Sally Bryant and Michelle Jacobs-Lustig, librarians at Pepperdine University in Malibu, exhibited a number of innovations at their library. As noted in their introduction, they’ve take a “perpetual beta” approach to library services and moved away from a one-size-fits-all model. As a result, here are some of their successes:

Library Ambassadors

Think of these as glorified student assistants. In addition to helping to maintain library operations, these students become service points. They are trained for more than just direction inquiries. Each student is expected to complete a weekly training assignment that may include “how to cite properly” or require them to write a review of a database. They also wear personalized (and vibrant!) name badges, inspiring both a sense of responsibility, improving performance, and [anecdotally] increasing positive feedback from users.


All the pamphlets, flyers, and announcements were removed from the reference desk and replaced with a single Mac, a huge light bulb lamp, and an LED keyboard (all bright, shiny, and flashing). The light bulb became the de facto mascot of the reference desk (I don’t have a photo, but it is CUTE!). According to Bryant and Jacobs-Lustig, this has helped them move “from reference to conversation.”

Improved Digital Signage and Wayfinding

Convoluted signs were simplified. The library added screens displaying library services. Many colorful arrows were employed to direct students. Never underestimate the power of colorful arrows (reminded me of the hallways from the Battle School in Ender’s Game)

Dead Week Detours

During the week before finals, the library offered a numbed of activities for students, including: build your own cupcakes, yoga and stretch classes, and holiday card design. The materials for these classes were purchased by the library (very inexpensive) and the popularity of these events was driven by word-of-mouth (esp. Facebook).

Other innovative ways of improving public services included:

    • Allowing students to create their own work schedules and swap when necessary
    • Redesigned website to include more action words (instead of “Research Guides”, “Start your research here!”)
    • Relied more on word-of-mouth and less on pushy marketing
    • Moved scheduling and statistics to LibCal and LibAnalytics by Springshare (there was a lot of Springshare love in the room!)
    • Created “shush” cards for students to hand out (above photo). Apparently, librarians don’t do enough shushing, but  the students were more than willing to take up the responsibility.

There are many exiting things happening at Pepperdine Libraries. Academic librarians, keep an eye on these folks!

Jenica Rogers, Director of Libraries at the State University of New York at Potsdam and blogger at Attempting Elegance, spoke to a packed room about killing fear, being a leader, and getting things done. She stated that libraries have always been changing and that that shouldn’t let us stop trying to predict the future and plan for it.  Generally, librarians react … and react poorly. Rogers offered eight tactics for new leadership and action:

  1. Stop defaulting to no and start saying yes. Ask yourself, “what’s the worst that could happen?”
  2. Be a leader and “be your own damn hero.” Stop waiting for someone to do it for you.
  3. Start paying attention. You no longer have an excuse not to know about Issue X in our field.
  4. Never forget that technology is just a tool. It’s only as good as its wielders. Also, to paraphrase Ani DiFranco, any tool can be a weapon if you hold it right.
  5. Rethink strategic planning. Our strategic planning is always tethered to the now, it should be tethered to our goals. Plan for it like you plan for an airplane flight (start in the future and work backwards).
  6. Examine your timidity. Rogers asked: “Why is telling the truth now a political act?” Also, know your tell! So you can react accordingly when it happens.
  7. Acknowledge your fears.
  8. Chase inspiration. What inspires you? Go there. Hangout.

I should also mention that there were multiple reference to geekdom, including Buffy, Dune, and Amanda Palmer. Be still my heart.

I’m in San Diego for the next two days for the California Academic & Research Libraries Conference. Day 0 was mostly preconferencing and connecting with colleagues.

Preconference #1 – Action research

The first preconference event was entitled, “Action Research: How to easily incorporate evidence-based research into your practice” and was presented by April Cunningham and Stephanie Rosenblatt. We began by defining action research and deliminating it from evidence-based research (i.e. action research is hyper-local and operates under different expectations of scholarship). You can learn more about action research at Stephanie and April’s blog, but here are a few takeaways that I found important:

    • With action research, your ultimate goal is not to publish, but to change or understand the efficacy of what you do, whether it’s reference, instruction, etc. Thus, the expectations (esp. as regards methodology and rigor) are not the same. This is not to say that the expectations are lower, but that you as a practitioner have more flexibility in your approach to assessment.
    • A mixed methods approach (qualitative plus quantitative) is the best approach. Moreover, you need to be aware of how one feeds or builds upon the other. For example, an “exploratory” approach would begin with qualitative analysis and use quantitative analysis to explain the results. An “explanatory” approach would do the opposite.
    • Understand your data before you begin your analysis. Depending on the type of data you have (nominal, ordinal, interval, ratio), there are good and not-so-good ways of analyzing that data. Case in point: if you only have nominal data, determining the average or standard deviation may be of little value to defining the data’s meaning.
    • Finally, we explored a number of different tools for analyzing data, including Tableau Public, LIWC, textstat, and a number of rubrics.

I do recommend asking Stephanie and April to speak about assessment at your institution. As a non-numbers librarian (read: humanities background), I found it to be a gentle introduction to data-based decision-making.

 Preconference #2 – Peer learning

This turned out to not be what I expected (I thought we would be discussing a particular digital platform), but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the session. First, I bit of background. During the economic downturn of the last few year, a group of University of California system AULs decided that they would begin to come together on a semi-regular basis to discuss their work environment. The design intent of these meetings was to understand each other’s leadership strengths and explore their shared leadership agenda. They asked of each other: what change do I want to see? to what level? and how?

One AUL listed the following as the benefits of the peer learning group:

    • sharing
    • creating a trusted peer group
    • accessing mutual strengths
    • having a mentor and being able to ask the essential questions

Another AUL listed the following as benefits:

    • the ability to reconnect
    • to retreat
    • to rethink & reflect
    • to access [human] resources
    • to finally tackle “that thorny problem”
    • being in a stress-free environment

Most of all, I was surprised at the level of “vulnerability” that was expressed. As an aspiring academic librarian, it was refreshing and empowering. We concluded the session with an open (but private) discussion about work/life balance, frustrations, and hopes about our current positions in academic librarianship.

The evening ended with friends, margaritas and Mexican food at a local restaurant. Day 0 = Success!

The California Academic & Research Libraries (CARL) conference begins this Thursday in San Diego. The theme of this year’s events is ”Creativity and Sustainability: Fostering User-centered Innovation in Difficult Times.” What better way to foster innovation and inspire creativity than through an Unconference!

As Fortune would have it, I will be co-coordinating the Unconference with the inestimable and talented Young Lee. While the unconference events will be mostly standard fare (see below), the format is a bit unorthodox. Rather than having a multi-hour block of time set aside at the beginning of the conference, the unconference will be broken into five, 1.25 hour blocks that run over the course of two days.

Here is our game plan:

Friday 10:15 am – 11:30 am: Speed networking and DIY round-table

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Kick off your unconference experience by getting to know your fellow attendees and perfecting your “elevator pitch”! We’ll briefly discuss what makes the ideal first impression and work on refining our own responses to the perennial question “What do you do?” Share and repeat. DIY Roundtable: A classic staple of unconferences, the round table brings everyone together as a group to discuss topics chosen on the spot. Participants drive the conversation according to their concerns and by their contributions.

Friday 4:15 pm – 5:30 pm: Solve For U

Taking a cue from the tech sector, attendees will have the opportunity to apply “moonshot thinking” to tackling problems. Utilizing prior submissions and/or discussions from earlier in the day, participants will select a single problem to tackle and work in separate teams to formulate competing solutions. Show and tell to follow.

Saturday 8:30 am – 9:45 am: Round Table, Part Deux

A classic staple of unconferences, the round table brings everyone together as a group to discuss topics chosen on the spot. Participants drive the conversation according to their concerns and by their contributions.

Saturday 11:45 am – 1:00 pm: Crowd-sourced Boot Camp

Each attendee brings a unique set of skills and experiences with them. Why not leverage that expertise for the benefit of everyone? Participants themselves will educate, explain, or demonstrate how to accomplish a task, create an item, or understand a concept. Topics will be based on attendees’ knowledge and interests.

Saturday 2:30 pm – 3:45 pm: DIY Think Tanks

Attendees will brainstorm possible topics for discussion based on interests, current events, or conference proceedings, with topics ranging from “improving customer service through mobile media” to “future thinking in academic libraries” (and anything in between!). Participants will vote and select the most popular topics then divide into separate “think tanks” to discuss. At the end of the session, each think tank will share the results of their discussion

If you are planning to attend CARL, I hope you will consider joining us for one or more of the Unconference events. Because the discussion is driven entirely upon the interests of the attendees who show up, you never know where it will lead!