Monday, January 28, 2013

Midwinter, where the business of librarianship gets done

I think other people must also experience those flashes of doubt, moments at conferences when you wonder why you chose to leave your home, family, and its accordant comforts for the whirligig of running between meetings at far-flung hotels, surviving off overpriced yet mediocre convention center food, and breathing the stale forced air in meeting rooms and airplanes. You must run your own personal cost-benefit analysis, especially if you are paying for your own expenses. I always conclude that it is most definitely worth it to be an active participant in raising the profile and ensuring the success of the particular portion of the profession serving young people. This Midwinter meeting has left me with a feeling of sheer pride in ALA as the body of American librarianship and a real sense of optimism about its direction.

ALA is tackling difficult and important issues like equitable access to digital resources while simultaneously promoting the rich tradition of literature, be it the informational resources and literature honored at RUSA's CODES or the Youth Media Awards, like the Caldecott Medal, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. The commemorative logo below is the work of the incredible Brian Selznick.

The big discussion this time centered around pegging association dues to the Consumer Price Index. It's a difficult thing given the stagnant economy and younger people in particular articulating their desire for tangible benefits from organizational membership. No ones likes price hikes, but dues have only increased twice over the past sixteen years, and this thumbnail analysis actually demonstrates that association membership has actually decreased as an expense over time, while also giving some pause about using the CPI as a trigger. Right now, there is a proposed graduated increase over five years that will then be studied to analyze its effect on overall membership and revenues. We will see how the governing body reacts to that proposal.

My job (and email) change meant I missed a lot of invitations to the fun publisher events at places like the public library and the Space Needle, but my schedule was so chockablock I'm not sure I could have squeezed in another thing. In Council, we discussed, in small groups, how to attract and retain new members, and the theme of maintaining interpersonal connections recurred. Though I had done divisional committee work, I think it was the Emerging Leaders program which really gave me confidence in working within the larger organization. And I do view so much of what I do at conference, be it livestreaming the Youth Media Awards on my phone, tweeting from Council, or typing up the minutes from a committee meeting, in terms of service to others, representing and communicating with those without the wherewithal or means to be there in person.

Personally, I figure out how to make it work. This time, I used my frequent flyer points for a ticket and stayed a bit further from the convention center to halve my conference housing costs. I have been fortunate that my school district supports my professional participation by allowing me to run off for a week at a time, after missing days here and there for other meetings and events. It makes me very sad that other schools do not see the value in it.

For me personally, Midwinter also marks the beginning of some new things, as I start member management of the YALSA blog, and the end of some other things I've worked on, particularly the Office of Information Technology Task Force on Digital Literacy, whose report on how libraries support digital skills over a lifetime was released the day I left home. It is an exciting product because it places school libraries in a complimentary continuum with public and academic library settings and illustrates how all must work in concert to promote lifelong learning.

Tomorrow, we return to Council for the third and final day, one of the last meetings after the exhibitors have left and so many people are already back at home. And of course we are already planning for the Annual Conference, in Chicago this June. See you there?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On being a woman (in a woman’s field)

I try to stay out of the back-and-forth on the biblioblogosphere, but, like everyone else out there, I keep coming back to Julie's salient and through-provoking post.

I commented:
I have been thinking A LOT about the gender side of this. It’s even worse in the school library world, where idolatry of a few high-profile male librarians has reached fever pitch. Not that we don’t need great male role models for our kids, but still… there are lots of women, doing lots of the same sort of things, that never get that attention. Thanks for a great post.
... and went back to a draft post I'd saved here last month:

Back when I was in library school, an eon ago, I remember Dr. Gordy Coleman telling our class that the men in our class would be library directors in two or three years, and that few of the women would reach director, ever. He wasn’t being biased, he was just being frank about what he had observed after watching what hundreds of students had been through over the years. 

A few years ago, an academic library director I knew, with far, far fewer years of experience than I had, try to recruit me for head of public services at the school where he was director. I know that the K12 experience does not directly translate into academia, so in some respects this was a rare opportunity, but I was still a little bit offended. I felt he wanted me to be his lackey. And, when I inquired into an junior college library looking for an electronic resources librarian last year, I was told only two years of academic or public library experience would satisfy the requirements. Frankly, I'm sure they didn’t find a candidate with as much knowledge of ebooks and databases as I have had. It made me sad that our profession could be so small-minded.  

Is it little wonder that school libraries are such havens for women? I can count the men in this specialty I have met on two hands. But more than half of them are “names,” and all of them receive a little more approbation than their practice would warrant, in my opinion.

Part of the reason I chose to move to my new district was the very competent woman superintendent, and the fact that the majority of the school board were women. And the faculty here is more female than my previous high school, even in social studies, which has been male-dominated in my experience.

One of the really cool things about the NationalConversations on Digital Literacy sponsored by ALA’s Washington office has been the number of tech-y women showcased. There are women doing cool things, and they are the same things we usually hear about from men. And I think we, as women, need to be their champions.

I went to library school with every intention of becoming a school librarian, but the derision with which that group and other youth services interested people were treated (and my being very, very impressed by library technology pioneer Professor Michael Malinconico, whose classes I adored) caused me to re-think my initial plan. I ended up working for an automation vendor immediately afterwards because, as my advisor told me, I would be “stuck” if I were to begin in a school library. That experience was terrific, I learned a lot, but it was not librarianship in any real sense. 

I might be "stuck," now but I am happy, and I help people every day. And it's 2013, but sometimes I feel like it's 1913 when it comes to gender politics in the workplace.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Anticipating midwinter, and news

I hear that yesterday was supposed to be the statistically gloomiest day of the year. Things here certainly bear that out. It went from unseasonable 70s over the weekend to freezing temperatures yesterday, and my galoshes are getting a workout.

I'm getting a little tired of driving to and from school in the dark, and of waiting for feedback on "that paper" (as someone I know once put dissertations into perspective). The substitute I'd lined up for ALA Midwinter backed out, too, so I have to hustle to find someone with whom I'm comfortable.

But -- Seattle! Well, I'm very much looking forward to it, but I'm going to be exceptionally busy, with lots of committee work commitments, and ALA Council. I will be speaking on the OITP Task Force on Digital Literacy panel Saturday at 3. And don't miss the USBBY session Friday night at 8.

In related news, I'm very excited to be the new member manager of the YALSA blog. And it was a thrill to see my name on both the YALSA and the ALA home page.

Back at work, I'm still chewing on the question of the library supplying required reading. After all, it could be half of our circulation if we met the student demand for those books. But I ran the numbers yesterday, and the amount of curricular titles checked out dropped to 13.7% percent of fall semester checkouts, versus 17.8% last year. So, more voluntary engagement with books. But circulation is still far from what I'd like it to be... I need to write more about the transition from a robust library program to one with entirely different concerns and practices, but I'm freaking out a little about having to move everything into a portable or into storage before Spring Break in March. We should know for sure if that's the timeline -- tonight.