Deepening the Conversation

thinking about questions of authority, technology, learning, and 2.0 in academic libraries

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Reno Update #1

I’m long overdue for a status update!

Brief update: I have moved! And it is good. I am happy. Very happy. Happy has become my default state.

I’m really enjoying Reno. The West suits me, the mountains are breathtaking, the people are kind and generous and sometimes very wonderfully odd. Being new has good points, but I am starting to realize I haven’t been “new” in any substantive ways since 2005. And I’d forgotten how hard it can be, without touchstone people and the complete absence of anything familiar. It’s exciting, and wonderful, in so many ways. But as the shine wears off I suspect I will have to remember all those old strategies for how to be new (reading in coffee shops, picking up hobbies, remembering to leave the apartment…). Luckily, I want to do all these things!

So, gorgeous locale. Good people. Exciting work. Wonderfully friendly and collegial colleagues. Men who look as I believe men should (and even one or two or so who might be dating me…). A happy cat.

Less briefly: I knew coming here that my job wasn’t entirely defined. That’s cool though — it’s the first time ever I’ve take a job that existed before me, so it’s more defined than any other job I started! My title is Reference and Instruction Librarian. This semester there’s some reference work (at a combined service point, so for the first time ever I’m learning Circ stuff!). I won’t likely be doing any actual instruction this semester (due to timing) but am part of a number of groups and committees looking at instruction and I’m really enjoying all of that!

A number of folks have left recently (mostly retirements) and many jobs are being redefined, so the subject librarians will be working together to discuss the spread of departments amongst us, and hopefully what it means to be a subject librarian. I’m really excited about this kind of engaged approach to unit self-management, and am very excited about what I hope is an opportunity for us to build common ground about what we will be doing as liaisons. I’ve been reading widely on this topic, and am excited to dig in. (for what it’s worth, my take on this is relationships. It’s about building relationships.  Everything else flows from that)

There’s also enormous potential right now in Instruction. We do a lot of instruction, but not in structured or scaffolded ways, and we could be doing a lot more. I’ve had a lot of good conversations about what we might be doing in this area in the near future. Most is on hold waiting for the new GenEd plan to be released from the committee. SO MUCH POTENTIAL!! I’m pretty excited!

I do, however, need to start saying no. I’ve said no to a couple of things, and let’s hold off for a moment on a couple of others. But here is what I have said yes to so far (in addition to regular hours on the combined research services service point — which means I am learning a LOT about Circ!):

  • Summon implementation group. I’m a little over my head at this point, but that’s OK. The expectations are for me to have more input when we get Summon and think about how we want to display and teach it.
  • Teaching and learning group. This is the group talking about Instruction. Very exciting!  Below are some of the things we’re discussing and working on
    • first year IL
    • infoLit request form (ridiculous how many ideas I have for this!)
    • Thinking about how we advertise/market/talk about our services
    • We will discuss impact of Summon on. IL and on library/community interfaces
    • Hopefully, please soon, programmatically thinking about IL, about scaffolding, about goals
  • Pinterest. I have started a Pinterest board for the Knowledge Center. It’s not quite ready for prime time yet, but I’m having a good time getting to know our resources (and my colleagues. This is such a highly collaborative project!). The Knowledge Center has so many, and so many kinds of, great visual artifacts. More to follow on this front!
  • Freshman fair. I’m working with a colleague to design a freshman experience that is superior to the tours currently offered. I built something like this at Potsdam, and am excited to see what we can pull off on a larger scale here (more than twice as many students…)
  • Student advisory group. The fantastic Lisa Kurt and I will be working with student government to develop channels of input from students to the libraries. We’re not sure at this point if it will be a formal Advisory Group, or take some other shape. But I’m so excited to work with Lisa on this, and get to know our students!
  • Onsite user experience group I’ve asked to join this committee, and think I can make some valuable contributions. As Learning Commons Librarian I devoted a lot of energy to space use concerns, and Lisa is on the Virtual UX group, so between us we should be able to communicate student concerns & ideas effectively for the entire library environment
  • Library website task force. I just said yes to this. How could I say no??
  • Curiosity committee/subject specialists This is the group working to reformulate how we do liaison work, in relation specifically to faculty, but it’s brand new and has lots of potential. This is my Dean’s brainchild. Have I mentioned how much I love my Dean?
  • Usability group The always awesome Aaron Schmidt was here before I started, and showed off how to do quick and dirty usability testing. Two of my colleagues started this group of 5-6 of us to get the ball rolling, and make usability testing part of our culture. We had our planning meeting, and I am in awe of the speed at which we can make things happen here!

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It’s just 1 Thing….

For the past few months I’ve been getting situated in my position. I’m enjoying doing the technology training, and have modified my title (in my own mind) to Technology Training & Outreach librarian. It’s a good fit, and I’m always full of new ideas.

Some days it feels like I’ve not done much, but it’s good to remind myself  how much I’ve gotten done.

  • taken on training for the library CMS
  • a blog (for collecting training info into one place and for outreach, among other purposes)
  • relaunched for new purposes our in-house experts list (hopefully to use as a guide for a training plan)
  • I’ve dived into the literature on learning organizations
  • taken on and re-conceived my advisory committee
  • recruited librarians from across campus to contribute their knowledge to the Staff Development Blog
  • worked with IT to determine how I can best help support the Unified Communications roll out in the library
  • studied the approach to learning and knowledge sharing in my library
  • breaking down a project for 3 graduate students to assist me in developing
  • plotted a multi-directional approach to Technology Training
This last is really why I’m writing this post. I’ve got a whole bunch of things up my sleeves, and the first one was announced in-house today. In the next 10 days or so I’ll be announcing two more, and maybe a third as well. I have such a hard time working on things I am passionate about and also keeping quiet about them, so I can’t wait to tell you all about the rest of them. But I’ll be good, and for now, will just introduce One Thing at a Time!


One Thing at a Time is a new iteration of the very popular 23 Things technology training program. I’ve been struggling with how to build ongoing training into everybody’s workload (both the learners and the trainer) and came up with this. Instead of fitting a finite number of tools into a small window, I’m developing patience (if it kills me I’ll learn patience!) and will try to get my entire staff engaged in exploring one tool each month. The program will be primarily blog-based, but I’m also including a hands-on in-person session each month to work with folks who work better by doing-together. I’m definitely worried that we’ll never get to everything, but I’m trying to keep in mind that less is more, and  that life is busy. And there is so much to stay on top of, it gets overwhelming. The best way to get through it is to focus on one thing at a time. And build learning in a semi-structured way into a monthly schedule.

I just have to keep reminding myself this is only one thing. There’s that other thing I’ll be launching on Friday, and the thing I think I’ll have time to write up by next Monday. And that other thing we hopefully have formal go-ahead on and will be able to discuss soon!

Now, what was I saying about patience??


Day in the Life, 7, day 2

Today started before my normal arrival time with a planning meeting for an email migration for ~300 staff that was supposed to happen tomorrow. We have not been getting the communication we need to ready staff (and ourselves) for the migration, so we will hold off until we have the answers we need. I have small niggling fears that the noncommunicative unit may just go ahead and migrate us anyway, but we’ll see (fingers crossed!). I have reminded myself that I need to pull the training materials together and get all that organized

Got into my office, booted everything up, and made sure that the software I need for the (first!) one-on-one training I’m doing this afternoon has been installed, and confirmed the meeting. Found some graduate assistant help for preparing to send out training materials to the folks scheduled to migrate.  Spent an hour going through various emails and social networking accounts and browser tabs left open for my attention (yikes! some have been waiting for over a week!). Sent out training announcements to library staff, printed out a few calls for papers, and filed some interesting new articles that came across my search alerts.
Productivity gave way to collegiality when I had a nice surprise visit with a friend and colleague who has been on a long vacation. Chatting is an important part of workplace social glue, you know.
Began prepping to show a colleague how to use SnagIt. It’s been ages since I used it. And to refresh myself, I took the video tour. Wow. RTFM indeed — I learned an awful lot in a very short time! Which is great, because my colleague showed up 30 minutes early. The session went well, she got what she needed to get started, we discussed some other tools that might do what she needs, and she knows to call me if she needs more help.
I spent a few more minutes going through the interwebs and culling interesting stuff into the various places I send or keep track of things (Google Plus, Delicious, Twitter, Evernote, OneNote, Read It Later…). I came across a librarian blogging her personal 23 Things and found myself inspired! (ah, magical inspiration, that mythic leap from point A to point S with no traceable path:) Maybe it’s the Grateful Dead jamming away int eh background? Who knows?) . I’ve been wanting to set up a perpetual hybrid 23 Things-type ongoing training, and I think I know how now! I’ve put together a OneNote on the subject and am typing as fast as my fingers will let me — my brain is outpacing my wpm 🙂
A nice, slow, summer day in the life of a librarian.

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Library Day in the Life, part 5, Monday

Hi! I’m Rudy Leon, Learning Commons Librarian at the University Of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I tweet at rudibrarian, you can get me at that name on AIM as well. I have gotten very sporadic in my blogging, but I’m constantly struck at how different every librarian’s job looks, and am always happy to participate in Library Day in the Life events. For more Library Day in the Life participants, check out the wiki.

Today is my first day back in the office after a week out for research. I’m impressed with how completely I disengaged from the day to day during the past week, but it’s time to dive back in.

I arrive at work a touch after 9, early for my technically 10-6 day. It is now 10:11 and I have sorted through a week’s worth of email (so much easier to do over the summer!), checked over the automated test migration of my calendar (imperfect, but I think I can live with it), cleared time on my calendar for working on my portions of the Undergraduate Library’s Unit Annual report, and made a list of agenda items for my 11:00 meeting with my unit head.

This afternoon I am meeting with our newest staff member to introduce him to our loanable technology cataloging contact and make sure he has all the information he needs for taking on this responsibility. He’s a go-getter, tons of initiative and problem solving, and I am out of my league in understanding the relationships between his solutions and various things Cataloging and I have set up for automated report running and maximizing exposure of the loanable technology items. Cataloging is the area I am least knowledgeable and comfortable with and I wish there was a way I could stay that way and still do my job.

Meeting with Unit Head was productive, some issues around project management and graphic design were resolved, and we strategized how to become a battery recycling point for campus. We also decided to not promote our space as a polling space for the November elections and discussed details surrounding how to set up management of our two large displays, and also agreed on the main points for the inaugural meeting of my Learning Commons Council tomorrow.

Post meeting, I looked over email, dealt with the cataloging (again!) side of my lost DVD replacement workflow, and learned of a hitch in the current year replacement project, which has not yet gotten underway. Sent out an email about that, and then with lunch in hand got back to the computer.

Major emails of the morning included much excitement over the DMCA reinterpretation of Fair Use, finalizing the elections results for two Library committees, setting up a meeting about turning two quiet study rooms into video production booths, selecting protective cases for the iPads.

This afternoon will be the loanable technology cataloging meeting, a meeting to check in with my practicum student about her last two weeks of work, and then 3 blessed hours of work time. I plan to build the agenda for the Learning Commons Council meeting tomorrow, work on my contribution to the Annual report, and deal with some project management details. We’ll see what actually happens…

More later


Computers in Libraries: Day 1, the morning

It’s funny how long ago last week feels today!

If you’re just looking for the overview, here it is: Computers in Libraries is an amazing and inspiring conference, with lots of folks talking about innovating, in reality. What they’re doing, and how they’re doing it, and more than the usual complement of why they’re doing it. The name is only sort of fitting, as the conference really only covered a narrow slice of the possibilities inherent in the title. But it’s a great slice!

Also, for now it is a nice smaller conference, about 2200 attendees, plus exhibitors and others. It’s growing rapidly, and with some few growing pains. I expect the flavor to change pretty soon.

Lee Rainie gave a keynote that many previous attendees of CiL passed on (and next year I will probably do the same). He was inspiring and all, but I felt like I was in an ad venue somehow — too slick and shiny, and I honestly expected more substance and depth from the folks at Pew.

Interesting tidbits? (my comments are in green)

In the Information Age, Information is: abundant, cheap, and personally oriented.

If you include uploading pics to Facebook, 39% of online teens share creative content online. Personally, I think a distinction needs to be made between sharing content and creating content, but I get a little lost in the semantics. Basically, if my users just want to upload from the camera or their word processor, I can help them in certain ways. However, if they want to create online content (and I know I’m not pulling the right words here) then I the librarian need to have other abilities ad tools at hand: video editing software, graphic design tools, HTML editors, I don’t even know what else. Not making that distinction is unhelpful for telling me about the skill and engagement level of content creation behavior of teenagers.

Thirty-three percent of college students keep blogs and regularly read posts, although the distinction between blogs and the Web for students is growing increasingly fuzzy. This has important ramifications for instruction librarians. I ask students all the time if they read blogs, and most have never heard of them. It’s one thing to not know you’re reading a blog in Facebook or MySpace, but it’s a more difficult distinction out on the free web. Does it matter (and if so, how?) if you are reading a New York Times reporter’s work in the newspaper, the newspaper’s blog, or on Huffington Post? How about a professor, say an anthropology prof keeping in touch with her friends from far away places? how should we be talking about the distinctions?

Another nice tidbit, 19% of online young adults have created an avatar that interacts with others. That’s a very specifically worded stat, and the number is so much higher than I would have guessed! I’m curious if MORPG characters are considered avatars? If they are not avatars, then this marks a large gap in my knowledge of my users!

The other primary bit from the keynote was Rainie’s discussion of the latest report, of how users want to access government informaiton. This was very specifically chartered research, the government was trying to determine the best way to provide information to users of the information. My largest frustration is the distinction in categories: users had several choices, among which were “internet” and “library”. When you put those in a list of other choices, what do they mean? What if you used the internet at the library? Do you only track Library when user speaks to a librarian? uses print source from gov docs collection? It feels frustratingly useless without that granularity, and the Library Research Center ought to know better (and I can say that, because I worked there for a semester!)

Web 2.0 Services for Smaller and Underfunded Libraries

Library Web Presence: Engaging the Audience

These were both very engaging sessions, with lots of information about cool new (and not so new) tools to try out. The one thing they all lacked, however, was any engagement or understanding of how the free tools managed users information, and this has become a real point of concern for me. LibGuides appears to keep no information, but the various widgets being created at Penn State and other places using WidgetBox? No one had really looked into that. Which is unfortunate, because WidgetBox seems to be wicked cool,and i would love to talk about it with my colleagues. And the clean usability of the Penn State research quick links page? fantastic! But I feel too strongly that anything I put on my campus’ Library website carries the Librarian Stamp of Approval, and that we are responsible for teaching our students about their digital footprint, and how to protect their digital privacy. So, le sigh, it was wonderful, but I’ll have to do a lot of that legwork myself before passing the excitement along to my colleagues and our users.

I do want us to start looking at LibGuides, though!

tomorrow I’ll post more responses to the conference. I will, I promise!


Why am I a librarian?

Barbara Fister at Free Exchange on Campus tagged me to participate in the meme sparked by Dr. Crazy’s fantastic Why I Teach Literature post. She did this a long time ago, as the blogoverse counts time, but I hope not too long ago to participate.

I see two different questions in this meme, why I am a librarian, and why I became a librarian. First, why I became a librarian.

I started my path studying religion, and while studying for my doctoral exams and teaching I realized that the subject matter inspired passion in me, but the subject matter wasn’t what I wanted to impart to my students. For them, I wanted to use the study of the ways that people shaped their lives (and ours) through the beliefs and practices as a vector for critical thinking. And the critical thinking, the ability to see from multiple perspectives, to avoid judgment until different perspectives had been identified and thought through, this was my Course Objective. I also realized that the professorate was a long shot, and settling down was several years down the road, and would entail adding a zero or so to my student loan balance. I reconsidered my options, saw that librarianship was a path where I could play my strengths and sidestep my weaknesses (the Real World with cubicles and “Office” politics are my kryptonite. A dozen years on college campuses has ruined me for that kind of life).

As a librarian, I could pursue my academic interests as a generalist, and that generalist bent would be an asset. I could stay on a college campus. I could surround myself with intelligent academic colleagues and their conversation. And books — I would still be surrounded by books and get to buy them (with someone else’s money!)and read them. And I could continue to be an educator.

There was very little about my preconceptions about librarianship that remained true in the end. Librarianship engages more office politics than I would ever have imagined possible (and I suspect more than other tracks in academic outside of administration). Continuing the ‘life of the mind’ has escaped my grasp so far, and I suspect for always (but a girl can hope, eh?).  I rarely handle books, more often just scanning their reviews on Choice, Amazon, H-Net or JSTOR. But I am an educator, and I have avenues for teaching that I had not truly grasped Before.

And being an Educator is central to my identity as a person and as a librarian. My passion, my career path, my intellectual pursuits, my approach to collection development, reference desk staffing, outreach to and interactions with students -one on one and institutionally- the arrangement of the catalog and the web page and to the implementation of new tools is all undergirded by the fact that I am an Educator.

It has been a learning experience for me, and accepting and acknowledging this unbreakable and unshakable center of my professional identity will be the star by which I will steer my career.

So, I tag Iris at Pegasus Librarian, Ms. Molly at Shelf-ish  and  Sarah at The Sheck-Spot. Why are you librarians? What inspired you?

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FRBRize me! (or, I’m not scattered, I’m just multi-faceted)

Dear readers, don’t fear, I have not forgotten you! In the past two weeks I have started four blog posts on at least three different topics, and have written at least that many more in my head while drifting off to sleep at night… Alas, the semester has begun and with it the fracturing of my time and attention.

One of the things I have been thinking about is the passing comment my director made about needing me to focus and stop going in so many directions. I snorted and put the thought aside (it was an emailed comment…). But i do struggle with this. I was hired to have no focus — to select materials in six diverse and complex subject areas (and build relationships with those units) and to provide instruction without regard to my specialties or my collection development areas. As such, I was hired to be a big picture thinker, and I bring that. To wit:

I am passionate about information literacy, and wish I could spend more time learning about pedagogy and applying it, refining assessment techniques, developing more and better relationships with my regular profs and new profs and profs who don’t use instruction but would benefit.

I am fascinated with collection development in a small undergraduate institution. What does it mean to have a collection that solely supports student learning at this level? How do balance and bias come into the criteria? How do you support interdisciplinary topics on a tiny budget when they have no designated line? How to build the relationships with other selectors when our areas overlap (and maybe they don’t perceive the overlap)? How to manage areas that aren’t taught but need to be int he library collection? How to use collections information to leverage library usefulness and expand information literacy where it is most needed, and let departments know that their collection use tells us something about their students they might not know?

Electronic resources are an issue too — the concerns about owning or licensing materials, about the role of selecting what we want versus selecting aggregators who select is still an issue, and it is now moving into the reference collection, and perhaps soon into the monograph collection. How can we come to peace with these trends given our budget, staffing, and consortial situation?

The digital frontiers also raise concerns about moving selection and instruction into digital realms, educating our students and colleagues about the information tools they need to be familiar with, and the digital footprint issues they should be aware of or concerned about — and all this means educating myself as well.

And then there are the issues of being a member of the college community and all that brings to bear.

So, am I intellectually scattered? Yeah, I’ve got a lot of balls in the air at work. Is it possible for me to do the job I have and be focused? I’m having a hard time seeing it…. I can put it all under a large umbrella (“user-centered holistic librarianship” is my term du jour; “undergraduate education and The Library” works most days too) and say it’s all one thing, but that’s just gilding the lily. Is there another way to do my job, do it well, and find intellectual focus? I can’t be the only one in this position — what say you? How have you managed the conflict between engaging in a job that demands multiple personalities and focusing on becoming expert in a single thing?

Curious minds want to know 😉