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The Firebrary: The Buffalo Fire Historical Society Digital Library April 29, 2006

Posted by jennimi in About me, Digitization Projects, Library School.
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This past Wednesday, my Digital Libraries class unveiled our digital library, the Firebrary, to the School of Informatics Dean, faculty, fellow students, and significant others. It was an important moment of closure to a semester of hard work and dedication. Somewhat anticlimactic, I think all of us went home and collapsed afterward. First a few general notes of recognition: Kudos and thanks to: Dr. June Abbas – who teaches the class and whose trust and respect is appreciated by all students; Margaret Coghlan and the whole team of Buffalo Fire Historical Society Volunteers for their enthusiasm, expertise, and cooperation; our team of presenters – who had the day’s difficult job; and SOI Dean W. David Penniman, for his support of the project and encouragement. Special thanks also Logan Rath, SOI Lab Graduate Assistant, and the folks over at iMedia for photographing the museum’s items so beautifully. On a personal level I’d also like to thank Scott Smith for all his help and encouragement throughout this semester, and for photographing the class for our “Making Of” page.

Now a few words about the process. This class is quickly becoming one of the favorite classes in our LIS program, tied perhaps with Rand Bellavia’s Collection Development. I wish I had statistics on this but I just know both courses close out quite early. Dr. Abbas teaches the DL class in a team project format. Each student is assigned to a group based on interest, and each group chooses a team manager. I chose Organization and Metadata (“OM”) Team, and my team elected two leaders as it was one of the larger teams: Sheryl Saxby, and myself.

Hitting the ground running, we started by learning what makes a digital library different than a web site. We then researched current best practices in digital librarianship, and began to visualize how our team would approach our duties. All the while, we were having regular meetings at the museum, getting a sense of the collection and the volunteers. Regular class discussions in on-line discussion fora, and during class meetings, were used to bring ideas to the table for everything from the collection development policy to the interface design. In other words, even though our main duties were based on our teams, we all had a say in every aspect of the project.

By the end of the semester OM Team had developed a metadata scheme and policy and had designed an input form with hotlinks to the appropriate explanation in our on-line policy. You can find all of this on our policy. I just want to publicly extend my gratitude to all members of my team: Benjamin Hockenberry, James Hurley, Jinxuan Ma, Sheryl Saxby (co-manager) and Courtney Westbrook for their commitment to the project, work ethic, reliability, willingness to challenge themselves and sometimes work outside their comfort zones, and humor. It was an honor to work with this team and I think we will see great contributions to the field from each of them.

It was a privilege to work with all classmates on this project, and a few of us are actually going through withdrawal now that the project is just about complete and ready to be handed over to our clients. Cindy Moore’s daily communications about digitization issues will be missed. Finally, I have posted a flickr! set documenting the process from my point of view here. More photos will be uploaded within the next week or so.


Attire for entry-level librarian interviews April 27, 2006

Posted by jennimi in About me, Image of Librarians, Library School, marketing yourself.
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Great cross-post by burlapwax over at Washtublibrarian, (quoting from an AUTOCAT survey on heidihoerman.com) about interview attire. Having interviewed for many professional positions, and served on interview committees, I think the advice is sound and generally applies to anyone. When in doubt wear a suit! I was recently stressing about how to afford one and a coworker suggested JCPenney for good sales – they were right. (And Penney’s has petites, and various inseam options! Yay!). Thrift and consignment shops can also be great options for tight budgets. Always present the best YOU you can at an interview. University at Buffalo students can access Career Services for help preparing for interviews and writing resumes.

Personal story: About ten years ago a case management supervisor of mine called me into her office to talk with me about wearing a sweatshirt and jeans to work. I was young, and was assigned to conduct a home visit at a very unhygienic home that day (bugs, food decay, other unmentionables). I didn’t mean to offend, just thought I would dress for the job that day. I felt pretty embarrassed about the reprimand from my supervisor but she said something that has stuck with me for years and has always served me well (and, I promise, will be relevant to the original topic):

“Don’t necessarily dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want“.

Of course there are many complexities and issues with this statement, but overall it is a very good mantra. While we’re students, our employers and practicum supervisors tend to be really understanding about our financial situations and the fact that we may be wearing the same thing for 14 hours (class, lab, practicum, then job, all in the same day sometimes!). But when we get to the interview point and beyond it’s possible expectations will change. Whether or not a particular library/library department will require a dress code once hired, it’s just good practice to dress for success for the interview. Just my two cents on a very dear topic. Others’ insights and experiences on this are more than welcome.

UNYSLA Conference: The Future Is Now – some personal reflections April 23, 2006

Posted by jennimi in About me, Conference, marketing yourself, Special Libraries Association.
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I attended the Upstate New York Chapter Special Libraries Association conference Friday as a student panelist. The experience was pretty positive all around. As students, we were welcomed and encouraged, and we were fed very well.

Allison Evatt, from Thomson Dialog gave a very clear presentation about how to market ourselves as information specialists, as well as how to write an “Elevator Speech“. To many this process may be de rigueur, but to me it was a welcome exercise in personal subject analysis.

I had met Allison in fall of 2004, when she spoke to my Reference class about how to use the web-based Dialog product – have since learned the command driven product as well, and we had a funny talk about that (once you learn command line searching, you can learn ANY searching). Her presentation was aimed at working professionals in special libraries, but since the audience was populated with many students and recent grads, she related much of her content to our concerns. Extremely applicable and meaty content. Much appreciated. One of the main points I came away with was the importance of branding. It’s old hat in the corporate world, but academic librarians/libraries can also benefit from a consistent and simple look and feel.

I will also be checking out Dialog’s Quantum workshops. You don’t have to be a Dialog customer to participate. Very cool.

I enjoyed putting myself in this mindset of marketing myself and my services as an information navigator, even if this involved, for the time being, imagining myself in a paid position. As always happens in these events, time moved quickly. I would have liked more discussion about my favorite marketing tool: blogs. Luckily I did get to chat up blogging, RSS and aggregators – informally – after the afternoon panel discussion of students and practitioners. Aside: great post in Lifehacker about using blogs to build your reputation.

The panel consisted of three practicing librarians and three student panelists, one of whom, Shannon Kealey, is a friend and colleague (we have worked together on DLIS club projects, and are working together on a Management project). Shannon has had experience in academic career services, and shared some wonderful pointers and insights from her experience.

We had been given questions for which to prepare, but unfortunately time did not permit discussion of all issues. “Job Search Challenges” dominated (perhaps understandably), as did tenure issues (strange question for SLA, but interesting perspectives were shared by many). “What will I be doing in 5-10 years” beat out “How did coursework help me prepare my professional skillset?” This was unfortunate for me as my enthusiasm, at the moment, shines through more with the latter topic. The work I have completed in my Indexing and Digital Libraries classes, as well as Collection Development, Digital Information Retrieval, and Arts and Sciences Libraries Reference Practicum has been challenging, exciting, interesting, and fun, and has – for me – joined the realms of library philosophy and real world application of skills.

It has been said to me before and I agree: what you get out of your graduate work is what you put into it. I guess that goes with anything, including conferences. Hats off to A. Ben Wagner, of the University at Buffalo Arts and Sciences Libraries, for making us all feel so welcome, and Beth Brown of Binghampton University libraries and President Elect of UNYSLA for a well oiled conference. You can find out more about the local SLA happenings at SLA Student Group at UB, which is maintained by Ben Hockenberry. Finally, thanks to Susan LaValley, outgoing SLA Student Chapter president, for inviting me to participate, and doing such a great job preparing us for the panel discussion.

Google Librarian Center… April 19, 2006

Posted by jennimi in Google, Library Related, LISNews, reference.
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Hmm. Thanks to Blake at LISNews, as well as an extreme addiction to RSS, via Bloglines (an addiction I am determined to rope all of my librarian friends into!), I found out Google has a group/newsletter for librarians. Per Google (from the Librarian Center home page):

“Librarians and Google share a similar mission: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. We support librarians who work each day to further that mission. This site is a first step toward improving and expanding that support.”

Big words. Slight difference: librarians, in championing information access, don’t include advertisements, or rank their searches by number of hits or by sponsorship (at least in my utopia), but this is a post about a cute little service (which as far as I can tell doesn’t include the famous Google sponsored links…) and not a treatise about my views on information access…

The most recent newsletter is inspired by Earth Day, and offers some great teaching resources. Archives entries read like a list of Google services and sales pitches to googlecynicabrarians, but maybe I am just cynical. You can decide for yourself.

One thing though, why no RSS? I had to sign up with my email address. (Even though I am not yet impressed, I want to see how they do, after all, we are all in process, right?) I emailed the Library Center this morning requesting RSS, so we’ll see. You see, I prefer to visit sites myself, rather than have newsletters pile up in my inbox.

Library School Rankings: None for academic specialty? April 17, 2006

Posted by jennimi in Academic Librarianship, ACRL, demographics, Library Related, Library School.
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USNews has just updated its rankings for graduate programs in library science after a break of about 7 years. Ours is 17th I believe, but the top school without a PhD. Pretty good.

But, I agree with StevenB over at ACRLog, who asks the question, “why no academic librarianship specialty ranking?” If USNews won’t take on this challenge, he tasks ACRL to begin its own rankings and offers some preliminary ranking measures. I, for one, would love to be on this committee. Where do I sign up?

But the question also, of course, has me reflecting on how this specialty is handled at my own university. Where the SLMS students have a very stringent educational plan and close advising and observation, we academic tract students are rather on our own. And that can probably be said of the other specializations as well. We enjoy a great deal of freedom in deciding our plans of study, and are encouraged to pursue real academic library experience through practicums and directed study.

Advising, in my experience, has been accessible and informative. But if there are hard statistics being kept by the program about how many students pursue this track and whether they are gainfully employed within the specialty within a reasonable amount of time after graduation, I am not aware of it.

Last year I attended a local ACRL conference that showcased a wonderful presentation by Stanley Wilder on the changing age demographics of our profession. As academic librarians retire, there are lots of positions opening up, right? As many of us said at ACRL, we need to see the numbers. Many positions are being filled by paraprofessionals and computer science engineers. A search engine is perceived to be all that is needed to begin one’s research or finish a paper. But at the same time there is a crisis in terms of information literacy in academia, and well-educated, forward thinking librarians are needed to help students learn not only how to find information, but how to find good information, and understand what to do with it once they’ve found it. For example if the University at Buffalo is to be a School of Excellence by 2020, graduating information literate students who are top in their fields and professions, it will obviously need to make libraries and librarians a high priority.

The quality of the education I am receiving now, (I am a student now, not in 2020) is paramount. But to me ranking isn’t as important as self-assessment, external review, and recommendations for improvement. Scarcity of economic resources may mean the field is more competitive than ever, and that means graduating students need to receive the most competitive education possible.

Update, June 29, 2006: I rarely go back this far in editing/updating a post but 2 things draw me to this one: for some reason this is the most consistently read/searched post on this blog, and given the university’s dismantling of the school the post now seems eerie. At the time I wrote this I really did believe in self-assessment as a powerful tool for improvement. Key word here is “self”. I assumed it was understood our LIS program was top notch but pondered how we could make it better. And apparently at the time I was writing this the Provost had already made up his mind that Informatics is not a viable academic focus and was making plans to break up the school.

Also at that time LIS was going through a GRUELING ALA Accreditation process of which I was a part (as a GA and also as a student officer). The school still awaits the final report and I fear the latest shenanigans at UB will affect that decision. I hope not. Initial feedback from the team included increasing financial aid opportunities and beefing up the technology lab. Both are legitimate. How in the midst of all this restructuring will the school not only comply with the forthcoming recommendations but move forward in terms of improving individual library tracks?