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Monthly Archives: August 2015

Dancing in the library lobby

The Roesch Library at the University of Dayton is doing some amazing outreach work to engage students with library services. Communications and Outreach librarian Katy Kelly recently wrote about their new library tour photo hunt for the ALA’s Programming Librarian blog:

“Another clue that is entertaining to watch is, ‘Every year during final exams, the library offers FREE chair massages, free pizza, free taxi rides, free coffee and tea, visits from therapy dogs, and sometimes a midnight dance party in the lobby. Take a photo of a group member dancing in the first-floor lobby.'”

Back in 2012, Kelly also wrote about how the programming team monitors social media to design relevant and timely finals activities:

“My daily interactions on Twitter via the library’s account show students that someone is listening. We’re also able to make an impact by making some of their comments, suggestions, and ideas into realities. I think a lot of students are really clever and have funny and important things to say. Twitter is a great way to see what students are saying and an outlet for finding creative programming ideas by students.”

Katy’s creativity doesn’t stop there. If this inspires you, check out some of her recent posts in the ACRL Library Marketing and Outreach group [Facebook].

QOTD: Imagine it possible

“Do not imagine that, if something is hard for you to achieve, it is therefore impossible for any man: but rather consider anything that is humanly possible and appropriate to lie within your own reach too.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.19.

The internet isn’t what we hoped it would be

Currently, I’m reading two articles by journalist and blogger Quinn Norton. The first discusses the convergence of encryption, journalism ethics, and digital literacy in light of recent hacks and data dumps. Of particular interest to librarians and teachers, Quinn urges that:

“Kids should be learning about networks from a young age, and the basics of how computers work. This means teachers need to learn about these things, need to make it their business, if their business is still preparing child to be functional 21st century people. From there, kids will know how to demand a better network as consumer and political actors when they grow up.”

The second article is also a good read for those interested in digital literacy. In “The Hypocrisy of the Internet Journalist,” Quinn describes her experience building tools that track consumer behavior online. As she notes, credit card companies have been doing this for decades and most people probably wouldn’t bat an eye at it. What is more insidious is the way in which, Quinn claims, these tools can change your behavior.

“What I’d do next is: create a world for you to inhabit that doesn’t reflect your taste, but over time, creates it. I could slowly massage the ad messages you see, and in many cases, even the content, and predictably and reliably remake your worldview. I could nudge you, by the thousands or the millions, into being just a little bit different, again and again and again.”

My reaction to consumer “analytics” oscillates between a stoic agnosticism and utter Stallmanism. I like seeing ads for bow ties when I visit the New York Times. At the same time, I often contemplate building my own secure system at home and completely dropping off the social media landscape.

Somewhat related is Jennifer Granick’s recent talk at blackhat 2015:

Ask a magician. Ask a librarian.

I’ll be honest. I was teary-eyed by the end: A Love Letter to Librarians.

That said, it’s worth noting that as an academic librarian, I don’t feel this necessarily applies to me. And yet, the bibliothecarii of higher education ultimately perform the same duty. We introduce students to the mysteries of greater knowledge and the joy of delving deep into the complexity of a topic. We help them to develop the mental tools for lifelong learning and liberal thought. As I see it, we are less magician and more scientist in our approach to student learning.

Goals for the 2015-2016 academic year: Reference

For the past fifteen years I’ve operated on an academic schedule. When September rolls around on the calendar, it begins to feel like New Years is approaching and I shift into resolutions mode. At my library we are in the midst of our annual review process so we are all thinking about what we’d like to see and do in the coming year.

One of my big goals for this year is to revamp our reference services by creating a more flexible desk schedule, shifting our attention to research consultations and virtual reference, and redesigning our student training process. Ideally, I’m hoping to create a model that (1) utilizes librarian time and attention more efficiently; (2) properly trains students to triage and refer reference questions to library staff; and (3) increases the awareness and accessibility of library reference services among students.

For us, the reference desk is no longer a primary place of academic support, but one of customer service and technical support (this conclusion is based on two years of detailed statistics). Rather than continue to push a model of reference that isn’t useful to our students in that location, I want to focus our energies on creating real reference connections in other spaces. Some of the specific milestones for this goal include:

  • Develop an FAQ website for reference questions using the Libraryh3lp platform consisting of, at minimum, the top 20 questions asked at the Info Desk.
  • Create a Libraryh3lp training workshop for librarians.
  • Set up a system that allows for students to reserve a research consultation time with librarians.
  • Create a new training module for all library student workers that teaches how to identify, capture, and refer reference questions to a librarian.
  • Develop a marketing plan to highlight virtual reference services, especially text-a-librarian.

From the user’s perspective, our reference desk setup will look exactly the same, but I’ll be making changes on the back-end throughout the semester. If my plan is successful, we may move away from the traditional desk model altogether. Or it may further necessitate the need for the desk. At this point, we don’t know which way the winds are blowing.

The spiritual children of Antisthenes

couple walking beside ruin of gascon hall, perthshire: Image taken from page 148 of 'Life and Songs of the Baroness Nairne; with a memoir and poems of Caroline Oliphant the younger. Edited by ... C. Rogers ... With a portrait and other illustrations'
image credit: the British Library on flickr

One of my favorite blogs, Brain Pickings, recently posted a brief meditation on leisure, based on Josef Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture [public library]. Pieper argues that leisure — which is more than simply “a vacation” — is an active pursuit that allows us the chance to reclaim our humanity.

“Leisure is not justified in making the functionary as “trouble-free” in operation as possible, with minimum “downtime,” but rather in keeping the functionary human … and this means that the human being does not disappear into the parceled-out world of his limited work-a-day function, but instead remains capable of taking in the world as a whole, and thereby to realize himself as a being who is oriented toward the whole of existence.”

I’ve been actively working to incorporate more leisure into my daily life. I wake up at 4:45 each morning to walk the dog and make breakfast before the rest of my family rises. This allows me almost two hours of solitude during which I only allow myself to read and write. In the evening after Ms. 2 goes to sleep, I spend half an hour reflecting upon my day and about an hour reading non-professional literature before bed.

I’ve managed to maintain this habit all throughout the summer. I can attest that I am more rested, clearer of mind, healthier, and less stressed than usual. For the first time in many years I am beginning to see myself as more than my job. While most of my identity is deeply rooted in being a librarian (and I don’t begrudge that), long-forgotten aspects of myself are beginning to rise to the surface again.

We’ll see if it holds once the Fall semester starts. September through October is the busiest time of the year for me as an instruction librarian and the time when I’m most likely to bring work home. However, after three years, I know I’ve got this so perhaps I can afford the opportunity to be kinder to myself.

Whither goes web writing

I am constantly tweaking my social media feeds mostly in an effort to limit what I see when I log into Twitter, Facebook, or whatever. A recent post by David Moldawer of Boing Boing gives some insight into the type of writing I try to avoid:

“The long tail of odd and authentic content is bigger than ever, but if you find your content the way most people do, through the algorithmically warped suggestions in your social media feeds, the stuff you stumble onto feels less like writing and more like wordage, a sort of tips-and-tragedies lorem ipsum.”

One of the first things I talk about in my library instruction courses for First-Year writing seminars is the difficulty of doing research in the Filter Bubble, but Moldawer’s post has me thinking about this from a different perspective: library marketing. I am not opposed to occasionally using popular forms of web writing (listicles, grabby headlines, lifehacking) to catch a reader’s attention, but I strive to create an authentic voice for our library, one that is friendly, energetic, and attentive to users’ interests and needs.

Which reminds me, I need to found out how the University of Iowa’s Special Collections’ team creates these awesome gifs. Also, you should follow their Tumblr.

Serializing student work in digital displays

Brian Mathews’s blog The Ubiquitous Librarian has come to an end with the impending closure of the Chronicle’s blog network. I will miss reading Brian’s thoughts on leadership and possible futures for academic libraries (though, he will no doubt continue to write). In one of his final posts, he talks about highlighting student scholarship in the library. I particularly like this idea:

“I really want to explore serialized content. For example, take a design or architecture  course with a semester long project. Week by week I want to display their sketches and renderings so we can follow the progression and perhaps provide feedback via a social media channel.”

Let’s keep going with this: we could highlight student writing by projecting lines of poetry onto the floor; we could have a scrolling feed of students’ thesis topics/titles to show what students are currently writing about; we could have a live feed from any classes using Twitter; we could display the cover of the last book checked out (or returned); we could play songs based on usage stats from our streaming music database; we could show a live dashboard of the number of users in the library, or using our discovery service, or connected to our wifi network. There are so many possibilities!

I am not sure what will happen to all of Brian’s posts, but it’s been a pleasure seeing his posts in my feed reader each week. Best of luck with your new projects, soldier!