Castle Librarian

Archive for the ‘Librarianship’ Category

IB Curriculum and Libraries

In Librarianship, Musing on March 16, 2014 at 9:06 pm

In my job hunt, I’m finding that lack of experience working at an International Baccalaureate institution trumps a Master’s degree, 20 years of experience, and international teaching experience, resulting in my early elimination from the candidate pool. This leads me to ask how is library service to the IB curriculum uniquely different from library service to any other school curriculum?

Here’s what I understand about IB curriculum.

“The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.” IBO mission

The curriculum focuses on guiding students to be well rounded global citizens, mindful of other people, other cultures, and planetary concerns. The curriculum emphasizes critical thinking skills, a variety of intelligences (ways of knowing), areas of knowledge, and ways of interacting.

Here’s how I would describe library services in a nutshell:
Gather, organize and disseminate information. Teach others to access and utilize information ethically.

How does IB curriculum impact or change library services?

1. Selection of library materials (print and electronic) – everything must relate to the curriculum and support it. Even fiction is related to the curriculum. This isn’t unique to IB schools. Every school library collection should be built to support the school’s curriculum.

2. Information literacy instruction – IB curriculum is probably the best example of information literacy being integrated into the curriculum. The key to successful information literacy instruction is delivery at point of need. Close collaboration with teachers to bring students to the library and make sure they receive instruction on how to access and use information related to an actual information need project is vital.

3. Library environment – Libraries used to be places that people had to go to obtain information. That is no longer true because we have powerful information devices in our pockets. Libraries need to be welcoming, social spaces. Students will come for a place to be alone and for a place to be with others. The library should have a variety of spaces for a variety of activities. Events and programs should be provided to bring students into the library space. Book clubs, board gaming, video book review production, poetry readings, guest authors, quiet times, etc. The timing of these activities should correlate to the curriculum.

The impact of the curriculum on library services lies in the finer details – selecting the right resources, timing the teaching, and planning supportive activities. The heart of librarianship is the same.

I hope that after reading this, if you are weighing a Master’s degree, 20 years of librarianship and international teaching experience against no previous IB experience, the scales will tip in my favor.

Dear Prospective Employer

In Librarianship, Musing on February 8, 2014 at 7:04 pm

Dear Prospective Employer:

When conducting a video conference job interview, please practice ahead of time, especially if you have never done it before. If there are several interviewers, please choose a room and camera placement where all can be seen by the interviewee. Please check the display on the screen to see how you appear, not just how the interviewee appears. Also, remember to ask if the interviewee has any questions. You are also being interviewed and you represent your institution.


As you might deduce, I am job hunting. I’ve been on both sides of the hiring process. I have written resumés, CVs, and cover letters. I’ve received and read resumés, CVs, and cover letters. I’ve participated in job interviews on both sides of the table. One good thing about all this experience is that I have become fairly cool and collected during the interview. I am prepared. I come up with answers to the typical questions. I list questions that I have, as well, because I am interviewing the prospective employer while they are interviewing me.

I’ve learned from good and bad situations. I was once on a hiring committee and heard the applicant tell us everything we wanted to hear. When this person actually came to work, we discovered a whole different person. The results were disastrous for everyone, even the applicant. What I learned from this is how important it is for me to be honest with myself and aware of my genuine strengths and weaknesses, and to present myself accurately. If I am not what they are looking for, it is stupid to pretend to be, out of desperation for a job. Neither side will be happy in the end.

I’ve learned to apply for jobs based on “do I want to do it” not “can I do it.” There are lots of jobs I could perform quite well, but would not enjoy or find fulfilling. When I am reading job descriptions and come across a duty or phrase that makes me cringe, I move on. That one is not for me.

I’ve learned to watch for non-verbal clues from interviewers to help deduce if the work environment will be pleasant or stressful. If I’m being interviewed by a group of people who are potential co-workers, I ask them straight out what the work environment is like. If they are uncomfortable or have difficulty answering that question, I know not all is well.

I am also watching for signs of professionalism or lack thereof. Poor communication before an interview, poor communication during an interview, and poor communication after an interview are all interest killers. I will be clear in my communications. I will be on time. I will tell you the truth. I will follow up after an interview with a thank you note. Please be clear in your communications. Please be on time. Please notify me of your decision in a timely manner, even if it is “no.” There’s nothing quite like an interview followed by complete silence.

Probably the worst thing I can hear during the hiring process is the “ability to deal with change” or like phrases. This is a red flag, because I have worked in institutions that stressed this in the hiring process and even after. In my experience, it means dealing with the consequences of administrations that are blown about on any wind that comes along resulting in an unstable institution. The onus is pushed off onto the employees at the lower rungs of the hierarchy. They just aren’t being team players if they don’t quietly accept constantly changing directives. I’d rather not work there. I’m all for change and progress when it is managed sensibly.

When reading job advertisements that are very specific, I often wonder if they were written with the previous employee in mind. Did those writing the ad start by saying “we don’t want a person like THAT again!”

There you have it. My thoughts on job hunting, for what it is worth.

The Stupidity of Government Shutdown

In Librarianship, Musing on October 3, 2013 at 5:00 pm


I encountered this today while attempting to use the Library of Congress. I use the Library of Congress catalog and authorities database fairly regularly. I never need to go into the library to access books or interact with the staff. All I need is access to the existing databases. Now, I get that the government shut down results in the closing of the library doors and the leave with out pay for the staff, but I fail to understand why the computer database has to be blocked. Did they really shut down the servers to save electricity? Doubtful. They probably just routed all traffic to the above message to say “neener neener” to anyone wanting to use it.

Meanwhile, Congress get your act together and stop causing everyone grief.

Where Information Literacy Went Wrong

In Librarianship on January 24, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Over the ages, librarians have taught people how to find information. Until recently, this amounted to teaching people how to find information within the confines of the library. How to use the card catalog to find the location of the needed book on the shelves. How to find magazine and journal articles by subject without paging through each publication. As technology changed, librarians also had to teach people how to use that technology – microfilm, microfiche, audiocassettes, etc. These things were usually taught beginning in elementary school and continuing through to college.

The transition from print to computer resulted in a steep learning curve for everyone. Finding information now required more complex strategies and critical thinking skills. Librarians were on the front lines with the students who were prepared for a card catalog, but facing an Online Public Access Catalog. In trying to help them use the new library to find information, librarians began to see the need for formal instruction and the building of new skills. They dubbed these skills “information literacy.”

Meanwhile, teachers were faced with the learning curve of new technologies, too. As with any group of people, there were early adopters who get on board with new things right away and expend the effort to learn and apply the new tech. Then came the majority who adopt new tech after it has been tested and promoted by the early adopters. These are followed by the laggards who are the last to learn to use the new. Eventually, teachers would have started teaching the new needed skills, but front line librarians didn’t want to wait for the trickle down and let’s face it, computer technology does not wait for people to catch up. Therefore, librarians decided it was their job to teach students these new skills. Now, nearly every librarian job advertisement includes teaching information literacy skills.

There was a crossroads at which librarians had to choose what to do about the student’s need for new skills. What were the options? 1. Help the students at point of need as best as possible. 2. Create a library instruction program to help students work toward the skills in groups. 3. Collaborate with teachers to integrate the skills into K-12-Post-secondary education. 4. Teach the teachers and provide them with the skills that can then be passed on to the students. For the most part, the profession chose Option 2. Option 3 (collaboration) proved too hard because too many teachers were resistent. Too many teachers were put off by the computer technology learning curve. Too many teachers were put off by librarians horning into their business.

It is unfortunate that we didn’t opt for Option 4. We should have aimed our sights at the current teaching staff by offering professional development opportunities and at teacher education programs incorporating information literacy skills in the next generation of teachers. After 20 years of information literacy instruction delivered to students by librarians, we still have students AND teachers who lack those crucial skills. We missed the mark.

Reluctant Readers Breakthrough

In Librarianship, Reading on March 2, 2012 at 10:36 am

I work with the epitome of reluctant readers – a boys high school in an Arab country. Boys tend to be less interested in reading than girls. Add to that, an oral tradition culture and the challenge gets bigger. They don’t grow up with books in the home. They don’t encounter books until school and then books tend to be source of labor and boredom. So, when they come to me at age 13, it is difficult to open the door to the wonder of reading. Did I mention that they are learning English as a second language? The boys don’t have much interest in fiction. They prefer true stories. So, culture, language level, interests all add up to one librarian scratching her head trying to come up with a solution.

One to the most heavily used books in the library is the Guinness Book of World Records. It is opened almost everyday and boys gather in a group to page through and look at the oddities. As I was cataloging The Elephant Man graded reader, a lightbulb went on. The result was a two session read aloud that got their attention.

I started by telling them that it was a true story. “Yes, miss.” But, after hearing the first chapter, they found it hard to believe. Even the photographs from Wikipedia didn’t convince them. By the end of the first reading they were hooked. They wanted to know why Joseph Merrick was disfigured. Why did he die so young? With one class I forgot to write down what page we ended on. I needn’t have worried about where to start. They came in asking if we were going to read more of the story. When I said “yes” a student called out “chapter 6!”

When I finished reading the story to the last class, they begged for more stories “like this one.” Now, my challenge is to find another book. It’s a good challenge to have.

Vicary, Tim. The Elephant Man. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print. ISBN 9780194789042

Faulty Library Foundations

In Librarianship, Musing on October 15, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Most libraries are teetering on faulty foundations and librarians have only themselves to blame. Decades of budget cutting have led to repeated reduction in the quality of technical services, i.e. cataloging. Few libraries have catalogers who are producing complete catalog records that accurately reflect the description of the book, accurate classification, thorough subject headings, and authorized names/series titles. Catalog records are copied from other libraries without checking more than the ISBN or title to make a match. Classification is assumed to be correct. Cutter numbers are not checked against the existing collection to make sure the book is placed where it should be.

In fact, most librarians couldn’t even identify what is wrong with the existing, low quality catalog records. Reference librarians seem to be surprised when they do a catalog search, but do not get the results they expect. Why don’t the right books appear in the results? Because when you put garbage in, you get garbage out.

Non-cataloging librarians view cataloging as a boring occupation for anal-retentive introverts who love rules for the sake of rules, completely missing how foundational and vital it is. Librarianship is about gathering, organizing, and disseminating information. When I catalog, I am not just thinking about the rules, but I am thinking about how a reader will be able to find this book. The sole purpose of the rules is consistency and accuracy in order to provide access. I have trouble understanding why this should not be understood and valued by all librarians, but it is not. The advent of keyword searching led people to think that the cataloging rules are no longer important, but if the keywords are not in the record, what use is a keyword search?

What gets attention and is valued is flash and glitter. An image of the book cover in the catalog display is more important than the inclusion of a contents note or plot summary. Apparently, people are to choose a book by its cover. More importance is placed on consumer ratings and reviews than on professional evaluation.

Unfortunately, administrators who hold the purse strings when faced with budget cutting decisions decided, all too often, that public services could not be cut, but technical services, out of sight in the back room, could be cut without damaging repercussions. They were wrong.

Technical services has been reduced to slapping labels on a book as fast as possible and getting it onto the shelf, any shelf. (I even worked at a library where the director stubbornly insisted that books hit the shelves within 24 hours of receipt. Yet, she wanted high quality catalog records. Let’s just say I left that job.) Time is not spent considering the accuracy of the classification, headings, or subjects. Don’t even get me started on inputting the table of contents in a note field for keyword searching purposes. The catalog is the central finding tool and it is a mess. The status is not quo and we just need to catalog better.