Ned Potter Interviews Me For the LIS New Professionals Network

My first memory of interacting with Ned Potter is when he emailed me about the Library Day in the Life style for a new project called Library Routes.  We quickly connected via Twitter and occasionally email, and Ned soon became one of my favorite UK Librarians.  (In fact if you click on the link to his blog you’ll find he has even been gracious enough to let me copy his theme)  He has helped introduce me to other library-types outside of the States and get me thinking about important issues like the Echo Chamber, so when he asked if I would answer a few questions for LISNPN I agreed without hesitation.  My interview is part of a set he did that also includes Andy Woodworth and Buffy Hamilton.  I have copied my portion below and you can read the interviews  in their entirety on LISNPN.

Q. Welcome to the first ever LISNPN interview! Seeing as this is a US librarian special, let’s look at some cultural differences first of all. In your opinion is there any difference in the way people in the UK or America view the library as an institution (and the people who work there)?

A. You know I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this one. I make a point of following people outside of my bubble including UK librarians, but I don’t know that I’ve noticed a difference in thinking. It may be that my focus still tends to lean towards like minded individuals even ones outside of the US.

Q. I’ve always had the impression, just from my limited experience of Twitter etc, that a greater number of senior professionals engage with social media in the US than in the UK – would you say that’s something you’ve noticed? And if so, why do you think this is? I like it when senior pros use social media because it levels the playing-field – its communication to anyone whose interested, rather than just to other high up people.

A. It is my impression that more professionals use social media in the US,  so that would make it likely that there are more senior professionals. We had a huge push towards using social media in libraries here in the US about 5 or 6 years ago. There are still articles in our professional publications detailing why you need an online presence and how to build one, whether it’s a blog or Twitter or a website

If there are more of using social media in general it would stand to reason that there are more senior professionals using it.

Q. Okay last cultural difference question – in the UK we have a concerted New Professionals movement. People who’ve joined the profession in the last five years or so get bracketed as New Profs and grouped accordingly for events etc. Is there anything similar in America? I’ve not noticed such a specific move to label the newbies on your side of the Atlantic…

A. We have several listservs for New Librarians or NextGen Librarians. ALA has a New Members Round Table with services like resume review and special sessions for new conference attendees. ALA also offers Mentor Connect as part of ALA Connect, our social site for ALA members . Members can fill out a mentor or mentee profile or both and the site helps them find a fit.

I will say when I was a newbie Mentor Connect did not exist and I wasn’t encouraged by my library to be involved in ALA so I wasn’t involved in the NMRT. I did belong to the listservs but eventually gave them up due to too much bickering and complaining. The connections I’ve made through social networking and the blogs I’ve read have, by far, been the most use to me.

Q. Do you see libraries as being in something of a state of crisis at the moment? What is the biggest threat we’re facing – governments, media, public perception, what?

A. I don’t. Yes I know that funding is being cut at many libraries. The economy is still recovering in the US and all industries are suffering. The latest report from the Institute of Museums and Library Service shows that use continues to rise.

Our largest challenge right now is the diversity of our services; we have our traditional print media, recently added media like music CDs and DVDs, and newly added digital content including databases, downloadable content like ebooks, music and videos. We are becoming more focused on community resources and being services centres with the addition of gaming, complex programming for adults and children. Local, state and federal governments are looking to us for support as they put more forms, instructions and services online and direct people to visit their local library.

The role of the Reference Librarian is no more. The days of sitting behind a reference desk and helping patrons find the tallest mountain in the US is long past, despite the clinging nostalgia of some. Instead reference librarians are expect to help patrons create a resume, open their first email account, adjust their Facebook privacy settings, find their favourite tv shows online, not to mention find resources for papers due tomorrow, help entrepeneurs find the much-needed free information to start their own business, break up fights, keep teens and adults from performing lewd acts in the stacks, defend funding to the public, board members and upper level managers. An MLS prepares one for only a small portion of this.

Q. Future trends – what are the developments on the horizon which will change the way we work, or just generally make things cooler?

A. It is an exciting time to be a librarian! We have more of an opportunity to shape what being a librarian means that any generation of librarians who came before us. My position Digital Services wouldn’t have existed 10 years ago. The ability to connect with others hundreds and thousands of miles away, across time zone and countries means we are exposed to more ideas that our predecessors. Our personal learning networks are huge and diverse, we have access to more help and more minds than any group of librarians before us. I think it is hard to see while we’re suffering growing times, but this is one of the most control we, librarians, have had over our own destiny probably since the formation of the first library.   

Q. Is there a single achievement, or event, or change, of which you are most proud in your career?

A. I definitely consider my work with transliteracy my proudest accomplishment. The group blog with co-authors* Tom Ipri, Brian Hulsey and Gretchen Caserotti has been a huge success. I’m actually blown away by the number of readers we have and the comments from the library community on the need for a project like this. The subsequent creation of the Transliteracy Interest Group, under The Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) a division of ALA was a major mile stone for the cause.

Over the last year I have become more aware of and more focused on the digital divide and more importantly what the divide really means to those on the loosing side of it. The need to be literate is no longer enough to be an active engage member of today’s society. Reports like that of the Knight Commission clearly demonstrate that we are dangerously close to a new type of second class citizen. Libraries are the most logical organization to tackle this problem and help close the gap.

Q. I really liked that #inatweet meme on Twitter – is there a particular platform or piece of technology you find really useful that you’d like to share with others?

A. Do I only get 140 characters for each one?

  • Evernote – It’s invaluable for taking notes from blog posts and articles online and tracing mentions of you and/or you library.
  • Tweetdeck– I couldn’t use Twitter on my desktop without the columns Tweetdeck makes possible.
  • Seesmic – For using Twitter on my phone, allows me to see my lists and choose my retweet style. 
  • Google Reader – I know a lot of people are giving up on feed readers but I can’t imagine parting with mine. I can’t be on Twitter or Facebook all the time, and this week when I’m spending my time writing, I know that my feeds are waiting for me this weekend.
  • Gmail – the threading and filtering of messages is amazing and the searching is lightning fast, the recent addition of priority inbox makes it almost perfect.
  • My Planner – I have to throw this in because I recently went back to a paper planner, I prefer it to an online calendar and task list

Q. Bobbi, a lot of people in my own personal echo chamber have similar interests in terms of social media, new technologies, presenting at conferences etc. A big difference between you and me, it seems, is that your job encompasses all that stuff (where as mine occasionally dips into it, but largely the two aspects of my career exist separately) – is there anything you can say about chasing the kind of role that allows you to do all that stuff? How does one achieve job-satisfaction that encompasses all those cool things..? [I’m not sure about this question – I know what I mean but can’t quite make it clear on paper.. do you get what I mean?]

A. I can see how it might appear that my job encompasses all that from the outside, unfortunately it is not an accurate view of how I spend my days at work.  I spend a great deal of time at work answering emails, in meetings, serving on committees and writing reports or procedures. I estimate I spend and average of 20 hours a week of my own time investigating social media, new technologies and doing the work (like writing my blog) that allows me to present at conferences. I do it because I’m interested and I’m passionate about what I do, not just the 9-5 part of my work but the professional work I do outside of my day job. In some ways my job does line up with those interests. But I could also see doing it if I worked the reference desk full-time, I would still see the digital divide, still encounter the issues I see with ebooks etc, and my personality is such I would research those things even if I had to do it on my own time so I could provide better services to our patrons. Now maybe cataloguing wouldn’t be the best match for me at this point in my career but I don’t feel that a change in title or position would affect how I spend my time.

As far as chasing a role you think you want I would offer words of caution. My title of Digital Branch Manager might indicate I spend all my time with new technology and digital services but it really is a small portion of my responsibilities. Real satisfaction has to come from within, if you know what you’re interested in and you want to contribute be prepared to make those contribution on your own time, if you’re fortunate enough to get a job with some overlap that’s great.

Q. Final question, which we’re going to ask everyone who does these LISNPN interviews. Take yourself back in time to when you’d only been in the profession for a couple of years – is there one piece of advice you’d give yourself, or one thing you know now that it would be have been useful to know then?

A. Get more involved in professional organizations. The libraries I worked didn’t encourage involvement with professional organizations and I wish I’d taken the initiative to do it on my own. I didn’t know where to start and I felt overwhelmed. Believe it or not, I am shy and socially awkward, I find it hard to strike up conversations with strangers and I’m terrible at small talk. Being involved has helped alleviate a lot of those issues. The advancement of the social web helps too, I would have found direction from blogs or Twitter and felt on some level part of the community before just jumping in.

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