Author Archives: kriskniffen

#10: In Which I Look Back and Reflect

Looking back over the course of this semester, I can’t help but feel that I have learned much that I can take forward into my future career, and that my perceptions have developed in a number of important ways.

The lectures on ethical issues and the assignment in which I was made to evaluate the complexities of an ethical dilemma have provided me with a stronger sense of the mores and values that define our profession, and of how to evaluate conflicts between those ethics when there is no way to go forward without some compromise. The fact that there often will have to be compromise is, in itself, an important lesson.

My earlier journal entries on possible positions that I would be interested in holding have refined my understanding of the sorts of qualifications that I must seek and of the ones that I already hold. It has helped to reaffirm my belief in the value of my joint MA/MLIS degrees, and has also suggested the value of continuing improvements such as archival certification.

The blogs that I read lead me to a number of interesting new ideas and issues – from the need for reform in information agencies’ dealing with publishers, to new concepts of what collection development can mean. The idea that people can hold information that has never been written down, for example, and that asking these people to conduct programming and share their knowledge constitutes a form of collection development, is an exciting concept that ties to a more refined definition of information that I have developed in large part thanks to this course. It is important for all information professionals to remember that information is an intangible thing that comes in many, many forms – and that creativity in figuring out how to make use of all those forms is a professional necessity.

This course has helped to reinforce my understanding of how people seek information, and has shown me that our tendency as humans to always take the easiest route means that making information as accessible as possible is one of any information agencies’ most important goals. The greater availability of information that is only a click away will make it more and more likely that the quality of information that the average person finds will continue to decrease, unless information agencies and professionals continue to work to ensure that quality resources are accessible to all. My knowledge of the access problem in general has also benefited from a greater consciousness of the digital divide, which I have been lucky enough to never have a problem with but which is a real impediment to far too many users. At the same time, I’ve come to have a greater appreciation for the variety of technologies employed by information professionals, and for the need of keeping abreast of them as they continue to develop.

Finally, I have come to value the concepts of networking, mentorship, and practical experience. As valuable as this and other classes have been, I find that the idea of getting out into the world to meet people and to get hands-on experiences is an oft repeated one, and one of obvious value. Though I have only been volunteering in an archive for a month, now, I nevertheless feel that this will be an invaluable step in my education – and one that I may well not have taken, if this class had not directly led to my visiting that archive and meeting their staff.

It’s like I’ve said before – when I first decided that I wanted to be part of the information profession, I did it largely because of my personal love for history, and because I wanted to help share that passion with others. Now, however, I feel that there is more to it. It isn’t just about enjoyment – though that is valuable in itself – it’s also about helping people to connect with information that makes their lives easier, whether it be helping students to access material for school, the unemployed to connect with job-hunting resources, or tracking down records to make sure retirees get the pensions they’re entitled to. I have always believed that understanding history had a practical application in that it is the only way to understand the present, but I now feel that the practical assistance information professionals can provide goes even beyond that. Information agencies truly are providers of an essential service – and I continue to look forward to helping them do so.

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#9: In Which Some Assumptions are Revisited

Way, way back at the beginning of this semester I kicked off my reluctant-blogger career by listing three assumptions that I held about the LIS profession. Though these have not changed in any radical sense in the time since, they have evolved noticeably as a result of my experience in this (and other) LIS courses.

My first assumption, that the LIS profession was going to give me the career I wanted, has – happily – not gone away. This is not to say that it hasn’t changed at all, however. As a direct result of the library visit assignment, where I visited two archives and conducted interviews with staff members, the assumption that there would be some sort of career that fit me within the LIS umbrella became the certainty that I wanted to work in museum archives. This conclusion was inspired in large part by my visit to the archive at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American history, but also by my time in Wayne State’s introductory archiving course, “Archival Administration.”

My second assumption, that LIS professions can be found almost anywhere, likewise hasn’t gone away – instead it has simply continued to expand. Everything from browsing job postings for one of my previous journal entries to reading about a classmate’s visit to the IRS library has made it increasingly clear to me that people and institutions that gather, preserve, organize and disseminate information. And with the increasing commoditization of information and the spread of digital content, the field can only continue to expand. I should also note that the final sentence regarding this assumption in my previous post certainly remains the same – I have a lot to learn about how big the world of LIS professions truly is.

My final assumption, that LIS professionals are both essential and powerful, has only been reinforced by the numerous examples I have encountered throughout the semester. My research on how the use of eBooks and eReaders in libraries has made people with print disabilities’ lives easier.  Hearing the story of the woman who only managed to get her pension because of records found at an archive. Reading about and discussing how prison libraries are helping to teach inmates critical survival skills that will hopefully prevent them from back into old habits. Again and again this class has demonstrated to me the importance of the LIS profession and the power and responsibility that everyone in this profession has. LIS professionals can genuinely be life savers – and I seriously doubt the anything could change my belief (not just an assumption, anymore) about that. 

#8: In Which I Blog About Blogs

In order to dip my toes into the great big sea of librarian bloggers, I decided to select and follow two distinctly different sorts of blogs.

The first, written by Jenica Rogers, the Director of Libraries at the State University of New York at Potsdam, is called “Attempting Elegance” and is largely made up (based on the couple months that I read, at least) on her own personal experiences as Director and her musings on the profession. For the months of October and November, this has mostly consisted of a slew of posts about vendor negotiations and how completely ridiculous and unworkable they have become.

These postings were of interest to me because, though I initially wondered if publically airing one’s grievances over vendor negotiations was entirely professional, I quickly came to realize that a lot of what is being asked of libraries by publishers is pretty incredibly unreasonable – and that it is ABSOLUTELY professional to try to fix what is obviously a growing problem for information institutions of all types, not just academic libraries. To give some notion about the problems I’m talking about (and that this blog introduced me to), l’ll start with Rogers’ entry of October 30 – in which she discussed how her library has made the decision not to renew their agreement’s with SAGE because rather than getting the price that was agreed on last year (that year’s fee plus an already negotiated percentage increase) they received a quote 7% higher than they expected – for reasons that SAGE never really got around to explaining, except to say that new content (which the library hadn’t asked for) had been added, making the product more expensive. After relaying this experience, Rogers’ writes that she cannot continue saying yes to these sorts of deals or “doing more with less.”

Almost a month later (with several posts in between that revisited the vendor-library battles), Rogers added an epilogue to the SAGE saga by posting the suggestions that she and her staff had put together to send to SAGE. Included in these recommendations were that publishers stop making libraries buy 100 undesirable titles to get the 10 they want, and that they practice increased transparency about their pricing and simply offer a set price rather than forcing libraries to individually participate in extended, costly negotiations. The full list of recommendations can be found here.

The reason that these posts (and this blog in general) were so arresting to me is that I had frankly never realized what kinds of expectations publishers had for librarians or the kinds of negotiations and ridiculous agreements that collections’ development departments were having to sign on to. In other words, I didn’t realize that this issue existed at all – even though it is an extremely pressing one when the economy is struggling and budgets will probably continue to face the axe. As such, this blog was an amazing eye-opener – and an enjoyable, quick read thanks to Rogers’ casual (and passionate) writing style.

The second blog that I looked at is called “In the Library with the Lead Pipe” and is produced by a core team of librarians as well as other “guest” information professionals from around the world. It’s scope generally proved to be much larger, and the posts were more along the lines of full blown essays rather than the quirky and fun installments of “Attempting Elegance.” Stylistic differences aside, this second blog also tended to diverge significantly from the first in that it covered a much wider slew of issues, because it was written by many more people.

Some of the issues that were covered in the October and November posts of this blog were not especially new to me – the article on how libraries need to start changing to meet the changing nature of information and the more modern conception of libraries posted by Caro Pinto on November 20, for example, wasn’t exactly startling. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth talking about, however, and I had to appreciate the phrasing of some of the issues – as when the author writes of how a lot of traditional “physical” library processes have disappeared, eliminating unskilled library positions, while new digital processes have sprung up in their place, which employ fewer people but require greater expertise. This is a reassuring concept for a library science student, to be sure, and also just one more voice among many advocating for the importance of learning digital/computer based skills.

The most interesting and innovative article posted recently was that of October 9th by the founders of the Library as Incubator Project, Katie Behrens, Erinn Batykefer, and Laura Damon-Moore. The subject of this article was the concept of “Programming as Collection Development,” which argues that inviting local artists and craftspeople to host workshops and the like is not simply community outreach, but a form of collecting ,as the valuable information and skills that these experts exemplify isn’t to be found in books, but in their heads and the lessons they can teach. With that in mind, the article advocates for an increased cooperation between artists and librarians to be produce fun, creative programming to draw patrons from all walks of life and to provide them with a host of new skills and information that goes far beyond more typical library collecting.

As someone from a family of craftspeople (my sister is a jeweller and my father is professionally a tool-and-die maker and also a carver and furniture maker in his spare time), the respect for the skills of artistic and creative people that this article demonstrated was extremely refreshing. I am far too used to hearing tradesmen and craftspeople referred to with derision, as if the things that they know are not of equal merit to the knowledge of university-taught disciplines. To see creative people’s skills and information regarded as the valuable resource that they are, therefore, was a genuine delight – and it’s a concept that I have a hard time arguing with or seeing the downside to. Why not host painters so that they can teach their techniques, or film-makers or DJs? They can teach knowledge too, and likely knowledge that is going to appeal to a significant portion of the public – isn’t that what a library is all about?

By and large the posts of the “In the Library with the Lead Pipe” blog proved very hit or miss with me, but I suspect that this just means they are applicable to a broader audience or that they are, perhaps, touching on issues that I do not yet have an extensive enough background in LIS to appreciate. Regardless, I really can’t say enough good things about the innovative advocacy and programming ideas suggested in their first October post. I’m very glad to have read it.

#7: In Which Some Journals Were Read

In comparing professional journals in the LIS field, my goal was to select one that appeared to be geared towards a part of the field that I am not especially interested in (though to say that I am not interested at all would be much too strong) as well as one that appeared to address exactly the field that I am more interested in. “The Journal of Academic Librarianship” and “Archival Science” fit these two criteria respectively.

The Journal of Academic Librarianship

Intended Audience: The intended audience is, unsurprisingly, academic librarians – in the journal’s own words, the contents are “book reviews on subjects of interest to academic librarians, information on academic library technology issues, research in international librarianship, digests of special reports, and a guide to sources and analysis of library metrics” (W. Arant-Kaspar & W. vanDuinkerken, co-editors in Chief).

Kinds of material: According to the editors, “JAL provides a forum for authors to present research findings and, where applicable, their practical applications and significance; analyze policies, practices, issues, and trends; speculate about the future of academic librarianship; present analytical bibliographic essays and philosophical treatises.”  It also offers “book reviews on subjects of interest to academic librarians, information on academic library technology issues, research in international librarianship, digests of special reports, and a guide to sources and analysis of library metrics” (W. Arant-Kaspar & W. vanDuinkerken, co-editors in Chief). Some of the examples from the latest issue include “Building a Program that Cultivates Leaders from Within the Organization,” “Factors Predicting the Importance of Libraries and Research Activities for Undergraduates,” and a book review for Maura Seale’s “Build a Great Team: One Year to Success” (Volume 39, Issue 6, November 2013).  

Peer-reviewed?: The journal is refereed, according to Ulrich’s Directory.

Interesting characteristics: It is a bi-monthly journal. Its contributions are international, as is its readership. It has been going since 1975 (Ulrich’s Global Series Directory).

Archival Science

Intended Audience: Stacie Williams, a reviewer on Ulrich’s Global Series Directory, says that the journal is aimed at “archives students and educators” and is “useful to readers pondering cultural self-determination, and… questions about the legitimacy of records and history” (2013).

Kinds of material: Thematic academic articles based on specific case studies and research from around the world, all relating to archives and cultural heritage (Williams, 2013).

Peer-reviewed?: Yes, according to Ulrich’s Directory.

Interesting characteristics: It puts out four issues a year, most of which follow some sort of general theme. Their latest issue, for example, relates to the societal impact of archives – one article is entitled “Archivist as activist: lessons from three queer community archives in California” while another is called “Social Justice Impact of Archives: a Preliminary Investigation” (Volume 13, Issue 4, December 2013).

Comparing The Two…

Probably the most important similarity between these two journals is that they are both peer reviewed, which effectively means that the research methods employed in all of the new research articles have been vetted by the professional community and are trustworthy – meaning that in all likelihood students and professionals alike can adapt their lessons and take something valuable away from them. To put it more simply, they both have a reasonable likelihood of being valid and useful tools for people in the information science field.

The most significant difference between the two is probably their scope – as much The Journal of Academic Librarianship is targeted specifically at academic librarians and students intending to pursue that field, a lot of the articles can be more broadly applied to the entirety of the library and archiving field. One of their most recent articles, “Do Library Fines Work?: Analysis of the Effectiveness of Fines on Patron’s Return Behavior at Two Mid-sized Academic Libraries” by Jan S. Sung and Bradley P. Tolppanen, for example, would probably apply just as well to any other lending institution. So in that sense the JAL has a more general applicability for a bigger audience and is probably more broadly useful. By contrast, Archives Science really is just for archivists and archival students – which isn’t inherently a bad thing, but which will keep it from ever being as prominent a source for the information field at large.

In terms of what these similarities and differences say of the field as whole, that’s pretty clear. The fact that both journals are refereed suggests the high level of professionalism and academic standards of the field. Furthermore, the existence of both extremely broadly applicable journals and very tightly focused ones speaks to the significant number of similarities that tie all library professionals together as well as to the high degree of specialization that can be found within the field.

References

Arant-Kaspar, W., vanDuinkerken, W. (Ed.s). (November, 2013). The Journal of Academic Librarianship 39 (6).

Jackson, A. (2013). [Review of the Journal The Journal of Academic Librarianship, edited by W. Arant-Kaspar & W. vanDuinkerken]. Ulrich’s Web Global Serials Directory.

Ketelaar, E., Yakel, E., Andeson, K. (Ed.s). (December, 2013). Archival Science 13 (4).

Ulrich’s Web Global Serials Directory. Archival Science. Retrieved from http://ulrichsweb.serialssolutions.com.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/title/1386215353995/275476

Ulrich’s Web Global Series Directory. The Journal of Academic Librarianship. Retrieved from http://ulrichsweb.serialssolutions.com.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/title/1386216064935/65638

Williams, S. (2013). [Review of the Journal Archival Science, edited by E. Ketelaar, E. Yakel, & K. Anderson]. Ulrich’s Web Global Serials Directory.

#6: In Which We Take a Look Back

Looking back at what I’ve written in the first half of this blog’s scope, I can see a few trends emerging. For one thing, there is the eternal archive vs. museum debate, which I mention in pretty much every single post. Regardless of the assigned topic, I am forever tying it back to my history roots – which makes sense, seen as that is what this degree program is all about for me.

One development in the archive/museum debate that hasn’t been demonstrated here yet is the discovery of the ideal answer – the best of both worlds – the museum archive. My visit to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History to interview the archive’s director, LaNesha DeBardelaben, resulted in the realization that the best decision to make might be no decision at all – I should just do both!

This latest discovery ties into my newest ‘career development’ decision, which is to volunteer at the Wright and get a little hands on experience in museums and archives both (which is something I have mentioned wanting to do in earlier entries). I had my first day of volunteering last Thursday, which was an absolute delight – for my first day they simply asked me to tour the museum to get a better feel for what they did, which was less like work and more like a special treat. Their core exhibit, “And Still We Rise” is probably one of the most cleverly constructed exhibits I have seen (and I have been to a lot of museums).

The other trend I see developing in my posts here is probably a little less positive but also a little bit inevitable – as time has gone on I have become a little less flowery/gabby, and a lot more sporadic in my updates. The main reason for this is that I’m a grad student – I’m busy! It has been crunch time for a while now thanks to all my many many projects, and this blog has fallen a little by the wayside. Unfortunately, as I said, I do see this as a little bit inevitable – especially seen as blogging is not a thing that comes naturally to me.

So what do these two little reflections suggest for the future? On the downside, I’m guessing sporadic-ness will continue to be an issue though I am determined to make sure that I will still get everything done… eventually. On the upside, I can see some positive developments beginning to occur beyond the blog – things I previously wrote about are now turning into actions. I’m getting out there to get some hands-on experience and do a little networking, and I’ve stumbled on an interesting answer to the archives or museums question. Mostly, things are looking up for the rest of the semester and for the rest of my studies as a whole.

#5: Job Analysis, Part 2: In Which Some Qualifications are Weighed

What do I need?

The two jobs considered in part 1 either require candidates to have or desire them to have the following qualifications, which can be roughly divided into the categories of “education” and “on the job experience”:

Education

  • MLIS
  • A second MA/Concentration in the Humanities
  • Evidence of continued professional growth
  • C. A.
  • C. R. M.
  • Excellent communications skills
  • Knowledge of Encoded Archival Description (EAD)
  • Knowledge of Manuscript Cataloguing
  • Knowledge of digital preservation & Conservation
  • Knowledge of Management of Confidential/Sensitive Records
  • Knowledge of Databases
  • Knowledge of metadata & encoding

Experience

  • 3 years experience
  • Supervisory Experience
  • Experience with grant writing
  • Experience/Knowledge of Teaching and Creative Display making
  • Public Service Experience
  • Experience with Academic Institutions
  • Experience with Archivists’ Toolkit and Aeon

What do I have?

The only of these qualifications that I can be said to currently have is excellent communication skills – thanks to my B.A. in history and my ongoing M.A. work in the same, I have had to become reasonably good at written communication (many, many essays) and also oral communication (many, many presentations). I also have quite a lot of teamwork to my name.

Beyond this, though I do not have my MLIS and my “second MA” in “the humanities,” I feel reasonably confident in counting them as a “have” seen as I am working on them as we speak and will have them when I do enter the job-market. For the Kentucky job, which specifically listed a concentration in Southern history as an asset, my M.A. will make me particularly well suited – my major area of focus is in American history through the Civil War era, and my research is on the experiences and mentalities of Confederate soldiers during and after the Civil War.

How do I get the rest?

The rest of the slightly daunting list of qualifications is made up of things that I do not yet have. Happily, however, they are made somewhat less daunting by the fact that I am in several cases likely to acquire them as a result of things I am already doing. For example, all of the “Knowledge of” qualifications are ones that I expect to acquire as a result of the courses that I will be taking to complete my MLIS. Taking the Archival Administration, Digital Curation and Preservation, Intro to Archival and Library Conservation, and Administration of Historical Agencies  courses should go a considerable way to providing me with those qualifications.

What knowledge-based qualifications I don’t get from my schooling I anticipate acquiring and honing while preparing for the Academy of Certified Archivists exam (and possibly the Records Management exam as well). Though I have not yet determined with absolute certainty that certification is something I will pursue, the evidence of these two job postings’ suggests that it could be an asset in keeping me competitive. I also feel that it would constitute the “evidence of continued professional growth” that the Kentucky job was seeking.

In terms of the experience-related qualifications, the obvious truth is that before I can get a more advanced position like the ideal ones I listed below, I am going to need to find an entry level position and work my way up. Ideally, because I do have an interest in eventually holding higher management positions, these earlier jobs should include a supervisory role. At minimum, whatever position I do find will hopefully help me to become acclimatized to the various roles I will need to have some competencies in. It should be mentioned, also, that several of these “experience” qualifications will also likely be answered by my educational pursuits – experience of Archivists’ Toolkit, for example, will almost certainly come about in my archiving coursework, and I know for a fact that grant writing is among the skills taught in the core courses of the graduate history program.

In short, I believe that the skills I am going to need for the kinds of jobs I would like to have are going to come about as a result of me keeping on keeping on, just as I already am. The education I have planned for myself is an excellent start, and after that it is just going to be a matter of getting myself out there and getting the experiences that I need. In the short term, I can already work on those experiences right now, by engaging in volunteering at local archives like the archive of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (where I will hopefully be starting to volunteer sometime next week.)

#4: Job Analysis, Part 1: In Which Some Positions are Considered

As I have previously said, my career goals at this point can be summed up in one word: history. I don’t yet know exactly what I want to do or how I’ll get there, but I know it has to involve history. I usually sum this sentiment up by saying I want to work in archives or museums.

A quick glance at the job market has reinforced my impression that archives would be an excellent fit. In particular, the following two jobs leaped out at me:

  1. Head of Special Collections & Archives at Morehead State University, in Kentucky.
  2. University Archivist & Records Manager at the Joyner Library of East Carolina University, in Greenville, North Carolina.

The first position, Head of Special Collections & Archives, involves managing the special collections department and providing leadership in terms of the preservation of and access to archival and manuscript collections. The role also involves acting as the records keeper of the university.

In terms of qualifications, a MLIS degree is absolutely required, as is at least 3 years of professional experience, excellent communications skills, and some evidence of continued professional growth. Other desired qualifications include accreditation as a Certified Archivist, experience or coursework  in special collections or archives. They also desire knowledge of Encoded Archival Description and manuscript cataloguing, supervisory experience, knowledge of computer programs relating to archives, and a concentration in the humanities, such as Kentucky or Southern history. They also value experience with grant-writing, digital preservation and conservation, and teaching and creative displays.

The second position, University Archivist & Records Manager, involves supervising three other staff members and managing the university archives and records management programs. This would include appraisal and selection of records, management &disposition of non-permanent records, archival management, public services and outreach. The position’s responsibilities would include developing policies on retention of records (electronic records included), working with staff and donors, promoting the programs on campus, providing reference services, and so forth.

 The required qualifications for this job are an MLIS, at least 3 years of experience in archives, knowledge of the management of confidential and sensitive records, knowledge of databases, public service experience, knowledge of metadata and encoding, and superior collaborative, interpersonal and written communication skills. Additional desirable qualifications include a second master’s degree in a related field, experience with academic institutions, experience with Archivists’ Toolkit and Aeon, supervisory experience, certification as an archivist or records manager, and experience with public relations, exhibits, and outreach.

In both cases, these are not entry level positions – I would first have to obtain at least 3 years of experience elsewhere, likely more. However, in both cases these positions would also put me in a very good place in terms of both institution and position – the descriptions of the duties involved suggest a hands-on interaction with the physical traces of history that I would find highly enjoyable, and a university archive is an appealing locale, particularly when both of those universities are in the South, which is my area of specialization for my Master’s in History. So essentially when it comes to the question of where these jobs would put me along my career path, the answer would be a very comfortable place that I can imagine myself enjoying for a long time.