Start Walking, You’ll Find Your Way

a path through the woods

This weekend I was walking some trails with my girlfriend. In Vermont the trails aren’t always well marked, so we weren’t sure which way to go. We looked at the map for a bit, but it wasn’t quite clear. Instead of continuing to study the map intently, we decided to just start walking in a direction that seemed correct. After walking for a while, and exploring a few dead ends and things that caught our interest, we eventually found the trail we were looking for.

This mildly boring story can be taken as a parable for how to innovate and go about creating the future of libraries. The first thing you need to do when want to create the future is to start imagining it. Try to get an idea of where it is you want to go. In our walk we had a specific trail in mind. This could mean coming up with a vision statement for your library. It could also mean, for example, saying something like, “In two years I want our library to be completely focused on customer service and be the most welcoming place on campus.” Having an idea of where you want to go is important.

Next, when creating the future some planning is good, but doing is even better. In our walk, the map could only tell us so much. Planning is necessary for success, but it can also paralyze you (I’ve been guilty of this). It is impossible plan for everything, so sometimes you have to give up control. Planning will eliminate some bumps along the way, but other bumps you encounter help you to learn. In a TED Talk, Tim Brown of IDEO says that “instead of thinking about what to build,” we should begin “building in order to think.” He goes onto say that,”it’s only when we put our ideas out into the world that we begin to understand their strengths and weaknesses.”

In addition, don’t forget to explore interesting avenues along the way. This is where you make some great discoveries. In hiking it might be a patch of wildflowers or a great scenic view. In libraries it could be some different perspective you hadn’t thought of, or a solution you had not imagined.

Finally, have confidence you’ll find your way. If you have a vision of where your headed, if you have the ability to explore, be curious, and learn from your mistakes, and if you have the drive to see the vision through, you’ll create a brilliant future.


What’s Broken At The Library?

Steven Bell recently posted about a retreat he attended with his public service colleagues. In the post he shared a great video of a presentation by Seth Godin called “Why Things are Broken.”

Godin discusses various like road signs, bike racks, or a million dollar laser cutter and they’re all broken. The video got me thinking about things that are broken in libraries. How many paper signs do you have up that explain how something works, or why you have a specific policy? There are plenty of pictures and posts about bad library signs. I know at our library we have some really old signs up that I’m sure us librarians don’t even notice anymore, but probably are unnecessary or could be updated.

How many policies really frustrate the people you are supposed to be serving? A no food in the library policy is one that I think is really broken. Sometimes you have good reasons for policies. We don’t let scissors leave the desk because our magazines keep getting chopped up. Perhaps some libraries don’t allow food because they have some rare materials that are irreplaceable. But articulate WHY these policies are in place, and look for exceptions (e.g. you can eat food on the first floor).

One library recently realized that their classification system was broken and decided to do something about it. [UPDATED: this article was supposed to be humorous, see the comments] The College of Eastern Nevada decided to abandon their outdated classification system in favor of something more familiar to their users…a Netflix categorization model!

Don’t be constrained by the past. Try to see the library with fresh eyes. Take a look around your library and ask yourself what’s broken? You might be surprised at all the improvements you can make.


Library School To Do List

child's to do list

Photo by Carissa GoodNCrazy on Flickr

In getting my MLIS, there are things I’m glad that I did, and there are also things that I wish that I had done differently. To get a library job there are some important skills you need. If I had to do it over again I would make sure that I had all of these things checked off my list:

Real World Experience

You can’t expect to get hired out of library school unless you have some real experience to point to. The degree is important, but what really sets you apart is what you’ve done. There are plenty of ways to get experience. Get an assistantship, internship or graduate position at a library where you’re actually doing the job. Volunteer at a public, academic, or even jail library. Do a practicum as a part of a class. This doesn’t need to be full time professional experience, but you should show that you have something hands on that you can point to in your resume.

Some Technology Skills

Libraries and technology are integrally tied together. You have to make it a priority to develop some technology chops. I’m not going to enumerate specific skills you need (though I think some HTML is critical). You need to be comfortable with technology and the speed at which it changes. If your program doesn’t offer technology classes, do some outside work. Try something similar to the 23 things project. Start a tech in libraries club or get involved with the LITA chapter at school. You’re never done learning technology, so you have to learn how to play and evaluate technology and how/if it fits into your needs.

Professional Engagement

You need to show that you care about the profession and want to give back.  Join a professional organization like the ALA. Student memberships are often highly discounted. Besides an association there are tons of ways to be professionally engaged: publish an article or opinion piece, attend conferences, join a library club at school, volunteer at a library, give a presentation, join a professional committee. People like to see job-seekers who are passionate, engaged, and thoughtful about what they do.

Make Connections

Build and maintain connections with students, professors, and other professionals you meet. The library world is a pretty small one, and every connection is important. Make friendships with students and maintain them via social media. Connections that you make in library school can be lifelong and may be very helpful down the road, even if you don’t see it now. Besides librarians are some of the most fun people to hang out with anyway.

Get a Website

The benefits of getting a website is twofold. It helps you play with and learn technology, and it also is a place to show off things that may not come through in a paper resume. If you constructed a video tutorial you could highlight it on your website. If you gave an interesting presentation or Prezi you can embed it. It doesn’t need to be super flashy. You could just get a WordPress blog or create one in a couple hours using Weebly or Google sites.

Teaching Experience

This one I found very helpful personally. If you know for sure you never will be teaching this one might be optional, but this skill makes you so much more marketable. Volunteer to do workshops. If offered, take an instruction class. I took a practicum and it helped me immensely. Librarians are in the business of learning and information and that often means we need to be educators.