Author Archive

Hard Times

Posted by Emily Knox

It’s the beginning of July and another American Library Association conference is over. One of the most amazing things about conferences is how tiring they are–at the end of the day it’s all one can do to simply crawl into bed. ALA is huge and just getting to a particular meeting via bus from the conference center to a hotel can take up to 45 minutes depending on traffic.

This year I volunteered to recruit for the Rutgers School of Communication and Information’s Department of Library and Information Science. It was so exciting to meet people who are interested in research in our field. Throughout the recruitment session I was reminded of why I started the program in the first place–I have a question that I want to answer and getting a doctorate provides me with the background and resources I need to answer it.

It will come as no surprise that the conference was filled with budget talk and the precarious state of library funding. In the midst of an economic downturn people, people tend to focus on how much libraries cost to run. Recently the Fox affiliate in Chicago asked “Are Libraries Necessary?” And all of us are aware of the budget crisis in New Jersey library funding.

However, I noticed another undercurrent to many of the sessions that I attended. People also turn to the library as a symbol of their fears in a changing and somewhat frightening world. I heard about a library board member who used the library collection as a political football. Librarians not wanting to “make a big deal” out of controversial materials and quietly removing them. (This practice increases in hard financial times – librarians don’t want to put their budgets at risk for one item). Inevitably, all of these discussions turned to policy. It is incredibly important that library policies are up-to-date and easily retrievable.

Have you looked at the policies for your board of trustees and/or library committee? Do they include a code of ethics? (This was recommended by the librarian whose board member had played political football with the library’s collection). What about the library’s form for reconsideration? Does it include a final arbiter? Do all stakeholders have a copy of your all policies and forms including the Board of Education or whatever governing body you report to? I encourage you to take the time to look through all of your policies and update any that are not current. Unfortunately, in these hard times libraries will be attacked from all sides and good policies are one of our best lines of defense.

July 6, 2010 at 8:38 am 1 comment

A Ph.D. in Library Science?

Posted by Emily Knox

Not long ago a participant on a listserv that I am on asked if she should consider getting a Ph.D. in library science. The answers were swift and almost all were negative–the poster should get a Ph.D. in anything but library science. Although it’s hard to believe now, this was something I considered before starting my Ph.D. program. Would I be boxing myself in if I studied library science? Should I get a doctorate in an area that is primarily identified by a professional master’s degree?

I told that poster that she should get a Ph.D. in an area that interests her. Ph.D.s take so much time and commitment that it is difficult to finish if you start one in an area that doesn’t interest you. According to the Council for Graduate Schools, the average completion rate for all Ph.D.s hovers at around 50%.

My area of interest, intellectual freedom and censorship, is a classic field within the library and information science. If this area were part of another discipline, I would be in another department. However, what has been most surprising to me throughout my coursework at Rutgers is how much I love studying libraries. I enjoy thinking about them, researching them, and having arguments with my fellow students about their status in society. Even the information science classes weren’t as bad as I had anticipated since they broadened my understanding of how people interact with data/information/knowledge in the world.

I find it disheartening that other librarians think research in our field is only necessary for teaching other librarians and has nothing to say to the wider academic community. We must encourage research in LIS in order to have a stronger voice in academia and to boost the status of libraries throughout the world. If we don’t believe that a doctorate in LIS is as worthwhile as one in another area, who will?

March 4, 2010 at 11:21 am 5 comments

The Wonderful World of Interlibrary Loan

One of the most exhilarating things about writing and publishing a book is putting your name into Amazon and seeing the page with your book on it come up on the screen. When I started working as a librarian in 2003, I would have laughed if someone had told me that I would write a book on interlibrary loan. But in 2007 I wrote a short article on running one-person interlibrary loan service for the Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Deliver & Electronic Reserve.  Later that year, the publisher at Neal-Schuman contacted me. He was sure that I had more to say on the topic of small ILL departments.

I was less sure, but after a few months delay, I sent in a proposal and finally started on the manuscript in the fall of 2008.  Right when I was starting my doctoral program. Writing the manuscript and completing my coursework took quite a bit a bit of juggling.  I had to save the most laborious chapters (policy!) for the winter break.

Throughout the writing process I learned more than I ever thought I would know about copyright law, interlibrary loan management systems, user-initiated services, and the correct name of the giant library service in Dublin, OH (OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc.). I discovered that interlibrary loan has a long history and that ILL librarians were very excited about MIME, the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension which allows attachments to be added to email.  When I finally finished the manuscript, the book ended up covering a wide range of topics including how to establish a paperless ILL office, how to interpret the ILL code for a small department, and tips for writing a policy when you don’t have a committee to help you.

Even though the chapters on ILL policies were the most difficult to write, they also contain some of the most interesting material.  I would argue that the suggestions for policy writing might have some utility in other service areas of the library. If you happen to work at a small library, just remember that other staff members might be more willing to pitch in if you volunteer to actually write the policy and they just have to read it and offer suggestions.  As Sandra Nelson and June Garcia note in their book on writing policy in public libraries: “Committees do not write, individuals write.”  This is excellent advice for all administrators to keep in mind.

In the end, it turned out that the publisher was right about me–I do have a lot to say about running a small interlibrary loan and document delivery service.

Emily Knox

November 21, 2009 at 1:16 pm

A New Role at ALA Annual

I’m in Chicago in order to attend what must be my 20th American Library Association annual conference. I have lost count of how many annuals I have attended. My first was Los Angeles in 1983 when my family began accompanying my mother, who is also a librarian, to the conference for our summer vacation. LA was just the first of many other conferences. I also went to Dallas, New Orleans, New York, Atlanta, San Francisco (a couple of times), Chicago (also a couple of times) and several others that I have since forgotten.

ALA meant only one thing to me when I was growing up: free stuff. I looked forward to the seemingly endless rows of exhibits that promised loads of goodies to bring home. At first one of my parents would accompany me up and down the aisles but I was eventually allowed to walk through the exhibits by myself. As long as I met my parents at the previously established meeting time, I could spend as much time as I wanted looking at all of the books. At the time, it never occurred to me that I might one day attend the conference as a librarian.

Not long after I started library school in 2002, I asked my mother (as I did every year) if she was going to attend the annual meeting in Toronto. After she replied that yes, she was planning to attend, I remember imagining yet another experience of walking up and down the exhibit aisles filling my bags with swag. Then it slowly dawned on me that the upcoming conference would be an entirely different experience–I would be attending ALA as a soon-to-be-librarian. I would actually have to go to meetings and presentations!

My experience in Toronto was completely different from any of my previous conferences. I spent a lot of time walking or riding the bus from one meeting to another and I barely had time to go to the exhibits. People sometimes say that they find ALA overwhelming and before attending my first conference as a librarian, I didn’t really understand what they meant. How could a place full of free books be overwhelming? Toronto thoroughly disabused of this idea. Just figuring out which meetings and presentations to attend can take quite a bit of time and energy.

Now I am once again attending ALA in a new role. As a doctoral student, only a few of the meetings mesh with my particular research interests. This means that I feel quite a bit of pressure to attend all relevant meetings even when they are scheduled at the same time. I am constantly looking at my printed schedule to make sure that I don’t miss anything. The exhibits are, of course, secondary.

Before becoming a librarian myself, I had no idea that there were many librarians out there who were quite disappointed with ALA and its work. My mother always seemed recharged and energized for her work after attending a conference. Of course, this is the essence of some librarians’ problems with ALA. What does one get out of being a member other than the conference?

For me, being a member of ALA reminds me that I am part of a larger community. Before returning to school, I worked in a small theological library — a setting that is very different from a public library. By reading through my American Libraries every month, I was reminded that even though my library had a specialized mission, we were still part of the wider library world. Now that I am a student again, I feel even further removed from librarianship. Attending this conference has helped me remember why I am in a library and information science doctoral program. When I am in the McCormick Center, surrounded by 27,353 other librarians, I recall that my research is not just for my own edification but that it will also aide the profession as a whole.

By attending the conference, I am reminded that even though I no longer work in a library I am still a librarian. I still have one more day of running around the conference center to attend meetings and racing through the exhibits. And, like my mother, I hope to return to New Jersey from this conference recharged and energized for my classes in the fall.

July 13, 2009 at 4:59 pm 5 comments

Dropping the L

“Aren’t you at Rutgers SCILS? What do you think of them dropping the ‘L’?”

Over the course of about two weeks, I was asked these questions several times. Fellow librarians from all over the country called or contacted me over IM wanting to know what I thought about the name change at Rutgers University SCILS. By the time news of the faculty vote to change the name of the school from School of Communication, Information and Library Studies (SCILS) to School of Communication and Information (SCI) reached the national media in February, I had already known about the change a short while and I had an answer ready for my colleagues. It had taken me awhile to put into words what I was feeling. I wasn’t upset or angry-just sad.

Problems with the “L”

The “L” has apparently been an issue around Rutgers School for Communication, Information and Library Studies for quite some time. During the orientation to the Ph.D. program last fall, there were a few references to a previous debate concerning the title of the Ph.D. program. There are three departments in the school (Communication, Library and Information Science, and Journalism and Media Studies) and the doctorate in Communication, Information and Library Studies does not acknowledge the department of Journalism and Media Studies (JMS). Students in the JMS area receive a degree that does not mention their course of study but does mention LIS-an area of study with which most of the students are not even remotely associated.

It was also clear that some students in the PhD. program simply do not like graduating with a degree that includes the word “library.” Information” is okay, but “library” is not.
Even though the name of the Ph.D. program is not changing, the name change is not good news for librarians. Why don’t people outside of our profession want to be associated with us? What is wrong with “library”?

Librarians’ Problems

Librarians have not effectively proved the worth of our profession, our workplaces, or our schools. Librarians are underpaid, library budgets are highly contested, and library schools often close. We start major marketing pushes such as I Love Libraries and endlessly discuss the “future of librarianship.” Still, there is little change. Salaries are middling. Budgets are cut all over the country. Clark-Atlanta closed its library school in 2005. And Rutgers SCILS drops the L.

The responses posted to Library Journal’s articles on the name change clearly show that people are passionate about this issue. However, the posters also point to the “problem” with the term library. It is clear that many people, including librarians, simply associate libraries with books. One poster states: “School of Communications and Infomation [sic] Googlers! SCIG. No wonder book stores are closing down and Amazon is selling more non-book media.” Another writes: “My fear in dropping the word “library” is that increasingly the emphasis will be on technology and not on books and reading. As a middle school librarian…I believe my most important task is to market the books!”

These comments point to one of profession’s problems: a tenacious dedication to a particular format. I love books, but I do not believe it is my job as a librarian to market them. I want people to read but I have no problem with them reading on their Kindle. Our reluctance to let go of the book as an ideal format for information keeps us tied to a technology that is time- and place-bound. This is not surprising; people often become librarians because we love books and the place where we could get them for free. Other people do not share our affinity for books and libraries. And it is often these people that have control over our salaries, budgets, and schools.

Whither the L?

The truth is that by the time the issue of dropping the L came before the SCILS faculty it was already too late. We had failed in our quest to bring people’s perceptions of libraries and librarians up to date. The academy has decided that library science is important but not prestigious. Neither its research nor its alumni bring in significant amounts of money and the term sounds passé. Note that all of the remaining library schools have “information” in their titles. All are either schools of information or schools of library and information science.

Rutgers is not the first to drop the L and I suspect it will not be the last.

May 6, 2009 at 10:48 am 4 comments


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