One of my favorite aspects of being a librarian is the variety of the work. I am never doing the same thing day in and day out, and I’m constantly challenged in new ways. This may be because I work at a small institution with a fairly small number of librarians, so we all have to do a bit of everything. But I think in general, as librarians, we often have to wear so many different hats.
We are teachers. We experiment with new pedagogical methods and attempt to design effective, engaging curriculum. We are scholars. We publish research and present at conferences about the interesting things we’re doing. We are technologists. We experiment with and implement new tools in order to improve the delivery of services to users. We are detectives. We are able to solve mysteries and pull together a case from a mishmash of clues. We are oracles. We are able to give thorough and satisfying answers to questions that at first glance seem impossible and stultifying (it only seems like magic).
We are marketers. We to promote our resources and events and sell the idea of “the library” by being vocal advocates in our community. We are analysts. We attempt to improve our services by assessing learning and collecting data on things like reference interactions, classes taught, and usage of our resources. We are managers. We are either directors, department heads or simply leaders in meetings or committees, trying to help others reach their full potential. We are customer service representatives. We try to provide the best experience possible for our users and get them exactly what they need to ensure they come back and tell their friends. We are event planners. We plan great programs that pack the library and bring the community together.
There are plenty of other hats and they’re not all positive (copy machine repairman, janitor), but the wide variety of the work that we do is one of the things that really makes me love this job.
I’ve had an iPad for a number of weeks now and I find it’s really helping me organize information better. With the help of a few select apps I’ve downloaded I’m able to connect from anywhere, catch up on videos and reading, and maintain a social media presence. It was really useful at ALA Annual and I’ve heard other librarians say great things about their iPads too. These are a few of the apps that I think are essential for librarians.
iBooks – This is Apple’s attempt at doing books and it does a pretty good job. Like most everything Apple does, they put thought into the user experience and it shows. The way the pages turn is pretty and you can see your books all on a shelf that you can look through. The selection in the Apple book store isn’t as good as the Amazon of Barnes and Noble book stores, which also both have apps. But it is decent and there are a lot of free books you can choose from too. Cost – Free
Stanza – Another great ebook reader. They have books for purchase but also over 50,000 free titles from places like project Gutenburg. You can also import ebooks inPDF, ePub, or various other formats. It gives you a few more options for customization than iBooks does. Cost – Free
Evernote – An amazing app for note-taking that may make me switch from paper notebooks. Librarians are often in meetings or have great ideas but forget to bring a notebook or instead bring the wrong one. With Evernote you can sync notes across devices (I use it on my Android phone) and never lose notes. You can also take voice notes or capture webpages. This is one of the best tools I’ve found to capture ideas before they slip away. Cost – Free
Dropbox – If you have multiple devices (tablet, desktop, laptop, smartphone) then this is a must have apps. Dropbox allows you to sync files across the web and access them from anywhere. Save a document you were working on at home and read it on the road on your phone. Then edit it again at home on your laptop. It is super easy and integrates with a number of other apps too. Cost – Free up to 2GB of storage, reasonable pricing for more
Twitterific – We’re all aware that many librarians are social media butterflies, so a Twitter app is necessary. Whether you’re monitoring multiple searches for conference hashtags, chatting with your colleagues, or looking at different lists you’ve set up, Twitterific does it all well. It has a clean interface with not too much clutter. The only downside is that the free version does not support multiple accounts. So if you need that functionality for your library account too, you might want to look at Osfoora HD for $3.99. Cost – Free
Dictionary.com – This app is exactly what it sounds like. Librarians can smith words with the best of them with this handy reference tool. It has a good interface and includes a thesaurus and word of the day (which I really like!) Cost – Free
GoodReader – It’s sometimes difficult for librarians to find the time to read scholarly literature. This is a very useful app for reading all sorts of different documents. I store Word and PDF files here like articles and reports for reading later when offline. It’s a little confusing with all the options for set up and organization, and Jason Griffey noticed that you may want to check your settings for security reasons. But for saving and reading different files, it is great. It also integrates with Dropbox! Cost – $0.99
QuickOffice – A productivity app that allows full editing of both Word and Excel documents. It connects with services like Dropbox or Google Docs to make it easy to find your documents and edit them. This app turns the iPad into a full fledged office device. Cost – $9.99
Audiobooks – This app uses the admirable Librivox recording project to make it easy to get over 2,800 classic audiobooks on your iPad. It automatically bookmarks your last spot and has a built in browser so you can surf the web while listening (kinda multitasking). Cost – $0.99
Wikipanion – Another quick reference app that uses Wikipedia entries and displays them in a visually pleasing format for the iPad. It cuts down on some of the annoying extras from the Wikipedia site and gives you just content, nice and clean. Cost – Free
There are 13,000+ iPad apps and growing in the App Store, and this list is by no means comprehensive. What are some of your favorite apps? Did I miss some? Post a link in the comments.
I just finished the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. I highly recommend it and got a number of great ideas from it. But when I read it, one idea in particular stood out in relation to libraries. The idea is “the Curse of Knowledge.” The Heath brothers discuss the Curse of Knowledge in this example:
“Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.”
Librarians unfortunately are under the spell of this curse. Most of the time we think like librarians. We’re sophisticated searchers, evaluators, collectors, organizers and don’t know how to be any different. We know what a database is and what a catalog is. Often, our patrons don’t. It is difficult for us to put ourselves in the shoes of our users. And this is exactly what we need. In order to best serve our users we need to be able to see things from their perspective – see the library with fresh eyes.
How can we do this? It’s not always easy but there are a few ways to break out of your rut and lose your librarian perspective for a while:
Use library workers and work study students – library workers and students are valuable assets. They bring a different perspective and often work very closely with patrons. I’m always surprised by the great insights or ideas that these people come up with. Tapping into their perspective can get you closer to what the patron sees.
Use new librarians – people who just enter the field shouldn’t be thought of as greenhorns that need to be trained, they should be treasured as valuable, short term resources. They don’t have years of experience and THAT is what they bring to the table. Their not encumbered by the view that “this is how we’ve always done it.” They see the library with fresh eyes. But they won’t be that way forever. Learn from them while they’re still fresh.
Work like a library patron – Brian Herzog from the Swiss Army Librarian had a great idea of setting up a day when librarians work like a patron. You use public computers, public restrooms and do everything as if you were a patron. This is an great way for empathizing and gaining a more patron-friendly perspective.
Patron feedback – Actually ask patrons what they think! I’m sure most libraries do this, but are you doing it enough? There are lots of ways to get patron feedback: surveys, focus groups, suggestion boxes, email, ethnographic studies, social media, etc. There is no such thing as talking to the patron too much. Continually question them, because the best way to understand our patrons is to ask them what their perspective is.
What ways do you use to see the library with fresh eyes?