Getting Thrown into the Deep End

So I started at CILS 3 weeks ago, and oh boy does it feel longer. My first week was a lot of getting settled in sort of thing (which means orientation and a lot of paperwork), and being given the simplest of stuff. After the first week, I was thrown into the deep end. Continue reading “Getting Thrown into the Deep End”

Workshop: Communicating the Library’s Value in Academia

The librarians had a half-day workshop where the activities focused on how we can communicate the value of librarians and the library to the rest of the university. Continue reading “Workshop: Communicating the Library’s Value in Academia”

Technology Requirements for MLIS Students

Recently on Hack Library School, Amy Frazier posted about her idea of the ideal library school with higher-level technology classes and require more tech skills for librarians-to-be.

Librarian By Name, Geek By Nature.

The post generated quite a lot of comments including my own. It’s definitely an issue that I have seen discussed more often in the last year or two. When I was in school, a number of students (including myself) expressed the desire for more technology courses in our program.

Including More Technology Courses

One side of the discussion is getting MLIS programs to offer more tech courses. While personally, I could have used more tech courses, I don’t necessarily think that it’s viable for a lot of schools. It’s difficult enough for schools that librarianship is very broad, add to that that many MLIS type jobs are not in libraries, and you get the basic problem of “how do you offer courses to cover all topics of interest in a single library school?”

Basically, you can’t. It’s impossible. At my school, there is a PhD program, so at the Master’s level, it even needs to cover all the research side of things.

Option 1: Partner with the CS department

One way is to possibly have the faculty partner with the CS department to allow students to take lower level programming classes or recommend CS classes that aren’t programming heavy. Unfortunately, like at my school, universities will normally not allow credit to be given for lower level courses when in a master’s program.

Option 2: Partner with other LIS schools

There is always the option of partnering with other schools to offer classes (this includes non-technology related courses). This already happens in many schools, but due to different schedules and the difficulty of getting through other schools’ admissions for classes and such, it is traditionally not particularly convenient. Improving the shared courses system would definitely help though.

Option 3: Offer 2-3 introductory courses

I would say that, at the least, LIS schools should at least have introductory courses (again possibly in partnership). At my school, they offered a 1-credit class as an introductory course (a regular class is 3 credits). I think for its first time, it did quite well and a lot of students had signed up. What I would like to see is for additional 1-credit classes to be offered to introduce the basics of other languages or a 3-credit course, which can almost be a survey type course where you’re introduced to the basics of a couple of languages and taught the process in making decisions on which to use when. An existing class covers technology management and what we dubbed “systems 101”. Schools might consider partnering with professional associations to offer these sorts of classes.

But if you want tech…

In the end though, if students want a library program that is very tech heavy, then perhaps they should do more research into which schools already offer that sort of program before applying. Much like at the undergraduate level, different schools emphasize different things, so it’s up to a student to do the research and do their best to get in.

Requiring More Technology Skills

The other big idea that came up in the discussion is requiring the completion of a course which involves a higher level of technology skills. While I think library students need to graduate with at least a basic amount of technology skills, I think what’s more important is knowing how and when to integrate technology into library services to best support users.

Solution?: Technology Integration

Some of the commenters also proposed this idea, at least to a degree (I admit that I have not read every single answer though).

The biggest issue I had with my required technology class (other than the fact that we couldn’t be exempted even if you had a CS background) was that much of what we learnt was not put into a practical context.

If you want students to learn how to make a PowerPoint presentation, don’t make them do something that involves lots of different animations (no one does this, or at least should do this in a real presentation), but instead, tell them to make a presentation that pitches an idea or teaches a skill for example.

In an instructional class, have students make a video a la research minute for example. Get them to work with a real library and upload it to their YouTube channel when done.

My favourite classes were ones where we got a practical project that involved learning a new technology. For example, I took a class on digital collections, so we read all the usual papers, sat through all the lectures, and we learned how to use DBTextWorks and ContentDM. That means that I now can (with a bit of wrangling) build a digital collection should I see the need (or become responsible for that sort of thing).

More than anything, I think students need to learn the situations where it would be beneficial for them and patrons to integrate technology, and if they need help, then to go ask their systems team.

Supporting New Librarians for Conferences & Events

While I admit that I have not gone to many library conferences, I thought I would reflect on attending my recent outing to Seattle.

Funding & Limitations

Fairly obvious, but it was important for me to know how many conferences I might be able to attend in a year. If hired as a permanent position, most librarians get a set budget for attending conferences and other events, but on contract, it’s a per-event approval process (as it tends to be at most institutions).

Based on what I heard from others, I think it is key to know what kind of policy administration usually has. I’ve heard from some that non-permanent full-time librarians get absolutely no funding, and even permanent full-time librarians sometimes have to wait 1-2 years before getting funding.

There is, of course, the choice of funding a trip yourself on your own time, but these costs can be prohibitive for new graduates or those with lesser financial means.

Choosing the Right Conferences

On a bit of a side note, I think it is also up to the individual to pick and choose what’s right for them. There are so many conferences being held all the time, it can be very difficult to choose. Being able to only choose 1-2 conferences in a year, I decided against the larger, more general conferences (such as CLA, ALA, or the provincial ones) because I felt that many of the sessions were just not relevant to my interests and position. Instead, I decided to focus on technology related conferences, namely Access and Code4Lib.

Other more local events, which only involves work time, with little or no fees and travel costs can help to supplement or be alternatives to larger events as well, especially regional versions of larger events. Once again though, depending on the policies of the organization, this might involve an individual paying their own way and using vacation time to attend.

How Can We Help?

One of the discussions I got involved with while in Seattle was, how can we help new graduates/librarians (and librarians in more restrictive positions perhaps) attend conferences?

While many conferences offer discounts on registration fees or free attendance for volunteers, registration fees are not usually that high (at least not at library conferences). Even airline tickets are fairly low cost when flying within the US (though admittedly to/from/within Canada can be quite expensive). What makes a trip prohibitive then is usually the hotel, which generally costs at least $100/night.

Then, what can be done to help with these costs?

  • Scholarships: many have student scholarships, which is great, but maybe they can be opened up or a couple can be made for those in need (who are not necessarily students) – it was the only reason I could attend Code4Lib this year
  • Roomshare/Rideshare: while we had this at Code4Lib, I’m not sure how well it was advertised (but then I got in late in the game). Maybe if it was advertised on the main webpage or somewhere in the registration process, a list of people willing to share can be generated.
  • Hostel Room: Similarly, facilitate a way for a group to get a hostel room together (while they might still be strangers, personally, I would not mind so much with fellow conference attendees as opposed to complete, possibly unfriendly strangers).
  • Ask Locals to Offer a Couch/Floor/etc.: I admit that this would be probably difficult for large conferences, but if locals could offer a place to sleep to those in need, I think it would be a great way to encourage new folks to attend. (Organizers can consider writing a simple guideline, such as only if a person doesn’t have any funding sources to attend.)

I’d love to hear other ideas, which might be passed on to conference organizers, especially for Code4Lib 2013.

Reference Gone Mobile Notes – ALPS December Meeting

Presented by panelists Debra Flewelling (Douglas College), Nicole Gjertsen (Simon Fraser University) and Joyce Wong (Langara College).

  • 93% students use phone for texting

Phone Based Service

This is where a library buys a phone and plan and passes the phone from librarian to librarian (whomever is on duty).


  • cheap cost


  • no statistics
  • cumbersome
  • asynchronous means a student might reply hours later when another librarian has the phone

Might start with phone as beta service, but will usually move to software based.

Software Based Service

Users send texts, which are then turned into emails sent to librarians. The reply emails are sent back to students as texts. Different setup options are available, such as shared or dedicated numbers.


  • little or no change to workflow
  • automated message sent if unavailable
  • can do mass messaging campaigns
  • courtesy notice option


  • more expensive

Upside Wireless

  • somewhat of a monopoly in Canada
  • can share number or shortcut but needs – user needs to precede text with a specific word (e.g. Douglas or Langara)
  • dedicated line – more expensive, but more messages and dedicated

Some Statistics


dedicated phone and staff

  • 50% facilities/how/where
  • 22% ref/citation
  • rest known item/technology


recently extended hours
auto response with askaway or desk’s phone number if closed

  • 20% directional
  • 50% known item
  • 30% ref
  • 8am-6pm typically
  • few questions on weekends, but open
  • ~10 mins response time
  • ref questions usually referred to subject/liaison librarian


  • must be careful of message size limit
  • should have quick turnaround time
  • may point to where can find answer instead of give answer
  • best practices and guidelines including local polices
  • need to work out workflow
  • might bring in other staff to answer non-reference questions


  • keyword campaign – users text keyword to number to enter prize draw
  • posters and banners
  • tabletop mini-posters
  • social media of institution
  • website, especially mobile site
  • powerpoint slide for liaison libraries to add to their presentations
  • article or ads in student paper
  • QR codes
  • word of mouth

Can ask students where they found out about the service.

Current Job Opportunities for System Librarians

For one of my management assignments, I decided to do a job analysis of the current job opportunities.


Looking at the various aspects of the job postings to look at where and what opportunities are available as well as what is being looked for.


Collected all systems related librarian positions which were primarily either systems or web services from September 1 to October 15. I collected 19 job postings and tallied the various aspects including skills and areas of knowledge required and preferred.


The Basics

Jobs were primarily in academic libraries (17 of 19) and a majority were permanent full time (13). The job subareas and titles differ, but were generally broken down in this way:

Systems & Technical Services 2
Systems 8
Web Services 11
User Experience 1

Jobs were also generally in the East.

Canada United States
West 1 West 4
Central 1 Central 2
East 4 East 7

Finally of the salaries that were listed the average minimum of $49,000.

Education & Work Experience

No surprise that every single posting required: MLIS degree from ALA accredited school or equivalent.

Most required or preferred at least 2 years of experience, and preferred but did not usually required experience within the area of hiring.

Graph Years of ExperienceGraph of type of experienceNote that the “type” is an indication of whether the experience needs to be in the same type of library (e.g. academic library by posting from academic library).


Many positions included non-technical related duties. The top two:

  • Reference – 37% (7)
  • General/Student Instruction – 26% (5)

Technology Related Skills & Areas of Knowledge

As the majority of the positions were web services related, there was a bit of a bias towards skills that are web related, but generally for systems, I simply found that there were less specific technology requirements and it was also more diverse. The top technology related required skills & areas of knowledge:

  • HTML/XHTML – 58% (11)
  • Web Development/Design – 47% (9)
  • CSS – 42% (8)
  • Standards & Best Practices – 37% (7)
  • Emerging Technologies, Trends, & Issues – 37% (7)
  • Usability/User Experience – 32% (6)
  • JavaScript – 26% (5)

As I said, the range was wide and included everything from server administration to proxy to analytics.

General Skills & Areas of Knowledge

What might (or might not) surprise people is that the top required skills and areas of knowledge were general in nature and not technology related.

  • Communications & Interpersonal – 95% (18)
  • Collaboration & Teamwork – 84% (16)
  • Project Management, Planning & Organization – 68% (13)
  • Problem Solving & Analysis – 58% (11)
  • Work Independently – 47% (9)
  • Leadership – 26% (5)
  • Flexible & Creative – 26% (5)

If anything, I think this trend is encouraging for new graduates as it seems that “soft” skills are more important than the technology/technical skills which frankly, many of us just do not have the opportunity to learn in library school, but with some tech savvy would be more than willing and able to learn on the job.


There are some obvious limitations to my analysis. For one, some job postings were no longer accessible as they were closed, which meant that they were not included. For my purposes, I also left out all management positions, such as AUL and director positions.

Another issue is that how qualifications were grouped was very subjective on my part, so may not have been consistent. For example, planning and organization was grouped with project management, but results would have been different if the three had been kept separate.

Possible Future Work

It would be interesting to see what the trends are in general rather than only looking at systems positions, but that would be a much larger effort.

Hopefully this information is useful for anyone else in North America interested in systems related jobs.

Final Notes & Thoughts @ Access 2011

So I didn’t do a full post for all the sessions, but the live notes that were taken and presumably, video recordings will later be posted on the Access 2011 website.

Data Visualization

Jer Thorp gave a great talk on the data visualization work he’s done and has been working on at the New York Times. I couldn’t really take notes since so much of it was visual, but he blew a lot of minds with his work, so check out his blog.

My Lightning Talk

What really excited me beyond the work itself was the fact that he mentioned he was doing it all through Processing, so I decided to do a lightning talk to introduce everyone to Processing and more importantly Processing.js.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Processing is an open source programming language primarily used for dynamic and interactive graphing and data visualization. Processing.js is the sister project which brings processing to the web. What’s the greatest part of processing.js is that a developer can start doing the same sort of thing but from the JavaScript side.

Check out the demos to see what kind of things you can possible do. I am particularly interested in the educational applications, such as giving students interactive graphs to see how mathematical functions work (see the Bezier Curves tutorial).

Added value: web accessible, Drupal plug-in, WordPress plug-in, fun games like a remake of Asteroids on the exhibition page.

See Access Live Notes for Lightning Talks and talks about other tools.

Digital Preservation

  • what does digital preservation mean? preserving more than objects and items
  • think on scalability
  • preserve what matters
  • start with policy and practice, not a platform
  • library can’t do it alone, partner with IT, Archives, etc.
  • need to think strategically
  • no one answer
  • some good tools
  • get started
  • think about what we can do with partnership

Fail Panel

The fail panel was great, because there were a lot of great stories by the panelists and others. Here are some of the lessons learned from the fail stories.

  • bleeding edge is not always great
  • good escape clauses to get out of bad situations
  • make sure company is stable
  • don’t make thematic websites – not scalable
  • don’t be working on original records or have a backup
  • never trust a tech
  • if you think it’s a bad idea, speak up
  • don’t have a project driven by one person
  • sometimes there isn’t a tech solution
  • make sure you press the right button
  • need to make sure

Share your own stories at


This was actually my first conference, but I think (and I’m clearly not the only one) it’s been really well put together and the food has especially been awesome, many within great socials. There’s been some tech fail, but that’s expected at every place I think.

I have particularly liked this conference because rather than simply having speakers talk, everyone has been highly encouraged to participate in some way (i.e. hackfest + presentations, lightning talks). I never though I’d be speaker at a conference, especially my first, but with the nature of the talks and encouragement of people got me to do a lightning talk. I think that alone speaks loads to the community.

It’s been an awesome experience, I’ve learnt a lot, and met a lot of great people. I really hope to be able to attend the next one.

Access 2012

Sad to see Access 2011 end, but for next year, a  site will be set up to see who will host it, and the planning of the conference will be continued code4lib style.