The Joy of Putzing

Browsing, Information Seeking

When looking, I find stuff that my brain sorts into “keep” or “reject” piles. I click, I e-mail, I save, and an hour later, I could not for the life of me tell you what I was looking at. Reference desk, personal research, doesn’t matter.

When I putz, I am much less efficient, but I find awesome stuff like this: Debates in the Digital Humanities.

Who doesn’t love browsing?

The Stars Align

Academic libraries, Library Guides


I love those moments where the stars align, and students’ assignments match up perfectly with the collection and collection tools. This week the stars aligned when one of my favorite professors ended his English 102 class early and sent his students to the library to gather resources for their assignment.

Although I’ve never met this teacher in person, I think he’s pretty awesome. I call him Mr. Lit Crit because every semester he teaches his students to write literature criticism, guiding them through the research and writing of a very special type of essay. Literature criticism wasn’t part of the curriculum for anthropology students, but in the course of pulling resources for Mr. Lit Crit’s students, I’ve learned how to do literature criticism too.

Here at the library, we greet Mr. Lit Crit’s students every semester with reference books for dramatists, novelists, and short story writers. We have a thorough collection of “books you can take home” for each of Mr. Lit Crit’s favorite authors, and of course, reviews in our literature criticism databases. Last semester, I dusted off all of our HTML library guides for literature criticism and put them in a dynamic form, complete with links to each literature criticism database, catalog records for circulating books, and select literature criticism pieces. Talk about learning–once denizens of terra incognita, by the end of that process the Literary Reference Center and Critical Insights collection were my buddies, and I knew the names of each of Bloom’s gazillion and a half series.

This semester, Mr. Lit Crit added a twist to his usual assignment and gave the students the option of doing a literary biography for a shortlist of authors, all of whom were present in our literature criticism guides. It was simply wonderful: a dozen students arrived at once, but myself and the one other librarian at the desk were able to identify what resources the students needed, print them off a guide, direct them to the sections containing the biographies, and let them explore while we helped the next wave of students. Many actually did come back for help finding additional resources, or at least directions to the photocopier or circulation desk. In one quick library visit, these students learned where the library was, how happy the librarians are to help, and how our resources are exactly what they need for their project. They were not frustrated by the disconnect between what the teacher wanted and what exists in the collection. We were not frustrated trying to use a vague assignment to ferret out what the teacher wanted the students to do. I even got a chance to test drive the guides, rectifying inconsistencies between guides for different works by the same author and beefing up biographical sources for some of our less-studied authors.

Experiences like this, where the research stars align, make me want to run to the nearest department offices and ask each and every teacher what research project they’re assigning next so I can tell them how the library is here to give them the research they want. Course readings, dictionaries, handbooks, films, it’s theirs. I want to tell them all about Mr. Lit Crit, and how they, too, can take all the time they used to spend booby-trapping their assignments for plagiarism and inappropriate Google use and instead use that time to have the students work with the library. By and large, students want to do bad work, and don’t need to be smacked on the knuckles for not researching properly: they simply need to be shown how to do it right. And teachers, when you come to the library look for me, because I’ll be right there, in the line of librarians queuing up to help.

I Read a Graphic Novel…

Hardback edition of book Red Handed

Good job, Matt Kindt

…and actually liked it. Normally, I am such a linear person, such a text person, that the jumping around between frames and having no opportunity to imagine what characters look like, how they move, totally turns me off graphic novels. Neither bothered me this time, and I polished off Red Handed in an evening.

Noir fans, grab a copy of Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes. You’ll like it.

Highs and Lows

Conferences, Job Hunting
Poster at ALA Annual Conference

The posters saved me.

Back home, safe and sound, and life is ordinary again. I had a colleague ask me if I’m glad I went. I am, but it took me a while to arrive at this conclusion. There were some major dislikes along with the likes. The major thing framing my experience of the conference is simply where I am in my library career. I’m a relatively new librarian. I went on my own time, without a specific to-do list or committee responsibilities. If you were me, and wondering what you should do at Annual, I would absolutely not recommend

The Job Placement Center

I had very high hopes for the Job Placement Center. I got a really terrific resume reading at ACRL’s Job Placement Center, so I was ready to make more great connections, talk jobs, etc. etc. This did not happen. The people running the welcome and registration booth gave me as warm a welcome as a bowl of goldfish might. They were not actively unfriendly, but they did not ask what I needed, nor did they attempt to showcase all the features of the Placement Center. The one thing I know about job hunting is that it makes one anxious and self-conscious, and a big smile and a hello goes a long way towards helping that. Didn’t get either of those. Is there some sort of magic handshake that turns the Placement Center into a world of opportunity? Don’t know, the people manning the center didn’t offer to tell me. I printed out a copy of my resume on the mind-numbingly slow computers and puttered around to the different booths, ready to do my “I’m an underemployed digital projects librarian” song & dance (do any other librarians on the job market ever feel like a poodle in a tutu at the circus?). But there were very few booths, none from state libraries or consortia that might offer lots of jobs from a variety of libraries, and after a failed attempt to connect with a singularly grumpy librarian from a university, I took my sad little underemployed self out of there.

It was really demoralizing.

Thank goodness for the

Poster Sessions

These totally saved me. Poster sessions are where people who are working on a super-cool project tell people who are interested in the same thing about their super-cool project. For five minutes, you get to have an awesome conversation with an interesting person, and ask them all the silly questions about their project you never would have dared to–or had time to–in a lecture-style presentation. I learned about cleaning up metadata on digitized archival collections, open source folklore, and slow reading. I got to compare notes on roaming reference with librarians from halfway across the country. I listened to the answers to others’ questions and learned things about patron-driven acquisition I never would have thought to ask.

So yes, in the end, I am glad I went to ALA annual. I brought home lots of notes on things to tell my librarian friends about, things that do not pertain to my work, but which meet a need in their work. I met a lot of interesting people and learned about their libraries and what they do there. In the end, the function of ALA Annual was to remind me that the library world is a big place filled with possibilities.

Unpacking ALA


ALA Annual is far too much to unpack in one day. Right now, an entire weekend of experience is a mush of faces, presentations, conversations, and handouts. Has this happened to any of you?


The lovely people at Isovera were handing out jam with their business cards.


The program book is awesome for reading ads and awful for finding the sessions you want to attend.


Sustaining the level of energy needed to truck around a giant convention center and remain bright and personable requires a lot of food.