HLSDITL: Day 7

This is my final post of the Hack Library School’s Library Student Day in the Life week. For those of you who are here because of that, thanks for visiting! Read all of my HLSDITL posts here. And visit the LSDITL page for a list of everyone who participated. 

Hello, friends! Welcome to my last post for the Library Student Day in the Life week. It’s been fun and definitely not as difficult as I thought it would be to come up with seven consecutive posts that related with some aspect of my normal week. I just wanted to say thanks for visiting, commenting or liking my posts. While I won’t be able to post everyday in the future, I will continue to post on the topics I’ve introduced this week. If you liked what you read, go ahead and follow me. If you hate what I said, leave a comment explaining why. I love conversations, and I’d love to hear from people about their opinions on libraries, library schools and book reviews.

Now, down to business! As far as school is concerned, if you remember my post breaking down my weekly schedule, Sunday is the day I try to do the least school work, except for the hourlong Skype discussion I have with my ethics group. Today we talked about some of the privacy topics I mentioned in Friday’s post. The most interesting tidbit was from a student who just moved to Italy to teach English. She informed us that they have a “controlled” society which she described as “a little bit like living in 1984.” Not only are there a variety of surveillance cameras where she is, there is the completely acceptable expectation that the government and police are listening. Which was interesting considering the text had said European countries are more likely to be concerned with privacy.

Online classes require you to take responsibility for your education.  Photo courtesy of Ryan Hyde.

Online classes require you to take responsibility for your education.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hyde.

But this synchronous aspect of my asynchronous program got me thinking about the overall online program at UMD. As far as online programs go, one of the reasons I chose UMD is because the classes met completely asynchronously. Although there are deadlines, you get about a week to post discussions (though, some professors prefer you post on the first day and return to post responses as the week wears on). More than that, you get to pick the time of day to do work, which is ideal if you work a night job like I was (many synchronous programs hold their weekly class meetings at night thinking they are accommodating their students).

But this is the first semester where a professor required synchronous discussions that would be live in some way (phone, Skype, Google Hangout, etc.). It was difficult to pick a time that worked for four different people, especially when one moved to Italy half way through the semester. But to be honest, once the hurdle of picking a time was cleared, the discussions have actually been really interesting. Something about hearing someone’s arguments out loud can make it easier to respond on the fly. I think professors requiring sourced, lengthy replies for each post can make debate a little stale and less off-the-cuff. This allows for a balance of working through issues together and making fully supported arguments later once we are more fully able to understand each side.

If you have a more flexible schedule but still can’t move close to a school, you might find synchronous online classes up your alley, since they require weekly class meetings where you can take advantage of this type of interaction. But if you have a pretty strict schedule, asynchronous will likely be the way you’ll have to go. The key with graduate school, especially online, is that a lot of the responsibility falls on you. You must make sure you put in the amount of effort it requires you to learn in these courses and you must be proactive in making sure you are getting what you want to learn from them. UMD’s online degree is very generalized, but most professors allow you to follow your interests within each class. So if you want to work at a university, you can focus your research on academic libraries. If you want to work with children in public libraries, you can focus on that. As long as you can tie it into the class subject, most professors give you a little leeway in that regard.

If I could go back in time, would I pick the online route again? Well, sometimes I miss the camaraderie of commiserating or celebrating with my fellow students as we walk across the quad (they still call it that, right?) after class. But, the online learning environment is actually well-suited to my preferences. I just wish some professors would interact with us a little more. In undergrad, I befriended many professors and I still talk to them today. It’s difficult to build that relationship with professors you have never actually met. Although, it’s nice when professors record weekly video messages or short lectures, like my ethics professor does. It makes it easier to relate to her.

Would I recommend to aspiring library students UMD’s online program? That one is a little more tough. UMD’s online program is still in its infancy. It was launched in 2011, and they’ve only just graduated their first cohort this past August. And, they only just allowed two specializations (School Library and Government Information Management and Services), which are quite different from the general degree. The biggest problem? There is no flexibility. If you want to take an extra course that interests you, you’ll have to jump through hoops and then you might still be denied access. They have some good reasons, but it really has rubbed some in the program the wrong way. Personally, I can educate myself on many of these topics, so I’m okay with them picking my courses because it means I get my degree faster and I am guaranteed a spot in those classes, so I don’t have to worry about graduating late. However, it seems like they should easily give the option to those that want a little variety or more control. Bottom line, give UMD another year or two for them to iron out the kinks. That will give you a chance to get some real world experience before you enroll straight into grad school, something I definitely recommend.

HLSDITL: Day 6

This post is part of the Hack Library School’s Library Student Day in the Life week. For those of you who are here because of that, thanks for visiting! I’m an online University of Maryland MLS student, the social media manager for UMD’s iDiversity organization and a library clerk on a public library’s reference desk. Come back every day this week to learn more about what it’s like to be a MLS student. And be sure to visit the LSDITL page for a list of everyone participating this week. And read all of my HLSDITL posts here.

At work today I made a book display about crafting your holiday gifts. My opinion is that it really is never too early to start, especially if you are making your gifts. Most of my book displays tend to feature nonfiction books, although when I’m tasked with both book displays near the reference desk I will have a nonfiction collection and a fiction collection related to the same theme, each with 8 to 12 books.

I mentioned in my first HLSDITL post that there’s a difference between active reader’s advisory and passive reader’s advisory. This became clear to me as I was applying for a job that mentioned reader’s advisory. At my library, active reader’s advisory doesn’t happen that often, though I have lucked into several patrons looking for such help. That’s because reader’s advisory to most people involves a patron not knowing what they want and the librarian having to tease details out to make an educated recommendation. It’s time intensive and, to be honest, it’s rare that people go to the library without knowing what they want, at least in my experience. However, passive reader’s advisory happens all the time.

Book displays are a fun form of passive reader's advisory.

Book displays are a fun form of passive reader’s advisory.

Through book displays, I happen to think I recommend books to people all the time. Most people won’t look at the book displays unless the topic speaks to them. If the topic does interest them, they suddenly find themselves armed with a crop of books that they might not have read yet. I thought it might be difficult to come up with a new display every month, but it’s been surprisingly easy, mostly thanks to the handy-dandy Chase’s Calendar of Events book that is actually part of the ready reference collection we keep behind the desk. I merely grab the book, flip to a month and pick the most interesting topic I can find.

My very first month was August, which just so happens to be American Adventures Month, which lead me to find some fun books in our collection, including Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell and A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I even spread it into South and Central America with books such as Motorcycle Diaries and Turn Right at Machu Picchu. Since then I’ve done displays for Caring for your Dog month (fiction books with canine characters and nonfiction dog care and training books) and horror themed books for Halloween (Scary short fiction stories and nonfiction books on the origins of Halloween and the psychology of superstition).

I enjoy active reader’s advisory, but I also rely far more on passive reader’s advisory since it is what my patrons will most benefit from. I can have a little bit more fun than I can with in-depth interviews.

HLSDITL: Day 5

This post is part of the Hack Library School’s Library Student Day in the Life week. For those of you who are here because of that, thanks for visiting! I’m an online University of Maryland MLS student, the social media manager for UMD’s iDiversity organization and a library clerk on a public library’s reference desk. Come back every day this week to learn more about what it’s like to be a MLS student. And be sure to visit the LSDITL page for a list of everyone participating this week. And read all of my HLSDITL posts here.

Today I spent pretty much the whole day reading some ethics assignments and drafting notes for my Sunday discussion. This week was all about privacy and the ethics involved in the topic.

Following the Patriot Act, debates over privacy were everywhere, especially in libraries. Even as a lowly student assistant at my undergraduate library, I encountered its impact on my institution. We all were told what the rights of students were and that we should refer any request to a supervisor. I got the distinct feeling some felt that student assistants would be asked for patron information, thinking we would automatically give it out when a badge was flashed. Of course, none were, but that doesn’t mean invasion of privacy through the request of library records wasn’t a reality.

Privacy is a hot-button topic in these days of social media.

Privacy is a hot-button topic in these days of social media.

But a discussion of the Patriot Act was only one reading on the issue. The thing I love about my ethics class is the professor always seems to find a way to bring in new angles on an oft-discussed concept. For example, she shared a game which intended to reveal all the ways that our personal information is shared and bought and stolen online. It’s called Data Dealer and is mildly addictive, at least for the first hour or so.

On a more serious note, she offered up a thought-provoking read about a parent’s invasion of his daughter’s privacy. I admit I had a diary and a decoy diary to fool my parents, but I don’t think either was ever looked at, nor did I ever write anything worth spying. And, I grew up before the widespread use of the Internet to share personal information. Privacy wasn’t an overwhelming issue to me growing up. But in this day, I can see youth and their parents being quite concerned. But why should this angle matter to librarians? The question becomes, do parents have the right to know what their children are reading? Should a librarian share that information with a parent if he or she asks? The quick answer is no. Like any patron, that information is for the patron only. But as with any ethical situation, there is more than one way to look at the situation. What if the child is reading books on the best way to commit suicide? How do you make such decisions?

The point is this: Ethics is incredibly complicated and difficult to apply consistently in every situation. It boggles the mind how many different right answers there are to a single question. But that’s why we need courses on ethics, at every level of schooling. Not because we need to learn THE code that will help us solve every dilemma (I contend such a thing is impossible). We need to recognize that our opinions are not the only ones out there. We have to learn to foresee how a decision we make that we feel is ethically right could turn out so wrong. And we need to learn to have an open mind, more so now that we can so easily encounter those of differing ethical standpoints thanks to the Internet.

HLSDITL: Day 4 (A Beautiful Truth review)

This post is part of the Hack Library School’s Library Student Day in the Life week. For those of you who are here because of that, thanks for visiting! I’m an online University of Maryland MLS student, the social media manager for UMD’s iDiversity organization and a library clerk on a public library’s reference desk. Come back every day this week to learn more about what it’s like to be a MLS student. And be sure to visit the LSDITL page for a list of everyone participating this week. And read all of my HLSDITL posts here.

I mentioned early that part of this blog revolves around book reviews. I know there are just too many book review blogs out there, and frankly book reviews don’t make up a huge portion of this blog. However, considering the fact that some of my job requires me to offer book recommendations to patrons, I view my blog’s book reviews as a chance for me to flex my skills at summing up the strengths of a book. Much of graduate school, especially online classes, requires me to look for any way that I can build my skills when my classes or my job do not offer the opportunity.

Plus, most book review blogs that I personally read don’t actually review any books that I would read. I read them to learn from well-written book review blogs, not to find my next great reads. With my Goodreads.com To-Read shelf consistently full of over a hundred books, I don’t need any help in that regard.

Part of my week, then, involves either reading or reviewing a book. Most reviews are at least two weeks apart, so writing them isn’t necessarily a weekly task, but it’s what I’m doing today, so here goes!

A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam is an especially fresh novel told in pieces from the perspective of chimps and humans in two settings, a private home in Vermont and a primate research facility in Florida. The concept was not one that I was expecting and I wasn’t even sure I would enjoy it, which is why when I saw it listed on NetGalley, I debated before requesting to get a preview. I am so glad I did.

A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam

A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam

McAdam masterfully weaves together perspectives, switching at times so seamlessly that I thought I would be confused, but I never was thanks to McAdam’s skill at language. His way of seeing how chimps would communicate to each other and to humans and, even, to themselves was beautiful. The plot involved a baby chimp adopted to take the place of the child a family in Vermont could never have and a growing and evolving family of chimps being observed by a scientist who finds himself worrying for each member as though he or she were his own family.

McAdam smartly reminds us how similar we are and yet how different, without trivializing either aspect. There are joyful moments and tragic moments, chapters that left me on the edge of my seat and passages where I had to put the book down because I couldn’t stand to read what would befall the characters next. I was both sickened and pleased by the actions of humans and chimps alike. And in the end, while McAdam reveals some particularly ugly moments in human interaction with our closest relative, he doesn’t directly pass judgment on the rightness or wrongness of either ways of interacting with chimps. He merely reveals certain truths and asks the reader to make the decision themselves.

McAdam grapples with the choices we make to lift up one another, grief, happiness, sacrifice, what we as a species do in the name of science and the similarities and differences between all beings. I’m going to share two passages that I think embody why I loved this book. The first is told from the perspective of Judy, the mother who couldn’t have children and instead adopted a chimp. This is further into the novel, when certain tragedies have occurred:

“She stayed positive. She lifted Walt’s chin. She felt pleasure in survival; not survival in terms of overcoming injury but survival as the process that few people notice and none can control, the hum of energy that fuels the machine. Survival isn’t always an act of will, and when she realized that, when she was carried through the years and felt healed, she began to see beauty in all those things we try to run away from. There was beauty in the loss of beauty, in loneliness, in sorrow, some inarticulate vitality that was greater than the celebrated signs of joy, a different joy not obvious but more constant. To see herself as a body in the mirror, death in the middle of life, was to see a beautiful truth. This is me and it is not how I see myself.”

The next passage is told from the perspective of a chimp while in the research facility, ruminating on what he has done that led him to the place.

“It accompanied whatever memories were left, it sat with him and settled through fourteen years and grew into a bone lying crosswise in his chest. No one loves this sun as much as the one who has been tortured. The sun and this apple are beautiful. The apple is in his hand, he can feel his hand and the sun. He is here. He eats the skin of the apple.”

See what I mean about knowing when the character speaking is a chimp? The chimps speak in short, simple sentences, making direct observations that are more deep than they originally seem. McAdam also made up some words for them (yek meant “newcomer,” for example), though, that tactic was unnecessary, in my opinion. I also think it somewhat diminished the beauty of those passages.

To be honest, it is difficult to compare this book to any other I have read. It is just so unique. But bits and pieces here and there reminded me of Ishmael and My Ishmael, if only because a primate is also the main character and it is the primates in all of these novels that reveal the truths we can’t always acknowledge about ourselves and our place on this planet. It’s definitely worth a read, and part of the proceeds go towards Save the Chimps, a chimpanzee rescue.

Thanks to NetGalley and Soho Press for the preview.

HLSDITL: Day 3

This post is part of the Hack Library School’s Library Student Day in the Life week. For those of you who are here because of that, thanks for visiting! I’m an online University of Maryland MLS student, the social media manager for UMD’s iDiversity organization and a library clerk on a public library’s reference desk. Come back every day this week to learn more about what it’s like to be a MLS student. And be sure to visit the LSDITL page for a list of everyone participating this week. And read all of my HLSDITL posts here.
HathiTrust and Google Books has raised questions of whether we need libraries.

HathiTrust and Google Books has raised questions of whether we need libraries.

Hello, folks! My evaluation and planning class had a side discussion going on HathiTrust (a digital repository) and Google Books. This discussion quickly turned to one of access, which segued into discussions of WorldCat and the “buy-it” features found on WorldCat and Google Books. One of the main arcs of the discussion was about whether the aforementioned services will replace libraries. While we all generally agreed it was unlikely that these services will cause the end of libraries, it got me thinking about an overarching question I have faced in many of my graduate classes: Should librarians use or point patrons to nonlibrary resources?

I’m a millennial who grew up with the Internet and Google. For my own personal information needs, I turn to Google first. On the reference desk, I turn to our online catalog instead. Why the difference? To be honest it is mostly that my employers and my patrons expect me to use something other than Google. I feel as though patrons expect us to have some magical answer genie that they can’t access, and to be fair, most of their questions can be answered in our catalog. This is because in a public library, patrons are generally asking “Do you have any books on xyz?” But my personal information needs (i.e. not school-related needs) usually involve a question along the lines of “Who was that one actor in that film about the dog” or “I have Brussels sprouts and butternut squash. What can I make with that?” But that does not mean that Google is unable to answer reference questions. It just has to be used thoughtfully.

I have previously mentioned an example where it was only once I turned to Google that I was able to find the name of a book for a patron. But that’s not the only time Google comes through for me on the reference desk. At least once a week I get asked for a phone number of a business. While we do have phone books behind the desk, Google is a much faster and simpler resource. I also have a patron who calls once a month or so looking for book recommendations. Her interests lie in Amish mystery series, a genre I had not heard of before speaking to her. While you can search for “Amish mystery” in our online catalog, it doesn’t actually say if a book is part of a series. For that, I turn to Google.

I was not surprised to find that Google gets a bad rap in libraries when I began library school. From high school on, my educators spent a great deal of time drilling into my head that Google was bad. But when it comes to serving patrons, librarians should leave no stone unturned. Just like any resource, if used properly, Google can be a vital tool in any librarian’s kit.

Beyond Google, my professor mentioned a worry that by sending patrons to Amazon for books we might inadvertently be spelling doom for libraries. Far from being a traitorous move, I see this as just another way of providing stellar service to patrons. If our system does not have a book and the other local library systems don’t have a book, then patrons will leave empty-handed. That’s high on my list of things not to do on the reference desk. Instead, I run a check on Amazon or Barnes and Noble and let patrons know if what they need can be purchased there. Indeed, WorldCat.org offers a way to search both local libraries and leading bookstores in one site. I often send patrons there so they too can benefit from that resource.

The job of a librarian is about providing access. Not offering a lead on a place that does offer a resource is tantamount to denying access to that resource, at least in my book. Librarians will always be necessary for pointing people to the resources that meet their needs. If we make use of these valuable resources, we will continue to be on the forefront of meeting the information needs of our patrons. If we don’t, we run the risk of fading into obsolescence anyway.