The following writing samples were submitted as my MLIS capstone project at the University of Alabama.
Philosophy of LIS Practice
My professional interests in the library field have changed since I began my first library job. Back then, it was just one of many part-time jobs I was working at the time to make ends meet, and was only meant to last until I could find a job in my intended field of public policy. Yet, as I began learning more about the then-current state of libraries, particularly the way that library was frequently taking on new roles that had previously been filled at city hall or a social worker’s office, I began to suspect that libraries were a much more efficient and effective way at creating the kinder and more just world I had envisioned. Thus began my library career, setting me on the path that would lead to me enroll at the University of Alabama.
I believe libraries must remain flexible, promote creativity and problem solving, and be willing to try new things to fulfill changing needs in the communities they serve. The public library is one of the only public goods that exists to educate, entertain, and service community members of all ages, and can and should serve as an incubator for new ideas and services. Librarians and administrators should have the confidence in themselves and their institution and professional support of those in charge to dream big, explore their roles in the community, take risks -- fail sometimes -- and keep trying to find the best way to realize their values locally.
However, we must do so within the confines of stringent ethical guidelines, especially those that protect patrons’ privacy and right to private inquiry and those that ensure patrons’ right to equitable access to information and resources. Within this exploration and reevaluation of library roles, we must not lose sight of our raison d'être -- providing access to information and ideas, whether we’re helping patrons write a resume, find a DIY legal services book, or figure out the order of the ever-growing Alex Cross series, and serving as a public good. As stated by Seale in 2016, “the public good of libraries lies in the provision of an arena in which people may freely speak or otherwise express themselves, receive the expressions of others, and access information so as to become informed citizens.” Unlike other places where users could go for assistance that would charge them or commodify their needs, the library provides service and asks nothing in return but the courteous treatment of staff and fellow patrons. We see this even in the language we use for our library users; while some libraries call their users “customers,” “patron” remains the prevailing term. It comes from the Latin word patronus (defender) which, in today’s Romance languages, became the word for the person in charge.
Trusow explores the topic of the role of libraries in the face of growing commodification of public goods at great length, and his article from 2014 was very transformational for me when I read it in my first semester at the University of Alabama. Coming from an academic background that focused on the social implications of economics, it granted me a greater perspective on the unusual role of the library in a service economy.
My drive to remain flexible, open to change, and patron-centric could be relevant at all types of libraries. I currently work in a public library, and hope to find work nearby as an academic librarian in the future. Even so, I plan to remain active in my local public library as an advocate and potentially as a trustee, and hope to bring this same energy to academia.
While I entered this program with almost a decade of library experience, this program has enabled me to better serve my community by putting everyday practice into ethical, philosophical, and historical context, as well as put me into contact with librarians from other communities and libraries to expand my understanding of what libraries can be. I plan to continue exploring these possibilities in libraries on whatever path my life takes me.
Seale, M. (2016, Winter). Compliant Trust: The Public Good and Democracy in the ALA's "Core Values of Librarianship". Library Trends, 64(3), 585-603. doi.org/10.1353/lib.2016.0003
Trosow, S. (2014/2015, Winter). The Commodification of Information and the Public Good. Progressive Librarian, 43. http://www.progressivelibrariansguild.org/PL/PL43/017.pdf
Understanding the Role of Technology
While at the core of library services is human interaction and capabilities, the degree of services provided by any institution is often reliant on the technology at their disposal. The increasing availability and affordability of software and hardware that can be used for LIS purposes creates a continually changing environment in which services can be created and altered.
One of the most influential technological changes in library services is the increasing digitization of resources and the availability of open access software. Before, accessing certain resources and information meant sending requests to an interlibrary loan library and waiting for them to find it, scan or copy it, and send it to you. It could significantly pause research. Now, that process is unusual, as most new research (and a large amount of old research) is available digitally and easily findable thanks to the use of metadata. Even at our small public library, I was inspired by my coursework to undertake a digitization process of our local history holdings on the Omeka platform, making them available online and searchable using a controlled vocabulary and cataloging using Dublin Core.
Technology is also opening up to avenues of service, something that has become much more apparent during the shutdowns of the COVID-19 crisis. There are several paid services available for librarians to connect virtually with patrons for reference interviews or to simply provide relevant information to the community, but there are also open source alternatives for more technologically-savvy librarians. While these cannot replace the importance of in-person community that the library provides, these are necessary services to reach otherwise unreachable patrons and to remain relevant in the face of patrons’ changing expectations for how they reach forms of customer service.
Please see my work samples below, in which I discuss the importance of metadata in library collections, changes in the digital nature of library reference services, and being aware of potential risks to library and patron data.
Metadata and Libraries. Submitted as an assignment for LS 513 at the University of Alabama in 2019.
Rona-Reference: The Digital Shift in Public Library Reference Service in Response to COVID-19. Submitted as an assignment for LS 567 at the University of Alabama in 2020.
Using Evidence to Inform Practice
Librarianship is a dynamic field, continually responding to changes in patron needs and the technology and tools that are available. It is necessary for librarians to be able to ask questions, critically assess evidence, and use that knowledge to develop standards and praxis in the field. Yesterday’s successes, based on past evidence, are not necessarily indicative of future success.
There are several examples to draw from, but in the work samples below, I focus specifically on two areas in which evidence-informed decision making is necessary based on changing conditions and needs.
In “The Politics of Access in Scholarly Publications,” I answer a series of questions relating to copyright, monetization, and access in scholarly resources, particularly as they relate to issues of open access and database subscription costs. The rising cost of academic publication access is a complex issue that involves all academic libraries, but affects smaller and larger library systems much differently. The current system of continually-increasing database access costs is untenable; decision-makers at academic libraries and publishers are facing a reckoning in which they must consider the evidence of what is at stake and their role in the process.
In “Nontraditional Outreach to Nontraditional Students,” I look at the ways that academic libraries must frame outreach differently when serving nontraditional students. The makeup of a typical university student body is changing, trending away from recent high school graduates and including more returning adults, parents or caregivers, full-time workers, and even homeless students. Typical outreach efforts, which based on past evidence have been successful, must change in light of this changing data, as the needs of full-time, on-campus eighteen year olds are much different than those of other adults with more superseding responsibilities at home or work.
The Politics of Access in Scholarly Publications. Submitted as an assignment for LS 501 at the University of Alabama in 2020.
Nontraditional Outreach to Nontraditional Students: How and Why Academic Libraries Must Reach Low-Income Parents. Submitted as an assignment for LS 531 at the University of Alabama in 2020.
Articulating Philosophy, Principles, and Ethics
Having entered the MLIS program with many years of library experience, what benefitted me the most in this program was developing a better understanding of the principles and ethics of library and information studies and how it relates to everyday library practice. Nearly every course drew back to the ALA Core Values or the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy, and I found these to be very illuminating.
I chose the following three writing samples from my coursework to highlight three separate aspects of LIS principles and ethics.
In “Library Service in the Age of Unreliable Revenue,” I look at the troubles public libraries face in making long-term plans and providing service when funding is unstable or effected by economic downturns. Library administration and those making funding decisions face a difficult task in balancing service needs with fiscal responsibility and budget sustainability. I also argue for a change in the way libraries are funded to provide more equitable, sustainable service.
In “Professional Ethics and Data Exhaust,” I look at the responsibility libraries have in stewarding patron data and maintaining freedom of anonymous inquiry. Again, this requires a balance - more collected information can lead to more personalized or improved services, but that library becomes responsible for handling the accumulated data. Plus, some patrons resent having their data collected needlessly.
My final sample is a lesson plan and rubric for a one shot presentation I gave on the 2021 Illinois criminal justice reform omnibus, HB 3653, along with a link to its associated LibGuide. I greatly enjoyed this assignment, which was a public policy one-shot that was woven through with information literacy themes based on the ACRL Framework. I believe it is important to weave information literacy principles and concepts into presentations given to patrons or students. (One scholar referred to this as “hiding the broccoli in the brownies.”)
Library Service in the Age of Unreliable Revenue. Submitted as an assignment for LS 501 at the University of Alabama in 2020.
Professional Ethics and Data Exhaust. Submitted as an assignment for LS 566 at the University of Alabama in 2020.
One Shot Lesson Plan: HB3653, the Illinois Criminal Justice Reform Bill: What is does and does not say. Includes associated LibGuide. Submitted as an assignment for LS 527 at the University of Alabama in 2021.
Practicing Social and Cultural Justice
A typical library user would most likely not identify the practice and promotion of justice as a role of the library, but all of the library’s roles arguably cumulate to that very value. Pursuing equitable access to information and resources, advocating for diversity, and protecting the status of the library as a public good are all active responsibilities and values of librarians, and tools in the practice of social and cultural justice.
In the writing samples below, I focus on the ways in which public libraries can practice social responsibility in the dissemination of information.
In my analysis of “Information Sources of Latin American Immigrants in the Rural Midwest in the Trump Era,” I analyze a study that investigated the information-seeking behaviors of Latin American immigrants in rural Midwestern communities in light of increasing hostilities towards Latino immigrants as a result of then-President Trump’s discourse. The article highlighted the importance and necessity of understanding the information needs of marginalized or threatened community members, their information needs, and interacting with preexisting networks of information sharing.
In “Accuracy and Civil Discourse,” I argue that it is within the role of public libraries to proactively promote factual news that affects their communities, rather than only responding to inaccuracies that arise. In sum, libraries should normalize truth, walking a fine line in which they provide information equitably to fulfill patrons’ needs but do not engage in “bothsidesism” that legitimizes lies or propaganda.
In addition to these works, I would like to also mention the importance of a diverse collection. While the promotion of social and cultural justice can and should include large-scale initiatives, we cannot forget the good work that occurs when patrons, particularly children, are able to briefly see through the eyes of another via literature.
Analysis of "Information Sources of Latin American Immigrants in the Rural Midwest in the Trump Era" article from Library Quarterly. Submitted as as assignment for LS 501 at the University of Alabama in 2020.
Accuracy and Civil Discourse: The Role of the Public Library in Promoting Factual News. Submitted as an assignment for LS 530 at the University of Alabama in 2021.