Friday, February 03, 2006

Interview: a student perspective

This interviewing thing is fun. Maybe if the librarian gig doesn't work out, I could try to find work as a talk show host.

Next up is Sara Zoë Patterson. We actually met through this blog and have been emailing back and forth a bit. We've never met in person. She wins a prize for correctly guessing where one of my job interviews was (and I thought I was being so discrete and vague). Sara Zoë works in a high school library in Hampton, NH, as a library facilitator, and she just started the distance MLIS at Rutgers.

Heidi: You've already told me you're not an ALA member? Why not?

Sara Zoë: I guess I'd ask you, why? My boss is, out of a feeling of obligation and duty. And what does it get her? Used to get her free Oprah books for our library, but we haven't seen them lately. And the American Libraries publication is the most irrelevant, fluffy, waste of paper I've seen. We can't afford to buy stuff from them for Banned Books week, or Teen Reading Week, even at the member price. I do appreciate what they do on behalf of intellectual freedom.

H: Is there an ALA student chapter at your school?

SZ: Probably. There are many student orginizations at Rutgers, and their members are very dedicated, as evidenced by my always full email inbox. I considered joining ALA as a student member, but on the website it says you have to be full time, which I'm technically not, and it wasn't worth it to me to see if they would really hold me to that.

H: You mentioned that you had a chance to go to a big conference (well, a free ticket to the exhibits, at least) but you decided not to go. Why?

SZ: I couldn't figure out why I should go at the time. Now I realize I could've at least gotten plentyo'free schlock. And I could have skulked around meeting people I've only met online. But at this time last year I wasn't clued into those things or those people. So at this point I would travel an hour to go for free. But I'm not sure I'd travel much further, and I'm really not sure I would pay money. Part of that is my own newness and cluelessness.

H: But you've been to state level conferences, right? How did you find the experience?

SZ: I actually love going to conferences. I've been to several, I've spoken at one and will speak again this year. I love the content. Hearing new ideas, talking to people about what they are doing and what their experiences are - that's why I love the concept of blogging so much and why I read so many. It's like conference content all the time - someone presents, and then there is a nice conversation about it after. So I've been to NH state library conferences, New England regional, and several times to a NH technology in education conference. I always come back jazzed up with either an idea to implement or something that alters my thinking in some way.

H: What kind of benefits/value would you look for or expect from ALA membership?

SZ: This is the rub, isn't it? People aren't interested in ALA but they can't be specific about what they want, either, can they? My boss and I had a good talk about AASL today - (I'm not totally committed to being a school librarian, but being in a school library makes it very relevant to discussion - and by not committed, I mean I'd like to explore public librarianship a bit) - and she was outlining the places where she finds AASL falls very short - in communicating how to deal with NCLB, and practical info on moving to a standards based curriculum. To get back to your question, ALA has always given me the impression that it is an organization for public libraries primarily. And if so, no biggie. Us other kinds of libraries have other organizations. But it should be more honest about this. Maybe ALA should slim down and do what it does well - fight intellectual freedom fights. And stay out of job availability prediction altogether.

H: You just started your MLIS, right? Was ALA introduced to you as a professional resource when you started your program?

SZ: Real ALA was not introduced, but the Rutgers chapter of ASIS&T was, in a big way. They helped out at our orientation, student members tutored us through a lot of techy stuff, recruited us and so on. Oh wait, now I went back to look at some things to make sure I was giving you the right names of the organization, and I realized our listserve (for all Rutgers MLIS students) is called LISSA after the Rutgers student chapter of ALA. Maybe the website will be of interest to you. At any rate, I didn't realize it had anything to do with ALA.

H: As a library student, do you feel connected to ALA? In what way?

SZ: No, but I'm interested. I'm glad to see ALA blogging, I subscribed to the YALSA blog and have been really pleased with its range and relevancy thus far. I think ALA itself is just too far-ranging to be that relevant to that many people - there are just so many sub-groups - so this model of having the subgroups blogging works for me.

And I know this is dumb, because as a future librarian I should have the curiosity and wherewithall to find this out myself - but I want someone to personally tell me why ALA matters to me. I am looking for some sort of personal recommendation, and I just haven't seen that. All the bloggers that I read don't love it, my mentors and people around me don't have any use for it. I don't really have that much connection to the grad students who are further along than me, except through our listserve which is populated almost entirely by messages about lost cats and books for sale and trips to various libraries in NJ.

H: Are you as involved in library professional organizations as you would like to be? Why/why not? What factors affect this?

SZ: I am a member of the New Hampshire Educational Media Association - the school library association. I've been invited to serve on the scholarships and awards committee - but I turned it down because I want to apply for said scholarships and awards. As a member, when I talk at their conference, I get no reimbursement - but I do get into the whole conference for free! - and I could get gas comped if I really needed it. Also if I have to stay overnight because the conference is far away they will put me up - though its usually a room sharing situation - all this is to say that the dinky little NH organization is doing better by its people than ALA at this point.

Back to the point - I will probably join the New Hampshire Library Association soon, I've been meaning to do it, and there are a couple of committees that I'm interested in - the state's teen reader award, for one. These organizations are pretty small, but that keeps them relevant. It's easy to email the person in charge and suggest something - you may get an email back saying, "Great! Go for it!" because everyone is very volunteer and part time, but things happen, statements get made that create action. We fight our own fights here for issues of keeping funding where it should be, keeping state standards or improving them (as we got passed last year) to improve student access to libraries and librarians. Since we are small, we can be quick on our feet. Of course, we have a smaller pool of people to draw from, and in the ebb and flow of things there are years where the people running the organization are not so progressive or hard working.

One thing that gets me as involved as I am (which for a para, is a lot), is that they sought me out. They saw my webpage, saw the stuff I was doing with digital audiobooks, and came to me - which was flattering. But it was individual. And they kept in touch.


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