Pigeons and Snacks: PLA 2016

My experience at PLA can basically be summed up in the only two pictures that I took the whole time I was there:

1) On the first day walking around the exhibitor hall we encountered a sad, anxious pigeon that somehow ended up in the convention center. He was wary and clearly overwhelmed. I was wary and clearly overwhelmed. We found in each other a source of kindred connection. It was a special moment. For me, at least – the pigeon was probably just desperate to escape.

2) A friend immediately texted and berated me for taking a picture with furries at a convention, but hey, I am NOT SORRY. I saw cats and I jumped on the opportunity. Also, this picture absolutely captures the weirdness of this conference. There was a point where a coworker and I simultaneously pointed at something in opposite directions. She was pointing at a laptop vending machine, I was pointing at a half-naked man in a toga. There’s something for everyone at PLA, folks.

Besides these exhibit-hall encounters, however, I did actually learn some stuff! Here’s some notes from my favorite sessions:

Bubbler @ Madison Public Libraries: A System-Wide Approach to Learning through Making, presented by Trent Miller, Jesse Vieau, Alexandra Lakind

  • Did you know the Bubbler was initially funded by Beanie Babies? The Bubbler was initially funded by Beanie Babies.
  • Really important work with court-involved teenagers – a great lesson in meeting patrons where they are and serving those who need it most – why doesn’t every library have a program like this?!
  • They used the Give & Take Project method for running meetings, and it was delightful – eagerly awaiting the day when I have enough power to encourage others to operate this way.
  • If you tweet about snacks, Trent Miller will follow you on Twitter.

Immigration Reform: Is Your Library Ready? presented by Angelica Fortin, Luis Guerra, Miko Osada

  • This session enlightened me to an opportunity that we’re really missing at my library – I had next to no knowledge about these updates to immigration reform, and I feel much better equipped to assist with these programs.
  • The presenters made excellent points about being proactive – we can’t wait until reforms are passed because of the intensive processes involved. We need to be ready for them before they happen.
  • We need waaaaaaay more staff training on immigration in general. Way more. Thankfully the only patrons I’ve ever assisted with immigration forms knew exactly what they were looking for, but my colleagues and I should know more.

Where the Black and Brown Boys Aren’t (and Why), presented by Nichole Shabazz and Phyllis Hunter

  • This was the best session I went to at all of PLA. I think it should have been mandatory attendance. If you didn’t/couldn’t go, they also recorded a podcast.
  • We, as library professionals, should have cultural awareness and recognize and respond to the following 5 factors:
    • Regard: many black and brown boys don’t see themselves highly regarded in library collections, programming, or promotion
    • Representation: most library professionals are white and female – people need to see themselves in the library
    • Relevance: perception that libraries are not important, interesting, or worth knowing
    • Responsiveness: librarians don’t react in a desired or positive way to their needs
    • Relationships: libraries have not done the best job of building relationships and engaging them
  • As library professionals we need to admire black and brown boys (believe in their value), have authority (cultural competency), and act as advocates (risk takers and change agents).

Looking back at my notes, I’m realizing how much truly valuable information I was able to pick up during these and other sessions despite how overwhelming it felt at the time. I’m pretty lucky to have attended my first national conference before I’m even finished with library school – it has given me a really good taste of how others are innovating, what I can look forward to, and where I can contribute.

Finally, if you’re ever at a conference or have an opportunity to participate in a resume review or interview coaching session, DO IT! I learned so much valuable information from having someone who didn’t know me at all look over my resume and give me interview pointers. It’s kinda scary, but it’s worth it – you’ll leave feeling equipped to move forward.

I tweeted throughout the conference, so you can read more of my thoughts from PLA here.

The American Museum of Natural History is kind of bogus, right?

blogAs an undergraduate I took a course with a heavy museum reading component – we looked critically at exhibit designs and item descriptions, looking for silences, unrepresented groups, misrepresentations, and the potential inadequacies of museum information. I was about to make a joke about how consequently, I have never been able to enjoy a museum visit since. However, in the time since this class, I’ve found that my experiences in museums seem so much more productive and nuanced. I get a lot more out of exhibits now that I have tools to evaluate the information being presented.

Over spring break I spent some time in New York City, for the first time ever. Mostly, I ate my way through the city, but I also got to spend an afternoon at the American Museum of Natural History. I can really see why they made whole movies about this museum coming to life, because the animal dioramas literally look like they could bounce to life at any second. As we walked through, I wondered to myself and also out loud to my travel companion about where the animals even came from. How did they acquire these incredibly lifelike taxidermy? Did they come from their native habitats, or were they taken from zoos? Were they hunted for this specific purpose or were they found? When did they get here? Do they ever replace the animals or add new ones? The descriptions were also listed on metal plaques – are they ever updated with new information about the featured species, such as their endangerment status?

We then proceeded into the halls on African peoples, which were pretty unbelievable. The artifacts were presented with very little context about how tools were used, who specifically used them, or when they were used (the general answer to this seemed to be, “When African people USED to exist, in primitive times,” which was nearly too much for me to handle.) Then we turned a corner to find a diorama, very similar to the ones in the animal halls, featuring loin-clothed and empty-eyed mannequins of “daily life in Africa.” I was dumbfounded that they would depict and display people in the same way that we had just seen the animals – as specimens to be studied rather than real people with culture, history, and agency. I left pretty quickly after this, feeling sure that I would be able to find a wealth of articles reading this museum with a critical eye, examining what went wrong, and proposing solutions.

However, my search turned up almost nothing, with the exception of this 1997 article by Timothy W. Luke. Luke writes, “From the beginning then, the American Museum has been a memorializing monument; indeed, a headstone marking the passing of pre-capitalist Nature with its vast accumulation of dead bits a pieces from the Nature’s not yet fully mortified corpse.” Luke also goes on to make some interesting statements about how inclusion in the museum automatically classifies things as either of Nature, or of History – both of which are dead and in the past. This idea has interesting implications for other areas of the museum, and Luke applies his criticism to the evolutionary presentations of world peoples, writing that these exhibits, “mix contemporary ethnic and geographic labels to freeze frame all of these exoticized humans in otherized times/spaces/ecologies/economies before, beyond, or beneath the universalizing transformative influences of North Atlantic capitalism erase them through trade or war.”

Which…yes. Yes, absolutely. But I had a difficult time believing that this was it in the wide world of possible criticism of the museum. I took to Twitter and Michelle Caswell, who has the greatest Twitter bio of all time, pointed me to this 1984 article by Donna Haraway. Haraway takes the reader on a vivid journey through the animal exhibits and all of their weirdness, writing “the Akeley African Hall itself is simultaneously a very strange place and an ordinary experience.” Haraway’s reading of the taxidermy and the project of the animal halls is much more compelling to me. Characterizing the museum as a patriarchal fever dream, Haraway calls it, “a vast public education and research program for producing experience potent to induce the state of manhood.”

While these articles answered many of my questions about the animal exhibits, I have still been unable to find any more criticism on the human “evolution” exhibits. I guess this is probably one of those things where a professor or mentor would tell you that it’s a great opportunity to go and write it yourself, but I can’t help but be disappointed.

If anyone can point me to some more reading on this topic, or knows anyone who’s doing any cool revitalization projects at the museum, I would be ecstatic to read and learn more. Additionally, if you can point me to any museums that have done it better, I’d love to add them to my list of places to visit.

Two Weeks Down, Fifty Eight to Go

You guys, I finished my first two weeks of library school! I’m doing the thing!

After all the waiting and griping that you’re all to familiar with if you’ve ready any of this blog, it seems a bit surreal. I’m not exactly sure what I expected it to feel like, but it feels… normal? Exciting and new and nerve-wracking, of course, but it also just feels right. I guess that’s as good of a sign as I could ask for.

If I needed a reality check, though, my first class was all too happy to give it to me – we watched a movie. I drove two hours to class and we watched a movie. Again, I don’t know what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t that. It wasn’t a terrible movie or anything, it was interesting enough and on-topic. It’s called The Hollywood Librarian, and was about a lot of different library-related topics. I actually almost cried a little bit – no one should be allowed to show that clip about the library from the beginning of Matilda to someone on their first day of library school. It’s cruel and unusual.

Since then I’ve been involved in some discussions about what it means to be a professional (people are too finicky about librarian as a title), the ethics of internet filters (how about no), what you would do if Kim Davis came to your library and made a purchase suggestion (treat her like any other patron!), and social justice in libraries (yes thank you more please). I made myself attend a networking event, got a library card for the Denver Public Library, was called to the front of the class to write an APA citation, and accidentally became co-treasurer of the student chapter of the ALA (I told myself I would at least put myself out there, but I usually don’t have much luck inspiring people to vote for me – somehow I got half the votes). Reading that back, I’ve done and experienced and learned a bunch for only having been in class for two weeks. Still, the time feels like its slipping away – even more so, probably, because I have an ungodly pile of reading and assignments to get to for this week. Was this blog an excuse to avoid all of it? I’ll never tell!

Until next time, I’ll leave you with this blurb that I wrote for an online discussion response that I’m particularly proud of. Never let a chance to deride Full House pass you by:

“If you ever need practice putting aside your own opinions to enforce the non-censorship policies of libraries, I suggest getting a job/volunteering in Interlibrary Loan. Every single day I have to process at least twenty items that I find problematic – 9/11 conspiracy books, books about how AIDS actually is transmittable through handshakes and that the government is lying to us, Full House DVDs. On a personal level, the world can seem like a scary overload of information we don’t agree with, but that doesn’t make it our business as librarians to restrict it for everyone – you honestly don’t even know what people are going to use it for. I often comfort myself with the thought that patrons request Full House so much just so they can make fun of it and tear it apart on their 90s rewatch blogs.”

Hack Library School!

As I’ve mentioned in pretty much every post I’ve written on this blog so far, I am a huge fan of Hack Library School. I’ve read it for years in anticipation of my time as a library student. It was hugely influential in my grad school search – I spent hours pouring over the Hack Your Program series. And now I get to be on the other side of the blog – they picked me as one of their new writers!

I am simultaneously stoked out of my mind and terrified of this development. I can already tell that HLS is a community of really fascinating, welcoming people that will be my colleagues one day – how lucky am I to be among them? After reading my short bio on the intro post, a friend told me that I sounded cool (“I wanna be friends with that girl!” she said. Bully for you! You are!) and while I’m super glad that I’m good at tricking people into thinking I’m interesting, I’m so nervous about what I’m actually going to, you know… WRITE for HLS. On top of that, I don’t even start classes until two weeks after I’m supposed to post my first blog. So if anyone has a lightning bolt of inspiration to send my way, it would be really appreciated. Maybe I’ll write long-winded love letters to all of the other writers based on my minimal knowledge of who they are. Maybe I’ll just post a video of myself reenacting what will be my 8+ hours of weekly commuting once I start classes – car dancing and all. (Kanye’s “Power” plays in the distance.)

The day the post about the new writers went up I got a professional Twitter and have been having fun playing around with that and looking for people to follow. I’ve been posting an #ILLoftheDay when I do borrowing at work, and it’s only a matter of time before I get the inevitable, “Stop trying to make #ILLoftheDay happen, it’s not going to happen,” response. Go follow me, and you could do the honors of putting me in my place! Or, conversely, if you also do ILL you could join me and we can MAKE IT HAPPEN. Either way, let’s tweet it up.

Read All the Things or: Over-preparing for Library School

Now that I’ve finally made a decision about what to do and where to go to get my MLIS, I’ve once again entered full panic mode, albeit this time in a different direction. I honestly considered printing off the student handbook to read and highlight the whole thing – how much of a dweeb am I? But I’ve also been hoping to get some good summer reading in so that I don’t feel totally lost at sea during my first classes, mostly inspired by this post at hls (which I also read obsessively). Here’s what I have so far:

I lifted The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown from Christina’s list. I’m not usually much of a self-help reader, but perhaps branching out will lead me to something useful. Also, my library happened to have a copy, so it turned out to be convenient to pick up.

I knew I had to add Ann Cvetkovitch’s Archive of Feelings to my list after reading Sadler and Bourg’s awesome article “Feminism and the Future of Library Discovery,” which I would absolutely recommend as immediate required reading – feminist evaluations of libraries! Be still my beating heart. Anyway, as a possible archivist, I’m fascinated by the ways that trauma and oppression affect our collections – how do we incorporate the very real feelings that accompany an archive into our presentation, evaluation, and understanding of them? I’m hoping this book will provide a good forum for thinking about some of these issues.

I also stumbled upon Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums during some other poking around on the internet – I’ve honestly forgotten what even lead me there, but I somehow started reading about tribal libraries and archives. I’ve often thought about the issue of Native American artifacts in outside museums and archives and all the issues that go along with taking materials from a marginalized culture and presenting them as our own, but I am so shortsighted that I hadn’t really thought about the institutions that belong to these cultures. I’m excited and fascinated to read about how these organizations are serving native communities.

So these are the library/career related books I’m planning to read this summer so far – I’m hesitant to pick any more because I can kind of be a slow reader and I’d also like to leave room for the fun stuff. If I surprise myself, I might peruse something else from this list that Christina linked to – bless hls and their enabling of my obsessive reading. Thinking about returning to school has also made me nostalgic for my English major days, so I might read along with some of Yale’s Open Courses on literature. I’ve been saying I would do this for years, though, so I’m not gonna hold my breath.

If any of you are in the same boat and have summer reading plans, I would love to hear about it. If you’ve been in the boat before and have some recommended reading, send that stuff my way. Encouragement, challenges, cries of frustration, and impassioned arguments are always welcome in the comments.

Updates, Decisions, and Reluctance to Commit: A Belated Post

I started this blog six months ago with every intention of detailing the ups and downs of my road to graduate school. I think my ultimate goal was to actually just pressure myself to think about it and make a decision, but I quickly learned two things: 1) going back and forth between options is NOT INTERESTING. I started to bore even myself with the will-she won’t-she nonsense. And 2) I didn’t feel like making a decision, and I wasn’t going to think about it seriously and with finality until I absolutely had to. Life is so easy when you push difficult decisions to the side and forget about them. That is, until you absolutely can’t ignore them, and you realize you’ve spent a whole year putting off your problems.

Earlier in the year I applied and got accepted to San Jose State’s library program, and had pretty much decided that I would do an online program, save some money, and work through school. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but it seemed sensible and practical and I had finally realized that your degree is what you put into it. I could make any program worthwhile for myself. I already work at a library and gain new skills everyday – really, I was getting more practical experience at work than I would at school anyway. I let my brain relax a bit – this would be totally fine.

Then about a month ago, the University of Denver emailed to check on my deferred status. I let out a melancholy sigh while I tried to prepare myself to turn them down. Even though I know it’s kind of silly, I love the feeling of being in college on a beautiful campus with other souls that are just trying to learn new things. It’s probably elitist and cheesy and pretentious, but it’s a truth I know about myself. So it was with a heavy heart that I thought about what I would tell them. However, while I was dramatically considering my options (probably staring out a rainy window with some swelling orchestra music in the background – definitely not at the reference desk with my chin in my hands), they sent a second email with an update about my financial aid. They decided to award me significantly more scholarship money than they had offered the year previously. Suddenly my decision didn’t seem so easy.

After talking it over with everyone who would listen, doing some furious budgeting, and fretting about it until my stomach hurt, I realized that it might not be so impossible after all. Between living at home and working two jobs, I might even be able to pay tuition out of pocket and avoid having all of the debt that I’ve been so worried about for the past year. So this is my final decision: I’m going to go to DU while continuing to work at my current job, try to save as much money as I can so that I can give it all to them over the next two years, be in an environment that I know I’ll like, and finally become a real librarian. It probably won’t be easy or pleasant, but then again, online classes probably wouldn’t be either.

Now I just have decide on a specialization. And I thought the hard stuff was behind me.

If you’ve offered or provided assistance throughout the past year, listened to my anguished whining, or sent me snapchats of your face, thank you. Please continue being excellent, and I will try to be better in return.

Weekly Tumblr Wrap-Up

For December 1 – December 7

I set up a tumblr account to be a more casual, less wordy sister to this blog, and I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a weekly wrap up to share my favorite posts and articles that I found via my feed over there.  I’m not sure if this will end up being interesting or worthwhile, but for now, here is a compendium of my favorite tumblr posts from the past week, as well as a few original features I’ve started over there.

FAVE LIBRARIES: The British Library, May 2014

Since I’ve been lucky enough to travel around and visit some pretty exciting and beautiful libraries, I wanted to start sharing my experiences.  My favorite library for December is the British Library, check out the original post to read my story about visiting.  (Also mad shout out to the amazing lady in this photo, Mackenzie, all around amazing person and future archivist, who has been wonderful in supporting this blog and me and is a wonderful shining light in my life.)


Tumblarians are busy posting photos of the incredible Christmas trees made out of books at their libraries – my favorite is this one, posted by catscardigansbooks, topped by the brightest star in the sky: David Hasselhoff.  I’ll be updating my tag as I come across more.


With a portion of the $300,000 (!!!!!!!!) in donations that the library has received, the amazing staff there have been putting together these Healing Kits, complete with books and a stuffed animal that the child gets to keep!  I have a lot more to say about the Ferguson Library and how great they are in a future post, but until then might I remind you that you can still donate.  Thanks to mylifeinthelibrary for sharing this with the tumblrverse!


This is it.  This is my life now.  Thanks telephone reference.


These are just a few of the awesome things that are happening over on the library side of tumblr and in my library life.  For more from me, you can visit my tumblr, and for other library-related posts, check out #libraries and #tumblarians.

The Back Story

I am not a librarian or even a library student, so if you’re reading this, you may be looking for some sort of explanation – why would I, a non-professional, be engaging in discussions I know very little about?  A decent question, one that I am sure you will ask yourself if you continue reading this blog, as I am certain to say many uninformed things in the future.  Eventually, I do hope to go to library school and become a real professional librarian with clout, but the sad fact is that could be a year or more in my future.  As I’ve been thinking about graduate school and my future and the value of the MLIS degree, I’ve seen very little representation of someone in my position in the blogosphere, which I have been reading widely and deeply for more than a year.  So in writing this blog, I hope to start discussion among those of us who are in-between: certainly passionate about libraries, but unsure of the best path to get us where we want to go.

At least, I hope there are some of you out there.  Perhaps this is a shout into the void that will be promptly ignored and I will realize that I truly am alone in the universe.  So be it, but I really hope that there are people out there struggling with the same things, and that you will let me know who you are.  Aspiring, roadblocked librarians gotta stick together, y’all.

So here’s the story:  I graduated in May with every intention to start attending graduate school this fall.  I spent most of my senior year of college losing my mind over applications.  I applied to four programs, largely based on location:  the MLIS program at Kent State University, the MSIS at University of Texas at Austin, the dual Master of Archival/MLIS at University of British Columbia, and the MLIS at University of Denver.  I was fairly adamant that I wanted to attend an in-person program rather than online.  Happily, I was accepted to all four, leading me to continue to lose my mind over making a final decision.  I decided that Kent State was too expensive for ratio of in-person to online classes.  The cost of living in Vancouver made me cry a little, so I sadly crossed UBC off my list.  I was really drawn to Austin, but decided I wasn’t up for another major move to another state and that I was ready to return home to Colorado – University of Denver it was.

I was aware of how expensive tuition was at University of Denver when I applied, but I got a scholarship and decided it would be fine.  What’s fifty grand more in loans, after all?  It was all very abstract in my mind, so I managed to justify it.  Later in the summer, however, I began filling out my financial paperwork, and realized what a huge burden this would be on my future.  On top of my undergrad loans, I was afraid that graduate loans would truly cripple me.  I want an education, sure, but I also want a life.  I was afraid of what these loans might prevent me from doing.  At this time, I was also reading a lot of blogs and talking to a lot of librarians who were telling me that the degree is just a paper that you get that allows you to work – it can be boring and irritating and it’s just something you have to do.  This made me question my commitment to reputation and in-person classes.  Were they really that important, or was I just holding on to being a college student as long as I could?

In the end, I decided to defer at DU.  I figured I could spend the intervening year deciding what I truly want and trying to acquire more funding.  This has generally been a great decision – it’s been nice to have a break from being a full-time student, and I got a part-time job at the local public library as a public services and Interlibrary Loan specialist.  I love this job, and I feel like I am learning so many practical things.  I’m certainly gaining valuable experience.  However, I don’t feel any closer to making my decision.  Should I go with an online program in the hopes of one day achieving financial freedom?  Or should I just sign away my life and go to DU?  I honestly have no idea, my mind changes every day.

And that’s the story that I hope to chronicle in this blog for now.  I know there’s not one right answer to my questions, and that any path I take will likely work out in the end.  But I’d like to be on the one that will give me the best life, the best career skills, the best experiences.  And most importantly, I’d like to know that there are others out there who have been or are currently going through the same thing, so please leave your comments, words of wisdom, and comforting anecdotes.