The Great Southeastern Librarian?

No, doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?

Logging into my blog for the first time in over a month, I noticed that there is a very distinct pattern to my posts from the past year. I have updated my blog when I have undergone a career/life change, but I have not been writing on a regular basis. I’ve also realized just how many changes I have gone through over the past year or two.

When I last posted, I had just been offered a job in Perthshire, Scotland. Unfortunately, I was unable to take up the position due to work permit complications. Despite offers from friends to return to the Middle East, I decided not to go down that road again and instead returned to the United States. Fortunately, I was offered a job as a librarian in a culinary institute within weeks of my return. I have been in post for just under two months now, and I am really enjoying it. I think I have worked in every type of library imaginable now!

Now that I am settled again, I am looking forward to getting back into blogging. It’s been interesting to reacquaint myself with the US library field again, and I plan on re-examining the differences in the UK and US library profession from this side of the pond.

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Heading North…Again!

So, it turns out my moniker is still appropriate after all. Barring any unforeseen complications with my work permit application, I will be moving back up north within the next few weeks.

As it has been about six months since my last post, perhaps I should explain. I completed and submitted my dissertation last week. After being completely immersed in studying the relationship between freedom of information and sustainable development within a Tanzanian context for about half a year, it was a bit hard to let go, even though it was a relief. Over the holidays, I had been invited to interview for a librarian position in Scotland, but I was not sure if the Council would sponsor my visa, which I need to continue living and working in the UK. After a bit of back and forth, I finally got word on Wednesday that the Council would sponsor me if successful, then traveled to the interview on Friday. I got a phone call from my new boss offering me the job on Friday afternoon, and here I am, sitting in a flat, surrounded by boxes and knowing that I am moving somewhere, although I am not entirely sure where just yet.

I really hope that everything works out with the sponsorship this time. I could really use a new adventure, and I think this job and the opportunity to live in one of the most beautiful places in Scotland will provide just that. The position is a combined school and public librarian position, which is not something I have done before, so I am really looking forward to the new challenge. Integrated library services are becoming more common in Scotland, although they are still a bit unusual, so it will be interesting to gain experience in this area.

Anyway, I should probably return to my packing. Mind you, might prove a bit difficult as I am still keeping all of my fingers crossed!

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Greetings from Dar-es-Salaam

I arrived in Tanzania on Monday night, and today is my first day at the NGO where I will be working and researching for the next three months.  So far, so good, although I am regretting not learning more Swahili before I left.

As I have previously written, my main research project is going to centre around government transparency and accountability. More specifically, I am going to be looking at public expenditure tracking surveys (PETS) and considering whether hard law mechanisms are necessary to ensure success, or whether soft law mechanisms are more appropriate. The plan is still a bit up in the air, but I am intentionally being flexible so that I can tailor my research to the organisation’s needs and overall mission.

In the meantime, I have met with one of my colleagues to discuss my work plan for the next month or so.  As usual, I have committed myself to several tasks simultaneously. I am updating the website, creating a database for donor information, and creating a social media strategy.

I am currently working on the social media strategy, which is an interesting task for me as I have never actually written one before, despite being a regular social media user both personally and professionally. I suppose I never felt the need to write one when I worked as a school librarian as I was a solo librarian. I also admit that the idea of a social media strategy seemed like the sort of thing an over-priced management consultant would suggest. I didn’t really see the point in writing yet another strategic plan when I could just experiment with new tools and decide whether they were appropriate for my community’s needs.

After just one day in the NGO and doing some preliminary research on social media strategies, however, I can now see the benefits. The NGO actually already has Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, but hardly ever uses them. They are interested in using them more, but know that they need to make more of a commitment to doing so. I also know that some organisations tend to use social media simply as a cheap form of advertising, rather than as a tool for communication and relationship-building.  In the strategic plan, I am addressing this issue and making sure that I discuss all of the potential benefits of social media with regards to professional development. The organisation is very under-resourced, so I hope that using social media more effectively will allow them to work with and learn from others more easily.

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Tanzania Bound

Since my last post, I have interviewed and been accepted onto the field dissertation programme for my LLM. This summer, I will be travelling to Tanzania to work with a human rights NGO in Dar es Salaam.

My primary research will focus on public expenditure, government transparency, and access to information. I am not exactly sure which angle I am going to take, but this work is going to form the basis of my dissertation. During my three months in Tanzania, I am also going to be assisting the NGO with various communications and information management tasks, such as updating their website and creating a social media presence. Even though I don’t have all the details worked out just yet, I am really looking forward to it.

I’m not sure exactly where I’ll be once the summer is over, but I am grateful to have the opportunity to move my career in the direction I’ve wanted to go all along. I am very drawn to issues surrounding information law and policy, and much of my coursework this term has focused on freedom of information legislation and the procedural right to information access. Next stop PhD?

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Update

I can’t believe it has been three months since I last posted! Although I have been very busy with work and university, I have been thinking about various topics I want to write about. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much of a chance to as work and exams have taken priority, but I really miss blogging. It’s a really helpful way for me to organise my thoughts, so my (belated) New Year’s resolution is to be more disciplined about writing.

I am off to class shortly, but I thought this might be a good opportunity to write about what has been keeping me away from WordPress and even my beloved Google Reader lately.  I am still working part-time at the university library and doing my research job from home. In addition, I am volunteering two half-days per week in an information management capacity for a local charitable organisation. Oh yeah, and then there’s law school!

I am really enjoying my classes this semester, but the way my university runs its exam timetable means that I literally went from one exam to another, then started second semester classes the day after I submitted my last exam. I started the term feeling as though I could already use a break! However, my classes- Intellectual Property Law, International Enivoronmental Law, Human Rights in Comparative Perspective, and Public Sector Financing in Developing Countries- are at least keeping me intellectually stimulated.

I have also recently been invited to interview for a placement that would serve as the basis for my field dissertation. My programme has the option of going abroad to work in a developing country for three months, then writing a dissertation based on the project we completed. As I am extremely interested in access to information and government transparency and accountability, I would really like to go somewhere like Kenya or Tanzania to work on a project that involved drafting or advocating for freedom of information legislation.  My interview is on Monday, so keep your fingers crossed and watch this space! :)

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Go, Go, Go

I have been very busy over the past couple of weeks, but I have been constantly thinking of issues related to education and libraries.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to blog as much as I’d like as I am currently in the middle of an intensive seminar and have just started a new job.

The LL.M. course is still going really well, and I am enjoying my work, although the past week has been fairly full on. To achieve a bit of balance, I am arranging an LL.M. pub outing for tomorrow evening in my first act as class representative. I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity to get to know my new classmates a bit better.

Once work calms down a bit, I would like to get back to writing about the issues that I have been concerned with lately. Like many of my colleagues, I have more than a few things to say about volunteers in libraries! I also have some ideas involving privatization in education, information literacy instruction, professionalism, information policy, and democracy and access to information. I also read a very brief article (will try to source) earlier this week in which a teacher claimed that students should not learn to write before they start school in case they pick up any bad habits, such as holding a pencil incorrectly. Hmm… you can bet I have an opinion on that one!

Until then…

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New Beginnings

I am about three weeks into my LL.M. International Law and Sustainable Development course so far, and I am really enjoying it. I have previously read some of the mainstream literature (i.e. George Monbiot, Joseph Stiglitz, Phillipe Legraine, and Jeffrey Sachs, to name a few), but I had not encountered much of the academic literature. Although I was generally aware of the political, economic, and moral arguments surrounding sustainable development, I had never really understood or really considered the legal framework. I am truly relishing the opportunity to think about these issues in different way. I now have even more questions than I did at the start of the course, which I suppose is the mark of a good education.

Also in the good news category, I have just accepted a job offer as a part-time researcher. The work is home based and will allow me to set my hours around my studying, so the flexibility means that I shouldn’t have to compromise my studies. Although I am a bit disappointed not to get the opportunity to continue my work in schools, this is the best fit for me right now. In schools, I focused more on “big picture” issues, and, as a solo librarian, I was pulled in so many directions that I was never able to specialise in one area. Whilst I like the variety of school librarianship, I think it will be good for me to work in a more specialised position for a change. It will allow me to concentrate on developing my indexing and researching skills.

The point of this year was for me to step out of education librarianship for awhile and learn something new. So far, I haven’t really done that, particularly as the budget cuts are starting to bite here in the UK and the education reform debate rages in the US, so I find it difficult to tear myself away from issues about which I feel so strongly. Whilst I don’t want to neglect my legal studies, I do think as a professional librarian I have an obligation to keep up with developments and speak up for those still employed in the public sector.

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Truth Lies and the Internet: Update

It seems Joyce Valenza and I were not the only ones surprised by the omission of librarians from the recent Demos report Truth, Lies and the Internet. Not that I actually expected we would be; contrary to the media stereotype of the mousy librarian, most librarians I know are very capable of standing up for themselves and their users when necessary.

Carl Miller, one of the Demos researchers, has graciously responded to librarian’s concerns and is inviting comments from school librarians regarding their involvement with digital fluency. It’s heartening that he has responded so quickly, and I am working on my response as we speak. :)

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Truth, Lies, and the Internet: Where are the Librarians?

Once again, Joyce Valenza has beaten me to the punch (damn, she’s good), but I want to address the recent report by Demos outlining UK students’ online information-seeking behaviour and abilities. School librarians may not be too shocked by the findings; the researchers point out many of the issues that we have been discussing for years. What is more surprising (or maybe not?), however, is the fact that school librarians are not mentioned in the report. Did school librarians drop the ball on this, or is the role of school librarians still that misunderstood in the UK? Something is clearly very wrong if a report that focuses on the skills that librarians consider their core duties does not even mention school librarians.

The report echoes many of the findings that I discovered when conducting my own informal evaluations of pupils’ information literacy abilities at my former school. Last year, I created a webquest for all first year pupils in which they were asked to identify the author of the website, identify the currency of a website, identify bias, identify a hoax website, and find the most appropriate sources for their needs from a selection of websites.

I did not intend the lesson to be a formal evaluation of the pupils’ skills, but after realising that many of the pupils were struggling with the same issues, I decided to write this report for my line manager and other interested teachers. Admittedly, my observations were not objective, my sample size was small, and my report was dashed off quickly and intended only for an internal audience,  but I am struck by how similar my findings were to those of the Demos researchers. Like the researchers, I found that pupils are not in the habit of judging the reliability of information on the internet, identifying hoaxes (or even understanding what a hoax is, for that matter), or selecting relevant sources. I’d venture that just about all school librarians have recognised this, which is why we have been partnering with teachers to help pupils improve these skills.

The Demos report discusses many of the issues that are frequently discussed by school librarians on blogs and at conferences, yet there is no mention of librarians in the report. Dr. Valenza seems surprised and genuinely confused by this glaring omission, but I am not entirely surprised, especially as I am all too familiar with the misunderstandings regarding the nature of the school librarian’s role in the UK. It is important to note that the report included data only from England and Wales, where school library provision is even patchier than it is in Scotland.

Perhaps due to my experiences in the UK and interest in the increasing privatization of the comprehensive school system, I had a very cynical reaction to the report’s recommendation that “the Department of Education partner with the private sector and the third sector to create a set of teaching resources” (p. 8). The report even went on to suggest that companies such as Google could provide teaching assistance.

This is a country that is in the process of decimating its public library system. School librarian positions have been eliminated, some librarians have seen their hours drastically reduced, and others have been replaced by clerical assistants (who are still frequently referred to as “librarians,” thus adding to further confusion over the librarian’s role). Some school librarians are now responsible for multiple sites, which means that even though a school may still officially employ a librarian, he or she is unlikely to have much time to partner with teachers to develop information literacy. Yet, instead of recognising the role that is played by school librarians, this report is suggesting that schools partner with the private sector and that teachers rely on assistance from third party providers who are unlikely to have knowledge of individual schools’ ethos or needs. Either the researchers have unintentionally strengthened the case for education libraries by performing shallow research that neglected the entire body of literature on school librarians and information literacy, or they have deliberately ignored school librarians in order to further the privatization agenda.

I am very interested in hearing what CILIP and SLA have to say about this issue and wonder whether they will submit a formal response. On the one hand, it is great that others outside of librarianship are recognising the importance of information literacy and online information handling skills, but I cannot help being disappointed and skeptical about the omission of school librarians.

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When Librarian Becomes Student

Last week I registered for the LLM in International Law and Sustainable Development. I am really looking forward to this semester; I am taking The World Trading System: Law and Policy, Legal Research Methods, and Business and Human Rights Law.

Yesterday, I attended an introduction to library services, and it was extremely interesting to be on the other side for a change. Due to my remote location when I was in my last post, I did not get to visit too many other libraries to see how other librarians approached instruction sessions. Since I was a solo librarian, I did not like to attend meetings during term time unless absolutely necessary, it meant that I usually met with my colleagues during the school holidays and thus rarely got to see them “in action.”

Yesterday’s session was more of an introduction, rather than an information literacy session. The university’s law librarian actually delivers a series of webcasts for our Legal Research Methods class, which are meant to explore research in greater detail. Therefore, yesterday’s introduction focused more on general library policy, the arrangement of the physical library, how to search the library catalogue, and a brief overview of the library’s electronic databases. As a librarian who has actually done a work placement in that particular library, I can’t say there was too much that was new to me, but I was interested to learn that the library’s new integrated catalogue allows one to export bibliographic records to reference management software.

One thing that did stand out to me was the fact that only about 20 or so students were present for the optional session. There were about 60 students at the law school induction the night before, and I believe there are about 100 LLM students in total, although some may be distance learning.  It also seemed as though a greater proportion of the “mature” students attended; at 29, I was one of the youngest students there, although there are certainly many more twenty-something LLM students.

So why such a low turn out? I believe one of the greatest factors was the timing. The session took place at 2:00, which isn’t ideal as many of the students are also practicing lawyers or have other work commitments. Of course, yesterday’s weather may have also been a factor; at a sunny 23 degrees, it was one of the nicest days in Glasgow all year and few people would have wanted to be stuck inside. However, I’d venture that many of the students did not see how it would be relevant to them. I overheard a couple of students (not law students, btw)  in the lift say, “I’m not going to the library session. I know how to take a book out!”

Admittedly, many practicing lawyers who studied for their LL.B. at the same university would not have been too surprised by the information in yesterday’s session. Most are familiar with using Lexis and Westlaw for work and they are familiar with the university’s print collection, even if it has been relocated recently. Any gaps can probably be filled in by information on the library website.

If the law librarian wanted to ensure that he reached all LLM students, another way to tackle the introduction to library services would be to bring it to the students. Perhaps it could be shortened to a half-hour session to be part of the general law school induction or part of an early class session. The librarian could focus on the most relevant issues, such as the difference between the commercial databases and the academic ones, or showing students who are unlikely to ever visit the physical library how to access e-books. To be honest, I didn’t really think it was necessary to go over noise policy or food policy. There are signs up all over the library stating the library’s (rather restrictive and old-fashioned), in my opinion) food and noise policies, so I didn’t see why a professional librarian had to reiterate the policies to a room full of adults. I am guessing this is something he may be required to do by the library director, rather than something he really wanted to spend valuable time going over.

Although I didn’t discover much new information, I am glad I went for the different perspective.  I had to stop myself from jumping in a couple of times, and I kept wondering how I would have delivered the session if I were in the librarian’s position. Who knows? Maybe one day I will be!

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