Adventures in Library Promotion: Buttons

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since my last post, but for a good reason. In January I took a new position as the Head Librarian at the Toronto Botanical Garden‘s Weston Family Library, and since starting in this new role I have been busy, busy, busy. The TBG is home to the largest private horticultural library in Canada, and includes materials in the broad area of domestic horticulture. “What’s that, though?”, you ask? For the most part it’s floral arrangement and design, gardening, herbs, plant biology, ornithology, garden and plant history, literature, biography, landscape design and architecture, green roof information, sustainability initiatives, urban agriculture, balcony gardening, food security, wildlife, plant identification, etc. It’s an amazing specialized collection, and I’m thrilled to be working there.

One of my responsibilities as Head Librarian is to actively promote the library’s collections, services, and programs. I tackle this through a number of traditional means, such as brochures, bookmarks, on the web and using social media, but most recently I had a new and exciting idea: buttons! Now I know what you may be thinking… it’s not new (and some may not think it’s very exciting), but I’m ready to change your mind. Buttons are cute, inexpensive to create, trendy, and if done properly with creativity, they are a lot of fun. I should also state that I’m referring to 1″ buttons, not their 2.25″  “uncool” distant relative that we’ve seen throughout our lives. Also, some people call them “pins”, but I don’t.

A preface and some context to my newfound interest in buttons: Every year, the Word on the Street Festival takes place in participating cities across Canada. If you haven’t been before, it’s a celebration of books and magazines, authors, publishing, literacy and everything in-between. This year in Toronto it will take place on September 23rd at Queen’s Park Circle, from College Street all the way to Bloor. It’s a terrific and free event that draws hundreds of thousands of people annually. This year I was very keen to have a booth for the Toronto Botanical Garden at the festival to highlight the library, host author signing, promote the TBG’s adult and children’s education, and overall to get the word out about the organization. It has been a blast to plan and co-ordinate the activities for our booth, and I’m getting pumped for the 23rd to be here. In preparation for the event, I wanted to have something to give away at the booth that would grab the interest and attention of passersby, and work as a tool to promote our presence at the festival and as a destination in the Toronto area. Clearly, I chose buttons. Luckily for me, another department at the TBG conveniently had a button-maker on the premises.

I got the idea from the University of Waterloo Libraries, who have been doing this for the past year or so. Check them out here. In the beginning I was just making buttons with the TBG logo, ones that say “Weston Family Library”, etc. Standard branding. However, things got really fun when I had another idea, to create unique, one-of-a-kind buttons from our discarded books. My library receives a lot (thousands) of donated books on a yearly basis, and depending on the relevance, need, and shape they’re in, we either include the donation into the collection, or we sell them for a few bucks. Unfortunately for the used books that are not sold (usually ones from the ’70s or ’80s about gardening), we recycle them or re-donate them to a Value Village. Since we have boxes and boxes of books in the last category, I thought, “Why not make buttons from the images and text in these old books? They’re being discarded anyway!” There is some really colourful, comical, and interesting (albeit, often not useful and sometimes harmfully outdated) literature that we discard, so I’m glad we can reuse these materials somehow.

It’s become a real hobby, and I’m even considering buying my own personal button making machine just for fun. Check out some of the buttons I made below:


Re-evaluating knowing “too much about too little”

Are the most desirable reference and research librarians ones who are subject-experts, or those who have excellent broad knowledge in many areas (i.e. generalists)? Lately I’ve heard a number of opinions on the debatable impediments of subject specialization (see Pereyaslavska’s article in The Courier, re: “being overqualified”), along with the advantages of being a generalist reference librarian.  Both of these positions disagree with my longstanding view of the benefits of a second Masters degree.

I am quite interested in this “debate”, for I have often thought that being a “subject expert” is what made excellent librarians (among other qualities, of course). The abilities to discover, interpret, evaluate, acquire, and recommend relevant information resources are what reference and research librarians are trained to do, and fundamentally, it is what sets us apart from other research professionals. I respect any librarian with a subject-specific affiliation (i.e. a second Masters degree), because they are familiar with appropriate thesaurus terms for specific databases, have seasoned knowledge of research trends, and overall, have a uniquely sophisticated understanding of a subject area. Having experience and background in a particular field can increase the quality of reference and research by being value-added, intellectual, rigorous, and more thorough. In the previous issue of The Courier, Pereyaslavska expressed her uncertainties about being too specialized, revealing that perhaps some academic reference departments prefer a generalist librarian.  She wrote that “I have been repeatedly advised by a number of academic librarians that my graduate background is too specialized to provide proper breadth for reference services, which may be expected at a general academic reference desk. Have I shot myself in the foot by acquiring my M.A., and do I really know too much about too little?”

In response to Pereyaslavska’s doubts, I respectfully and encouragingly disagree. At many large academic institutions, librarians work together to staff a general reference desk, responding to a broad range of reference inquiries. While a librarian assists an undergraduate student with research for their paper on a Feminist critique of The Watchmen, the graduate student next in line might require in-depth reference assistance in locating rare British Parliamentary Papers. Having an advanced-subject expertise in one field should not limit your approach and response to reference questions outside your specialization. Obtaining graduate-level education on top of the practical education of an MISt/MLIS can position someone far better for academic librarianship. In practice, specialists have more experience executing varying levels of academic research, and have had greater exposure to academic processes. In addition, there is more to academic librarianship than assisting at an information desk. Collection development and information literacy are two tasks that, when performed by a librarian with related subject-specialization, are inherently and exponentially improved.

Moreover, attitudes toward generalists and subject specialists can differ from one academic library to the next. Some will value that their librarians hold a second Masters degree in the subject for which they have liaison responsibilities, while others might appreciate a general and holistic approach to academic research subjects and processes. It comes down to workplace culture (Mayer & Terrill, 2005): the librarians at University X may value professional development opportunities, workshops, courses, learning from each other, and long-term exposure to providing reference to obtain a level of “expert generalism”. University Z might require that their librarians hold a second masters degree. I do not think that Pereyaslavska has shot herself in the foot. There is a great interest (and need) for librarians with higher and specialized education. They can often be found in management roles, and at well established academic institutions.

Qualities that make a formidable generalist librarian include being adaptive, resourceful, a quick learner and creative problem-solver. So far, my honours Bachelor of Arts in history and sociology, in combination with formal library training have made me a skilled reference and research librarian. Although not a specialist (yet?) and therefore a generalist, I am one who recognizes the need for both, and a mixture of each. As a librarian, I plan to pursue professional development initiatives, and to continuously expand my knowledge and abilities. With increasing experience and training, it is my aspiration to grow into the type of librarian that exceeds the generalist, but does not quite meet the specialist… Something which Smith and Oliva (2010) have termed a “renaissance librarian”. A renaissance librarian is someone with accomplishments in diverse areas, who possesses knowledge in many subjects. They achieve this through “broadening their intellectual horizons by cross training informally with each other and obtaining formal training from their colleagues and from outside resources.” They attend and participate at conferences, pursue professional instruction courses, read professional literature, and collaborate with team members (p.144). Renaissance librarianship is the way for me.


Mayer, J. & L. J. Terrill.  “Academic librarians’ attitudes about advanced-subject degrees.”  College & Research Libraries, vol. 66, no. 1, January 2005: pp. 59-73.

Pereyaslavska, K. “How much is too much and how little is not enough.” The Courier, vol. 47, no. 3, Spring 2010. Retrieved June 29, 2010 from

Smith, D. A. & V. T. Oliva. “Becoming a renaissance reference librarian in academe: attitudes toward generalist and subject specific reference and related profession development.” Reference Services Review, vol. 38, no. 1, 2010: pp. 125-151.

I <3 Veronica Mars

If you have never watched Veronica Mars… then you need to start! I’d heard of the show a few years ago, but it never really interested me because I thought it was just about a subversive girl with a catchy name, trudging through her high school years. Well, it kind of is like that.. but what I didn’t know, is that she is a detective! Stay with me here…

For any librarian who loves conducting research, helping others find what they’re seeking, and who really enjoys the problem-solving aspects of the profession, Veronica Mars will inspire and re-introduce how challenging and rewarding doing research can be. Librarians aren’t detectives, I know, but a lot of what research and reference librarians do is, in a way, detective work: Someone approaches you with a problem (e.g. reference question), you use the necessary reasoning to determine how to help them. You draw upon resources available to you, think of creative ways to find answers, and determine ways around obstacles to obtain valuable information. Veronica Mars uses databases, newspapers on microform, indexes, public search engines, personal contacts, libraries, police reports (classified information, but she has friends in important places), etc. She is a natural (and impeccable) librarian. Granted, Veronica Mars often uses unethical means to acquire information (trespassing, lying, disguising herself to mislead others, to name a few), her research tactics are brilliant, inventive, and almost always successful!

Plus, I love that she goes to the library. Give this show a chance. There are three seasons on DVD. You will be hooked.

Virtual browsing at the Judd Library

Yesterday I had lunch with my friend Marian and we got to chatting about cool, innovative, library stuff. She sent me an email when she got back to work and included links to some of the things we’d talked about. One of them was the Judd Foundation Library. I have never heard of the Judd Foundation, or Donald Judd, but I read this New York Times article and he seemed quite neat. Anyway, his personal print collection of 13,000 items has been preserved and a unique catalogue of its holdings has been made available online. I have never seen anything like it. Here are some details:

The Collection: The books that Judd collected are an intriguing mix of arts, culture, language, food, etc., from many Nationalities and geographic regions from around the world and throughout history. The organization of the collection was created by and for Judd himself. The items are shelved by geographic location, then by temporal characteristic, and then again by the subject of the item (e.g. France – Middle Ages – Pottery). A photo was taken of each shelf in the library, the photos were scanned, and every item from the individual shelves in each photo was tagged then catalogued with MARC records in AACR2.

The Online Catalogue: As a virtual library user, you can choose which shelf you’d like to see. You can browse the shelves in any direction, or move across the room to see what’s over there. Once you’re looking at a shelf, you can drag your mouse over the spine of the books to read a brief description (basic bibliographic information) of what’s there. To view the catalogue record, click on the description for more detail. There’s even a link to the WorldCat record for the item, so you’re able to find a lending copy nearby!

My initial thoughts when I started browsing were, “This is awesome, I want to do this at my library! But it’s such a bad idea…So time consuming… I wonder how often they have to update photos of the shelves, re-tag the books…” I suddenly had an “AHA!” and “Duh!” moment at the same time. The personal library of Donald Judd will never change, because he’s dead, so there’s no upkeep required to maintain the online catalogue.

A virtual shelf-browsing tool is an advanced but perhaps far-fetched reality for small libraries and special collections. Either way, it’s fun, original, and more than anything, it’s an inspiring tool and access point for hidden collections. Play around with the Browser here.

Neat, eh?

GLOGSTER: a tool for creative expression (with awkward incentives for re-use..)

Last night around midnight, my colleague Monique Flaccavento (@mflaccavento) Tweeted:

I had to laugh because I could just picture Monique awake in her house, worrying about keeping abreast of trendy web services and social networking tools. I also laughed because she’s just really funny. Either way, I became curious about “Glogster” and started to investigate.

Glogster launched in 2007 as a platform for the creation of “posters” (kind of like web pages) to express oneself creatively and artistically through the use of both multi-media and text. It simplifies the practice of “creating” on the web, and fosters a space where a wider spectrum of abilities can craft and personalize their message. Inherently it encourages its users, or “gloggers”, to experiment with a wide range of visualization tools. This multi-facetted aspect of blogging is what makes Glogster unique. Basically, it’s the fusion of a traditional text blog, Tumblr, YouTube, and MySpace.

Some positive remarks about Glogster:

  • Glogster is very, very easy to use
  • It’s a great tool for classroom or group exercises, web promotion, and personal art-work/displays
  • Combines music, video, images, and colour with “limitless” customization
  • It’s FREE

Some critical remarks about Glogster:

  • Reading through the FAQ, there are several spelling and grammatical errors. Am I just picky, or does that rub other people the wrong way? I think it reflects poorly on the product and the leadership behind it.
  • The Glogster policies on “inappropriate content” are simultaneously both alarmingly open-ended and brief… see the screen-capture:

  • Why limit hate to “race” and ethnic background? What about every form of prejudice? I think a Muslim would feel offended by statements against his/her religion, and would deem it to be “inappropriate content”, as would a female to misogynistic language. Glogster admin. should update these policies to be more inclusive.
  • The creators of Glogster have added strange incentives for users to interact with, and even promote their site. They present users with “G-points”, described as “a reward for your activity on Glogster. Simply put – the more active you are, the more G you have. This includes creating good Glogs, inviting friends nd telling the world about Glogster. Promoting your Glog online and embedding it is worth most Gs” [Could you spot the typo?]. Further, the creators try to encourage (more like peer pressure) users to compete towards earning the elusive ‘G’: “People with a high G count are the most respected Gloggers. If you have lots of Gs, it means that you’re an elite Glogger.” Hmm.. Interesting ploy, but I’m not a fan of the incentive program. The subjective practice of deeming Gloggers’ Glogs to be “good” can leave others (whose consequently aren’t “good”) with the sentiment that their creative expressions are somehow less appreciated or valued.

Given the infancy of Glogster, I expect that its policies and services will expand and develop over time. The primary usership is teenagers (as you might notice from a quick glance at the page of “Best and Fresh Glogs”…), but a diversity of user groups exist. Additionally, see Glogster EDU marketed for use in the classroom (or the library, for you librarians out there with instruction responsibilities).

To end, read this hilarious review of Glogster by TechCrunch, it’s amazing. If you had a Geocities website a decade ago, you’ll appreciate the article even more.

2010 National Diversity in Libraries Conference

As a new young professional (not a yuppie, I promise) I have big dreams of attending conferences, and budding anxieties of presenting at them. I love to talk about libraries with library-people. It is an actual interest and favourite pastime of mine, and I wish I had MORE librarians as close friends. I’ve attended a couple conferences in the past and will certainly branch out to attend others, but as a result of their (often) costly admission and far or remote locations, sometimes I simply just can’t justify it.

I recently received word of a library convention called the “National Diversity in Libraries Conference” (NDLC) held in Princeton, New Jersey from July 14-16. The 2010 theme of the NDLC is “From Groundwork to Action.” The fundamental principle of this conference speaks loudly to me owing to my social beliefs, lifestyle as a minority, and my interests in multiculturalism, accessibility, and cultural pluralism. I visited the homepage for the conference and read about some of the sessions and speakers. The range of topics is unanticipated and impressive, and I’ve become increasingly interested in getting to Princeton in mid-July. Here are some of my favourite session titles:

  • Speaking up: Providing staff training and tools for dealing with diversity issues on the spotLinda Klimczyk, Jeff Knapp, Loanne Snavely
  • Much ado about Tintin? User services, collections, and racially offensive materials in librariesAngela Maycock, Loida Garcia-Febo, Julius Jefferson
  • Differently diverse: moving libraries beyond ADA compliance to full inclusion for allMs. Clayton A. Copeland, Dr. Linda Lucas Walling, Ms. Peggy Kaney, Mr. Avery Olmstead

There are also others that address literacy and youth, equal opportunities, libraries as safe places, and sensitivity training. One topic that I would like to have seen represented more is the impact that legislation such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act will have on both public and private libraries. Granted, the NDLC is an American conference, I’m sure similar legislation has passed South of the border that will affect accessibility planning for public spaces. It’s an interesting project to consider in terms of library project management and inclusiveness. (Perhaps I should have written a proposal, eh??). The third title listed above has to do with the Americans with Disabilities Act and this could touch on my idea, but from the abstract seems more about diverse aspects of access.

You might glean from the titles I’ve highlighted that my interests surround inclusion, accessibility, and eliminating heteronormativity and hateful language, both in literature and spoken by persons. These are important issues that continue to require the attention of all levels of library staff… and unfortunately they don’t exist in a library-vacuum (made that up) but persist in many occupations and public services. In my current workplace I’m happy to say that I hear a great deal of inclusive language (e.g. “my Partner and I…”), and I think this kind of behaviour generates a culture of acceptance and kindness.

I hope that everyone who attends the 2010 National Diversity in Libraries Conference has the best time and learns heaps from each other. I’m jealous that I can’t be there, but hopefully I’ll attend the next one (it’s biennial), in 2012!

Suuuper Sessions at the 2010 Super Conference

At the end of February, Ontario Librarians will come together at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to celebrate the Ontario Library Association Super Conference. For three marvellous session-packed days, Librarians from all sectors (Public, Academic, Government, School) convene to share knowledge and learn from each other. It’s a pretty great thing! In 2009, I volunteered as a graduating student and attended a session about digital libraries in public schools of remote communities in northern Ontario. This year, I look forward to volunteering again, this time with Knowledge Ontario’s AskON booth. On Thursday, February 25th I’ll be demonstrating the reference chat service, and will answer questions from visitors.

Additionally, I hope to attend one or two sessions on the Thursday. Unfortunately, there are several sessions of interest to me that conflict with each other. Here are my top few to choose between:

9:05 AM

While studying at FIS, I worked as a Graduate Student Library Assistant at the Data, Map & Government Information Centre (a mouthful, I know, but is acronymed as “DMGIS”). This job was amazing: rewarding, challenging, and I learned A LOT every single shift. However, it was often frustrating when/if a historical item from the collection was missing, or was never acquired (due to being rare or brittle). What is great about digitization initiatives (as well as Open Access developments), is the ability for other institutions to share their historic and rare collections through digitization! This session outlines these initiatives, and I would REALLY like to attend.

9:05 AM

This session strongly appeals to me for a few reasons. The first is that I am a huge fan of Academic Librarians who research, publish, and are ambitious about contributing to library and professional literature. Next, it is one of my major professional goals to one day work as an academic librarian (collections, research & reference, electronic resources or serials), and I hope to succeed in generating papers about my library and work. Thirdly, (and similarly), I think it is vvvvvvery important for librarians in academic settings to legitimize their status and role as tenure-track librarians by maintaining a culture of research.

Those are the two conflicting sessions for 9:05 AM. Below are the 3:45 PM sessions that I have to decide between:

3:45 PM

NOT ONLY is this session being convened by Marian Davies, a past conference collaborator, co-author, and present friend, but I am greatly interested in topics surrounding minimal funding in collections management. Solutions to, and the cause for some of these problems fascinate me, including aggregators, subscription agents, platform providers, the “serials crisis”, Open Access initiatives, etc. This would be a good session to attend!

3:45 PM

I love digitization projects and community/local histories. Period. I’d be interested to learn how Knowledge Ontario approached the project, what strategies were applied, and what obstacles (if any?) that they faced. During the Summer of 2007 I worked at the Oshawa Public Library, and digitized a collection of local history materials with optical character recognition. After this experience, I came to appreciate and realize the ability to access historical materials online. It is absolutely amazing, and increasingly necessary.

3:45 PM

Open Source Software is something that I barely understand, because of my limited knowledge of coding, etc., but I recognize it as a valuable and cost-saving alternative to proprietary system platforms. This sounds like a good learning opportunity, and I wish it was at a different time!