Archive for November, 2009


Preservation and digitization for all

First off, a few words of gratitude in this season of thanks-giving. I am thankful for my job, where I learn every day about public service, local history, and get to use my skills as an archivist. I am grateful that our county finally decided to upgrade our outdated county website (including the public library) to CSS, and that it will be coming out in early 2010. Finally, I am grateful for the grants my department has received, most recently the NC SHRAB’s Traveling Archivist Program.

Speaking of grants, my library (in partnership with Wake Forest University) recently received an outreach grant from the State Library that provides digitization equipment and preservation training in locations throughout our county. This grant is unique to North Carolina and is being watched carefully by the State Library due to its somewhat unusual concept. Put simply, we are putting expensive scanners “out there” for the general public and providing preservation education for nonprofit groups and individuals.

This Saturday was our first workshop, which was focused on local nonprofit organizations. From genealogy clubs to food banks, churches to social clubs, we sent emails and postcards to as many groups as we could find. Our workshop’s limited RSVP list was filled within a week, and I began hearing from groups that I know I had not yet invited! We are having three more rounds of workshops in 2010.

On Saturday, we brought in Rachel Hoff, preservation expert from UNC Chapel Hill, as well as Barry Davis, multimedia coordinator at Wake Forest, to teach our community partners about preservation, repair, and digitization of their organization’s archives. The enthusiasm of our participants was absolutely contagious. Not only were they fully engaged from 10 am to 5 pm, but they were thrilled to learn about book repair, archival housing, and the steps to use our VHS-to-digital, cassette-to-digital, slide scanner, and flatbed scanner!

We need to get all of the public library staff involved with the equipment to the point where they are comfortable showing a customer how to use the scanners. At a small public library branch with a few full-time staff, it is hard enough to get the staff trained on the equipment, let alone ask them to spend time with a customer who is just getting started! So we’ve decided to expand our training on the digitization equipment to become part of our regular computer training classes, allowing for small seminars.

While it sounds simple, the grant is compelling in its implications. This equipment will be open to the public. There are no restrictions as to what can be digitized, and no requirements that digital objects be shared with our libraries or hosted on a designated server. It is empowering for community-based archives to be provided with training and resources to preserve their history their way. I will post more in the future as our project develops.

In related news: the NC Digital Heritage Center is coming…!


Forming iDEALS for tomorrow’s information professionals

On Monday, I participated in the first Information, Diversity, Engagement, Access and Libraries (iDEAL) Summit in the Department of Library and Information Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The innovative summit was the brainchild of new department chair Dr. Clara Chu, the event was meant to create a “community approach to discussing and identifying strategies to address information, diversity, engagement, access and libraries (iDEAL) in our education, research, practice and community building.”

The event format appeared to be modeled partially from the 2006 UCLA Diversity Recruitment Summit, which incorporated small group discussion, brainstorming, and reflection as a larger group. While the UCLA event focused on ways to bring diversity to the field, iDEALS attempted to address ways to better prepare future information professionals for “relevant, appropriate and effective services in and with diverse, globalized and technological communities.”

Perhaps what made the program so unique was the diversity of participants. Faculty, students, and practitioners were invited to participate in the discussion, creating an intellectual potpourri. Small groups were sent into sessions where they discussed real world experience, education and professional development, research, and community, as they relate to LIS education, research, and practice.

I was part of a group led by Dr. Nora Bird, who further divided our group to discuss specific topics listed above. She avoided allowing participants from the same group sit together (i.e. no two students sitting together). My small group was asked to focus on education and professional development, something with which I have recent experience!

As we brainstormed skills and knowledge for graduates with respect to diversity, engagement, and access, the conversation kept returning to a lack of opportunities for LIS students to feel truly engaged with the local community, as well as opportunities for students to gain valuable professional training (read: not shelving books). Desired skills and knowledge: empathy, ability to listen to others, openness, exposure to different types of communities and cultures, ability to TEACH, being an advocate, and being knowledgeable about existing and new resources. There were a lot more suggestions, but we crystallized our discussion into two main points: mentoring and service learning.

We concluded that today’s LIS students need mentoring from a variety of sources. The student government can arrange 2nd-year/1st-year mentorships; alumni can provide networking and mentoring opportunities at the local level; NCLA/SNCA can continue and expand their mentor programs; and of course, there is always the national level. Mentoring does not just provide networking opportunities, but it also creates professional development that cannot happen in the classroom. Professional skills can be learned simply by watching and listening to an active practitioner.  Finally, professional organizations should encourage research at the graduate level by providing student poster sessions (especially at the state level) and supplementing or changingmerit-based scholarships into research funding.

Perhaps most importantly, we felt that service learning (as opposed to internships/practicums) offered the greatest opportunity for education and professional development to LIS students. By “learning by doing,” students are able to take classroom knowledge and apply it to a real-life situation. In particular, service learning projects with community-based organizations push developing information professionals into a new role as resident “expert,” where he or she must make decisions about how to deal with challenging situations. Service learners must teach and share knowledge — in effect, becoming advocates. Service learning provides a variety of experience for a budding information professional in a short period, and provides the chance to experience different communities. We felt that student organizations and LIS departments have a responsibility to help create community organization projects for students, with clear learning objectives and goals. These projects must be mutually beneficial.

I must admit my influence in this discussion was based on my experience with service learning at UCLA. I chose to work with Visual Communications, an Asian-American nonprofit film/media organization. Without an archivist, my peers and I were seen as archivists by default, and found ourselves using newly learned techniques and approaches to arranging, preserving, and making accessible their archives. This could not have happened in an established archive, where our work would have been more limited and, perhaps, at a paraprofessional level. The challenges of a limited budget and overworked staff are familiar today. My peers and I also learned about the information needs of a diverse and underserved community.

While the iDEAL Summit was focused on ways to improve UNCG’s program, nearly everyone I spoke to felt that this method could be replicated on other campuses and in other communities. It was inspiring to see three types of information professionals — students, faculty, and practitioners — in the same room, asking for the same transformation. I wonder how many other LIS programs incorporate service learning into the curriculum. In the near future, I hope to see more service learning as well as more practitioners who mentor.


Librarians, archivists, money, and a Lost Generation

What will happen to today’s new, young information professionals who are unemployed or “underemployed”? A recent article in Business Week dubs these young people as part of a new “Lost Generation.” Research suggests that an “extended period of youthful joblessness can significantly depress lifetime income as people get stuck in jobs that are beneath their capabilities, or come to be seen by employers as damaged goods.” For those of us fortunate enough to be employed, will low pay and limited (or nonexistent) benefits be sufficient to keep us inspired, creative, and energetic?

I am in the midst of my first-ever annual review and I thought I’d share my experience,  both with fellow neophytes and supervisors. When I was hired into my current position, my county HR department said that I would start at the bottom of the salary range because I did not have any professional experience (pre-MLIS experience of 6 years did not count) and that I could negotiate my salary after 1 year. In addition, my salary increase would be based on the “market rate” for a librarian in my county — which was a good 20% higher from my starting rate. Good, I thought, in order for me to show my value as a professional and be paid a fair wage.

Not until this week, however, was I informed that the “market rate” is merely a representative figure — not an actual rate that most librarians are paid. Employees start at the bottom and, through merit-based appraisals, receive a percentage of the market rate as an increase in their salary per annum. Many employees don’t actually reach 100% of the market rate, and this year, the highest possible salary increase is capped at 2% of the market rate. That means a perfect appraisal would merit just a few hundred dollars extra the following year, due to the lower rate of pay. For a library director, a 2% increase could mean a few thousand dollars.

The difference between a poor appraisal and an excellent appraisal could mean a difference of a couple hundred bucks for a new librarian or archivist. Why would a government employee work harder than the minimum requirements? Why would a new librarian/archivist want to bring new ideas to the table and challenge him or herself to make changes? With new jobs asking for more and more training and education and experience for less pay, what will today’s information professionals have to gain?

Full disclosure: I got an excellent review. I love my job. I have few resources but full support from my colleagues and supervisor. I am grateful every day that I have a job, especially one related to special collections. But without mentorship and motivation, some new information professionals find themselves feeling lost. A recent post on The New Archivist discusses the feelings of inadequacy and lack of confidence that can appear with the challenges of a first job (limited resources, a bit of naivete, overwhelming projects) and it resonated with me. I hope that I can continue to be confident and excited in my second year as a librarian/archivist.