IST-511 Day Five: School’s out for Summer

Today was the last day of class. We had some time in the morning to talk about networking and school libraries, then the poster session took place in the afternoon. I have already talked about the importance of netwroking when I discussed my interview with Jon Cawthorne, so I won’t go into any detail here. I will concentrate on the afternoon events: the poster presentation. My group chose to present the benefits and disadvantages Ebooks present for  collection development in the academic library.

This was my first poster session. In fact, because I grew up in Uruguay, where the shool systems is understandably different from what we typically see in the US, I can only remember doing anything emotely related once: science fair in 9th grade, my first year in the country. Overall, I found it to be a very effective way to give and receive tons of feedback, and a great way to find out how confident you are in your knowledge of a topic. Unlike a typical group presentation, the interactions are much more interactive, and they tend to be one-on-one. Instead of having to answer five questions from a mostly-friendly audience (it is much more difficult to really question a classmate’s work when you are doing it in front of a large group,  not to mention the fact that you know the roles will be reversed soon enough), you have to hold a a series of short conversation about your topic in a much more intimate setting. The questions are more numerous, more focused, and much more incisive. This means you find out quickly enough how much you really know about your topic. In addition, you have no idea who you might be talking to at any particular moment in time. I remember having an animated conversation with one woman who, it turns out, was Elizabeth Liddy, Dean of the iSchool. I also had the “fortune” to be on call when Scott Nicholson, our professor, stopped by (to my credit, I did recognize him right away). After three days of insisting that the point of the project was to present a controversy without taking a side, he walked up and asked me what I thought would happen with Ebooks in the next five years. This seems (now) like a logical question; at the time, after three days (and nights) of striving to remain fair and balanced, it felt like a personal batrayal, if only for a moment. I have to say these poster presentations keep you on your toes.

After my turn on “defense,” it was time for me to roam and learn about the various issues my classmates had decided to present. I have to say, having sparred with Dr. Nicholson made a significant difference in my approach to this part of the event. I thought, if he gets to ask , nasty, unepxpected, out-of-the-box questions, then why can’t I? Isn’t challenge the best path to real learning? So off I went, trying my best to find something about other posters that I felt was missing or underdeveloped, and probing in that direction. I ended up having some interesting discussions that never would have happened had I just stuck to the information presented on the posters, everyone was very gracious about my approach, and no one broke into my room later that night to exact revenge, so I strongly recommend this tack.

And that was IST-511. I think I will give myself one more day of reflection before posting final thoughts on the course as a whole, and for those of you that are just dying to find out all about Ebooks in academic libraries, I will add another entry with the contents of our group’s handout (and a picture of the poster, if I can get one before tomorrow).

Interview with Jon Cawthorne, Dean of the San Diego State University Library

I had the opportunity to talk to Jon Cawthorne, Dean of the San Diego State University Library. Jon has been at his current post for less than a year. Perhaps because of this, the overwhelming sense one gets while speaking with Jon is of opportunity, of wanting to get out there and make things happen. He understands that academic libraries are at a crossroads, and that they need to embrace change without losing the qualities that make them special. Of course, change isn’t free, which is particularly difficult considering the economic problems currently affecting California’s educational system.

The biggest challenge facing libraries today, according to Jon, is their own culture. He told me that he concentrates his efforts into trying to move colleagues away from the comfort zone of “the way things have always been done.” When thinking about how the information space is changing at present, it makes sense that the focus for libraries should be not on abandoning their traditional mission but on designing and propagating new ways to fulfill that mission. The name of the game is still access; what is changing is the ways in which that access can be granted and the types of information to which access is needed. The key to it all is space; how to change the library space to cater to today’s university student: tech-savvy, multi-tasking, customization-loving, and overwhelmingly collaborative. The challenge is moving from a space that caters to focused, individual study to one that encourages creativity and teamwork.

Jon’s take on the best way to navigate the MLIS program underscores his belief in collaboration. He told me that classes are important, but what will really help propel me towards a successful career as a librarian are the people I will meet, as these are the most valuable resources I can harness going forward. This is a small, tight-knit community that relies more and more on resource-sharing and cooperation, and I will not get far working alone, or relying only on the resources within my own workplace.

When I asked Jon to name a few crucial skills he feels are under-represented in today’s librarian population, he mentioned technology skills, a renewed focus on re-assessing our own profession, and leadership. But most important in his opinion is a need for champions, people who are passionate about the profession and actively recruit the next wave of librarians. “When you meet others who are thinking about a career in this profession,” he says, “speak about the possibilities you see.” I’ve always thought of libraries as these almost eternal institutions, always there, always needed; but I realized in speaking with him that, as technological improvement continues to change our lives, our libraries will wage a battle for continued relevance, and that only by adapting to the changing needs of our population will they be able to win that battle and remain in their position as guardians and providers of information.