Librarians on Jeopardy!…Two Days in a Row!

February 24, 2007

Last night and Thursday night I got a big thrill while watching Jeopardy! because each night, one of the contestants was a librarian!  It doesn’t surprise me that librarians would be on Jeopardy!, but I was amazed that they would be on back-to-back nights.  They didn’t win, but it was fun to root for them.  Since I have a treasure trove of “useless knowledge” in my head, one of my goals is to appear on Jeopardy! some day and win some money for all those facts, statistics, and assorted goodies. 

To all the librarians who are aspiring to phrase their answer in the form of a question, go for it!  Show off how much we know!

Phoning It In: My First Phone Interview

January 21, 2007

I had a phone interview for a position at Charlotte School of Law’s library on Wednesday…I’m hoping it went well from the interviewers’ perspectives and I didn’t sound too nervous (I tried to achieve the perfect balance of nervousness mixed with confidence 😉 ).  Going to North Carolina would’ve been nice, considering it was about 20 degrees outside that day and my car was encased in ice, but I’m not being picky at all.  It was a great chance for me to get some experience concerning what it’s like to be involved in a conference call, and to get a taste of the types of questions that people can ask.

Here’s a cute sidelight about Charlotte Law that I enjoyed because I had a beagle mix when I was growing up: the school’s mascot.

I’ve Crossed the Threshold!

January 4, 2007

Yes, I’ve applied for 2 positions, and will soon be submitting my materials for 2 more.  I love that law libraries are now accepting application materials through email…3 seconds, and I know for sure that it went where it was supposed to go.  With snail mail, you send everything off and worry that you wrote the address incorrectly, or that the post office will somehow either lose it or deliver it to the wrong place.

  Now I guess the wait-and-see-with-fingers-crossed period has also officially started.  I’ve already gotten input from some of the law librarians at my university about what they think of the places I’m looking at…I’m very grateful for it – thank you!

Librarian, Sell Thyself

December 28, 2006

That IS what they tell us to do when we apply for a job, isn’t it?  I’ve finally reached the threshold of the doorway that leads out to the job hunt, and will be crossing it with the start of the new year.  I have a couple reference librarian job positions under consideration already…hopefully they’re still open.

As I sit and think about how to structure my cover letters, I find myself asking the usual question: “What is going to set me apart without making me seem (a) arrogant or (b) weird?”  I want to convey the impression that I’ll fit into the law library’s culture, but there’s only so much I can do to guess what that is without taking a trip and checking things out in person.  I’d also like to infuse a tiny essence of my personality into the materials I’m submitting, but I’m afraid of scaring the search committees. 🙂

One thing I’ve already learned and need to pass along to to others is to format your resume from scratch.  Don’t try to fool around with a template or wizard because it will leave you with too much white space and the bullets won’t do what you want them to do regardless of how nicely you ask.  Doing it yourself gives you the flexibility and control to produce something that’s the best reflection of the image you want to present to potential employers. 

So here I go into the unknown…

December Already? You’d Better Believe It

December 1, 2006

I’d forgotten how long it’s been since I’ve posted anything, but November was a very busy month in terms of my school activities…and now I’m going to have to start studying for exams in a day or so.  (I’m also trying not to think about the fact that I still have a ton of Christmas shopping to take care of.)  I just wanted to say that I’m still alive and kicking, and we’ll see if that remains the case when my exam period ends on the 22nd.

Going Back to the Beginning…My First Library Job

November 5, 2006

Today I was engaging in the continuous process of updating my CV in order to prepare for the quickly-approaching kickoff of my beginning to apply for my first job as a law librarian.  At the end of my Experience section is the first job of any kind that I ever held in a library – Library Page at the Ewell Free Library in Alden, New York.  That library is one of the smaller branches within the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library system – when it was fully staffed, there was one librarian, one clerk, and one page on duty.  I started working there when I was sixteen, and stayed in the position for two years.  When I began my job, the library still used “date due” cards instead of printing receipts for the patrons, we had a physical card catalog instead of an OPAC, and the books didn’t have barcodes on them until just before I stopped working there.  Oh, how things have changed!

The library’s small size was actually a great asset for me, though I didn’t realize it at the time.  Because of the limited number of staff available to assist the patrons, I was able to spend a lot of time at the front desk interacting with all types of people about all kinds of issues.  Looking back, I can see how much I really learned that is also applicable to being an effective librarian: patience (having to explain to young children that I would let them have their books back, but I needed to check them out first…anything dealing with children taught me patience, actually 🙂 ), resolving problems ranging from the amount of fines a patron had (it still amazes me how irate people can get over a quarter) to helping them understand how the card catalog was organized, dealing with “difficult” patrons (the “tween” generation comes to mind here…no concept of volume control…but there were also patrons with mental impairments that I was able to help effectively), and an informal introduction to the art of the reference interview.

Another great general perk of being a page is the strong knowledge you get of the scope of the library’s collection through shelving materials and doing shelf-reading.  I can remember several instances of patrons being sent to ask me if we had item X, Y, or Z because the other staff knew that I had probably shelved it, or that I might have at least seen it while I was in the stacks.  I was able to put my knowledge to use whenever I was assigned a project in school – I knew right away if the library had anything that would be useful, and if not, I was able to request materials quickly enough so that they would arrive in plenty of time for me to complete the assignment.  (I was also able to store the names of many authors and their works in my brain in preparation for hopefully appearing on Jeopardy! at some time in the future.)

My first library job was one more push for me to choose librarianship as my career.  From early childhood, I had always loved libraries, but I only knew them from a patron’s point of view.  Working as a page gave me a taste of what it was like on the other side of the desk, and made me want to learn more.  I hope that the people who are currently working as pages at the Ewell Free Library are enjoying the experience as much as I did.

The Dynamics of the Librarian-Patron Relationship

October 21, 2006

I read a blog post earlier this month – Two-way Street by the Feel-good Librarian – which dealt with: Why do patrons sometimes tell us their life stories when we give them information?  She concluded by saying “Information is a gateway.  It’s also a two-way street.”  I agree with her – even for basic requests, we need to interact with our patrons in order to figure out what they know so that we have the best chance of providing them with information that, even if it does not fully answer their queries, will at least direct them where they need to go for further help.  To do that, there usually needs to be some kind of rapport established, otherwise the transaction won’t be as successful as it could’ve been.

But to return to her question about why patrons also tell us about their lives, I think there are several reasons.  One may be what the Feel-good Librarian suggested herself – patrons feel a need to unburden themselves to someone else because they cannot resolve their personal crises without help from another person.  Also, librarians have the reputation of being able to find accurate sources of information, so patrons may feel safer relying on us to point them in the correct direction as opposed to asking friends or family members.  They might see librarians as unbiased third parties who are there specifically to help, and who won’t judge them.  This could make us easier to confide in regarding certain issues because we don’t have our own agendas in the situation, and if we perform our duties ethically, we won’t allow our own personal beliefs to affect how we treat our patrons.  And in some circumstances, it may just come down to how we look or our personalities – perhaps our appearance reminds them of their parents, children, or other people in their lives that they respect and trust.  Or else it could be due to our treating them kindly when they approach us, so they feel we will be sympathetic to what they are going through.

I personally love knowing that my efforts have resulted in providing a patron with helpful, relevant information that he or she may not have been able to uncover otherwise.  Tied to that is another two-way street because through working with patrons, we also learn about information that could solve a future problem of our own.  But there is a risk that just comes as a part of the two-way street of interaction that comes with this job – becoming too emotionally invested in a patron’s problem.  It might be an issue that has touched our own lives, or we, like the patron, see someone we care about in him or her.  I don’t know a foolproof formula to avoid a query mushrooming into something that keeps me up at night, since I still remember some patrons that I spoke with when I was a library page almost ten years ago.  Maybe an answer is just to keep in mind that providing information can’t always completely resolve every question or problem that patrons have, but we can do our part by providing avenues for them to explore.  It is ulitimately up to the patron to decide how to proceed.  We just have to hope that what we did for them made some kind of a difference.

Snow, Anyone? The “October Surprise Storm” 2006

October 16, 2006

I had planned to post about the dynamics of librarian/patron relations last weekend, but I’m putting that on hold in favor of reporting on events that took place in Western New York thanks to the peculiarities of Mother Nature.  I live in the Buffalo, New York area, which is notoriously associated with receiving ungodly amounts of snow every winter (never mind that Syracuse, in the middle of the state, almost always gets more).  But even we were taken by surprise when it began to snow heavily on Thursday, October 12th.  By the time I left UB at 6:20 that evening (I was a good girl and had stayed for my Library Management class despite it looking like Christmas was coming), there was at least 6 inches of snow on my car.  Luckily I always have my snow brush in my back seat (which people have laughed at repeatedly, but who’s laughing now?), and I was also fortunate to live about 5 minutes from campus, so I didn’t have to spend a lot of time negotiating the unplowed roads.

What made the storm so problematic was its coming so early in the season – the leaves were still on the trees, so the added weight of the snow (which was wet and heavy to begin with) weighed down the branches enough that many of them bent and snapped, bringing down power lines.  I lost power sometime after midnight on Friday the 13th (and tried not to notice the date), along with over 350,000 other places around the region.  Again, I was fortunate – I have a gas fireplace that I used for heat, and a gas stove for cooking (which I had to light with a match, and I’m very proud that I never came close to setting myself on fire).  Being a woman also paid off in that I had a huge stockpile of candles in various sizes and scents to use for light in the evening.  Thousands of people were stuck with no means of heating their homes, but Buffalo has lived up to its nickname of “The City of Good Neighbors” – everyone is helping out where they can.  Our Congressional delegation got the storm zone declared a federal disaster area, so we’ll be eligible for government aid.  (I’m trying not to remember the mess that FEMA made out of its response to the Gulf Coast.)

I got my power back at about 6 on Saturday evening, but there are still a little less than 300,000 places without it, and it’s estimated that it’ll take the rest of this week to get everyone back on line.  But electrical crews from other states and Canada are working 24/7 to try to restore normalcy for everyone, so hopefully it won’t take quite that long.  Several schools are closed because they have no power, and some areas still have driving bans (mostly due to downed tree limbs and power lines that need to be cleared).  Thousands of us also have to boil water because one of the pumping stations lost power for a while, so there are water purity concerns. 

So to wrap up, we still have a lot to deal with, but the Western New York region is used to snow and its problems.  We’re tough people, and we’ll make it through the aftermath of this storm just like we’ve made it through so many others.

Here are some Buffalo News articles about the storm (they will be available for a short time without having to subscribe to the News’ archives):

Killer Storm Devastated Region’s Trees (about the number of trees that were damaged because of fallen limbs)

Surprise Storm Leaves WNY Reeling (general overview of what happened)

Parks’ Treasures Badly Battered (Buffalo has a park system designed by Frederick Law Olmstead that was affected by the storm)

4 Counties Eligible for Millions in Federal Aid (about our disaster status and FEMA)

Library Students at UB Launch Library Student Journal!

October 2, 2006

The inaugural September 2006 issue of Library Student Journal has just been released!  It is an Open Access publication, with a primary audience of library and information studies students throughout the world.  Any library student who wishes to submit papers to be considered for publication should check out the submission guidelines for information about how to do so.

Congratulations to the editorial staff for a job well done, hopefully indicative of a ton of future success!

The Dalai Lama Comes to the University at Buffalo

September 23, 2006

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama came to UB this week from September 18th to the 20th as part of a program that had been planned for well over a year.  He chose UB because of its highly international character, and there was also the added bonus of UB having 10 students from the Tibetan community in exile, according to The Buffalo News.

As part of his visit, the Dalai Lama took part in a discussion with several scholars, lawyers, and religious figures from around the world, entitled “Law, Buddhism, and Social Change: A Conversation with the 14th Dalai Lama.”  It was designed to elaborate upon the Buddhist concept of law, which has not been studied on nearly the same level in the West as Christian, Judaic, or Islamic law.  I found his views fascinating, especially because I am currently taking a seminar called “Law and Comparative Religion”, which, to quote my syllabus, is “a serious consideration of some of the basic ideas of Buddhism and Christianity, and the political and legal implications of each tradition.”

The goal of the discussion was to talk about how Buddhism can affect how we think about the legal process, and the Dalai Lama detailed several issues concerning law and politics.  He began by emphasizing the role that compassion should play in all human activities, whether or not someone is a Buddhist – you have to consider the effect that your actions have on others and not just focus on yourself.  He believes that Buddhist monks should not be involved in “party” politics, meaning using the political system for individual gain.  However, he does make an exception for those who take part because of national struggles such as the one taking place in Tibet now.  Since religion is an individual matter for each person, he also feels it should be kept separate from politics because of the corrupting influence that politics could have on it.  One of the conversation’s participants brought up the fact that Sri Lanka is trying to develop a penal system that combines compassion with the administration of justice.  In response, the Dalai Lama said that violence as a method of punishment, whether you personally believe it is justified or not, depends on the motivation of the person carrying it out.  The punisher must not do it out of feelings of hatred or wanting revenge – he has to do it out of compassion, in the sense that the person will continue to hurt society by his or her actions if allowed to go on unchecked.  His statements seemed to contradict the Buddhist teaching of not engaging in violence under any circumstances, but they also could be said to acknowledge the fact that in reality, people are not perfect, and that the security of society in general needs to be taken into account by the law.

In a related matter, His Holiness said that in any legal dispute, the Buddhist point of view involves being sensitive to the individual context of each disagreement, and weighing whether the benefit to society of pursuing the issue outweighs the harm that might be done to the parties involved.  He stressed trying to employ mediation and reconciliation before making the decision to go to court.  Even though I’m going to be entering an aspect of the legal profession when I’m done with my education, I agreed with his wanting to try to bring things to an acceptable conclusion without having to invest the time and expenses required for the formal judicial process. 

And on a personal level, I was impressed by the humility that His Holiness expressed, as well as the sense of good humor and happiness that permeated from him even when he was considering very serious points brought up by the conversation’s participants.  He seems to be a very approachable man, which is a quality that I wish more world leaders, both religious and secular, possessed.