This blog is going on an indefinite hiatus while I, honestly, find inspiration once again.
No column today. Maybe a midweek one.
Technology marches forward. Barring great disaster, technology always marches forward. Librarians can be amongst the most resistant to change in technological innovations, even those of assistance to them – scrolls to books, card catalogs to opacs, etc. I encountered this myself just in the last week. For the longest time, the best way to store the archives of newspapers for use in many libraries was a microform – microfilm or microfiche. But the time of the microform is over, and what is putting the final nail in that coffin is, at it is with so many things, is the internet – in this case, the fact that the New York Times now has a historical archive database.
For many libraries in America, including mine, the largest microfilm collection is the NYT archive. But now, for an admittedly high price (just under 10K a year for my library, but I don’t know their pricing scheme for other institutions), you can get their entire historical archive; fully searchable, fully linked, clickable from article to article. It is, quite frankly, a superior product in every way, other than price – and frankly, the price is probably worth it.
But many librarians are inherently conservative about new resources, as much as many in my profession wish they were not. When the committee that chooses what resources to purchase began to explore getting this NYT archive, they were really digging in their heels against it. But they were convinced by the many different uses of the archive, that this was the way to go. So, they are discussing how to push this to the faculty and students and how no one uses the microfilm any more, but people use this.
I want that noted – they said nobody uses the microfilm, and that students will use internet resources. So when I asked the question why are we keeping the microfilm, which is taking up space we don’t have (the library is having space taken away from it), you can imagine I wasn’t expecting the room to flip out. But that’s what happened.
There was the person who rolled her eyes at me, dismissing the idea as stupid. The person who flatly said “Well there’s no way we’re getting rid of the microfilm.” There was the person who said we had a quarter of a million invested in our microfilm. There were the people who glared at me and nodded at the others. “That’s stupid” isn’t an argument against, and neither is “No.” The only person who presented an argument against was the one who discussed cost – and she had it wrong. Its not a quarter of a million dollar investment, at least not in the sense she means. It was a quarter of a million dollars in expense over many, many years. But we can’t sell it for a quarter of a million. If we could sell it for $25,000 – just a tenth – I’d be surprised. Because – you probably can guess at this point – no one uses microfilm any more. They want to use the internet.
Since that meeting, I’ve done some informal survey. And while it’s not scientific, no one I talked to liked microforms. Even those old enough to have used it when they were in school said they avoided it. The modern students barely knew what I was talking about. One person mentioned it has its uses for genealogy.
Well, that’s great. I’m all for that. But that makes it a specialized industry. Carriages used to be a huge industry too, but now its specialized for use in Central Park and royal weddings. LPs used to be a major industry, but now its for specialty albums, while most people listen to streaming and MP3s.
In that room, I was the one who had been a student the most recently, and the one who was most familiar with technology. And even without those facts, the librarians knew – and were saying – that the time of microform was over. But when that was made plain, they circled the horses and fought to protect something that was already outdated out of sheer obstinacy. My librarians aren’t unusual in that regard. And that phenomenon is one of the major problems with libraries at this time.
So, I want to talk about job searches again today. Not about being in one, about participating in them. I’ve done a job search or two in my day – in a committee, as the leader, etc. I can’t swear I’ve always done a perfect job, though I think I haven’t made any huge mistakes. I learned tricks of the trade from seeing things done well, and what not to do from things done poorly. Let’s talk about one way it can go poorly, because its on my mind.
Everyone starts a job search with good intentions. You need to find the best person for the job. The person who is capable, a good leader, smart, keep up on the literature about your field, imaginative, good with people, etc. Every candidate is different, but you’ve thought about what your library’s strengths and weaknesses are, and what kind of leader you want. Even if there are many qualified candidates, you can usually pick some that more closely match your unique situation that some of the others.
Until the interviews come, and that all goes out the window. You pick the most charming, gregarious candidate. Maybe there’s nothing particularly wrong with the most charming, gregarious candidate; maybe he’d even be good for the job. But he’s not the best for the job, but you make a decision based on the emotional appeal of the candidate.
Why might this happen? The easiest way is that perhaps the library didn’t need someone gregarious and charming. Oh, gregarious and charming are good traits, but they aren’t management skill (obviously, in this particular case, I’m talking about a management search). Or at the very least, they aren’t all of or even most of management skill. If you have a lot of employees who are resistant to change, you need someone who can sell change. If you have a lot of employees who try to weasel out of work and do as little as possible, you need someone who can stay on top of the situation and not let them get away with it. If you have argumentative or backstabbing employees, you need someone who can stand up to them. If you have a problem with being known in the community, you need someone who can do the marketing (and there, admittedly, charming and gregarious will help).
Obviously, I’m not speaking completely hypothetically here, but the point is this: charming and gregarious is GREAT for certain situations. But it isn’t for others. You want someone who can best handle many situations, including those particular to your situation. And so you have two candidates, one of whom is nice enough, but doesn’t have that overwhelming charm, has scads of management experience and education in both librarianship and leadership, and another candidate where it would be the first management job, in a difficult environment, but they were charming – it really is your responsibility to choose the candidate who has the experience. Let the charming and gregarious guy get some experience first. Once he knows how to manage in a library, he’ll be great somewhere. But at least he won’t be not great where you are as he figures out the ropes, and as he makes poor decisions that cause people to turn on him.
In the end, in many environments, you have to live with the decisions you make. Contracts are signed, tenure is given, HR policies need to be followed, etc. Therefore, it is better to make the right decision the first time around than it is to have to correct your mistake. You can’t go with someone who has no people skills, but you can’t go with the best people person either if there’s nothing else to back it up. I know that human instinct is to go with whomever you like the best, but it isn’t always – or even often – the best decision.
There was a lot of hoopla this week about the George W. Bush Presidential Library. So let’s make sure everyone knows what a Presidential Library is, and is not.
The first thing to know is that not every President has a library. They only became “a thing” with Herbert Hoover and from then forward. Those of you hoping to see the Chester A. Arthur library, there isn’t one. At least not an official one. The official ones fall under the purview of the National Archives and Records Administration. Some of the Presidents before Hoover – especially the important ones – have libraries in their name (and about their Presidency) but these are not part of the national system of Presidential Libraries. If you really are interested in seeing the papers of a President before Hoover, the Library of Congress is probably your best bet, but no guarentees.
That said, Presidential Libraries are barely libraries. That may be unkind, but they are known far more for their displays about the President and of the President’s memorabilia than for their archives. The supposed purpose of these libraries is to have the President’s papers on hand so historians can understand the historical context of their actions, but that’s not really what the public wants. For example, at the newly unveiled Bush library, there are interactive displays that discuss why the President made the decisions that he did. They are, essentially, museums, though Gerald Ford’s museum is actually in a different city than his library. Of course, as I say that, I must also acknowledge that Laura Bush – a librarian – had a significant role in designing the Bush library.
They also have been undermined as places of research. Many documents are barred from being archived and/or public ally displayed, whether temporarily or permanently. Sometimes they are barred at the President’s request. Sometimes they are barred by other agencies, often for National Security. Additionally, some items are not barred, just buried. The modern President has so many documents from their time in office that it would take a large team of people to get everything available in anything resembling reasonable time frames; the libraries always open with only the most important documents ready. Therefore, the historical context is often suspect, buried under a wave of cheerleading for the President honored.
Random interesting fact: Nixon’s library didn’t have a official status until just recently (it was the one recognized before the Bush library, out of order, and just a few years ago).
Honestly, Presidential Libraries are one of those things no one thinks about until one is opened, and then are generally forgotten again, at least by the general public, until the next one opens. But, if you think Presidential Libraries might be your thing, you can go to http://www.archives.gov/presidential-libraries/ to learn more.
Like probably every other library blog out there, I am making this post about the fact that it is “National Library Week”. National Library Week is not a hard concept to grasp – its a week where we celebrate that libraries exist and what they do for us. Or, if you want the high-falutin’ language, here it is from the ALA’s press release at http://www.ala.org/news/mediapresscenter/factsheets/nationallibraryweek: ” It is a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and librarians and to promote library use and support.”
Ignoring the shameless money-grubbing of the ALA in regard to selling posters and promotional materials (I don’t mind the fact that they need to recoup costs, but some of those things are really quite expensive for a poor library) the concept of National Library Week is a good one, as far as I’m concerned. No one is really against libraries, but no one really pushes for them either – they just assume they’ll be there, part of the inherent infrastructure of America. Libraries could use more active awareness and active advocacy, and everything else under the sun has a special week, so why not libraries? This year’s theme is “communities matter @ your library” - and they do – although honestly, I’m more of the “the library matters to your community” ilk myself.
So, there are 3 special days in National Library Week, and I don’t know how I feel about them, in all honesty. The first is National Library Workers Day. Now, I believe that by and large, library workers are hard working (harder working than we are thought of, certainly) and generally just good people who go in to a field that is inherently a thankless type of public service – so a day to celebrate them is a good thing. And I will be celebrating them. That said, the actual NLWD website – http://ala-apa.org/nlwd/ – seems full of platitude that are kind of useless. I’m not sure I know a library worker who really cares if they get a star on that website. Maybe I’m misjudging my peers, and none of us would mind it, but really. Could they have come up with a recognition method that was any less direct? Well, probably, but still. The pay equity document is long and boring, and honestly, while every librarian I know would like higher pay, no one gets in it for the money. The only thing I like there is the idea of sharing celebration plans.
The other two days are National Bookmobile Day and Support Teen Literature Day. One of the true gaps in my knowledge is bookmobiles – I’ve never lived in a community that used them nor worked in a library that had them – but I will say that Bookmobiles bring books to underserved areas, and that’s an extremely noble effort. If you want to know more about National Bookmobile Day, the website is http://www.ala.org/offices/olos/nbdhome. As for Support Teen Literature Day, I always support anything that makes a non-reader in to a reader. If young people get in to reading because of Harry Potter, great. If they get in to reading because of Twilight, also great. If they get in to reading because of Batman graphic novels, that is still great. I don’t care (much) about the content, at least at first – get someone to be a reader, and they will usually migrate on to better books. And even if they don’t, who are we to complain about what they enjoy? No, my only problem with these two days is I’m not sure why they are picked out compared to all the other possible days that could be in a National Library Week. Why not days for Children’s lit, or for Friends groups, or for adult education, or any of the other services provided at a library? I’m sure that those who came up with these days can offer valid and good reasons why they are worthy, but more worthy? That’s a different question.
But the week is a good time to advocate for the library. The ALA tries to make it easy by having a page where you can look up your state and go to an advocacy page. http://capwiz.com/ala/home/ and then select your state. For example, NY’s looks like this: http://capwiz.com/ala/ny/home/ If you love libraries, advocating for them never hurts.
That said, to me, the most important thing about National Library Week is using the library. If you love libraries, use them! The more you use them, the more they can justify funding request. Visit a library and tell the workers your appreciate their work. The personal touch is always best.
And, just because, here’s a link to an ABC story about beautiful libraries: http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/national-library-week-beautiful-libraries-world/story?id=18940527#