Experiences and Education
My interest in libraries, like many people, began as a child. My parents checked out dozens and dozens of books, reading to me and enunciating every single word. This was to supplement the very short, 6-month grant for speech and language therapy that I received after I was discovered to be deaf at the age of two. I gained two years of language in those 6 months thanks to library books, surpassing the therapists’ expectations. This story, told time and time again by my parents, sparked my interest in libraries as tools to help people excel.
This interest only became stronger when I began volunteering at a small public library in ninth grade and enjoyed helping people find books. It was then that I decided I wanted a masters degree in library science. The librarians at this small public library were very supportive, as were the librarians in the various libraries (public, special, and academic) where I’ve worked since 2006. I was able to learn how to repair books, market library programs, do basic reference work, provide sign language assistance to deaf and hard of hearing patrons, plan reorganization projects, design signage, train new library staff, assist bibliographers with their purchase decisions, create training programs, and so on.
Many more examples of my experiences are included in the competencies, but suffice it to say that I absolutely loved being able to do a variety of things in a job, and I loved helping people, confirming that yes, librarianship is the vocation for me. Through my work experiences, I’ve found that I enjoy working in many kinds of libraries in all sorts of roles. I focused on classes that would help me in a library branch, small library, or special library. I identified useful knowledge and skills as cataloging, reference work, teaching, copyright, accessibility, and marketing. Knowing a variety of skills will help in any position I am in, but it is especially useful should libraries with small or shrinking budgets require that employees know how to do a variety of tasks.
The first step in helping a library to run is the selection of materials, evaluating current holdings, and organizing them accordingly (Competency F). This involves researching community needs and desires (Competency C) to make sure that the library can satisfy the most people possible. Once the library acquires material, cataloging is crucial in helping a library to function. Though cataloging proved to be incredibly frustrating to learn (Competency G), it did press upon me the importance of cataloging, classification, finding aids, and other standardized systems as they help to save the time of the user by making it much easier to locate material.
Once something is catalogued, reference assistance is necessary to help connect people with the material (Competency I). As I learned, though, there is much more to reference assistance than simply finding the right answer. Librarians need to take into account the various theories about information seeking behavior (Competency J), since understanding how people look for information helps to improve our own information delivery methods. It is also useful to explore databases and websites during slow times, since it helps to figure out (1) what kind of resources are available, and (2) understand how these resources are organized, because it helps to improve our abilities to help people find answers.
An extension of reference work is teaching, which entails planning instructional programs (Competency K) and presenting them (Competency M). The whole point of librarianship is to connect people with information they need. Information exists to be shared, and this may be done through presentations and classes. One of the most effective ways to help people is by teaching them how to find their own information. However, it’s not sufficient to merely tell people how to find information, as I learned. It is important to take into account learning theories about how to make learning more effective and the contents more memorable.
When materials are selected, cataloged, and organized, and once teaching programs are prepared, libraries need to reach out to the community through effective marketing and dialogue. Marketing and participatory librarianship are two sides of the same coin, two ways of encouraging people to come to the library. Marketing (Competency D) works by pushing messages out to convince people of the benefits of going to the library, while the participatory library model works by pulling people in through conversation, primarily in social media, and by making them feel like they really do have a say in the library.
Woven into all of these is the concern about balancing copyright with the free access of information, ensuring intellectual freedom (Competency A), and advocating for equal access for those who are poor or have disabilities (Competency C). It is in fact this interesting interplay between copyright laws and accessibility that caught my attention one semester, because copyright laws does not officially recognize the needs for access on part of those with disabilities. This resulted in a paper in which I argued for the amendment of copyright laws in order to allow greater access to digital content for deaf and hard of hearing people (DMCA, ADA, and library access for the deaf).
Taken all together, these important skills and values of librarianship that I’ve learned underpins my professional philosophy and guides my goals as a librarian. I will discuss this in the next section.
What is librarianship? My professional goals
There is one final competency to discuss, Competency O. It states that librarians and information professionals should
contribute to the cultural, economic, educational, and social well-being of our communities.
I will discuss my professional goals in the context of Competency O, relating each goal back to the four areas in which librarians can contribute toward the well-being of their libraries’ communities.
My professional goals in librarianship are modest, but I hope far-reaching. As I mentioned earlier, libraries are tools to help people excel. In order for libraries to fulfill this role, we librarians have a responsibility to ensure access to information for all.
Firstly, I want to make people more aware about disabilities, and making sure the library is accessible to all. I’m primarily focusing on the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing since that is an area I’m most familiar with, but I would like to make it part of a broader conversation about the accessibility of library services and materials.
One way I hope to accomplish this is by publishing more articles like this one that I published on Tame the Web, which people have shared with their own commentary. Several evidences in my competencies also relate to deafness, as efforts to help the library community better help deaf patrons in their own communities. This contributes to the educational well-being of the library professional community.
Another way I want to achieve this is through my own library services. I know some sign language and hope to improve my signing skills, and learn more about the specific needs of the Deaf and hard of hearing by connecting those communities. My past and current studies, as well as my future plan, will help improve the community in all four ways: cultural, by incorporating the needs of the Deaf culture into library services and holdings; economic, by ensuring that the Deaf and hard of hearing are not marginalized through lack of accessibility; educational, by enabling access to more materials; and social, by being able to speak (or sign) in a language that they are more comfortable communicating with.
My second goal is somewhat connected to the first—I hope to continue studying copyright laws in relation to accessibility for people with disabilities, inform libraries of what they can do to help ensure accessibility, and advocate for changes as needed in order to ensure that copyright laws aren’t unduly disenfranchising those with disabilities. I have already written one paper about how DMCA and ADA laws conflict with one another in terms of making videos accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. This helps to improve the economic well-being of libraries by making it more efficient and less wasteful to provide accessible videos. It also improves the educational opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people by making uncaptioned videos accessible.
My third and final goal is to help people learn how to help themselves. While my fellow information professionals and I certainly do not mind helping people find information, no matter how frequently any one or all patrons come to us. However, economics must be taken into consideration, and it would be more practical to teach people how to search for their own information and use the library in order to free up valuable librarian time for the more involved questions.
There are many ways to go about this. There are one-on-one “teaching moments” in reference work by explaining the search process during the actual searching process. This helps people to understand some basic searching skills, learn about useful databases and websites, and learn how to use them. I’ve done this for years for basic reference questions that come up while helping people at the Circulation desk.
Presentations are another useful teaching tool, especially if hands-on practice and/or audience interaction are incorporated into the lesson plan to help make the lessons more memorable. An example of a presentation is the “Basic Google Searching” lesson plan that I’ve created in order to help adults learn how to search for information on Google and evaluate them for accuracy and authenticity. Presentations may also be done online synchronously through Collaborate, as I discussed in Competency K, or asynchronously through videos such as tutorials or the “Consent of the Networked” book report.
Text-based tools are useful, too. These can be in the form of a manual, printed how-to guides, and online LibGuides. Like any asynchronous teaching tool, the text-based guides allow users to continually refer to them at any time of day as needed to figure out a problem. For example, if people frequently ask librarians about resources for a specific topic, then creating a resource and searching guide for that topic will benefit both the librarians by freeing up time for more involved questions, and the users because then they can access that guide without having to wait in line.
By teaching people how to help themselves, it contributes to the economic well-being of the library and the community by being more efficient with resources, and the educational well-being of users by offering multiple ways of learning.
My professional goals of serving the Deaf and hard of hearing communities, improving awareness about library and information accessibility, and teaching people how to search for and find information, are all indicative of my continued interest in libraries as tools to help people excel. It doesn’t take very much to make a difference in someone’s life, whether it is improving their self-confidence by helping them learn how to use the computer or captioning a previously inaccessible video, or even being able to sign while providing reference assistance. The little things add up, making the cumulative cultural, economic, education, and social contributions to the community quite influential.