Wednesday, September 30, 2009

In which I doubt myself

It is slightly after midnight, and I have just finished updating patrons in my circ system. Before this (after getting off duty at 10:00) I was doing some copy cataloging. And though it is late, and I am tired, I still feel like I should go back and do more cataloging and book processing. These are book donations from last spring, and they have sitting on my work table, taunting me--and, somehow, increasing in numbers--since last spring, and it is getting overwhelming, and I don't know how to get on top of it. I know there must be a better system than the one I have, but I don't have the time to figure it out. And once all the books are cataloged, there's the matter of making them shelf-ready. All of my hardcovers' dust jackets have a plastic cover, but that takes time I don't have. So what do I do? I feel like that's the sort of thing I need to do to preserve the book, but if I wait till I have time to do all that the books will never make it to the shelf. And what will become of incoming new books? There is only so much time.

I feel like I do so much halfway. I never seem to have the time to devote enough attention to any one task, so I give half my attention to tasks, and feel guilty, and know I could be doing things better if there were just, somehow, more time. And then I doubt myself, and feel guilty, and am paralyzed by how massive the tasks ahead of me are.

I got an e-mail today asking me to send any documents for the presentation I'm giving at a conference in less than a month. And I haven't even started creating the presentation. And I don't know where I find the time. I need uniterrupted time to focus and think and read and write, but my job is a series of interruptions, interrupted by interruptions. And every day I seem to fall farther and farther behind.

I want to take this program to where I really think it needs to be. But how do I do that when I can't even manage the day-to-day tasks of my job?

Higher-ups tell me how impressed they are with how together I am and how much I get done, and don't believe me when I tell them it's all a clever facade. And I wonder if I'm actually undermining myself by making it seem like I can do it all. 'Cause I can't.

It is late. And I am so, so tired. And even thinking of my 'To Do' list makes me want to cry. I don't know how to do everything I need to do.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

By the numbers

After selling her on the glamorous life of a school librarian, a friend of mine recently decided to go get her MLIS. And somehow—by virtue of having an MLIS of my own and two years of experience—I am the type of person considered to qualified to answer questions from someone getting an MLIS. Weird.

Anyway, the a few weeks ago she wrote to me with this question (edited to protect the innocent):

Okay, so here's where I need your expert advice and your permission to use you as a source for my research. My professor wants an explanation of my 200 book/item core collection including percentages. I'm finding a couple of collection percentage sources, but not many, and not many that actually make sense to me. Tell me if this is too much of a pain in the ass to provide: What do you think the percentages of your library are? Fiction, non-fic by dewey section, magazine, reference, audio/playaways, online resources? A general guess would work just fine. Any idea would be fine. Second question (similar to the first, in fact, only slightly rephrased to get your personal opinion): If you had to create a core collection of 200 books for a general small high school library, how would you divide up your collection according to the above categories? I love, love, love you if you can provide any thoughts! Thank you! Am sure I'll be bugging you again soon!

My response:

First, just so you know, these are the types of questions that make me worry I'm going to be exposed as a fraud, as there are—I'm sure—widely divergent views on this subject, and the school library world can be shockingly judgmental and cut-throat. Okay, not really. But I do worry about being judged because of how I build a collection—in part because even after two years I still have yet to come up with a collection development plan, even though a collection in a shape such as mine badly needs such a plan. But I never even wrote a collection development plan in grad school, and writing one in the midst of day-to-day "I need this now and by the way can you do a million other things" nonsense is almost too overwhelming to contemplate. So, if you ever need to write a collection development plan for a "hypothetical" library, let me know.

I don't think there's an "ideal" balance for a collection, as it really depends on the needs of your users. For example, my library is going to have a much larger circulating audio and video collection than many school libraries, because non-print sources are more of a focus given our population. And depending on the curriculum and which departments do the most research, you're going to weight your collection differently. Or, in the case of my library, there are a lot of history books at yard sales, so you end up with a lot of those (don't put that in your paper).

All that being said, here goes:

Fiction: At least 25%, possibly more. While a lot of research material is available online and through databases—and many students prefer using online sources for a lot of their research—pleasure reading is one of the things that remains primarily an off-line activity (at least for now). I think the world will, eventually, go e-book, but the technology and other issues are still troublesome and there is still a significant "digital divide" issue. Books require no additional technology or user manuals (unless, of course, you are foolish enough to read Ulysses).

I'm not going to distinguish between reference and circulating for the non-fiction breakdown, in large part because I spent a couple weeks earlier this summer interfiling the two collections. I could talk at length about the reasons I believe interfiling reference is a good thing to do (and will if you want me to), but for right now let's leave it at that.

000s—7%: Focusing primarily on "ready reference" and encyclopedic works. Good sources for general background information before delving into more specific research.



300s—8%: An area often used for research. Also, a great deal of educational and professional reference material would be in this section. A fair amount of high interest non-fiction as well.



600s—6%: I think the 500s and 600s are better represented in database sources, which are generally more current. Students will generally be doing research on contemporary issues, and by the time a book on climate change reaches my shelves, it's already outdated. It's still important to have solid reference sources in this section, however, as well as foundational materials.

700s—8%: Art books. Pictures. Also, sports and graphic novels fall in the 700s, which provide a lot of material for reluctant readers.

800s—7%: Assuming that you don't take "more important" books and classify these books in the 800s instead of fiction.

900s—10%: Generally, history does a lot of research, and currency is not as much of an issue as it is with Science materials.




I can't figure out how to include online resources, but I will say that a library should have, at minimum, access to a) a general online encyclopedia b) a science database c) a history database, and d) a general "liberal arts" database or databases that cover arts, literature, religion, etc.


As I look back over what I wrote, I'm not 100% confident that my answers are "right." I find purchasing decisions overwhelming, and I really wish I did have a collection development plan to give me some guidance. But the idea of coming up with a collection development plan is overwhelming, especially on my own. As much as I like being a one-librarian shop, sometimes I wish I had someone else who knew my collection and my curriculum and my school to help me make these sorts of decisions.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I am relentlessly upbeat. Relentlessly.

For the record, when I first started writing this, the first line was, "Today was the first day of classes." A few short sentences later I was asleep on the couch with my computer on my lap. Further attempts at writing this week ended similarly. The beginning of the school year takes a lot out of a girl.


Monday was the first day of my third year at this job; this means that I have now, officially, been here longer than the previous librarian. Which, I suppose means I need to officially stop thinking of myself strictly in terms of how I'm trying to repair the damage done by a long-neglected program. The previous librarian was, as far as I can tell, a good librarian—she was just not a very good school librarian, and there is a significant difference. Even before she was here, the library and library program had, clearly been neglected for many years (and I have a collection full of books from tag sales to show for it--really, what teen doesn't want to read a political biography from 1982? And yes, I'm weeding, but the conflicts inherent in weeding such a badly outdated collection are too much to get into in a parenthetical aside. Some other post). One of the things that quickly dawned on me when I started this job was that in addition to rebuilding a neglected program, I needed to pay some serious attention to changing how people viewed the library--and how the librarian was likely to treat them.

Now, two years later, it's finally starting to dawn on me that I don't have to constantly prove to everyone that I'm approachable, and helpful, and good at my job, and unlikely to shush them. It helps that at least a dozen faculty members and probably about half the students have never known a different librarian here; there are fewer and fewer people for whom I have to counteract negative memories of the library. But repairing attitudes towards the library is still a major part of my focus--in part because a lot of new students do not come in with positive associations with the library. (As a side note: One of our new faculty members--a graduate of the school--told me that after knowing me she had shifted her entire view of librarians as being cold and intimidating. Which kind of almost made me tear up.) Sometimes I worry, however, that by spending so much of my energy there that I end up neglecting the less visible parts of my job. Like cataloging and processing and curriculum development and my own professional development--the kinds of things that if I let slide too much or for too long will become visible parts of my job, but not in a good way.

As I was saying:

Monday was the first day of classes; Tuesday was the first day I had classes in the library for info lit sessions. I've been pushing the "get kids into the library early" agenda for a while, but was kind of unprepared to have someone take me up on it. I had played with the idea of having a formal library orientation through classes, but I think it's important to teach these skills in some sort of context--and not to overwhelm students with information that they're not going to be able to put to immediate use. Also, my students come from all sorts of educational backgrounds, so I like to get a sense of what students are and aren't comfortable with when researching, and I have yet to come up with a general orientation that lets me assess that as well as an assignment that's integrated into a content area class. It's a question I go round and round on--I want to be sure I see all new students (and even returning students) at the beginning of the year, get a sense of their abilities, and start teaching as soon as possible. But in order to do that I need teachers to bring their classes in, and most don't want to do research that close to the beginning of the year. They have a lot of assessing and reviewing and introductory material to cover as well.

Also, as someone working without a para or or any clerical support, I count on the beginning of the year to be quiet so I can get caught up on cataloging and processing and organizing and curriculum development and all the other things that fall by the wayside once things get busy. If things get busy on day two, when are those other things supposed to happen?

But here's what it all comes down to, and what I've been trying ineptly to say throughout this entire post: there are ups and downs and conflicts and confusions and crazy hours and constant demands and often more things to think about and consider and weigh than I can even conceive of (seriously, this post doesn't even cover the half of it), but despite all of that and more, I really, truly love my job and can't imagine being happy doing anything else. And if that means a life of falling asleep on the couch while writing navel-gazing blog posts, so be it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

First day of classes, 8:40 am

"I have a prep first period, so can I just stay here and read?"

It's going to be a good year.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

This is why my office is never clean

In addition to an overflowing desk, a couple bookshelves, a laptop cart, two filing cabinets, and a worktable and book cart that are currently covered in a mountain of books in need of cataloging and processing, the following items can all be found in my office:

* Three spare shelves that I removed while shifting this summer
* A dust mask I wore while cleaning after the flu outbreak last winter
* Two defaced lampshades (one has "I'm on drugs!" written on it. The other has "I [heart] [phallic image])
* A Page-A-Day Origami calendar. Current date: February 27,2007
* A giant plastic container full of yarn, fabric, and knitting needles
* An unused newspaper rack (essentially a table without a tabletop)
* Several empty boxes that I refuse to get rid of, because as soon as I do I will need an empty box
* Two spare trashcans and a sheet of plastic in case the roof starts to leak again
* A laptop cooler. Or warmer. It has to do with temperature and your laptop; it came with the donation of ten boxes of musty, moldy books.
* A beading kit
* A toaster oven

Given all this, it's kind of amazing that my office isn't any more of a disaster.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"It's the first time I've enjoyed reading"

After "one of those days" that inevitably comes at the beginning of the school year--projects that are inevitably more complicated than you thought they were, projects becoming unnecessarily complicated, losing focus as you deal with things that shouldn't be issues, kicking yourself for overselling the "get kids into the library early in the year" message so that you find that instead of September being a quiet month you are booked solid, getting the first of what will become many "hey, where did you disappear to" messages from friends you had time for when on vacation--sometimes you see a returning student who greets you with a hug and then can't stop gushing about the amazing book ("The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins) you recommended for summer reading and then, somehow, it all seems okay and you have the energy and the passion necessary to go back to work.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

That had better be some really good cappuccino

This story has popped up in a few different places over the past few days.

I do think we are slowly and most likely inevitably moving towards a world in which most information is accessed electronically, and we're not going to get there if we keep waiting for the "just right" moment to make a switch.


I don't think a $50,000 coffee shop—complete with $12,000 cappuccino machine—is necessarily indicative of a desire to be on the forefront of electronic access to school library material.

Electronic text has a lot to offer—one of the reasons I find it so appealing is that it is much easier to make electronic text accessible to students with print-based disabilities. But physical books still have their place, and we are still a ways away from having everything available electronically. I think moving towards increased electronic access makes sense, but making that move simply because books take up "too much space" seems short-sighted to me.

The most depressing part of this story for me is how sad the librarian is about the change. I can't imagine being in her position. If you're going to move this significant, the librarian should be completely on board—if she's not, I have a hard time believing that the change is in the best interest of the school.

A library is much, much more than its books. Just because the library has gone digital it doesn't mean that students and teachers will all of a sudden understand how to navigate all of this information; I would argue that information literacy instruction is even more important in after such a radical shift in how students and teachers access resources.

It may be possible to have a library without books. But this doesn't sound like a library without books. It sounds like a coffee shop.

Well, I thought it was a fun fact

I have approximately 511 linear feet of books in my library. While giving a presentation to teachers at my school last week I was reliably informed that this is not, technically speaking, a "fun fact."

I know that I have 511 linear feet of books because I measured—and, more specifically, because I handled every single one of them this summer. Actually, by the end, I probably had less than 511 feet, as I did some weeding as I shifted. After two years in my library getting to know how my students and colleagues approached the library and the task of research, I decided to interfile the Reference collection (I am never sure whether or not to capitalize that) with the Circulating collection. And while I was at it, why not do an inventory as well, given that I'm fairly certain the collection had never actually been inventoried.

I know there is much (occasionally heated) debate about the decision to interfile, but I've never really understood why the Reference section was separate in the first place—it seems to go against everything I know about collocation and making resources accessible to the user. I did keep a small (about one shelf's worth) collection of "Ready Reference" for quick facts, but my Reference Collection is most often used for in-depth research rather than looking up quick facts. I understand why we wouldn't want to check out books that are either frequently used or difficult or expensive to replace, but I don't understand why that means we have to shelve them in a separate place. Yes, I know that some people won't understand why some books can't be checked out even if they're all shelved together, but a significant number of people don't understand why they can't check out Reference books even when they're shelved separately, so that is not a compelling argument for me. What I've most often seen is that by shelving them separately students don't look at Reference books unless they are explicitly directed to them—which means some of the best resources frequently go unused.

This strikes me as similar to what we do when we classify some literature in the 800s rather than in the fiction section—a decision which often seems arbitrary to me. What is it about a book that makes it literary enough to qualify for a Dewey classification rather than a 'Fic' on the spine label? And given how rarely students browse for reading material in the 800s, these books—presumably ones we would like our students to read— are both out of sight and out of mind.

In the end, the books we deem "important" become the books that are most often overlooked.

As part of the shifting/interfiling process I, of course, also had to create all new signs for the endcaps (is endcap the preferred library term? That's what we called them when I worked at Barnes and Noble, and I can't think of anything else to call them). I remember when I first made signs indicating the Dewey range on each section of shelves. It was my first year at this school, and my first job as a librarian. I agonized and deliberated for hours about fonts, size, spacing and myriad other details. This time? Type, print, laminate, done. And it's not that I had more time my first year—there was the matter of the Reference section that sill needed to be cataloged and processed—but I think it is a small indicator that my confidence has grown. Well, maybe not that my confidence has grown, but that I'm freaking out about big important things, rather than small cosmetic things.

That's progress, right?