The Skills You Don’t Learn In School

Over at Hack Library School, one of the contributors recently posted about The Skills You Don’t Learn In School: interpersonal skills. As they say in the post, “librarianship is a profession that’s all about helping people.”

I posted a bit about this last fall when I was first (re)starting graduate school. I’m lucky enough to have worked in the “real” world for a couple of years before diving back into graduate school, so I have experience of working with people in a professional setting and not just from my undergraduate days working on the computer lab help desk and selling soap at Bath Junkie. When I was interviewing for my Graduate Assistant position at the Physics, Maths & Astronomy Library, one of the skills that I had that made the biggest impression was my time working as a Marketing Coordinator, where I spent most of my day every day communicating with clients and answering the same questions over and over (“what do you mean I have to put the FDIC disclaimers on everything? They’re so long!” “BECAUSE IT’S THE LAW!!”) as well as effectively running my firm’s small in-house marketing department with almost no supervision. Excellent communication and interpersonal skills? Check! Ability to manage complex workload, prioritize tasks and complete work on time with minimum supervision? Check!

However, I know of other students in my program at the UT-Austin iSchool who worry about their resumes and their chances of getting jobs because they only have retail or work study experience from their undergraduate days. To quote again from Hack Library School’s post, “Even if you don’t have prior library experience, there are transferable skills that you can use in a library setting. I spent many years slinging coffee beans, working in customer service. I had no clue that the experiences I had at the coffee shop would actually help me as a reference librarian.” They also link to a post from April 2011 that gives concrete advice on Ways to Improve Your Soft Skills.

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It’s Always Nice to Be Remembered

Sincerest apologies for disappearing — I can’t believe it’s January 2012 already! The end of last semester passed me by in a blur of papers, projects, readings, handings-in, celebrations, and blissful, guilt-free relaxation. When the dust had settled, I ended up with the grades I expected and the first (and highest, I think) hurdle of another graduate degree cleared.

This semester I’m taking:

Collection Management: Philosophical and social context, objectives and methodology of evaluating and selecting library materials.

Introduction to Archival Enterprise I: Introduction to the records aspect of archival enterprise, from acquisition to use, with emphasis on arrangement and description.

Conservation Risk Assessment and Management: Agents of deterioration, including physical forces, security, disaster, and environmental conditions; risk assessment, strategies to reduce risk, and personal safety

These classes represent the real meat and potatoes work I’ve come to do at the iSchool (as opposed to last semester’s classes, which were mostly grounding theory and more focused on the technological aspect of information management). In just these two short weeks, I’ve already started realizing some interesting and surprising things, so I’m going to work on writing up a blog post about each one.

Before I go, though, I’ll leave you with a link to the UTSA English Department’s news page, where (I believe) my undergraduate advisor got my recent publication mentioned. It makes me smile to think of how proud I am to represent UTSA well and to be remembered by them.

Graduate Studies: Frivolous? Necessary? Somewhere in-between?

The eight types of graduate student

“I initially figured that we must all be there because of a pure thirst for knowledge. I’ve since realised, however, that the impulses that draw someone to academic study beyond graduation are a lot more varied than that.”

This link came across my Facebook dash a couple of days ago and of course I had to pass it on.  It generated quite a few humorous responses, as well as a few more thoughtful comments.  Most of my friends (and myself) easily identified with one of the listed choices (I definitely identify with #7), and I found it telling that I could go through the list and put names of friends and acquaintances next to each entry, but it wasn’t long before people were pointing out the areas the article missed — my friend Jane Mason of Virtuous Bread said, “There does not seem to be one for ‘I could not think of anything else to do at the time'” and my friend Virginia followed that up with “I think I’m with Jane on this one. Does crushing boredom count as sufficient motivation?”

While boredom is a valid reason for going to graduate school, it was my friend Matt of three4history who really got me thinking about what types of graduate student Patrick Tomlin neglected to mention (which has naturally snowballed somewhat as I have reflected on discussions I’ve had with other people recently).  Matt said, ” Initially, my reason was going to grad school to obtain a usable degree in my field (history)…” [emphasis mine].

Matt’s degree is, if I’m not mistaken (and feel free to correct me, Matt!), a Masters of Public History in Archives and Records Management, which is a very close relative of my own degree-in-progress in Archives and Preservation.  These degrees fall under the missing item in Patrick Tomlin’s list, 9. The Professional Degree.

What makes our degrees “professional”?  Why wasn’t “I had to have a graduate degree to get a job in my field” included in the list of types of graduate student?  It’s not like there aren’t a lot of degrees and a lot of people that fall under this heading — I’d argue that law school and medical school fall under this professional degree heading, as well as the many public service and heritage degrees.  For my part, I doubt I would have come back to graduate school to do another master’s if it hadn’t been for the fact that the MSIS/MLIS is required to get full time employment as a full librarian rather than a paraprofessional library assistant.  I’m sure there are many people out there who would sympathize with my view and who would skip graduate school if they could.

So why ignore this wide swath of graduate students?  It was suggested to me recently that I’m not a “real” graduate student because I’m not in a “traditional” academic, research-focused department.  And it is true that being in a practical, professional degree program feels very different from being in an English literature graduate program — maybe that also has something to do with the fact that I’m older and far more focused on getting the very specific, practical skills that fulfill concrete real-life job requirements than in taking any class that sounds interesting (“Ooooh, ‘Imagining the Polity in England, 1377-1422,’ that sounds neat!  I like Gower!!”).

All of this feeds into the question whether or not MSIS/MLIS degrees are practical, professional degrees and whether they should be required for librarian jobs.  In Texas, there’s been a lot of debate recently about whether or not librarians should have their masters degree, especially in cases like public school librarianship — is it really necessary for someone to have a masters degree in library science to serve as an elementary school librarian in Small Town, Texas?  There’s been a push to remove that requirement in some school districts lately, partly as a money-saving initiative — why pay someone twice as much for a masters when they can do the job just as well without it?  It also has to do with job creation and opening positions up to more people.

I can see both sides.  Of course, any MSIS/MLIS candidate is sure to say “But of course the MSIS/MLIS should be required!!” because I’m sure no one wants to admit that they’ve spent two years and thousands of dollars getting a special professional degree that is, ultimately, proved worthless — and I’m sure none of us want to be in competition with even more people for jobs.  But at the same time, I think there is a lot to be gained by opening up librarian jobs to more candidates, especially in school districts that might otherwise not be able to afford to staff their library.

This is also related to some discussions of subject librarianship that I have read recently which suggest that reference librarians for specific subjects (for example, business or medicine) should have a degree or a minor in that subject — with the implication that unless you’ve studied and somewhat specialized in that field, you can’t understand it well enough to adequately serve the needs of your patrons.  As someone who has worked in two specialist libraries and provided reference services for two subject areas very, very far outside her specialty, I have to admit the idea that I’m not good enough at providing reference services because I didn’t minor in mathematics or astronomy kind of gets my back up.  I think subject reference librarianship is composed of one part transferable research skills that can be gained in any field, and one part specialist knowledge that is learned on the job.  The suggestion that I should get another degree or minor in physics to properly serve the students at my PMA Library is a bit absurd.

In The News: From Scroll to Screen

From Scroll to Screen

Something very important and very weird is happening to the book right now: It’s shedding its papery corpus and transmigrating into a bodiless digital form, right before our eyes. We’re witnessing the bibliographical equivalent of the rapture. If anything we may be lowballing the weirdness of it all.

I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek humour in this article from the New York Times!

Link Share: 20 Celebrities With Stunning Home Libraries

From three4history’s post “Interesting”:

20 Celebrities With Stunning Home Libraries

Any committed bibliophile fantasizes about having the ultimate home library. Whether that’s a room filled floor to ceiling with every book they’ve ever wanted to read or a simple, cozy den stocked with priceless antique tomes is really a matter of taste. Regardless of style, most are limited from fulfilling these dreams of a home library haven thanks to budget constraints. Celebrities, often making tens of thousands of dollars for just showing up somewhere, have no such financial restraints and may indulge themselves with those epic home libraries the rest of us can only dream about. Here are several libraries of the rich and famous sure to fill you with envy and awe — maybe even motivate you to create a more budget-friendly version in your own home.

My friend Matt shared this at his blog three4history, along with his insightful thoughts.  I don’t have much to add, except OMG total bookshelves lust for William Randolph Hearst’s!!

In The News: Library Anthropology

What Students Don’t Know

A two-year anthropological study of student research habits shows that students are in dire need of help from librarians, but are loath to ask for it.

This is an incredible read and gives me, as a future librarian/archivist, a LOT to think about.

In The News: Budget Cuts, Pessimism and My Broken Heart

Texas Governor Signs Budget Cutting State Funding for Library Services by 88 Percent

The new state biennial budget (FY 2012-13) in Texas, signed Tuesday by Governor Rick Perry, will reduce state funding for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission by 64 percent and will cut state funding for the agency’s library programs by 88 percent.

Coming days after my first job application rejection, this article fills me with sadness and pessimism.  What am I getting myself into here?  The future looks bleak and dire for librarians and as more and more of us enter programs and graduate, what are the problems we will face in the years to come?

When reports about the cuts to library services first started, I told my friend Jess (of Ask An Islamicist) that if I thought there was any rational reasoning behind stripping away funding from libraries I might be persuaded to accept the inevitable with more grace.   My problem is that the Republicans in Texas seem to recognize that this is an easy “win” in cutting the budget. They’re devastating the education budget as a whole in Texas as well and there are far more people actively hurt and vocal about that.  There have been many protests over cuts to school day hours, parents being charged for bus services, etc.,  so libraries are easy to take from because only librarians will stick up for them and we are far outnumbered by the parents, teachers, administrators, etc. that are being affected by the broader education cuts.

At the end of the day, stories like this break my heart.  I grew up in libraries.  I read my way through the school and local libraries, tucked up in a chair with a stack of books close to hand.  I wrote my essays there.  I made friends there.  They are important to me, personally, just like it is important to me, personally, to make sure everyone has access to knowledge for personal edification and enjoyment.  What is this world we are creating for future generations where things like that aren’t valued?  Was I wrong in my recent post to believe that we’ll never see a day when books are things of the past?  Or am I just naive?

In The News: From The Library Director’s Mouth

The Source on Texas Public Radio, today at 12:30pm CST

San Antonio is a dynamic and diverse city.  If you’re looking for an in-depth radio program that captures the pulse of our unique community, tune into “The Source.”  The weekly program offers listeners insightful discussion and analysis on topics that matter to residents of the Alamo City.

This week’s topic on The Source is going to be about whether the San Antonio Public Library and public libraries in general are obsolete in this age of instant digital information.  The program will feature the San Antonio Public Library director and will air today at 12:30pm CST.  It looks like it will also be available for download later.

In The News: Creating A Book Museum

Internet Archive founder wants to collect every book ever published

Brewster Kahle, the fellow behind the Internet Archive, is in the process of gathering together every book ever published for safe storage against a future where the prevalence of digital media has utterly devalued physical texts… The Associated Press describes the undertaking as something more akin to The Svalbard Global Seed Vault than the Library of Congress — these books aren’t being saved for lending, they’re being stored for the future.

I think people have been predicting the death of printed books since the Kindle was first announced, but the sort of hysteria that is implied by this article seems a bit over-the-top to me.  Does Kahle honestly think there will be some kind of bookpocalypse in which every library in the world will suddenly decide to destroy their books and go digital only?  I can’t imagine either the Library of Congress or the British Library or, indeed, my own UT Health Science Center library would do such a thing.  As much as my library has been transitioning towards eJournals and eBooks, we are still receiving many printed journals and books and have no plans to stop doing so.  Khale is proposing is proposing the antithesis of a library: a book museum, some sort of repository for curious, redundant objects that future generations can come ogle and examine to get an idea of how more primitive humans lived.

“Can you believe they actually printed every single word on paper?  How quaint!”

One of the most haunting things I have ever read is James D. Griffioen’s Story of the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository.  In it he writes, “Someday the books will tumble from the shelves at the Bodleian and there will be no one to replace them.”  Do I think this is realistically possible?  No, not in my lifetime.  Not as long as I am there to stop it.  Like the last Vestal Virgin, I will tend the flame until Rome falls down around my ears.  But obviously people think that this sterile electronic digital world without books is where we are headed as a society.

I’ve been accused by people of living in the past because I own both a Kindle and an iPad and use neither to read books.  In fact, my Kindle sits unloved in its box, used only occasionally by my mother when she can’t get Large Print editions from the library.  I’ve tried to like using eReaders.  I have really, honestly tried.  While I can recognize their utility in some circumstances for some people, I personally do not like using them.  I need the feel and smell of paper to completely my reading experience.

Right now I have a 100 year old book tucked inside my purse (one of that same set of Dumas novels I have mentioned before).  I don’t want to be part of a society that needs warehouses and museums for books like that because all other physical books have been destroyed.

In The News: The Digital Gough Map

This is too awesome not to mention:

Get access to the earliest medieval map of Britain: Digital Gough Map launched

A fifteen-month research project of the earliest surviving geographically recognizable map of Great Britain, known as the Gough Map, provides some revealing insights into one of the most enigmatic cartographic pieces from the Bodleian collections. The findings are recorded on a newly-launched website www.goughmap.org.