If you’re applying for a job at Hot Topic or your local tattoo place – any of those would be acceptable; but they are not appropriate for a library

This is definitely of interest to me. I have a nose stud – usually tiny – and when I was teaching, school principals were happy for me to keep it in. If it meant the difference between getting a job and unemployment, you can bet that it would go (at least during working hours). I have a small tattoo on my ankle which would be covered up, but was considering getting an inner-wrist tattoo. Perhaps this is something I should hold out on for a while. What do my followers think?

Tacit, Explicit and Cultural Knowledge in a Student-Run Bookshop

When I took a module in Management during my MLIS, we had to reflect on aspects of the subject in relation to our real lives and our own experience. I had initial trepidations about this task as much of my own experience lay in retail (a bookshop and copy-print centre) and in teaching. However after some reading on the topic, I found it easier to place myself, retrospectively, in the role of ‘manager’. This piece was originally published on The Librarian Manager, my blog for that module. However, I’ve edited down a little to replicate it here.

Reading: Managing and Organisations, by Stuart R. Clegg and Chun Wei Choo’s ‘Working with knowledge: how information professionals help organisations manage what they know’.

How to manage knowledge within an organisation

My interpretation of this topic was that knowledge within an organisation is a fluid, ever shifting concept which needs to be maintained, encouraged, and nourished. By providing members of the organisation with incentives and opportunities to build on their knowledge, codify this knowledge, and share and expand on this knowledge, organisations can facilitate exploitation and exploration of knowledge (allowing companies to be the best within their field of expertise and giving space for the company to explore alternatives to their current model, in case of a quickly evolving market or the ongoing technological revolution, to give two examples). All of this must be encouraged while making sure not to succumb to information overload – or any non-discriminating collection of knowledge.

On a micro level, companies can encourage innovation by allowing staff time to think creatively, and by allowing all members of an organisation take part in whatever process in which the company is engaged. The end result of this process cannot be controlled or managed, but managers can do everything in their power to point it in a certain direction.

Another organisational challenge is to maintain momentum, keep on top of chaos and never allow the company to stagnate within a particular rut (even if that rut is a commercially successful product – there needs to be an alternative in case that product is rendered obsolete by some technological development or environmental directive).

Choo’s article went into more detail than Clegg’s chapters with regard to Tacit Knowledge, Explicit Knowledge and Creative Knowledge. While reading her explanation of these terms, my own experience working in a very small business came to mind.

My personal experience

house6_borderWhen I was an undergraduate student, I worked part-time in the Students’ Union (SU) Bookshop on campus in Trinity. It was a second-hand bookshop, and while it was under the auspices of the SU, it was run as a co-operative. The six co-operative members jointly managed and ran the shop, dividing hours and responsibilities six ways. The co-op had run this way for over a decade, and expertise and experience had been passed down from member to member. When people left (usually when they were graduating) a new member would be found through interview, and a long training process ensued where as much knowledge as possible was passed down to the new member. Where possible, we carefully avoided losing more than two members at a time (though once, this proved unavoidable). When hiring new members, all current members had to agree, and new members were selected using several criteria, including free hours, enthusiasm, subject knowledge and willingness to work in a team. We tried to balance subject knowledge. While we could have run an exclusively English Literature-only co-op, it would not have helped our stock (we selected and bought our own stock, depending on perceived need amongst other things). With this small business model in mind, I thought of the various types of knowledge mentioned in Choo’s article.

Tacit knowledge: I interpret this as an individual person’s ability to understand his or her job from their past experience. In relation to the SU Bookshop, my tacit knowledge was my intuition about which books were likely to sell, a general idea of how much certain books should cost, and what to advice English or Philosophy students who weren’t sure which books they actually needed to buy (these were my own undergraduate subjects). Further tacit knowledge was the ability to deal with a queue of people, knowing where to go if I needed till roll or change, what detail to put into weekly minutes and how to deal with our accountant. I also knew, tacitly, how and where to shelve books, which section a historical novel went in, whether to buy Cliff Notes, when to turn down a student’s request to sell their books and what to say to the Americans who turned up looking for Kelly’s Book (it being Trinity College, this happened with alarming regularity. I kid not).

So how did the SU Bookshop ensure that my tacit knowledge wasn’t lost when I graduated? First, we often worked in pairs for certain tasks, so a relatively newer co-op member would be on the same shift as me. I would go through a particular section or task with this person if the shop was quiet, and let them emulate or copy me the next time around. I would share my experience through telling stories over coffee, through regular social outings, and in my report to our weekly meeting. As my final year was drawing close, I added to our “Co-opsters’ Notebook” any gems or important things I felt had helped me within the shop. And finally, my replacement was taken on six weeks before I left, and she shadowed me for that whole period.

Explicit knowledge: This is more of a rule-based knowledge; it is more formal and usually documented. With the SU Bookshop, this was our formal, documented policy system.

  • If X happens, do Y.
  • If a student brings a novel, and if the novel is likely to sell, give that student 30% of the original price, and mark that up to 50% on the price sticker.
  • When we have only two lab coats in a particular size left [we sold lab coats and dissection kits as well as books], and if it’s the first semester, then order 20 more coats if it’s Small, 30 more coats if it’s Medium, 20 if it’s Large, and so on. If it’s the second semester, do not order more lab coats.
  • If you are working alone, and you need to leave the shop, do not leave a customer in the shop when you leave. Double lock the door and leave a note saying when you’ll be back.

These rules could be followed by anyone, even on their first day. They didn’t require experience, but they were still vital. They were written up in a document, which was easily accessible. The rules were added to over time, and irrelevant ones were removed.

Cultural knowledge: This is the core beliefs and understandings of the organisation, based on years of experience, observation and reflections. To the SU Bookshop, we promoted the fact that we were a service rather than a commercial, profit-making entity. We resisted pressure from the SU accountant to increase the prices and to only stock expensive Business and Science textbooks. We encouraged our customers to stay as long as they wanted, and provided a window seat for those who wanted to read but not buy. We continued to include subject sections which made a loss because we believed it was important to provide these books. We displayed notices and flyers for smaller societies with tiny budgets, but didn’t display posters for the big campus societies. We made cups of tea for customers who looked like they needed them. We welcomed past co-op members, and contacted them for advice if we weren’t sure how to deal with issues. We took turns with working early shifts and quiet shifts. We gave old stock to charity shops or let customers take them for free.

Very little of this was documented, but there was an organisational memory and an understood philosophy which made it easier for us decide how to run the shop, and how to stay true to our ethos.

**The people currently working in the SU Bookshop don’t know me or my cohort in any real sense, but our contributions to the shop are still visible and policies we introduced still exist. For many years, each co-op member left a paint hand-print over

**Sadly the SU Bookshop was closed down for financial reasons since this post was first published. It has been replaced with an online, buy-and-sell listing for students. All the lovely accumulated knowledge gathered over the years lives on in the minds of the many co-opsters lucky enough to work there for a time. And the student body? They get this: http://bookshop.tcdsu.org/

The new SU "bookshop"

The Tumblarian, controversy, and the future of the library

Library books on shelf

During my final semester I wrote a paper (an ‘Environmental Scan’ to be precise) which covered posts on Tumblr and across the wider Internet which examined discussion surrounding the identity of the modern librarian, specifically in response to the launch of the Tumblr blog Librarian Shaming, but also, to a smaller extent, MG Siegler’s 2013 speech on the end of the library and Neil Gaiman’s speech on why our futures rely on libraries. This post is a contracted version of this paper.

The nature of Tumblr – especially its reblog function – allowed me to analyse the community’s reaction to the above three events (for want of a better word). I focused on what was happening during a very specific timespan – from the end of September to the end of November, 2013. During these two months, it felt as though online librarians were actively defining themselves and the profession, prompted (or, perhaps, prodded) by the events linked above. Online discussion is a powerful force, and this post follows some of the more interesting discussions in detail. Forgive me if some of this is over-academic in style. Its genesis as a submitted essay precludes my ability to edit out sections that may be irrelevant in this particular format.

Social media has become an everyday part of the modern library. By utilising platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr, libraries now have new ways of accessing and reaching out to their patrons. Interestingly, individual librarians are also using such social media outlets in a para-professional way: they are posting as members of the profession, to discuss professional issues in a personal capacity. This allows them to carve out a new identity for the profession. And, usefully, Andy Burkhadt suggested, ‘through conversations on social media, libraries can gain insights into what their users want and need and ultimately understand their users better’ (2010). So it’s not just the librarians who are benefiting from this.

About the community

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Tumblr, there is a curated list of libraries, librarians, library school students and library para-professionals who are active on Tumblr. This is maintained by Kate Tkacik (aka thelifeguardlibrarian, an apt pseudonym). At present, it is made up of 101 libraries and 498 individuals (librarians, Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) students and para-professionals). Those within this community refer to themselves as ‘Tumblarians’, a portmanteau of ‘Tumblr Librarians’. The Tumblarian community functions through the use of the Tumblr ‘follow’ feature, in which followed blogs’ posts appear in a chronological feed. Users can ‘reblog’ posts of interest, adding their own commentary. Users can also track tags – Tumblr allows for user-generated metadata, in the form of tags – and the community attaches tags such as #libraries, #librarians and #tumblarians, depending on the content of the post. For the purposes of this study, both original blog posts and responses to selected posts via reblogs have been scanned, all of which originate from members of this community.

But you didn’t need to read all of that if you are an active Tumblarian, as many of you are.

As I am an active member of the Tumblarian community myself, I have been able to follow the discussion on our identity, and was able to select the ones I felt best  represent the community’s attempt to solidify a positive identity. Having analysed types of posts by Tumblarians directly before the period involved, several common themes presented themselves. Removing personal posts (that is, posts not referring to libraries, the library community or library school), remaining posts included the following: the sharing of library- or MLIS-related information and resources, including posts featuring library displays, reference questions and examples of readers’ advisory; requests for information or assistance in library- or MLIS-related matters; information about social issues and social inclusion; anecdotes about events in libraries or in MLIS courses; and, finally, posts about the state of the profession and the public identity of librarians.

Having observed this community for a year, these examples are a fair representation of the general output of this group. Librarians like to share and support each other. We like to give. We also like to say what we think. Generally disagreements do not result in drama or any backbiting, something the community is proud of. Occasionally a topic will arise which pulls the community together or sets members against each other. Such a controversy occurred during the time period above, both directly and indirectly resulting in a shift in the type of posts being generated and requiring the community to define itself in the face of perceived external stereotypes and prejudices.

‘Librarian Shaming’

A new blog entitled ‘Librarian Shaming’ was launched on 30th September, following a popular post on the Dracut Library blog. The premise of the new blog was that librarians could submit their ‘shameful’ secrets, in the form of handwritten confessions held up in front of (and hiding) the submitter’s face. Text submissions were also accepted. The submissions ranged from harmless disclosures such as, ‘I read library books in the bathtub’  to more controversial confessions, such as, ‘We do pay attention to which items you check out and we definitely judge you’  and ‘I hate patrons’.

Librarian Shaming was quickly featured on several high profile websites and blogs (including The Christian Science Monitor, Mashable, Neatorama, LISNews and Flavorwire) as well as in online editions of the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, where it was portrayed as an amusing new meme which gently poked fun at librarians. The Daily Mail’s review described Librarian Shaming as revealing ‘that library workers have just as many guilty pleasures and embarrassing secrets as the rest of us’; and while this might have inspired readers to see librarians in a more positive light, readers’ comments revealed a quietly negative attitude to the profession. One comment read: ‘Why are there still librarians in the age of the Internet?’  to which another commenter replied, ‘Because books don’t shelve themselves and somebody has to clean the bathrooms’. The Library Journal’s ‘Annoyed Librarian’ column also addressed the topic of Librarian Shaming. ‘It’s supposed to be librarians shaming themselves, but simply embarrassing themselves seems more like it,’ the author writes, continuing further on, ‘Some, I assume, we’re supposed to find daring, like this one: “I don’t care about teaching library research skills because I GOOGLED my way through grad school and did just fine!” To which I wanted to reply, no, you Googled your way through library school, and that doesn’t count’.

The Tumblarian community vocalised a variety of issues with regard to Librarian Shaming, most of which referred to the reputation and identity of the profession and how the blog could damage this. There were numerous short text posts which alluded to Librarian Shaming, but these came to a head on 21st October with a text submission to Librarian Shaming which read:

‘To all those “librarians” who hate their patrons, hide from them, and lie to them to get them out of their hair… I would gladly take your job off your hands. I’ve been trying to for over a year now. Would you like my resume? Sincerely, A recently minted and horribly underpaid MLIS graduate who just wants to be a librarian already.’

The Tumblarian community vociferously reblogged this submission, adding impassioned commentary on both sides of the debate.

Tumblr user thereadingmouse commented that

‘the point of librarian shaming is that the librarian is anonymous, so this gives them a chance to vent’.

Tumblr user heidireadsya asked,

‘But is “Librarian Shaming” the appropriate place for venting? That particular Tumblr is getting some attention from outside the library community, and I think it’s dangerous that this could be the public face of libraries,’ adding also that the community already battles against negativity, and if the community portrays itself in this way, people ‘may not want to support us.’

User glassink defended the blog, commenting that

‘it’s important that our patrons see us as people’

and that

‘they already know the people we mean when we say we hate patrons’.

The same user also added that,

‘Librarian shaming (sic) is a forum for librarians to talk to each other and share their secrets, and the response it has gotten means that a lot of librarians really identify with the things that are submitted’.

Adding to the debate against Librarian Shaming, theinnkeeperlibrarian commented that

‘there will be problems, there will be patrons we don’t like,’ and added, ‘but you don’t talk about that in a public place, where people who want to look for problems in the library in order to argue against their higher taxes or tuition.’

As the debate continued, much of what was published focused on how librarians are perceived by the public and how the Tumblarian community was, to some extent, responsible for improving the profession’s public image. Thecommonlibrarian (that’s me, by the way) posted:

‘we are already battling against so many prejudices, many unfounded. What a platform like this is doing is further prejudicing the prejudiced and creating more ill will towards our profession’.

Gnomadiclibrarian posted her thoughts on this, after commenting that a blog like Librarian Shaming could be ‘a clever way to break the shh-ing, judge, eagle-nosed librarian stereotype’:

‘But being a public forum it does pose a risk to the image of librarianship if we aren’t careful and I think submitters should be conscious of that when posting their secrets. “Librarian Shaming” […] should be a forum to break stereotypes, not re-enforce them, and I am afraid it is turning into the latter.’

Those behind Librarian Shaming remained quiet during much of this discussion; however, niwandajones (Jim DelRosso) , a moderator for the blog, responded to criticism in a post on 22nd October, pointing out that as a ‘moderately popular tumblr (sic)’, he was ‘less concerned about the image of librarianship being hurt’ (DelRosso, 2013). He added that ‘a lot would be lost if we made this less public, or tried to cut back on negativity’ (niwandajones, 2013). DelRosso published a post on his WordPress blog on 25th October, in which he defended Librarian Shaming, and disagreed that it could have a negative impact on the profession, adding that

‘any “supporter” who would hold something some anonymous library worker said against you never supported you in the first place’ and that’ reasonable people will recognize the site for what it is: a place to vent’.

Libraries in the media (click to continue) (more…)

Black OR Queer? Life at the Intersection

This is so important. I’ll also add that my MLIS programme has no modules on diversity or intersectionality.


Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Fobazi M. Ettarh.

Black people are more homophobic.

Racism is over. LGBTQ rights are the new Civil Rights.

Well at least Black people can get married!

My classmates spit these words at me during the discussion of Civil Rights in young adult literature. I had expressed my discomfort at the conflation of the Civil Rights and LGBTQ movement. These words, while familiar, still stung. As usual, I was the only person of color (POC) in the room. Many studentsandlibrarians have talked about diversifying the MLIS and field of librarianship. But what about the librarians already in the field?

My journey in getting the MLIS has been difficult. As someone who identifies as a queer person of color (QPOC), the overwhelming white heteronormativity of the program here at Rutgers is disheartening. I have been able to build racial and queer themes…

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This post by Ex tabulis is a worthwhile read for all information professionals (and future information professionals too) who are thinking about their personal branding and online profiles.

(Also thanks a million for the kind words about my Tumblr Venn! I never thought people would pay it more than a passing glance. I’m kind of wishing I’d spent more time on it now!)

A Mass of Odds and Ends

A few weeks ago, I attended a session for library students/new professionals called “Personal Branding and Your Online Presence.” The workshop featured three speakers – Justin Hoenke (Justin the Librarian), Rebecca Goldman (Derangement and Description), and Naomi House (INALJ – I Need A Library Job) – who each gave advice on how to create and maintain a positive online presence. You can find out more about each speaker and find their presentations here. Attendees were also given a personal branding handout with more resources after the event. Find my notes about the presentations after the jump.

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So you want to take a hipster photo?

Last semester I took a module in Creating and Publishing Digital Media. The module was focused on improving our digital literacy and covered everything from using manual settings on our digital cameras, using Photoshop, and editing audio content and making podcasts, to keeping a blog, and using new media such as Prezi.

As a former teacher, I have plenty of experience using Power Point (and trying to make it more interactive and interesting) but I had never come across Prezi before. Initially, I found it very tricky. One issue was that the movement from slide to slide left me feeling a little sea-sick. However, once I got over this, I realised how much fun it could be. One of our assignments was to come up with a Prezi presentation of fewer than twenty slides in which we demonstrated some skill we had learned during the module. The other (and perhaps more difficult) rubric was that the end product had to be ‘punchy’.

Prezi is really nothing like Power Point. You’re given a huge (almost infinite) canvas onto which you lay shapes. You work these shapes into some kind of path, and fill them with meaning – whether this meaning takes the form of words, images or symbols is up to you. I only used a tiny percentage of the features on offer in this presentation, but I can imagine an expertly produced presentation could really grasp an audience. Prezi would also be excellent for illustrating certain types of statistics or even bringing to life the various branches of a family tree. It took a lot of playing around with it to understand how it worked, so if you’re thinking of using it, try not to let initial frustrations hold you back.

I’ll let you make up your own mind about whether my Hipster Photography presentation fulfilled the instructor’s specifications. And if you’re prone to sea-sickness, it’s best not to watch it full screen.

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 00.02.08

If you’re interested in any of the other projects I worked on in this module, you can see them all on my class blog, Digitising. If you don’t feel like trawling through it, here are links to my podcast and my photography portfolio.

The Brothers Green inspire a thousand Dublin teens

I was going to start this post with a jaded summary of all the awful generalisations I’ve heard about young people recently, in order to provide a stark contrast with what I’m going to write next. I even had a handful of sentences outlining the choicest (and consequently, most objectionable) examples when I realised that, by implication, I was creating a generalisation just as foul: that is, that many adults don’t think much of our teenagers. I don’t believe this is true. Many adults devote their lives to teens, whether as teachers, librarians, community activists, parents or authors. I know there are many categories, but the more I listed, the more obvious and awkward the omissions would be.

I could write at length about the many friends and peers I’m lucky enough to know who value teenagers (and deservedly so), but I’m afraid it would be a pretty dry read. So consider yourself spared. (I’m assuming you’ll just trust me on this.) Sometimes I think you just have to take your cue from teenagers themselves. In my own experience, teenagers represent themselves best when they’re doing something they’re passionate or fanatical about (with a few obvious exceptions). And in my very recent experience, teenagers are an awesome (in every sens of the word) force to be reckoned with when they’re passionate and fanatical in large numbers. So perhaps we just need to provide them with opportunities for this.

Which brings me on to The Fault in Our Stars – Live

I was privileged to find myself in the company of around a thousand excited, animated and borderline hysterical teens last Wednesday night. If I had been transposed into the mass with no knowledge of context (and with my eyes shut) I would have placed myself at the centre of a crowd at a pop concert (I just realised how old that phrase makes me seem). Indeed the cacophonous zeal around me reminded me of the atmosphere at my first ever concert in the Point Depot (concert venue in Dublin, for those outside the Emerald Isle). But even that (Ash, and I was 14, if you’re interested) wasn’t as loud or fervent as the Concert Hall in the RDS this week. Instead of band t-shirts, the clothes of the teenagers surrounding me were displaying pithy quotes from books. A few had the word ‘Nerd’ scrawled on their forearms.

So what was enthusing the crowd? The prospect of seeing their favourite author and his younger brother on stage. In fairness, John Green is probably not a typical author, even within the Young Adult genre. His accessibility helps: he blogs almost daily on Tumblr, often interjecting in fans’ posts about him (to their disbelieving delight); he and his brother Hank post weekly video blogs under the collective name Vlogbrothers; he tweets regularly too, regularly engaging with his fans through this medium. But not everyone this prolific receives the same level of adulation.

Hank and John Green

Hank (left) and John (right) Green pose for their fans’ photographs, encouraging them to Photoshop themselves in afterwards

John Green’s books are obviously a major element in his popularity. I’m a recent convert. I’m not going to review them here, but as a future librarian, I can assure you that they will feature heavily in any Young Adult collection I have the pleasure to curate. All but one has a teenage, male protagonist (the latest, and the book that lends its title to this particular tour, The Fault in Our Stars, has a female narrator). The protagonists are likeable, three-dimensional and reassuringly normal. Most are more than slightly nerdy too, and this seems to be the key to their author’s elevated position.

Evangelical followers of John and his guitar-strumming younger brother Hank are known as “Nerdfighters”, and I can assure you that the force was most definitely with the Irish Nerdfighters on Wednesday night. They have a special pose (kind of like a double Vulcan V with the forearms crossed over) and their catchphrase is ‘Don’t forget to be awesome’ (or DFTBA). If you want to find out more about what Nerdfighters are all about, you should check out what Eff Yeah Nerdfighters have to say. When I found a seat at the event (and it was a pretty good one: attending solo often has this perk) I was immediately struck by the extreme volume being generated by the rows around me. Every few minutes the rolling chatter was interrupted by a piercing shriek of “DFTBA”.

What was so energising about this crowd was that it was full of highly intelligent, self-professed nerds. Hank, the younger Green, plays the guitar and played several songs with topics such as quarks, Harry Potter and deep sea anglerfish. I was one of the few not singing along. I will admit that I wished that my fifteen year old self could have been a part of this movement. I still enjoyed it (very much) and I was in awe of the Green brothers’ ability to tune into the pulse of the teens in the crowd. They spoke the lingo, mentioned the music and the books they loved. They didn’t, even once, speak down to the crowd. Their vocabulary was unchecked (which is characteristic of John Green’s novels and the brothers’ YouTube videos). They did comment on the volume of the crowd – I had assumed this level of noise might have been a regular occurrence at their gigs, but it seems the Irish crowd may have surpassed the norm. John Green mentioned this again afterwards on Twitter.

Every audience member was given a free, signed copy of The Fault in Our Stars as part of their €12.99 ticket fee. While John and Hank didn’t take photos with fans afterwards, they did strike a few poses on stage and encouraged fans to Photoshop themselves in and tag them on Tumblr (this has been taken up after every night of the “TFiOSlive” tour and the results are creative and hilarious). They stayed on to sign whatever fans had brought with them. As a bibliophile it warmed me to the core to see bustling queues of teens carrying tottering bundles of dog-eared books.

I slipped out before the queue had advanced too far. As my copy of The Fault in Our Stars was left with the impression of John’s signature (a scribbled ‘John’ in green ink) and Hank’s trademark ‘Hanklerfish’ (in pink), my whole being was marked by the whole spectacle. I felt incredibly emotional to see so many Irish teenagers going absolutely bonkers over an author. But even more than that, I had seen an example of how treating young people a certain way – in this case as intelligent, vibrant, important human beings – provides an incentive and clears a path for self-actualisation.

And if I came away with any messages, they would be thus: words matter; books matter; enthusiasm, nerdery, intellectual engagement and being free to indulge in the power of fiction all matter; and, finally, giving teens the space, inspiration and self-belief to achieve what they had the potential to achieve anyway, is perhaps the greatest thing we can do.

Wednesday night was another of those moments where my calling to YA librarianship became clearer.

The Fault in Our Stars Live event in Dublin on 6th February 2013 was made possible with the help of Penguin (UK and Ireland) and Easons. Special mention should go to the Easons YA book buyer who introduced the Greens… Can anyone help me out with his name?