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The summer and fall went by much too quickly and December provided a much need break.

I’ve been struggling with posting here. It is not for a lack of content and ideas. Rather, I’m not sure I can write meaningfully about certain topics or issues publicly. I watched the withering away of a good number of “new librarian” blogs and I’m wondering if everyone’s feeling the same way.

I’ve had a number of frustrating experiences that have pushed me to the point of reassessing my desire to work in libraries. Those low moments have served as reminders that evaluation and reflection is crucial in career and life. I’ve also realized it’s crucial not to over-identify with your profession. There is a lot of negativity and navel-gazing in librarianship right now that’s pretty off-putting. I’m trying to focus on being productive and positive in my little piece of library land.

Some of my professional accomplishments this past year include publishing an article in Feliciter, being elected to the executive of a provincial association, and leading a successful community event in October that included attendance by the mayor.

In 2013 I will be investigating further education opportunities and devoting time to a much neglected writing project.

School Library Advocacy

quiet please, you foul little brats by rhoadeecha via flickr ( )

A number of news stories have surfaced about cuts to school libraries. One of the reasons cuts can happen is because those in charge don’t see any effect to the cuts. If you are a non-user of libraries, your attitude will be ‘who will miss this library?’ Recently, the Windsor Essex Catholic School Board in Ontario made a decision to close all libraries, lay off all library staff (39), and ‘disperse’ the library collections to the classroom. The superintendent, Jamie Bumbacco, stated “that was an area that we felt, as a senior administrative team, that would have little or no impact on student learning.” Despite evidence to the contrary (school libraries have been proven to improve student learning), the board made this decision without consultation. While budgets are tight, it is difficult to make cuts, but this is surely a short-sighted decision with the potential to be more expensive in the future; how many specialists/consultants will need to be hired when test scores drop and reading levels fall? A second superintendent commented “teachers are turning to scholarly journals found on the internet.” Well, how did those teachers access the content? This kind of statement shows that this superintendent has never actually conducted research online (successfully).

It comes as no surprise that this decision is now being ‘reconsidered’ due to the overwhelming negative, national press and outcry from both parents and students. The board obviously wasn’t aware that the library IS important to many.

An issue I take with some of the coverage is that often the reason offered for keeping libraries is rooted in nostalgia. Nostalgia is a dangerous justification for libraries because it is the same reason for making cuts in the first place. What can the quaint quiet library offer today’s amazingly techno-savvy students? Save the library because it’s so quaint and quiet and I loved curling up with a book when I was a child!

The key point in the Windsor Essex decision is that the administrators thought that relocating the books to the classroom would be an unnoticeable change. Again, this notion is rooted in thinking that the library is just a place for housing dusty books. Thankfully, some well-balanced pieces (Kate Hammer and Ian Brown in the Globe and Mail) were also published that highlighted the role of librarians in a digital world.

We can only save libraries by advocating for the services and resources provided by librarians, technicians, and other staff, and not for the nostalgia factor of curling up with a book.

In the U.S., the Department of Education announced it is cutting all federal funding to school libraries. In California, L.A. teacher librarians have to actually prove their qualifications to teach in court. This reporter still felt the need to include this unintentional insult:

“Sitting in during two court sessions this week, I felt bad for everyone present, including the LAUSD attorneys. After all, in the presence of a school librarian, you feel the need to whisper and be respectful. It must be very difficult, I thought, to grill a librarian.”

A hilarious and tragic image was provided to me by a relative: the kids’ school does not have a librarian so the library is staffed by the gym teacher. The gym teacher actually blows his whistle to stop reading time. How’s that for quaint and quiet?


Engaging the disengaged

***cross-posted from the CACUL Re:Generations Blog ***

Engaging the disengaged

As I finish my second year as a librarian, I can say that I still have most of the optimism I had leaving library school. However, there will always be days when it’s really, really frustrating to have a handful of people show up to something I’m really excited about, and it’s challenging to work with students who don’t appreciate the range of services and resources offered to them, because they can get by without the library.

I think one of the central tenets of librarianship is accepting that we will always be much more excited about a new database feature than, well, anyone else. Our users love the library – the helpful staff, the study space, the technology, though they may not be aware of everything we have to offer. But, what about those that don’t even make their way through our doors? The dreaded “non-user”. How do we engage the disengaged?

Last week I was part of a wonderful conference for faculty spearheaded by the new Vice President Academic. The number of registered faculty was well above our expectations (more than double the anticipated turnout) and the level of engagement of faculty to help plan ‘new directions’ in the college was very positive and inspiring. One part of event had faculty fill out a quick ‘compass’ survey – inspired by CBC’s voting compass – to gauge the direction and willingness toward change among respondents. One category, the Stoic (or, the Disengaged) received, unsurprisingly, zero respondents. Of course, the truly disengaged would have deleted the email invitation without a second thought.

So, should we just plod forward without the disengaged?

For the library, we offer faculty sessions by academic division to highlight new features and services, and it’s always the regular library users who attend. At library sessions for students, it’s the eager, straight-A students who show up and take notes, while everyone else has skipped.

So, should we harass the students studying at the pub instead of the library and knock on faculty office doors until we get answers as to why they don’t like us?  (A side note, I keep bugging students to ‘like us’ on Facebook and I cringe every time). Gill (2010) discusses the challenges of surveying non-users at the Newport News Public Library System, conducted in order to create a specific marketing strategy toward the non-user. This type of survey would be easier to handle with a defined college community, but how to pull it off without seeming so desperate?

We’ve made changes to the library related questions on the college-wide student survey and have included questions probing further from the response ‘I don’t use the library’. We’re very curiously awaiting the results.


Gill, K. L. (2010). Surveying people who don’t use libraries. Marketing Library Services, 24(2): 1-7.

Reflections on Library Day in the Life Project

This week I participated in Librarydayinthelife Project for the first time, recording my daily activities and posting them here on my blog.

The challenging part was remembering to record things as they happen and finding time at the end of the day to write everything up and post.

The week I recorded was both typical and atypical. I don’t have a set structure to my work, other than a few recurring meetings and my Information Desk schedule. Everything else changes as priorities change: classes get scheduled, other meetings, reference work for students (urgent).

After a year and a half in my position, I still need a lot of time to prepare for classes. This is good (I know I offer the best session I can) and bad (time consuming, especially during busy weeks). I also find I need downtime after a class to digest what just happened. I think it will help for me to actually schedule this time for myself to stop feeling like I’m ‘wasting’ time.

I let projects fall by the wayside and can end up spending a whole week taking care of issues as they arise instead of tackling long awaited tasks. I will schedule time to review my performance/annual goals on a monthly basis and commit the time to those projects. A librarian I met claimed to schedule a day per project in her week. This seemed luxiourious. Though I don’t have a whole day per week for each project, scheduling even half an hour to think about my long-term projects should make a difference.

I let things I cannot control affect my mood. My Tuesday’s class went so well I was ecstatic and inspired. My Thursday’s class (where no one showed up, in another city) left me drained and upset for the rest of the day. I tried to just move on to my other tasks. I should have taken the time to think about what happened.

Overall, it was enlightening to see the break down of my week. My New Year’s Resolutions included taking an hour long lunch break and leaving work on time to go to the gym. I’m doing pretty well with this so far. It’s made me more efficient at work, but sometimes  I feel like I should be doing more.

Library Day in the Life, Day 5

Last day in LibrarydayintheLife

Leigh Cunningham, Collections and Instruction Librarian, Medicine Hat College, Alberta, Canada

Follow-up to yesterday: I was also sad about this article 45% Of Students Don’t Learn Much In College

7:45 Arrive at work. Roads weren’t too bad, but everything will ice over today and ‘heavy snow’ in forecast for this afternoon.


Start working through piles on my desk that I decided to leave yesterday. Feeling better as I get organized. Make my way through the piles of potential weeds on my desk. Make list of things I *must* do today and this relieves pressure from my entire to-do list. Figure out what can wait until Monday. Answer some email.

Other librarian off again today (director still away, too). Reschedule reference desk hours. Other staff step in to cover shifts = awesome.


Post February shelving schedule for my student assistants and deal with wacky timesheet issue. Respond to request to be shelver’s reference in her summer job search (aww). Distribute posters throughout the college (help from co-worker = awesome). Organize our weekly staff trivia game. Each week I ask a question (weirdest food you’ve eaten, favourite movie) and the answers are compiled into a matching quiz. We have a monthly prize. It’s been a very successful social committee initiative and provides great water cooler fodder.


Work on reference question for distance education student.


Reference Desk shift: helping students with microfilm reader (always a blast) – they get an assignment where they have to find the headline from the day they were born in Medicine Hat News. Student responses to microfilm: “cool”. Other scavenger hunt items: first female member of parliament and date someone won a Nobel Prize. Put up Info Desk display for OBOC. Decide on dates for upcoming social committee events.

1:00-1:30 Lunch, reading UsWeekly


Prepare for meeting with psychology instructor.


Meet with psychology instructor regarding 3 different upcoming classes (5 sessions) for her students: Abnormal Psychology: Finding & critiquing peer-reviewed articles; Social Psychology: Writing a research proposal; Education Psychology: Researching theories &synopsis writing.


Tidy up and decide what to bring home for the weekend.

4:00 Leave work for hair appointment.


Library Day in the Life, Day 4

Day 4, LibrarydayintheLife Project

Leigh Cunningham, Collections and Instruction Librarian, Medicine Hat College, Alberta, Canada


8:30 Arrive at work.


Email. Finish preparation for class today and preparation for weeding at Brooks Campus. Answer reference question from Distance Ed. Student (drug prevention programs for grade 1).


Travel from Medicine Hat to Brooks, AB


Meet with staff at Brooks library


Offer drop in Study Skills workshop on APA and MLA formatting. Sadly, no one shows up. Feeling dejected.


Eat lunch on the run and travel back to Medicine Hat


Chair Social Committee Meeting. We’re going to see the Medicine Hat production of Evil Dead: The Musical.

3:30-4:15 Reference Desk Shift

Help a student cite something from a PowerPoint slide in Blackboard. I conclude that the instructor has incorrectly cited criteria from the DSM-IV and we end up not being able to find the criteria listed on the instructor’s slides in the actual manual. Great. Send student away with a cobbled together APA citation. Bring the DSM back to my office to find the correct info.


Feeling dejected and defeated. My desk is piled with papers. Do I tackle the pile or just head home for the day?

Library Day in the Life, Day 3

Day 3, Library Day In the Life Project

Leigh Cunningham, Collections and Instruction Librarian, Medicine Hat College, Alberta, Canada

Sleep in a little bit instead of going to the gym. It’s 5 degrees out! Plus, for the first time we are having snow removed from my building’s parking lot.

9:30am Arrive at work. Learn that there is a fireplace in the newly constructed wing of the college, but my hopes are dashed when I hear it doesn’t emit heat.

Phone call with coordinator of the B.Ed. program regarding some nutrition lesson plans I sent her. Discussion over printing out vs. cataloguing online resources….


Prepare for class at other campus tomorrow (Brooks, Alberta – about 1 hour drive on the Transcanada, but treacherous if bad conditions). A little concerned that I haven’t received any answers from the coordinator of the session. Check weather forecast and road reports. Since I will be at Brooks, I contact library clerks there to let them know I’ll be visiting in the morning and prepare weeding project for their collection. Consider what I have to finish before Friday since I’ll be out of the office tomorrow.

Revise press release for OBOC for campus-wide posting – always makes me nervous I have a typo when something is going out to everyone!

Get called out to help a student in the computer lab – CPU is falling off the wheeled holder due to missing screws. Call facilities to fix. Fix paper jam in the printer while I’m out there. There’s always tonnes of printing before 11:00 classes.


Information Services (Reference Desk Staff) Meeting: review of our new email form service, more discussion on database cutbacks, review of ebrary collection, discussion on upcoming visit of junior high school students to the library (aww), ongoing noise and wireless issues.


Lunch. And fire drill. Because it’s a beautiful day, I guess. It’s always fun kicking students out of the library – they move soooo slooowly.


Answer emails. Look at my big to-do list for the year (ending July 2011) – progress is pretty good. Unfortunately, what I’m leaving to the end is “develop collection management plan”. Perhaps I should schedule some time to work on that?!


Ran reports and prepared mailings for Distance Education students enrolled for February.

Ventured into the stacks to find books on “informed consent” and got side-tracked when I found nursing legal resources from the 80’s – yikes! Brought them back to check for newer editions.


Services to Students Meeting (Student Services, Registration, Library, and reps from Student Association). Pizza is served as incentive to get the students to attend. Library related topics: more Macs on campus, more outlets for laptops in library, improve wireless internet access.

6:15 Head home. Here’s hoping my parking space is snow-free when I arrive!