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Creating Meaning for Library Users

Two weeks ago I attended an event for the kickoff of the Native Creative Consortium of Vermont. They brought in Nathan Shedroff, a pioneer in Experience Design. His talk was fascinating. He talked about how everything is an experience and that companies and organizations, whether consciously or not, are creating certain types of experiences for their users. Instead of thinking that you’re a shoe manufacturing company, or a computer company, or library, you should be thinking more deeply about what experiences and expecially what meaning you are creating for your users. Shedroff’s main point’s are well captured in this TED talk:

Shedroff discusses 15 core meanings that we have as humans. These meanings are:

  1. Accomplishment - Achieving goals and making something of oneself; a sense of satisfaction that can result from productivity, focus, talent, or status
  2. Beauty - The appreciation of qualities that give pleasure to the senses or spirit
  3. Community - A sense of unity with others around us and a general connection with other human beings
  4. Creation - The sense of having produced something new and original, and in so doing, to have made a lasting contribution
  5. Duty - The willing application of oneself to a responsibility
  6. Enlightenment - Clear understanding through logic or inspiration
  7. Freedom - The sense of living without unwanted constraints
  8. Harmony - The balanced and pleasing relationship of parts to a whole, whether in nature, society, or an individual
  9. Justice - The assurance of equitable and unbiased treatment
  10. Oneness - A sense of unity with everything around us
  11. Redemption - Atonement or deliverance from past failure or decline
  12. Security - The freedom from worry about loss
  13. Truth - A commitment to honesty and integrity
  14. Validation - The recognition of oneself as a valued individual worthy of respect
  15. Wonder - Awe in the presence of a creation beyond one’s understanding

Thinking in terms of meaning when creating resources and services can be a really helpful framework in libraries. At a more professionally focused school (like my institution), accomplishment is likely a meaning that would be important to many students. With this meaning perhaps services would be designed in such a way that students could learn on their own and there are a lot of ways they can Do It Yourself (DIY). Perhaps at liberal arts college, enlightenment would be a more relevant meaning. For these type of users you may want to design more around the “a-ha!” moment. Using this model, you need to examine your own community and tap into what is meaningful to them.

We are not simply delivering access to e-books or databases. We are not only conducting reference interviews or doing information literacy. We are doing something much more important than that.

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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.