Library School

There are those who say that library school is not rigorous enough and not teaching enough technological classes. While it may not be as rigorous as law school for example I believe that my time here at UW Madison has done a great deal to prepare me for a career at the top of the information food chain.

I purposely sought out tech classes because I realized how useful they would be right now as well as in the future. I now know how to: design and construct a database, build a website, and use the web in ways I never had even thought of before. I recently solved a problem I was having with a copy of “Sicko” that my dad burned for me.

The CD that I had would play the sound but not the actual video of the movie. I am subscribed to the blog LifeHacker, and one post on there was serendipitously for a piece of open source freeware called CodecInstaller. I learned all about codecs from my amazing “Digital Trends, Tools, and Debates” class with Dorothea Salo. I quickly realized that my problem was that I was missing a codec for the video. I downloaded the software and it automatically analyzed what codec I needed. I then chose it from a list in CodecInstaller and it automatically downloaded it for me. I was watching the movie within five minutes of downloading the software.

It is something as simple as this that shows how library school has actually put me at the top of the information food chain. Before going to library school I would have simply given up on the disc, deciding it was unplayable. Instead I used all new knowledge to solve an information related problem. I used an RSS feed to find free software, and because I knew about codecs I was able to understand why my disc would not play. I successfully wielded computer technology to solve a problem.

I know that I am not as technologically savvy as some of the real geeks out there, but I have the tools and training to quickly adapt, learn, and find solutions to any information problems that may arise. There may be some library school classes that are not as useful but I have found at least some value in every class I have taken. If I find I need to learn more though, I have the opportunities to do it. I have taken PowerPoint, Dreamweaver, and JavaScript classes through DoIt, the on campus I.T. people. I have also joined Toastmasters International to improve my public speaking skills. Library school may have its flaws but your education is simply what you make of it.


Instant Messaging Proposal and Acceptance

A few days ago I presented the work that Jonathan (the web librarian) and I had done on getting an instant messaging reference service up and running at Edgewood. It went over very well and even some of the more luddite librarians thought that we could do this. There were a lot of questions about implementing it and how it would actually work. This is why I am glad that Jonathan and I did so much planning and research and brainstorming.

I sounded surprisingly knowledgeable up there for one simple reason: I was knowledgeable. Jonathan and I had been working on this for about two months. He asked questions on some listservs and I scoured the web and library blogs for people that had done this before and tried to learn from their experiences. The sources I kept going back to and adapting to my own needs were: a PowerPoint slideshow called “How do you IM?” on the LibrarianInBlack blog, “IM me” by Aaron Schmidt and Michael Stephens, and the Online Reference Best Practices Wiki. They all were very helpful in getting me started. I find it is very useful to use other people’s knowledge. It saves you a lot of the leg work and allows you appear smart even though you are leeching off of these other people’s wisdom.

I demonstrated what the Pidgin software would look like as well as the Meebo chat window, and then we allayed any concerns and answered all the questions that came up. We helped the staff understand what we were actually going to be doing it and why. But I tried never to say that “this is how it is going to be.” I kept telling the staff that their input was needed . I do not want them to think they are getting this imposed on them. I would like to have them all contribute and share their opinions so it can be an effective service.

The meeting went very well, and I even got applause for my presentation. The next step will be staff training. This will begin after winter break since it is always hectic at the end of the semester. I might have to do a little research on how best to go about training staff and getting them comfortable with IM. This is going to be fun.


Perspective and the Completion of a Practicum

Today was the final day of my practicum at Capital Newspapers. For a parting gift I received a window scraper, about 20 fun size Snicker’s bars, and a Wisconsin State Journal mug. But in addition to those prizes I also gained some valuable knowledge.

I learned firsthand what a news library environment is like. I learned archival techniques for both news stories and photos. I also experienced the problems that libraries face. I am a bit more sheltered from that at Edgewood, but at Capital Newspapers it is quite evident. The library does great work in archiving the two newspapers, but in terms of research it is underused. The reporters could benefit a lot more from accessing the library’s print, electronic, and human resources. Seeing this allowed me to think critically about the problems that libraries face. How can we be more visible? What can we appear and actually be valuable to our patrons? These are questions I don’t have complete answers to yet but I have started working on them because of this practicum.

I also implemented a number of new technologies into the library’s local intranet. I added a Meebo widget to enable an “Ask the Library” chat function. In addition I added some advertisements highlighting different resources that are available. I put these ads in one spot on the page and randomized which one would display using a little JavaScript. Finally I made a few maps using Google Maps and added data to them that may be useful for reporters such as census data for Dane County from 1950-2000.

I benefited by being able to successfully implement new technologies into an actual library setting. The library probably benefited some from me doing this, but their biggest gain from this, in my opinion, is having a new world opened up to them. My supervisor tried adding data to maps before I arrived, but the way they were previously doing it didn’t work. There weren’t many fresh ideas flowing into the library. Because of my new perspective, I was able to get them thinking in new ways. I think that I changed the way my supervisor looks at things. It was a mutually beneficial experience, and we both were able to learn something during my time there.