Working with Students on the Autism Spectrum in an Academic Library

I don’t want to give away too much information on this situation, so I’m changing a few of the things to protect privacy, but here goes…

I was facilitating an information literacy session for a class–a typical first-year gen ed course. My usual plan incorporates a hands-on activity (research worksheet) where students, working in groups, find different information sources on their class topic (books, ebooks, streaming films, newspapers/magazines, scholarly articles). After searching, each group shares how they found the information with their classmates. In total, the session incorporates multiple learning styles (visual, aural, and tactile).

Instead of me doing the talking, I outline what we want to accomplish during the session and point out a couple of things on the library website. Then I let the groups start their work. I walk around and visit each group to make sure they are headed in the right direction.

A group was struggling in interactions with one of their classmates.

  • A student kept asking me question after question. I love when students ask questions in info lit sessions (yes!), but the student was bogged down in technical minutiae — missing the forest through the trees — that sort of thing.
  • The student fixated on answering each question on the research worksheet and was taking very little input from other group members.
  • The student argued with the other students about the answers. The student was concerned that there were multiple avenues for determining a “correct” answer.
  • The student was verbally critical in a raised voice when help was offered to the group (e.g., “Why didn’t you show us how to do this AT THE BEGINNING!”).
  • The student also seemed sidetracked with the settings on the library laptops that were being used by the students.

I realized I *likely* (granted, just an inference on my part) had a student on the autism spectrum in class. No formal indication was communicated to me–nor should it–that is up to the individual. In typical “pro” librarian style, you just need to roll with the situation and be flexible.

My Reaction
As this was happening, I made a mental note to remain calm and supportive. The last thing I want to do to any student is be dismissive, curt, or yell back.

I focused on providing a little more in-depth step-by-step instruction with the student (e.g., “Let’s take a look at your question and see what we can find out.”). However, I did feel like I got behind schedule and the rest of the students were waiting for us to catch up–some were noticeably annoyed. It’s a difficult balancing act that we will see more of at the higher ed level.

I wish I could have facilitated the session more smoothly. I’d be interested in hearing tips and techniques from other librarians. 

Things to Keep in Mind
Individuals on the autism spectrum are all unique, but there are a few general tips to be aware of in regards to the library and information literacy:

  1. Meeting in a new location (like the Library Classroom) may disrupt the student’s routine.
  2. My “there are many ways to find the answer” research worksheet may not be structured enough for someone on the autism spectrum. I could have supplemented it by outlining a step-by-step research strategy on the chalkboard/whiteboard.
  3. Technology in the Library Classroom could be distracting or contribute to sensory overload (I typically use both laptops and touchscreen technology with students).
  4. I usually require students to work in pairs or groups for the research worksheet activity, but should recognize that if a student wishes to work independently, that is an OK option.
  5. Emphasize additional services:
    • Appointments to meet with a librarian if that’s what the student is interested in.
    • Online tutorials and the library’s online chat box that can be accessed from the comfort of home/dorm room, etc… if a face-to-face interaction is not preferred.
    • Quiet spaces are available in the library if that’s the type of space that the student is interested in utilizing.
  6. As a librarian/higher ed professional, I will readily admit to not having a lot of training in the area of working with students on the autism spectrum. Contact your university’s office of disability services to see what further support the library could provide, or to arrange for staff training opportunities.
  7. Remember, *all* students learn differently. Keep in mind the principles of Universal Design for Learning.

Further Reading


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

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.

Librarian jobs have changed: Update on the 1912 Library Director’s report

The library at Carroll University (then Carroll College) circa 1920. Photo courtesy Carroll University Archives.

The library at Carroll University (then Carroll College) circa 1920s-1930s. Photo courtesy Carroll University Archives.

Yesterday, I wrote about a little archival find: a 1912 library director’s report from my current workplace.

Several commenters equated this to: Librarians’ jobs haven’t changed in a 100 years.

ERMAHGERD…no! That sounds like a bad clickbait headline with black and white photos of shushing librarians. It makes us seem like we’re complacent, when most of us are not.

What I was trying to get across – and it’s my fault for not stating it more clearly – was that I was able to see a lot of parallels to today’s job duties of librarians. I had expected to read the report from 1912 and chuckle at some of the work the library was doing. But I didn’t. Instead, I saw how our VALUES have remained consistent over time (providing access, organizing info, place to learn and get help, materials for the community). That’s what I was trying to emphasize.

I have 12 years of librarian-ing under my belt now. There are plenty of things that I’m doing now in 2015 that I wasn’t doing in 2003:

  • Researching 3D printers for my library.
  • Overhauling LibGuides.
  • Working on video tutorials.
  • Using ethnographic research to make the library better.
  • Planning a large-scale student “party” in the library.

So our job duties may change over time, but we still remain wedded to our core values. Consistency is good. Complacency is not.

Students working with a librarian at the Carroll University library - 2014.

Students working with a librarian at the Carroll University library.


A Little Library History: 1912 Library Director’s Report

Note: An update to this blog post.

Last week was National Library Week. Our library director shared with us her predecessor’s library report from 1912. I was struck by how many of the report’s themes are still integral to today’s libraries.

Library Director's Report from 1912 - photo courtesy Carroll University Archives

Library Director’s Report from 1912 – courtesy Carroll University Archives

Authored by Amanda Flattery, who worked as college librarian from 1905-1915 and who was described as possessing “outstanding scholarship, high ideals, and ready humor” (see her obituary – page 2), starts her report by describing the the juggling of multiple duties. Sound familiar, librarians? It then moves on to the year’s major activities and issues. Here’s where I see parallels to today’s library work:

  • Creating bibliographies: Aren’t those today’s LibGuides?
  • Students unable to find desired information: Yep, even in today’s info-rich environment, this is still a hallmark of what we do.
  • A course in reference work and bibliography: That has morphed into information literacy.
  • Issues with organizing information and providing access: A key issue in the 21st century!

Below are some excerpts relating to the main themes:


“Many hours of time are required for research work for students who are ignorant of books, or unable for find information.”

“Exhaustive bibliographies have been prepared by the librarian for all inter-collegiate debates.”

Check out some of the topics that students were researching at the library:

  • Japanese social classes
  • Witchcraft in England
  • Student government at Princeton
  • Statistics on condensed milk
  • Visiting nurses
  • Hamlet’s insanity
  • National music of Scotland
  • Description of a cash register
  • Municipal aid for the unemployed
  • Headache powders

Information Literacy

“a course in reference work and bibliography has been given, consisting of lectures, with criticism of practice work done by the class.”

Collection Development

“A notable addition to the resources of the library consists of about 350 pamphlets on up-to-date subjects…prove to be excellent materials for debate work.”


“To establish cordial relations with the women of the town, the librarian has given help to different members of the women’s clubs…”

Organization of Information

“Of the 3000 vols…only 1183 had been recorded in the accession book. There was no shelf-list, and the cataloging had been done in a confused and imperfect manner. It was impossible to build upon such a flimsy superstructure. It was absolutely necessary to go back to the very beginning and make the records correct and complete.”

Consistent Core Services

Years pass by, technology changes, people come and go, but a library’s core duties remain the same:

  • Providing access to information
  • Organizing information
  • A place to learn and get help
  • Materials for your community

PDF of the 1912 Library Director’s Report.

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.


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.


“Why the hell would I want to leave the library?” – The Library on “Orange is the New Black”

Oh Orange is the New Black: why do you release all of your episodes in the summer?

I will stay indoors on a perfectly beautiful summer weekend and watch all of the episodes. Last year I binge watched season one of the hit Netflix series. Now I’m doing the same with season two. Whether it can be true to “real” prison life is up for debate. What is does have is good writing, great acting, and a showcase for actresses that are unfortunately not often featured in mainstream Hollywood roles.

Naturally, as a librarian, I’ve been tied to some of the scenes involving the prison library and reading. There’s a Tumblr devoted to the books shown in various scenes–even Buzzfeed and Entertainment Weekly have picked up on it.

On the series, the characters Taystee and Poussey, two of my favorites, are shown working in the prison library–usually shelving books.

Taystee and Poussey in the prison library - Orange is the New Black

Taystee and Poussey in the prison library – Orange is the New Black

Taystee loves Harry Potter. Hates Ulysses. I could picture her delivering great “story times” in a library. Poussey strikes me as more of an academic–possibly using a research library to write her own treatise on literature, music, or post Cold War Germany.

Is it sad I want a subplot where either Taystee or Poussey decide to pursue a MLS degree?

Occasionally, as a librarian, you’ll find some “errors” with the prison library. In the screen cap below (featuring Daya and Bennett), you’ll see that the Dewey call number signs don’t reference which *side* of the shelf the call number range falls on. Is Is “550-559” on the left side or right side? Or do I walk down the row and continue around? Quibble, quibble.

Daya & Bennett in the prison library

Daya & Bennett in the prison library

In season two (mild spoiler ahead), the villainous Vee (shown below on the right) recruits Taystee (on the left) to give up her library job to start selling contraband tobacco.

Taystee responds:

Why the hell would I want to leave the library? It’s the best job here!

Vee counters:

Books do not pay the rent. Books do not ‘bourguignon’ the beef.

And there you have it – summed up in one exchange – everything you need to know about library work. It’s a great job, but not always the most lucrative of careers.

Who knew you’d end up getting library career lessons from Orange is the New Black?

Library Wisdom from Taystee and Vee - Orange is the New Black

Library Wisdom from Taystee and Vee – Orange is the New Black

Why We Weed: Book Deselection in Academic Libraries

Weeding – withdrawing books from the library’s collection – is one those dreaded librarian tasks. It usually sits on the back burner – other projects are often more pressing, or it’s simply being avoided. However, it’s an important task and one that can be fraught with controversy.

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Public libraries which frequently need to refresh their collections to offer bestsellers often pop up in the news when it comes to weeding books – mostly for not doing the job well – see Urbana Free Library in Illinois, Fairfax County Libraries in Virginia, and Davenport Public Library in Iowa.

For academic libraries, the process seems to be a taboo subject. News about book weeding occasionally bubbles to the surface (see Emporia State University in Kansas, the University of North Dakota law libraryNicholls State University in Louisiana, and the University of New South Wales in Australia). After all, the library is the academic heart of the institution. Why would you purge the library?

Why Do We Weed?

  • To remove books that are not being used
  • To remove books with outdated or obsolete information/philosophies (that have no historical use)
  • To identify books that are damaged or in poor condition
  • To identify gaps in the collection and make new purchases
  • To align the collection with the university’s goals, mission, and curriculum
  • Limited space for the collection

It boils down to this: Weeding is simply the selection process in reverse. Librarians, using their knowledge, institutional interests, and professional tools, decide which books to purchase. We use that same skill set to decide what books to withdraw.

Libraries are Not Warehouses
For most academic libraries, our mission is not to collect the whole of human knowledge. We have limited space, limited resources. We are not a warehouse for books–a warehouse is a storage facility. Books are for using–not for sitting on a shelf for years on end.

Seek Input, but Use Your Expertise
Communication is key. Consult with professors in the weeding process. Outline the reasons for weeding and why the project is important for the library. Offer professors the chance to review books slated for withdrawal, but remember that the librarian should use his/her skills and tools to make a final decision.

The Space Race
Most academic libraries aren’t seeing a brand new library building – or even a remodel – anytime soon. Space is at a premium. We investigate how students spend time in the library and use its resources (see: University of Rochester study, ERIAL Project, Project Information Literacy, Pew Reports): How to do students use the facility? What do they not do that they would like to do? Stacks and stacks of bound periodicals generally do not make sense anymore in the off-chance a student might browse the section. It can’t compete – nor should it – with 24/7 perpetual access to resources such as JSTOR – available from the library website from anywhere in the world.

Curriculum Counts
Particularly with smaller academic library collections, the mission is to support the courses taught at the university–not necessarily a professor’s own research interests (although the two often match up). As the curriculum evolves, some programs are phased out and new programs implemented. The library collection will change based on the curriculum. It’s a “growing organism” (Ranganathan’s 5th law of library science).

Bad Circulation
We strive for a high-quality, high-use collection. Librarians look at circulation statistics (usually both check-outs and in-house browses) as just one criterion for deciding which books to withdraw – but it’s an important one. Will we keep “classic” items essential for each discipline? Of course. But a non-essential book published in 1975 that hasn’t been checked out since 1985 (that’s 29 years ago–older than most college students!)? Probably not.

Seeing Double
Gone are the days when libraries would purchase multiple copies of the same book to go into the circulating collection. Are those multiple copies getting checked out? Probably not. Even with a “classic” book, multiple copies are likely not warranted and will be weeded. Same goes for most superseded editions.

Waiting for ILL?
Will withdrawal of books lead students to waiting for materials through interlibrary loan? If the books weren’t being used in the first place, then probably not! Generally, lower-level undergraduates will be fine. Upper-level students may need to resort to interlibrary loan regardless of your weeded or un-weeded collection. ILL is also faster these days. If it’s absolutely central to students’ research, then they will wait. On the flipside: If books slated for withdrawal were so “important” – then your library would probably be receiving ILL requests for them. Guess what? They’re not!

Print v. Electronic
In some cases, print copies may be replaced with electronic copies. Will print books be going away anytime soon? No. Opinions on print v. electronic will vary by discipline. Seek input from faculty and students. However, electronic versions may hold an advantage for certain items: Think of digitized historical primary sources – accessible to anyone from anywhere – that’s a better scenario than one book checked out to one person.

The Mini-Library Problem

Often when books are discarded, professors want them for their collections. Policies will vary from library to library on this. I’ve worked at libraries that struggled against historical practices that lead to unofficial “mini-libraries” on-campus. Library staff worked hard to amalgamate library collections for the campus to provide centrally located services and ease of access. The idea of burgeoning “satellite” libraries is one that a lot of smaller academic libraries do not want to repeat.

Book Fetishists
I like books. You like books. I get it. But not every book is precious for your library. And not everyone is willing to come to an agreement on this. Librarians need to communicate and educate. Try to avoid the dumpster scenario if at all possible. Hold a book sale, offer to a used bookstore, or use outlets such as Better World Books. Make an effort to find a new home for these books.


A candidate for weeding - Where the Jobs Are: The Hottest Careers for the '90s and Beyond - according to WorldCat, this 1995 ed. is still available in over 300 libraries.

A candidate for weeding: Where the Jobs Are: The Hottest Careers for the ’90s and Beyond. According to WorldCat, this 1995 ed. is still available in over 300 libraries.