Archive for May, 2009
One year ago next week, I received my MLIS from Rutgers University. Over the past year, I have learned a great deal, found I need to learn much more, and am truly thankful to those who have helped bring me to where I am today. As many of you may know, I am a career changer who had not worked in libraries until library school, so many of the things I learned have been quite unexpected.
On the eve of this anniversary, I thought I would share the top five most surprising things I have learned and comment on each. Keep in mind, all of these pertain to Public Libraries because that is where I work and public librarians are who I tend to socialize with. Also, these observations are not all about MPOW—they come from discussion with many different librarians from many different libraries…
Now before you all write in to say we have to have meetings – yes I know that. Short, focused meetings are critical to working efficiently. Likewise, employees should have a chance to speak to management in an open forum. I am not advocating for no meetings. I simply would like to see some business-like principals applied to library meetings and fewer meetings in general:
- Have an agenda with approximate times for each topic.
- Stick to the agenda: if time runs over too far, perhaps a sub-set should meet for further discussion instead of the entire staff being held hostage to one topic; when topic drift begins, return the discussion to the topic at hand and consider the drift items as topics for another time; if one person is dominating and dragging things out—offer to speak to them later one-on-one.
- Be sure the agenda items need face to face discussion—if it can be done via e-mail, do it. Again, I totally agree with having meetings—simply not as often and never as long as the typical staff or department meetings in libraries.
My Reaction: I agree! Customer service is incredibly important. Now let’s put that into practice.
- More weekend hours! Weekends are when the most patrons use the libraries, but it is the first place people cut when trying to slash budgets. Many libraries are not open at all on Sundays. Why?
- More staff during the busiest hours—yes, this means working more weekends and nights and more than one librarian on a desk a peak times. Every library I have worked in or been to has a skeleton crew on weekends! Long lines & cranky burned out employees do not equal good customer service. I know this is unpopular, but it is true.
- Sundays are a day just like any other day—why do we open so late?! We are public institutions that should NOT schedule based when church is over (the only possible reason I see for the late start). Our patrons should not have to wait half a day to get to the library.
#4) Adult Service Librarians Hate Teens/Teens Hate Adult Services Librarians: I hear this everywhere—from Youth Services Librarians, from Adult Service Librarians, from teens at the library, teens in my personal life, and adults in their 20s who were treated poorly while in high school. It is astounding to me how true to the angry mean librarian stereotype this is.
#5) Drunk People At the Library: While I openly admit much about this job is like being a bar tender–people bring you their problems and want to talk, this was simply a shock when I first became a librarian. It happens so often, now it is just a regular thing.
- No amount of customer service, communication training, or any other ‘technique’ works with these people. They are rude, clumsy, and smell bad.
- Ask management for help–well, sure if they were in the library at the time. Since most drunks who are a problem show up at night, on weekends, and near Christmas, I have yet to encounter a drunk while management is on duty.
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 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.