A common complaint in library school was the amount of group work that was required. The GIF posted above and found on Librarian Problems is hilarious to anyone and everyone who has gone through this experience. Many of the MLIS students in my cohort at McGill including myself were coming from a Humanities BA where marks were reliant on individual work in essays and exams. It was an especially huge learning curve because for all of our first-year mandatory courses there were at least two group projects. The atmosphere when a group project was announced was usually panic-stricken as the majority of librarians are introverts and in first semester we were essentially partnering up with strangers. As an extrovert, I was perhaps less stressed than my fellow students, I mean, I figured that since all potential group partners had been accepted into the Masters program I could only assume that we were all fairly intelligent studious people. In retrospect, I was generally lucky to have “good groups”. Around me I could see people who took group work to the extreme forcing their fellow group members to spend hours longer than required on projects in the attempt of attaining a perfect assignment. Other group members could go AWOL without notice leaving their groups in the lurch. The only bad experience that I had in a group (that will not be named to protect the innocent) seemed so disastrous at the time but 5 years later I brush it off knowing what it taught me in diplomacy and the importance of knowing when it’s time to cut your losses. Now as the only librarian in my schools I honestly miss the group dynamic. I miss having other librarians to bounce ideas off or to work collaboratively on a library-focused project. The skills that I learned in group work are still there and I made some good friends during these projects. So much that I was tagged 3 years after graduation in a friend’s Facebook post about that featured this GIF making fun of our shared experience of group work. If you are in library school now, don’t worry, you get through the group projects and to those who clench up looking back upon those assignments, what was your best or your worst group experience? Do you ever talk to those people anymore or have they developed into lifelong friends?
As my friends and colleagues know, last summer I married a fellow librarian Graham Lavender. Graham and I met in 2008 when I began my studies at McGill’s School of Information Studies. I was part of a group of nervous first-year students and Graham was a confident second-year student available at the orientation to talk to my group, answering our questions and calming our fears about the course load and certain professors. We quickly connected and worked on many interesting projects together including co-organizing Web 2.You 2009. It was thanks to Graham’s encouragement that I got involved in library associations and was able to add so many fun and rewarding extra-curricular activities to my plate of experiences in library school.
Fast forward a few years to our engagement and I knew that I wanted to somehow include our librarian profession in the wedding. I scoured the internet for any wedding decorations or themes related to libraries. I had a hard time deciding how prominently I wanted our librarian careers to become a theme for the wedding. It was important, despite nods to our chosen profession, that the wedding remain elegant (I recognized the potential of a library-themed wedding to be extremely cheesy).
I found a few fun ideas like our Save the Date card that I made using old due date slips. Our guests loved these Save the Dates. They were simple to make (I am not a crafty person) and we got lots of compliments about how “cute” they were. They were a bit time consuming because I had to stamp each card one at a time and Graham helped out big time by writing our wedding website URL on the bottom of each card. In the end we were very happy with the results.
A few months before our wedding we attended another librarian’s wedding and I shamelessly stole her idea of using books as centerpieces with the table numbers. Again this project was very easy to execute; we found hardcover books that were white/blue/gray and then I bought pretty paper at Michael’s and cut out the numbers for each table. On some wedding blogs, I saw couples using books that had special significance for them. We did not put that much thought into the titles; we were happy to use any books we found on our shelves (and the bookshelves of family members) that would be sturdy enough to remain standing up and that would “look pretty”.
In order to inform our guests of the seating plan, I printed (with a typewriter font) the name of each guest on a library due date cards. The cards were colour coordinated so that the servers could quickly see who had ordered which meal (white for veggie, blue for chicken, and pink for salmon). Each due date card was then put in a pocket that had the table number on it. The table numbers had been cut out of fancy paper (similar to the table numbers). This was fairly time consuming but totally worth it. The caterers organized the cards on a table in the lobby in alphabetical order. It was very easy for our guests before entering the reception hall to find their card and see at what table they would be seated. I was so focused on all of our guests that the head-table was a bit of an after-thought, so I ended up putting the letter H on the due date card pocket for “head table”.
The most creative element to our librarian themed wedding was our cake. We were so lucky to have such a creative baker who listened to my vague idea (it would be fun if the cake had something to do with books) and designed a cake that was exactly what I wanted. Luckily, Jennifer, the cake-lady from Cakeaholic in Toronto, understood the vision of combining books with sunflowers and made the most beautiful and delicious cake. It was a huge hit!
We had a fantastic day and if you are interested in seeing more pictures from the wedding, you can visit our photographer James Heaslip’s wedding blog. James was a great photographer and if you look closely in some of the photos you might even spot a few other librarians!
One evening last week I was busy putting together a presentation for a few grade 7 classes on how to use the Internet effectively for research. I was definitely under a time crunch as the teacher had asked me with very little notice if I could do a presentation with her classes. Never one to turn down an opportunity to help the students develop their information literacy skills, I accepted. The only problem was that I was stuck. My ideas weren’t flowing, I was having trouble coming up with an interesting concept for the presentation and I was getting tired and frustrated. That is until I remembered that during my second year of McGill University’s MLIS program I had already put together a presentation for high school students on evaluating websites for my Information Literacy class. Luckily I was able to find the presentation saved on my laptop and to my sheer delight, it was a great presentation! I definitely had to tweak a few things but everything I wanted to share with the kids on establishing the criteria for a good website to use for research was there. Even the examples of websites that I had used a few years ago for my assignment were still relevant. The example of the article on Barack Obama on the website Conservapedia was especially useful in helping the grade 7s understand the difference between websites that present objective vs. subjective information regardless of how “professional” a website might look. Way to go 2010 Amanda!
During library school, students are often asked to “make up” a fictional library or scenario for assignments. My advice to students is to try and take advantage of these types of assignments to prepare material that might actually be of use to you at a future date. So many students simply go through the motions when it comes to completing their assignments. However, if you truly think that your work might serve you in a professional situation then you will put a lot more thought and effort into it! Use your class assignments to create tutorials, information literacy presentations, strategic planning charts, etc. that you can “recycle” when you need them most.
For professionals, I encourage you to take a peek at your old assignments (especially if they are still on your computer). You might be surprised at how well written something is that you wrote while still in school. The whole point of library school is not to get straight As but rather to give us a foundation for our professional careers. So then, with all the things we need to accomplish in a day, aren’t we lucky if our MLIS assignment that we got a A on could also save us time?
Have you ever recycled an assignment for professional use?
A lot of the interest in my Biblioblond blog has been generated by my accounts of my participation in the McGill University’s Librarians Without Borders trip to Asturias Academy in Guatemala in May of 2010. This experience remains to be one of the most challenging and yet incredibly fulfilling few weeks of my life and I’m always happy when people take an interest in our trip and the work involved in creating a library at Asturias Academy.
I haven’t done much with Librarians Without Borders in the past few years since my trip and so I’m very excited to be helping out with LWB’s first “unconference” in Toronto on Friday May 11th. I’m always happy to hear an interesting line-up of speakers and this event promises to be extremely stimulating for librarians who like to think and discuss big ideas surrounding global librarianship. Proceeds from the registration from this event will go towards future LWB projects.
I invite everyone in the Toronto area to come and participate in an interesting evening of “discussion, open debate, and exploration” all in support of a worthy cause!
To register online or for more information, visit the LWB website.
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.
Becoming the director of a public library straight out of a MLIS program can be extremely daunting. I have fairly high expectations of what a library director should be accomplishing at their library and in their community but the past month especially I have felt particularly overwhelmed trying to live up to these expectations. Perhaps because it is February and February is known to be the most depressing month of the year, I find myself getting discouraged more easily and reacting more sensitively when faced with my own professional shortcomings.
One of the areas that I am particularly struggling with is the concept of leadership. In the past, I have definitely never considered myself to be a leader. No one can question that I am very dedicated to my library and that I work hard but do I have innovative ideas? Do I have the creative approach to motivate others to work towards a common goal?
Prior to starting a MLIS, my formal leadership experiences were limited to being a camp counsellor and I certainly had no experience as a manager. During the one SIS management course at McGill University, we spoke a lot about management and leadership. However, there is a huge difference between discussing these matters using theoretical examples and being faced with real life situations. Unfortunately, real people do not always react the way that you thought they would when doing a case study!
Luckily, in the fall of 2010, I applied and was accepted to attend the 2011 edition of the Northern Exposure to Leadership Institute. NELI, as it is often called, is a leadership training institute in Canada that is designed specifically to assist in the development of future leaders in the library and information profession. Even after a few months of learning that my nomination was accepted, I am still incredibly stoked to be participating in this highly reputed institute! I know librarians who have attended in the past and they all agree that it is a truly transforming week professionally and personally. Yet I feel that it could not come soon enough…
In the meantime, I am still trying to find ways to improve my theoretical baggage on management and leadership in hopes that some of it will transfer over to real life situations. I have discovered an interesting conference PowerPoint Presentation entitled Creating Leaders put together by Daniel Phelan who conducted an interesting survey of NELI participants and who also provides a recap of some key leadership theory. I would be extremely open to any other suggestions you know of have of resources that might help me provide my library and my employees with the leadership that I know they deserve!
Canada Reads is an annual competition where celebrities debate on the “best Canadian novel”. The goal of the Canada Reads debate is to put a spotlight on Canadian literature and, perhaps more importantly, it also ambitiously attempts to get Canadians to read more. It seems of course like a natural reaction for anyone who listens to an hour-long discussion/debate on the merits of a few specific books to then be enticed to go out and read them. The proof that Canada Reads truly does increase the readership of the selected titles is demonstrated by a noticeable increase in their book sales. Bookstores will usually jump on the promotional bandwagon and market these books as contestants on Canada Reads (in the bookstore where I used to work we would use special stickers to identify the Canada Reads titles). Equally from a public library perspective, the exposure creates a rush on these titles and consequently all of the copies in our provincial system are currently checked out and the reservation list grows longer as the debate intensifies.
Today was the first round of the three days of debates hosted by the amazing representative of culture in Canada Jian Ghomeshi. The five books voted to be included in this year’s competition and whose winner is supposed to represent the essential Canadian novel of the past 10 years are Essex County by Jeff Lemire, The Birth House by Ami McKay, The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou, Unless by Carol Shields, and The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis. Now here I must shamefully admit that I have not yet read any of these five books. In fact prior to Canada Reads, I had never even heard of Essex County or The Best Laid Plans. This is particularly embarrassing considering that I’m a public librarian and that prior to my MLIS I worked in the book industry and have always had a keen interest in promoting Canadian literature.
I perhaps should not be too embarrassed though considering that the whole point of Canada Reads is to say to all Canadians “Wake up! Canadian authors produce amazing literature and you should read their books!”. Apparently librarians are not to be exempted from this wake-up call. As librarians we should not pretend that we know everything about popular books and authors or what people should be reading. We are often too guilty of reading only the genres that interest us or we simply regurgitate the recommendations that we’ve heard from others. What I love about Canada Reads is that it entices people to explore books outside of their regular reading habits (this year for the first time a graphic novel was included in the competition).
Tanya Abramovitch, director of the Eleanor London Côte Saint-Luc library gave the assignment last year to her students in McGill’s School of Information Studies Public Libraries’ course to read three books from a genre that they would not normally chose. I think that this assignment is a brilliant idea and that more librarians should be encouraged to read outside of their comfort zone. Canada Reads provides a cultural spotlight for Canadians to discover amazing titles and authors that they might not have otherwise read but that are worthy of our attention. Librarians need to be actively promoting Canada Reads as a way of tapping into the media attention surrounding these titles to increase readership. However, we cannot simply rely on Canada Reads; we need to be at the forefront exploring publishing catalogues, literary magazines like the Quill and Quire, websites like Goodreads, and our own library’s book stacks searching for the next great book to recommend.
I encourage everyone, even those not in Canada, to follow Canada Reads on the CBC Canada Reads website.
I also would really love if people posted below their own recommendation of a book they feel is worthy of a national literary competition.