July 25, 2011

Make it happen with mentorship

After asking a librarian friend for his opinion on something, I got thinking about the importance of having mentors and a support network. Starting out as a new librarian can feel pretty chaotic at first, whether it's navigating a job search, navigating a new job, or getting more involved in professional associations and publishing. From what I've noticed, it seems librarians with more experience are often pretty open to mentoring a new librarian, but you don't want to just assume that anyone is willing to be a mentor. Some workplaces have formal mentorship programs in place, where others have nothing of the sort and you are essentially on your own. In either situation, it's still really beneficial to have a connection with an outside mentor. And if possible, not just one mentor, but mentors.

I feel like I've been extremely fortunate in my friends and contacts where I have someone(s) to turn to when I'm unsure of something, stressed out, or just have some good libraryland-related news to share that my non-librarian friends might not understand what the big deal is. A mentor doesn't have to be a great deal older than you to be effective: my ACRL Instruction Section mentor is only a few years older than me, but she can really relate to questions I ask and has a specific interest in early career issues. That's not to say a librarian with a decade or more of experience would be any less helpful: another mentor I have from when I was in library school is always supportive when I need some guidance and has scads of great advice to offer. Some of my mentors I don't even consider formal mentors, but I've admired them in some way or another, gotten to know them, and feel comfortable asking their opinion. It's invaluable to have a variety of perspectives as you make your way through your career.

One thing I was worried about when signing up for a formal mentorship program was that I didn't want the relationship to be all one-sided... I didn't want to feel like I was just taking and not giving anything back; but I do know in sharing experiences, and also offering a confidential ear, a mentoring relationship can certainly be useful to both parties.

If you're not sure where to start in finding a mentor, try looking at the associations you have membership in and see which offer mentorship programs; ALA Connect also has an option for your profile to add you to the mentoring community. If still in school, you can see if there is any faculty mentoring available or find a librarian on campus you can talk with. Being brand new doesn't have to be a scary thing, and even librarians with more experience seem to have mentors throughout their whole career. Building a great support network will get you through confusing times and build you up when there are exciting things to share.

July 14, 2011

MMMMetadata, ephemera, and image aggregator culture

I just read a zine/art text from Edition MK: DDDDoomed—Or, Collectors & Curators of the Image: A Brief Future History of the Image Aggregator, which forms Vol. I of VIII of a series titled Img Ctrl—texts regarding the contemporary image world.

Looking back at Image Aggregators (or IA, as it's referred to) from the supposed future, the argument is made that Tumblr et al destroyed contemporary visual art and the art of curation. The main culprit seems to be the IA, FFFFound!, inspiring the title, DDDDoomed. FFFFound! is an aggregation of images, mostly random, that tend to fit a certain aesthetic. Tumblr and its ilk started out inoccuous enough, but turned into an "all out style-fest." This aesthetic seems to fit what the text refers to as "hipster capital," (as opposed to cultural capital) sort of hilariously exemplified as,
"They would've effortlessly clicked their little 'like' and 'reblog' buttons in response to some viral image, posted by some anonymous, reactionary IA supporter on his Tumblr blog, of some skinny, half-naked, tousled-haired, Brooklyn-girl, shot Terry Richardson style and wearing a screen-printed t-shirt emblazoned with some snarky referential one-liner like 'I FFFFind Therefore I Am" (p.3).
To better explain the microblogging platform Tumblr, or other IAs, in the sense they are being referred to here, they are kind of like scrapbooks... but scrapbooks without any contextual meaning. On Tumblr, you can collect and compile a variety of images, quotes, or video, which can be original, swiped with or without attribution, or "reblogged." If you see another Tumblr with an image you like, there is simply a button you can click to have it reposted, or "reblogged" on your Tumblr. You can also "like" content. This could be considered curation, but DDDDoomed quotes Christian Brändle to counter this with, "Those who curate... also comment...; they evaluate, and thus it is indispensible that collectors know the background of their objects" (p.3). Although this is in regard to museums, the text argues IA's curation contributions are to the World Wide Web.

However, DDDDoomed compares IA "curators" to "wealthy collector[s] of Renaissance painting[s] [rather] than with the visual anthropologist out to record our cultures" (p.17). So with this collecting of hipster capital, the argument is made that  the purpose of (most of) these IAs is more so to feed a personal brand, rather than to contribute to culture.

IAs promote anonymity and the erasing of authorship through their format, which the text relates to playing telephone.These IAs, could have used "ordering interventions" that contemporary artists employ to respond to visual overload, such as appropriation, archiving, collage and bricolage, and typology (p.48-50). Instead, the IA is, more interested in,  "solidifying their own authorial claims on the selection and arrangement of images that were, in most cases, never theirs to begin with" (p.67).

I enjoyed reading this zine because I do have Tumblr accounts, one being Librarian Wardrobe, and also a personal one that I have more recently abandoned. I also think it's both good and bad how IAs erase metadata and make content more "free." Sometimes, it can be used in the sense of culture jamming; regardless of understanding the creation story of the artifact, using it in a different context can provide revitalized meaning; at the same time, not understanding the background of an image makes appropriation of it somewhat irrelevant. Often, Tumblrs are "style-fests," but some have intrinsic value.

What are your opinions from the perspective of libraryland? What are your favorite Tumblrs and why; do your favorites have a specific curation mission or are they based on style alone?

Edit: from brief, yet engaging discussion on Facebook, seems happy medium is appreciated, where Tumblr is fun to look at, but can also view high art and "professional" curation, too. Doesn't have to be all good or all bad. Agree!

July 6, 2011

ALA 2011 reflections

After getting caught up with everything after ALA 2011, I now have a chance to reflect on the conference. There are some other excellent reflection posts recently done by Aaron Tay and Andromeda Yelton, and Patrick Sweeney has some inspiring vlogs up on his YouTube channel. This was one of the best conferences I've ever experienced (not that I've been to a whole lot, but still). Being more involved in programs, and meeting and reconnecting with a ton of great people really made the conference experience; it helped that stale professional development advice come to life, where I realized oh wait, I was just networking or wow, I just stepped outside of my comfort zone.

If I were looking back to my (student) self in 2008 who attended ALA Annual in Anaheim, here is some advice I would give myself:
  1. Get involved: apply for special programs (like Emerging Leaders), participate on panels, contribute to unconferences, plan a party or event, make/do something. Being an Emerging Leader this year, as well as being on REFORMA's How I Landed My First Librarian Job and What I Did 'in Between' panel were not only just good experiences to have, but gave me even more interesting things to talk to people about. (By the way, the REFORMA panel will be available as a free webinar in October if you missed it and would like to catch it next time.)
  2. Don't play hard to get: I officially met some people that I've been following online for awhile and felt kind of fangirl-ish when the opportunity arose to connect with them in person. Believe it or not, people actually like compliments! It might feel awkward and stalkerish to say, "Oh yeah I [read your blog] or [noticed your work on x committee] or [love your stylish outfits] or [etc] and I think you're great!" But if it's the truth, and you're not actually a stalker, it's always nice to make people feel good about themselves, and hey you started a conversation.
  3. You know more than you think: Just because you're not an expert in such and such librarianship with 10+ years of experience doesn't mean you have nothing to contribute. Look at Hack Library School and all they're doing, it's fantastic! I love reading Bohyun Kim's blog where she talks about early career issues and what she is learning along the way. 8bit Library / #MIH has found a niche and are known for what they write and create about videogames in libraries. In fact, JP and Justin were my Emerging Leaders team mentors, and now that our group has done this project we also have contributed a lot to the topic -- and two of us will be continuing on with more research that we're very excited about.
  4. Other suggestions I can't take full credit for: From the Emerging Leaders session, it was reiterated by Peter Bromberg, Maureen Sullivan, and other ELs in our group discussion to think of librarianship as a gift culture (be generous), volunteer for things (say you'll do something and do it, committees and others will be pleased), and always have a drink in your hand (open body language + interest in talking to others = ability to make friends).
Last I'd say, as networking is really a big part of conferences, to not think of it as networking. It is what it is, but I really just thought about it as making new friends and talking to interesting people. Librarians and other info professionals are often fun to talk to; just strike up a conversation, and if you keep those other suggestions in mind, you'll have a lot more to talk about (less awkward is always good, right?).