Okay folks, it’s time to talk about one of those things they usually don’t cover in library school: job benefits. As any employer can tell you, the cost of your benefits is considerable (or at least, usually it is, if you have halfway decent benefits, and most libraries do provide at least that). Which means your employment provides you with stuff to which you may not pay a lot of attention…until you’re up against a problem and really need that safety net.
Over the past couple of years my colleague Kathleen Sheehan and I have been working with a Library Student Interest Group, sponsored by the College Library and the Harvard Undergraduate Council, and we’ve met some great students through this work. Allison Gofman is one of the students who has been part of the LSIG. She is also a photographer. This past year, for her final project in the course, United States in the World 30: Tangible Things: Harvard Collections in World History, Allison created the beautiful online book, Harvard Libraries: Books That Breathe. It “is a visual exploration of the libraries as physical spaces: not only as beautiful architecture or as a collection of books, but as a unique intersection of the two.”
Last week I enjoyed one of my favorite times of the year: Commencement Week at Harvard. I love it then because so many students bring their parents and families into the libraries to see the glorious resources to which they’ve had access during their studies here. There’s a definite feeling of excitement in the air, and both the parents and students are absolutely sparkling with energy and lively interest. Serving at the Information Desk I get to meet lots of these folks, and I enjoy answering the myriad questions they pose.
So I was at the Information Desk in Widener not long ago, and business was uncharacteristically slow (the thing I like best about working the Information Desk is that it’s usually hoppingly busy, and the kinds of questions that come in range from, “Where’s the bathroom?” to “Can you help me locate this 16th-century manuscript that’s essential for my thesis?”) when my friend and colleague, Joshua Parker, stopped by to say hello. Our discussions always cover a host of topics, but a favorite is about kinds of organizational structures (if you read the post linked from Joshua’s name you’ll see that he is that rare bird, a library manager mensch). He had some noteworthy things to say and some useful resources to recommend for reading, which I’ve found interesting and which I’m going to pass on to you folks. They’re not your usual library organization or management titles, however.
When I attended a non-library event recently, I was introduced to the group as a librarian, whereupon one of the assemblage enthused, “you must love to read!” to which I replied, “I do—but I don’t get to do much of it at work.” “What do you do at work, then?” was the very reasonable followup question. I talked about database searching, and teaching, and serving at public desks, and giving researcher tours, and doing research consultations, and giving presentations, and serving on committees, and keeping statistics for all of this…and by that time the querent’s eyes were glazed over and they very probably regretted asking what they thought was a no-brainer question.
n my last column I summarized what “a slew of library managers” told me they do to develop professionally, as well as what they’d like their direct reports to do in the area of professional development. This time around I’ve asked a bunch of front-line librarians (public, academic, special, public services, tech services, special collections, etc.) what they’re actually doing in terms of professional development. After summarizing their responses, I’ll do a little comparison between the different sets of replies.
The phrase, “professional development” is used liberally by librarians. It’s used so liberally and in so many different contexts that I’m not really sure just what it is anymore. Is it getting yet another degree? Publishing in the literature? Participating in the life of your community? Given that most performance evaluations involve assessing an individual’s success in developing professionally, I think it’s a concept we all want, and need, to understand.
Just how much should you care about your library job? Many, if not most, of the librarians I have known during my (pretty long) career have been passionate about their work. But seldom is any issue in a library so straightforwardly obvious to all that there is universal agreement. So what do you do when decisions are made with which you don’t agree, or when services and policies are put in place that you don’t like, or when they’re not put in place when you fervently believe in them? I remember the options described in my library school administration course: you can disagree in private, but you need to agree in public. If you find that you cannot agree in public, then you need to move on. And those choices make good professional sense—but I’m wondering how many of us are able to do that.
I count myself incredibly lucky for the library school I attended: what was then the SUNY Albany School of Library and Information Science and is now the SUNY Albany College of Computing & Information. This is mainly because of the faculty with whom I was able to study, including my advisor and mentor, Bill Katz, who, among other things, taught real-world librarianship as he had experienced it. He taught us reference work pretty much as if we were reporters working on a red-hot story as well as detectives digging up the salient facts for that story. But the most crucial thing Bill taught me was that, as a reference librarian, my most important working resource would be people.