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Thursday
Oct202005

Qualities to Look for in a New Librarian

As I quietly shuffle toward geezerdom, I find that many people mistakenly correlate age with wisdom. Especially library school students who are asked to “interview an expert” and contact me. Thankfully I don’t learn the grade they get on these assignments.

Anyway, one such student contacted me this week and asked a question that was intriguing: What do you look for (skills, experience, etc.) in the people you recommend for hiring?

I do help hire media specialists and it is about the most nerve-wracking thing I do. Given tenure laws, when you hire somebody in the public schools, you’d better figure your relationship with this person has a better chance of being a very long one that of most marriages.

Our district’s hired about a dozen new library media specialists over the past 15 years and all have been happy choices, thank goodness. This is what I look for, in this order:

1. Great people skills. My librarians need to be people who are approachable, great communicators, and exude personal warmth. If these qualities aren’t there, it’s a no go. We’ve passed over a lot of people who look very, very good on paper, but come across as controlling or cold in interviews. People I wouldn’t want to work with.

2. Self-starting. I look for people who have initiated and carried out projects beyond the classroom. It doesn’t have to be school related, but if a person can’t describe a cool project of which s/he is proud, s/he won’t get my vote. The other part of this is passion – the person has to have a passion for something! Books, computers, whatever, but h/she’d have to convey an excitement about some aspect of the open position. I always say the secret to being a successful supervisor is to hire people who don’t need to be supervised.

3. Successful teaching experience. These candidates have “cred” with teachers and empathy for teachers. I don’t really care if a person can catalog a book, but if s/he can’t teach a child or teacher, I don’t need’m in my libraries.

4. Willingness to learn. One doesn’t have to be the computer guru or even have a library degree (but one will need to get one quickly) to get hired by our district. What a person does need is to demonstrate s/he is willing to learn and keep learning. I always ask, “What is the last thing you learned and how did you learn it?” If people struggle for an answer, I keep looking for some one who can.

5. Record of past successes. Don’t just tell me you’ve been a librarian or teacher, but you better be able to describe a lot of cool things you did in that position. (Have a portfolio with lots of pictures of you working with Happy, Productive Library-Using Kids.) I am looking for OUTSTANDING people, not just competent ones.

How’s that? I can teach people all the technical/library skills they need to know, but I can’t teach them how to be great people. And I like great people – they make ME look good :-)

What do you look for in a new librarian when you serve on the hiring committee?

PS. The technology worked just fine at this morning’s MEMO keynote. Thanks for asking.

Wednesday
Oct192005

The Paranoid Presenter

Heading off this afternoon to give a keynote and a couple sessions at the Maryland Educational Media Organization (the other MEMO) tomorrow in Baltimore. I’m looking forward to seeing my friend Jay Bansbach and other fine Marylanders.

Even though I’ve done presentations for about 150 associations, school districts and other organizations over the past few years, I still get anxious. Have I prepared well enough? Did we choose the right talks for this audience? Did I bring enough clean underwear and socks? Details, details.

Anyone who uses technology as a part of his presentation also worries – will the technology work? And the more one works with technology, the more concern one has and the more heartfelt the prayers become. Computers not only sense fear, but nervousness as well. Trust me on this - the time a computer takes to reboot lengthens in direct proportion to the number of people waiting for it to reboot.

I always wonder when the “technology expert” speaking can’t actually get the technology to work. It's like going to a doctor who is overweight and smokes. Is there a credibility problem here? Duh.

So here is my paranoid presenters checklist I go through before I hit the road. If you find yourself going someplace to give a talk using PowerPoint or something like it, perhaps the suggestions might be useful.

1. Is my computer actually in the bag?
2. Are the right power cord, video dongle, and remote control in the bag?
3. Are the PowerPoint slides backed up to a flash drive? (In case the computer breaks or goes missing.)
4. Are the slides on an ftp site I can access? (In case the flash drive breaks or goes missing.)
5. Are the slides printed out? (In case the technology gods abandon you completely.)
6. Did I wear shoes that will allow me to run as fast as possible if all else goes wrong? (In case you can't find your printouts.)

As you can tell, when it comes to tech, I am a belt and suspenders sort of guy.

I have had to cancel one talk. Just one. At conference in Missouri the after lunch general session was being held in a banquet hall that I believe was a converted parking garage – low ceilings, lots of pillars, and no windows. The electricity went out. Blackness ensued. Glow sticks were passed around. My talk could neither be seen nor heard, let alone supplemented with the projector. Session cancelled by the sponsors. Act of God.

But most things are to a large degree under one's control. Here are some must-do’s for the traveling speaker.

1. Have backup plans (see above).
2. Use generic fonts in your slides in case you must use another computer.
3. Always get to the room at least a half hour early to check out the equipment.
4. Know your own equipment. (How do you turn video mirroring off and on? Use the remote?)
5. Never, never, never depend on the Internet. Have cached pages or screen shots just in case.
6. Don’t take the last flight out.

Oh, and pack an extra pair of socks and undies. You just never know.

Do have some tips about minimizing the likelihood of technology snafus?

Tuesday
Oct182005

Who You Gonna Trust?

There is an old Richard Pryor routine in which a woman catches her husband in bed with another woman. The husband’s quick response is “Who you gonna trust – me or your lying eyes?”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about determining the authority of information. It’s the fault of Tim Wilson, Technology Director for the Hopkins (MN) schools, and the owner of The Savvy Technologist blog. During a workshop he gave at our MEMO conference last weekend, a collective gasp of horror rose from the throats of many librarians when they heard him explain that Wikipedia gets its content through reader/user contributions, rather than established “authorities.”

Joyce Valenza in her Never Ending Search blog entry, Something Wiki this way comes , examines the Wikipedia phenomena, interviews its creator Jimmy Wales and offers some thoughtful insight on guidelines for student use. (Read it!)

Authority is an interesting concept and one we probably don’t think hard enough about ourselves as professionals. I have to say, I am growing less enamored of traditional “authorities” all the time and depend more on the “lying eyes” of folks with real world experience about the things I investigate.

This started when looking at a recommendation for resort to stay at in Mexico one Winter break. When I could find little about resorts in the “authoritative” sources like Fodors and Frommers, I turned to the web and chanced upon TripAdvisor.com, a site that features reviews of hotels written by people who have actually stayed in them. There are half a dozen or more reviews of any one place. This often have a range of opinions and experiences, but interestingly also some sort of consensus about service, cleanliness, and value. And the reviews tend to be current. My experience has been that TripAdvisor does a good job of estimating the size of cockroaches one might expect to find. (Uh, much to the Luckiest Woman in the World’s dismay, we rarely go 4-star.)

I’m finding I trust book reviews on Amazon rather than those in the newspaper. I read lots of user reviews of technology when I last purchased a digital camera. Increasingly it seems, the views of average schmucks whose tastes and abilities are closer to mine more valuable than the professional geeks, gurus, and critics.

This has been bleeding over into professional practice as well. In a number of areas, so-called “best practice” seems to be directly at odds with the views of practitioners. The reading experts are not fond of Accelerated Reader, but librarians and classroom teachers often love it. AASL despises “fixed” schedules, but those in such schedules write to me en mass defending the arrangement. There is often a disconnect between the purists at ACLU and those who face privacy issues in schools. (The ACLU cannot seem to bring itself to acknowledge the custodial responsibilities of educators.) What often sounds so good in theory, is often quite different in practice.

So back to Wikipedia. Do we trust it or not? Should we allow kids to use it or not? Quite honestly, I am still thinking about it and will probably double-check the information I might find there into the foreseeable future with another source or two.

Joyce offers the following:

In the face of information glut, we are faced with new decisions about the very nature of knowledge and authority. When does it make sense to use Wikipedia, other wiki projects, and blogs as information sources? When might it be best to use other sources? What do your teachers expect in terms of authority in a bibliography? How do the edit histories reflect the quality of the articles?

Pretty good questions. How do you guide your students?