Archive | May, 2011

Are library conferences worth it? CLA 2011 proved totally affirmative!

30 May

In the past few years, Canadian librarians have been made aware of the financial troubles of the Canadian Library Association. Membership has been on the decline and the very future of the association’s existence has been questioned. When I was a MLIS student at McGill’s School of Information Studies, student memberships were inexpensive and I was consequently the member of three different library associations including the CLA. However, when one becomes a professional the membership fees jump in price and they can be rather expensive especially when I am paying them out of my own pocket (as opposed to the fees being covered by my library institution which is the case for many lucky librarians). I have consequently had to be more selective of what associations I join. I kept my membership with CLA because I believe strongly in the benefits of a national library association. However, since I was dishing out my own money to become a member of CLA and to attend the conferences it was very important that the annual conference last week in Halifax be “worth it”.

As for my experience at CLA 2011, I can only vouch for the specific sessions that I attended and the awesome people that I hung out with. My conference experience might have greatly differed from someone else’s but I personally feel that the past week was totally worth it!

Since I started as a library director, there have been so many things that I have found challenging. Everyone has moments when they say to themselves “they never taught me that in library school” and I feel that this is probably even more the case for managers and directors.
Luckily for me, there seemed to be an abundance of sessions that spoke directly to the information needs of managers and directors. One of the most useful sessions that I attended was Performance Metrics: Helping Boards Understand Library Statistics presented by John Shepherd, a university accounting instructor, and Allan Wilson, the Chief Librarian of the Prince George Public Library and the 2011 recipient of the CLA/Ken Haycock Award for Promoting Librarianship. I loved this session because the information it offered was so practical. John Shepherd got into the nitty gritty of how to better design statistical charts and Allan Wilson provided great ideas on establishing meaningful metrics that will communicate more effectively the value of the public library to the community, the library board, and the municipality. This session actually succeeded in transforming my perception of statistics and performance metrics and made statistics seem almost fun.
This conference was also fantastic in terms of catching up with friends and meeting new people.  At first I was intimidated by what appeared to be an older demographic of librarians who all seemed to know each other.  Then I realized that this “old boys club” (there seemed to be a surprising number of baby boomer men at this conference) was the result of decades of the same people attending conferences together. In many cases, the older librarians had probably even attended library school together “back in the day”. This thought inspired me to think that my friends and I will one day also rule the CLA conferences. There are so many dynamic young librarians who have only just begun their professional careers in the past few years. We are still testing the waters of what it means to be professional librarians and attending the CLA conference definitely helped to establish a foundation for our new professional identities. We all seemed to value the importance of coming together to share stories and advice on being librarians. We had a lot of fun together and it reinforced my opinion that librarianship is full of interesting and dynamic people.

CLA 2011 in Halifax was totally worth it and I am looking forward to continuing to be active in the CLA throughout my career.
Are you a member of a library association? Do you think that it is worth it?

Informal Training: when staff requires more than just on the job learning

15 May

Libraries are spaces that foster learning. Most librarians love helping users and teaching information literacy skills has become a fundamental concept in librarianship studies. So what happens when it is the librarians who need help learning? We are all conscious that libraries are constantly evolving; systems are updated with new features, new services are added, policies change to better reflect the times, etc. Yet are we doing a good job of making sure that all staff are aware and comfortable responding to these changes?  In a large library system like mine, we can receive several memos a day informing us of new additions to the catalogue/circulation system, services, policies, etc. There is a huge difference between staff reading these memos and being vaguely aware of them and then having staff who actually understand the changes on a level that permits them to integrate them into their work or confidently explain them to a user.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately specifically in relation to our provincial library system’s introduction of OverDrive. In the fall, our Public Service Librarian from our regional office provided us with a brief OverDrive training session. This training was unfortunately during opening hours of the library which meant that we were constantly being interrupted by users with questions and having to answer the phone. With all the distractions, it was very difficult to assimilate what we were being shown and as we know, OverDrive is full of little hiccups regarding compatibility issues and software which are hard to address until you run into them. As time goes on, more and more users have been asking about Overdrive and I realized that staff were completely reliant on me to answer all OverDrive related questions. People who work in libraries are very intelligent. However, without being taught the knowledge necessary to accurately respond to users’ inquiries, the situation between staff and users can be very discouraging and possibly even embarrassing.

Last week, I decided that it was time to sit down in front of a computer with a full-time librarian assistant and a library volunteer and download together an audiobook onto my Ipod. It was informal and during the process I was asked so many questions that went much beyond OverDrive concerning the differences between devices like iPads, iPods, MP3 players, smartphones, etc. I was happy that even though I am not the most tech-savvy person out there, I was still able to share knowledge that I do have. It was extremely rewarding to see how appreciative both women for the informal training. They now feel better prepared responding to inquiries and conversing with others on the subject of the different formats of e-books/audiobooks and how to download them.

It is fantastic that libraries present themselves as keeping up with the tech trends including providing the download of e-books. However, how well is staff being trained to respond to all the new technology in their workplace?

What is the environment like at your library for training librarians and staff and then working together as a team so that everyone feels comfortable with their new knowledge and skills?

A Hopeful Sign: a community of inspired bloggers

9 May

A few months ago, I was extremely flattered when I was asked to contribute to a new “magazine blog” called A Hopeful Sign that would feature inspirational articles on diverse subjects. The blog’s mantra is Living-Learning-Leading and its mission of promoting and providing hope completely fits into my overall optimistic world-view. As I’m sure you have all noticed my blog posts tend to be upbeat and positive. Without naming any names, librarians often use the web to vent about their various frustrations but I don’t see the point in projecting such a negative image of what I consider to be a wonderful profession. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I love life and I especially love being a librarian. Being positive on my Biblioblond blog is the natural result of my perspective on life and librarianship. This is why I am honoured that I was selected to contribute to a community of bloggers who all share a hopeful message. I will be contributing regularly to a column entitled “Inspired by Culture“. I encourage you to read my first post and check out the other posts as well. I’m extremely impressed by the diversity of interests that are represented! Good luck to A Hopeful Sign!

Librarians Without Borders in Guatemala

1 May

It is so hard to imagine that a year has already passed since I went to Guatemala with McGill University’s Student Chapter of Librarians Without Borders. The LWB 2010 Guatemala Trip was without a doubt one of the most intense experiences of my life. We volunteered at a local school helping them create a library as well as getting a chance to soak in the culture and breathtaking landscape while traveling around the country. I am extremely excited that this year the number of students traveling to Asturias Academy has more than doubled. Also, this year in addition to the students from McGill’s School of Information Studies, the LWB volunteer group has been joined by MLIS students from the University of Toronto, Dalhousie University and the University of Western Ontario. I encourage everyone to check out the  LWB Guatemela Trip 2011 blog as the students have been doing a great job of posting regularly to describe their experiences.

As I was reading this year’s blog, I definitely felt nostalgic and found myself reflecting a lot on my trip in 2010. As a whole it was an extremely enriching and positive experience. However, I thought of a few lessons that I learned that might be useful to future volunteers. In retrospect I should have posted these reflections before this year’s group left on April 22nd.  Nevertheless, I would be very interested to hear upon their return if they have similar reflections or lessons and I would invite them to comment on the following.

In preparing for the LWB volunteer trip to Guatemala, I wish that I’d know the following…

You can’t anticipate how you will react when forced outside your comfort zone:

Traveling to a foreign country where you might not have all the comforts and amenities of home can definitely be challenging. I dealt with cold showers, sketchy transportation, unfamiliar foods, lack of privacy, etc. The most daunting aspect of the trip was without a doubt dealing with my fear of heights. Guatemala is a very mountainous country and I was at moments terrified for my life as we drove on winding roads along the edge of plummeting cliffs. At the time, I honestly thought that despite the beautiful scenery, the Guatemalan people and the volunteer work we were doing, I felt that my fear of driving through the mountains would prevent me from returning to Guatemala. Now a year later, I am extremely jealous of the students who are traveling in Guatemala and working at Asturias Academy but I cannot deny that my fear of heights is a huge obstacle in deciding whether I would go back.

Brush up on the language before the trip:

I took Spanish in high school and university but when I went to Guatemala it had been awhile since I had a chance to practice. Several times on the trip I felt disappointed that I couldn’t express myself better in Spanish or understand what was being said. Speaking Spanish was in no way a condition of participating on the trip and quite a few of the other MLIS volunteers did not speak Spanish at all. However, I wanted to use the bit of Spanish that I knew in order to interact directly with the people we met. I felt that this offered me perhaps more of an authentic experience although unfortunately our guide Steve usually had to step in when it became clear that people were having problems understanding my rudimentary Spanish. If I were returning to Guatemala I would definitely try to brush up more on my grammar and vocabulary before the trip.

I invite other librarians involved in Librarians Without Borders or other international volunteering to add their advice/lessons learned.

Group Photo Guatemala

LWB Group 2010