Killing It with Kindness: Incorporating Sustainable Assessment through Kindness Audits

Last month, Jessica Olin of Letters to a Young Librarian and I gave a presentation about kindness audits at the Association of College and Research Libraries virtual conference.

Brief Description:
Learn how to design and conduct a kindness audit, a low-cost and high-reward assessment method that helps librarians examine barriers to library services and spaces through a user experience lens. Varying methods for kindness audits, lessons learned, and suggestions for identifying and implementing low-cost improvements for library spaces and services, will all be discussed.

Presentation Slides:
Below are our slides from the presentation.

Presentation Notes:
This post is a lot longer than what is normally published on this blog, but both Jessica and I want to make as much of the virtual session presentation we gave for ACRL 2015 available as we can.

This post is identical to the one published on my presentation partner’s blog.

Slide 1:
Jessica: Hello everyone and welcome to Killing it with Kindness, Incorporating Sustainable Assessment through Kindness Audits. We will introduce ourselves in a minute, but first I wanted to give you an overview of how this session will go. After introductions, we’re going to give a brief explanation of kindness audits, then each of us will discuss one aspect of the overall process and how that aspect played out at our schools. We’re going to try to keep that part brief so that we can save time, hopefully 15-20 minutes, at the end for question and answer. You have our twitter handles and our session hashtag and also the email address we set up specifically for this session for people who aren’t on Twitter. Of course, we also have the chat function here in the Adobe Connect session. We’re going to do our best to keep track of questions as we go through the session and we’ll also have a good chunk for Q&A at the end.

Slide 2:
Jessica: Now to introduce ourselves…

Joe: Hi, I’m Joe Hardenbrook. I’m a reference and instruction librarian at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin. I coordinate research assistance and information literacy and am the library’s liaison to the university’s education, psychology, and diversity programs. I’ve been at Carroll since 2014, but I’ve been an academic librarian since 2003.

Jessica: Hi, I’m Jessica Olin. I’ve been a librarian since 2003 and the director of the library at Wesley College since the beginning of 2013. We want to do something a little goofy as a way to make this less formal, so we’re going to play a game called Two Truths and a Lie.

Slide 3:
Joe: OK, so here are three statements about me. Two of them are true, and one is a lie. To get you used to using the chat box, type in the letter of the statement that you think is a lie…So what’s the lie? My favorite movie is not Legally Blonde. It’s an OK movie, but my favorite movie is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I am actually a certified storm chaser through NOAA and I won an airport trivia code contest once – it came down to “LGW” which is London Gatwick and I won.

Slide 4:
Jessica: My turn. Which one of these is the lie? I’ll give you a moment to read through them and then just vote for your choice by typing the letter in the chat window. {wait until someone guesses B} Yes, [name] was the first to guess that I have not lived in 10 states. I’ve only lived in 7. And if you’re curious, William Whipple of Connecticut is the signer in my family tree and I played Pearl at age 5 in the 1979 PBS miniseries of The Scarlet Letter.

Slide 5:
Joe: What is a Kindness Audit? It’s all about taking a concerted effort to look at your library with fresh eyes and experience it as a new user. It’s taking a look at things such as wayfinding, signage, library spaces, and furniture. It’s also about asking things like: Are the service desks welcoming? What obstacles do your users encounter? I was first introduced to kindness audits through a MOOC I completed in Fall 2013: The Hyperlinked Library MOOC from San Jose State University taught by Michael Stevens and Kyle Jones. I completed a kindness audit at the library I was working at and I’ve now replicated it at my current workplace at Carroll University. Jessica and I each did things a little differently for our respective kindness audits, so we will walk you through how each of us approached it prior to discussing how you can recreate it at your own institutions.

Slide 6:
Joe: First, a little bit about Carroll University so you know my background. We’re located in Waukesha, Wisconsin–about 20 minutes from downtown Milwaukee. Our enrollment is just over 3,000 students. Starting in the mid-1990s the institution  transitioned from a traditional small liberal arts college to a university with a strong health sciences focus. Today, our most popular undergrad majors are: exercise science, nursing, psychology, business administration, and biology. We also have several graduate programs, including MBA, Master of Education, and Doctor of Physical Therapy.

Slide 7:
Joe: The Todd Wehr Memorial Library opened in 1942. It was expanded in the 1960s and remodeled in the late 1990s. A renovated Library Classroom in 2013 was our latest change. Our staff includes 6 librarians, 2.5 staff members, and 5 part-time evening/weekend staff.

Slide 8:
Joe: I conducted my kindness audit in May 2014. This was a librarian-led audit. I also did one with students, but Jessica will talk more about her experiences with that. For my audit, I really wanted to see it as a “new user” – so I started at our front entrance on the main floor and wound my way through the building. I used a library iPad to take photos and when I was finished, I divided the photos into 2 categories: 1) Commendable, or 2) Needs Improvement.

Slide 9:
Joe: So what did I find? Let’s start out with the “good stuff.” In terms of commendable, I think the library does a good job of providing information about the library. The photo on the left shows the large plasma screen when you walk in that rotates with library news and announcements. It also features photos of the librarians and their subject areas. I’m a big proponent of the idea that the library isn’t just a building – it’s about the people. This helps to promote that. The photo on the right are the librarians’ business cards. Again, they feature photos of the librarians to help students connect a face to name. This is vitally important since we have a very strong library liaison program. These cards are available at all of the service desks.

Slide 10:
Joe: Another commendable item is technology. There are plenty of computers for use in the Information Commons. It’s not the largest lab on campus, but it is definitely the busiest. There are also 60 iPads available for checkout at the Circulation Desk.

Slide 11:
Joe: The library’s coffee shop is another commendable space. It’s very inviting, has large windows with great views of campus, and lots of soft seating–something the rest of the library lacks. Also important: the coffee shop doors close so noise is not a disruption to the library proper.

Slide 12:
Joe: So what needs improvement? We could definitely do a better job with our signage. The photo on the left is food and drink signage. It’s negative, overly wordy, and in some cases looks cheap. We have a coffee shop in the library, so I think you need to expect food and drink to travel. What the library probably needs to do is to re-evaluate its policy and likely liberalize it. The photo on the right is missing call number signage. In my walk-through I noticed some end caps didn’t have call numbers and some were handwritten. I also noticed some that listed subject areas (like “US History” or “Psychology”) – that’s very helpful. Why wasn’t this applied to the entire collection? Again, we just need to be consistent with our signage.

Slide 13:
Joe: Also needing improvement: some of our services and how we market them. The photo on the left is our Information Desk – not that you would know that. There’s no branding. What is the desk for? What questions can you ask here? Why is no one there? How is it different than other service desks that are nearby? Well, there usually is a student worker seated here and it’s intended for patrons to ask simple questions about printing, technology, copying, and scanning. We just need to identify and market it better. The photo on the right is our disability workstation. Again, same problem: no signage and it’s not labeled. It looks like a scanning station if you happen to walk past it. So again, another branding and marketing opportunity.

Slide 14:
Joe: So here’s why I love kindness audits: Changes can often be implemented quickly and easily. Shown here is our Library Classroom. We made some changes immediately after the kindness audit. The photo on the left shows an open door. Prior to that the door was kept closed. We now leave it open to be more welcoming. Since the room had changed from a traditional computer lab with desktop PCs to a laptop classroom, students weren’t sure how they could utilize the space. If you looked through the closed door, all you would see is movable furniture. So to help, we also positioned our student worker (photo on the right) from the front of the classroom to the entrance to answer student questions about using the classroom and checking out laptops for students. Now the space has seen increased usage.

Slide 15:
Joe: We love the movable furniture, but the default set-up shown on the left was not conducive to group work. So we changed the set-up to pods of tables, shown on the right. This is more popular with students. Also prior to the kindness audit, students were not permitted to use the touchscreen technology and whiteboards. We changed that. Students are now encouraged to use the technology and they can also move the furniture around to suit their needs, too. These simple changes have made the space much more inviting and we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from students.

Slide 16:
Joe: One thing I questioned on the kindness audit was our single occupancy restrooms. They just don’t make any sense. However, it turned out that the kindness audit matched good timing: The university decided to switch all single occupancy restrooms to gender neutral. It’s more inclusive and it reduces wait times.

Slide 17:
Joe: Here’s another quick change we implemented. The librarian’s offices in the Information Commons are fishbowl style. Pictured here is my office. The photo on the left is before the kindness audit: I have my blinds down. The photo on the right is after: To be more noticeable, I now keep my blinds up. I also placed a research sign in my window encouraging people to interrupt me. As a result, I get more questions now. So again, another fix that was free, quick, and easy.

Slide 18:
Joe: Another change that didn’t happen to cost us any money involved our group study rooms. The photo on the left is the before pic: The rooms featured trapezoid shaped tables that made maneuvering in the room difficult. The photo on the right is the after pic: We swapped out the trapezoid tables for round tables that came from another campus department that was getting rid of furniture. Now the rooms are more inviting for groups.

Slide 19:
Joe: Like most libraries we suffer from a deficit of outlets. The photo on the left shows how one student has a strung a laptop cord across the floor which creates a trip hazard. Although we didn’t have the funds to put in more outlets, we’re utilizing the ones we do have more wisely. We placed additional plugs that also include USB ports in strategic locations where students typically study. The new plugs cost $15 each.

Slide 20:
Joe: So what surprised us about the kindness audit? I was impressed by how many of the things I noticed were easy fixes, quick changes, and low cost–or even no cost in most instances. There weren’t any major suggestions related to infrastructure. My findings mirrored the kindness audit that my students completed too. There was also more to like than not like–and that was good to see. We just need to do a better job of marketing and branding.

Slide 21:
Jessica: First I’m going to give you some context, background on the school and my library, and then I’m going to show you some of what we learned by having student workers conduct kindness audits as a balance for librarian audits. Wesley College was founded in 1873 as a prep school mostly because the Methodist mothers and fathers of Delaware were tired of sending their children out of state to attend college. We still have a covenant relationship with the Methodist church. We became a 4 year college in the 70s under the guidance of the library’s namesake. Right now we have approximately 1400 undergraduates in 24 majors. Business Administration and health related majors are our most popular programs, but we have the full range of what you’d expect from a small liberal arts college. We have a few masters programs, but they are still relatively small. We have plans to start a master’s of occupational therapy in the near future. One last thing: we’ve recently been designated an official minority serving institution which means that more than 50% of our enrolled students are African American, Hispanic, and/or Native American.

Slide 22:
Jessica: While the college has had a library all along, we’ve only been in this location since 1970. Our building originally housed classrooms and faculty offices and was renovated. We had another round of renovations that were exclusively cosmetic in 2001. We aren’t the only department in the building. We share the space with academic support, the tutoring center, disability services, the career center, IT, and the history department. We have a super small staff with 1.91 full time librarians (me and a reference librarian who is on a 10 month contract, although there is a frozen 12 month MLIS position), 6 part time non-degree holding staff, and 7 work study. We still manage to open 7 days a week for a total of 94 hours. We’re part of a 50 library consortium with almost every library in Delaware, which helps a lot.

Slide 23:
Jessica: The student audits were conducted towards the beginning of the spring semester of the 2013-2014 school year. Since these 7 students had worked for us for a semester by the time we did this, I felt comfortable giving them just a general direction. I had them read the blog post that Joe wrote about his own kindness audit, told them to take pictures and take notes on what they’d seen, and to look for both things they liked and things they didn’t like about the library.

Slide 24:
Jessica: These were student workers, so I’m assuming they were a bit biased, but they all commented on how helpful and friendly the staff were.

Slide 25:
Jessica: The majority of them also talked about how much they liked the different book displays we put out and the white board polls we conduct. They liked how it made the library more interactive. If anyone is interested in more information about our white board polls, I wrote about it for my own blog recently.

Slide 26:
Jessica: While this wasn’t strictly part of what they were supposed to capture since we were looking for their response to the physical environment, one student talked about how much they liked the consortium because it helped with school work and fun reading and saved them money.

Slide 27:
Jessica: Unlike what Joe experienced, our student workers found a lot more to dislike than they did to like. This is just one example. Our study areas looked, quite frankly, like a mishmash of leftover furniture that didn’t get sold at a yard sale. Though some of how things were arranged had more to do with students rearranging our spaces, it was still a big problem.

Slide 28:
Jessica: Another thing they didn’t like was the furniture itself. Most of what we have in the building is pretty old, a lot of it dating from the 1980s. We don’t have a single study carrel that is without graffiti, and the arrangement of furniture was off as well.

Slide 29:
Jessica: I don’t know if there is a library out there that doesn’t have at least a couple of problems with signage, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work on it. Students talked about how hard the signs are to read in some places, how there were lots of handmade signs, that they aren’t always up to date like that directory sign you see there, and there weren’t enough signs by far.

Slide 30:
Jessica: This is actually an after picture since it’s kind of hard to capture a picture of noise, but that was a major problem we were having. Some of it can’t be helped since we share our space with so many other departments, but we have made a lot of progress towards improvement by designating specific spaces for quiet and loud. We have also started walking through the library, being a seen presence, once or twice per hour.

Slide 31:
Jessica: We have a lot of technology problems at the college as a whole, it’s just that the library is a place where those problems are most noticeable.  In some ways this is out of the libraries control, other than we developed and/or asked for workarounds to help students. Those two sheets of paper you see there are detailed instructions for basic functions such as logging in and printing as well as how to enact the fixes we need. We have brought an outside company onto campus to fix our IT issues, but there is a lot more to fix than we realized.

Slide 32:
Jessica: Our print system is a bit of a throwback. Students don’t like having to pay for printing regardless, but the fact that they have to use a coin operated system that frequently breaks makes it even worse. While I haven’t been able to address this just yet, I have been soliciting quotes for print management software and have been working with our new IT to make sure it’s a scalable solution that can extend beyond the library in due time.

Slide 33:
Jessica: While the student workers think the staff and the librarians are great, there was some concern about us spending so much time in our offices. We didn’t have a reference desk of any sort at that time, and really the circulation desk is too small for more than one person to stay back there, so there wasn’t much room for us to be anywhere but our offices at that time.

Slide 34:
Jessica:  Most of the changes, other than designating areas of the library for quiet and for loud, took a bit longer than what Joe said about his library. This change couldn’t happen until the summer when we students wouldn’t be around as much. We spent a lot of time rearranging furniture to make the loud area more conducive to group study. You can also see a white board in the back. Students weren’t allowed to use it, but we’ve changed that and now have a kit with dry erase markers and an eraser and students now students use this space for practicing presentations and planning out group projects.

Slide 35:
Jessica: And we moved furniture to make the quiet study areas more conducive to individual work. We also spent a lot of time moving chairs from one level to another so that, even if they are a bit older, they at least match. One other thing that hasn’t happened yet but that is in the works is that our Student Government Association is talking about buying the library some new study carrels. They are also a bit part of the reason why we will be able to afford the print management software as they are going to sponsor that in part or maybe in whole.

Slide 36:
Jessica: While we haven’t been able to solve the print management problem just yet, we have gotten new printers for the library. Our old ones were incredibly old for the setting at 5 years, so these new printers have been a good thing even if it is only one small aspect of our overall technical issues.

Slide 37:
Jessica: And the change that we’re most proud of is that we now have a reference desk. This library hadn’t had one in recent memory, and we didn’t really have anyway to put a regular computer anywhere that would have made sense, not without spending a lot of money from a small budget. However, we did some research and found that a chromebook and a table with two chairs serves just as well. We just started providing this service last semester. We’re still getting students and faculty used to the fact that we provide this service now, but our numbers have been slowly climbing. More recently we’ve  started bribing students with candy to ask us reference questions and that is pretty popular.

Slide 38:
Jessica: One of the biggest surprises we had was how much the student audits overlapped with the librarian audits. These specific student workers had been with us for a few months so our perspective had rubbed off on them a bit, but it still made us feel that we had at least some understanding of the student perspective. We also were surprised that students had noticed the consortium and could articulate so specifically the kinds of benefits it brought to them. Finally, although our easy fixes weren’t as immediately put in place as Joe’s, it was a bit startling how much moving our old furniture around could change the atmosphere.

Slide 39:
Jessica: You are looking at pictures of the namesakes of our two libraries. We thought it would be a cute way to introduce our discussion of how the differences in our libraries may have impacted specifics, but each library benefited from the kindness audits.

Joe: For me, I was only about 6 months into my job when I conducted my kindness audit, so it was easier to see things with fresh eyes. However, I needed to rely on co-workers to get a historical overview about certain aspects of the library. In addition, although we operate in a very collaborative environment, I don’t have final decision-making or budgetary authority to make large-scale library changes. That would be handled by our library director.

Jessica: I’ve got a smaller budget and staff and library than Joe, but I was in a position as the director to make this a priority for us.

Slide 40:
Jessica: Okay, now we want to talk about how you can do your own kindness audit. For me, it worked to give the students just a general overview of what I expected and wanted then give them an opportunity to ask questions. I required that they take lots of pictures, but all of them had phones with cameras so I let them use their own rather than providing a camera. I also asked them to take detailed notes about what they were photographing so I could know what I was seeing. Finally, it was crucial to get the students involved above and beyond the librarian audits.

Joe: For the student kindness audit, I was a little more explicit in my instructions. I was using brand new freshmen student workers during their first week on the job. I got the feeling that they might be hesitant to provide critical feedback, so I gave them instructions to take photos of things in the library and place them into one of these categories: Things I like, Things I didn’t like, That that confused me, Things that surprised me, Things I had questions about. It worked. Students took over 200 photos.

Jessica: one final thing that I want to urge you to do is to share the results of your assessment, both with your immediate stakeholders and with the community. It was that kind of sharing that got the Wesley College SGA interested in helping us pay for new study carrels.

Slide 41:
Jessica: Here’s a list of a few of the barriers you want to keep in mind. If you don’t have a background on any of these, you’ll probably want to consult someone who does or teach yourself about them. For instance, I’m biased because of my first job in higher ed to be sensitive to ADA requirements, but there are a lot of regulations for public spaces. An example of this is that there are specific regulations for how much difference you need to have on signs between the background and the print. You also need to remember the needs of any international students you might have as well was taking into account campus culture. We’re both in shared spaces, so any major changes we want to institute need to keep those partnerships in mind – those shared spaces and also influence how students and other parts of your community perceive the library. Add bit about need states.

Joe: If you are recruiting students for your kindness audit, be aware of any approval you may need to seek from your university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) since your work involves human subjects. Both Jessica and I used student workers who were performing the kindness audit as a task related to their employment, so we did not have to go through the IRB process.

Jessica: Finally, this isn’t a one-off assessment. We’re planning to run it again this coming Fall and hopefully every other year from now on. Like any assessment, this needs to be part of a continuous cycle of improvement.

Slide 42:
Joe: We are more than happy to take your questions through the chat window. We can also keep the conversation going on Twitter by using the hashtag #acrlkindness. You can tweet directly to Jessica at @olinj or to me at @mrlibrarydude. You can also send us an email to librarykindnessaudit@gmail.com.

Slide 43:
Jessica: Thanks so much for attending this session. I think I’ve learned just as much from your questions a I was hoping to impart. We both really believe in the benefits of this process and want to help you put it in place at your libraries, so here are our emails so you can contact us in the future.

Post Script:
We got a lot of great questions both throughout the presentation and during the official question and answer period. The recording of our actual presentation is available via the ACRL 2015 Virtual Conferences website (for a fee), but we also hope to publish an article with more details sometime in the near-ish future. Let us know if you have any questions at any time. And thanks for your interest.

A Library Interviewee’s Bill of Rights

Let’s face it: Job hunting is a grind. Oftentimes a soul-sucking grind. But once you get that invitation to interview, you feel great. Here is where the library, as the hiring organization, needs to put its best foot forward and make the experience for job candidates a positive one.

I’m not mollycoddling here. This isn’t about bringing your mom or dad to an interview (please don’t!) or sending the interview questions to the interviewee in advance (umm, no…I want to see how you think on your feet!). This is about having a set of protocols, a little common sense, and some human decency.

Below are ten tips that I’m calling the Library Interviewee’s Bill of Rights that should be afforded to all job candidates.

1. The library will give you lead time in preparing a presentation
Many job candidates are required to give a presentation (short lecture, teaching demo, storytime, etc.) at an interview. When the offer to interview is extended, please provide the topic (or if it’s “open-ended” then say so) and the time limit of the presentation. A couple of times when interviewing, I was given a topic only 2-3 days in advance. Give people time to prepare!

2. The library will give you a schedule
When inviting a job candidate to interview, send them the schedule in advance (even if it’s a draft schedule at first). Include the names (or groups) of the people they will be meeting with and the length of time for each meeting.

3. The library will plan a humane schedule
This relates to #1 and #2. Can we not schedule a presentation immediately after lunch? There’s nothing like trying to eat a meal knowing that you’re going to have to give the “show of your life” immediately thereafter. I know it’s hard to get people together to watch a presentation, but I always appreciated it when these things are scheduled before lunch.

4. The library will provide reimbursements
What is reimbursable? Be upfront with job candidates. For overnight stays, is the library booking the hotel? For long distance visits, is the library booking transportation? Or is this the responsibility of the job candidate? What about things like gas mileage or airport parking? Provide a list of what will be covered. Remind the job candidate to bring along (or send) any applicable receipts.

5. The library will provide info on hotels/dining
Related to #4. If it’s an overnight visit, where is the job candidate staying? I remember being dropped off at a hotel by a potential future co-worker in the middle of nowhere. I was on my own for dinner. No car. Nothing walkable. The only thing I could get was a pizza delivered. Some welcome! Invite the job candidate out to dinner. Beforehand, give job candidates a few options for dinner (may have dietary restrictions) and let them pick.

6. The library will give you salary info
I know many institutions (or more likely the library’s parent organization) do not post salaries in job ads, but please provide this info during the interview day whether it’s the minimum salary, a salary range, etc. I know there will be some that will say, “well then the job candidate can’t negotiate if the salary is on the table!” Well…this isn’t the business world and the ability to negotiate for several thousands of dollars generally does not apply to most library positions. So be upfront!

7. The library will be prepared
The job candidate is prepared for the interview day. The library staff should be prepared to interview the job candidate. Have notes in order and questions to ask. Also KNOW which person is being interviewed and don’t call the person by another job candidate’s name.

8. The library will have a good attitude
Yes, the library might be interviewing 3 or 4 people in a row. At least act like this is a fresh and new experience and not a chore to get through.

9. The library will keep matters confidential
Example: If the job candidate marked “you may not contact my current supervisor” on HR forms, then the library needs to follow it! This happened to me. After marking the form to not contact my current supervisor, the library director then asked to contact my supervisor. I had 3 good references (my immediate former supervisor at my workplace, a current co-worker, and a former co-worker). I said no. I didn’t want my supervisor to know I was looking for greener pastures. It was an awkward situation.

10. The library will provide a follow-up in a timely manner
Make sure candidates know the length for the decision-making process. Also ask job candidates how they prefer to be notified (phone, email). I know from an HR standpoint, many things cannot be disclosed. However, you can still say “the library is in the decision-making stage and you can expect to hear from us within the month” or whatever. Once I didn’t receive a “this position has been filled” letter until 6 months after the interview! We can do better.

What else would you add? Leave a comment!

Escape to Your Happy Place: De-Stressing on the Job

According to Forbes (and hey, aren’t they just “experts” on libraries!), librarian is #8 on the list of “Least Stressful Jobs of 2014” (info via CareerCast).

Well, who can blame them? We just read books all day, don’t we? Ummmm, no.

Hmm…Guess they’re not dealing with budget cuts, anti-tax crusaders, soiled diapers on the story time floor, skyrocketing e-journal costs, new information literacy standards, and irate patrons.

I count myself as one of the lucky ones. As primarily an instruction/reference librarian in an academic library, I’m usually not the one that has to lobby campus administration or deal with library fines. But frustration and stress can still bubble over: never-ending meetings, red tape, lack of resources, that thorn-in-your-side [patron, co-worker, professor, student…fill in the blank], the constant “do more with less” mantra, or worse yet…a toxic work environment.

Although it’s no “cure all,” sometimes you need to take a minute to de-stress, relax, or have a laugh. Escape to your happy place for a bit. Here are a few things I like to do:

1. Take a walk
Get up from your desk! Leave the building. Breathe in some fresh air. Librarians (for the most part) sit too much and that’s not good for your health.

Step outdoors of my library and there’s a beautiful college campus.

Step outdoors of my library and there’s a beautiful college campus.

2. Karma Cleanser
I guess this would count as “aromatherapy“? At one library I used to work at, we kept a bottle of some sort of herbal spray. Everyone called it “Karma Cleanser.” After a bad patron encounter, we would spray it around the desk to “take the ick away.” It smelled good and made us feel better. Also gave us a little laugh.

3. Live Vicariously
As a faithful public servant, you often have to bite your tongue. But what if you didn’t? There are times when I wish I could yell and shout like Susie Greene from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Watching a YouTube video of her “best of” moments puts me in a good mood. Warning: NSFW (crude language, body shaming, etc… the usual Curb stuff).

 

4. Relaxing Photos
Are you following the U.S. Department of the Interior on Instagram? You should be. Mountain vistas, beautiful valleys, ocean views…You’ll be transported to a peaceful environment, if for a few seconds.

U.S. Department of the Interior on Instagram

U.S. Department of the Interior on Instagram

5. Cute Animals
Not ashamed to admit it: When I need cheering up, a cute animal will do. My go to sites are Buzzfeed Animals, Cute Overload, and Attack of the Cute among others.

homearly

What tips do you have? Feel free to share!

My co-worker's stress ball collection. She handles library fines.

My co-worker’s stress ball collection. She handles library fines.

 

Chat Reference Tip: Sharing Permanent URLs for Searches

We get over 25% of our reference questions through chat and the number grows every year. I spend a lot of time guiding students to the right library databases and brainstorming keywords with them. Besides the library’s general chat box, instructors often refer students to our respective My Librarian chat boxes. Unless it’s a quick question, I generally operate under the “teach them to fish” approach. So I do a lot of the “Click on this…click on that. Why don’t you try this…” method.

I know some libraries use screen sharing apps to hone in and make sure students are getting the info they need. However, these apps often lead to end-user issues. Some people find it helpful. Others find it creepy. Students just want an answer–or a starting point.

Instead, I’ve come to rely on the ability to share permanent URLs of search results from our library databases. After the student has had a chance to search with me, I share the permanent URL for the search results on my computer screen to make sure the student is in the right spot. At my current workplace, our two largest database providers are EBSCO and Proquest.

EBSCO
Sharing permanent URLs of EBSCO searches is easy. On the search results page, just click on: Share >>> Use Permalink. Copy and paste the URL into your library’s chat box. The URL should be going through your library’s proxy server.

ebsco

Proquest
In Proquest, the option to share search results is a bit hidden, but still useful. In fact, at first glance I thought it wasn’t possible. However, the good folks at Proquest pointed me in the right direction. At the top of the page, click on: Recent Searches.

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Select: Actions >>> Get link. Copy and paste the URL into your library’s chat box. The URL should be going through your library’s proxy server.

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Providing the permanent URL gives students a good starting point and a well-formulated search strategy to build upon.

I Heart Poultry, or: The Importance of the Reference Interview

With Valentine’s Day coming up, this reference interaction popped into my head.

Now I normally don’t blog about specific patron encounters, but this one was years ago… circa 2003 when I was a newbie librarian.

A man approached the reference desk and asked a simple question:

Do you have any books on poultry?

With my newly minted MLS, I thought I better do a good reference interview:

Well, are you looking for books on any specific type of poultry: like chickens or turkeys? About farming, urban chickens, or feral? We have a fairly large agriculture collection. 

Wow, how self-important I sounded! It resulted in a quizzical look from the man. He said:

No! No! I’m looking for romance stuff.

At this point I’m confused. Chickens? Romance?

Then it dawned on me. He wasn’t looking for books about poultry. He was looking for books about POETRY. He wanted romantic poems. I misunderstood him.

You see, wanting to “impress” the patron with my knowledge, I should have just started the reference interview with a simple question: Can you tell me more about what you want to find? 

Problem solved and there wouldn’t have been a poultry/poetry dilemma. Lesson learned!

New Year, New Job

Haven’t blogged much lately. Still settling into my new job at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee. Hopefully after things settle down a little bit, I can get back to writing.

For now, I’m enjoying the new job. Not a huge move for me…luckily (I vow for no more cross-country moves!). After three good years at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, I moved 100 miles south where it’s actually a few degrees warmer! My 82 mile daily round-trip commute is gone. It’s been replaced with a 16 mile round-trip commute and I’m enjoying the extra free (and sleep) time I get!

A welcome gift from my new co-workers at Carroll University.

A welcome gift from my new co-workers at Carroll University.

The new job is also broadening my skills. Whether you’re a new librarian or a seasoned veteran (at this point–after 11 years as a librarian I guess I fall into the latter group), it’s always important to adapt and acquire new skills.

I’m supervising reference and information literacy, managing the curriculum materials collection, and serve as the library’s liaison/collection manager for the education department, psychology department, and diversity services. I like being back at a smaller library/institution (3,000 students) where the job brings a lot of variety and you really get to know the faculty, staff, and students.

I get to order all of the "fun" stuff for the Curriculum Materials Collection.

I get to order all of the “fun” stuff for the Curriculum Materials Collection.

So that’s my January. Lots to learn! Hope your new year is off to a good start!

Morning at Carroll University - Wisconsin's oldest four-year institution, established in 1846.

Morning at Carroll University – Wisconsin’s oldest four-year institution, established in 1846.

On Being a Generalist Librarian & Not Having a 2nd Master’s

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.