The Job

This is the post I have been waiting to write for some time now. Although I was officially hired about a week ago, I was nervous and unsure about it up until today, when I actually went and worked a whole day. (This is what I did today.) It seems pretty legit at this point.

I am proud to announce that I have been hired as the Project CHART (Cultural Heritage Access Research and Technology) Coordinator at the Brooklyn Public Library effective immediately. Allow me to explain:

Project CHART is a multi-institutional, IMLS-funded grant program focusing on digitizing historic photographs. The grant is sponsored through Pratt Institute’s School of Information and Library Science, and in addition to the Brooklyn Library, the Brooklyn Museum and Brooklyn Historical Society are partners. Our “kickoff” meeting was yesterday, and I am throughly dumb-founded at the planning and foresight that has already gone into this project, and at what is left to do! Fortunately the CHART team is comprised of intelligent, skilled professionals (and me), and I am really looking forward to the next three years. (Did I mention that it is a three year grant? Very nice!)

Top 5 things that are awesome about Project CHART and the fact that they hired me:

  1. I get to work in “the field.” I was starting to think for a while that I would never find a job that would allow me to utilize my education. This has now been proven wrong and I have hope once again.
  2. The ultimate goal of the grant is to “prepare LIS students to become digital managers for cultural heritage institutions.” WHAT? That is the exact reason I went into the MLIS! I was looking for a way to pair my interests and background in American culture studies with digital preservation. So now I am involved in a project that is working toward defining that as a curriculum. No way? Way.
  3. The Institutions – I, Micah L. Vandegrift, will be in a professional position doing important and interesting things with like-minded people who work at the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Historical Society and Brooklyn Public Library. These are like gigantic, established, capital “I” institutions of culture, history and art in freaking NEW YORK CITY. I’m still amazed just walking past the buildings, much less actually doing work inside them.
  4. The People – I was mostly simply amazed at the Kickoff meeting. Just listening to the President of the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Director of Library and Archives at Brooklyn Museum, the Dean of Pratt’s School of ILS, and the Director of Brooklyn Public Library do a item-line budget was overwhelming. Not to mention the archivists/digitization experts who will be supervising team members at the sites. THEN my counterparts (Project Coordinators) at BrookMuse and BHS. Whole lotta awesome in one room.
  5. This seems like the opportunity that perfectly melds my skills with my professional goals. I am alright at web development and production, pretty good at project management, amazing at social/digital media (duh), interested in archives and special collections, captured by ideas like crowdsourcing and curation and fascinated by historic objects. I kept trying to define what sort of job I would want after graduation, and any combination of those elements would make me happy. Serving as a coordinator for Project CHART basically sums all that up.

So my “job” will actually be supervising two interns at BPL as we digitize, metadatatize, and archivize around 6000 photos. Also, the library will be housing the webspace where the shared collections from the three institutions will live, and I hear there’s a Drupal build in the works. No better time to get my hands in some of that too. I will also be planning and executing a variety of symposia, conference papers/presentations, marketing/promo stuffs in collaboration with the other institutions. Find a keynote speaker? Done. Book a trip to a national conference to present a poster on the project? Of course. Strategize, design and maintain a social media presence for the project? Lemmie at it!

In case you hadn’t noticed I’m excited. I am actually still interning at the library 9 hours a week for credit, and will finish my degree in May, but I feel like this is a pretty good step in the right direction. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about it over the coming months. Oh, and it is only 20 hours a week, so I’m still accepting offers for the other 20 hours of my work week. 😉

Project CHART final narrative is here if you’re interested. [PDF]

[Guest Post] – What I’ve Learned in Library School So Far: Me, You, and All Of Us.

And now for another episode of the “What I learned in Library School” series! I am growing ever more fond of this series as it goes on, and reading the variety of perspectives that have been offered has given me another really cool idea that I will be revealing in the coming weeks. Library school students, take note!

Without further ado, welcome Britt Foster to The Infornado. Ms. Foster graduated from San Francisco State University as an English Literature and Creative Writing major, and after an epiphany while sitting on the floor of the children’s section of the main San Francisco Public Library, decided to pursue a Master’s in a field with an equally impressive career outlook– public librarianship.  Britt is currently beginning her second year at UCLA, and would like to visit every LAPL library before graduation.  She hopes to work as a children’s/youth librarian, and includes a comprehensive knowledge of E.L. Konigsburg and mad glitter skills on her resume.  Britt also enjoys writing, knitting, salvaging furniture off the street, and road tripping, making Google maps of yarn stores and libraries before all journeys.

Britt writes about her own experiences in the MLIS at Library Moth, and tweets about all kinds of things here.

Britt Foster

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Me:

At my internship the other day, a librarian mentioned to me that she couldn’t believe she didn’t figure out she wanted to be a librarian sooner, but thank goodness she did.  I think a lot of librarians come to the idea of being a librarian with this same feeling– it’s the X on the treasure map after a long journey along a dotted and meandering line.  There’s something about librarianship that brings together so many disparate elements in a meaningful way that can effect real change in the way a person views their abilities.  In library school, I have found validation and a place for my passions and concerns, from the banal (glue sticks, glitter, and the subtle way shelves of books change a space) to the lofty (community advocacy, continuing education, and non-corporate services).  I had such high expectations for becoming a librarian that I was afraid when I started my MLIS there was no way the reality could live up to my hopes.  Not only way I wrong, I underestimated the experience entirely.  Things have only gotten better, more right, a better fit.  The more I learn about librarianship and the development of my career, the more I view it as continuing phases of awesomeness, from my master’s and being a new librarian, to being an experienced librarian, developing professionally and personally all the way.  Librarianship for life.

You:

Library school has also taught me librarianship is not for egotists– the profession is service-oriented and external.  In a guest lecture for one of my courses, a special librarian described her career as being a meta-profession.  Everyday she compiles bibliographies, searches databases, and delivers content towards the professional goals and betterment of others.  I think this is universal to librarianship, and libraries; there are few institutions that benefit so directly from continually promoting and advocating for the welfare of other institutions and individuals.
UCLA requires a course on ethics and diversity for graduation, and in this course our professor often asked us about the role activism plays in the information professions.  It took me awhile to understand the divide between activism as I have viewed it prior to library school, and what activism means in the library and for information professionals.  I have pretty strong personal and political convictions, but in the library most of these have to be checked at the door.

As a librarian, I won’t be campaigning for myself or my beliefs, but for your beliefs, your politics, your lifestyle, your right to read The Anarchist’s Cookbook or Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets.  To be trusted with that responsibility is an amazing thing.

All of Us:

Prior to library school, I never really thought about information as information.  I remember learning about Sunshine laws and thinking, “That’s an idea worth advocating for,” but I never actually named the concept behind it as access to information.  Librarians, of course, are all about naming things, and while I’m still not sold on the idea of a label for everything, I am for information and ways to get to it.  The library (amongst other information institutions) is this way.  What is the value to society in a place where we can go to find just what we’re looking for?  Or when we don’t know what we’re looking for?  Or if we’re not looking for anything at all other than a place to just be?
The first required course in my program is “Information and Society,” and when we were introduced to the public library as the third place the rightness in this idea made my heart race.  Society needs more spaces where status does not affect access.  No money, no job, can’t read, don’t speak English– all barriers to access in other institutions that won’t be found in the library.  We can enter the library and leave changed– or not.  The way we use it is completely up to us, unfettered by any expectations or conditions other than our own.
Los Angeles Public Library’s recent struggles to remain open and provide services have come to concretize all of these elements to me as a resident of California.  I attended a protest earlier this week to mark the first non-holiday Monday the LAPL has been closed to the public.  Protestors were provided with sheets of chants, one of which read, “What do we want? Libraries open six days a week! When do we want it? Now!” The librarian standing next to me pointed out that we don’t want libraries open six days a week– we want them open seven days a week, 24 hours a day.  This commitment to access points to one word, that in my library school experience, has taught me should describe the library, both literally and symbolically — open.  For me, for you, for all of us.

Ever heard of a Librarian who doesn’t read? – or – What I’ve learned in Library school so far.

No Books - Image from Photobucket user dark_x3r0

I know. This is like the worst confession of all time. I can’t remember the last book I read, and I’m ok with that. Its not that I’m anti-books, I just have other interests. And it was those other interests that led me into Library and Information Studies. I will say I am gaining a different appreciation for books through this degree, but not enough to make me as voracious a reader as many (all) of my colleagues. I can already hear fellow library school students, and future employers fuming “So, why do a degree based on a professional love of books if you don’t care about books?” Simply because, as I have begun to learn through the degree, Library School is much, much more than training in booksmithery.

I would like to borrow a format many of us are familiar with to lay out my reasoning here. This is my “Top 10 Things I learned in Library School (so far)” list. Please hold all comments until the end, and give me the benefit of the doubt before writing me off as a fool. In no particular order —

Top 10 Things I learned in Library School (so far)

  • Libraries are extraordinary institutions in the fabric of society, especially in America. The phrase that resonated with me when taking a library history course with Dr. Wayne Wiegand was “Free and Open to All,” an informal creed adopted by many public libraries. I did a Masters degree in American Studies prior to beginning Library school and as an academic I am fascinated by the institutions and ideas that have created the modern American mind, and this concept is one that is subversive enough to be important to our past, current and future historical context.
  • Collection and organization of information is a skill that can be learned. Despite the fact that I hate math, abhor sciences, and can barely stomach ideas like “data,” I am beginning to understand that the study of information is fundamental to librarianship. The ability to assess the information needs of a population group and also accurately approach data as research are tasks of the trade, and learning these I am becoming a more effective info-conduit for whomever I end up serving.
  • As I already kind of alluded, a major realization in my studies is that libraries are greater than the sum of their books. Concepts like “Information Laboratory” and “Media Center” can almost more accurately describe some libraries these days. Being a media/tech guy myself, this has been incredibly attractive to me considering a future in this field.
  • Following that point, there is not just one type of library. This blew me away as a new student in the program. What the hell are the differences between a public, academic and “special” library? My interdisciplinary radar went off when I realized I could kind of create my own path through the library world. With my background I am hoping to end up in an art library, special collections or museum setting. Being around cultural heritage objects and collections makes me happy.
  • Library 2.0! Emerging technologies are becoming more and more integral parts of the library world, and being a user/proponent of those technologies makes this another exciting selling point for me! One of the best courses I have had thus far was Digital Media Concepts and Production with Dr. Lisa Tripp. Blog for class? OK! Start a Twitter account and connect with other information professionals? Yes, please! Learn and use digital media software to create multimedia projects? Done and Done!
  • The stereotypical librarian is an urban myth. Sure, there are still glasses and cardigans (but that’s just because librarian-chic is “in” right now). The people behind the desks are multi-varied in their interests, cultural and educational background, and most often they are incredibly excited to help out. The shushing, boring old lady-type is not a majority, and in fact I’d argue that many more librarians are open-minded, young (in body and at-heart!), and invested in sharing knowledge and information with patrons at any cost.
  • Libraries are complicated. The multitude of programs, initiatives and staff involved in running a library are astounding. I had considered for a second pursuing a focus in Leadership and Management, but I’m not sure I’d want to take on what some administrators have to deal with! In addition to running the building itself, libraries are always fighting for support from their benefactors, be that a university, the government or private funders. Library advocacy and lobbying is unfortunately an integral cog in the wheel that makes these great institutions function. So, support your library!
  • There is this really weird, community connectedness that comes along with librarianship. I’m not sure if this is the same for other career tracks… like do lawyers really get together and have Library Cart Drills at their annual conferences? Yeah, we are all about to be fighting for the same few jobs (watch out for me!), but there has been a general feeling of camaraderie in the library school that I hope continues into my professional life.
  • Library school is great training for work in a variety of areas. Being forced to think about how websites are constructed from raw code, or how best to meet the real/percieved needs of groups of people through books, media, info-literacy skills, searching techniques, etc, can prepare one to be effective in many careers. I am consistently surprised at the possibilities that exist for some who has better than average understanding of organization, technology systems, and media, which are all basic principles taught in library school. Don’t fret fellow students if the library market looks slim, you’ll just have to start now thinking about other ways to utilize your skills and sell that to an employer.
  • Best of all, I am learning that the faculty in library school, especially at FSU, are invested in our success. They are all expertly trained, and are here to write and research but also to ensure that we leave with the knowledge and connections necessary to do well in our professional life. Am I sucking up? Most definitely. I am young and naive and can get away with a little schmoozing, right? Regardless, I appreciate the time and help offered by my professors and I hope that all MLIS students have as much investment in the relationships they are building as they do in the skills they are acquiring.

So, have I redeemed the fact that I am not a book person? I will argue that I read a ton, and I enjoy it very much, but most of what I am reading is online and better suited to my interests in emerging technology, social media and digital humanities. What do you think? Is there room in the library profession for “non-readers”? What are the most valuable things you learned in Library School?
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I’d love to make this a series of guest posts, so if you are interested in sharing your experience please contact me!

Gen X vs. Baby Boomers

Wired Man

It seems that every few months this conversation comes up around me – what is/will be the continuing relationship of the post-modern generations? Well, as Jessie Newburn writes, it’s about to get more complicated. Her recent post rehashing the Public Media Camp conference really struck me as a worthwhile synopsis of how things are going.

She writes, discussing the move by traditional news media to attempt to include citizen journalism (bloggers, ect),

“Within minutes of being in the room, a woman a bit older than me and from the traditional media side of things said, (paraphrasing, I am), “Well, once WE set the standards of what we’ll accept from citizen journalists, then we can work with them.” A well-established blogger in DC, without skipping a beat and with passion in his heart, informed her, “We don’t want to volunteer for you. We want to be in partnership with you.

That sentiment really struck me this morning. I am still not sure where I fall on the Gen X/Millennial/Digital Native line, but of this I’m sure, the traditional ways of doing things barely enter the radar of my life. I enjoy reading the newspaper, but learn much more from active media content like twitter. I like TV, but prefer to watch shows on my time, on demand. And on, and on.

JessieX goes on to write that the Gen-Xers are over waiting around and asking for permission. They “are moving on with or without the institutions.” So, taking this idea outside of news and media, my thought and question is this: Are there ANY institutions that will remain relevant or worthwhile for the coming generations? What are the implications for the church, the university, the library, the government? Is the internet the new all-encompassing institute? And the ever present fear in the back of many minds, what do we do if it all crashes someday?

Photo Courtesy of Flickr User Mike Licht