Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Library Blues

I went to the library today to read some newspapers and stuff from the 1850s. I want to stop for a moment to emphasize that I, Bardiac, actually read newspapers and stuff from the 1850s, from the US. If I had wanted to be an Americanist, or a 19th century person, I would have, you know studied American lit/culture and/or the 19th century. But I didn't, so I didn't. That doesn't mean I think American lit/culture or the 19th century are boring or unworthy of study, but time and resources are limited, and I love my period. But it does mean that I'm relatively naive about things compared to people who study the period in depth.

The newspaper looked very different from newspapers I'm used to seeing. Newspapers today tend to have this title line in a big, huge font. Then they have article titles in pretty big fonts. There's the above and below the fold thing to consider, and which page things are on. The front of most newspapers today has mostly "news" and pictures, with ads on the side and on later pages, taking up increasing space in various ways depending on all sorts of things.

When I was a kid, for example, the last page of the second op/ed section had a single column by a locally important and famous columnist, while the rest of the page showed the big department store's weekly ad.

The newspapers I looked at today were way different. It was hard to tell the front page (I was looking on microfilm) because there was barely any headline. The "news" items ran along the left margin, while ads dominated everything else on the page. But the ads weren't clearly demarcated as ads, and, of course, there were no pictures! No pictures!

I guess I hadn't been thinking, but, I was surprised by the lack of pictures. Then my brain turned on for a moment and I remembered that half-tones didn't get invented til the latter half of the 1800s.

At any rate, I figured out that having students read a week or two of the local paper would be plenty. The microfilm is horrid to read from, as usual. But I'm hoping that they'll find looking at a week or so useful enough.

My other big library task is to arrange for some library instruction for a couple of my classes.

Library instruction is a minefield. With the right librarian, it's good. Finding the right librarian isn't the easiest thing. My favorite librarian for instruction retired recently. So I'm going to need to try to find a new favorite librarian for instruction.

Librarians have an agenda for library instruction. And I have an agenda for my class. The more those overlap, the better.

I've learned a lot from librarians about teaching library usage skills. Librarians know amazing things. But some librarians aren't good at communicating those things; and those same librarians tend to be less than wonderful about focusing on things that I want my students to learn.

Of course, I need to do a good job telling the librarian what I want my students to learn. And the librarian needs to meet me halfway. My favorite librarian was great at that. I would send her my assignment stuff, and we'd talk about what I wanted my class to learn, what was most important, what was less important. And she'd do a great job organizing the time and materials so that the students would learn what I thought would help them most.

Now I need to find a new librarian.

I know, though, that librarians think about the English department folks, too. I'm sure there are some librarians who think I'm an idiot for not understanding information technology the way they do, and for not valuing the way they want to teach my students to develop research topics.

It's a turf thing, maybe. I depend on them, but there are some things I'm just not interested in buying into that they really think are important. On the other hand, librarians depend on folks like me to bring classes in for them to teach. We have students assigned to us, and we can give them assignments, require attendance at classes and such. That gives us a lot of power.

My sense is that our librarians have low morale. The library budget has been hacked to pieces over the past several years. Yes, the teaching and research aspects of the university have been hurt, but the library is hurting in ways even I can see.

Sometimes it seems that a lot of librarians don't want to be librarians. They're either looking for a new career, using their library degree while they look for something better, or they did a library degree because the PhD in English or music or whatever didn't result in a tenure track job. They seem more disappointed at life than most folks, I guess.

I want my favorite librarian to unretire to teach my classes. I don't want to fumble through trying to find someone who'll work well with me, and who I'll work well with.

I've got the library blues.


  1. Your life is awesome. The only thing I miss about Berkeley is the library...the huge, earthquake-proof one.

  2. I'm not sure I agree about the reasons you listed for becoming a librarian. At least, that wasn't my experience when I got my MLS. There are people who go into it who have other advanced degrees. Sometimes, they are there for the reasons you listed, but many of them also realized that they didn't/wouldn't enjoy the work of being a professor. Others know that, for an academic librarian, they need to have an advanced degree in a subject area. It is absolutely necessary for bibliographers, collection development, etc. I've actually found librarians to be much happier than professors, and most seem to have more balanced lives.

    It is true that many librarians don't go into it realizing that they might be teaching (An exception here would be school media specialists). And, while more and more schools now have a course on information literacy, in the past they didn't. I had a practicum that focused on library instruction, but this isn't universally required.

    There are some turf issues. There is also the problem that too many faculty members treat librarians poorly, as if they are just there to store and lend books. This can be very frustrating. There is an increasing amount of research on information literacy instruction, and the work on information user behavior is fascinating. So, many teaching librarians try to work in accordance with this knowledge of students' information needs and skills.

    When I take my students to library sessions, I'm very specific about what I want them to be taught, and I work with the librarians beforehand. I probably get away with being very direct in these cases because they know I have an MLS and I use terms librarians would use such as controlled vocabulary, descriptors and indicators, access points, etc.

    Sorry that was so long - I didn't intend for it to be! Library-talk gets me excited.

  3. Hey B,

    Part of my usual research schtick involves 19th-c. journalism, so I've spent many an hour being blinded by microfiche; I feel your pain. It was a treat when I was in Old Blightey this summer to spend some time at the Colindale Newspaper Library (part of the British Library) where they still have hardcopies of some 19th-c. newspapers. You order up your stuff, and a guy brings you these giant bound volumes of broadsheets on a trolley. You then prop them up on these enormous reading stands (a little like giant music stands) and thumb through original copies of your fav. 19th-c. newspaper. What a joy!

    Are you able to make .pdfs from microfiche at your library? We have a reader that does that here and I've found it to be a fantastic resource. I convert the image to a .pdf, save it to a data key and then read it on my laptop, where I can enlarge and alter the image so that it's easier to read ...

  4. MSILF, If I were anywhere near Berkeley, my life would be more awesome :) but thanks!

    K8, I think our librarians have been really hurt by budget things, so they're looking for outs more than not. You may indeed be right that more librarians are happy than professors. That's setting the bar pretty low, given the numbers of profs I know on anti-depressants and such.

    I only wish that one librarian who was so good to work with hadn't retired! Now I have to find another!

    Amanda, I LOVE touching the real things, old books, especially. And yes, we can save pdfs to our campus system with ease, and that should help.

    I spent WAY too much time reading microfilms in grad school. :( Yay for EEBO!

  5. It was setting the bar pretty low, wasn't it! I know waaay to many people on anti-anxiety and/or anti-depression drugs. Who knows how many I don't know about!

    Library funding is getting worse. It makes the job harder than it should be. I know too many librarians who spend more time than they would like writing grant proposals to try to fill in for funding losses.