at Halloween parties this year. Harmless? Humorous? What do you think?

Cited reference: Radford, M. L. & Radford, G. P. (July, 1997). Power, knowledge, and fear: Feminism, Foucault and the stereotype of the female librarian. The Library Quarterly, 67(3), 250-266.

October 13, 2006 at 11:20 am 25 comments

Merchandising: Attractiveness as a form of access

At the Mount Laurel Library, we’ve been working in a “merchandised environment” for over 2 years now.

As the Trading Spaces: Reinventing the Library Environment project demonstration site we had the opportunity to get retail fixtures such as book gondolas, CD browsers and slat wall. We’ve also had training on how to keep our library collections both accessible and attractive to customers.

It’s worked! Our circulation leapt by 39% the first year and it’s been rising ever since.

Well, learning how to merchandise is one thing.

Our staff training uses handouts, slide shows, tip sheets plus hands-on experience to show how to better merchandise our collection.

Our merchandising goal for all staff is to spend on average 5 minutes each hour keeping the displays looking full (that’s about 30+ minutes a day for our full-time staff).

Keeping it all looking good, all the time, is another matter!

Have you ever been in a store that looks “picked over”? Well, it’s the same in a library if you don’t keep up on merchandising the collection.

Success means more circulation and that means we’re constantly filling in gondolas, flipping books cover out, and adding onto slat wall displays. In practice though, it’s hard to keep everyone focused on why it’s important and incorporate it into our daily routine.

To keep our eyes looking at the library from a customer point-of-view, we’ve just started is a twice weekly Walk-About. It’s a way for staff, individually or in a small groupers, to walk through the library and note:

  • what looks good (to celebrate success)
  • what area needs immediate attention (today, let’s do it now–together)
  • what area needs work next

All of our staff share this task through a weekly rotation among our departments. We’ve also created Walk-About sheets to help staff keep track and make it easier to report back at our morning briefings (a quick heads-up meeting before the library opens).

One of the side benefits (besides improving the look of the library displays) is that it encourages everyone to get out and really see the entire library — even those areas they don’t usually work in.

The result — a better looking library and and better informed staff.

October 6, 2006 at 1:12 pm 3 comments

Improving library services

Jennifer Macaulay, an MLS student at Southern Connecticut, has a wonderful post on her blog, Life as I know It on the topic Improving Library Services: A Review of Techniques.

I’m listing her main points below, but I highly recommend the entire post. Her selection of topics is inspired (and inspiring); her annotations on each topic are concise and insightful.

If you want to make a positive change in your library, tack up Jennifer’s post on your door, throw a dart, and start doing whatever you hit (unless your aim is bad and you hit that old Calvin and Hobbes comic that you taped up in 1992– don’t, I repeat, don’t do what Calvin is doing…)

Here are the techniques Jennifer highlighted, but really, read the post.

  • Use of integrated service points
  • Cross training of staff
  • Flexible management technique
  • Redefine the library’s physical space
  • Allow users to participate in decisions about which services to offer
  • Focus on new models of professional development for the entire staff
  • Adding content to library catalogs (OPACs)
  • Develop a comprehensive marketing strategy to advertise library services
  • Re-evaluate the current library user and their information needs
  • Re-evaluate library signage
  • Beware of technology for technology’s sake

If Jennifer is at all representative of the future of our profession I think we’re in good hands.

October 5, 2006 at 8:46 pm

Free Collaborative Online Tools (Trust Not Included)

Author: Michelle Kowalsky

It’s tough to use a collaborative tool with folks you don’t know well. . .or don’t trust. Whether you’re creating a PBWiki or writing on a Writely document or trying to post data on a Google spreadsheet document or on iRows, the process is the same. You post your info. Someone else posts their info. You effectively sway to the music in time.

But then, you correct a typo on their part of the info; they delete a word of yours. Soon you’re both waving the proverbial sickle in a wheatfield. . .chopping off dead chaff with wide sweeps high and low. Soon the document is no longer the one either of you intended. What may be the result of a series of many compromises (or poor online interpersonal skills!) may not in actuality be a document of any usefulness at all.

This is where the features of reputation management like those on Wikipedia or eBay come in. . .many, many people post their info and the truth tends to surface naturally. When only a small group of people keep changing the figures on the business report, it can just as often be a power struggle. Collaborative online tools still work best for me when they have, ironically, a face-to-face component.

October 4, 2006 at 7:40 pm 5 comments

MMORPGs/Online Gaming as Social Networks

Sure, Myspace is fun in the fact that anyone can make a thousand friends. You can even add music, videos, customize the backgrounds and, did I mention, make a thousand friends. Eventually, it all becomes a little static. Ultimately, it is a personality profile… a really cool one at that, but all communication is done through typing and emails.

But actual Cyberworlds, now that is where the fun is to be had!

Massively-Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game-sites (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft or Runescape (a free version of WoW) are not as much a collection of social introverts as people think. It’s not about sitting in their chosen room of darkness and defeating dragons of varying levels of difficulty… well, not completely.

The success of these games has little to do with storylines. There are challenges offered in order to advance a character’s levels and abilities but there really isn’t a true definitive end, just harder and harder challenges. The worlds are more about the social encounters, creating clans, rivalries, and alliances. It’s social cliques along with the action; real-world interactions within fantasy settings.

But it is more than that. Business deals have been made and sealed within the realm of WoW, marriages have been acted out here and then taken place in real life, virtual funerals have been held for teammates who died in real life but were too far away to pay respects. In fact, some of my friends from high school are held a reunion in WoW a week ago.

So, its not just about challenges, it is community as well. People’s personlity plays a big part in whether or not they are part of one clan or another, connections build a large part of success. Social networking is as integral as it is fun for players in these games, in obth the cyberworld and realworld (remember the business deal?).

Is it time to start changing our premonitions of gamers as social introverts?

October 4, 2006 at 9:50 am 8 comments

Teens in the Library

“Why don’t we just turn the library into an arcade!?”

I tend to get this response from the more, umm, veteran professionals when I bring up gaming programs in the library. Truth is, I’ve gotten similar cynicism for other non-traditional teen programs as well (and I know I am not alone). I’m not completely sure what the issue is but it seems an odd reaction. Why hate programs that bring people into the library?

Or is the issue that these programs bring teens in the library?

Teens are not always seen as an asset in the library community and, sometimes, they are viewed as an outright nuisance among our co-workers. At my previous job, also as a YA Librarian, I had several co-workers flat out state “they do not work with teens.” In fact, a great crux in my job is battling for our teens’ rights to be wherever they please in a library.
I hear many of my cohorts express the same difficulties.

But why teens? Why teen programs? Why the feeling that teens have no place in the library?

When I asked my coworkers why they had issues with teens, I heard a lot of the same answers. When I asked them what their greatest frustrations were with patrons in general, I heard pretty much the same answers as before.

The following is a list of general complaints I have heard. As you read them, ask how many of these are exclusively teen issues and how many actually apply to the general patron population:

They are loud

They are rude

They use bad language

They only come here to use computers

They only come here to rent videos

They look at inappropriate sites

They steal books

They only read magazines

They sleep in the library

They disrupt other patrons

They smell

Feel free to add your own list, but ask yourself… are any of these really just teen issues?

October 4, 2006 at 8:25 am 6 comments

“The Future of the Internet II” New Pew Internet Survey Released


As I am sure many of you have heard, on Sept. 25th, 2006 Pew Internet & American Life Project and Elon University released their latest survey “The Future of the Internet II.” If you would like to see a pdf of the full report click here. Results, including quotes and biosketches from the 750 tech savvy respondents can be found on the Imagining the Internet Web site.
According to the press release, themes in the predictions made for the year 2020 include:

  • “Continued serious erosion of individual privacy
  • Improvement of virtual reality and problems associated with ever-more-compelling synthetic worlds
  • Greater economic opportunities for those in developing nations
  • Changes in languages and the rise of autonomous machines that operate beyond human control.”

    My favorite quote from the experts:
    “It is better to be actively, thoughtfully and humanly adapting technology than to be creating inertia to resist it.”

    Scariest quote:
    “Losses from internet-related crime and terror will exceed losses from all natural disasters.”

    Most hopeful quote:
    “Enhanced communications and access to information are on the evolutionary path to freedom.”

    Click here to view more select quotes.

October 3, 2006 at 7:56 pm

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