LITA National Forum 2010

The past 3 days, I was at the LITA national forum right here in downtown Atlanta. This was a much smaller conference than expected, and definitely less overwhelming than ALA. Since this was the first conference I went to where I would not have a group of my classmates already there.  Thankfully, there were a few people that I knew who were presenting, so I was not completely out in the cold, plus I ran into some people that I met at ALA.

The Crowd

Despite not being a librarian/tech person/someone important, people were very warm and friendly. Since the conference was so much smaller than ALA, you saw the same people each day and by the 2nd or 3rd day, it’s more like one big happy family of people who share a love of sharing information and all the fun, geeky gadgets behind it. Knowing I was in the job market, people were very encouraging. The president herself mentioned to me that “dogged persistence” will pay off.

I also met some new colleagues as well, and had the pleasure of sharing meals and cards with them. I was particularly excited to spread the gospel of Willy’s to all the out-of-towners. Willy’s is one of my favorite “make-your-own-burrito” places (like Chipotle), and they only have it here in Atlanta, and everything is fresh :p.  There was a Willy’s in the food court near the hotel, which was very convenient! Last night, I went with a group to dinner at Haveli Indian Cuisine, and it was very good. The vegetarian dishes are recommended (and cost less). I really enjoyed my meal and a nice warm glass of masala chai tea.

Sessions

Over the last 3 days, I went to several sessions. The opening session was interesting…it was about Wikipedia culture. Apparently there is a cult of people out there who spend a lot of time editing Wikipedia articles that fascinate them. In fact, a lot of popular articles on Wikipedia were found to be more accurate and up to date than print encyclopedias because those articles were monitored so closely by devoted editors, than any misinformation was revised in a microsecond.

Roy Tennant, a progressive information professional from OCLC, delivered the keynote speech Saturday morning. I had heard that he was an excellent public speaker, and he indeed gave a very entertaining speech on the benefits of cloud computing, which has been noted by some to be “the cure for cancer.”

I also attended several concurrent sessions. Notable sessions included one on new technologies for library instruction (check out Poll Everywhere and ScreenToaster), and a presentation about digital asset management  at UPS, and how they managed the hundreds of thousands of images and documents from the company’s branding and ad campaigns. Digital asset management is becoming a lucrative alternative career path for people with the MLIS background (and from what I hear from recruiters, it does not pay bad either :).

Venue

The conference venue was OK overall. Since it was a much smaller conference, we only had 1 floor of the hotel, so it was not like ALA where you had to take a shuttle to half your events. It was also near a MARTA station and a food court, and I had a very pleasant surprise with the parking. Apparently in the Courtland Street garage, if you get there before 9 AM and leave before 11 PM, the cost of parking is only $4, no matter how long. Can’t beat $4 for a day parking downtown. Plus, it was near the Peachtree Center food court, which as I mentioned before, has amazing and affordable restaurants.

The heating/cooling of the center was very imbalanced. Some of the main conference rooms were absolutely freezing, but then some of the smaller rooms were unbearably hot. One person tweeted “oom 206 is now a major contributor to global warming – hilton fail!” And a lot of the rooms had these black shades that were drawn to keep the projector screens from being backlit, but they blocked out all light so my body was thinking it was nighttime…and after only averaging 5 hours of sleep a night, it was very hard to stay awake.

Overall, I enjoyed myself, and I am glad that I went. Conferences are always a good experience, especially for networking. I do hope to be able to make it to future conferences, but I am still praying for that position that will one day offer a professional development budget. I paid out of pocket for this conference, and it was not cheap. Thank you LITA Planning committee for choosing Atlanta for this year, otherwise, I could not have afforded to attend. I would like to visit new cities sometimes, especially out West, but I must start squirreling money away for next year :).


Thoughts and reflections on the library job search

There has been a lot of buzz in library blogdom and listservs about getting that first job in this field. As librarians are always so committed to helping people, many have posted excellent tips and tricks for procuring the interview,  acing  interviews, and getting experience/networking to break into the field. And as a diligent and creative job seeker, I take appreciative heed to that advice. Yet despite attending conferences, completing internships/committee work, being flexible and geographically mobile, and seeking professional guidance from my mentors, there are a lot of factors that are out of my control.  What happens when “you do everything right” and yet things still seem so wrong?

Through God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)

Last Sunday, I had to swallow my pride and had my pastor pray over me during this time, and to ask God to intervene on my behalf. I have seen the impressive CVs of new librarians, many of whom have already published 5-10 articles before even receiving their MLIS. Many of whom have completed the MLIS as a 2nd masters and have tons of teaching experience already under their belts. After sending out my 25th or so application, and getting yet another rejection letter in the mail, I realized that my faith in God was all I had. Only He would be able to open a door for me, to put the right person in my path, so that I can move on in this stage in my career.

I am fully aware that I am a high-risk hire. I don’t have the pages of documented experience that many others have, yet I have a plethora of job skills that can easily transfer into a library/information setting. Someone is going to have to take a chance on me, and I don’t blame employers for being risk averse, especially in these hard times.  My CV may not stretch to the moon, but I guarantee that if hired in the right place, I will go beyond the solar system in what I will bring to the table.  Case in point: my current employer took a chance on me, hiring someone right out of college with only summer jobs to my name.  What they got in return was a loyal employee, someone who was not afraid to take on new projects, someone who was ready and willing to pull up her sleeves and get the job done (and get it done on time). And I am still employed!

Yet with so many applications, employers are so bogged down and can only see the resume data front of them, rather than extrapolate a picture of the candidate that extends to more than a bullet-point list and a couple paragraphs of a cover letter. Most jobs for which I have applied receive 60, 70, or 100+ applicants per opening! It is this reason that I need to learn to rely on God to work on my behalf, which is a very humbling experience for someone who prides herself on independence and hard work.

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33)

Undoubtedly, every person who has undergone a long stretch of being single has heard the advice “You will meet the right person where you least expect it.” I strongly believe that the same advice applies to job hunting. Yet one’s first instinct is to balk at that advice.  “Am I supposed to sit around and wait for it rather than actively seek it?! How can I possibly not think about it when it is consuming every waking hour of my being, as I am in the world right now watching my friends and colleagues get married/get jobs/have children?!

The answer is in the scripture above! But what does that mean? After reflecting on that passage in Matthew, it means to make God’s word a priority in your life. Does that mean read your Bible more, tithe more, pray more? Not always, though if in doing those things you achieve what the passage is saying…seek God’s approval and a relationship with Him first, and not man’s. The career and the marriage, in this country, are sought after as  status symbols. Yet jobs can end at any moment, and so many marriages end in divorce.  All that is stable and true in this world is God.

After receiving constant rejection in my search, and wondering if I am inherently flawed, I have to step back and realize that it is not how God sees me, and not judging myself based on some status symbol. God does not tear people up, hurt them, tell them they are worthless because they lack a job title, money, or a spouse. The devil does plenty of that. But ironically, in truly seeking the kingdom and a spiritual connection to God, guess what? Those “worldly things” like the job and the spouse end up popping up.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

A couple weeks ago, the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was on TV (the 1970s movie, not the creepy one with Johnny Depp). It is one of my favorites stories.  In my current context, I was able to glean some interesting revelations in seeing this movie again. (As a side, this story has a lot more depth to it than people realize).

I distinctly remember the scene where Charlie goes to visit his mother as  she is doing laundry well after dark. This was after the 4th golden ticket is found. Charlie is very upset at this point, knowing how the odds are stacked against him. After all, millions of people all over the world are looking for these golden tickets, and most of them have the funds to buy a lot more chocolate bars  (hmm, how reminiscent of a certain job search…). He tells his mother to essentially stop hoping for him to get the last Golden Ticket, and he asks her how much longer will they have to keep living in poverty. His mother tells him the day will come “when you least expect it.” At this point of the movie, Charlie’s hope and faith are being tested.

As the story goes, the 5th ticket is found, much to Charlie’s dismay.  Disappointed, he looks to the ground, but then something happens! He finds some money sitting in a sewer grate. This is enough money for him to buy some food for his family, and to splurge a bit on his favorite item: chocolate. He walks into the candy store and non-chalantly asks the “candy man” for a Wonka Scrumdiddly-Umptious bar. As soon as he pays for the bar, he wolfs down the chocolate, as many of us tend to do when we are depressed and just need some physical comforts. Charlie then decides to buys a second chocolate bar for Grandpa Joe, who has has inspired him to keep dreaming and to never lose hope.

Charlie then exits the store, and there is a crowd of people around the newspaper stand.  Apparently, the 5th golden ticket claim was a fraud, and there was still 1 ticket out there just waiting to be found. With a small smirk and a glimmer of hope starting to come back, Charlie opens the 2nd Wonka Bar and sure enough finds the last golden ticket!

I describe this scene in detail because there are 2 important lessons received from this. One, you never know where and how the opportunity will come from. In looking at stories of people who have achieve great success throughout history, it often happened because of a life-changing event…because God led them through the fires to make them perfect and whole as people. And just as things could not get any worse, God comes through, just like He did for Charlie.

But this is not just a story about miracles. A fact I overlooked the first many times I watched this movie was the fact that the chocolate bar he bought for Grandpa Joe was the one that contained the golden ticket. What if Charlie decided not to buy the bar, and pocketed the rest of the money for himself? He would have missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime! Hence the passage above about not growing wearing in well-doing. Despite all the poverty and loss of hope he was feeling that day, Charlie still kept others in mind. And as we all know the story, it was Charlie’s selflessness and integrity that enabled him to ace the ultimate job interview…to be Willy Wonka’s successor.


Finally finished!

There were times when I was not sure I was going to make it, but here I am, a newly minted information professional. Graduation was last weekend, and I was so excited to see my family come all the way out from Houston to see me. I really enjoyed spending time with them. Honestly, I could not have done it with out the support of friends, family, and mentors.

 

My advisor, Dr. Chandler, and I.

 

I now continue my quest to find my first professional position as a library/info professional, and am able to put more force into it now that classes are over. I am excited about the LITA National Forum that is coming up, right here in Atlanta. I will be attending and look forward to meeting and networking with some great people, and learning about new technological developments.

It is ironic that I really got into library science not for the “conventional” reasons, such as loving to read. Not that I don’t love to read, but I have always been interested in the technological side of things…creating websites and applications, programming databases, digital imaging, and electronic resources. I hope to supplement my coursework with some certifications in web programming. I found a school that offers continuing education in these areas, but I need to do further research on programs before I plop down the money. There are always sites like Lynda.com too.

Anyway, I am excited about the labor day weekend. I have worked very hard at school, at my job, and everything else in between. I will be going on a Caribbean cruise over the weekend, and I really cannot wait to take some time off and relax.


User-centered Spaces: Part 2

In my last posting, I introduced the new Learning Commons areas at the Georgia Tech Library & Information Center, and how these new renovations assisted with user tasks.  In this post, I will provide my thoughts and reflections on this space…

One of the most effective methods for determining how users utilize the space is  simply taking a step back and observing how they interact. In our hyped-up, fast-paced, “git-r-done” culture, we sometimes miss out on important details when we rush to implement things before questioning…is this what users really want, or is this what vendors and articles tell us users want?  Because each library has its own user community, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

In the fall of 2008, Charlie Bennett, Commons Coordinator at the GA Tech Library, utilized observation methods to take objective measurements such as how many students were using the commons, what kind of computers they were using,  how they tended to group together, etc. For example, he noticed that many students brought their own laptops; this indicates a different grouping dynamic than having students huddle around a library desktop computer.

Charlie also engaged in more common data collection methods, such as distributing surveys and hosting a forum where users could post their comments. However,  one of the most interesting data collection methods Charlie utilized was placing a whiteboards next to a group of sample chairs that students could sit in and evaluate.  Each chair had its own whiteboard and marker where users could write comments about each chair such as:  “This chair is very comfortable” or “This chair color reminds me of puke.”  I found this method innovative because it brought the data collection  right into the user’s environment, rather than asking a student or faculty member to take time out of their busy schedule and go to a survey link or web forum. It reminded me a lot of the whiteboards that undergrads would post on their dormitory doors for people to leave them messages and comments; this has also extended into the digital realm with tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

Overall, the use of multi-modal data collection methods are very beneficial to ensuring a positive user experience in a STEM library commons. Charlie has taken great care and consideration with making  sure the Commons is a peaceful, user-centered space. The GA Tech Library is a very busy place where students will often spend hours studying, or simply taking a snooze break in one of the library’s comfortable chairs.  Students and faculty in a science and engineering institution work on many long-term and collaborative projects, and the library is a beneficial tool in helping these users with their research and education.

For more information on the GA Tech Library and Information Center commons:

Library Commons Main Page

Library Commons Project Documents

Main Page for GA Tech Library and Information Center


User-Centered Spaces: Part 1

This blog post is part of an assignment I am doing for my Reference Course for the Sciences disciplines. The purpose of the assignment is for us to pick a science-oriented library that has recently undergone a renovation to meet the needs of the users. So, I decided to discuss the recent learning commons renovations at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where I just completed my Spring practicum. In this post, I will introduce the learning commons at Georgia Tech and describe some of the highlights.

2 West Commons

2 West Commons

While I was interning, I met with Charlie Bennett, who is the Commons Coordinator at the library. Charlie is responsible for monitoring the commons, ensuring that it is functionally designed for user tasks (i.e. independent studying, group collaborations, etc.). He also gave me a tour of the Georgia Tech library commons area. The Commons actually consists of 3 areas: the east and west commons on the first floor (LEC and LWC respectively), and the newly renovated 2 West area on the second floor.

LWC

Library West Commons terminals

The LWC contains a wide space of desktop computers provided by the library. Whenever I was at the library, this area was always packed, and it was very difficult to get a computer.  There is a screen upon entering the library that shows which computers are in use (in red). Users can also go to the library website and see available terminals. Now, of course, since it is the summer and it is almost 11:30 PM (up late as usual!), many computers are green (but this is not the norm!).

LEC

The East Commons is a very interesting area of the library, and has a lot of innovative aspects. The area has a more modern and “hip” feel. It contains a cafe and vending machines (including ones that sell coffee), so users can get that extra bit of fuel to get through the school’s intense curriculum.  This space is also used for the campus film society to host events, as well as other campus-related exhibits.

This area is very focused on collaborative group work. It also contains computer stations with large monitors so multiple students can share a workspace, as well as a small DVD library.

Library East Commons

A key theme that Charlie wanted to focus on in this area is flexibility – to give the user control of how he/she utilizes the space. Thus, furniture is lightweight and easily movable.  One feature that the commons has serendipitously acquired was movable extension plugs that hang from the ceiling.  These were actually left by the electricians during the renovation, but Charlie decided to keep them so that laptop users were not restricted to areas where there was an outlet. I cannot tell you how many times I have been frustrated going into a Starbucks , bookstore, or other WiFi hotspot and not be able to use my laptop because all the seats near an outlet were taken. During long study hours, a laptop battery usually will not last.

Students even have flexibility over the lighting.  Charlie implemented RBG overhead lighting (similar to what is used in stage lighting), instead of fluorescent lighting. Students can customize the amounts of red, green, and blue in the lighting to something that is easier on their eyes.

2 West Commons

This area is located on the second floor. It is a very open workspace for collaborative projects. It contains large, restaurant-size booths and tables for study groups to meet, or for individual studiers to spread out (especially for the architecture students).  Collaborative work areas are partitioned by translucent screens to give the study groups a sense of solidarity without making the area seem too claustrophobic.  I have also seen students here utilize whiteboards to work on complex  math problems or tutor others.

What’s next?

In the next post, I will discuss my thoughts about the renovation and how these improvements have affected users.


MLIS Program Tips From a Classmate

My super organized, intelligent classmate and fellow INTJ Adelle Frank has provided several useful tips on how to successfully get through an MLIS program without wanting to rip your hair out or kick the cat.  In her post Secrets and Tips: How to Survive Library School in 5 Simple Steps, Adelle provides useful information for anyone considering going into grad school while working full-time. My personal favorite nugget of wisdom is reposted below:

“IV. Keep it relevant

Relevance is another key to surviving and thriving in your library program. If you don’t care, your work will show it and you won’t get much out of it. And what fun would that be?!
“Leave aside for a moment the fact that you will have at least one required course that just rubs you the wrong way and focus on what you want to get out of this degree, other than letters at the end of your name.

In required classes, try to find the parts that could be useful to your current or future career.

In choosing classes and projects, pick with an eye to those that interest you or fit into your current/proposed career path.”

However, I am inspired to share my own perspective:

First off…don’t let some of the stuff about the reading scare you…an MLIS program is not really super-hard or challenging (except when you are left to your own devices to figure out certain kinds of technology). In fact, I struggled more with grades in my undergrad than I did in Library School. I will be honest…I maybe did half of the listed readings (80% of which were out of date anyway), and have not made less than an A on anything in my program. It’s what I like to call “slacking smart.” And I am not really all that smart. A lot of the work is tedious busywork (especially in your core classes), and just something that you have to plow your way through. Any veteran librarian will tell you…library school is just something you “get through.”

This is why I cited the paragraph above…what you learn in library school is so different from what librarians actually do, and some of the work is boring, so you want to make it relevant to your interests. Plus, library positions are pretty adamant about your experience with certain software, metadata schemas, etc. Library school is the time to go out of your comfort zone and develop these skills, and if you don’t do something perfectly, it’s OK, you’re a student.  In other words, to get a good challenge out of your program, don’t be afraid to take on things that are novel. After all, you are paying good money for that degree, make something of it!

TIP:  professional association dues are a LOT cheaper for students so you want to get involved in those as well. It is hard to juggle that and your full-time workload and classes, but committee  participation is more long-term-oriented and only requires maybe 1-2 extra hours a week, depending.

That being said, however, I must take heed to Adelle’s advice and GET SOME SLEEP. It’s after 1 AM already! O_O


ALA Part 2 – Lessons Learned

So, as I had mentioned before, the ALA conference was my first foray into large national conferences. It was overwhelming, but I also had a lot of fun.

I am also very thankful to have a mentor who is a veteran conference goer, so she was able to give me some good advice on how to prepare. You would not think it takes a lot of preparation outside of travel arrangements, but it really does. It really does…gotta study the maps, what is close to your hotel, make plans with friends and colleagues, etc.

Anyway, I thought I would share my knowledge of what I did right, what I did wrong, or…what I realized works best.  So, I bring you my list of lessons learned. I hope that this will be useful for anyone who is new to conferences.

1. Get your schedule planned BEFORE you go

The best nugget of advice my mentor imparted upon me was to choose the events and times that worked best for you (i.e. no 8 AM sessions if you are a night owl like me). The conference booklet is literally the size of a small city phone book. They almost always publish a schedule of events beforehand, and you don’t want to be left floundering with said booklet, overwhelmed by so many options while at the conference.  But you always want to keep your schedule flexible, and have some back-up options in case you want to meet up with your colleagues or friends.

My mentor also mentioned giving yourself plenty of time to rest and meet up with people. It is not a good idea, especially if you are introverted like myself, to go to 3-4 sessions a day and then the evening socials. I nearly ran myself ragged that Saturday…did 3 sessions, dinner with my cohort, and then took the Metro up to Bethesda to go to a friend’s party. All that walking and transportation will leave you downright ragged.

2. Comfort is important

One thing I wished I had done was carry around a water bottle with me to my conferences. I found that the convention center had very spare water fountains (plus it got to almost 100 degrees in DC). Also, all the bottled drinks at the convention center cost $3.00!

While all that walking makes you parched, it is also hard on your feet. Perhaps those “sensible shoes” can come in handy. One thing I struggled with upon packing for this conference was what to wear. Since a goal of mine was to network, I wanted to look presentable, as if I was going for an interview. I probably did overdress a little, but thankfully in my indecision I packed comfy flip-flops, as well as more dressy shoes that I carried in my tote bag to wear around the convention center.

3. Book your travel/lodging on a credit card, especially if you are being reimbursed

This was something I learned the hard way. Apparently, I had used my debit card to book my hotel room (which was very expensive in Washington).  I figured they would not charge the full cost of my room until I checked out. While the hotel did not charge my room, they DID put a hold on the room (3 nights plus a $100 refundable deposit) while I was staying there. But apparently my bank interpreted that as a charge. So, for the whole conference, I had less than $100 to my name. And that goes by real fast with meals and cab rides (did I mention the $3 bottled water :p…my mojito cost $10!!! ).

4. Check conference newsletters for any revisions

At ALA, they have a daily newsletter that is distributed that lists all the changes that have been made. I wished I had done so. The Sustaining Digital Workflow event that I had volunteered to blog about for LITA), was moved from its lovely, convenient time at 10:30 AM  in the convention center, to 8:00 AM the next day in a hotel that was very far out and a 20 min shuttle ride.  I will be honest, I almost decided to go to another event to blog about, but I figured I could cancel an afternoon session and then do an afternoon nap since I had to get up so early. Thankfully, the event had a great turnout…though a lot of people were trickling in after 8:10 or so.

5. Don’t be shy!

OK, my last tip…and something that was extremely hard for me as a socially anxious introvert…introducing yourself to conference presenters. As a student, it was intimidated to talk to people who were more seasoned professionals.  If people know you are a student, it is a great icebreaker for conversations, and if you are not quite sure of yourself, people will understand. A conference is a great place to network, and you never know who you are going to meet.