Career Counseling

June 26, 2007

I had two conversations last week that ended with enormous headaches…mostly from me banging my head against the wall. There is a lot of conversation about the state of LIS programs and education. Is the MLS really necessary? Are the programs worth the price of tuition? Are we teaching relevant subjects, information and using the right tools? I think that all of these are valuable discussions and I have already discussed some of my feelings about MLS education and programs.

The first conversation I had was with someone who asked me if I thought they should go to library school. When I asked what they wanted to do with their lives and future, they responded that they like working in academia and that they plan on sticking around [the academic library they currently work in]. Then I was treated to a 10 minute lecture about all the talents and skills and ideas that he has to offer the library and why he (and his skill set) are necessary. I am all for tooting your own horn and confidence, but this was more about how us lowly, technophobic, change averse, idiot librarians need his groundbreaking creativity, intelligence, and mad tech skills in order to be relevant. I wish I could write that this is the first time this gentleman has proven that he has no respect for librarians, our work, our education, or our skills or talents, but I can’t.

So what did I tell him? Well, I know firsthand that this is a person who routinely does not listen or pay attention to the wants and needs of his customers – be they internal or external, and that he is a firm believer of “my way or the highway.” Naturally I told him that he should skip the MLS and go straight to law school.

The second conversation, while less annoying still stung a bit. After 6 months, Mike and I finally met our downstairs neighbors at a pool party last week. In the course of the usual getting to know you conversation, I mentioned that I was a librarian to which I received the statement that makes every librarian cringe: “I should have my daughter talk to you about becoming a librarian, she loves to read.”

Why people? Why!?!?!?!?

I actually laughed out loud since this was one of the moments I had often heard about, but had never before personally experienced.

So I got to thinking a lot about this. Why does someone who thinks they are God’s gift with a demonstrated disregard for customer service and someone who loves to read think that librarianship is the perfect profession for them? Where are we going wrong and how are we attracting people like this? Really, it’s a rhetorical question since I think the answer is that people still have no idea what we do all day.

I am the first person to say that not every position in the library requires an MLS. I have said that I am thrilled that in my department I can hire based on talent, skill and experience and not have the lack of an MLS be a deal-breaker. However, I do take slight offense at the notion that once getting the MLS, you are automatically qualified to work in a library.

My solution/suggestion: we should take a page from the physical therapy education playbook and require library school applicants to have a certain number of volunteer hours in a library. Part of those hours (my vote would be 50%) should be spent in front-line public services (circulation, reference, instruction). This way, applicants know what they are getting into before they begin a program and possibly those who have no interest or inclination in working with the public, in teams, collaboratively with co-workers, etc. will be weeded out.


It really comes down to simple mathematics and bang for buck. When I started my current gig I joined ALA after not having been a member since I was a library school student 6 years ago. Since my career up until now was in medical and health sciences libraries I was an active member in MLA and my regional chapter. I didn’t really see a purpose or need to continue my ALA membership and honestly, when I renewed my membership in February, it was done so rather reluctantly. I am still far from convinced that the $90 (it may have been more) I paid to renew is worth what I can get from the organization.

I am at a point in my career right now where I am happy and where I want to be. What I am looking for from a professional organization goes beyond networking and focuses primarily on professional development. I want the opportunity to attend (virtually or physically) workshops and presentations that directly relate to what I do every day in my workplace. Unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of that coming from ALA. There really is not a lot of programming devoted to circulation, reserves, ILL, staff management and customer service and this influenced my decision not to attend the annual conference.

Actually I broke down the expenses and compared it to the conference program. Here is what I was looking at:

  • 3 nights in a hotel ($199/night): $597 plus tax
  • conference registration (I wanted to see most of the program before registering so I waited): $200-$260.
  • travel (gas & tolls): $100
  • food/drinks/misc.: $100-$150

Grand Total: $1047 (this is using the low end of anything that had a range) plus tax

While it is true that my institution would reimbure me for some of the expenses I just don’t think that for me it is an efficient use of funds since after looking at the conference program, the sessions that I can say I would definitely attend are:


  • Leadership or Management:Which is it?
  • Diplomacy 101: Dealing with Difficult Customers


  • Transforming Your Staff
  • Moving Mountains: Exciting Trends in Library Delivery Services

Since these two are at the same time, I would have to decide one over the other.


  • Access Services: It’s Not Just Circulation Any More!

This is one session that I am sad that I will miss as from what I have read it sounds very promising.

Now, before we all start arguing, I am not casting judgement on any of the other programming or assuming that it would not be interesting and informative. My point is that for me, these are the sessions that I find relevant to my daily work. I know I would find other sessions to round out my days and many of them would be interesting, however, for me, the expense is not worth it.   And yes, if I had started my job and joined ALA before the deadline for presentations I would have submitted something related to access services.  Unfortunately, I started around the same time as the conference deadline.

Instead of spending my money on the ALA annual conference, I have decided that the Brick & Click Libraries symposium is much better suited to my interests. This is a one day, academic library conference (they had me at one day!) happening at the Owens Library at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, MO this November. Since it is a smaller and one day event, the programming is broken down into concurrent sessions throughout the entire day. After reviewing the program I was able to find a presentation to attend during each session:

  • Are we having fun yet? Putting fun into the workplace!
  • The Impact of Usage Statistics
  • Wikis are Better: Transitioning from Static Research Guides to Wikis
  • Measure for Measure: Developing an Assessment Plan for Access Services
  • Digg This: Tagging and Social Collaboration on the Web
  • Enhancing Library Services through Support Staff Training: A Unique Approach

Cost of Attendance:

  • registration: $125
  • 2 nights in a hotel ($42/night): $84 plus tax
  • roundtrip airfare: $160 plus tax
  • care rental: $80
  • gas: $50
  • food/drink/misc.: $100

Grand Total: $599 plus tax

There are probably many sessions at the ALA conference that cover the 2.0 topics that I plan on attending at Brick & Click, but it is the sessions that are primarily about access services and staff training and development that make this conference valuable to me. And I can get what would take 3 days to see at ALA in one day at Brick & Click for less money.

My point in this post really has less to do with the cost of being an ALA member and attending the annual conference, and more to do with the fact that as a librarian who works in access services, I feel extremely underrepresented in my professional organization. Yes, before you even post it in the comments, I do plan on getting more involved in ALA, but I am not encouraged by what I see. I am a member of LAMA and of their Systems and Services (SASS) committee which encompasses access services, but I see little to no discussion happening. The other factor that I believe comes into play here is that most people who work in circulation, reserves, ILL and document delivery are paraprofessional staff who don’t belong to ALA or attend the annual conference. For some it may be the cost of membership, for others it may be that they don’t feel welcomed. Whatever the reason, I don’t think the number of ALA’s paraprofessional members are a true representation of the number of paraprofessionals in libraries.  We need some sort of group that is inviting to all professional and paraprofessional circ staff.  Something to rally all staff behind and to churn out more programming of our own. I want to be an involved and interested member of my professional organization, I just want more encouragement and interest from the organization’s end.

Sometimes I think the one thing that could make this job infinitely more awesome would be if we could listen to music while working the circ desk.  How could you not smile while helping patrons then?

Tag, I’m it!

June 13, 2007

I just realized that I have been tagged with the 8 Random Things meme by Chris over at Fifth Law.  Since he asked, here are my answers:

  1. I have an embarrassingly large collection of True Crime novels.  I wish I had a good reason for the collection other than it is a guilty pleasure, but I don’t.  I just like reading them.
  2. My favorite movies are “All About Eve,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Doctor Zhivago,” and “Phantom of the Paradise.”  Favorite TV shows: “Lost,” “Scrubs,” “South Park,” “Daily Show,” “Colbert Report,” “Penn & Teller’s Bullshit,” and “Top Chef.”  Favorite book: Pride & Prejudice.
  3. I will just about obsessively collect anything I think is cute, cool or fun.  I am not a weekend collector, I am full throttle.  I will have all I can find.  This is probably a bad trait.  My collections include: bobble-head dolls, lunch boxes, seven inch records, yarn (this serves a dual purpose obviously), paper (stationary, which does get used a lot),  and movie memorabilia.
  4. I think the Muppet Show is still one of the greatest television shows ever created.  Spider Jerusalem is my favorite comic book hero and I think Dr. Cox from Scrubs is the mac-daddy.
  5. When I am not working, sleeping or eating, I am most likely knitting.  It is one of my favorite things to do and it helps me burn up all of my nervous energy.  However, you won’t find me knitting during presentations at conferences because even though I know it helps me pay attention and stay focused, I believe that it may be perceived as rude.
  6. I hate flying.  I have an intense fear of it and I will drive over fly any day.  If I can drive there in 15 hours or less, I will.
  7. I sing in the car, shower,  my office, kitchen, etc.  I don’t care what I sound like, I just do it.  Sometimes there are hand gestures and possibly some dancing included.
  8.  I have a handbag problem.  Currently, I have almost an entire walk-in closet devoted to storing them.  I will change my handbag every day to match an outfit and I usually buy one everytime I go shopping.

I am going to tag anyone who stumbles across this and reads it.  The next post will be about all the reasons I am not going to ALA next week – it will be full of snark and hopefully a couple of ideas will spring from it.


June 6, 2007

I believe that on your birthday you should try to be as happy as possible and avoid anything that will infuriate or depress you.  So far, so good!

I have been doing a lot of reading about management and leadership lately.  Friday I was handed this great book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman.  Essentially, the book is based on in-depth interviews with over 80,000 managers and gets to the heart of what they do well and how they accomplish their goals of motivating and leading their staff.

What the authors discovered was that most of what great managers do flies in the face of conventional wisdom and is very much the opposite of traditional management theory.

I am finidng this book extremely relevant and insightful.  Perhaps the biggest reason I am enjoying this book is because it contends that the revolutionary insight common to great managers is:

“People don’t change that much.
Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out.
Try to draw out what was left in.
That is hard enough. “

The first sentence of that mantra really hits home for me.  I truly, with every ounce of my being, believe that people don’t and can’t radically change, and that it is almost impossible to try to change someone.  If I didn’t learn that in my professional career, I definitely learned that lesson in my dating life.

Think about this for a moment:  As a manager, how many people have you changed?  I am not talking about breaking someone of a bad habit, which I believe can happen.  I mean fundamentally changing the way someone thinks and acts.

I have worked in organizations where managers have invested a great deal of their time and energy, as well as other employees’ time and energy, dealing with one person whom they think they can “turn around.”  I have watched all the while thinking, “Is this really the best use of mine, and everyone else’s, time and energy?”

Is trying to fix one person sucking the life out of everyone? Are you finding your management decisions and style being driven by dealing with one person or navigating decisions in order to avoid the problems that one person can cause?

If this is the case, then you need to re-focus your energy and accept that people don’t change.  Our job is to change our game plan-not to work around the problem employee, but to engage them in a way that works with their strengths and talents.  Use, as this book refers to talent and skill, a person’s mental filter, to their and the team’s benefit.

Another quote that I think speaks volumes:

“Great managers are not troubled by the fact that there is a limit to how much they can rewire someone’s brain.  Instead they view it as a happy confirmation that people are different.  There is no point in wishing away this individuality.  It’s better to nuture it.  It’s better to help someone understand his filter and then channel it toward productive behavior.” 

I am trying very hard to adopt this attitude and approach into my management skill set.  Needless to say, I am finding it to be a wonderful challenge.