Archive for February, 2008

Just two days ago I was thinking, “I really need to get a step stool in this house.” I’m not a tall woman, and alas, many things in our house are stored far above my reach. Dragging a chair around the house constantly is getting pretty annoying. And lo! What did I see today? The Kik-Step 50th Anniversary Library Edition!

“Kik-step?” you ask? Oh, if you’ve ever been in a library, you know them: the classic round step stools that skid around seemingly on air, planting themselves firmly on the ground as soon as you step on them. I love them. I have always loved them, they are so easy to move around and the added foot of height is pretty awesome for someone as short as me. And I always thought having one in my house which just be too perfect, firmly solidifying my true dorkitude. And being useful at the same time!

The new library edition is, alas, perhaps a little more than I can justify spending on a step stool. I am just a poor library student, after all. But I’ll be dreaming about it. I know I will.

(Thanks to the Librarian blog for bringing this glorious thing to my attention.)

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I’ve been working now as the Assistant Systems Librarian for about a month, and I can safely say I’ve never had a job as challenging, occasionally frustrating, and sometimes satisfying as this one. I should preface that by saying I’ve never had a job that involved work I didn’t already know how to do, and so far, this job is almost entirely things I don’t know how to do.

My boss started me working on a Rails application on day one, and told me to just jump right in and start doing stuff. I have NEVER done any programming before this job. Well, I think I learned PASCAL in seventh grade, but my friends, that was a long time ago. And see, I’m the kind of person who really likes to understand what I’m doing before I start doing it. I like to do lots of background reading, and to feel that I have a nice, solid foundation under me before I start attempting to build. And in this job, I didn’t really have a lot of time to do that.

Before I even started the job, I got myself a copy of Learning Ruby by Michael Fitzpatrick. And I tried to read it, I really tried. But this book was definitely written for someone with some serious programming background. I mean, he was throwing out terms like code block and hashes and iteration like I was supposed to know what was what. And I really didn’t.

So I started looking for tutorials online, because everyone knows the internets are the best place to look for computer information. And I found some great stuff, including one verrrry funny comic/book/tutorial by the (apparently) famous why the lucky stiff. But as funny as the Poignant Guide is, I was still just not…quite…getting it.

Until I found Peter Cooper’s excellent Beginning Ruby: From Novice to Professional. I know, you’re thinking “Is she seriously talking about a computer book right now?” But this book is like a handy dandy paper-and-glue lifesaver. It’s the first guide I’ve seen aimed at people who are new to programming that is ACTUALLY useful for people new to programming. These concepts are sinking in. I am starting to see the light. I’m starting to feel like maybe I will know what I’m doing eventually, after all. I feel like that Stupid Cloud that has been sinking over my head for the past few weeks is starting to lift. It is quite a relief, as I really don’t like the Stupid Cloud.

So I’m still having good days and not-so-good days at work. When I can figure things out and make things work, I have a feeling of satisfaction that is kind of unparalleled, because I never thought that I would be able to make computers do things. And I have to heap some praise on the person who can write a programming book for non-programming people like me.

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Of course it has taken me almost a month to write anything significant about my ALA experience. So many thoughts were percolating through my head the whole long weekend, and it probably goes without saying that much of it isn’t quite as vivid now, after the new semester has started and my normal life has been passing at a rapid clip for the last few weeks.

The extra weeks did give some of those thoughts time to…er, ferment (?), however. And one of those things has to do with the role and position of library students within the greater world of librarianship. As a copyeditor for and a frequent reader of Library Student Journal, I obviously think students have plenty to contribute to the field: innovative ideas, worthwhile research, insight from our previous careers. In fact, it never occurred to me that library students’ contributions might not be taken seriously. In my undergraduate experience, it was common that a professor would acknowledge the intellectual contributions of us younguns, even in published work. We were often considered collaborators, and I expected that would be doubly true as a graduate student.

Now, I haven’t experienced any of the faculty in my program denigrating students’ opinions and contributions. In fact, I think the Simmons GSLIS program does a great job bringing students into the decision-making process and allowing us to have significant responsibility and input in the program. Although even in a place where student involvement is a priority, it sometimes seems more like lip service.

One of the events I chose to attend at ALA Midwinter was a meeting of the ACRL Task Force on Positioning the 21st Century Library in the Competitive Academy (I would include a link, but any interesting information on the ALA site is password protected). It sounded right up my alley: I want to work in academic libraries, and I love to read about the changes happening within institutions of higher eduction (or, as they say, IHEs). And as someone who hopes to be working in those 21st century libraries, I figured it might be a cool thing to get involved in, or at least pay attention to.

One thing I noticed when I walked in is that almost everyone on the task force is…well…older. The roster shows that most of them are library directors or deans. Now obviously, people who’ve been part of ALA for a long time, and have been in libraries for a long time, are more likely to be involved in ALA and to be part of these groups (actually, I don’t really know how one gets involved in ACRL task forces and the like; do you have to be an ALA veteran?). But I was surprised that a group dedicated to contemplating the future of the academic library didn’t think to involve the people who will actually be working in them.

During the course of their discussion, a few of the younguns in the room piped up with some of their thoughts, and several of them noted that it IS important to look to the future librarians in the organization if you’re going to be talking about, well, the future. And everyone on that task force nodded and said “oh yes yes harrumph it’s very important.” And yet, I felt that any actual contemplation of what those younger librarians (one of whom was a library school student) said wasn’t really happening. It felt like the aforementioned lip service. “Oh of course our young people have great things to say, now let’s get back to the important conversation we were having over here.”

Maybe I’m being unfair. After all, this was just my perception, and subjective perception is, well, subjective. But the ACRL task force meeting wasn’t the only place I felt that my opinions were being disregarded. I’ll be paying attention to this task force, and while I hope that they will introduce some comments, opinions, and insights from the next group of librarians to enter the academic libraries, I’m not holding my breath.

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