Submitted by Jere Odell, Chair, Midwest Chapter/MLA Awards and Scholarship Committee
Student Annual Meeting Grant Awardee: Michelle Bass, University of Michigan School of Information
I was so grateful to be honored with one of the two Midwest Chapter/MLA Student Annual Meeting Grants to attend the Midwest Chapter/MLA 2013 Meeting in East Peoria, IL. This was my first professional library conference after many years of attending education conferences while working towards my doctoral degree in Educational Psychology.
The mentor/mentee partnership program was a highlight for me. My mentor was the wonderful Karen Hanus, Assistant Director of the Medical College of Wisconsin Libraries. We toured the vendor fair together and she shared her path to medical librarianship. One of her most important contributions to my education was helping me understand the difference between Midwest Chapter/MLA and NN/LM GMR. The Medical Library Association and subsequent regions are populated by individual librarians. NN/LM is nested within the National Library of Medicine and members in these regional organizations are library institutions. It’s a people versus place-based membership difference. Being present during the awards ceremony during the Midwest Chapter/MLA business meeting was a great way to learn about the individuals who keep the chapter running. I also enjoyed hearing really positive feedback about the Taubman Health Sciences Library Systematic Review workshop during the NN/LM GMR annual review, as I am the newest staff member at Taubman, as the University Library Associate.
I thought it was great that both speakers were prominent bloggers in the library arena and hope that the continued publication of the Taubman Health Sciences Library Blog, which I coordinate as part of my ULA responsibilities, leads to further dialogue between professionals and colleagues. The keynote speaker was Michelle Kraft, Senior Medical Librarian at the Cleveland Clinic Alumni Library and author of the KraftyLibrarian.com blog. Her talk focused on the ways in which technology changes our world, particularly as librarians, and encouraged libraries to evolve with society or face possible extinction. Technologies, such as apps for mobile devices, should be considered opportunities rather than as disruptive: “the technology is here, we should go for the opportunities to use them”. Bibliotech in Bexar County Texas is a prime example of embracing the opportunities of technology: it is a completely digital library with 10,000 titles.
Sarah Houghton, Director of the San Rafael Public Library and author of librarianinblack.net, shared her ideas about the future of digital libraries. Libraries are currently facing fatigue from being inundated with new and evolving technologies and recent memories of bad technology adoptions. However, we should have a bit more breathing room as technological changes and innovation have slowed a bit. However, it is still always important to be in the know regarding trends to watch and services desired by library users. She encouraged libraries of all sizes and user populations to take simple steps in developing strategic plans: go to a local spot which has a high concentration of users and ask, “What would make your life easier?” Sarah’s ending notes emphasized the importance of libraries as democratizers of information and the need to make sure libraries are helping users find and understand the information they seek.
This year’s conference was a great introduction to the Midwest Chapter and I look forward to submitting a proposal and attending next year’s conference in Bismarck, North Dakota October 10-14, 2014.
Student Annual Meeting Grant Awardee: Caitlin Kelley, University of Michigan School of Information
I was lucky enough to receive a Student Annual Meeting Grant to attend the Midwest Chapter/MLA conference this fall. The funding afforded me the opportunity to meet with many interesting librarians across the region, and see an extraordinary amount of corn on the way from Ann Arbor, MI to East Peoria, IL. I enjoyed the opportunity to hear about the real issues and questions librarians are pondering at the moment. For example, how do you most effectively incorporate information literacy into medical education? Is all the time we spend cataloging really worth it? But the question that really got me thinking was: Are librarians sometimes too nice to be strong advocates for their libraries?
This particular question was posed by Sarah Houghton of the San Jose Public Library when she said, and I’m paraphrasing, “sometimes you have to get in your boss’s face and advocate for your library, and I think there are too many librarians who won’t do that.” Around the same time, my entire cohort at University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI) took the StrengthsFinder assessment, a personality tool that finds and labels an individual’s natural strengths, and we learned that our most popular strengths were:
- Learning: People who have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve
- Input: People who are collectors and curators of things that interest them
- Context: People who enjoy thinking about the past and understand the present by researching its history
A group of about 40 of us were in a career development workshop and were discussing the implications of these strengths and which ones might be best or worst for information professionals. Interestingly, “Command,” a strength characterized by taking control of situations and making decisions, was identified by students as the least desirable in the group, but is also a strength that would help someone fulfill Sarah Houghton’s vision. This made me wonder if, at least in my cohort, people who have these strengths and perspectives develop into librarians who are able and willing to “get in someone’s face?” I’m inclined to say no; especially considering a downright aversion to the personality traits that fosters assertive communication. This is a group of people who want to learn and explore the past, then collect everything they’ve learned- not a group of people who will proactively take control of a situation and be a strong proponent for their world.
But, of course, this is an incredibly small sample of young librarians. Maybe as time goes on, strengths change. Or maybe UMSI selects a very specific group of people who reflect certain strengths. There are a lot of holes in my musings, but the question remains: will librarians do their best work when they fiercely advocate for their role and place, or be successful by finding what we’re already good at, things like the strengths that my cohort identified with, and maximizing them? For any individual or group, it’s a difficult thing to take current talents and explore ways to fill new roles, but an essential topic for any professional group.
I have been grappling with these ideas and questions since returning from East Peoria and am hardly near a concrete practical or philosophical answer. As in most things though, the process is as important as the outcome, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to hear from thought provoking speakers like Sarah Houghton and Michelle Kraft.