How to Make a Website (With a Whole Lot of Trying)

When I started at my internship, I sort of naturally fell into a tech support role for the library. This turned into requests to update the old website using Dreamweaver, which was fine until I went to upload the changes – after the wave of staff turnover just before I came, no one had the correct password to our host. Not the end of the world, since we got back in, but a sign that something needed to change. Before I’d started, a friend who knew the library well had showed me a new website that was supposedly “in the works.” More than a little frustrated, I asked about it.

And so it became my assignment. It had gotten a bit overlooked in the rush of the early fall staffing shortage, and since I was asking, I was now in charge.


Continue reading “How to Make a Website (With a Whole Lot of Trying)”

Write In!

Remember this?

Battle of Midway @ Homestead Library

Well, it happened yesterday. And it was great!

Since it was my first program, I was a bit nervous. I mean, I’d helped with lots of programs, and I’d dreamt up a lot of ideas that other people helped execute, but this one was my first time in charge of creating, marketing, and hosting a library event.

I started planning about a month and a half ago. I had just gotten my feet under me at the library, and noticed a lack of adult programming. We were also a library in transition (we hired a new director in October, and lost our interim Children’s Program Coordinator as a result), so it needed to be something relatively easy to do alone. And then I realized – Nanowrimo was a month away.

Continue reading “Write In!”

How to Give an Elevator Pitch When You’re Still a Student

“Elevator speech” seems to be the buzz word in library school right now. Even the papers we write for our intro class have to be distilled into elevator speeches for our Google Hangout sessions with our TA and classmates. Of course, since we’re required to talk for 3 minutes, we had better be riding the elevator in the US Steel building when we talk. (Even in New York City, the average elevator ride is only 118 seconds – a good minute short of our little spiels.)

But while we can now give elevator speeches on all sorts of information theory (really? I’m going to need this?), no one really tells a library student how to talk about themselves.

Business articles abound on the elevator pitch, which makes sense since it started as a sales tool. But for students, especially MLIS students, that can seem a world away. I mean, what library do you know that has more than, say 10 floors? And that’s for an academic library. Most public libraries are on 1-3 floors. You might not even need elevators.

Obviously, the point is to make your point, and fast. Here are some tips aimed at library students to be ready next time you find yourself face to face with a potential contact (like at a conference).

1) Start open.

Being a student, chances are good that whoever you’re talking to has a lot to offer you besides a job. Listen to them, find out what they do and how they do it. Find out where you can fit in. If you have this kind of time, it’s awesome. This is also the end goal of the whole elevator speech process – a real connection.

2)You’re awesome. Don’t be afraid to say it.

The caveat being, of course, that you need to say why you’re awesome. Are you a genius with metadata? Do you have deep knowledge of databases? Do your children’s programs leave kids anxious for the next one? Are you great at getting the word out about library services?

3) Don’t just say – show.

It’s an old rule for writers, and it stands for elevator speeches too. Sure, you might think that you’re a web genius, but can you cite a web design project you’ve been in on? Do you have a class project that included planning a major library service deployment? Those are hard artifacts that can help you prove your point.

4) Don’t drop the ball.

If you can find something to interest the other person, you might find yourself in a good conversation. They might ask about your skills, and you might be able to ask about their current and future projects. Great.

Offer your business card (you do have a business card, right?), and ask if they have one (they’ll often hand you one as a reflexive response). Then keep track of it. Follow up with them, reminding them of where you met and what you talked about. Continue the conversation.

In the end, you’ll at least end up with a contact who knows your strengths – an invaluable resource to begin with. If you talk to the right person, your strengths might fit their needs, and you might end up with a job lead. Which brings me to…

5) Practice.

Either way, know what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Practice it, but remember that it’s a conversation as much as a speech – you’ll have to adjust it based on your audience.

And relax, they’ve all been in your shoes. It’s a unique advantage for us – our bosses have been where we’ve been, and they probably want to help us out, even if it’s not with a job.

To Conference or Not to Conference

(Definitely conference)

I recently attended a convention for my state’s library association as a student photographer. It was quite the experience. I got to spend 4 days mingling with the leaders in librarianship, making connections, getting advice, and generally getting to know the real-world state of the profession.

The biggest surprise? That we photographers were the only 3 students at the conference.

I know that conferences can be an expense that just doesn’t seem justifiable when you’re a grad student eating ramen, but they do have value, even if you aren’t presenting.

Speaking of which…

1) If you have something to say, present it.

Poster Session PaLA 2013Whether you have something you think warrants a whole session or if you just want to prep a poster, make it happen. There’s a lot of information in your experience that other people want to know. You can at least ask if the conference organizers will let you (for ALA Annual, you can still apply for poster sessions until January 17, 2014 – look here).

2) If you can provide a service, see if you can trade it.

ALA Display SessionTo get to the Pennsylvania Library Association annual conference, I listened when a little bird told me that they were looking for students to photograph the event. I am, at best, a hobby photographer (I had to borrow my camera from my roommate), but I asked about the requirements, and was brought on board. Just for being willing to ask.

3) Bring business cards. Lots.
And make sure they say you’re a student.

PaLA Bowling This seems like a no-brainer, but I went through 150 in 3 days, and I didn’t get to go to all the networking events I wanted to. And when people saw I was a student, it opened up conversation – “Oh, I went to Pitt!” “When do you graduate?” “What track are you studying?”. I got lots of invitations to visit libraries to see how they do things, and lots of tips and tricks. People feel ok telling a student things they might never tell a colleague. They might even invite you bowling. Go figure.

4) Smile.

Seriously, look like you want to be there. This isn’t a homework assignment – it’s actually kind of fun. There are opportunities to network, sessions to listen to, exhibitors to schmooze… but there are also unexpected moments of fun (check out these snapshots from the Performers’ Showcase at PaLA). Being willing to participate and to have fun can go a long way toward having a positive experience – and making others remember you in a positive light.

Performers Showcase Mickey

Performers Showcase Dancing

Performance Showcase Ill Stylin

LIS 2600: HTML

Programming has always held mystique for me: how do they turn ideas into the concrete pages using nothing but text? I dabbled in it, with the help of cheesy children’s programs, but never really latched onto it. A few years ago, in a job interview, I took (and failed) a programming logic test. I realized I didn’t even know how all the programs I used on a daily basis worked. I started in on an easy language, not even really programming, but markup – HTML.

HTML was great, since so many forums accepted the basic formatting commands I was learning. Inserting pictures, links, and bolded text made me feel like I knew what I was doing.

I still didn’t. I’ll admit, there’s a lot I still don’t know. What with the advent of HTML5, I hardly know where to start.

HTML has a million great tutorials out there- Codecademy was my tutor of choice, and I still recommend it. Learning start tags, end tags, and what to put between them is invaluable.

Where I’ve finally managed to understand the logic of HTML, CSS is still rough for me. It’s hard for me to see where one overrides the other. The basic tags still apply (as well as innumerable tags I have yet to learn), which is helpful.


Muddiest Point: There was no muddiest point for this week. Maybe next week when we get to CSS. 🙂

OPACs in the Age of Google

Complexity has always been a topic in software. Simplicity is better, right? I think most of us would agree with that – to a point.

As far as simplicity goes, Google – with it’s blank page aside from the friendly search bar and engaging Google Doodles, may be the exemplar. Type something in, and Google’s highly developed algorithms will do their best to kick back something useful. Google differentiated itself from other search engines with its simplicity and usefulness, leaving competitors like Yahoo! and Bing in the dust.

But that’s the kicker, isnt’ it? That usefulness part.

I’ve seen a lot of OPACs lately that are very, very simple. They look Google-like. But they just don’t work. All that simplicity belies the truth: that a lot of hard work and complicated programming go into making it look simple. And ILS systems, especially OPACs, just don’t have the soul to match the pretty face.

But back in the day, Google didn’t look all that simple. It went through it’s growing-up phase. Take a look.

Google Then
Google Now

Google’s increasing sophistication behind the scenes has allowed it to achieve this design standard. It didn’t just say – I want to have one thing on my page. It made it so that one search bar was USEFUL. OPACs could learn from that. Most of the OPACs I have seen have tried to achieve that single search bar look, but the results are… less than useful. Only advanced search helps bridge the gap.

But the problem is that the money that makes it worthwhile for Google just isn’t there in libraries. Library systems, accustomed to the relatively low cost of their current ILS systems, are trapped between the “good enough” mentality and their budgets. ILS systems aren’t cutting it. Programming won’t improve unless there’s financial backing. Libraries simply don’t have the financial backing.

Is simplicity worth the extra money? I would say yes, as long as that simplicity is backed by an efficient system. Infrastructure upgrades cost money, and unfortunately people are often less willing to pass a millage for a new library software than a new building. Libraries may need to convince their community that the latter is made infinitely more valuable by having a user-friendly, intelligent, and integrated collections system.

When it rains…

One thing about working for a small, understaffed library is that I get a lot of cool opportunities to test out my skills and ideas about librarianship while on the job. I’ve been teaching computer classes along with the interim programming coordinator for the past few weeks, with the idea to take them over come the end of October. That’s going to be two classes a week to start. I’m hoping to pull another intern in with me, and then work with her to design some career-oriented computer classes – things like how to search for jobs online, how to fill in an online job application, making sure your email is up to date so you receive things, etc. All these things that just come naturally to me (or rather, that I had the blessing of being given the freedom to learn when I was younger) need to be broken down into pieces that can be taught. I’ll be working on that curriculum soon.

I’ve been continuing my work on the CoH Intern’s Blog as well, though that’s little more than a glorified job board itself until we get the full website up and running. Because I’m the only one in the library who has worked with WordPress before, I’m being given the task of taking the new site from skeleton to live. This has to happen soon (our old one… leaves something to be desired), but I’m having trouble getting a hold of the admin credentials for the site. Apparently their previous web developer just… stopped. I’m not sure of the story behind that.

This week’s big things were the government shutdown and the ACA. Libraries everywhere issued a collective shout of excitement at renewed relevance and a simultaneous groan at the strain on what are often already maxed-out staffs. At Homestead, I used this week to identify the resources available in our area for those experiencing food emergencies. The demographics in that area led me to think it might be helpful, and at the least I hope it is a less intrusive way of communicating with people who might not otherwise use food banks.

As for the ACA… that’s next week.

Let’s talk about Tumblr

Last week, I wanted to show the programming director at the library I’m interning at some ideas that I’d posted to my tumblr. I like to archive cool ideas, snippets, and more informal thoughts on tumblr, and the quick like/reblog format makes it easy for the community of Tumblarians (yes, that’s a thing) is relatively active in sharing and interacting with each other.

And I couldn’t get to any of it on my work computer.

It was explained to me that due to some of the questionable content on tumblr, the network provider had decided to block the entire site. All tumblrs, no matter how useful, were inaccessible to the library. I was a bit taken aback. Especially since Yahoo! bought tumblr and essentially blacklisted all of the “Adult” sites, tumblr is increasingly dominated by TV gifs, fandoms, and teen rants. And of course tumblarians.

Over at “The Digital Shift,” they’ve figured out the tumblr is the place to be, too, especially for teens:

In the past year, though, it became clear that my teens were no longer on Facebook—or if they were, they weren’t using it to connect with the library. During that time, I searched for ways to invigorate the teen section of our library’s website—to post more content daily and engage more readers. I sought a streamlined, visually exciting site. But the traditional blogging options were hampered by clunky interfaces and an outdated look; I knew that the posts weren’t reaching many patrons, let alone teens.

Enter Tumblr.

Tumblr is known, too, for its fandom bases – Supernatural, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Harry Potter, anime, and (!) books. This makes tumblr even more appealing from a library marketing perspective. Aren’t we trying to get people to embrace their geek? Running an entire ad campaign on “Geek the Library” seems to indicate so. Tumblr is a group of geeks waiting to be shown how the library can fit into their passions.

Want to reach teens? Better yet, want to engage an already-active group of people with easy-to-use, attention-grabbing posts? Use tumblr. (Start with checking out the “tumblarians” tag and explore from there.)

Just make sure it’s not blocked at your library.


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Starring Harry and Katniss as The Millenials – feat. Guns and the Internet

We’ve been talking a lot about generations around school and my libraries lately. In my course on library services for an aging population, we’ve been focusing on Baby Boomers, the Silent Generation, and the GI Generation, for obvious reasons. In my adult services class, the Boomers come up again, pig in the generational python that they are, as well as Gen Xers.

But we talk about the Millennials too. We talk about the Millennials A LOT. Information about Millennials abounds – it seems a new study about how we do things, think about things, use technology, interact with authority, go places and own things is published every day. To paraphrase and adapt what Virginia Woolf said about women in her essay “A Room of One’s Own” – “Have you any notion how many books are written about [Millennials] in the course of one year? Have you any notion how many are written by [older generations]? Are you aware that you are, perhaps, the most discussed animal in the universe?”

Even MTV is in on the studying. MTV, that product of Gen Xers that taught us that Big Brother was a game show rather than a McCarthyism trait, is trying to figure out how to nail down its new market – the youngest Millennials. In their study, they use pop culture to back up their findings. I love this. As an older Millennial, I can understand what they mean through their comparisons to Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen, and the breakdown of why we’re different and what that means for our psychology is actually pretty impressive.

For example, we older Millennials, the “Harry Potters”, were told we were “special” all the time when I was a kid – unique, just like everyone else. Whatever challenges we faced, we would come through it all right. We had endless, magical possibilities and whole worlds opened up to us with the right information. Economic growth seemed endless, college offered real possibility for advancement, and the Internet was going to fix all the world’s problems.

We learned better.

Younger Millennials, the “Katniss Everdeens”, were raised in a very different world. In fact, many people don’t consider this group to be Millennials at all – instead they’re Gen Z. They straddle the Millennial optimism and the rather brusque reality of coming of age in a deep recession and time of war. They are survivalists, and understand technology as a part of the world, rather than an addition to it. There is no magic wand – there is economic struggle, particularly for young people. College is a debt with no guaranteed outcome. There is the continued expanse of Big Brother, but now via social media as well.

One of my professors explained that for those of us whose formative years came after 9/11, the world was formed by guns and the Internet.

What a combination.

See also:

Meet The Millennials – Harry and Katniss | 21st Century Library Blog.

Helpful Rounding

Our reserves librarian just spent half an hour in the stacks trying to find the books for a professor. The faculty member had helpfully filled out his form, listing not only titles and authors, but call numbers for everything we owned.

Unable to find any of the books, the reserves librarian came back to search for them himself. Apparently the call numbers were too complicated for our faculty member, and he rounded up. On each and every call number, he cut it down to a few decimal places on the second line for us.

Sweet. Misguided. But sweet.

Mixing It Up: Diversity in YA Collections

As a kid, I read voraciously. I read everything I could get my hands on. In fact, I read through the entire children’s and teen collection in my small-town public library. Twice.

But when I moved to another (all white, middle class, farm) community, I enrolled in a teen lit class. We can get into how lucky I was to have such an offering in high school, but I really wanted to focus on one thing: Walter Dean Myers.

Myers has been recognized for his novels about African American youth and their experiences, particularly in urban settings. If you haven’t read something by him, you should. My class read Slam!, amidst fantasy novels and novels about drugs and abuse and all sorts of other extremes that shocked my world. But even now, Slam! is what I remember. Slam (the main character) existed in a world full of experiences and struggles that had never even occurred to me.

Fast forward a few years, and I was working at a public library in that same (all white, middle class) small town, feeling rather proud of myself as I helped curate the teen collection in my branch to cover more racial bases. Of course, the same problem arose then as now – the dearth of minority teen literature. We were making lists and sticking “African American” interest on those titles. And they never went out.

Why not? I became convinced that it was precisely because of those stickers. Because my peers had been taught very well that they were not African American, that they would not experience life that way, and wasn’t life confusing enough without trying to understand everyone else too? I began to *sneakily* remove some of the stickers, focusing on making sure some of those titles showed up in every display, and miracle of miracles, they started to go out.

This all came back up because I recently came across a post on tumblr about LGBTQ literature in YA collections. From tumblr user MoreRobots:

So my question is, would people rather have LGBTQ books be tagged? Or in their own section? I know this would create a problem too as some patrons may not want to be seen browsing the LGBTQ shelf or reading a book that’s specifically tagged. Also, what if people pass these books up? Is there a better solution? I just feel that these books (and other diverse books) should be made more accessible /visible to patrons but what is the best way to go about it?

It’s a valid question, and a few plausible responses have been made, but they seem to focus on how to visibly mark or separate them. Check out the thread for specifics.

I’m wondering about the choice to separate them. Personally, I think that will prevent them from entering “normal” circulation, continuing the perception that LGBTQ stories are for a specialized segment of the population, and continuing to normalize straight experiences. For those who want quick access to books like these, I think the pamphlet or master list should be available for ease of access.

The same can be said for any literature that falls outside the norm. While there’s nothing wrong with books about straight white kids, there is something wrong if that is all that is available, or all that teens are encouraged to read. Part of reading, especially as a teen, is to make sure that we aren’t just reifying the normalcy of our own lives. Life is diverse, and diversity is valid, and essential.

From Sarah Ockler’s blog post “Race in YA Lit: Wake up & Smell the Coffee-Colored Skin, White Authors!

Why is diversity in fiction important? Because diversity in life is important. And when we exclude—intentionally or otherwise—characters of color from our work, we do send a billboard message to readers. We tell them that people of color aren’t there, aren’t important, aren’t worthy of our stories. That they don’t deserve to be part of the conversation of our books. That reading isn’t for them. That they don’t matter. That they don’t even register on our radar.

When we erase the experiences of race, class, sexuality, and other self-identifiers from our YA collections, we tell our teens that those things don’t matter. By separating their literature, we relegate those experiences to those who are already living them.

Once more from Ockler:

I adore teenagers. That’s why I write for them. They’re special and magical and full of life; they’re truly the best of us. As young adult authors, our words have power. The power to entertain. The power to inform. The power to inspire. And most importantly, the power to change the lives of teen readers—to really make a difference. If, as Truby believes, stories express the idea that human beings can become better versions of ourselves, then I want to show YA readers that those better versions look like them, too.