Friday, May 13, 2011

Save the Librarians

Do other professions spend as much time as mine defending their existence? I tend to think not. I very much doubt other people suffer the indignity of being asked, “You need a degree for that?” whenever you tell a new person what you do for a living.

True statements about librarians:

1) The profession requires at least a Master’s degree
2) School librarians require a Master’s and teaching certification
3) Some library professions require additional certification and/or a second Master’s degree
4) We do not read books all day
5) Dewey Decimal is not the only classification system
6) Books are not the only thing we know about nor the only resource our institutions contain
7) We are not all senior citizens
8) We don’t all even love books (though it is true the majority of us do)

I do not think there is a more misunderstood or underappreciated group of people in the world. My point is proven by what is going on in a Los Angeles school system right now as reported in this LA Times article.

80+ school librarians were given their walking papers in March. The school system, like many others across the country, is making budget cuts and decided the best place to trim the fat was the school libraries. After all, school librarians do not actually teach, at least that is what the LA Unified School District is trying to prove in a “courtroom.”

Their argument is that the school librarians are not eligible to retain their teaching certification, and can therefore be fired, because they have not taught a class in over 5 years, which is a requirement to keep your certification current. There is almost no response to this except jaw-dropping astonishment.

A school librarian, a good one at any rate, is a resource not only to students, but to teachers and faculty as well. They teach valuable research skills encouraging students to get information from a variety of resources so they have a full picture. The obtain materials for teachers to expand and enhance their curriculum. They work one-on-one with more students than most teachers have time to. They tutor in every subject. They know where you can find the best information regarding everything from the Theory of Relativity to Beethoven’s Symphonies, and no, it’s not always in a book.

Librarians provide the resources to create a well-rounded society that asks questions and does not jump on the conveyor belt whenever they’re told. Yes we are the keepers of the books but we are also the keepers of the databases. We know Google search tricks and Boolean operators you’ve never even heard of. Got a new electronic device? One of the librarians can give you the best websites explaining the features and how to use them or they might even be able to tell you themselves.

People seem to be very attached to the forbidding image libraries have been saddled with and I can’t figure out why. Today’s libraries are bright, open places that not only provide access to books but internet access, eBooks, cafes, community space, movies, video games, and more for FREE. Most libraries have plants and skylights and a cat, invariably named Dewey, everyone loves, and most importantly, every library has librarians. The people who tell you how to find all that magical free stuff.

And we’re not all old ladies with bad fashion sense and wire-rimmed glasses at the end of our noses. I have great fashion sense and wear contacts most of the time thank you very much. And I’m nice, I like helping you find what you’re looking for. Chances are I’ll find what you’re looking for plus something better plus ten things you didn’t know you were looking for. It’s what we do. We like information, we like finding it, in any format.

My degree is not in books. My degree is a Master’s of Library and Information Sciences. Stories like the one in the LA Times are too frequent. Funding and support for libraries are too low. Understand what we do and how we do it. Understand how passionate we are about it and how hard we will fight to keep it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Library of Congress: The Happiest Place on Earth (& the Interwebz)

Photo by AbLib

As a librarian, one of the highlights of my life was when I was in graduate school and we took a field trip to DC. The field trip was actually to attend the National Book Festival, held every year on the Mall, but our first stop of the day was at the Library of Congress. We were given a tour and then we had a Q&A session with three librarians from the LoC in the Senate Reading Room (which is, obviously, generally reserved for Senators therefore awesome to hang out in).

I bring this up to illustrate how awesome the LoC is because, they have outdone themselves. They have created the National Jukebox making historic recordings freely available to the public. The digital collection contains recordings from the LoC Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation collection as well as collections from other institutions across the country.

There are (as of this post) over 10,000 recordings from 1901-1925 from the Victor Talking Machine Company (now owned by Sony). The Jukebox will continue to add content from Sony-owned US companies. Right now, Sony is the only label contributing, but I’m sure we will see more joining up in the future.

There is a fantastic slideshow available tracking the progress of the project which began in 2010.

The Jukebox lets you create a playlist or listen to playlists already completed (I’m listening to the LoC-created “Early Tin Pan Alley” playlist right now!). You can browse recordings by performer, genre, date, composer, etc. plus there are general and advanced search options.

It is beautifully designed and completely fascinating. Set aside some time to browse these nearly forgotten treasures.