Reflection Paper

If preferred, my reflection paper can be downloaded at this link.

Introduction

When I began my journey toward librarianship, I had been working in academic libraries for fourteen years.  I knew about some of the essential functions of libraries, what made them operate, and how to make them work in a daily context.  What I did not have, however, was the professional perspective about the work I was doing.  The mechanics of the work was easy for me to comprehend, but the rationale for the value of this work was not part of my mindset.

The five core classes of the Library and Information Studies Program- Foundations, Collection Management, Information Sources and Services, Organizing Library Collections, and Library Administration and Management- taught specific things about these essential functions of libraries.  Learning about technology in libraries addressed the practical need to understand current trends and their impact on upcoming developments.  Upon a closer look, however, each course taught the theory behind each of these practices and the underpinnings for librarianship itself.  Learning about these theories made the core courses even more relevant and practical as the method to the work behind them was explained over the course of sixteen weeks.  The products of those theories, along with respective courses that inspired them, will be examined in this paper.

Foundations of Library and Information Studies

Foundations taught the background of professional librarianship:  its origins in antiquity to the contemporary context of the Information Age.  Although I recall one student in my class who was taking Foundations as her final course, I was glad to have taken it at the beginning.  So much of what was covered in this class was intrinsic to what would be covered in other classes, including library departments, the importance of patrons in libraries, and the true value of library collections.  But what was truly important was the value of service.  Service is what the profession of librarianship is about, not only from the standpoint of librarians to patrons, but also between one librarian to another, libraries and the agencies that support them, as well as libraries and their surrounding communities.

Libraries exist as resources for their communities.  For too long, libraries have been viewed as collectors and storehouses for information.  In the print-based environment, this was certainly the case; however, the ardent strides that have been made in computing technology over a few short decades has caused libraries to reevaluate that philosophy cultivated over thousands of years.  The days of libraries being standalone resources were over as soon as the first modem was installed.  Now, a library exists as part of a larger framework of the vast flow of information that moves past their potential users.  Librarians have adapted their approach toward their users in a similar manner.  Instead of simply leading their users to sources, librarians have begun to reinforce the skills of their users to evaluate sources for themselves.  Library users must become information literate as they review the resources presented to them.  As librarians find the best resource, librarians would are required to take a more active role to finding the answers they seek.

In the information rich environment of today, libraries are still forced to contend with those who seek to deny users from seeing specific resources.  Censorship has always been at the heels of materials that enter libraries, especially as librarians build collections that would serve the best interests of their users.  Academic libraries have the value of institutions of higher learning that they serve, as the concept of academic freedom exists to be paramount to their mission.  Public libraries and school libraries, where the level of reporting can be more complex, could face a different set of shareholders with an interest in the materials that these libraries may purchase.  In these circumstances, libraries may have to be more selective in how to handle a specific challenge to certain library materials, but there are documents that can offer support.  In the United States, for instance, the American Library Association has the Code of Ethics, the Freedom to Read Statement, and related documents that can ground the position of a library into offering a specific resource.  Conversely, if a library does not offer a resource as part of its collection, these materials can offer a framework for a librarian to explain why these materials do not appear.  Censorship can often be seen as a subjective point of view, but documents that bring a professional perspective beyond a simple “yes” or “no” serve as a method to bring it into a more objective circumstance.

Collection Management

Library collections must reflect the population of the community they serve.  Sometimes, this can be simple matter of collecting materials that would serve specific segments of those populations, such as the latest Harry Potter book for a public library or a journal about condensed matter for the physics department of a university.  However, libraries can face certain possibilities in their collecting where materials have fallen out of date and newer materials have not been purchased to replace them.  Collection management addresses these situations with policies that determine adding materials to the library collection, evaluating their use over time, how they should be removed from the collection, and who has the authority to make these decisions.  Collection management policies can also benefit the communities served by libraries as well:  having policies available for individuals or groups to review can add a layer of transparency to a library, allowing it to act in good faith with the consent of the larger collective.

Within collection management is the understanding that collecting decisions are made in the interest of intellectual freedom.  By this reckoning, a patron should be able to walk into any library and find specific resources, regardless of personal views or the format the information is delivered.  Intellectual freedom should also be a factor in the selection of library materials. The decision to add a specific resource should be based on its worth to the larger community and not to the personal tastes of the person who makes that decision.  Personal decisions can bring the question of bias into the decision-making process of a librarian, and this should be avoided in order for a librarian to maintain a professional perspective as well as for the librarian to earn the trust of the larger community.

Information Sources and Services

Librarians could be faced with the possibility that patrons may not know exactly what they needed or how to begin the process to find what they need.  This is why information services and sources, or reference services, can be critical to discovery of library materials by patrons.  By using a reference interview as a starting point, librarians can help these patrons refine a nebulous idea into a finely honed concept of where to begin research.  From that point, reference librarians can act as guides to library materials that can aid patrons toward the topic of their interest, whether it is an entry in the Columbia Gazetteer of the World or a link in Business Source Complete.  Reference services are one of the closest interactions within a library, not only in terms of the contact between people but the inherent trust that a librarian has been given by a patron to find required information.

The tools that are used by reference librarians, both print and nonprint alike have specific criteria to serve their patrons.  First, they must maintain a level of accuracy that necessitates them to be as current as possible.  Patrons looking for information about the Czech Republic would not want to read information about Czechoslovakia except in a historical context; materials should be maintained to account for these facts, regardless of a how a patron should approach that information.  Next, information sources should be from some of the respected authorities within their respective field of service that patrons should recognize.  After their initial visit, patrons should recognize in future interactions the names Lexis-Nexis, Gale, EBSCOhost and Jane’s, comprehend the types of material that can be found within them, and determine the relevance of those materials within their field of research.  Finally, the instructional attitude of librarians can emerge at the reference desk while assisting patrons.  Rather than be unhelpful and use a closed approach, librarians have maintained the outlook that patrons should be able to access their resources and learn how to return to them later should the need arise.

Organizing Library Collections

Once a particular resource has been ordered for a library collection, a library user should be able to find and use it.  The process of organizing library collections, commonly known as cataloging, has been the approach for giving these materials a unique identification schema that would allow patrons to not only differentiate between the works of authors who lived in different time periods, but also to find a specific resource years after it was added to the library.  Cataloging has been a craft of libraries to place materials within their collections in a precise location using a unique identification system, whether it is the Dewey Decimal System, Library of Congress Classification, or a locally administered arrangement.  Access to materials has been one key factor of library services, because materials could possibly be lost in a collection unless proper measures are taken.

In the current environment of electronic resources, libraries now have access to materials that will never reside within the confines of library walls.  Moreover, these resources can number in the thousands, presenting a challenge in accessibility for library catalogs.  Many libraries have turned to the prospect of outsourcing these cataloging requirements to third party agencies (such as JournalFinder, Serials Solutions, and TDNet) to maximize the availability of electronic resources without taking valuable staff time to do so.  In addition to the needs of accessibility, agencies also update the information that resides within these records, particularly when a resource moves from one vendor to another or leaves a particular electronic package.  These concerns reflect a new paradigm where library records would have to be manipulated several times over the life of an electronic resource- a practice unheard of several years ago.  In order to maintain the ability for a patron to use the latest resources, catalogers have had to adapt to their shifting nature and use manage them according to local practices.

Library Administration and Management

This course has a daunting title, but its subject matter was far from mysterious.  While the other core courses addressed how to manage resources, this course focused on how to manage people.  This course also did not feature a textbook about library management; rather, it took the approach that libraries were like any other office environment:  the location may be unique, but the same personality types, work habits, and professional traits can be found there just as any other workplace.  The books that were used, such as Raving Fans and First, Break all the Rules, took a more centered approach to management that could be applied to any business setting.  By doing so, I was able to appreciate the concept of management from a perspective that not only tied it to a library, but challenged me to think of management outside of the library framework.  By doing so, library management is no different than bank management, restaurant management, or even classroom management:  it is the ability to bring out the best from employees while applying their talents to serve the needs of the larger organization.  As stated by the traditional adage, a leader proposes while a manager disposes.

Since I came into the LIS program as a manager myself, I was not sure about what I could learn that I had been exposed to previously at in various seminars and conferences devoted to this topic.  What I learned, however, was more universal and relevant than I can imagine.  As a manager, it became important for me to impress my expectations to my staff without being too hands-off or too hands-on at the same time.  It was important for me to set that example; if it was done in the right way, employees would feel capable of developing their own talents and offer them to the benefit of the organization.  Moreover, the value of the Three Secrets (from Raving Fans) and the Twelve Questions (from First, Break all the Rules) have left me with points to ponder that will carry me through the rest of my library career.  Knowing that people come first- whether they are employees, patrons, customer service representatives, or faculty- in the library profession has made it a more rewarding experience.  The tools we use may change over time, but management itself is a process that must be continually revisited and refreshed to make it relevant to those I serve.

Technology

Technology has always been at the heart of libraries, from the advent of the written word up to the latest electronic book readers.  Today, technology has given libraries the capacity to become full-fledged information centers, connected to the larger world as well as the surrounding community through the internet.  Libraries can provide a point of service to users either at a physical desk or remotely through a proxy server.  However, librarians have to remain current on the latest technologies in order to provide the best service.  Training, workshops and seminars offer a formalized mode of learning, but librarians could face a situation where they have to learn about a particular technology quickly, either for personal reasons or for teaching someone else.  The libraries and librarians in the current era of information must face these challenges often on a daily basis to respond to these situations with a level of confidence, competency, and capability when using their skills to instruct and inform others.

The technology courses I have taken in the program have been varied in content, but each one addressed a specific area.  In “Digital Libraries”, I learned about the value of metadata and how it is used to quantify objects that exist only on a hard drive or a mainframe.  As an extension of cataloging, it is crucial to have these objects classified, but it is more important to guarantee that they can be continually accessed regardless of changing formats or hardware.  “Principals of Database Information Retrieval” was about techniques associated with searching various databases to find specific results.  Because remote databases can differ in terms of controlled vocabulary and content providers, it was important to understand how subject databases and online search engines can be completely dissimilar in terms of the results they can return to a user.  The course “Computer-Related Technologies for Information Management” operated on the premise that a librarian may be in an environment where they are required to function not only as a librarian but as the member of an information technology department.  As a librarian, I should be prepared to respond to instances where I may have to introduce technologies to simplify workflows or aid patrons when needed.  Finally, “Emerging Technological Trends in Information Access” discussed some of the latest trends introduced to libraries in terms of library technology.  This course looked at current library technology as a starting point while encouraging students to consider the next phase and how it could impact libraries within the near future.  Together, these courses provided an opportunity for me to learn more about library technology and its transitory nature.  Moving forward would require a measure of looking backward to ensure that resources would continue to be accessible to users yet to come.

Conclusion

As a whole, the library and information science program has given me a suitable groundwork to understanding what it means to be a professional librarian.  The classes that I have taken gave me a broad overview of librarianship in terms of function and technology, but I know that I have been prepared for the work that is to come and the situations that were never addressed in the classroom.  The component of technology was especially important, as I was challenged to make the best of the tools that are currently available while being mindful of what may be over the horizon.

I was given the opportunity to expand my worldview in terms of libraries and the people who work inside them.  By standing the “why” as well as the “how” behind library operations, I have a greater understanding for what would be asked of me to serve as a librarian, not just as a member of a library staff.  The relationship that a librarian has with the community serves a special one, and I am glad to have had the chance to learn more about it.  I feel that my journey toward professional librarianship has only begun, and I expect to learn even more using these courses as the foundation for what will follow.

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