Archive for the ‘ Librarianship ’ Category

New job!

I’ve gotten a bit behind in my posting lately because I started a new job this week!  I’m the new PR Specialist for a local library system.  It’s a lot to take in, but so far I’m really happy with the position, the people working there, and the library.  I’m still getting to know the library system, but I’m excited to jump in and start really working on ways to streamline some of the current procedures to make things easier for the branches and come up with new ideas for helping promote the library.

So, the new job (and adjusting to just working again in general) has me pretty busy right now, but I do have some posts planned for the near future.  I have a book review and a movie review planned to post in the next couple of days.  Over the next few weeks I have a few more reviews, a summer reads list, and some library features I’ll be posting.  I’ll probably start writing more about marketing, PR, and advocacy in the library field, too, as I do more research into the trends and ideas that will help me in my new position.

Literacy Isn’t Optional

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across this blog post on literacy privilege.   I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  The author states she is a recovering grammar snob and goes on the explain why she no longer gleefully corrects others’ mistakes.  Her reasons for refusing to continue to do so are  most definitely worth a read, but what I found the most shocking was something she included towards the end of her post:

I like to shock the new tutors I train by quoting statistics from the International Adult Literacy Survey. I ask them to estimate, in a developed country like Canada or the U.S., what percentage of the population has literacy skills below the very basic level needed to function well in our society. People usually guess ten percent, fifteen percent, maybe as much as twenty-five. Then I pull out the sad, stunning facts: nearly half of all North American adults cannot cope with complex written material of the sort that the other half of us take completely for granted. HALF, you guys. This should be considered a national crisis. Not fodder for sport.

The picture becomes even more dismal when you consider the other statistics from the survey.  Approximately one-fourth of U.S. adults performed at the very lowest level of literacy.  Only 59% of U.S. adults at the lowest two levels of literacy were employed.  This is compared to 77% at the mid level and 82% at the highest levels.  Other sources present more bleak findings.  55% of adults with below basic literacy did not graduate from high school.  60% of prison inmates and 85% of juvenile offenders have literacy issues. 75% of those on welfare are functionally illiterate.  The country’s literacy levels do not appear to be improving overall, either.

Literacy is also not being appropriately addressed in our schools.  Of the students who do graduate from high school, 25% have only received the equivalent to a 8th grade education.  Approximately 20% of high school graduates are functionally illiterate.   Whether this is an issue of demographics, educator assumption, methodology, or undetected learning disorders, a large number of students are falling through the cracks.

It is unthinkable that a country which claims the be the greatest in the world would accept this.  It breaks my heart and it makes me angry.

Literacy isn’t simply related to the ability to read a book.  Being literate is vitally important for an individual to maintain a successful and enjoyable life.

  • Literacy is directly related to employment and career successes. See the statistics above for evidence.
  • It is fundamental to educational success.  Almost all learning is predicated on it.
  • It’s related to criminal behavior.  Inmates have lower levels of literacy than the general population.
  • It is needed to fully understand and participate in society.  Illiterate adults risk social isolation.
  • It is necessary for survival.  So much of our existence is dependent on the ability to read and understand certain important  information.

Literacy impacts almost every facet of our lives.  So why are so many people still operating at the very basic or below basic levels?  And what can we do about it?

Aside from adopting new education policies that ensure all students are literate, the issue of those who already made it to adulthood needs to be more sufficiently addressed.  Despite many areas across the country implementing literacy initiatives, efforts tend to be spotty.  Though there are national literacy efforts, these don’t fare as well as is needed to curb the problem.  Without a sufficient nationally organized and funded program, it is difficult for literacy workers to reach all the vulnerable individuals.  Additionally, the ways in which literacy programs are advertised often are counterproductive.  If the programs are only advertised in print or at the library or school or in other areas unlikely to be accessed by those who need the services, they are not going to be aware of them.  Even if an individual learned of the program, the stigma attached to illiteracy prohibits many from seeking the help they need.  In certain areas of the country, language barriers can also make it difficult for individuals to access literacy programs.

So, what can libraries do to help?

The American Library Association has several resources and suggestions to help libraries address adult literacy issues.

  1. Ensure that adults with literacy issues are given equal access.  This can be accomplished by providing literacy classes, materials, and services to limit access issues.
  2. If your library doesn’t have a literacy plan, develop one. 
  3. If a plan is in existence, evaluate its effectiveness.
  4. If you live in an area with a large non-English speaking population, make sure they are being served by your programs.
  5. Reach out to community literacy programs and adult education programs to share resources and referrals.

Finally, something we can all do is contact government officials at all levels and charge them with addressing this epidemic.  Our country needs a concentrated, organized, sustained national effort to truly combat adult illiteracy.

For more information on the history of literacy policies and libraries and proposed solutions, check out this interesting lecture by Robert Wedgeworth.


Why Do You Want To Be A Librarian?

After I graduated undergrad, I knew I wanted to go on the grad school, I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.  I worked a couple of non-degree related jobs and I knew they weren’t really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but I couldn’t really figure it out.  A little less than a year after I moved to San Diego, I was feel stressed and lonely and went to the nearest branch of the library.  While there, I thought about how it was a place where I felt the most calm and happy.  I thought back through the years and realized that the library had always been one of my favorite places, whether to look through books, to volunteer, or to attend programs.  I started looking into going back to school for my MLIS.  When I first started library school, I thought a lot about whether or not it was the right decision and why I wanted to be a librarian.  Now that I’m going through the job-hunting process, I’ve been thinking about that question again.  It’s something that’s not only important for me to be sure of, but it’s also a question that comes up in interviews frequently.

Recently one of my professors told an anecdote about a frequent answer to the question “Why do you want to be a librarian?” being “I love to read.”  Obviously a love of reading is a common characteristic of library employees (and certainly one I share myself – just look at the title of this blog!), but I don’t believe it should be the sole reason for becoming a librarian.  Sitting in a quiet room and reading may be the stereotypical view of a librarian, but it’s certainly not the realistic one.  The decision to choose a career can be both the simplest and most complicated one made.  My reasons for choosing librarianship are both.

I love helping people find the answers they need.  A small anecdote:  Among a particular group of my friends, I sometimes have the nickname Koogle  – a combination of my name and Google – for my ability to quickly find the answers to their questions.  I gained the same reputation among the members of the military family support site I helped run until recently.  There is a thrill in the process of taking someone’s question and helping them discover the answer, like an information detective.  Though we live in an age when it’s easy for anyone to get online and look for an answer, it’s also easy for them to come across incorrect information and problematic sources.  It’s just as important as ever for information professionals to offer help in sifting through to find the best way to search for the best answer.

Along with that, I’m an information junkie with interests in many topics.  There are very few career paths that allow for such a wide variety of interests in one job.  Being a librarian allows for this variety.

I feel very passionately about literacy, especially in youth.  Though reading among young people is making a resurgence, literacy rates and interest in reading are still not has high as would be ideal.  I want to work with youth to help them be excited about reading, to realize that reading can move beyond what’s required for school ( and not just to novels, but to graphic novels, magazines, even online) , and to help them improve their schools and gain confidence in their abilities.

I get excited by new technologies and tools.  Some of my favorite aspects of my courses have been learning about various platforms, tools, and programs that can be used to improve the experience of the patrons and the staff.  Librarianship may be viewed as a stuffy, old-fashioned profession, but that is far from the truth.  Librarians and information professionals are often in a position to try out new technologies and tools and to find the best ways to use those.

I get genuinely excited thinking about library programming and services.  The other day, while waiting before an interview, I was reading over that particular library system’s programming catalog. I couldn’t keep a smile off my face reading the descriptions and thinking about what I would do if I was in charge of running those programs or creating new ones.  My favorite course assignments involve coming up with creative new or improved ways to better serve the patrons through programs or services.

I want to work in a service position.  In my previous employment and volunteer positions, I found I’m the most happy when I’m helping others.  Obviously, there are many fields in which I would be able to do that, but librarianship fits with that desire and with my interests.   With librarianship, I can help the community while engaging in something I enjoy and and passionate about.

Finally, probably the most simple reason of all, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.  Though it took me a few years to come to this decision – and though much of what I’ve read about the prospects of breaking into the field has been discouraging  – I know I made the right decision.  Whether I’m able to get a job I want next week or a few years from now, it will be worth it.