Tag Archives: librarian

My Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus with the command line

5 Jun

So let me say here and now that I always KNEW somehow, intuitively, that I should learn the command line, that it would change my life. Proselytizing from a good friend (of Escape Characters fame) for months has told me that automation is the way to go — if librarians deal with information overload, well then, we’re going to need the right tools for the job. Why spend hours clicking from page to page searching for a certain character string or file type when we can batch download all of these pages and then extract the information we need in just a few keystrokes? Sure, the command line LOOKS scary, but it’s really the smart way to go.

Of course, she puts it better than I ever could.

If you’re a librarian, I think part of your skillset should include knowing how to use the command line. You might say that you’re not that type of librarian, we hire other people to do the work with the computers, librarianship isn’t about this kind of technological skills, someother explanation — but, hrm. No. I respectfully, wholeheartedly disagree. You need to know this. You really do. If you’re a librarian, and you’re working with lots of information — and I mean, lots, like information overload lots — you need to be equipped with a way to handle this information without resorting to mind-numbing data entry methods. No, really. Every time someone says, “I guess I have to do this exhaustingly repetitive task by hand, I cry a little. It doesn’t matter if you’re one thousand miles away; I know, and I weep.

So please, visit Escape Characters and her series on useful ways to use the command line in your everyday work.

And I’ll keep you updated on how this is changing my life.

My New Favorite Blog

29 May

I just happened upon The Sullen Librarian, and I think it’s my new favorite blog. S/he has this magical ability to channel some of the distributed rage and frustration that I sometimes feel (don’t lie, you have those moments too) into extra-concentrated snark. And her comments on the uses and misuses of web 2.0 (what a bloated, meaningless term) are spot-on.

My Abstract for the Questioning Authority Conference

2 Mar

See conference page here.

No, You Can’t Cite Wikipedia – But Not for the Reasons You Think

While much of the debate about the use of wikipedia in academic settings, particularly academic libraries, has to do with questions of reliability and authenticity, a more fundamental question regarding the use of encyclopedias and the librarian’s role in helping a patron to credential knowledge—related to the basic question of the purpose of academic writing–has been largely ignored.

If part of a librarian’s role is to help patrons determine criteria for what counts as legitimate knowledge and then evaluate sources based on these criteria, wikipedia is an ideal teaching tool. The nature of wiki software allows users to review the debate, see how the “sausage” of knowledge production is made. Similar cycles of writing, editing, fact-checking and debating approaches that happen behind the scenes in traditional publishing are laid bare for the world to see and evaluate in the wiki model.

At a more abstract level, wikipedia offers librarians and researchers an opportunity to deconstruct the process of the production of knowledge, to evaluate how particular epistemes are maintained and who maintains them (Foucault 1966). After all, just as traditional publishing is controlled by an elite and tied to an epistemic agenda, so too is wikipedia controlled by an “oligarchy” of frequent contributors who tend to belong to specific patterns of race, class, gender and sexuality. What does it mean that the “world’s knowledge” as represented on wikipedia is largely western-, white- and male-created? What lessons can we draw from this fact to help inform our patrons’ research?

Finally, I will conclude this presentation with an explanation of how wikipedia conforms to the purpose of academic writing, be it analytic or synthetic.  I often tell patrons that the reason one doesn’t cite wikipedia is because one shouldn’t cite any encyclopedia – an academic paper aims to explore tensions within a topic, not to regurgitate facts. Source material from any encyclopedia is simply too superficial for use in higher education and doesn’t allow the paper-writer to develop his or her analysis, to give the topic his or her own spin. Perhaps ironically, then, if the purpose of academic research is to explore controversies, contradictions and tensions, wikipedia is a far better source than a “closed-source” encyclopedia, because on wikipedia the memory of a debate about an article lives in the background of the article itself, available for the user to peruse.

the home stretch

2 Mar

I graduate from library school in about eight weeks, and anything could happen after that. There are, however, interesting projects in the works.

  • Two papers for the Questioning Authority conference — one on my own about the real teaching value of wikipedia (it’s not what you think — I’ll post the abstract later, maybe) and one about how to navigate the different and converging knowledge cultures of libraries and IT in an e-library environment.
  • I’m still thinking through my gender and labor paper, but it may be a chance to get back to a few ideas about gendered professional development, public space and public knowledge, and the gendered nature of the service sector.
  • My Aluka project. More on this in another post, but it is the brilliant, possibly redeeming red-headed stepchild terror of the semester.
  • Looking for work!
  • Curriculum committee project — addressing performance gaps by gender in tech-intensive courses. I did a few interviews this weekend and am working hard to turn it all into some sort of usable evaluation plan.

More on each of these later…

project scope

7 Dec

In addition to all of that lovely reading, I’ll also be doing a four-credit project.

I originally wanted some way to think about continuing professional development (particularly training new technologies/information technology) for mid-career librarians, operating under the assumption of a knowledge gap, and was approaching this problem through the feminist/community/zine/DIY tradition.

Thinking about it more, I think what’s more interesting than “fixing” a knowledge gap would be first, ascertaining whether one exists, and second, thinking about how knowledge is acknowledged in professional environments.

So, in some ways, I’m not sure where this project will go. I was excited about the idea of actually producing something – a graphic tutorial, I guess – about not just how particular resources can be used, but also about how to re-frame conversations about technology so that they aren’t conducted in fear and uncertainty (and with the associated jargon and gaslighting that too often happens). I was talking to a friend who works as a librarian at the AADL who mentioned that mid-career librarians with whom he works are often apprehensive about calling tech services — which is odd, I think, because librarians produce a culture where asking questions is okay, encouraged, and the reference interview is all about making people understand that they’re not stupid for not knowing this already. So, I was thinking about producing some sort of material that helps de-mystify the tech training process — maybe thinking about tech support the way one thinks about a reference interview.

And again, I assume a knowledge deficit. I think that the first order of business is to do some research, both within the professional literature and talking to persons who think about this regularly (professional librarians) to see what the state of mid-career professional development is, what people really know and what they’re presenting to their communities, and where the need lies.

Regardless of my findings, I’m not convinced that there isn’t a place for conceptualizing what continued professional development for librarians would look like — there are two models that I’m grappling with, here. First is the university extension service model, by which these people would be sitting in the same bullshit classes that I find myself in (although, hopefully, they wouldn’t be infantilized to the same degree that we are, and I certainly hope it wouldn’t operate under the same usurious tuition model). Writing a “fantasy” proposal of how my school could reach out to the rest of the state could be an interesting exercise and culmination of my research.

The other approach would be the zine/DIY model, which honestly sounds like a lot more fun but would sort of do different work. I would need to do quite a bit of research about how this kind of community learning happens, and what makes for an effective guide. There’s also the problem of not providing the same credentialing mechanism. I firmly believe that a funny, smart, clear piece of literature could have taught me more about professional searching than fourteen weeks in a classroom did, but my classroom experience is what makes me ALA accredited.

This is where, I hope, my reading projects will dovetail nicely into this project — I want to understand how people demonstrate knowledge, how (if!) they’re rewarded for it, and how this works across professions and race and gender lines.


plenty of librarians here – scope of work

4 Dec

Oh, yeah, I’m supposed to be thinking about librarians. Below is the scope of work for two credits of reading about labor, librarians, gender, information technology, tacit knowledge and the digital divide (among other related topics, as they surface).

What I Want to Know: (questions subject to change!)

  • What is the process by which the value of a person’s labor is determined?
  • Through what means do workers represent themselves to capital and to one another? How do historians represent workers from the past in a responsible manner, and to what end is this done?
  • What is the nature of group consciousness or class consciousness among women workers, if such concepts exist? How has this changed over time?
  • I want to know more about the origins and development of librarianship in Europe and North America. How did it become a gendered profession?
  • What do librarians do? (I think that this is a much more complicated question than it appears to be.) How are their performances measured?
  • What processes make technology scary, special, mysterious, or otherwise contribute to the fact that we can all be somewhat idiotic in our compensation systems for people who work with technology? How has technological prowess been gendered male and what is the reality of the “digital divide?” What exactly does that mean, anyway?

Keeping Track

Each week, I will write 500 words on this very blog about what I’m reading, what I think about it, and how it relates to my central questions. Depending on how my counterpart project goes, this may all end up as a kick-ass lit review for an article about these subjects.


I will choose, in consultation with the project adviser, the first six weeks of readings in early January. We will choose the readings for the final eight weeks after project trajectories emerge.

Possible themes and readings include:

Weeks 1-2 Labor 101 – Revisiting Favorites and Stuff I’ve been Meaning to Read

Here I want to get at a sense of the genealogy of labor history, what historians of labor worry about, and what kinds of methods have been used to understand workers in the past.

  • Selections from Marx (Das Kapital), Hobsbawm, Scott (“The Sears Case” and “A Statistical Representation of Work: La Statistique de l’industrie a Paris, 1847-1848” in Gender and the Politics of History), Thompson
  • Geoff Eley. “Labor History, Social History, ‘Alltagsgeschichte’: Experience, Culture, and the Politics of the Everyday–a New Direction for German Social History?” Journal of Modern History 61 (June 1989): 297-343.
  • Alf Lüdtke, “What Happened to the ‘Fiery Red Glow’?” in The History of Everyday Life
  • others

Weeks 3-4 Gendered Workers Today

  • Robin Leidner, “Serving Hamburgers and Selling Insurance: Gender, Work and Identity in Interactive Service Jobs” Gender and Society 1991
  • Christine L. Williams, “The Glass escalator: Hidden Advantages for Men in the ‘Female’ Professions” Social Problems 1992
  • Joan Acker “Hierarchies, Jobs, and Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organizations,” Gender and Society, Vol. 4 No. 2, June. pp. 139-158.
  • Annette Barnardt, Matina Morris, and Mark S. Handcock . “Women’s Gains or Men’s Losses? A Closer Look at the Gender Gap in Earnings,” American Journal of Sociology 101, pp. 302-328.
  • Nancy Maclean, “The Hidden History of Affirmative Action: Working Women’s Struggles in the 1970s and the Gender of Class” in Feminist Studies 25(1), 1999: 43-78.
  • Alice Kessler-Harris, In Pursuit of Equality: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th Century America, Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • others

Week 5 The Technology Problem

I have almost no familiarity with the literature in this area, so I’m going to have to count on my project mentor for suggestions. I’m mostly interested in problems of how technology becomes gendered and the related process of how it becomes reified (dare I say fetishized?)

Week 6 The Rewards Systems

Here’s where we get into the interesting stuff – not just compensation, but the systems by which compensation is measured, the place of tacit knowledge, the gendered structures/roots of rewards systems, etc.

let’s jump right in, shall we?

13 Nov

Part of the reason why the University of Michigan kept a library school while its “peer” institutions (U of Chicago and Columbia) were closing theirs had to do with how Michigan saw its mission. Instead of training rank-and-file librarians, Michigan claimed (and, in coded language, still claims) to teach the future library directors. This means that library students here have traditionally been male, and that the library school didn’t suffer from the student drain that others did when more professions opened to women.

Librarianship is an inherently gendered profession, and this “gendering” manifests itself in different ways. Here’s a study from the American Libraries Association from the late ’90s that discusses the representation (and pay! don’t forget pay!) problem among library directors.

In short, while only 32 percent of academic librarians are male, 43 percent of academic library directors are male. Twenty-one percent of public librarians are male, but 35 percent of public library directors are male.

Here’s my favorite part. Women directors of academic libraries make $58,202 to men’s $62,961 and women directors of public libraries make $64,549 to men’s $75,383.

That’s correct, folks, a more than $10,000 difference for the same job.