Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Questions about becoming a librarian (Part 2)

From: Part 1

Question: What does a librarian do?
Reply: How much time have you got for my answer? :)

Ok, my personal answer is at the end of this post. First, in typical librarian fashion, let me refer you to information that's already available out there.

A colleague recommended this webpage, which I found to be quite good if you want a detailed overview (er... did I just use an oxymoron here? Anyway, you'll see what I mean). The information is by the U.S. Department of Labour.
Most librarian positions incorporate three aspects of library work: User services, technical services, and administrative services.
[Last accessed: 28 Sept 05]
Though it's focused on the U.S. context, that section on "Nature of the work" is general enough to represent most librarian-related jobs, covering a wide range of specialisations -- public libraries, academic, government/ institutional etc. You can probably skip the rest of the webpage as the rest of the information is very U.S. specific.

Here's something about the responsbilities of a librarian working at NUS libraries:
Your responsibilities include acquisitions and cataloguing of materials, indexing of newspapers and journal articles. In addition to promoting the library collection and services, you will assist users to identify the relevant sources of information and conduct user education programmes. You will also assist in the development and administration of library IT applications.
[Last accessed: 28 Sept 05]
I'd say what's listed there is quite typical of the job scope in academic/ university libraries. You can also generalise it for research and privately run corporate libraries.

Here's what the NLB website says about tasks that a NLB Librarian performs:
  • Selection, management and development of library collections
  • Implementation of service standards
  • Supervision of staff
  • Promotion of library awareness programmes and user education
  • Participation in project teams to develop services, facilities and collections
  • Possible areas of specialisation: public relations, systems work, media services
[Last accessed: 29 Sept 05]
Of course you don't necessarily do all of the tasks (e.g. not everyone supervises staff). But you'd probably do most of it if you've been at the job after a certain time. It's really a matter of degrees.

Unfortunately I didn't have time to do a more throughout search for library job postings for other institutions like NTU and SMU. You might want to email your enquiry to AdultServices@nlb.gov.sg ask@nlb.gov.sg. They'd really save you time (I'm not just saying this because I'm responsible for that service. If you're not satisfied with our service, email me).

My personal take of what a librarian does: If you've bothered to read thus far, chances are you might find some of the earlier terms unfamiliar and generalised, or too job-specific. So here's my version in hopefully more familiar terms.

As a librarian (particularly one how works in Public Libraries), you're a:
  1. Retail/ Sales Executive (you help people with their "purchase", advising them on what "product" to buy or use)
  2. Marketing Executive (you have to publicise the library's services and products)
  3. Event Manager (organising programmes and activities)
  4. Trainer (you may conduct training for public or colleagues)
  5. Talkshow host (you chair programmes and events; facilitate book discussions)
  6. Administrative Executive (lots of reports to write; you may have to manage budgets)
  7. Inventory/ Store Manager (the books and information resources are your products; you might acquire, or recommend, materials to be added to the library)
  8. Security Officer (you have look after the safety and well-being of those who use your premises)
  9. Customer Relations Executive (you deal with customers, both the nice and not-so-nice ones)
  10. Project Manager (you may have to organise and lead projects; you most certainly work in teams)
  11. Researcher (you answer reference enquiries and help customers search for information)
  12. Writer (you write book reviews, for example)
  13. Coach (you might end up mentoring or directing staff)
  14. Customer (you read; you have to; enough said)
There's probably a few more to add, so feel free to comment.
(Coming up: Part 3)


Monday, September 26, 2005

Questions about becoming a librarian (Part 1)

One reason for this blog is to give non-librarians an insight into what a public librarian might do. Of course I am NOT the only public service librarian around; what I do is NOT the definitive Public Librarian job scope; I do NOT blog everything about what I do as a public service librarian. Truth be told, I'm more in a management position (but hey, management and librarianship are not mutually exclusive).

OK, let me share something that I believe most librarians would have experienced. Whenever someone ask us what we do (usually out of politeness), and we start to answer, we're likely to have the following responses:
  1. The other person's eyes glazing over;
  2. They give the perfunctory "Oh, that's nice" response, but they really don't have a clue what the heck is it that you do, except that you work at "The Library".

So I thought blogging a little of what I do (i.e. show-and-tell blog-style) might be a more effective way, especially when people tend to Google nowadays. There was a chance of people doing a google search, picking up a (Singapore) librarian's blog, and learning more about the things ONE particular librarian does.

What I did not expect was people contacting me to ask about careers in librarianship.

It's a bonus of sorts. I think one would have to first understand a bit about what a librarian does, before one got interested in being a librarian. So I'd hazard a guess that I've met one of my initial objective in a small sort of way.

Of course I don't get tons of enquiries about being a librarian. To date, I think I've got 3 or 4 emails asking me what a librarian does (and at least 2 of them were interested in applying to NLB to be one). And recently, these comments posted here. Maybe I should start getting an exact count.

I've heard librarians say that Librarianship is not respected as a profession. I don't profess to have answers to resolve that image problem.

But I know first-hand that blogging about what we do is one way to connect with our customers and potential colleagues to the profession.

And I most certainly agree with this quote from Cluetrain:
There’s a new conversation between and among your market and your workers. It’s making them smarter and it’s enabling them to discover their human voices. You have two choices. You can continue to lock yourself behind facile corporate words and happytalk brochures. Or you can join the conversation. (p. ixi - Foreword)

(Next, Part 2)

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Science Fiction & SciFi authors blogs

Was surfing around for ideas and references for an article I'm writing (for an upcoming internal publication -- you'll hear about it later).

Discovered that Asimov's Science Fiction website features SciFi-related blogs. There's also a whole bunch of SciFi author blogs, here.

If any of you know of more SciFi blogs, feel free to post here.

I'm also interested in Fantasy/ SciFi+Fantasy related blogs & author blogs.


Friday, September 23, 2005

What else have I taken for granted lately?

It was refreshing to read "10 reasons to blog" by Marie-Chantale Turgeon (via Kevin). Marie wrote:
I started this list a while ago, not really to explain to others why i was blogging, but more for myself to understand, why the hell i was blogging. What does it had to do in my life, why it caught my attention and why it quickly became an habit - even skipping a day or two could make me feel that something was missing.

Unlike Marie, I don't feel that I have to blog daily. I don't. But at times I would ask myself if it was worthwhile maintaining this blog, since I only blog outside work hours and blogging does take up my personal time.

So it was nice to be reminded by Marie of why I, too, blogged (which was to let people know more about what a public librarian does and to publicise the library service) and why I've continued (because I'm getting some positive results, judging from the emails and comments received to date).

And then there's also the part about self-expression. Plus the friends and librarians met as a result of the blog.

Things that I've taken for granted.

Thinking about that led me to think about libraries and books. At any one time I have at least 5 books borrowed from the library, sitting on my bookshelf. Ever since I started working for the library, I've found fewer reasons to buy books when I could borrow most of what I want.

It would be unthinkable if there were no public libraries. Can something like that happen? It's pretty remote at the moment, but who's to say? I'm not taking things for granted.

So what can I do about it?

I tried to think of some elegant answers to impress the readers of this blog, but in the end my most honest and simple answer was, "To serve the library customers well".

Extending the thought-experiment further, I listed more things that I've taken for granted lately and the list was endless -- Family, Health, Job, Money, Food, Water, Good Neighbours, Economy, Government, World Peace...

Simply mind-boggling and almost leading to a self-induced depression and catharsis.

What will I do about it? Can I do anything?

Heck, I figured I'd just do the one thing I can do, right there and then -- I went over to my wife and squeezed her hand a little harder.

She asked why I did that. I said it's because I read a blog post by someone called Marie. She gave me a funny look. I gave her a longer answer (see the above).

I got approving nods in silence.


Celebrating Knowledge conference: 13 - 15 Nov 05

Doing my bit to publicise the following major event organised by NLB:
National Library Board, Singapore is organising a 2-day Conference on 14-15 November 2005 in conjunction with the official opening of the new National Library at Victoria Street, Singapore. This Conference will provide a platform for information and knowledge professionals, librarians, academics and consultants to exchange views and ideas on the future and the impact of new digital technology on the library and learning. As a prelude, a Welcome Gala Dinner will be held on 13 November 2005 to promote networking opportunities.
More details at www.nlb.gov.sg/conference2005 (or www.nlbconference.com)
You can download the programme sheet and check out the speakers, here.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

"Produser": Distributed Creativity

I just learnt a new word (or concept) minutes ago: Produser.

"Producer + User", where users become "active producers of content in a variety of open and collaborative environments".

This is what I gathered from reading this post about an upcoming lecture (Sept 28) by Dr. Axel Bruns. He will be lecturing on grassroots participation in "open" online environment and also conducting a workshop on the notion of the "produser".

Unfortunately (for me), Dr. Bruns isn't in Singapore. He's lecturing at SUNY Buffalo, New York. But fortunately, thanks to technology, Kevin would try to record that event for me (is he a swell guy or what?).

We were just exchanging a few lines over Instant Messaging (did I say technology was great?) and he said he'll try. I won't hold it against him if he doesn't have time to record it. I'm confident someone who attends the session will blog about it.

(BTW, I should mention that Kevin & friends created a blog to create an online community for Singaporeans in Buffalo, NY. The blog is aptly named "Singapura".)


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Making mooncakes

I watched my wife make a batch of mooncakes this afternoon -- the 冰皮 ("Bing Pi") type -- literally "Ice Skin" or "Snowy Skin". Decided to blog it for future reference (and also as an example of blogs as learning tools).

My wife used this book as reference. Page 100 has the recipe and instructions for "Snowy Moon-cake with Lotus Paste":
Singapore Hawker Food/ Jimmy Chua

ISBN: 9882021204
NLB Call No.: 641.595957 CJ
Click here to check for item availability.
The set-up: Here's her kitchen setup. I've included notes in the Flickr image to explain what the equipment and utensils are used for (click here, or this image below):
01 Setting Up

The dough -- The 冰皮 is made from fried glutinous rice flour, icing sugar, shortening, pandan essence, and water. No baking required for this type of skin. Divide the mixed dough into equal portions.
02 Skin
Tip from my wife: Don't make too much unless you intend to use them all. Leaving the excess dough in the fridge tends to dry them out.

Rolling the skin: Take a ball of dough and roll it, like so:
04 Roll the skin

That's what the chopper is for -- to pick up the rolled skin:
05 Remove rolled skin

The fillings -- you don't have to make this from scratch. My wife used ready-made fillings. She divided them into equal portions and for this batch, she added almonds.
03 Fillings

Interlude: Mooncakes, Lanterns and Legends
The Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, is also known as the Mooncake or Lantern Festival. Round 'moon' cakes with a variety of sweet and savoury fillings appear in shops, and paper lanterns of all colours, shapes and sizes are also sold.

Several interesting legends are connected with this festival but, basically, the mooncakes signify unity and a cycle completed - traditionally, the end of the farming year and an abundant harvest.
Source: www.sg/explore/people_festivals.htm#midautumn
Some references to the legends associated with mooncakes here, here and here.

Putting it together -- Cover up the ball of filling with the rolled dough...
06 Roll up fillings

... and place the whole thing into the mold. My wife swears by wooden molds. There are different patterns to the molds. Nowadays, there are even designs with Japanese Manga characters.
07 Insert in mold

A mooncake is born! There you have it.
08 Finished mooncake

My wife packages some of them to give away to the neighbour and friends.
Homemade Mooncakes

They are called 月饼 in Mandarin (月= "Moon"; 饼 = "Biscuit" or "Chinese cake"). You're supposed to eat them while gazing at the moon.

One of these nights, my wife and I (with our dog) just might go downstairs to the common garden area of our HDB apartment block, with a flask of tea, a tealight (in lieu of a lantern), a box of homemade mooncakes, and gaze at the moon -- or pretend to, if it's a cloudy night.

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Sept 11, 2005 IM chat: "Changing the World, One Friend at a Time"

Julian and Sarah beat me to the post. Julian even posted a transcript of the session.

Session started at 2pm (Singapore time). The session was scheduled for 1 hour but extended by 40mins because of the lively discussion.

We called the event "East Meets West" and the East did indeed meet the West (TRL in the East and JRL in the West; Singapore in the East and Sugargrove in the West). More than that, there was the meeting of minds, I think.

It wasn't even about September 11, per se.

In the end, it's clear that the adopted motto was, "Changing the World, One Friend at a Time" (adapted from Beverly's original comment: "maybe one friend at a time we can make the world more friendly and more like home")

Clinical analysis:
Total participants = 20 to 22, excluding NLB librarians/ staff. Of the 20 or so, 4 were from USA (offsite), 1 from Philippines (offsite), 15 from Singapore (2 logged in from offsite) and 2 offsite participants (location unknown).

Majority of the participants (75%) were under the age of 22 (so we had more teens!. The remaining were in the early 30s. The youngest was 11 years old, and the oldest was 45.
live Chat from Sugargrove
Beverly, Sugargrove PL, shares this photo of her at the laptop, IMing away. Her library stayed open at 1am on Sept 11.

If I were to categorise the discussion points, it might be as follows:
  • Food (favourite foods, what we consider as weird food, durian and how it taste like)
  • What we do in our free time
  • Difference between "Moslem" and "Muslim"
  • Do you think teens today have a goal in their life or just drift and get by?"
  • On teenagers leaving home when they reach adulthood
  • Influence of media on awareness of current affairs
  • On the recent hurricane disaster
  • What does it mean by making a difference in people's lives

I was moderator for the session and given the dynamics of the chat format, it could be tricky. I calculated that there were about 6 responses every minute, or one comment every 10 seconds.

Discussions did get sidetracked and there were side conversations but overall, participants stayed on track. Moderating the IM chat was essentially the same as a face-to-face discussion, except at a faster rate.

Selected quotes:
"the more we talk the more I see parallels in our lives - all these miles and cultures apart"

"Thanks for the clarifications re "muslim." we have a huge population in the philippines and there's been a lot of conflict--it's still there--but most of them live in the south, so i haven't had much contact."

The teens' response to the question of whether teens have goals in their lives:
  • "i think most teens i know, have some sort of goal...but its usually quite hazy"
  • "Goals seem to change as one grows up"
  • "parents are so caught up with their own work that they dont really give us much attention"

"i think that in Sugar Grove we understand very little of what life is like away from our country"

"understanding" seems to be such a BIG word now. i've been to the US and to singapore, but i don't remember actually having discussed cultural differences. i guess i just took it for granted that i was different... and left it at that."

"i think this was a great starting point for folks from singapore, philippines, india, and the US of A to meet and find out a little more about what it's like over in each other's country/culture, but maybe in future we could arrange for a more convenient time for those on the north american continent, so we don't outnumber them so badly."

"maybe one friend at a time we can make the world more friendly and more like home"

"thanks for presenting this idea to the world, or at least our corner of it"

I see the event as an example of the public library's role in proactively facilitating conversations and ideas beyond geographical boundaries. When we get comfortable doing that, the promotion of books, ideas and information can take place seamlessly. The number of participants isn't important. The quality of the conversations is. The transcript has a good record of that.

OK, it would be ungracious of me if I don't thank the following:
  • Kelana, Rachael, Hui Hong, Hwa Shan, Lin Li -- my colleagues who deserve ALL the credit for working on this event.
  • Beverly Holmes, Director Sugargrove Public Library, Chicago Illinois USA -- this inter-library event wouldn't have taken place without you.
  • Sarah & David, co-organisers of The September Project -- I'm indebted to your support thoughout.
  • Folks at Tomorrow.sg, who posted about the event (or specifically, Preetam, ssf and cowboycaleb)
  • The participants -- Tracy, Alison, Vernon, Julian, Preetam, PJ, Alywin, Christopher, and those teens who didn't leave their names -- thank you for your participation. I truly, honestly think that you people are changing the world. You just don't know it yet.
I sound mushy, don't I?

Who cares?

Events like this humbles me. I realise -- again -- how small I am in the scheme of things. You don't pull such events off alone.

Events like this makes me proud to be a public service librarian.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

SGEM/ East Meets West: What our teens had to say

Discussion point posed to the teens; they were asked to continue the opening statement: "Why do people..."

Their responses:
"... Betray each other?"
"... Ask questions?"
"... Answer questions?"
"... Have narrow views of beauty?"
"... Idolise idols?"

Some of the answers to the last response:
"It keeps them alive."
"They want a purpose in life."
"I idolise my father. Why? He's a role model for me. He's resourceful. He's good, kind hearted. He helps me. That is why I love my father. That is why I idolise him."

9th Sept. TRL (in the east of Singapore) and JRL (in the west) hosted a total of about 80 students (15 to 16 year olds).

The students were participating in the Speak Good English Movement (SGEM) event which involved a "Dramazing Race" in the morning (i.e. a race that has drama and information-seeking elements), and a "East Meets West" Digital Video-conferencing/ 'live' IM chat in the afternoon.

The discussion topics were based on what we posed for the Sept 11 'live' chat with Sugargrove Public Library (Chicago, Illinois), Jurong Regional and Tampines Regional in Singapore.

SGEM 2005 - 9sept05 002
TRL Auditorium: IM chat session, with the discussion points on Language, Culture, and Lifestyle.

The teens were asked to express their thoughts. Which they did.

Students from one side expressed their views and participants from the other library responded (one segment was via IM chat, and the other part of the session was via Videoconferencing).
SGEM 2005 - 9sept05 003
TRL: Students at TRL at the foreground, with a video-conference shot of students at JRL.

I couldn't mulit-task; keeping up with listening and noting down what the teens were discussing. It didn't help that the technician on standby (I was in the sound control room) was chuckling away from time to time from the humourous remarks that some of the teens made.

What's clear to me was that these teens have lots to say. My estimate was that each student spent up to one minute at least at the microphone, expressing their thoughts or providing a response to a comment from the other side. And it was their intelligent and earnest expressions that mattered.
SGEM 2005 - 9sept05 005
Student at TRL exchanging views with counterpart at JRL via videoconferencing.

Part of the reason for trying out videoconferencing and IM for this event was to add that I.T. element to the discussion for teens. We wanted to experiment with different modes of communication with the teens, just to see what happened. Sure, we could've done a face-to-face discussion but I think it wouldn't have been as exciting (wish I could show you the video, with the teens cheering and luckily no jeering).

I observed that in general, the students were more expressive verbally than over IM. Interesting... perhaps IM was closer to writing, and that required more thought that just speaking their minds.

After the event, my colleagues and I did a quick round up of the day's event and we noted a few major points we had to tighten up regarding the IM session for Sunday.

It was apparent that the moderator's presence had to be established right at the beginning particularly for an IM chat. Otherwise, the teens were just trading comments with no real substance. Sort of like an aimless discussion that led to nowhere (isn't that applicable to lots of things in real life?).

[p.s. Check out this awesome IM event between two libraries, one in Singapore and the other in the US: Sept 11, 2005 IM chat: "Changing the World, One Friend at a Time"]

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Join the IM chat between Singapore & US libraries -- Sunday, Sept, 11 2005

Here's an event that my colleagues from the Adult & Young People (AYP) services & Programmes (PEM) have been busy with for last few weeks:
In rememberance of Sept 11, log in for a 'live' chat based on the theme of "How much do we understand each other". Chat with people between 13 to 35 years of age from Sugar Grove Public Library (Chicago, Illinois USA) and Jurong Regional & Tampines Regional libraries in Singapore.

When? Join our 'live' chat via Instant Messaging, on:

How? Login to one of the following (depending on whether you have MSN or Yahoo! IM):
  • jrl_chat_msn (MSN IM name)
  • trl_chat_msn (MSN IM name)
  • SugarGroveInfo (MSN IM name)
  • jrl_chat (Yahoo! IM name)
  • tampines_chaty (Yahoo! IM name)
  • SugarGroveInfo (Yahoo! IM name)
What if you can't make it for the chat session? You can still join the blog discussions at the Sugar Grove Youth blog - http://sugargroveyouth.blogspot.com

Some people might ask, "Why are libraries involved in Sept 11? Why talk about Sept 11 at all?

My short answer is: "It's about Community, not Geography"
For a longer answer... I'll post it separately.

Additional information on "Instant Messaging":
1. What is Instant Messaging?
(IM) - a text-based computer conference over the Internet between two or more people who must be online at the same time. When you send an IM the receiver is instantly notified that she/he has a message.

2. How do I Instant Message?
We are using Microsoft's MSN Messenger and Yahoo! for this event. Participants would have to download and install your own Instant Messaging (IM) program.

Open a new message and type the library's IM name in the To: field OR add us to your buddy list, then double click on the library's IM name to open an IM window, and type your message.

3. Where can I download an Instant Messaging Program? Free downloads are available at http://messenger.msn.com/Download/ (MSN) and http://messenger.yahoo.com/ (Yahoo!)

Adapted from: http://www.lansing.lib.il.us/im.htm

Monday, September 05, 2005

See Jackie Chan in person at the National Library

From the NLB website:

Panel discussion: Jackie Chan & Stanley Tong on Asian Cinema
Join international action superstar Jackie Chan and acclaimed director Stanley Tong, in a discussion on Asian Cinema and more!

Date: Sunday, 11 September 2005
Time: 7.30-8.15pm
Venue: Drama Centre Level 3, National Library, 100 Victoria Street, Singapore 188064

Free admission but registration is needed. To register, please email us at asq@nlb.gov.sg.
Registration ends on 8 Sep 2005. Please bring along the confirmation email from NLB for admission.

Remember! Registration required, and ends 8 Sept 05.

I wasn't sure if I should post this at all, 'cos Singaporeans who visit this blog might already know of the event. OK if you're local and you don't know this newsflash, drop me a comment so I'll know to highlight such stuff in future. To non-Singaporeans who might be reading this, Jackie Chan is the action movie star from Hong Kong.

If you all notice the title of this post, I wrote "See" Jackie Chan, not "Meet" him. I bet it's going to be soooo packed that most people can only catch a glimpse of him.

No, I don't think I'll be there. If anyone's blogging about it, drop a comment here.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

"Simple Book Repair" that's not so simple

The Dartmouth College Libraries have put up a web-based manual on book repair (va ListNews.com).

They call it "A Simple Book Repair Manual". I took a look and woah, it's not so simple. If you think preservation work in libraries consist of only scotch tape and glue, well think again. :)

In the context of libraries, people talk about Preservation and Conservation work as two separate functions.

Till today, I still have difficulties trying to differentiate between the two. Just when I think I get the difference between the two, I quickly get confused again because they seem so similar. I shan't even try to offer an explanation of how the two are different.

Maybe you can make some sense of it from this article on Careers on Preservation Librarianship didn't really help.

Think I'll stick to Public Librarianship.

Blogging course: Afterthoughts

Conducted two sessions (2 hours each) with Rajen today: one in the morning, and the other in the afternoon.

2 hours per session may not seem like much but phew -- it's tiring to be a trainer. I appreciate the work that Rajen does even more. Not to mention the many teachers in schools. Salute!

There seemed to be one grouse from the participants of both sessions -- too little time! They wanted to know more, but we couldn't, given the time constraints.

You know, most people tend to be polite when you ask them to complete the feedback forms after the course, or when you ask them how it went for them. I usually take the positive comments with a pinch of salt and pay more attention to the not-so-positive ones.

We were pleasantly surprised that quite a number of feedback forms had fairly detailed comments on what they found useful; what they had learnt.

It's clear that most participants started with the perception that blogs were "frivolous musings of teenagers with too much time on their hands". So we showed them what else blogs were good for.

I got a kicked out of the look on their faces when Rajen told them, "See, it's not just for teenagers. You people are now blogging. You're a blogger too."

Whether they actually want to blog after today isn't the point at all. There might be one or two who continue to be skeptics. But at least majority can now make an informed decision for themselves the next time they read or hear something about blogging.

Days like this, it feels good to be a librarian.

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