LSLS18: Notes from Student Scholarship Recipient Laura Vavrosky

Sometimes scholarships provide opportunities that changes a recipient’s entire mindset. I’m grateful to have received the Student Scholarship to attend the Lake Superior Libraries Symposium 2018, because it allowed me to have that powerful experience. Prior to this symposium, I would have described myself meekly as a library technician. Despite being appreciated by the patrons I serve (and often being confused with a “real librarian” by those patrons), I had the definite feeling that my technician job was just a stop on the path to “real librarianship,” a far more meaningful goal.

I’m a student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison iSchool and I hope to be a librarian someday. But this symposium made me reevaluate the worth of the job I do now. The session “Use Your Words: Tips on Being an Articulate Advocate,” presented by Marge Loch-Wouters, helped me realize that I define who am I, and how important my job is, by how I speak in casual conversations about my work. Marge emphasized that we can all be advocates all the time, and so the most important thing I learned was to avoid saying “I’m just a library technician” (whether the “just” is spoken or merely implied) when asked about my work. Until Marge mentioned this, I hadn’t considered how frequently I do exactly that, which allows listeners to fill in their own ideas about my job, often perpetuating stereotypes that are negative, boring, or incomplete. Marge advised us all to claim the value of our part of our profession. She even gave us a simple formula to more powerfully convey what we actually do, and she provided helpful hands-on practice!

The mental reset I experienced in Marge’s session tied in with Mags David’s lightning round talk “Across the Great Divide: From Para to Professional in Just 27 Years,” in which Mags discussed her sense of the increased respect she received as a librarian, rather than a paraprofessional. While I identify with the clear distinctions Mags made between professional and paraprofessional work (greater responsibility and autonomy in the former, more “plugging people into jobs” in the latter), Marge’s presentation made me ponder the roots of these differing levels of respect. If we, as professionals and as paraprofessionals, undervalue the worth of assistants and technicians (“I’m just a technician…”), others will follow our lead.

So as a library technician, I found myself making a promise to rethink the way I explain my job to others, in order to advocate more strongly for the work I do. I know my job is important – the gratitude I receive every day from patrons makes that clear. Thanks to Marge’s inspirational prodding, I now have a new way to describe my work: “I help members of my community access technological resources at the library so they can apply for jobs, make connections online, and continue lifelong learning.” Meaningful work indeed, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to reframe my own thoughts regarding the value of my work.

From a Lone Librarian and Maverick Wannabe: Notes from Tammi Jalowiec, LSLS17 Student Scholarship Recipient

It was a privilege and honor to receive a scholarship to attend the 2017 Lake Superior Library Symposium in Duluth, MN, June 8 & 9. As the new lone librarian at White Earth Tribal and Community College (and University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, MLIS student), I found the speakers and topics not just interesting and timely, but extremely relevant to my current position. Keynote speaker, Dr. Loriene Roy, rightfully held the spotlight, having previously served as president of both AILA and ALA, and having direct ties to Minnesota and the White Earth Nation. However, it was a metadata and cataloging librarian that most captured my attention and spoke directly to an issue with which I’ve been struggling – inadequate, biased, and/or offensive subject headings and cataloging standards.

Catherine Oliver, from Northern Michigan University, lead one of the day’s lightening round sessions entitled, “It Says on the Label,” which briefly described the issue. She noted that although the American Library Association’s (ALA’s) interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights limits book labeling to, “viewpoint-neutral directional aids,” the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress classifications themselves are not neutral. In fact, both systems are rife with cultural biases. (Examples: DDC has seven distinct classifications for Christianity, but only one for, “other and comparative religions”; LCC classifies Native American materials as history, separate from the whole of human knowledge.) Oliver also brought up historical denialism and described an actual record for such an item, classified as non-fiction, containing a note about the work winning an award, but nothing indicating that the contents were later proven false. Given such, “acceptable,” examples, she asked why we should not take steps to rectify these situations, especially within our local cataloging systems and standards?

Oliver continued her line of reasoning with colleagues, Violet Fox of the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University and Stephen Nonte of the University of North Dakota in the breakout session, “Mavericks!: How Embracing Your Inner Nonconformist Makes Our Catalogs Better.” These catalogers suggested that libraries consider utilizing local metadata values (labels/keywords) and recommended using the following strategies:

  • Consider the unique needs of your community.
  • Consult with other librarians, instructors, and community experts.
  • Create rules, training and documentation explaining the local metadata values, including the justification behind them.
  • Review and repeat the process periodically.

I very much appreciated this perspective, which reflected the overall theme of LSLS17, “Beyond Neutral.” As librarians, we are trained to value neutrality and to defend the First Amendment. I believe it is hypocritical of us to ignore the preexisting biases within our own systems and passively wait for national or global standards to change.  I have been wrestling with these issues for some time, unsure of how to proceed. I am now inspired to be a library, “maverick,” and to take the first steps toward positive change, at least in our local catalog.