iPads vs. Android tablets vs. Surface vs. PlayBook vs. e-readers: which is best for lending to students?

As I mentioned very briefly in my post about how I landed my job through networking, I’m working on some fascinating projects at Seneca. One of these projects is to choose a mobile device for Seneca Libraries to lend out to students. I’m doing it as part of a committee, but I want to share my personal thoughts here.

The committee was asked to look at the various e-readers and tablets available, test a few of them, and then make a recommendation as to which would be best for lending. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to play with a bunch of gadgets! I’ve done my own (very limited) comparison of mobile devices before, but that was a couple of years ago, so I was interested to see the latest tech. First we all did some research to decide which devices we should test, and then we ordered a few of each so we could all try them out. Here’s a photo of some of the devices we bought:

Image

Here are some (but not all) of the devices we tested.

And here are my thoughts on each of the options. I should first mention that I own an iPad 2 and use it every day, so I may be slightly biased simply due to my familiarity with this device; however, I’ve done my best to be objective. Also, I have an Android phone, so I’m not a total Apple fanboy.

  • Sony Reader & Kobo Glo
    • Clearly, it’s unfair to compare these basic e-readers with the more full featured tablets in this group. However, they do have some advantages, such as the e-ink display, which some people find easier on the eyes than a back-lit tablet screen, and which can still be read in the dark thanks to the Glo’s side lighting. There’s also the portability factor: these were the smallest and lightest devices in the group, making them the easiest to toss in a backpack. And finally, they’re considerably cheaper than the tablets, which means we could buy more of them.
    • For someone who wants to read some fiction while on vacation, or on the subway, these devices make a lot of sense. The reading experience for epub files is excellent – the text flows to fit the screen, and the slight flicker when turning pages doesn’t bother me.
    • In terms of a device we could lend to students, I think it’s important that they be able to do research on it, and unfortunately these readers don’t connect with enough of our resources. It’s possible to download ebooks from some of our databases (such as OverDrive), but it involves first downloading the file to a computer, then plugging in the device, and then transferring it, whereas the tablets can do it all without any wires or intermediate steps. Both the Sony and the Kobo can connect to WiFi and have browsers, but surfing the web is an incredibly unpleasant experience (to be fair, neither company heavily promotes the browser; it’s sort of a hidden feature in case you’re desperate to get online and no computer is available).
  • BlackBerry PlayBook
    • We all wanted to like the PlayBook, since it’s made by a Canadian company (albeit a struggling one) and sells for not much more than an e-reader, and it does have some great features. It was the only device we tested that plays Flash out of the box (which is necessary for watching videos on SeneMA, the Seneca Media Archive, though many of our other streaming videos don’t require Flash), and the interface is intuitive and efficient. It connects by Micro USB rather than a proprietary port, which means that replacing the cord will likely be easier and cheaper, and the Micro HDMI port means it should be simple to connect to an external monitor or TV.
    • Unfortunately, the PlayBook suffers from a serious lack of apps compared to Android and iOS. For example, there’s no way to read DRM-protected ebooks from sources other than OverDrive (Bluefire Reader is not available), and the device takes a very long time to restart. And personally I find the 1024 x 600 screen format to be awkward – if you hold it portrait-style, it’s too narrow, and landscape-style it’s too wide.
  • Microsoft Surface
    • The Microsoft Surface (RT version) was promising, and indeed, it offered the most laptop-like experience. I love the built-in “kickstand,” and the large screen is great for watching videos. It’s the only device to offer a native Microsoft Office suite (no surprise there), which would be appreciated by students who have papers they’ve already started writing on their home computer, and the full-sized USB port (also unique in our testing) makes transferring files even easier. And for anyone not ready to embrace tablet-style navigation, it’s possible (but awkward) to switch into the more familiar desktop mode.
    • The Touch Cover is a great idea – it’s a keyboard that also serves as a screen protector when not in use. It attaches magnetically, and it’s easy to snap on or off. The keys themselves, however, are not very pleasant to use. They’re touch-sensitive, so you have no tactile confirmation that you’ve successfully pressed a key, but unlike typing on the virtual on-screen keyboard, it requires more pressure than a simple touch. I imagine the similarly-named Type Cover, with mechanical keys, would provide a better typing experience, but I haven’t had the chance to test one of these.
    • Although using it with the kickstand works well, I don’t like the way it feels when holding it. It’s heavier than a full-sized iPad, and, as I noted with the PlayBook, the 16:9 screen ratio is awkward for reading (though great for watching videos). And, again like the PlayBook, the app store has a limited selection, and won’t allow you to read DRM-protected ebooks. Finally, the proprietary power adapter is a bit awkward (and presumably hard to replace). I’d say it’s a great first-generation tablet, but it’s simply not the best option currently available.
  • Android tablets: Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, Google Nexus 7, and Fujitsu M532
    • Sadly, two of the three Fujitsus we bought had severe battery life issues (one wouldn’t turn on at all when not plugged in), which meant that (a) I didn’t have the chance to test one, and (b) while it’s entirely possible that they just came from the same bad batch, we decided to look for a more reliable product.
    • From the outside, the Galaxy Tab and the Nexus 7 are very similar 7-inch tablets – their dimensions and weight are almost identical. Functionally, they’re quite comparable, though on the inside there are a few important differences:
      • The Nexus has a faster processor and a higher resolution screen.
      • The Nexus uses the version of Android that comes straight from Google, while Samsung puts their own spin on the OS. It’s a matter of opinion which interface you prefer, but I would certainly opt for the pure Android experience. Samsung has their own app store, in addition to Google Play, which students may find confusing.
    • At $209, I think the Nexus 7 offers the best value of the devices we tested. Although there aren’t quite as many apps available for Android as for Apple devices, I was able to do everything I could do on an iPad (Bluefire works well for downloadable ebooks from our databases). I like the Micro USB connector and the hardware specs in general, but I can’t quite get past the screen’s aspect ratio and small size, so it’s not my pick of the litter.
  • Apple tablets: iPad 2 and iPad Mini:
    • Considering how much I’ve been complaining about the devices with smaller screens, I liked the Mini more than I thought I would. Maybe it’s the extra 0.9 diagonal inches, but more likely it’s the 4:3 ratio. In any case, although it’s considerably smaller than the full-sized iPad, it doesn’t feel cramped (and the reduced weight makes it more pleasant to hold in one hand).
    • I came across a few small glitches, especially when using the Chrome browser instead of the default Safari, but overall Apple provides a very smooth experience, and most things “just work” in a way they don’t always with the other devices. The selection of apps (both free and paid) is unmatched, so the only danger is the many hours you can spend just browsing through the App Store.
    • Edit: It was pointed out in the comments that my evaluation of the Apple products was rather one-sided, so here’s what I don’t like about the iPad. The proprietary cord is undoubtedly a downside, and the most recent cables aren’t even compatible with earlier iPads, such as the iPad 2. Android’s notification system is much better (though this is more important on a phone than on a tablet), and iOS doesn’t offer as much customization (e.g., you’re stuck with Apple’s on-screen keyboard, which hasn’t changed in years, whereas Android offers brilliant alternative keyboards). And if you use a lot of Google accounts, like Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Calendar, you’ll find they’re easier to set up, and more deeply integrated, on Android (which is a Google product).
    • Personally, I read a lot of magazines on my iPad, so I would never trade it in for a Mini. However, the Mini’s advantages in portability and price are certainly attractive, so I would heartily recommend either of these tablets.

So there you have my pick: the iPad 2 or iPad Mini. The newer full-sized iPads are more expensive and have no improvements that would be significant in the context of doing academic research; the higher resolution screen and more powerful hardware don’t matter much for reading ebooks, annotating PDFs, and watching videos (well, the videos might look better, but they wouldn’t be any more educational). However, I think it’s important to note that none of the devices we tested can do everything that a computer can do. At Seneca Libraries we already lend out laptops, and anyone who wants to hunker down and do hardcore research would be better served by even an underpowered netbook than by a mobile device that’s designed more for casual use.

Whew! That’s enough from me – does your library lend out tablets? Do you have a preference for one device over another? Let me know in the comments.

Happy blogiversary to me!

Wow, it’s hard to believe it was 5 years ago today that I published my first blog post. It all began as an experiment – I had no idea whether it was something I wanted to keep up, but I thought it would be fun to try. My blogging has changed a great deal since then, in terms of the length, content, and frequency of posts, but it never stopped being fun so I never stopped writing.

I’d like to thank all the established bloggers who have inspired me, as well as everyone who’s been reading what I write. I’m constantly impressed with the people who choose LIS as a career, in the blogosphere and beyond. Keep being awesome, everyone!

Five (No Jive) by Gerry Snaps

 

How I landed an awesome job through networking

As you may already know, in September I started a new job as Information Literacy Librarian at the King Campus of Seneca College, just north of Toronto. My position involves a lot of teaching (i.e., in-class information literacy sessions), some reference work, and a variety of fascinating committee-based projects. I’m working with an innovative library team, supportive faculty, and engaged students who are researching interesting topics. Life is good! And did I mention that I recently married the most wonderful woman in the world? Life is very, very good!

On this blog, I generally avoid writing posts that are purely personal, and I’m not telling you my good news because I want you to be happy for me (though I hope you are). I want to tell the story of how I landed my job through networking.

It all started back in March, when I was on the job hunt in Toronto. I had signed up for a course through the iSchool Institute that wasn’t so much a course as it was a series of panels where librarians would come to talk about their jobs and about librarianship in general. It was led by the fantastic Kim Silk, and although it won’t be offered again in 2013, you can still read the course description, and I would highly recommend that you check out Kim’s session at the OLA Super Conference (Thursday January 31st at 3:45pm – session #611), where she will be discussing the course. One week the panel was made up of government and academic librarians, and one of the participants was Kathryn Klages, who was at that time doing exactly the job I’m doing now (she’s at a different Seneca campus now). She was clearly a superstar librarian, and working on some very interesting projects, so at the end of the session I arranged to meet her for coffee so we could chat a bit more about her work.

I didn’t know much about college libraries then, having spent my professional career in Quebec; the CEGEP system is similar to college but quite different in many ways. So I was interested to learn from Kathryn about the college system, and how it differs from universities. I had heard previously that Seneca is one of the best academic libraries in Ontario to work for, and our discussion gave me the impression that this was accurate. Kathryn seemed to think I would be a good fit, so she kindly offered to mention my name at work. She even said there was a position opening up that would be perfect for me, and that she would discuss it with her outstanding Chief Librarian and Director, Tanis Fink. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t eligible for the position Kathryn had in mind because it was the OCULA New Librarian Residency position, which is only available to recent grads (the good news is they found a great new librarian, Lydia Tsai – check out the video she made about her position). This was disappointing, but as you already know, everything worked out in the end. I kept plugging away at the job search, and a couple of months later I was at the OCULA Dinner at Ryerson, when I had the good fortune to end up sitting at a table with three Seneca people: Tanis Fink, Shanna Pearson, and 2012 OCULA President Jennifer Peters. I had a good chat with all of them, and Jenn generously offered to show me around Seneca, so we made plans for me to visit. She arranged for me to meet with four librarians, including Shanna and herself, so I could learn about different areas of the library. The visit went really well – everyone was happy to share their experiences with me and seemed to be working on very cool projects, and I could definitely picture myself working there.

A couple of months later, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a call from Tanis Fink, telling me that a position had opened up and asking whether I would be interested to come in for an interview. After months of applying (unsuccessfully) to jobs by emailing a cover letter and resume to a hiring committee I’d never met, I knew I’d succeeded with my networking when I received a call before even applying. The interview process was just as rigorous as it is for most academic library positions (after an initial interview I was called back for a second one where I gave a presentation), but looking back, it comes as no surprise that of the many interviews I went through this spring and summer, it was Seneca that offered me the job.

So here I am. I owe a huge thanks to Kim, Kathryn, Tanis, Shanna, and Jenn for their roles in the process; they are all fantastic people. I’d like to share the lessons I’ve learned from this experience, but I’m going to put some thought into it before posting. Stay tuned!

P.S. This is unrelated to networking, but here’s a photo of me at work, participating in Movember and doing my best Hulk Hogan impression.

Dressed up as Hulk Hogan during Movember

Dressed up as Hulk Hogan during Movember

Book review: Graduate to LinkedIn: Jump-start your career network now

I realize it may seem anachronistic to be researching LinkedIn through books (and not even e-books, but the old fashioned paper-based kind). However, while it’s entirely possible that the same information may be available through blog posts and other modern sources, if it’s packaged nicely for me and waiting at the local public library, why not give it a try?

Today I’ll be discussing Graduate to LinkedIn: Jump-start your career network now by John Fowler and Melissa Giovagnoli Wilson.

As the title suggests, this book is aimed at university students. The main point is that it’s tough to find a job these days, so it’s important to build business relationships while still in school. In order to do so, you need to take what the authors call the “Networlding approach.” Networlding is a buzz word developed by the second author in a previous book, and what it boils down to is networking in such a way that you form strong, mutually supportive relationships with the people in your network. Personally, I think Networlding is the same as effective networking, but the authors insist that Networlding leads to both internal and external fulfillment, and I have never felt quite that way about my own experiences with networking.

The book was published in 2010, so I was concerned that it would seem a bit dated (if that sounds unfair, consider that LinkedIn has been around for less than 10 years, and it has already been two and a half years since the beginning of 2010). Fortunately, I found this was not the case, with the minor exception of a few features that have changed names. I did find an unusually high number of typos, though, and upon further investigation discovered that the book is not printed by a major publisher, but instead by a small press operated by the second author.

The authors’ style is quite readable, if you’re not distracted by the typos, and they do a good job of balancing explanations of LinkedIn’s specific features with higher level discussions of the philosophy behind the site. The bite sized real life success stories that are mixed in every now and then are effective as concrete examples of the potential of LinkedIn. I especially appreciated the time the authors took to explain some concepts and best practices that many would consider beyond the scope of this type of publication; for example, they go into a fair amount of detail when discussing informational interviews, from how to request one to what topics to bring up at the interview. Although there are many examples in the main text of how to phrase your communications, the appendix helpfully provides samples of the following:

  • Inviting someone to connect
  • Requesting an introduction (including messages for both the person to whom you’re being introduced, and the person giving the introduction)
  • Requesting a recommendation
  • Writing a recommendation
  • Requesting an informational interview

Less helpful is the second part of the appendix, “other Networlding tools for your career success,” where the second author shamelessly promotes three of her previous books (Amazon.com and Publishers Weekly reviews and all).

Final verdict? I would definitely recommend it for business students, who are the book’s target audience. Some of the examples don’t apply to people outside of the business world, but many of them are reasonably universal. At 161 pages for the main text, it’s a quick read, and I can think of many less productive uses of your time, so give it a shot if you’re interested. I can’t help but end by pointing out that while the authors state they are giving half of the proceeds from the book to “initiatives that help 12-29 year olds improve their chances of success in the world,” they don’t specify which initiatives will receive the money, and the first author (who is presumably quite concerned with his own chances of success) happens to have been under 30 at the time of publication. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and call it a coincidence.

Comments?

Book review: The power in a link: open doors, close deals, and change the way you do business using LinkedIn

I love LinkedIn. Some see it as just a social network for businesspeople (or, as the author of the book I’m about to discuss puts it, “Facebook in a suit”), but it is a powerful tool for anyone who takes their career seriously. When I was working as a librarian at McGill I was invited to give a workshop to business students on how to make the most out of this tool (and invited to repeat my presentation for a different group the following year), and I believe I gave these students tips that will make a significant contribution to their career development. Unfortunately, many librarians not only do not consider themselves businesspeople but actually avoid resources that appear to be business-oriented. Dismissing this tool is a serious missed opportunity, so I’m putting together a LinkedIn workshop for librarians and other information professionals. In my research for this workshop, I came across the following book:

The power in a link : open doors, close deals, and change the way you do business using LinkedIn by David Gowel

What caught my attention about this book is that, unlike most of the LinkedIn books that have been published, it does not take a primarily “how to” approach. Rather than starting with tips for building a strong profile and then moving through the features of the site, Gowel opens with a discussion of social capital and touches on the philosophy behind LinkedIn. And even when he covers the more technical aspects he takes a storytelling approach, drawing from his own experience, instead of relying on screenshots of the site (though there are a few of those as well).

The book is divided into 3 parts:

  • Part 1: Why Wake Up?
    • The first part focuses on what makes LinkedIn such a revolutionary tool (with a healthy serving of hyperbole). The title of the section makes reference to the author’s belief that people are seriously missing out by not joining the party and that these people need to wake up to a new way to do business before their competitors do.
  • Part 2: From Army Ranger to LinkedIn Jedi
    • The second part tells the story of how the author used LinkedIn to kickstart his new career after leaving the military (though he makes liberal use of personal stories throughout the book).
  • Part 3: Getting Technical
    • The third part covers specific tips for making the most of the site, with a chapter on each aspect of the author’s “4P” approach:
      • Privacy and security protection
      • Profile improvement
      • Proper network growth
      • Proactive business tool usage

From the start it’s clear that Gowel thinks quite highly of himself, and while I certainly appreciate the value of confidence (read my post on calling yourself an expert if you haven’t already), his cocky attitude left a sour taste in my mouth early on. Throughout the book he quotes the glowing things others have said about him, and he makes reference no fewer than ten times (I counted) to the fact that a journalist once called him a “LinkedIn Jedi.”

Once I came to terms with the author’s self congratulatory style, I found that he is actually a good storyteller, and the stories make for an engaging read. I can imagine that someone who had been on the fence about LinkedIn might be brought over to Gowel’s point of view by reading Part 1.

Unfortunately, Part 2 covers little new territory, instead allowing the author five chapters of text to tell stories that exemplify the ideas he outlined in Part 1 (which were already sufficiently illustrated with stories, thanks very much). To be fair, there are some suggestions for readers here, such as tips for job seekers, but these are mainly common sense bullet points.

Part 3 contains tips that people may find useful. I found one (but only one) nugget that I had not considered before and immediately put into use in my own profile: when listing the URL of your blog or other website, always choose “Other” from the dropdown menu because this will allow you to customize the text that appears. The chapter about building your network is worth reading (for those who are not already LinkedIn Jedis), and the section on performing company research is interesting but brief.

So, would I recommend this book? That’s a difficult question. Gowel clearly knows a lot about LinkedIn (his career revolves around teaching others to use it), and I like his storytelling style (up to a certain point) and his approach of considering why and not just how to use the tool. On the other hand, he spends a significant amount of the book patting himself on the back and complimenting the people who have said nice things about him. I think the book would be most valuable to someone who isn’t quite convinced that LinkedIn is for them – but of course, this type of person probably wouldn’t be motivated to pick up the book in the first place. For anyone already on board, the third part would be useful, but be aware this section is only 60 pages long. So here’s my advice. Pick up a copy at the library and do the following:

  1. Read the preface and introduction
  2. Start reading Part 1, and stop when you’re convinced that putting some time and effort into LinkedIn is a good idea
  3. Skip Part 2 altogether (or, if you must, read the summary at the end of each chapter)
  4. Read Part 3

Have you read this book? Is there another source of LinkedIn tips you would recommend? Let me know in the comments.

Learning to code through Codecademy: a great idea, but not quite perfected

As a librarian with a strong interest in web services, I’ve always wanted to improve my coding skills. I’m comfortable with HTML and basic CSS, and way back in the day my friends and I entertained ourselves by creating text-based adventure games in DOS using some form of BASIC, but to be honest, more advanced programming languages intimidated me a bit. So several months ago I was intrigued to discover Codecademy. The claim on their home page caught my attention:

Codecademy is the easiest way to learn how to code. It’s interactive, fun, and you can do it with your friends.

When I first signed up, lessons were only offered on JavaScript, but they have since added HTML, CSS, and jQuery (which works with JavaScript), and more content is being added on a regular basis. In fact, the site offers a course called Code Year, which was designed for people who wanted to make a New Year’s resolution to learn to code. Each week, starting from the beginning of 2012, there is a designated set of exercises for participants to complete.

Registration is free and only takes a moment (Codecademy states that they reserve the right to charge for premium content in the future, but for the moment the site is entirely free). You can give it a try without registering, but I suggest you set up an account to keep track of which exercises you’ve already completed. Each exercise consists of instructions on the left side of the page, and a window on the right with a command prompt where you can enter code and then run it. In some cases there will already be some code to get you started, and at other times you’ll write all the code from scratch. After you hit the run button, you’ll see the results of your code and a link to the next exercise will appear if you’ve written the code correctly. Otherwise, you’ll receive an error message and you’ll have to change your code to make it work. The system makes use of gamification (also popular in libraries): each time you complete an exercise you receive points, and a running tally will show at the top of the page.  Then, once you’ve finished a section of exercises, you’ll receive an achievement badge (an icon that shows up on your profile with a name representing what you’ve learned, such as “Loops in JavaScript” or “Recursive Functions”). After each new concept you learn through these exercises, there is a “project” – that is, a set of exercises where you put your skills to use building a program (such as a blackjack game or a cash register program).

I think this is a great idea. Coding is something you need to actually do in order to learn it –  I’ve tried to learn from a book and found it frustrating to be always shifting my attention from the printed page to my computer monitor. Considering the service is free, I would recommend that everyone give it a try. However, there are a few aspects that still need some work.

What I like about Codecademy:

  • It’s much less imposing than a heavy textbook.
  • Each lesson is broken down into a series of very short exercises, and as long as you’re logged in to your account, this means it’s easy to work through an exercise or two and pick up later where you left off – even if you only have a few minutes at a time to work on it.
  • When you get stuck, you can always refer to the Q&A, which is a forum where you can post questions about a given exercise and other users can post answers. In my experience, I’ve always been able to fix my issues by reading what others have already posted in the Q&A.
  • It’s web-based, which means there’s no software to install and you can log in from any computer (it even works on my iPad, but let me assure you, having to move the cursor around so much on a touch screen is not a pleasant experience).

What still needs work:

  • There is a bit too much hand holding. Too many exercises provide the vast majority of the code for you, and just prompt you to add a line or two. Although this means you can get through more content more quickly, I feel there should be more opportunities to start from scratch. I understand that programmers usually build on existing code rather than starting from a blank page, but I find I learn better when I have created something from the ground up. Some exercises are also too simple, in the sense that they tell you precisely what to type and on which line. I would rather figure more things out for myself.
  • The “hint” feature isn’t used consistently. Usually, this space is used to point you in the right direction if you’re having trouble, and it is a useful feature. However, there are a few exercises where critical information is located in the hint; in other words, there’s no way you could be expected to complete the exercise without looking at the hint. There are also some instances where the hint provides information that isn’t critical but is interesting and helpful to know, which means that if you were to complete the exercise without looking at the hint you would miss out. Of course, consistency is difficult to achieve when the lessons are created by other users, but perhaps they could have an editor look into this.
  • They take the gamification aspect a bit too far. In the early stages it seemed that I was receiving a new achievement every ten minutes or so, which made each one feel like less of an accomplishment. And you earn points for each exercise, even the ones that don’t require you to do any coding (they provide some text for you to read and then prompt you to hit the run button to move on to the next exercise). I would rather have the feeling that I earned all of my points.
  • There are some small technical issues. On a few occasions, I’ve written my code and seen it run correctly, but the error message says I need to change something. Usually when I check the Q&A someone else has had the same issue, and the answer is that you need to use a very specific variable name or change some spacing; in other words, what I’ve done is correct as far as the programming language is concerned, but the Codecademy system won’t acknowledge it. In other cases, the message tells me I’ve completed the exercise, but when I check back later there’s no green checkmark to indicate I’ve completed it. When this happens, I have to redo the exercise in a different browser.

Overall, I am certainly impressed with Codecademy, but it might not hurt for them to slap up a big “beta” sticker while they iron the kinks out. To their credit, each exercise gives you the option to give it thumbs up or thumbs down, so I’m sure they are collecting data as to what works and what doesn’t. I would suggest they take this one step further and put a comment box next to the thumb icons, since there has been more than one exercise I’ve found frustrating enough to want to write down a sentence or two in addition to clicking on thumbs down.

Have you tried Codecademy? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below.

Reflections on being an Inspired Library School Student

Back in my student days.

Before my blog’s former life as The Inspired Library School Student fades into a distant memory, I would like to share my thoughts on being a student blogger.

As you may know, I started my blog in February 2008, during the second semester of my MLIS, after seeing a presentation by John Dupuis. I have always enjoyed writing (having a writer as a father and a teacher as a mother probably helps with that), and I had already started reading library blogs on a regular basis, but the thought of becoming a blogger had not crossed my mind until I watched that presentation.

My plan was to write about topics that other students would find exciting, especially the things they don’t teach you in school. And boy, did I ever write. I posted 20 times in my first full calendar month of blogging, which honestly blows my mind now. Of course, many of those posts were quite brief, but I think it still reflects the fun I was having with my new toy.

It wasn’t long before I began receiving comments on my posts from well respected and established bloggers. This usually happened after I had left comments on their blogs and included my URL in my signature, but it was exciting to get a positive response. I quickly developed a sense of how welcoming and encouraging the library blogger community could be.

When I attended the IFLA conference in Quebec City that year, I printed up business cards for the first time (at moo.com, which I still use to this day). As a student, making business cards is a bit awkward because you don’t have a job title or an institutional logo, but I found that including the URL for my blog was a great conversation starter. Shortly after that, Jessamyn West linked to my post-IFLA write-up and sent my stats through the roof, which is pretty much the most exciting thing in the world for a new blogger.

Soon I began receiving emails about my blog from around the world. Many were from the proprietors of websites of dubious integrity who wanted me to link to them, in some cases even offering to write guest posts in exchange for links; naturally, I turned these offers down. Some were from people who had enjoyed my posts and wanted me to write more on a certain subject, such as Zotero or why I decided to go to library school; I did my best to accommodate these requests, though sometimes I felt I had already written as much as I was willing to write on a topic. And some were from prospective students, asking whether I would recommend McGill, and current students in other parts of the world, thanking me for sharing my experiences in a Canadian MLIS program; these emails really made me feel that I was helping people, and I always responded with any advice I could give.

I began encouraging other students to become bloggers and join the community. I wrote a short article for my program’s newsletter describing the benefits of being a student blogger, and later, as a librarian, I presented on more than one occasion to students and recommended starting a blog. I strongly believe that blogging is a fantastic opportunity for students to put their thoughts into writing, connect with the online community, and develop a reputation for being thoughtful and insightful. Of course, this goes for professionals as well, but students in particular are often looking for ways to take their experience beyond the classroom, and blogging can be a constructive form of self-directed learning.

Although I sometimes struggled to stay motivated, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. Blogging was a valuable part of my education (indeed, more useful than many of the courses I took), and I feel it made a positive contribution to shaping the professional I am today.

Should librarians be considered professionals?

A colleague asked me recently whether I considered librarianship to be a profession, and I had to put some thought into it before I replied. It’s a question that most librarians grapple with at one point or another – we take our work seriously, so of course we feel we deserve the prestige that comes with being a “professional.” This issue came up in a book I read earlier this year called The MLS Project: an assessment after sixty years by Boyd Keith Swigger, who argues that while one of the goals of introducing the MLS degree was to raise the status of librarians to be closer to the level of doctors and lawyers, there has been very limited success on this front. I would recommend the book to anyone curious about why the degree was created and how it has (and hasn’t) changed librarianship.

Please note that throughout this post I will be discussing the work of librarians, and not all information professionals. I’m doing this for two reasons: first of all, it’s difficult enough to decide whether librarians are professionals without including the broader group, and secondly, I feel the term information professional would be a bit confusing in a discussion about professionals. But in reality, this debate applies equally to the majority of non-librarian info pros.

My colleague sent me a link to the following article by Ryan Deschamps, which was posted two years ago but somehow slipped past my radar at that time:

Ten Reasons Why ‘Professional Librarian’ is an Oxymoron

As the title suggests, Deschamps places librarians in the non-professional camp. And if you had any doubts as to how much interest there is in this topic, just take a look at the 147 comments. A few days later, David Rothman wrote a response called “Professional Librarian?” In this article, he agrees with Deschamps and also points out some flawed assumptions about the professionalism of librarians in Rory Litwin’s The Library Paraprofessional Movement and the Deprofessionalization of Librarianship.

In my opinion, a serious impediment to the debate is that not everyone agrees on a precise definition of profession or professional. Rather than defining these terms, people tend to take the established professions and make a case that librarians either are or are not reasonably similar to doctors, lawyers, etc. If we can’t agree on a definiton based on a common thread that unites the established professions, perhaps the true definition of professional is “a person whose career is considered by most people to be prestigious.” If that’s the case, then the debate over whether librarianship is fundamentally professional doesn’t really mean anything, because it’s all based on public perception. Although the “Ten Reasons” are well written and well argued, I feel the final point is a bit of a cheap shot:

10.   Nobody Can Name a ‘Great’ Librarian

Go to a typical university and ask the professors to name a great Doctor (‘Albert Schweitzer’), Architect (‘I. M. Pei’), or Lawyer (‘Johnny Cochrane’). No librarian stands out the same way that these great professionals do. No one outside the library field is going to come close to naming Ranganathan either.

If fame (or notoriety) is essential to professionalism, then we must be working from my prestige definition, which doesn’t get at the fundamental attributes of an occupation. And to be fair, I’m sure many people would struggle to name a famous engineer (though they would certainly recognize at least a few of the names on this list).

Of course, in-depth definitions of profession do exist, so before I declare the urge to label librarians one way or the other a lost cause, let’s take a look at one possible checklist of attributes. I found this in Litwin’s article, which cites Roberts and Donahue (I’ll put the full reference at the end of this post). Under each point, my comments are in italics:

1. Mastery of specialized theory

While it could be argued that librarians understand the organization and management of information much better than the general public, our skills are so varied and broad that I don’t think we can claim either “mastery” or that our theories are “specialized.”

2. Autonomy and control of one’s work and how one’s work is performed

This varies so much among institutions and among positions that it’s impossible to call one way or the other. As Rothman writes, “In my experience, the autonomy of an individual employee is largely based on the management philosophies of those they report to and the credibility the employee has earned.”

3. Motivation focusing on intrinsic rewards and on the interests of clients – which take precedence over the professional’s self‐interests

This also varies from individual to individual. I certainly know many great librarians who work selflessly to serve their clients, but this is not always the case. To be fair, I’m not sure this is always the case for architects, engineers, or doctors, either.

4. Commitment to the profession as a career and to the service objectives of the organization for which one works

From my work with library associations, I have seen plenty of evidence that this mentality exists among librarians. However, I have also heard enough stories of institutions with dysfunctional cultures to know that the “commitment to the service objectives of the organization” part is not always true.

5. Sense of community and feelings of collegiality with others in the profession, and accountability to those colleagues

This one I would say is generally accurate for librarians. Through professional associations and other networks, we tend to support each other but also make it known when someone has acted in ways that are not beneficial to the group.

6. Self‐monitoring and regulation by the profession of ethical and professional standards in keeping with a detailed code of ethics

We clearly can’t claim to meet this criterion: librarianship has no accepted ethical code (though fortunately we do have a cod of ethics).

So there you have it. Even when using a reasonably clear and detailed definition, librarianship’s claim to professional status is debatable. In the end, I don’t think it really matters whether we are professionals or not. Librarians are obsessed with classification by nature, so I can’t say the debate surprises me, but I think we should spend less time worrying about what to call ourselves and more time doing good work and demonstrating our value. I believe if we “act in a professional manner,” we will earn the respect we deserve.


Keith A. Roberts and Karen A. Donahue, “Professionalism: Bureaucratization and Deprofessionalization in the Academy,” Sociological Focus 33 no. 4 (2000): 365-383.

Why librarians shouldn’t be afraid to call themselves experts

Hello my name is ExpertAt a library conference I attended recently, I noticed that two speakers opened their talks by announcing that they were not “experts” on the subject matter they were about to present. This struck me as a rather odd way to begin a presentation; it caused me to put little faith in the presenter, and it even reflected poorly on the organizers of the conference, who really ought to have found some genuine “experts.” Of course, in both instances, the presenters went on to give perfectly good talks, but their lack of confidence had a negative impact on my perception of their presentations (watch a TED talk for a good example of an effective, confident presenter).

I feel that too many librarians are hesitant to identify themselves as experts. Perhaps this is because we consider ourselves to be “jacks of all trades, masters of none.” Perhaps, as Mari Vihuri suggests, it’s a case of imposter syndrome. Or perhaps, as portrayed by librarian stereotypes, we are simply too meek and humble. In any case, it needs to stop. If we want to earn the respect (or simply the attention) of our clients, peers, and administrations, we need to make it known that we are experts in the areas we work in every day (it should go without saying that we should never claim to be experts on topics we’re genuinely not familiar with).

For example, as a librarian at McGill, I gave many workshops for students and faculty members on the use of the citation management programs EndNote and Zotero. At the beginning of each session, I would introduce my co-presenter and myself as two of the McGill Library’s citation management software experts. Did this mean I considered myself to be the most knowledgeable person on campus, or even just among the library’s staff, on any of these programs? Certainly not. As a relatively new librarian, I was fully aware that there were researchers and librarians at McGill who knew EndNote and Zotero much better than I did. However, compared to the people in the audience, who had voluntarily signed up for an introductory workshop, I was an expert. I may not have been “the” expert, in the sense of being the ultimate guru on campus, but I was clearly “an” expert, in the sense of having spent a significant amount of time with the software and knowing it well enough to teach others to use it.

Similarly, when giving in-class presentations to students in the Faculty of Management, I always encouraged them to come speak to a Management liaison librarian such as myself for help with their research, and I would regularly describe our team as being the research “experts.” In some cases, there may have been faculty members or graduate students who were more adept at using specific databases than I was (especially when I was first learning the ropes), but I believe that if I had instead claimed that the Management librarians “knew a bit about research and would be happy to do what we could to help, even though there are other on campus who know more,” students would have been much less likely to contact the library.

So this is a challenge to everyone in the library/information community: spend a few minutes identifying the areas (and circumstances) in which you could be considered an expert, and make a point of spreading the word about your expertise. Don’t brag, but make sure the people around you realize what you’re really good at doing. And encourage your colleagues to stand up for their expertise as well. It will make people respect you and listen to what you have to say.

What are you an expert at? How do you let people know without bragging? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Need a little inspiration? Here’s your expert-related Friday Fun:

Goodbye Inspired Library School Student, Hello GrahamLavender.com

This is just a quick post to let everyone know that my blog, formerly known as The Inspired Library School Student, has metamorphosed into GrahamLavender.com. It has been almost three years since I received my MLIS, so the name change was certainly overdue (pun intended). While future posts will likely have less of a student-specific focus, I believe students will still find them interesting, and I still welcome comments and emails from people from all areas of the information community (and beyond).

I have a new About page, but otherwise all of the ILSS content is still available in the blog archives. Old URLs (using https://inspiredlibraryschoolstudent.wordpress.com) should redirect to GrahamLavender.com, and anyone subscribed to the old RSS feed should continue receiving the new posts.

I’d like to thank everyone who has been a reader, and I hope you’ll join me through the next stage of my career.