Presence: breathing, sitting, getting out of the building

My life has been a little chaotic lately due in part to a family health issue. I’m fortunate that I work close to home, and close to the various appointments my family member has to attend. And I am able to be a little bit flexible by coming in early, taking shorter lunches, etc. But as you all know, library work, or any public service job, is not all that flexible because we have to be present to do our jobs. I’m a supervisor, so I have to be not just physically present but mentally present to the people who work for me. And to my peers and boss, especially as it’s budget and planning season for FY 2016. And to the public, who are the reason public libraries exist; as I’ve written here before, many of our patrons are seeking human contact as much as they are seeking books and information.

So, presence is key in all the parts of my life. I’ve been a somewhat haphazard student of mindfulness for many years, and I try to be a regular practitioner especially in times of high stress like I’m experiencing now. If you don’t know what it’s about, basically, being mindful is all about being in the present moment. I’m a better person when I’m practicing regularly. But I hadn’t considered that I might also be a better librarian when I’m being mindful.

I recently learned that the Law Librarians of New England spring conference is devoted to mindfulness. I was curious to see if this is a trend in our profession and discovered a number of interesting resources for mindful librarianship, including a webinar offered by University of Minnesota, a resource guide from the New England Library Association conference in 2011, and a Library Journal article from last spring about Sparq Meditation Labyrinth, which uses simple technology to project a light labyrinth and is in use in a number of college libraries.

My library isn’t formally integrating mindfulness into the workplace, but our city wellness program did offer an intro. class which I attended, I admit, in order to meet the requirements for reducing my insurance costs. Even though I’ve read a number of good books on mindfulness over the years (and am reading one to my teen daughter right now, called Sit Like A Buddha), the class was really interesting. I think this is a subject one can learn about forever and still not know everything about. And I know it helps me at work, at home, and anytime I remind myself, gently, to be mindful.

Another cool thing I did this week was attend a roundtable discussion sponsored by the Reference and Adult Services division of my state library association. Getting out of the building can be stressful — it means changing the desk schedule, arranging for coverage of necessary tasks, etc. But meeting with fellow librarians, especially in a format designed to share as much experience with each other as possible, is wonderful. The topic of our roundtable was The Community Driven Library. Among the many things I learned: Mahjong is big in several small town libraries nearby, all those extra mass market paperbacks from the book sale are perfect for stocking a town beach or pool, and there are several cake pan collections on loan in my small state. Besides getting good ideas, I connected or re-connected with colleagues and generally felt refreshed and reminded that I’m part of an awesome profession.

So, breathe, sit, be present, and get out of the building. You’ll be a better librarian for doing these simple things.



Talking about the MLS

Library Journal editor Michael Kelley stirred the proverbial hornet’s nest last week with his editorial “Can We Talk About the MLS? A Profession Based More on Apprenticeship Might Work Better.” Ambiguity and style aside (E. B. White would have a field day with that subtitle), the substance of the piece addresses a longstanding complaint in the library world: why should librarians have a professional degree (MLS means master of library science)?

Kelley based his apprenticeship argument on his own experience as a reporter and editor. While he may have had no problem breaking into journalism twenty-five years ago, it’s doubtful a newspaper today would hire someone without a degree, and there is no real equivalent professional degree in journalism that compares to the MLS. The apprenticeship he alludes to was really a paying of his dues, doing the work until he earned the respect of his journalism colleagues.  So I had a bit of trouble accepting his argument straight away, as it seemed to be standing on faulty ground.

The division in pay and status between MLS librarians and the staff who do similar if not equal work for lower pay is a problem. I am not sure why this is the case. Teachers may earn higher pay or rating and perhaps compete for administrative positions by completing a master’s degree, but I don’t think teachers with entry level degrees are treated any differently or expected to do any substantially different work in the classroom.  Why should library staff be any different? If there are hard feelings among staff over professional versus paraprofessional distinctions, the real challenge is to make none. A good library director should make all the staff feel valued and valuable, and a healthy workplace is one in which everyone feels they are heard and compensated fairly.

As to whether an MLS actually provides professional mastery, that is a separate issue, parallel to the current debate about what law schools should be teaching. Whether the MLS course of study is adequate preparation for being a librarian, whether it should include a practicum as teaching does, or a licensing system, like the bar, are questions worth exploring. To say that MLS programs don’t cover enough practical aspects of librarianship and therefore the degree is obsolete and an apprenticeship would suffice is a little like  saying we should eliminate medical school and let doctors go straight to residency.  Both theory and practice are important.

Kelley argues that “This is about greater inclusion. There is unlicensed talent up to the job.” Online MLS programs make it easier and cheaper than ever to obtain the “license” to which Kelley alludes; I know a talented and capable library staffer who recently enrolled in such a program. Why shouldn’t those who take the time and trouble to complete a professional degree be afforded greater responsibility and pay?

As to the question of rural libraries facing shortages of MLS librarians, other professions face such shortages and deal with them in a variety of ways.Kelley is correct that city systems replacing MLS librarians in order to save money “does raise an awkward question about qualifications if service is not severely ­hampered.” How is that measured? It’s fortune telling to assume that the MLS librarians wouldn’t have made an impact if they’d stayed in their jobs. And why does either situation mean we should eliminate the professional credential in librarianship?

One problem Kelley didn’t address is that with or without an MLS, library staff are performing more non-library tasks, like technical troubleshooting and community policing. These things take time away from professional library work they might be able to do instead and the situation can lead to questions about what skills are really needed for their positions. It’s not that they are overqualified to be librarians, it’s that they are being asked instead to be guards and help-desk staff and babysitters.

Buy it now?

Yesterday I listened to a Library Journal webinar, “Are Books Your Brand? How Libraries Can Stay Relevant to Readers,”on readers’ advisory. I heard a number of good ideas to share with my boss and coworkers.  But one topic I found a little disturbing: “buy it now buttons” in library catalogs, so patrons can purchase rather than wait for a book.

All the panelists thought this was a good idea, worth promoting heavily so patrons would know a portion of  purchases benefited the library. What I found ominous was that one panelist suggested, based on his conversations with a group of library professionals, most libraries would incorporate “buy it now” in their catalogs without hesitation especially if publishers made it a condition of lending their books.

I don’t know whether publishers are considering that. But I’m especially wary because I know NoveList Select, a popular discovery tool for integrating readers’ advisory in catalogs, links to Goodreads reviews, and Amazon just bought Goodreads. I’d really hate to see Amazon be the sole “buy it now” option in any library catalog, especially ours, since we have an independent bookstore in town as well.

It appears that library “buy it now” buttons are already available through OverDrive. I know there are long wait times for popular e-books because of the restrictions publishers place on library e-lending. I was relieved to see OverDrive allows patrons to select from several stores, including IndieBound. I still don’t like it.

Yes, the mission of libraries is to promote reading and provide access to reading materials. But libraries are also free and our resources are freely available to all. It’s already possible for someone who doesn’t want to wait for a book to go buy it. Why should we alter our mission to provide e-commerce?  A better alternative would be to educate library patrons about why there is such a wait for popular e-books (thanks to Brian Herzog at Swiss Army Librarian for noting that link on his blog).

Libraries could also do more to provide readers’ services to those on long waiting lists. Sometimes the print version of a popular e-book is sitting on the shelf  — wouldn’t it be nice if patrons could see that when they place an e-book hold, or get a message to that effect? A good suggestion I heard on the webinar was to make a “read alike” handout for books with long waiting lists to give people at the service desk — why not email it to those placing e-book holds? Or, email patrons who get on the list for a book with 5 or more holds, inviting them to reply with likes and dislikes (or even use a nifty reader’s advisory form like this one, mentioned in the webinar) and receive personalized reading recommendations from a librarian?

I would think that gaining support by providing excellent professional service is the key to a library’s long term well being, to a far greater extent than the bit of money possibly on the table with “buy it now.” I hope libraries stay out of e-commerce and instead focus on being an indispensable resource for readers in our communities.

Reading is not a crime

Ray Bradbury is one of my heroes, and my husband and I are handing out Fahrenheit 451 during World Book Night next week. So I was very intrigued by Toronto Public Library’s plans to promote reading via Fahrenheit 451, Toronto’s 2013 “One Book:”

I love several things about this image. How cool to promote a community-wide read as a month-long festival. And what a great integration of theme, artwork, and slogan for a promotion.

But, the coolest thing about Keep Toronto Reading is not that poster. It’s this one:

TorontoARGposter 425x550 Toronto Public Library Enters Alternate Reality (Gaming)

And it’s not really the poster that’s cool (although it is) so much as the thing it is asking Toronto’s residents to do: play KTR 451, an alternate reality game science fiction writer and video game developer Jim Munroe created for the festival. Before you protest that Fahrenheit 451 is all about the dangers a technology-dominated society poses to books and reading, keep in mind that an ARG is not a video game, nor is it conducted entirely online. Munroe explains that an ARG is: “an experience that spans different kinds of media and often involves real world actions. For instance, you might be told via an email to meet your fellow players at Union Station or to watch a video that has clues as to how to solve a mystery.”

Over at BoingBoing, Munroe explains there will be one mission a week for three weeks leading up to a live event. Library Journal notes “players must visit both a physical library branch and the library website, as well as interact with the library on social media. (They can do so from the library computers, ensuring that the digital divide does not prevent some Torontonians from joining the fun.)” The LJ piece goes on to outline the three missions in detail.

Ray Bradbury loved libraries. I imagine he’d love being part of an effort to draw today’s digital natives into their branch libraries. And since one of the missions involves participants gathering evidence of “a time when people loved books unabashedly” — the present — I hope he’d be honored by KTR 451.

DIY libraries

Last April I mentioned tiny DIY libraries in my Library Love post. You’ve probably heard about this concept which includes the “little free library” movement, phone booth library installations, and Occupy libraries around the world.  For the most part, librarians seem to have embraced DIY libraries; we may champion our profession, but we are book lovers as well, and we’re all for sharing that love. Read Michael Stephens’ Library Journal column on little free libraries and you’ll see what I mean; he notes that librarians are involved in the LFL movement and some library schools are teaching about it.

Library Journal also recently featured a high school student, Amalia Wiatr-Lewis, and her community project in Indianapolis. She opened a mobile micro-library named for her neighborhood, Cottage Home.  She had help from a teacher, volunteers, and a grant in opening this self-service mini library, which is free and open to all and not subject to building codes and other regulations since it’s on a trailer.

I really love this idea, but I wonder whether DIY libraries impact public library use. Part of me feels anything that draws people — especially young people — into reading is a good thing. But a friend and fellow librarian told me recently that her small town library is caught in a funding spiral. Their budget is justified by library use, and use is down because of recession-related budget cuts that make services and new books harder to fund; the less they can buy or do, the less the public supports them, the more their budget is cut and so on. So if a popular free alternative that no local government had to fund moved into town, would it be the death of her library?

One thing I appreciate is that not everyone has access to books even in places with healthy public libraries. The homeless, for example, can’t usually get a library card because they don’t have an address. I am a big fan of the Quaker Homeless Action mobile library in London, which I read about last summer in The Library Book.

Does your area have DIY libraries? Are they impacting traditional public libraries? Do you see places where they work well? Leave a comment and join the conversation.