Category Archives: in practice

So, how’s that teaching going?

I was excited to get back into the classroom this fall after a relatively light spring of instruction sessions and a very quiet summer, but nervous too. My job in this library looks very different depending on the season, whereas other librarian jobs can stay largely the same no matter how many students are on campus. It seemed a very long time since I was in the classroom. Reality, it was only about 4 months.

Anyway, I’ve been reflecting on last year’s experience and how I was feeling at that time versus how I’m feeling these days. What a comfort it is to have some previous work to fall back on! I do all my lesson planning in Evernote. Each note with the name of the class and the name of the professor. Not only can I see a long list of possible places to start on any given class, but I also have a history of exactly what I did last time in any particular class.

Last year, I kept the instruction program largely intact. I wanted to make sure that I fully understood the campus and my approach to instruction before I started changing anything. This year I have started to really dive into planning our instruction program overall. What do our students need? Where and when do they need it? Where can library instruction fit into mid-level courses? What does an appropriate arc of library instruction from freshmen through senior year look like? What skills does it make sense to address right away and what skills can wait? What skills can be taught asynchronously through videos and what skills need guidance?

This spring I took part in a writing curriculum assessment focused on the final papers in English 101. Dork that I am, I had a great time doing this, and it was incredibly informative not only for the library instruction program but as for me as a teacher. I was gratified to discover that the things I saw in the papers were largely the same things that the more experienced professors saw. I’m on the right page.

While I’m trying to answer the big questions above, I thought I’d revisit some of the ideas I talked about around this same time last year surrounding how I plan classes. Like I mentioned above, I love Evernote for planning classes. It’s easy to see scope at a glance and to click between lesson plans. When printed from the software (not from the website) the lesson plans print automatically in larger-than-12-point font, which makes them easy to see from a podium or table. It’s easy to add a syllabus or assignment linked into the note. I recently started using the checklist feature to keep track of the professors with required library instruction. Last year, at the suggestion of Char Booth in Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning (seriously, go read that book right now), I kept an ongoing note for each semester where I recorded my reflections for each class I taught. Recording one good and one bad observation is a place to start.

In every lesson plan I try to keep in mind the “what’s in it for me” principle for the students and clearly state that at the beginning of the session. I also make sure to write 2-4 objectives or goals for each lesson, although these are not always stated to the students. I think this is something that happens more often in K-12 settings where teachers have formal teacher training than in a library setting. Writing good objectives isn’t always easy or quick but I achieve an incredible sense of peace by clarifying for myself what I think is most important for the students to do/know. The trick is stating clear objectives with action words and making sure to include the methods by which those objectives will be achieved (“Students will (action words) by (method of achievement).”). Objectives help to focus a lesson to its essential pieces. (See also the short article in the most recent ACRL News by Linda Scripps-Hoekstra titled “Eight Tips from the Trenches: How Experience Teaching High School Informs My Approach to Information Literacy Instruction.”)

I am responsible for assigning classes to other librarians, which also means providing them with materials and lesson plans. As a result, I tend to write very detailed lesson plan outlines (with objectives) so that I can easily pass them off to someone else. I include time estimates in these plans as well, to keep me and the other librarians on track in class. I also put a “prep list” at the bottom of the things needed to teach the class: websites, materials, handouts, etc.

As a general rule, I try to put as much hands-on or discussion based learning into my sessions as possible. I get bored listening to myself talk. Having the students do actual work is more interesting for them and more interesting for me. I’d prefer to structure a lesson so that, by way of class activities and discussions, they have learned as much of my objectives as possible without me standing in the front and waving my arms around. I believe this is the best way for students to learn, but it’s selfish, too. I have the most meaningful interactions with students individually and in small groups. I can increase the likelihood of this happening by, well, putting them into small groups.

What really helps you when you’re planning classes?

What I Did with my Summer

I decided to learn video editing this summer. Because, you know, that’s a totally reasonable thing to learn in three months, one of which was spent mostly in Bangladesh. It took all of those three months, too, let me tell you, and at this point I’d rate my skills only just this side of “Hack.” My approach to video editing is pretty much the same as my approach to Photoshop and InDesign: Find the highest high dive, jump in, and flail around until something works. My approach relies heavily on Google. My approach starts with high expectations and a machete. My approach is not efficient, but now and then it actually works.

Finding Books at Paul Smith’s Library from PSC Library on Vimeo.

This is the first in a planned series of library videos. I unveiled it at the President’s Meeting this morning and I already have requests for my next video. I’m really (really) hoping that the next one doesn’t take me three months.

Notes on the process:

  • I started with a script and the goal to keep it under 2 minutes. I figured that was short enough to get the point and even if the student didn’t catch it all the first time they wouldn’t feel like they were wasting their life to watch it again.
  • Next I created the screencast in Camtasia.
  • I enlisted one of our library techs to play the part of a student and used a library video camera to catch the moving shots.
  • The still photos were taken from my phone.
  • The opening shot was a photo that I messed around with in Photoshop over Christmas break. At the time I didn’t have a plan for it, but it works perfectly for this because the letters stand out clearly against the monotone background but you still get a photo of the library. I tried it with an unaltered photo and it just didn’t look great.
  • I thought I was going to be using Adobe Premiere Elements to do the video editing, but it turned out that Camtasia worked even better because it could handle the zoom and pan and callouts more efficiently in the screencast portions.
  • I still had to edit the video images in Premiere Elements to convert them to a format that Camtasia could import.
  • I had a lot of trouble with exporting the final project from Camtasia into a format that looked good when played in something other than Camtasia. The quality was just awful in everything I tried. It’s also worth noting that I did this on Camtasia 5, and I think that the version is now up to 8, so it’s very outdated. From the tutorials I watched online for the newest version, it seems like most of my problems could have been handled better if I had the newest version.
  • To solve the video quality and format problems, I ended up exporting from Camtasia in .avi format (which looked the best of the versions I tried), importing into Premiere Elements, and then exporting from there in .f4v. Most of the quality issues resolved.

Tips:

  • Microphone pop screens make a world of difference. I made mine out of an old oatmeal container, a pair of pantyhose from the dollar store, a popsicle stick, book glue, and some duct tape. Works a treat. Tutorials here and here.
  • Sound quality is huge. Spend time making sure that you sound right. In my case, it took me forever to figure out how to force my work computer to read from the microphone with the nice pop screen rather than the interior microphone. Don’t give up.
  • I added the background music at the last minute, but I really think it makes the video seem polished. I found mine through Soundcloud.
  • Although I originally figured we would be using YouTube for our videos, I settled on Vimeo instead. YouTube channels are not transferable, which means that if I leave this job, the channel I created under my Google account comes with me. I tried to set up a Google account for the library, but somehow that violated their Terms of Service and I got blocked. Vimeo worked perfectly, had no problems setting up a rather generic account with the first name “PSC” and the last name “Library,” and has better image quality to boot.
  • The one downside to Vimeo is that it doesn’t support closed captioning. Closed captioning is something I really wanted to implement to make the videos fully accessible, but it just didn’t work out this time.

Here’s a little end of the week treat. The library purchased a GoPro Hero camera this spring and we’ve been devising cool things to do with it ever since. This video was my “training wheels” video editing project, and I think it’s hilarious.

How to Confuse Your Livestock from PSC Library on Vimeo.

We’ll be using it to bump up our social media feeds, advertise the GoPro, promote the college, and various other great things. We’re hoping to run a student GoPro competition in the fall, so it will also help seed that. I have a few other potential GoPro videos in the pipeline, one of which involves an axe that nearly ended the GoPro before it even had a chance to shine. Yeah, you heard that right. The Woodsmen threw an axe at my GoPro. I forgave them because the footage is AWESOME.

Library snapshots

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It’s quietly busy tonight in the library. The last few days have been packed for me. Luckily, I’m taking off (most) of the next few days. Monday and Tuesday the weather here was a special treat: Sideways snow for everyone! Today it’s been clear and sunny but the wind is still enough to nearly blow the contacts right out of your eyes.

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This is the view from the second floor of the library. The library is built into a hill and nearly all windows face this view. You can see St. Regis Mountain in the distance and Lower St. Regis Lake in the foreground. I’m very ready for the weather to cooperate enough so I can do the relatively easy hike up the mountain in preparation for much tougher hikes to come this summer.

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This is a poster I designed to publicize an author coming to speak in the library on Tuesday. It’s not my very best design work, but it gets the job done, and I had fun playing around with fonts. Nevis and Junction make very nice poster fonts – all of the text on the poster is one or the other. I discovered a way to get around one of the limitations of free fonts, which sometimes don’t come with italics options. InDesign allows you to change the slant of text, so you don’t need italics!

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The author has written a book on building sustainable food systems. This topic is of interest in one way or another to nearly all our students. In the interest of sustainability, I decided to forgo my usual pattern of writing down call numbers on post-it notes for writing down call numbers on my hand this evening. I feel like I’m in middle school again, only this time it’s not homework.

Notice, I am wearing a summer dress. I am going to will this spring into being even if I have to wear leggings and boots under my coral and white striped dress.

We are learning

It is the tail end of the semester. Capstone freak-outs among the students are in full swing. I taught my last class yesterday. Today, I wrote a personal reflection with headings like “things I did well,” “things I could do better,” “things I like to do,” “things that aren’t my favorite,” and “things I wish I could do.”

In the past there has been very little assessment of our instruction program. Ok, basically no assessment of our instruction program. Before the semester started, I put together a Google form that gets emailed each week to the professors of the previous week’s classes. I relied heavily on the template that Char Booth provides in Reflective Teaching Effective Learning. The form is for evaluating our teaching and approach and also lets professors talk about things they would like us to do in the future. I’ve been impressed with how willing the professors have been to respond to the survey, and I’ve collected lots of data. I have also been keeping a document with my personal reflections of each of the classes I have taught. Certainly, there is room for improvement in this method of assessment. For one thing, it leaves no room for feedback from the students.

Shortcomings aside, I’m glad to have implemented some measures for assessment. I’m also glad that on my reflection, the “things I like to do” outweigh the “things that aren’t my favorite” and “things I do well” and “things I could do better” are equal. As for “things I wish I could do,” well, I’m a dreamer at heart and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Here’s a pared-down reflection:

Things I did well
We have a fully developed workshop in place for our First Year Seminar classes that addresses evaluating websites. Even though this class was not my design, it has been the source of my most satisfying instructional experiences this semester, which is awesome because it’s also the class I teach most often. Related? Probably. I have found ways to make this class my own, and I feel that my personality comes across clearly.

Things I could do better
Bring more focus to non-FYS workshops. They often feel scattered to me. Slow down while talking. I admit I’m a fast talker, but I need to physically remind myself to slow down and be more comfortable with silence. This helps the students absorb and it also allows them space to ask questions.

Things I like to do
I love to connect with students, to talk with them about their research and frustrations, to advise them on strategies, to find that one thing they really need. I also like talking with the professors, gathering insight, and finding ways to support and help them. I absolutely love surprising professors with my ability to add value to their classes.

Things that aren’t my favorite
I dislike being the keeper of citation. I dislike having to teach citation because no one else wants to do it.

Things I wish I could do
I wish I could spend more time talking abstractly about information rather than always being slave to the final product. I feel like I’m doing a lot of “here’s how to find articles” classes, which are absolutely important because most students can’t do it, but I’d also like to be able to talk more about the field of information. Maybe I’m just missing grad school discussions?

How’s the end of semester looking for you?

Know more

I bet you’ve heard this phrase before: “The students know more about it than I do.” The phrase itself is nothing special. It’s the method of delivery that gives it weight. Usually, it’s accompanied by a grudging smile, a shoulder shrug, and/or an exasperated sigh. It’s always used in reference to some digital tool or concept. The person uttering this phrase may be a librarian but is just as likely to be a professor. Generally, it signals a line in the sand. This far and no farther.

This phrase makes me want to cheer, stand tall, and punch a wall. Frequently at the same time.

I want to cheer because it acknowledges an area of “shit you know you don’t know.” And if you’re aware of the existence of something, you’re a step ahead. You know it’s out there somewhere, and you can figure out how to get it.

I stand tall because I am in the business of figuring out how to get it. I am also in the business of digital tools and concepts. This phrase is an opportunity for me to demonstrate the value of libraries and librarians.

I want to punch a wall because this phrase also acknowledges a moment of learning lost. A moment of connection, an exchange of ideas and knowledge between students and teachers disappears.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a professor asking me for help. I love the outside-the-box thinking that pushes a professor beyond comfort. Sure, I’ll step into that moment. I’ll take the glory. I’ll be the one know who knows or can find out. But the underlying fear and assumptions makes me a little uncomfortable.

For one thing, throwing the “digital native” blanket over our students does them a disservice. It has not been my experience that students know significantly more about digital tools than a reasonably connected professor. We hear these statements on the media and believe them without holding them up against our experience of our students. Particularly at an institution like mine, where the majority of our students come from backgrounds that cannot fund the kind of digital connectedness we assume of their generation, these generalizations fall short.

In addition, even when students have more knowledge than a professor on a particular digitally-based topic, they are often one-sided users. They might know how to edit video, but they probably only know one way to do it. That one way might be produce a perfectly good product, but we’re missing out on a chance to expand their options and create critical thinkers. That’s the point of higher education isn’t it?

You know what they say about assumptions, right? Don’t be that guy.

Phone a Friend

I learn a lot from my students. Like, really a lot. For instance, I heard about tardigrades from a student who’s doing her capstone project on them, and they are seriously cool. So cool, in fact, that I can’t stop talking about them. If you ask me what’s new, you’re likely to get an extensive lecture on tardigrades, complete with slightly crazed eyes. Fair warning. (More info here: video :: photo.)

I think that it’s a mark of a good librarian to be excited to learn new things, and I think that the students really appreciate a mindset from a librarian that says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about but I’m going to find out because it sounds really neat.” On the other hand, there are certain things about which we need to project an aura of authority. Things like the process of conducting research. But the reality is that sometimes we have absolutely no idea how to go about doing research on certain topics.

Last week, I got a question about finding zoning laws and easements for a piece of property. The student was conducting usage studies for an environmental studies class. While I do know what zoning laws and easements are, and I have some idea of why he would need to know about them, I had absolutely no idea where to even start looking. It was about 9pm, I was the only librarian around, and the student needed the information by class the next day. Of course. A couple of factors were working against me on this:

  1. I’m new not only to the area but also to the state. In Michigan, I would have had a better idea where to start.
  2. We live in the Adirondack State Park, which means that there are some unique stakeholders and regulations at play.
  3. New York has a county-town-village system that I find confounding.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to save face on this one. I had to tell the student to come back the next morning and talk with the local historian (also known as my boss). No help available from this newly minted librarian.

And yet on other occasions, through a number of slightly panicked emails, frenzied database testing, and only a tiny bit of face-palming I manage to put on a convincingly authoritative presentation on topics about which I knew nothing 48 hours before. Such was the case last week when faced with Intro to Entrepreneurship and a project on market analysis and competition research. I pulled the classic Who Wants to be a Millionaire cop out of phoning a friend. Or emailing, actually. Thanks to some well-timed advice from my friend Ilana Barnes, I managed to pretend that I knew how to conduct business research. In the process, I learned a ton about business research, the resources available through the library, and also some free resources that I can use to supplement our databases. One favorite is this cool project though the NY Times that can help visualize demographic data.

It was a long couple of days, but I’m really glad that I was able to get all the help I needed and more. Working the network, that’s me.  I know loads more than I did last week, although business research does not top tardigrades in cool-factor.

Secrets, revealed

I once heard a quote attributed to Nora Roberts that has stuck with me. I can only paraphrase, because the interwebz does not agree on the wording or even where it came from originally, but it goes something like this: “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.”

Truth, that. Nearly every time I sit down to write something, I have drag myself to the keyboard and repeat this quote to myself. I bribe myself with promises that no matter how bad the word-vomit is, I can’t fix what I haven’t written. And, more than likely, after I’ve finished word-vomiting and get a good night’s sleep, the word-vomit isn’t quite as bad as I’ve imagined. I mean, it’s still pretty bad, usually, just not entirely as bad as I feared. I feel the same about instructional design.

It continually surprises me how long it takes to plan one 50 minute lesson for the first time. This is due in part to the size of the staff here. Because my position is both the instructional designer and the instructor of 80% of the classes, and my predecessor isn’t around to advise, there isn’t much help available on what’s been done in the past in similar situations. Plus, as a brand new librarian, I don’t have a personal instructional repository of activities and approaches that I can tear apart, put back together, and fill in the gaps. I’m starting with a blank page. Is there anything that stares like a blank page? That mocks more heartlessly?

My process looks something like this:

  • Procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate. Writing blog posts is very effective for this.
  • Become overwhelmed as the class date approaches. Check the library’s Facebook page every 5 minutes, hoping that someone new liked it. (Unlikely.)
  • Decide that if I’m going to be on the internet anyway, I might as well do some Google searching to see if anyone else has ideas for how to approach this particular instructional problem.
  • Google search returns loads of LibGuides or lesson plans for elementary school children and not much else.
  • Fret. Take a walk.
  • Thumb through the stack of professional books on my shelf. There’s a bit of help, but nothing really suits.
  • Stare into the middle distance for a solid 45 minutes.
  • Spin around in my chair a few times.
  • Get up and go next door to run some ideas past a colleague.
  • Finally sit down and open Evernote where I cut and paste intros and conclusions from previous classes. There. Now my page isn’t blank anymore.
  • Start to fill in the gaps. Finally start working in that mental place where someone could walk up behind you and scare you to death without even trying.
  • Work, work, work.
  • End of the day. Go home.
  • Come back the next day. Hey! My page is not only filled, but it’s not entirely crap!
  • Fix, fix, fix.
  • Teach.
  • Revise.

Slowly, I’m building a list of classes and approaches. I’m filling pages. I’m getting to the place where I can evaluate what’s working and what needs to be changed. I’m approaching editability. Slowly.

Incidentally, I can’t recommend Char Booth’s book Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning more highly for new teacher-librarians. It’s an invaluable resource and help guide with loads of suggestions for other reading, too. It’s extremely readable, and there are many, many suggestions that are immediately helpful. Go get it.

Go

Last night, I was lucky to have dinner with a professor of mine from grad school. I’ve been feeling a bit homesick lately, in a way that has nothing to do with wanting to be somewhere else and everything to do with craving familiarity. It was just what I needed to see a face I know and trust, and we had a wonderful evening.

Among other things, she asked if I felt that the program at University of Michigan prepared me for my job. I told her that I was very well prepared for my job, but with the stipulation that I was an extremely proactive student. I am often frustrated by people who think that education is a passive process. There is no program anywhere that is exactly perfect in its entirety for every student. I read and hear a lot of complaining by library school students about how their program is falling short or even failing them. Criticism is necessary for programs to change and continue to be relevant, but students are ultimately responsible for their own education, especially at a graduate level. Ask for what you want from your program, but be prepared to get it another way. Sometimes going off-road requires sacrifice, but it will pay off in the end. You cannot simply show up to class and expect a good result.

Here are some pro-tips from my experience for getting the best out of grad school:

  1. I knew what I wanted. I went into graduate study with intent. Before I even accepted at position at the University of Michigan, I had done my research not only into the different options for getting an ALA accredited degree but also into the field of libraries. I did job shadowing at 3 different places before the ink on my application was dry. I wanted to fully understand what it meant to be a librarian and in what kind of library I would be happiest. One of these job shadowing experiences led to an unpaid summer internship before I even started school. I got no school credit, no money, and I commuted 1.5 hours one way twice a week, but the experience was completely invaluable. In contrast to other students who didn’t really know why they were in graduate school but were hoping to find out, I walked through the doors on the first day of class with a direction.
  2. I read job ads religiously. I cannot overstate how important this was to my education. At the beginning of graduate school, all of the requirements in job ads looked completely overwhelming. I felt like I would never be qualified. As the semesters went by, I was able to understand how classes that looked less relevant on the surface could contribute to the knowledge and skills required by the ads, and I was able to direct my class choices and internships to address the gaps I noticed in my skill set.
  3. I said yes. I talked briefly before about saying yes when talking about starting a new job. The “yes” is metaphorical, mostly, but it can also be reality. Be interested. Be excited. Don’t let others bring you down. Say yes to office hours, to study groups, to being an officer in a student organization. Say yes to that intriguing project that you know nothing about but that makes you think. Saying yes isn’t a blanket to pull over legitimate questions or a push off the high dive but rather an attitude of positivity and making the best of it. Say yes.
  4. I went the extra mile. Have a paper or project that you spent a lot of time on for class? Turn it into a workshop, presentation, or poster and find an avenue to show it off. There are plenty of opportunities at local and national conferences, webinars, or even student-run conferences. Often, there is support available from your program to help with costs, but you have to get accepted first. You may even find the opportunity to present as professional development to faculty and staff within your school or university. Need to design a poster for a class presentation? Take the opportunity to move beyond a tri-fold, scissors, and construction paper. Design and print a  poster in a program like InDesign. Not only will your poster look super professional, but you will have learned the basics of designing a conference level poster and you’ll be able to put “graphic design” and “InDesign” on your resume and a jpeg of the final design on your portfolio website. And that in-class poster presentation? Treat it as professionally as if it was at a conference. Consider it free practice.
  5. I kept an open mind, even when it was hard. Neither life nor grad school is all puppies and rainbows. Plans will fall through. You might not get that incredible internship that would be absolutely perfect. Be prepared for plan B, and be prepared to make the most of it. Those classes you hate? Those classes that really aren’t your thing but you’re stuck with it? There is still something to be learned, even if it’s just the ability to talk somewhat intelligently with the people whose thing it is. The world of information is vast and deep and it is no longer ok to ignore the parts you wish would disappear. You need to know a little bit about everything, even those things you dislike.

The most important piece of advice I can pass on is something we tell our students all the time. Ask. Just ask. Ask for what you need. Ask often and ask repeatedly. Ask administrators and professors. Ask other students. Ask the blogosphere. Ask local libraries and organizations. Go out and get what you need. It’s your education, after all, and you’re in charge of it.

Did you get the license plate of the week that just hit me?

1943 NY license plate

I’m having A Week. As it always seems to, everything has happened at once. Classes started. A new colleague arrived in the library. The library staff is tiny, so it has meant extra work for me to make sure that he’s set up properly. All of this is complicated by the fact that our incredible Systems Librarian has gone on sabbatical. He’s working on a cool and brain-clearing project, but I am without the rock that I have leaned on in my process of learning to be a real, professional librarian. Now, I’m that rock for someone else. Three months just isn’t enough time to achieve rock-like status.

In addition, we were unsuccessful in finding someone to fill the rather large shoes left by our Systems Librarian, which means that I am effectively also the Systems Librarian. And all of that has meant that properly setting up the new librarian has taken much more time and effort than would be typical of someone in my job description.

I have spent lots of time talking with students, which I love. I’m so glad to know that I love it. I love my job still, even with students. Even because of students. I love students because every now and then something like this will happen and make all the craziness seem worth it:

Scene: In the library at the student’s computer. We’ve just covered how to ILL a book chapter and now we’ve tracked down everything written by the author, who seems to do lots of research in the student’s topic area. Previously, the student had no idea how to find an author’s body of work.

Student: You just taught me something. You should be a teacher.

Me: I am a teacher. Technically I’m faculty.

Student: Oh. Well, you’re a really good teacher.

I glowed.

And then I thought. The student assumed I wasn’t a teacher. That even though the student had librarians stand up in class and teach, they weren’t “teachers.” Frankly, I found it a little upsetting that the student’s perception of “teacher” was so narrow. I think this all gets back to people’s perceptions of “librarian” and “teacher” as a professions. And I think it gets at what Jessica was saying on her post at Letters to a Young Librarian about not knowing how much teaching to do in a reference transaction. I am still puzzled and frustrated by these definitions. Why does a title matter? I have decided that it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter. To me, “librarian” implies “teacher.” I can teach all day long and never need to be called “teacher.”  In the end, this student was taught, and while I didn’t get a thank you, boy, did I ever get thanked. That’s better than a title any day.

I hope she did learn something she’ll remember, and it’s not how to find an author’s body of work. I hope she remembers that teachers are everywhere, with or without a title.

The View from This Side

I’ve been a librarian for about two and a half months now. In so far as I can accurately judge my job without students around to complicate things, I love it. I am intimidated by all that I still have to learn and all the new things I’ll be doing over the next year. At the same time, I’m finding I can make a difference, even when I don’t know absolutely everything about how my library works. I find that if you are simply up front about what you don’t know, what you need to find out, and what you’re going to do next, situations that could be tricky are suddenly smoothed over.

Recently, a friend from library school got a job in a town that I know pretty well. She emailed to ask for recommendations on cool places to go in the area and then she asked for any advice I might have for a new librarian. The recommendations were easy, but my first thought on the second part was, “Why are you asking me?! I have no idea what I’m doing!” Then, I realized that I actually do have a few things to say.

Tech tools that have made a big difference:

  • Workflowy: a great list making tool that I use for brain dumping and forgetting. It was especially helpful in the first few weeks on the job when ideas and questions were coming faster than I could remember them. I like that you can collapse the outline structure so you can keep everything but the list can be as short and manageable as you like.
  • Diigo: for bookmarking. I like that I can tag bookmarks and I can even highlight and annotate webpages and save them for later. This helps keep bookmarks organized and helps me remember why I bookmarked them in the first place.
  • Netvibes: for my feedreader. I wrote about this before, but I’m really loving Netvibes. The premium service is meant for a different kind of customer, but the free service is basically a feedreader with extra bells and whistles. You can create “dashboards” (basically tabs) for different topics that can be hidden from each other so you can effectively ignore topics you don’t want to see all the time while still allowing the information to be collected for later.
  • Evernote: for organizing information. I have lots of folders, and most of them contain notes that are the digital equivalent of scribbles. I also have the web clipping tool installed in my browser for clipping images and I love that I can send important emails to Evernote so everything can be in one place.
  • Zotero: for managing my citations. So. Much. Research. Zotero is currently keeping me sane as I wade through piles of articles and books on assessment in libraries. I add things here as I find them and then I create a note that says whether I have read it or not. If I’ve read it, I add a few sentences about whether it was helpful and in what way I might use the research in my library. It only takes a minute or two and is invaluable as a do-it-and-forget-it tool.

Most of these tools are things I that had heard about or used in a different capacity as a student but that have taken on new meaning and importance as a professional. You’ll notice that I favor tools that allow me to add personal meaning, organize for later, and forget about them until I need the information later.

Here’s some other advice I passed along:

It takes a while to get settled. You’ll feel like you have no idea what you’re supposed to be doing for a good 6 weeks. This is normal. You will figure it out. Absorb everything, observe everything, ask lots of questions, spend time writing and making lists of things you think are cool or interesting or possible or even impossible. It will fall into place.

Introduce yourself to everyone. It’s more awkward to be the one person in the group that is unknown that to take the step right off the bat to say “Hi, I’m Meggan, I’m new.” Not that you need to make the rounds or anything, just make a point to introduce yourself when it makes sense.

Say yes and show interest, especially at the beginning. Don’t necessarily commit yourself, but when someone asks if you want to see how something works or they go off on a long conversation on a topic that’s only really relevant to their job and stop and ask if you’re interested, say yes, ask questions, and follow up. Don’t get caught in the trap that if something’s not in your job description then it means you don’t need to know about it. Not that you need to be able to DO everything, but the more idea you have about how pieces fit together, the better off you’ll be.

Things that are your job and you shouldn’t feel bad about:

  1. Browsing the stacks. You need to know what the holdings are like and the absolutely best way to do this is to shelve books or just spend some time wandering. OPACs are not good for this at all.
  2. Reading. Professional literature, especially. The best part about reading as a professional is that if it doesn’t interest you or isn’t relevant to what you’re doing right then, you don’t have to read the whole thing. It’s not like in school where you have to read stuff you hate. I’ve spend quite a bit of time this summer reading books and journal articles. This is your job, too.
  3. Chatting with people. Whether it’s patrons at the desk or work study students or co-workers or people from other departments, it’s your job to know what’s going on in the library and sometimes that means having an in depth discussion about someone’s dog. This is management, and it has many faces, some of which look like you’re not actually doing anything. Even if you’re not responsible for managing anyone, you’ll build great relationships that will make it easier to get things done in the future.

Do you have any lessons for a very new librarian?