Sunday, October 2, 2011

West Hollywood Library

Lately I’ve been feeling almost despondent about the failing economy and its effect on public libraries.  Not only are services being cut at a time when library usage is at an all-time high, but my students can’t find jobs when they graduate.

My spirits were lifted considerably yesterday, however, when I attended the grand opening of the new West Hollywood branch of the County of Los Angeles Public Library.  The two-story facility is beautiful but simple, with a magnificent view of West Hollywood and the Pacific Design Center directly across the street.  And two of my former students have just been hired there as permanent librarians, which for me was even more exciting than seeing the hundreds of people flooding into the new library!  It was a wonderful occasion and a perfect reminder of just how important public libraries continue to be to their communities.

The library (on the right) and Pacific Design Center across the street

Crowds rushing in

Interior: Decorative tree above and alongside the staircase

Interior: Wooden ceiling with curved features

Children's storytelling room (exterior made to look like a packing crate - fun!)

The view from the 2d floor interior: West Hollywood

Parking lot murals: Shepard Fairey (top) and Kenny Scharf (bottom)

Approaching the library from the south - Pacific Design Center reflected in the glass

P.S.  Too crowded to get photos, but two of my favorite parts of the new branch: the circulation desk has been replaced by self-checkout machines and a “customer service” desk, plus the librarians work at a desk that implores patrons to “ASK ME.”  Love it!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

I was appalled when I read in the L.A. Times (“A Challenge for Teachers and Students” by Teresa Watanabe) this morning that, at least in California, instructors are given only 45 minutes to teach students about 9/11.  Now I don’t happen to think that 9/11 is the single most important event ever in U.S. history.  But I do believe that it has, so far, been the most influential event of the 21st century and that if young people are to, at all, objectively consider why our country is where it is today, then they must learn about and discuss the ramifications of this critical event.  If teachers aren’t allowed to conduct these conversations, then it’s up to public librarians to do so.

I was president of the California Library Association (CLA) when the terrorists struck on 9/11.  Although I was grieving like everyone else, I also saw the opportunity for librarians to take a lead in the local, as well as national, healing process.  And so I wrote a column, called “Light in Times of Darkness,” for CLA’s now defunct newsletter California Libraries, urging my colleagues to use their professional skills to help others move through their mourning and confusion. Ten years later, I believe this admonition remains just as relevant. If you think so, too, then please read on.

“Light in Times of Darkness”

The ruins of what once was the World Trade Center are still smoldering as I write this column.  Emergency crews are working around the clock to rescue people trapped under the rubble.  Medical personnel, counselors, and religious leaders are all caring for the survivors.  Everyone has a role to play in overcoming the crisis.  Even my husband, who works in radio here in Los Angeles, is on 24-hour alert in case a late story breaks and all hands are required at the station.  In the library profession, many of us are asking ourselves what we can do to help others in such a time of dire national need.

Like most of you, I was riveted to my television set watching the unbelievable events unfold on September 11th.  As a human being I was outraged by the deliberate acts of violence perpetrated against the innocent people of New York City and Washington, DC.  As a librarian and educator, however, I was fascinated by the reporters trying to cover the details of the disaster as objectively and thoroughly as possible.  Although horrified, I was nonetheless grateful for the FAA’s visual documentation of the flight paths taken by the hijackers and even for the amazing footage that captured the destruction of their ultimate destinations.  As shocking as these images were, they remain primary evidence of the careful planning that went into the execution of these heinous acts.  Even more poignant were the accounts of the people who viewed and/or experienced the disaster first-hand.  Their stories create a context which supports the enormity of the events of that day.  Pictures of airplanes flying into buildings may provide us with irrefutable fact; but it’s the eyewitness accounts that help us understand the underlying truth of what really happened.

Unfortunately, in the days following the disaster, the media have become so frenzied to report whatever they see, the full picture is sometimes obscured by the sensationalism of the moment.  As Los Angeles Times commentator Howard Rosenberg recently noted, TV newscasters have a bad habit of reporting information without first sorting it out.  That, of course, is why we are so important.  Unlike other professionals, librarians are obligated to objectively provide the information people need to make sense of this national tragedy.  

So how do we proceed?  We do this by practicing keen collection development skills that emphasize accurate and balanced sources of information.  Certainly our shelves are full of materials describing and lauding the American way of life; but books about our possible enemies must also be represented to help us understand what motivates their actions.  Furthermore, we must assist our users in navigating the sometimes murky depths of the Internet.  Which pieces of virtual information are trustworthy and which are not?  Which are created with the sole purpose of inciting hatred and prejudice and which are not?  We may choose not to block access to inflammatory websites, but we must then be equally vigilant in promoting more reliable and objective sources of information if these are indeed what our customers want.

As reference librarians, we must also keep up-to-date on the issues of the day so we can answer our patrons’ questions intelligently.  Although we ourselves may not be able to ease their minds, we should at least know enough of the situation to make an appropriate referral.  In addition, we should provide space in our facilities where people can talk to each other about their concerns and fears.  There is much we can do to help others cope with the crisis and prepare for the days ahead. In particular, we can invite local officials to hold a town hall meeting in the library’s community room; present programs and storytimes that inspire hope and leadership; bring in experts to discuss emergency planning; and create bookmarks or webliographies of local social service agencies.  

By providing access to all necessary information the library remains an ever-important source of enlightenment, especially in times of darkness.

Source:  California Libraries (October 2001): 1, 13.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Side Gig

Although I swore I’d never attend another ALA conference in New Orleans (too damn hot!), I couldn’t resist the opportunity to be on a panel of librarians who, like me, work several jobs. The program was called “The Side Gig: How to Supplement Your Income in Tough Economic Times” and featured seven women, including me, who hold down a variety of jobs—everything from dog-walking to moonlighting as hourly reference librarians. Some even contribute articles to a number of information-based websites, like Groupon and It was fascinating to hear just how creative librarians can be when full-time employment isn’t available.

My own story is slightly different. For the past 16 years, I’ve voluntarily chosen to work part-time. In 1995, I quit my full-time public librarian job to pursue a Ph.D. in library science. Since receiving my doctorate in 2000, I’ve managed to cobble together the equivalent of 40 hours (or more!) of work a week, despite being employed only part-time. I prefer working at home and really like the variety of opportunities that come my way. Besides, if I were laid-off from one of my part-time gigs, I could live on the income from the other job(s), if necessary. I am also lucky to have a husband whose well-paying job is fairly secure.

Tips on Becoming a Part-Time Teacher

I work part-time for the California State Library. I consider this my “real” job because it’s permanent and pays benefits. I’ve also taught MLIS courses for more than two decades—first for the San José State University’s School of Library and Information Science (1991-2000) and since 2000 for the UCLA Department of Information Studies. Teaching can be emotionally as well as financially rewarding, but is, of course, not for everyone.

If you are thinking of becoming, say, an adjunct professor who teaches an occasional master’s-level course—or even classes for a local library technology program—I strongly recommend that you start small by first making presentations before non-library groups (e.g., Rotary, campus clubs, etc.). This will help test whether you like public speaking and allow you to practice organizing your thoughts into a coherent and compelling presentation. If you do well, you might then decide to volunteer to be on a library conference panel or offer to guest lecture as part of a library course.

The next step would be to pull together a full-blown workshop (2-4 hours) on a professional or personal topic you know well. Potential opportunities include local library conferences, university extension courses, and even “learning annex” type workshops. Do you have what it takes to hold people’s attention for several hours? Are you able to present your knowledge in a way that encourages others to learn from you?

Conducting a successful workshop can be bliss; but teaching a multi-week course is often something altogether different and much more complicated. How does one create a semester-long curriculum covering lots of different topics? Which criteria should be used to grade papers? How do we keep our students consistently engaged from week to week? One of the best ways to answer these questions is to team-teach with an experienced instructor before venturing out on your own. This is especially important if it’s been several years since you’ve been inside a classroom yourself.

Once you’re ready to become a part-time instructor, you can contact local schools and let them know what topics you teach. Salary often depends on a combination of teaching and work experience, plus level of education (i.e., Ph.D. vs. MLIS).

Tips on Freelance Consulting

In addition to teaching, I also occasionally accept freelance consulting gigs to either (1) manage a short-term project or (2) evaluate existent library services or programs. The secret to marketing yourself as a consultant is to develop an area of expertise (through research and/or experience) that few others have. Then, as much as possible, share your knowledge by publishing articles and presenting at conferences. You will also want to subscribe to relevant e-lists and immerse yourself in the literature about your area of expertise.

Once your name becomes associated with an area of expertise, you may get offers to speak at conferences or advise on projects. You should seriously consider all opportunities that come your way, even if it means going outside your comfort zone. I have a fairly notorious fear of flying. And yet, I have traveled to libraries around the country, conducting workshops on subjects I know well and am particularly passionate about. You can also create your own opportunities by applying for research grants in order to develop your expertise even further.

Final Words of Advice

1. Do a thorough self-inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. What skills and/or knowledge can you offer others as either a teacher or consultant? What limitations might keep you from pursuing certain opportunities—overly-committed work schedule? geographical restrictions? fear of flying?—and how will you overcome them?

2. No matter which path you take, stay connected to the library profession by keeping up with the literature and remaining active in library associations. Even while I was a doctoral student, people knew my name because of my work through the California Library Association.

3. Cultivate a strong network of colleagues. Good jobs will come your way if you’re a good worker, but it’s often “who you know” that gets you in the door.

4. Take advantage of opportunities that come your way and always follow-through. Cultivate a good reputation by meeting expectations.

5. And finally, if you’re going to work several jobs, be sure to create boundaries for yourself so you’re not completely consumed by work. This is especially important if you work at home, where it’s very easy to plug yourself into your computer from the moment you get up until you go back to bed that night. Trust me—you do not want your life to become the “side gig.”