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First a little background: I grew up in small town Indiana. My mom is Hispanic; my dad white.

It’s the mid-1980s. I’m in the second grade. I remember this event like it was yesterday: It turned out to be my first inkling of “information literacy” – although too young to know it – and the term itself wasn’t emphasized until 1989.

This is what happened: My mom came to visit me at school. After she left, one of my classmates asked me in all seriousness:

Is your mom Mrs. Huxtable?

Yes, Claire Huxtable. The mom from 1980s hit The Cosby Show.

As a second grader, I couldn’t define the word askance, but that was the look I had on my face.

Here’s how the conversation unfolded:

Me: Where did you hear that?

Him: Nowhere. I just thought that.

[Insert future librarian thinking: Where did he get his information from? Why hasn't he verified it?]

Me: You know that Mrs. Huxtable is just a character on The Cosby Show, right? She’s not a real person.

[Insert future librarian thinking: Why can't he distinguish between fiction and real-life?]

Him: Oh.

Me: You also know that Mrs. Huxtable is African-American, right? My mom is Mexican.

[Insert future librarian thinking: I want to go grab the shiny new World Book Encyclopedia off of the shelf. Why isn't he using prior knowledge as context? After all, I know he's eaten at my aunt's taco truck. Everyone in town knows it!]

Him: Oh. Ok.

Another classmate: “I heard your mom was Hawaiian.”

Me: [sigh]

Here’s my mom – mid-1980s (top) and Mrs. Huxtable, aka Phylicia Rashad (bottom). What do you think?

photo

Have you ever considered doing a “kindness audit” at your library?

In the HyperlibMOOC class, Michael Stephens discusses the concept of a “kindness audit” – look at your library space and examine how kind it is for your patrons.

  • Is the signage positive?
  • Are your service desks welcoming?
  • Can users find their way easily?
  • What obstacles do your users encounter?

I did a walk through of my library and tried to experience it from someone who has never set foot in the doors.

First a little bit about my library:

  • academic library
  • campus of 6,500 students, plus faculty, staff, and community members.
  • 8 floors

It’s also important to note that the library does not occupy all floors: other campus offices (including the Chancellor, Provost, university human resources, etc.) occupy space in the library building. The “library proper” is floors 2-6, and part of floor 7. The outside entrance brings you into floor 2.

So what were some of the positives?

Call numbers can be confusing for the casual library user. We’ve improved our signage to incorporate subject areas:

Call number signage with subject areas and tips on how to get help.

Call number signage with subject areas and tips on how to get help.

User-friendly terminology is used for signage at the Research Help Desk (formerly called the “Reference Desk”) and the Public Services Desk (circulation, equipment, tech help):

Signage at service desks

Signage at service desks

The current Research Help Desk is three years old and replaced a “fortress” style reference desk. It’s a low desk with roller chairs, a dual monitor set-up, and a wireless keyboard and mouse. In addition, the Research Help Desk has been co-located with the Public Services Desk (Circulation) area allowing for seamless help among different library services. No more passing people between service points.

Research Help Desk

Research Help Desk

Cell Phone Signage:

"To promote a research-friendly environment..."

“To promote a research-friendly environment…”

Here are a few more positive notes:

What could be improved?

Many of these are infrastructure issues, while others are more cosmetic in nature:

I’m taking the HyperlibMOOC class this fall. It’s been a fun experience: far exceeding my expectations with stimulating discussions, lectures, activities, and side conversations.

Currently, I’m working on a social media guidelines assignment for class. Browsing around the web for examples of other library social media policies, I stumbled on to one which I won’t call out by name. Their policy states:

“We reserve the right to use your comments in promotional materials, to use your stories to show others what makes [insert library name] unique and extraordinary.”

Is this standard boiler plate language? If so, what exactly does it mean?

  • Would retweeting a comment such as: Got my assignment done! This library rocks! count as part of this?

I do that at my library without really thinking about it. To me, it’s part of the ethos of Twitter.

Or, might I see your Twitter post or Facebook comment incorporated into promotional materials for the library? Like an advertisement or poster. That I have a problem with. I’m not part of tin-foil hate brigade when it comes to privacy, but I do expect a certain base amount of protection and I bristle at things that come across as pure advertising.

Let’s say I posted something on the library’s Facebook page and then saw it captured and featured on large plasma displays in the library:

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 3.00.58 PM

THAT would bug me. Without my permission? No.

I’m not exactly sure I have an answer for what IS the dividing line in terms of social media and privacy. It often seems rather fluid.

As a librarian and as a professional, I’ve always felt it was just the “right” thing to do to ASK people for their permission to use comments in advertisements and promotions. We’re inviting people to “friend” and “follow” us, I’d rather not risk that friendship just for an advertisement.

What do you think…Am I way off-base here? Is the library a business like anything else? Should we be mining our patrons’ comments and posts for our benefit without asking? Let me know!

I was talking with a professor the other day and she asked me:

How do you get students excited about searching?

It reminded me of the old quote:

Librarians like to search. Everyone else likes to find.

I really had to think about this one. Maybe it’s that word: excite? I’m a librarian and I don’t think that searching is exciting. Sure it can occasionally be a fun detective hunt. Yes, it’s sometimes serendipitous…but often it’s just tedious–nothing I would generally categorize as exciting.

As an instruction librarian, am I failure in the classroom if I don’t think it’s my job to get students excited about searching? I don’t think so. You need to be cognizant that sometimes it just boils down to the professor’s assignment. Is the assignment exciting? Or is it just busy work? I’m more than happy to collaborate with faculty on assignment ideas, but at the end of the day, it’s the professor’s job to put the assignment together.

When it comes down to my teaching: I’m passionate about connecting people with information. The act (or art?) of searching is only one small part. My job is to get students pointed in the right direction, to de-mystify the research process a little, and to show them that it CAN be done! Let’s face it: the library is often the most itimidating building on campus. I’m here to make the library and the research process a little bit more relatable to students.

I show them the tools that will be most useful, make the connection in how these tools will help them succeed with their assignment, get them thinking about HOW and WHY they’re using this information, and get them using the tools right away. My mix of teaching is practical, personable, participatory, and slightly humorous.

I’m not here to do a song and dance razzle-dazzle routine on searching for information: “Try this ONE perfect search to find EVERYTHING on your topic. Look, it’s so EASY!” Students see right through that. I don’t do the “perfect” search because that’s not what students will encounter. I’m OK playing “stump the librarian” and having the students work with me on the problem. It makes you more authentic and approachable.

I’m a realist: Will they be excited? Chances are, no. But will they think the research process seems a little more doable and will they be willing to seek help? Yes.

What do you think? Is it our job to make searching exciting? I’d love to hear your thoughts or any tips and techniques that you’ve tried.

Search@UW

My library just implemented a discovery layer - Primo from Ex Libris (branded as Search@UW since most campuses in the University of Wisconsin System are using it) – to combine catalog records, plus articles and other resources from our databases. Frankly, I wasn’t excited about it at first. It had nothing to do with the product itself. It just seemed like we were getting something that we weren’t asking for.

As an instruction librarian, I approach things from a pedagogical standpoint: How will students use it? What will it do for them? I ask a lot of “what ifs.”

While the discovery layer was being tested, I happened to be teaching a semester-long senior-level information science class. As one of our projects, we did some usability testing on Primo. Guess what? The students loved the discovery layer.

We compared finding information it in versus searching the online catalog and databases separately. The discovery layer won hands down in terms of speed and ease of use. My biggest worry: “Were students finding relevant information?” was assuaged.

And this is when I had to teach myself to STOP THINKING SO MUCH LIKE A DAMN LIBRARIAN!

The discovery layer makes perfect sense to students:

  • A seamless experience for finding information.
  • A simple search interface, a la Google.
  • Start with a broad search and then narrow it to particular types of items (books, articles, etc.).
  • An element of exploration.

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 12.05.20 PM

Don’t Box Me In!

Silo-ing information – which libraries are REALLY good at (…and which is NOT a compliment by the way) – does not make sense to students. A catalog to search for books? The databases to search for articles? It’s a holdover from the olden days of libraries: “real” card catalogs with endless drawers of records to locate books in the stacks, and volume after volume of print indexes to find articles in a periodical.

While we were testing the discovery layer, there were a few things I didn’t like. Case in point: In our “old” catalog, I had a drop down box to limit my searching to our Reference Collection. The discovery layer did not have that option from the main menu. But there I went again: thinking like a librarian! Stop. Examine what your users need to do with the tool at hand. Do my students need an option on the main menu to search for reference books? The answer is a resounding NO! Searching for reference books is simply NOT a priority. It’s OK to re-evaluate those sacred cows.

At the same time, I recognize that if you’re doing heavy duty research in a particular subject area, then a subject-specific database is your best bet. So, I created a guide for students: What Tool Should I Use to Find Information? to direct them to the appropriate tools.

Permanent Beta is OK

We rolled out our discovery layer in a not-quite-perfected state. Each class and group I’ve shown it to has loved it. Librarians get too pre-occupied with perfecting everything before rolling it out. This causes delays for your users and dwindling interest as well. Seize your patrons’ needs and desires and then deliver in a timely manner. Get feedback, re-tool, adapt, and grow from there.

The User is #1

So I came around on the discovery layer. While I always like to think I have my patrons’ needs in mind, you really need to step out of those librarian loafers and examine them. There are services that patrons would like, and probably some that they couldn’t even imagine. Harness this information and then deliver it for your patrons.

They let you work in an academic library without a second master's

After I started my first professional librarian position at an academic library in 2003, I had every good intention of getting my second master’s degree…in something.

In fact, it was required if I wanted to stay employed at my job. But then there was a lawsuit (or something to that effect) and the university – which had hired art professors with a terminal MFA and social work professors with a terminal MSW – found out that they were holding librarians to a higher standard: MLS + an additional graduate degree. The requirement was promptly dropped. So with that, coupled with no financial support from my institution to actually earn the degree, I let the second master’s slide off my radar.

You see, I’m one of those librarians who went directly from bachelor’s degree to MLS and then right to work.

And for librarians who told me a second master’s degree was essential (ABSOLUTELY essential!) to be an academic librarian? Well, I’ve never had any problems with just my MLS and I’ve been employed at four different academic libraries. Is it required at some institutions? Sure. Is it helpful for your resume? Of course it is. And for the jobs where it is required–say a subject specialist: Law Librarian, Asian Studies Librarian, etc… well, those jobs never interested me in the first place.

Why yes I am the expert

I’m a generalist librarian. A jack-of-all-trades. I know a little bit about a lot…and I’m completely OK with that. My focus has always been on reference and instruction. I love not knowing what I might get asked next. In a two-hour shift at the Reference Desk, it could be anything from Census records to British literature. Last week, I had a chat reference question about “natal homing in migratory fish.” And you know what? Even though science is not my strong suit, I did OK. Maybe I should try out for Jeopardy!.

I look at the information literacy sessions I have scheduled this semester: music, education, communication, political science, history, social work, psychology, biology, environmental science, English composition, Spanish. I don’t fear the range of subject areas. I embrace it.

That’s what I love about being a generalist librarian: the variety. From reference, to information literacy, embedding in online courses, working with non-traditional students, handling the library’s social media activities, participating in special studies with assessment and space planning: There’s always something different to do.

This has been my path. I’m not discounting subject specialists at all: We need those! We need librarians who are passionate about their subject speciality. And there’s definitely a need for subject specialists at research institutions. However, my experience has primarily been at undergraduate institutions where you wear a lot of different hats.

I no longer feel bad about not earning that second master’s degree. Priorities shift and you begin to assess what’s really important to you personally and professionally. I also like having my student loans all paid off. At this point, for me, it’s not financially prudent to sink money and time to earn an additional degree that likely wouldn’t make a hill of beans difference in the long run. Unlike others, I can put a price on education.

And then I think back to my original plan: What would my additional grad degree have been in? Certainly not history (which is my BA). Maybe an MBA or a master’s in educational technology would be helpful? Recently, a professor stopped me and asked, “So when are you getting your PhD?” I just laughed. A PhD to be a generalist librarian? No thanks.

Lego public library

Lego public library

It’s the summer of Lego Librarians! When I created my own Lego Librarian personalities, I didn’t quite imagine the wave it would create. People love Lego blocks. People love librarians. When you combine the two, you get an irresistible cultural mash-up.

The original post generated over 36,000 views and appeared on sites such as The Huffington Post, Flavorwire, Neatorama, Book RiotMyModernMet, Trendhunter, and Nerd Approved. Evidently it also took the country of Hungary by storm, as I had several thousand views from this one site alone.

After I acquired the official Lego librarian (I got it for cheap on eBay, rather than guessing among the unmarked packages at the Lego store), I decided that the Lego librarian needed a library!

Now I had a few of my own Lego pieces, but I had to ask for donations from co-workers. I also eBayed a few cheap building blocks…and voilà. I started building the Lego library. Just like the real library, there’s something for everyone: books, periodicals, technology, events. All walks of life are represented: young and old, well to do and not-so-much, people making a transition, and people on the edges of society. Here’s the local public library in Lego form…hope you enjoy it!

…and here’s a short movie created with the Lego Movie app:

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