Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Protecting the commons

Photo credit: _PaulS_ via flickr
Before becoming a librarian, I earned a BA degree in environmental sociology - studying the interaction of social and ecological systems. During that time I was influenced by the idea of the commons - specifically the tragedy of the commons. This is the theory that natural resources shared by a community need to be properly managed and protected.  The classic example is a communal pasture where herds of animals graze. If each herdsman decides to add more animals to their stock, soon the pasture will not be able to support any life form. While many writers and theorists have discussed the commons in regards to environmental thought, the concept was made famous in Garrett Hardin's '"The Tragedy of the Commons," published in the December 1968 edition of Science. Hardin open the article building off Wiesner and York's discussion of the nuclear arms race, quoting them as saying "It is our considered professional judgement that this dilemma has no technical solution." Hardin took the further and looks at the tragedy of the commons as having no technical solution but requiring a fundamental extension in morality.

An example of a successfully managed commons is the Maine lobster industry. Maine lobster-men know that they must follow loosely-regulated restrictions in order to secure the future of their industry. If they over harvest, there will be no more lobsters. That's why, in the face of technological innovations, they have been using the same harvesting methods for close to 125 years.

What does environmental theory, the nuclear arms race and Maine lobster have to do with libraries?  As open space and natural resources are the commons to environmental theory, access to information through libraries (both physical or digital) are the commons to library science. I believe that the management of ebooks will be the libraries industry "tragedy of the commons."

There is a battle being raged, between publishers and libraries over access of electronic content: dealing with the licensing, access and distribution of electronic information - and ebooks seem to be the latest vanguard of this fight.  I will admit, a lot of what is happening is over my head, having never had to deal directly with library acquisitions or collection development policy. But what it seems to boil down to is the publishing industry protecting its profit margins while librarians protect the right of their patrons to access information.

Hardin stated that "a technical solution may be defined as one that requires a change only in the techniques of the natural [or communication] sciences, demanding little or nothing in the way of change in human values of morality."  Digital rights management has been part of the publishing industry as a technological solution to control content - which is handy for fighting piracy, but when applied to libraries can limit access of information. It seems that the argument on side of the publishers is that they are trying to protect authors and copyright holders. But we need to remember that copyright was founded as a balancing act - to not only promote incentives for authors and creators to share their ideas, but also to allow for the general public access to their ideas to build upon them.

And just like Wiesner, York and Hardin concluded, I do not believe that there will be a technical solution, but we need to bring about a look at our morality in dealing with freedom to read. Do we value open and private access to information? As a democratic nation whose foundations include the creation of modern libraries, I would like the think that we do - we just might have to make others see that, too. 

As I still try and learn about the logistics and strategies of this fight - I do know that librarians need to stick together and raise their voices. It is through collected action that gains can be made. Look at the fight in academia over the controversies of scholarly communication and the rising costs of journal titles. The collected action of librarians and faculty to boycott these journals is starting to make an impact.

As we work to combine our voices, we should look to leaders in this fight. This is who I am currently following:

K.G. Schneider had an excellent recent post on her blog, Free Range Librarian. Keeping with the environmental theme, she describes this as a problem with "reading ecology."

Andy Woodworth has been a constant voice in the discussion of eBooks in the library setting through his blog, Agnostic, Maybe.

Sarah Houghton, the Librarian in Black, has also been very vocal in speaking up for readers rights - and even has a YouTube channel where she uploaded a video discussing her views of how Amazon treat library patrons.

This is an ongoing debate, and I would love for you to share your thoughts. How do you think libraries should handle the ebook situation? Who have you heard speak up to publishers in the name of freedom to read? What will the future look like? Let us know in the comments below and let's keep this conversation going...

J. B. Wiesner and H. F. York, Sci. Amer. 1964; 211 (No. 4): 27
G. Hardin, Science 1968 Dec 13; 162 (5364):1243-8

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Job seeking advice from an actual job seeker

The time has come. There is no more putting it off. The end is in sight. The job search is in full effect.

Now that I am no longer a library student, the time is quickly running out at my current work study position. And of course, at the same time the grant which funds my other (semi-professional) job has almost dried up. It's now time to land that first, full-on professional job. Or at least a job that will carry me over until I land that professional job.

Thankfully, as library students/recent graduates we all have an ace in our pockets: We're not just librarians, we are information managers. From the get-go, it has been apparent that the MLS/MLIS is a versatile degree. We can go into traditional librarian roles, apply for cutting edge positions within libraries (managing digital content, for example) or take our degrees into any learning organization that needs assistance organizing, accessing or disseminating information.

Also, as information managers, we are able to effectively manage our own job search. Here is the strategy that is helping me stay sane throughout this process:

I. Manage Content

There are jobs out there, it is just a matter of finding them. Just like a subject specialist, we can put 21st century innovations to work, doing the dirty work for us. Remember: work smarter, not harder. So far RSS feeds, listservs and email alerts have been doing all of the harvesting for me.

A few RSS feeds that I subscribe too:

I also subscribe to listservs for  library associations for parts of the countries I want to live in, my school's various listserv as well as the I Need a Library Job daily email.

I have also created a number of email alerts through google, creating different combinations of cities/states that I want to live in, various librarian titles, potential dream jobs and sites where they might be posted. If you don't want your inbox overloaded with the alerts, you can have them sent to you in daily batch formats, which is convenient. While they might create extra influx of email - it is so nice to have them show up in just one spot!

II. Get Organized 

Spreadsheets have become my new best friend. I currently have two: one for jobs I am applying too and one for my own information.

Every time I find a job that I am interested in, I add it to my spreadsheet. I have fields for job title/institution, location, link to web posting, date job closes, date I sent in materials, and finally a field for networking. It goes without saying that networking is the most important part of job searching, so if there is anyone I can network with with each job, I be sure to make note of it.

The second spreadsheet came out of my frustration with online application. Some folks say to circumscribe these forms by mailing your resume/cover letter directly to whomever you would be reporting to, but I strongly believe in following directions to a T - especially when applying for jobs. You want to show that you are detail oriented and complete any tasks you are assigned. My fellow classmate Chris has a really good suggestion: create a spreadsheet with all of the universal information that is requested in these forms. Than you can just copy/paste the info, and not get super frustrated when the online form decides to delete everything you just typed in!

If you have taken a metadata or records management class, I am sure you are well aware of the importance of excellent naming conventions. Since you are tailoring each cover letter and resume to each job that you are applying to, file naming is super important in staying organized. When you are applying to similar jobs or when you do land that interview, you want to be able to quickly look up information. You can see in the screenshot below, I am trying to stick to some sort of system. I might have to update it a bit....

This is just what is on my flashdrive. I have about three times as many resumes on my home computer.

There is a lot of competition out there. But we are also all in this together. What job searching strategies have worked for you? If you are currently searching what are you doing to stay sane? 

Monday, February 13, 2012

InfoCampPDX Recap

AJLouie's sketch of Jason Sack's keynote.
InfoCamp was a success. And its success was completely due to our participants.

It has been said before that unconferences are perfect examples of the "if you build it, they will come" phenomena. Last weekend proved this for me. I am not going to lie - I was a bit nervous going into it. Building an unconference involves a giant leap of faith. You get your ducks in a row: order coffee, slice up bagels, rent a space, market the heck out of your event. But the day is only successful if folks show up and fill you break out sessions with interesting topics that create conversation and collaboration. And that is exactly what happened at InfoCampPDX.

Here is a list of the presentations that were offered throughout the day:

  • Modeling - Tips & War Stories: A Discussion  
  • Passionate Research: How do you find info when you’re on an obsession?
  •  Information visualization, what is it good for? Much more than absolutely nothing.”
  • Instrument Resonance: Finding the Bach in city noise” or “Creating meaning out of chaos with semantic model resonance filtering"
  • You should talk to your doctor. And so should your phone. Information in a healthcare context.
  • The confluence of: Information literacy, Information Retrieval & Information Architecture
  • You don’t pay attention to what you’re NOT looking for. User expectations & the world of information
  • Taxonomy Madness 
  • Wiki at 16: Wikimedia Strategic Planning 
  • A work session for library people interested in supporting a student and new professionals round table in OLA 
  • Get Sketching: DIY Information Visualization Design 
  • Designing Awe: The science of surprise and delight 
  • Information Analytics: What is the role of measurement technology for encouraging accuracy of returned results? 
  • How to Throw an InfoCamp

If anyone is interested in helping plan next year's InfoCamp - and we already have some momentum built up after Saturday's success - send the organizing committee an email:

Again, thank you to the fellow organizers, the sponsors, the volunteers, and especially the participants for making Portland's first InfoCamp an excellent day!