Monday, 27 October 2014

Identity, gender and libraries

Today, my French blog turns 3 years old! To celebrate, I decided to translate one of my most popular (and personal favourite) blogpost (original version here). I wrote it after attending my first ever librarian conference at Paris Book Fair in 2012.
Two and a half years later, I own up my librarian identity with more strength, but I'm still churned up by all those questions...

I didn't count how many of us were there, that Monday, pressed against each other to be reassured by our governing body on the future of our profession. So, I didn't count, but it was absolutely obvious. There were only women. Well, there was a handful of men, including two on stage, but the feminine mass was unbearable. And I felt a powerful uneasiness yelling in my head that I wasn't supposed to be here. I should have known, though. I know the numbers. But it was the very first time that I was witnessing an actual librarian gathering, and I was shocked.

I'm really annoyed to admit it, but I'm deeply ashamed to have a girl's job. It might go back to my science studies during which, each year, the proportion of female students diminished. I felt at home amongst my male peers, I was happy to be on my way to a man's job (I don't have any numbers, but let me assure you that Earth sciences researchers are mostly male), to show them all, to corrupt the system, to indulge my pride. But I finally understood that muddy outdoors research wasn't for me and a part-time job as a library assistant led me to Higher Education libraries.

Higher Education, that wasn't that bad. Research libraries were even better. Anything not to become a "kid's librarian". I'm not maternal, I'm not girly, I don't like pink. I don't identify with female professions, and children librarian seems to be in the top three of girls' jobs, amongst kindergarten teacher and nurse. And housewife. So, when I got a new job in Higher Education and was asked to take on the "youth literature" collection, it hit me hard.

But why? That's so stupid! I'm ashamed of a job I love! I'm ashamed when I think of turning towards public libraries so as to move back to my mountains more easily. Ah! I was good in school, I should have gone for a man's job, opening the way, thwarting the glass ceiling, rather than going for lower female tasks! I'm ashamed, when I introduce myself, to say what my job is. It sounds like a failure. I'm "only" a librarian. So, very fast, I add: I work for a university! I work with students and professors! I'm not that librarian, the one who reads to inattentive classes, who shush children from behind her desk! No, that's not me! No! No?

But why do I have, engraved in my brain, all of those idiotic prejudices? I do rationally know that public librarian is a great and indispensable job, made of communication and popularisation, and I'm sure I'd love to do it, to make it mine. It actually was one of my ambitions, when I began thinking about going towards information sciences: how great would it be to popularise the sciences I love so dearly in a public library! How I would like to promote reading and culture in my town!

So why are those sexist pictures pinned on the walls of my brain? Why "youth librarian" stays a female noun in our mental dictionaries? Where are the men? Show them to me! They should give themselves up! They should promote themselves! They should tell us of their joy and pride to do this wonderful "girl's" job in those numerous public libraries around the country! They should reinvest those professions from which they had withdrawn, taking with them the value, the prestige, the big names and the high salaries. Let us have some real equality, a world where caring or meticulous jobs are really welcoming all genders, where little boys can look after dolls and dress in pink without being pointed out by the rest of their community.

In the end, I feel guilty to think that much about it. As Caitlin Moran, I'm asking: "are the boys doing it?". Are the boys worried about the gender balance of their professions, do they spend hours banging their heads against walls to try and decide if, by choosing the job they chose, the lifestyle they live, the shoes they wear, they aren't deserting their gender, they aren't letting their comrades down? No, do they seem to say, too preoccupied behind their computers, behind rows of cots, behind the wheel of their lorry, crouching in front of the 305.42, looking for a missing book.
"Then, we can use the technical term, and call it bullshit."
They don't care. So we shouldn't care either. And move forward, rather that staying there pondering over and over. Let's just hope that our daughters may never feel this stupid failure feeling when choosing a job that is neither male nor female. Just a human's job. And, what's more, a really cool one.

Licence Creative CommonsPicture taken myself at the Père Lachaise, Paris, in March 2012.
Both text and pictures are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Stationery Love

At first I read Library Goddess's post on "The Power of the Post-It", then came Twinset & Purls' one about her notebooks, and the sparked conversation on Twitter, #stationerylove.
So, really, I couldn't resist.
I've written a little post about my organisational tools on my French blog, last August, but didn't translate it for one reason or another. So, maybe the time has come to tell you here about my notebook compulsions...

I've been on the lookout for the perfect organisational tools for quite a while. It's quite an obsession really. I like to be on top of things, and that means that I need to always remember what, when and how... From a medical appointment to my writing projects or the training sessions I'm giving at work. I don't feel good if everything's not under control.
So I've tried a lot of online stuff, like automated to-do lists or specific apps... But, as much as I like a good spreadsheet, for my day to day mess, that's not working for me. The only digital thing I've stuck with is Google Agenda. It's the first thing I look at on my phone or when I open my computer, even before my emails or Twitter notifications...
But for all the rest, I'm a paper girl.


A long time ago, I decided to use only one journal for both my personal and professional stuff. I tried to have two different ones but I really prefer being able to write down everything in one place: if ideas for my grocery list come up in the middle of the day, it goes in my journal. If I remember an activity I wanted to try with a group of students in the middle of the night, it goes in my journal. Everything goes in the same place, so it's a bit of a mess, but at least I'm sure to have everything on hand.

My current journal, decorated by my lovely sister, Julia.

Why a paper notebook? Well, first because it's pretty. (Yes, it counts. A lot.)
And because it enables me to draw a little, to create mind maps and even to some art journaling when I feel like it, without having to try to find and learn to use the best software for whatever I want to create.
Also because I love writing by hand. I think better when I'm writing. Moreover, I write a lot during my commute and, you can say whatever you'd like, typing on a virtual keyboard isn't the most practical thing ever.
Finally, I'm a much faster note taker when I jot them by hand during conferences and workshops. Because I love abbreviations and big arrows that go all over the place. So I tend to think that it's worth it to have to type it all up when I come back from a study day. And that's always good to get some order back into the sometimes sibylline presentation structures of some speakers...

A bit of mind-mapping in an old journal.

To-Do Lists

One of the most important part in my journal are the weekly lists that I update every Monday when I arrive at the office. On a double page, I write down on one side my professional to-do list and on the other my personal one.
For my pro one, I use the technique of the Bullet Journal.
I tried their index system but quickly gave up: I just don't have enough pages about particular themes for it to be worthwhile. I might try and use this technique instead, that I learned about through @LibGoddess and @alkegw. It's simple and elegant. But for now, I use bookmarks made of masking tape. It's pretty and I don't have to number all of the pages anymore.

Masking tape bookmarks in one of my last notebooks.
The monthly calendar is not that useful to me either, since I'd rather use my Google Calendar and other paper stuff, but I really like the idea of the monthly to-do list, in order to highlight the big projects coming up.

Calendar and to-do list for August.
So one of the only things I've really kept is the "Bullet List" technique of the Bullet Journal. You do circles for meetings, squares for to-do items and sub-lists when there are several things to accomplish for one single project. I used to add colours by theme (Chartership stuff in light blue, training sessions in green...) but now I use colours to highlight urgent stuff instead (see below). And I use different types of pens to distinguish my professional lists (in felt pen) from my personal lists (in ball point).

My To-Do Lists from last week.

Finally, to decide on the priority level of tasks in my list, I use this technique: the idea is, instead of doing the easiest or least unpleasant first, to go through your to-do list by following this model:

To adapt this model to your own job, replace "training" by your main mission.
I do first things that would go in the area #1: those who will have the most impact on my training with minimal effort. Then I go to area #2 (high impact but lots of effort), #3 (low impact and low effort: those are often the most amusing tasks) and finally #4 (low impact, lots of effort).
Sometimes, I highlight my priority tasks with little stars in front of the bullet. Just because. And sometimes, I do low importance tasks before higher impact ones, because I'm just human and nobody's perfect. And it's much funnier to update the library's Twitter rather than running after unwilling tutors who don't want their students to be trained on EndNote.

The right journal

Last, I wanted to say a few words about choosing the right journal. I began with Moleskines, which are beautiful and practical but so damn expensive. So I moved up to random ugly notebooks that I found for free. But ugly doesn't do it for me. I want beautiful objects to write in. Beautiful and cheap. So, when my relatives aren't giving me beautiful journals (like the one at the top of this post), I try to diy my precious notebooks. I just buy a £2 notebook from Sainsbury or wherever and I cover it with beautiful paper from Paperchase and lots of glue.

One of my latest journals, hand covered an all pretty!
I'll keep doing it for my next journals except that I think that I'm going to move to 100 pages notebooks (instead of 200) so as to make my handbag a little lighter...

Monday, 13 October 2014

Library anxiety

This post is a translation from Thomas Chaimbault's post in French, "L'angoisse de la bibliothèque". His blog, Vagabondages, is an essential one in the French libraries' blogosphere. He writes about libraries and information sciences, mostly from an Higher Education point of view (he is in charge for information skills training in an Higher Education setting, in Lyon). If you can read enough French, I definitely recommend to add his blog to your reader and to follow him on Twitter!

In 1986, Constance A. Mellon formalized the concept of library anxiety.

This anxiety is supposed to be concerning quite an important number of readers, to various degrees, and would refer to both an anxiety of the library as a place (in its size, its fitting, its organisation and the classification of its documents) often considered as unclear, and of the library as a mean to find resources (services, resources, training...). It's a strong psychological barrier keeping students from using the library in an efficient manner, on site and online.

The Anxiety of Searching for a Book, UCLA

1. Theorizing Library Anxiety

In her grounding article (which at least, formalized the concept, since other studies had already showed some apprehension of the public), "Library Anxiety: A Grounded Theory and Its Development", published in College and Research Libraries in March 1986, Constance A. Mellon describes a study carried out over two years about the students' feelings when beginning a library search. The results are clear: 75% to 85% of students mention a feeling of fear when using the library for the first time and this feeling is even more present when the time comes to do a search. An analysis of personal writings of students allows her to also identify recurring themes of fear, confusion, of being of out of their depth, lost, without resource, still at that fateful moment of the information search. It's by connecting those anxiety feelings linked to maths or tests that she coins this notion of "library anxiety".

This anxiety can be translated in several ways:
  • Fear of the library as a place, often described by its impressive size;
  • Not knowing where to find information, nor how it's organised;
  • Lack of self-confidence concerning how to conduct a search;
  • Fear of the librarian him/herself with a refusal of asking for help;
  • Feeling like they're the only one not to understand how the library works;
  • Feeling of paralysis when starting an information search.

From there, students seem less focused on their work and can't do their searches correctly. Mellon specifies: "Students become so anxious about having to gather information in a library for their research papers that they are unable to approach the problem logically or effectively". It can even result, according to the research of our American colleagues on this topic, in the failure of obtaining a diploma (Onwuegbuzie and Jiao, 1998).

Without going that far, other researchers have shown since then the permanence of this negative feeling towards libraries (Bostick, 1993), while Jiao, Onwuegbuzie and Lichtenstein fleshed out the concept, explaining that those feelings could have cognitive, affective, physiological and behavioural consequences directly interfering with the carrying out of informational tasks (Jiao, Onwuegbuzie and Lichtenstein, 1996).
This anxiety is considered as a unique phenomenon, specific to the library environment and not in connection with the general anxiety linked to the first years of higher education. Even though it has been suggested that some of its dimensions, like asking for help, can be linked to character traits independent from libraries, no empirical proof has been provided to support this proposition.

2. A measurement scale

In 1992, Sharon Bostick proposes a measurement scale to detect and evaluate the potential anxiety caused by the library on students. This scale identifies several areas carrying anxiety:
  • Barriers with staff: staff members are perceived as intimidating, inaccessible and anyway too busy or having other more important tasks to do rather than helping readers;
  • Affective barriers (perceived informational skills): the student feels incapable of doing searches and of using the library as a place for resources, this feeling being reinforced by the idea of being the only one to be lost and confused;
  • Being comfortable within the library (as a physical space): a feeling of comfort, security, of being welcome in the library, also linked to the layout and furnitures favouring or not how students are welcomed in the library;
  • Knowledge of the library (internal organisation): the student doesn't understand how the library is organised, doesn't feel familiar with it, feels frustrated;
  • Mechanical barriers: feeling linked to the machines, equipments, computers... A student having a hard time using machines is susceptible of developing a deeper anxiety.
[download the Bostick scale]

In 1997, Owuegbuzie adds:

  • Resources anxiety: frustration related to the resources availability, especially linked to not finding full-text during an online search.
Several research studies have then focused on this anxiety's origin, trying to detect direct or indirect antecedents. If no direct antecedent was revealed, several indirect antecedents were then proposed, with situational, contextual or dispositional (that the student brings herself) origins.

Source: Library Anxiety: Theory, Research, and Application by Anthony J: Onzuegubzie, Qun G. Jiao, Sharon L. Bostick

Among those variables, Jiao and Onwuegbuzie mainly identified:
  • Low level of perceived social acceptance;
  • Social injonction for perfection;
  • Academic procrastination;
  • Bad study habits;
  • Low reading skills;
  • Learning style;
  • Low computer literacy;
  • Low hopes to overcome hurdles linked to goals' pursuit;
  • Social interdependence.
Some of those research studies identify a complex link between this library anxiety and other anxieties linked to higher education, research, public communication; a whole set affecting the student more or less directly.

Source : Library Anxiety: Theory, Research, and Applications by Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie, Qun G. Jiao, Sharon L. Bostick

3. Fighting against library anxiety

Studies trying to reduce library anxiety focus on how to make the library more acceptable, comfortable for students by giving them either the skills to develop their knowledge of the space and self-confidence, or to reassure them concerning the normalcy of the phenomenon and explaining strategies to use so as to overcome its negative effects.

The idea is to work on the training provided, regarding its content as well as the librarian's attitude. Indeed, better trained students will feel more familiar with the space and will see their anxiety limited. More broadly, it means making it easier to meet professionals, getting students to understand and know that there will always be someone to welcome them, answer their questions without judging them and supporting them in their searches.

Simply recognizing such an anxiety helps reducing it. Thus, several proposals have been drawn up:
  • Recounting this feeling or similar experiences with more or less humour through videos or discussion sessions between students;
  • Telling students that bad experiences at various levels of information search are normal;
  • Talking about this kind of anxiety during training sessions.
But generally, the idea will be to get the library to become a friendly space, turned towards its users, to work on librarians behaviours, to provide a positive experience of the library as a space and to reinforce training sessions. So nothing extraordinary.

Several libraries actively work on the topic and don't hesitate to follow up on students who could be victims of this anxiety. For example, the Washington State University's library proposes a specific libguide giving leads on how to apprehend the library better or playing on the librarian's stereotypes.

Actually, we're doing the same and are also working through digital mediation to improve the user's experience, and thus to reduce this anxiety linked to the library. It goes without saying. But it's better to say it anyway.

To go further: