SJSU Portfolio

Competency #2

Compare the environments and organizational settings in which library and information professionals practice

Library Artefact

“Administrative Docket” from the Library of Ashurbanipal (Trustees of the British Museum, n.d.)

Thanks to the catastrophic natural forces of fire, sand, and British imperialism, portions of one of the oldest libraries known to have existed on Earth have been preserved for us. Study of the 7th Century BC Ninevah library reveals the polyglot acquisitiveness of its founder, the eponymous King Ashurbanipal. Business records, royal proclamations, myths, letters, and epic poems—if it was carved into clay tablet, Ashurbanipal wanted it, even if he had to terrorize neighboring kingdoms to get it.For Ashurbanipal all records had value, and although traces of an organizational plan for the library can be discerned, it seems the king was content with his monolithic assemblage of information. As records of information increased, libraries developed an increasing specialization to meet the specific needs of their users’. Had Ashurbanipal’s library survived, it would have diversified. Today, four main types of libraries are easily identifiable: school libraries, academic libraries, public libraries, and special libraries. Although ironically, the Ashurbanipal of our age-- the Internet, increasingly collects all our digital clay tablets back into one virtually accessible space, these libraries remain distinguished by the differing needs and natures of their clientele.

During my SLIS education I have been able to work in each of the currently common types of libraries. As a high school English teacher completing a Teacher Librarian credential I have had the most experience in school libraries. These libraries serve the needs of students, parents, and teachers in schools specialized according to student age. Elementary school libraries serve students either in kindergarten through 8th grade as is common in private schools, or kindergarten through 5th or 6th grade with a separate middle school library, the usual public school arrangement. The high school library serves students ages 13-18. Traditionally, the school librarian’s main job has been to encourage and support a love of reading in students. Primary and middle school librarians have hosted story-times and provided creative projects connected to reading themes. Librarians at all school levels publicize books through displays, book faires, contests, clubs, and readers’ advisory. School librarians have also supported students in researching for school projects, especially through primary instruction in library use, offering age appropriate lessons in locating and using material. This instruction might range from teaching ABC order to first graders to introducing high school seniors to the JSTOR database. In a profession which is redefining itself daily, teacher librarians face unique challenges and are perhaps the most endangered of librarian species. In my county only high schools still have credentialed librarians. Cash-strapped school districts increasingly question the funds allocated to the library. What does the salaried Teacher Librarian do that a well-trained technician paid by the hour cannot? In this age of accountability, how does the library contribute to a measurable increase in student achievement? Teacher Librarians who hope to preserve their libraries and their jobs must have good answers to these questions. They must work to move the school library into the center of life at the school, emphasizing new uses of technology, seeking out new ways to partner with and support the classroom teachers.

Academic libraries attached to colleges and universities exist to support the research needs of students, faculty, and select members of the public. This research support requires a broad range of skills and knowledge, ranging as it can from running a library orientation for freshmen at a state college, to locating an obscure text for an illustrious Ivy League professor. There is an increasing expectation from students who have grown up with the Internet that library services will be continually accessible online. Academic libraries have responded not only by developing online accessible research guides, catalogs, and tutorials, but also by offering live remote access to reference services, in some cases 24 hours a day. In larger universities many academic libraries are subdivided into subject libraries, and academic librarians often specialize in a particular area of expertise. These librarians have highly developed knowledge of resource collections in their specialty, both digital and real-world. Academic librarians also have a responsibility for the development and maintenance of their own collections, which could involve expensive acquisitions of rare manuscripts or purchases of digital resources such as bibliographies or digitized art images. For centuries academic libraries were defined by their physical collections, and librarians by their knowledge of this material. Now a broader knowledge of digital resources and distance-access is also required.

Though some academic libraries at the highest levels of education are still well-supported by endowments, librarians at many state or local institutions face financial and philosophical challenges similar to those encountered by school librarians. Academic libraries also need to evolve if they are to maintain their share of increasingly scarce funding. Academic librarians must master marketing, collect evidence of student learning success, and continually work on outreach to faculty, positioning themselves within the classroom lesson structures, so that they come to be perceived as indispensable to the academic experience. As a greater percentage of post-secondary education moves online, some academic librarians have found an excellent opportunity for involvement in planning and support for student achievement. Possessing a knowledge of the relevant technology which surpassed that of others involved in planning, and experienced in digital information delivery, the library staff at the small state college where I interned were given responsibility for developing the first online classes to be offered at the school, increasing the prestige and central position of their library.

A few years ago many voices predicted the death of American public libraries. While it is true that funding for these great public institutions has often been reduced to the life-support level, it is also true that plummeting personal income, new immigration, and an increased need for access to technology has created a huge surge in library use. Happily, though many new visitors initially come to public libraries for the computers, circulation, online holds, and attendance at public programs are all up, and the need for public libraries is less frequently questioned. Unhappily, the property taxes which have typically supported libraries in the past are no longer adequate to the task, and new funding has not yet materialized. Public libraries are worth every penny of the public funding they receive, offering a wide variety of services to the general public, many of whom are not able to access similar services anywhere else. Although some proof of local residence is commonly required before material can be checked out, no questions about residency or citizenship are ever asked of visitors to the library. The services of the librarian are available free to all. The public library offers general popular fiction and non-fiction, children’s literature, current newspapers and magazines, and Internet access at no charge. Librarians continue to provide reading suggestions and answer research questions for all visitors. In many libraries, reference services are also available online through instant messaging or email. In the physical world librarians still hold story times and special book-centered festivities for small children. In addition, they now offer support to inexperienced technology users, negotiate among the varied groups (from the homeless to unattended after-school children) using the library as a public space, and reach out to new young users through gaming, young adult spaces, and multi-media access. Public libraries also continue their role as support institutions for new arrivals in America, offering multi-cultural programming, material in many languages, and community outreach.

Special libraries, sometimes existing independently, sometimes as stand-alone collections within a university, exist to serve a specific clientele with specialized needs. Common examples are law libraries, which may be found in county court-houses or law schools, museum libraries, which may include scientific specimens, artwork, or artifacts such as letters or manuscripts, and medical libraries. Access to special libraries is often more limited than access to school or academic libraries and their existence may be less well-known. Researching for an internship for my Libr 294 class opened my eyes to the number of special libraries operating in my area, and broadened my understanding of what a special library could be. An internship was available in the archives at Pixar, the digital animation studio, at its elaborate urban campus in Emeryville. A student interested in specializing in the Arts also could have applied for the opportunity to work in Francis Coppola’s film archives, held in a large barn on the grounds of his Napa Valley Winery. Those interested in corporate work might have applied to work at a biopharmeceutical firm developing bibliographies and the company’s intranet, or worked in Chevron’s archives organizing material documenting that company’s complex history in California. Increasingly, some special libraries are solely digital identities, such as Project Gutenberg or the controversial Google Books. The University of California’s California Digital Library, which exists to help the UC libraries share their resources, last year offered an internship for a student who would update XTF tutorials and material. While employment in special libraries may not be as plentiful as unpaid internships, clearly these libraries will provide varied and fascinating careers for some future librarians.

I was privileged to complete an internship in the library at the California Maritime Academy. This library is unusual in that it serves both as an academic library for its CSU undergraduate students and as a special library, repository for documents and specialized material for the maritime industry and Merchant Marine on the West Coast. I am submitting the log entries and final report from my CMA internship, Libr 289, which reflect my learning about the ways in which the organization and environment of an academic and a special library differ from the school and public libraries where I had more experience.

For an assignment for Libr 250, Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals, I compared the small CMA academic program to the SLIS online graduate program, examining aspects of the different programs which would affect the mission and focus of the libraries. This comparison shows my understanding of the diversity of academic library organizations in purpose,priorities, and resources. The instructor criticized my initial submission as being too general; she allowed me to revise the comparison to be more specifically focused. After revising we were both satisfied with the results, but without the constraints of chart and bullet-points, I would have elaborated more on the different goals and structures of the respective libraries.

I am also providing a link to an online test which I modified for the CMA Information Fluency program. I was asked to revise a Cornell quiz on citing and plagiarism to reflect the types of texts most commonly used at the Maritime Academy. My test is a small example of the specialized material and goals of that library; the changes I made reflect an understanding of the environment at this special library.

For my Libr 210 reference class I completed a lengthy observation and comparison of a public and an academic library. My comparison demonstrates my understanding of both the different missions and the shared challenges of these two types of libraries. In critiquing this paper, with which she was satisfied on the whole, my instructor mentioned that I should have been more specific in applying specific principles of research support to my observations in the two different libraries. If I revised, I would demonstrate a more sophisticated understanding of library organization by specifically applying work such as Carol Kuhlthau’s fundamental modern research into information-seeking behavior to the situations I analyzed.