GURU INTERVIEW: KAREN G. SCHNEIDER
Marylaine Block interviews the Director of Librarians' Index to the Internet <http://lii.org/>.
MB: Looking at your resume, I'm intrigued by your background as an aircraft maintenance specialist in the Air Force. What made you decide to enlist? More importantly, what did you take with you into your library career from 8 years in the military? What did you learn about yourself?
KGS: I joined the Air Force because I was broke. I stayed in eight years because it was interesting. The things I learned were that I like change, I like feeling competent, and I like being in charge. What I brought to librarianship was an appreciation for excellence and an understanding that every role in an organization is important.
MB: What then moved you to go to library school?
KGS: I had worked in libraries since I was 16, and it just made sense. I never stopped liking intellectual pursuits, and this is, at heart, an intellectual profession.
MB: You were teaching internet training courses before web interfaces existed, which means you saw the internet's useful potential for librarians earlier than most library professionals did. What did you see it doing for libraries at that point?
KGS: Let's take it back to when the word became manifest for me: in library school. In the fall of 1991, I, along with many other students, was introduced to the rudimentary Internet technologies (ftp, telnet, etc.) at the UIUC [University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign] GSLIS. I could just tell. It was like the first time I installed Mosaic and I saw what the graphical Web was like; it had the future of librarianship written all over it.
MB: You went to American Libraries back in 1995 and told them they needed an Internet column, and that they should hire you to write it. Did you feel the profession was already behind the curve in responding to the potential benefits and problems the net would bring us?
KGS: I still feel that way. I feel we have a very narrow window of opportunity to change or die, to quote a favorite sig file. Many of my peers are now in middle management, and it is up to us to move up the ladder and lead the way.
MB: Tell us about what you've learned during your first year running the Librarians' Index to the Internet.
KGS: It's not so much that I learned this anew, but in the first month, I printed out something told to me by my friend and colleague Sara Weissman, and this mantra is still over my desk: "If you want an enterprise-wise initiative, if you want everyone to be involved, at some point, as leader, you have to accept a certain bumpy, uneven quality of work and just lead them through it to comfort and consistency."
MB: What's it like to take over a monument? How free do you feel to set new directions?
KGS: My assumption has been that I was hired to bring vision and direction to this project, so I feel flattered that I am considered worthy of the task. I feel very responsible for its survival, and work hard to take care of it. I inherited a project that some people had extremely - shall we say - codified opinions about, in terms of governance, growth, and new directions. I have played the role of the iconoclast so often in my career that it doesn't faze me to lead in the direction we need to go. I feel free to develop new services and to weight priorities, but I have to keep in mind that if our major funding sources don't care for our direction, they may not fund us.
MB: Is there any way my readers and I can assist in the long-term survival of the LII?
KGS: Keep insisting that it is what it is: a major, long-standing project of national and international significance. What would kill lii.org is parochialism and narrowness of service direction.
MB: And for information about the state of LII funding during California's budgetary crisis my readers can look at your "Message about our Funding Situation" at http://lii.org/search/file/funding. Incidentally, congrats on the partnership with the Washington State Library (what's left of it) to develop the Washington State Librarians' Index to the Internet [http://wa.lii.org/]
KGS: Don't write them off just yet. And this project is going great -- but it's only one of several projects we have going on, incidentally. We are doing one with SFPL http://sfpl.lii.org/ and we also did a terrific project creating over 350 digital collections in cooperation with the California Digital Library [http://www.californiadigitallibrary.org/.
MB: You were well-respected in the profession within a few short years of getting your LIS degree. Any suggestions for new librarians who'd like to advance in the profession and have the kind of impact and influence you've had ?
KGS: Publish, get involved, and stay involved. There are no end of opportunities at the state and national level. The Internet has provided some of the best methods for new and even grizzled librarians to share ideas, groom their skills, and advance professionally. Lists such as PUBLIB, Web4Lib, DIGREF provide great forums, and new capabilities such as blogging and RSS bring new stars such as the amazing Blake Carver, of LISNews.com, and remarkable Jessamyn West, of librarian.net, out of the woodwork.
Don't be shy to do something bold on your own. Frankly, it takes grassroots activity and organizing to move us forward as a profession. This may sound overly grand, but (as a reader of civil rights history) I'm always impressed by how much change begins from local, low-budget, entrepreneurial activities (and conversely, how little happens from enormous top-down "task forces"). I started TIFAP (The Internet Filter Assessment Project) because there was no top-down leadership on the issue of filtering. I also participated on the Internet Room Steering Committee, which even before it was a formal LITA activity was a band of brothers and sisters dedicated to bringing Internet access to conferences, because ALA didn't "get it." A few of us are now discussing how to bring wireless to San Diego. We know we've succeeded when the powers that be coopt our ideas--but that's o.k. as long as we meet our objectives
MB: Also, do you want to talk about what you learned from your various librarian jobs and your stint as an entrepreneur running your consulting business, Blue Highways http://bluehighways.com/?
KGS: What I learned is that if you stop thinking about the tasks and focus instead on the people you serve, all librarianship is really the same. Sometimes people slip and refer to "when you were a librarian" or "when you worked in a library," and I know better. What I'm doing at LII is library work. It may not look like the library work you do, but we are a library service, and we are staffed by real, breathing librarians who know their stuff.
MB: Thanks, Karen. It's been enlightening.
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What we (as interlocutors for our readers) need is not indiscriminate warehousing of ephemeral Web sites, but selective, intelligent, targeted collection development — exactly what librarians have always done and, by and large, done well in service to their local communities. In clear distinction to the prevailing dynamics of the Internet — "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control," to borrow a documentary film title — we need to be deliberate about what we gather, control carefully what we do gather, and even more deliberate about discarding information.
"What Is a Library Anymore, Anyway?" Michael A. Keller, Victoria A. Reich and Andrew C. Herkovic. First Monday, May, 2003 http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue8_5/keller/index.html
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