Voces del Sur (Voices from the South): HLS Edition [Series]

Editor’s note: This post is part of our series entitled Voces del Sur: Rethinking LIS from the Latin American and Caribbean Perspective, featuring writers from Hack Library School and from the blog Infotecarios. Our writers will answer questions about their experience as librarians and library school students in the United States and Europe. Head on over to Infotecarios to read this post in Spanish

Meet our contributors:

Amy Cross-Menzies is a Library Assistant at an academic library in the UK. She is currently studying a distance learning MLIS in Digital Library and Information Services. Her previous academic background is in philosophy and at both bachelors and masters level she has focused on ethics. She has been writing for Hack Library School for a few months.

Jay Granger is currently an online student in the MMLIS program at the University of Southern California. After earning undergraduate degrees in English and History from the University of California, Riverside, Jay spent ten years as a teacher. During that time, he earned a master’s degree in English from the University of California, Irvine as well as a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Brandman University. Crafting a career that will allow him to work from home as he cares for his family, Jay is interested in the digital version of librarianship. He enjoys long walks on the beach, good reads by the fire, and writing about himself in the third person. He tweets and twaddles @mjaygranger on Twitter and Medium.

Kathy Kosinski is a second year student specializing in Library and Information Science at the University of Michigan School of Information. She focuses her studies on User Experience (UX) of both digital and physical library spaces. She spent her last summer working on the knowledge base for Grand Valley State University’s library. Feel free to reach out to her on Twitter @kkosinsk, in English or Spanish.

What is a trend in library science that interests you and why?

Amy: I’m interested to see a lot more focus on the ethical issues of librarianship. I read with interest about things like the Library Freedom Project which aims to protect intellectual freedom, and the Radical Librarians Collective which facilitates discussion on the marketisation of libraries. I find these kinds of debates very thought provoking, and these kinds of ethical issues I feel are fundamental to our profession as people who protect the right to information for all.

Jay: Digitization. I am continually interested in the entire— I’m not even sure what word to use: the practice? the process? the issue? All three, really. I am continually interested in the entire practice and process of digitization as well as the issues surrounding that work.

In terms of information production, organization, and storage, we are living in a historical moment for which the most recent comparison is thousands of years past. Not since we stopped writing on cave walls and started writing on clay tablets have we seen such a change in methodology. Well, arguably the shift from clay and stone to various forms of flexible paper was an equally big deal. Still, the fact of digitization is that we are using an entirely different medium to produce, organize, and store our texts. It’s changing everything all over again. In the same way that novels weren’t possible until paper became thin enough and light enough and cheap enough to be bound into books, certain new forms of expression weren’t possible until computers made it possible to shape electrical impulses into whatever form we can imagine. And yet, digital storage is, in many ways, our most fragile format. So much infrastructure is required to keep the system running! It’s a madly complex system, made fragile by its expansiveness. But it’s too magical—too beautiful and too easy—not to use. I just find it utterly fascinating: the new things we can make with our digital tools, the new ways we can collect and order them, the new ways we can save them and share them with each other. Great stuff.

Kathy: For me, the most interesting trend is definitely the push towards a more “user-centered” design of libraries. We have always cared about our users, but I like the renewed emphasis on making things easier to understand. When helping patrons, I always love that moment where I am able to help them find the specific item they are looking for by using my “expert” knowledge to find shortcuts and tricks to the system. What I would love even more, however, is being able to create a system where each first-time user is by default an expert user, where shortcuts and tricks aren’t necessary for easy use of the system. For some situations that may mean changing signage above a desk to “check-out desk” from “circulation,” but in other cases it may be more complex. User-centered design captures all aspects of this and can be used on any sort of problem a library may encounter. The idea that anything (with enough work) can be made useful, usable, accessible, and desirable to users is extremely powerful to me.

What do you think are some of the greatest challenges facing libraries in your country?

Amy: So many councils in the UK have cut budgets to local public libraries which has resulted in diminishing opening hours, branch closures, and professional librarians being replaced by volunteers who do not necessarily have any training in library science. The challenge I see at the moment is to demonstrate our professional worth, whether by better communication of what we already do, adapting our services, or something else. Voices for the Library is doing a lot of important work in this area.

Jay: Perceived irrelevance is, I think, the major issue facing libraries in the United States. Because of widespread digitization and increasingly open access to the most basic and necessary information, libraries have lost the place they occupied for more than century. They are finding new places, but it’s not easy. Like any organization that is beat at its own game by a competitor, libraries need to define a new market or find a new value to offer consumers in their existing market. I think they can do either or both. Libraries as social gathering places, offering lendable products and experiences in addition to books? Makes sense. Libraries as laboratories for the most challenging research questions? Makes sense too. And the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Either way—or some third way I haven’t thought of—we need to address the growing sense that libraries are less useful in a post-digital society than they were in the days before digitization.

Kathy: The greatest challenge that I can see at this point is the battle for online content pricing. Prices are increasingly rising, even beyond what the largest library budgets can afford, and this comes at the same time that users want access to everything all the time. What I see as the answer to this is for libraries to turn to open access content. Unfortunately, at this point in time it can’t be done without academia as a whole deciding to support open access content. The same universities that bemoan the cost of journals and databases also urge for faculty aiming for tenured status to become published in subscription (non-open access) journals. While there is still a preference for the ivory tower of publications, I don’t see prices dropping anytime soon. Currently I can’t imagine a situation where publishers, universities, and users all walk away from negotiations happily.

What has been your favorite class so far in library school?

Amy: I’ve really enjoyed some of the technology modules. I’d felt fairly confident in the past with things like HTML and CSS, but was quite out of practice so it was really good to refresh my memory as well as learning new skills. We had to create a ‘mash-up’ library website, learn some XML and Javascript, and have more recently been learning about linked data and the semantic web and the implications for libraries.

Jay: Research Methods, oddly. In my program that class focused on data collection and analysis. It was a more math-intensive class than one usually takes in a humanities-centric program, but I enjoyed it. I majored in English and History, so I’m a little math shy. But I liked bringing my creative mind to bear on statistical issues. I found the process not unartistic in the end. A good survey, simple and clear, has an elegance all it’s own. A well-expressed, visually striking dataset can be a beautiful thing as well. In the end, it was not only the most math-intensive class I’ve taken, but the most creatively satisfying as well. I’d like to do work in that direction in the future.

Kathy: I feel like I am cheating a bit with this question, as my favorite library school class wasn’t even (technically) in my library school. My school requires that we take at least one course in another school on campus. I ended up choosing a Disability Studies class that was cross-listed across several schools on campus: Architecture, Social Work, Education, and Kinesiology. I enjoyed it immensely because it was able to give me new perspectives on life, privilege, and accessibility. From these perspectives, I was able to apply the skills learned in my library classes with a disability studies framework. The class itself allowed me a flexibility to work on the class projects in a way that included libraries at every step. Additionally, as the class was made up of students from different schools on campus, I was able to escape the bubble of how library students view libraries, and get an outside perspective from other graduate students in different fields of study.


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