Category Archives: Office Hours

Office Hours Meets UX in Library Journal

I’m honored to have written a combined Office Hours column with User Experience author Aaron Schmidt in the new issue of Library Journal:

http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/ljinprint/currentissue/891081-403/putting_the_ux_in_education.html.csp

UX thinking doesn’t have to be limited to specific courses, however. Core parts of the LIS curriculum can and should change as we review and update classes to reflect the focus on our patrons’ experiences. Reference and resource-based study can easily morph when taught through a UX lens. Take collection development, for instance—wouldn’t classes about collection development be richer and more productive when combined with thinking about building design and library programming? When LIS classes encourage cross-departmental collaboration, we’ll have new librarians ready to tear down the departmental silos prevalent in many libraries. Weaving a thread of holistic UX thinking throughout all of an LIS program’s learning outcomes and coursework—from planning library programs to ILS design—will enhance graduates’ skill sets.

It amazes me that Aaron and I wrote “IM Me” in 2005!

Office Hours: Listening to Student Voices

My “Office Hours” column is out in the new LJ and online. This time I report from The Future of the Academic Library Symposium:

The age-old confusion about what a librarian does still exists. In fact, when Ridley asked the panel “What defines a professional librarian,” their comments weren’t surprising. One “had no idea” what a librarian was until it was explained to her in the car on the way to the symposium. Another stated what many students, and public library patrons, think as well: “it means everyone in the library to me….”

Ridley followed with, “Do you care if it’s a librarian, or not, helping you with your research?” The consensus was a simple, “No, we just want help,” and frankly librarians are mostly a “last resort.”

Read the whole column here: http://tametheweb.com/2011/06/15/listening-to-student-voices/

 

Office Hours Extra: Transparency at Redlands by Mary Grace Maloney

Hi Michael,

I just read your recent LJ article, “The Transparent Library School”. It really resonated with me. I don’t know if I told you about my undergraduate experience at the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies, University of Redlands or not. Your article reminded me of the student-faculty collaborative practice at Johnston. For example, I co-created several classes there, designed my own major, and was a Community Assistant (Johnston’s version of a “RA”) on the living-learning complex. One of the things we did on a weekly basis was have community meetings. We (students and faculty) talked about everything in those meetings from brainstorming new courses, to voting on funds for student projects, and to re-painting the community kitchen, in a structured meeting format built on consensus. On some level, I think LIS programs could benefit from this practice. At least once a semester the LIS program could host a community meeting and pot luck dinner to build community and encourage conversation. There is more to be learned from established non-traditional higher education practices. If you’re interested in learning more about Johnston, here’s the link:
Mary Grace (M. G.) Maloney, Butler Children’s Literature Center, Graduate Assistant, GSLIS Dominican University

Office Hours Extra: The Transparent Dean

Daniel Stuhlman, Reference Librarian at Wright College, Chicago presents part one of an interview with the newly appointed dean of the University’s School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS).  Daniel notes, however, that “note this is just for your information and amusement. Any connection to a real university or dean is strictly coincidental.” The ideas ring true.

Q> You talked about teaching management skills as important for librarians.  Would you elaborate?  What is your philosophy of management?

A> One of the most common reasons for people to be dissatisfied with their jobs is they feel they are not supported by the administration. They feel that comments, suggestions, and complaints are ignored.  Before I was a manager I said, “Sometimes when you bang your head against the wall, you break down the wall and sometimes you just hurt your head.”  People with their experience and knowledge are the organization’s most valuable asset. Some schools with administrations who rule by decree are full of unhappy faculty and students. So far this School has a great history of collaborative planning and problem solving.  The corporate culture ingrained on the faculty is co-operate and work as a team or leave.  I would not have accepted a position in an organization that did not believe in trust, collaboration, and shared planning.  The president and board of trustees have made it clear that faultfinding, blame, and finger pointing have no place in this institution.  There is always room for improvement.  Cooperation requires lots of meetings.  I hate wasting time at meeting.  I hope to create paths and systems to share information and solve problems with a minimum amount of time in meetings. Everyone will be required to prepare for large group or formal meetings.
I hope that our way of dealing with planning and problem solving can be an example for the students.  I hope to be transparent when there are challenges and opportunities by telling students and faculty what is happening.  Social media and e-mail make this much easier today that when I was a student.  We must recognize that part of the education process is social. I’m talking about the opportunity to be near great minds. We need times for people exchange thoughts and learn from each other outside of the classroom.  We need to see each other experts and to meet each other.  This applies to distance learners, too.  I will encourage faculty to conduct on-line smooze sessions.  I plan to schedule a smooze session once a week using conferencing software.  The details have yet to be determined.
Basically my management philosophy is:  1) No one has a monopoly on the truth; 2) When I don’t know the answers I will seek to find them or someone who can help me find them; 3) To succeed together, we must learn to share, co-operate, set  good examples by our words and actions, and work as a team; 4) Dream for the best; 5) Make goals and plan for the future; 6) Have a backup plan;   7) Seek the truth; 8) Always find opportunities to learn; 9) Never stop learning; and 10) Never stop learning.

No fault, no blame methods of problem solving create an atmosphere of trust and help people avoid excuses and defensiveness. The emphasis is on solving problems, accepting responsibility and shared accountability.  At this time our problems and challenges are routine.  We always have to balance the demands of time, money, logistics and real estate.  I will have to keep reminding everyone of the”no fault” guidelines.  In a collaborative, teamwork environment, accountability rests with the individual(s) responsible rather than with the supervising authority. We try to do the right things for the good of the students, the School, and the University. We want everyone to look good.

Office Hours Extra: LIS edu in Germany – a Guest Post by Dale Askey

Back in late 2008, I received a phone call from a friend/colleague in Germany with a tantalizing offer: would I be interested in a three-semester teaching gig? The location was the University of Applied Sciences in Leipzig (Hochschule für Technik, Wirtschaft und Kultur – HTWK) [http://www.fbm.htwk-leipzig.de/de/fakultaet-medien/], and the job was a paternity leave replacement for their professor of electronic publishing and multimedia in the College of Media.

How could one say no? I was feeling a bit stale in my library work, and know from past experience that I enjoy teaching semester-length courses and possess some teaching skill. That I would be teaching in my second language was a bit daunting. In fact, that fear had led me to turn down an interview offer for a similar full-time position a number of years ago. There were also personal considerations, as it would mean doing a crazy bi-continental split family commuting thing. So of course I said yes.

It was a bit unclear before I started what and whom I would be teaching, but I thought it would be mostly in the LIS program. The HTWK’s College of Media has seven programs, and as it turned out, I taught only about 30% of my courses for LIS, with the rest divided between three other programs: two publishing programs (production and management) and museum studies. Teaching outside of my professional wheelhouse just upped the challenge ante, and in the end made the time richer and more personally rewarding.

The HTWK’s library program has a fairly traditionalist reputation. Students still learn cataloging principles, bibliography, etc., but the curriculum is modernizing. It also bears noting that in Germany, which has a two-tiered profession with two kinds of librarians—well, actually three now, just to spice things up—that the kind of librarians we were educating will be hired into line librarian positions and generally find the pathway to administration barred. As such, teaching basic library skills makes some sense, since the market is going to demand them for a while yet.

Another significant difference between North American and German library education is that Germany still has a bachelor’s level LIS degree, which is a professionally qualifying degree. As such, the majority of German librarians lack a graduate degree or a bachelor’s degree in another field. Needless to say, this affects LIS education and the profession in many ways, and is essential to understanding the core differences between German and North American libraries.

But what of the students? They’re a great lot for the most part: motivated, dedicated to libraries, keenly aware that the profession and institution are changing. Given that they choose to study library science without necessarily having any other post-secondary education, there are a few who seem confused about what is going in in libraries and just sort of drifted along, but that isn’t unheard of in any program anywhere. Even though their program’s curriculum does not support much in terms of new technology, many were quite curious and explored on their own.

Beyond what I was actually supposed to teach them, which for the library program centered around video production (see the often poignant and funny results here [http://www.youtube.com/playlist?p=PL0DBC1144AAEB1C3F&feature=mh_lolz]) and electronic publishing (translation: designing Websites that don’t stink), students got an earful of other topics from me. I sensed hunger and interest, so I just rolled with it.

First and foremost, I dragged them into the social media realm. They knew of its existence, of course, but they had never blogged, none twittered, and they never touched things like Wikipedia editing or other such UGC sites. I built a lot of this exploration into my classes, and left behind a passel of social media mavens. This is something I did in all of the classes I taught, regardless of field, and it’s been gratifying to see it take off.

Beyond social media, they heard about the current state of technology in libraries: link resolvers, ERMs, catalog overlays a la VuFind, and so on. Libraries in Germany (well, some) are hip to these things, of course, but this hasn’t trickled up (down?) into the LIS programs, at least not in Leipzig. Most students heard of a link resolver for the first time from me—including those in higher semesters—even though one could suggest that the OpenURL was a disruptive technology. Students in the publishing programs could not escape learning about scholarly publishing and open access, areas their programs otherwise ignore, despite the presence of major publishers (and potential employers) such as Springer and Wiley.

For my part, teaching there was as challenging and rewarding as I could have dared to dream. When I look back on my career, this will remain a highlight. On the other hand, it was utterly exhausting, and after 18 months I was so happy to be done. At universities of this type, instructors carry what in North American terms would be a 5-5 load, meaning five courses per semester; in my first and third semesters, I had five preps to boot. It’s a harrowing load, and even though I’m about as fluent in German as a non-native speaker could be, doing this much teaching in a second language (where every conversation, lecture, question, joke, etc. is about 10% harder mentally), there were days when I arrived home (to my brave daughter who did third grade in Germany with me while mom and sis were in the U.S.) utterly incapable of forming further speech nor doing anything other than watching mindless TV.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the awesome colleagues I found in Leipzig. Truly dedicated professionals all, they welcomed me and my ideas openly and warmly, and I can only hope that our professional lives collide again down the road. Most importantly, the HTWK friend who made the original call supported me in word, deed, and with caffeine, and to him I owe a debt of gratitude that may take a lifetime to repay.

What saddens me as a librarian is how eager German librarians and library students are to experience and learn from North American libraries, but how little of that interest flows in the other direction. Language plays a role, of course, but it would be so beneficial for the profession on this side of the ocean to broaden its horizons beyond English-speaking nations. It can be done.

 

After serving libraries at Washington University, the University of Utah, Yale University, and Kansas State University, Dale Askey currently fills the role of Associate University Librarian for Library and Learning Technologies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Although firmly ensconced in the library information technology realm, his educational background is in the humanities, specifically German language and literature. This piece reflects on his experiences from March 2009-August 2010 as teaching faculty in Leipzig, Germany. He blogs semi-regularly/professionally at Eintauchen/Dive In
[http://htwkbk.wordpress.com].

Office Hours Extra: Heretical Thoughts Sharing

At the Future of Academic Libraries Symposium, I had about 15 minutes to hear from the attendees about their own “heretical thoughts” about LIS education. Thanks to Dale Askey (@daskey) for capturing these while I lead the discussion:

Being more selective about who gets in to library school.

Cut down number of graduates; avoid overstocking the profession.

Deans/professors at conferences/forums, at thought leading/forming events. Where are they?

LIS schools need to manage expectations of profession; libraries are being unrealistic by demanding immediate gratification in the form of
perfectly fit graduates

Instructional design should be part of the mix

Internships integral? Yes, must be strong partnerships with host libraries and communities.

More critical thinking skills taught in library school. Crucial component.

Lighten up, be playful, take risks.

ALA accreditation? Enabler?

Teach MARC and cataloging as history course.

Reduce adjunctification, less online instruction by semi-skilled instructors, allow practitioners sans PhD into the teaching ranks as full-time faculty.

Create unflappable and intellectually curious self-starters.

Require work experience to enter library school (as support staff)

 

What would you add?

Office Hours: Comment on “Stuck in the Past”

This is intriguing – comment by “B” at  http://bit.ly/gYGL6k :

Some of my former co-workers (who were also hiring managers) nixed applicants that responded “Because I love books” to the question “Why do you want to work in a library?” While such a black and white approach to hiring makes me a bit squeamish, I do strongly encourage job applicants to be a bit more creative in their response. Apparently “Because I like books” is such a common response (among the entry-level crowd, at least), that giving a different (thoughtful and honest) answer is a quick way to nail the question in an interview.

Office Hours Extra: “Get as many technology skills as you can…”

Thanks to Rich Allen, Technical Services Librarian at Winthrop Public Library in Massachusetts , for sending this link. The Boston Globe recently ran a story called “Checking Out the Future.” It highlights the Simmons program but also explores the increase in technology use and required skills for new grads. These lines echo some of the things I’ve written about in “Office Hours:” (emphasis mine)

Library science used to be the realm of career changers. Bookish types, having put in some years in the work world, would enroll in a graduate program with dreams of one day making a living surrounded by the noble hush of book stacks, card catalogs, and shelf upon shelf of reference tomes.

Not so today. “More people today are coming straight out of college,’’ says Michèle Cloonan, dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College. “The students are younger. Ten years ago, the vast majority of them had worked before coming here.’’

Tomorrow’s librarians face a two-year graduate school curriculum freighted with technology courses that didn’t exist 10 years ago, courses that will likely be replaced by others within a year or two. The future of libraries is a constantly evolving digital landscape, and technical literacy, as it is in so many other fields, is absolutely essential to find a job in a brutal job market.

“Get as many technology skills as you can,’’ advises Jamie Cantoni, 26, of Cornwall, Conn., who’s in her final semester at GSLIS and has already been out in the job market. “What’s most shocking is when you go to apply for jobs how much they value strong technology skills. A master’s in library science is not enough to get a job anymore. You need a second master’s.’’

Later comes this about the Simmons program:

The emphasis on technology begins early at the GSLIS. Every student must create a website and wiki page within the first six weeks. They cannot continue their studies until they complete these projects.

Linnea Johnson, manager of technology at GSLIS, also teaches the required hard-core course, Information for Technology for Information Professionals.

“It’s a confidence thing,’’ she says about technology literacy. “You can be overwhelmed by technology. We want our students to be able to talk comfortably about systems and talk to server and data base vendors.’’

I am very aware of the rumblings of change in our profession.  This is further evidence of what’s needed to educate our future librarians – and where our focus should be. The landscape they work in will be decidedly different. Balancing our foundations and ethics with a healthy dose of technology is the best way to get there.

Office Hours Extra: Save the Day!

I believe in the power of stories. I think everything we do in our libraries contributes to the story we tell – signage, customer service, the atmosphere of the building and how we interact with our users – both in person and online. At this moment in time, a library’s story is written everyday by what users find or don’t find inside, how the staff meets those users needs and what is said about the facility in line at the grocery store and online at Yelp or Google reviews.

I’ve travelled a lot in the last few years, mostly for speaking gigs at various conferences, in-service days and consortial meetings. I’ve earned a load of frequent flier miles, Hilton points and other travel perks along the way. I’ve also come away with a treasure chest of stories from the road, from meeting practicing librarians all over the world.

I use these stories in my teaching, on my blog and re-use them in presentations, couching all in a degree of anonymity as to not embarrass the folks the stories are about. I use them to illustrate points. I use them to make people laugh. I use them in hope that on some level a person listening will recognize their own foibles and ponder a new point of view. A change in service. A change of mind.

Consider these strange but true stories from the road:

An academic library had outsourced almost 90% of its cataloging to free up time for the staff to focus on organizing and digitizing what I believe is much more important: local, unique collections. The head of cataloging, however, was suspect of the outsourcing vendor and checked every box of books that came in the door to make sure the cataloging was correct. The woman who told me this story actually noted that the head of cataloging had been on a two week vacation and the boxes were filling her office. Time saved by outsourcing? Zero.

An LIS student who works part time at a public library at related this story at a recent talk I gave out east. A teen desperately needed a copy of one of those oh-so-popular bestseller wizard vampire werewolf books we stock like mad. All copies were out – except for one, currently in the YA librarian’s office. “Could I check that one out to her?” the student worker asked. The answer: an emphatic “No” – that copy was for future book club use. The book stayed in the office for weeks, while the young patron went without.

A special librarian at a recent reception reflected on what Michael Casey and I wrote  in The Transparent Library. Even in the corporate environment there is room for openness and transparency. His suggestion to the head of his information services department to found a blog and create a Twitter account to engage with other info specialists in branches around the country and to promote special librarianship to students and others in LIS was met with a sideways, suspect glance and the words: “That’s not secure. We can’t control it who might link to us and what they might say.”

The thread running through all of these stories? Barriers made by individuals acting in the interest of their library. What’s so apparent to my students, when I use these stories in the classroom, is just how wrong they actually are. How can I teach Rangananthan in Intro to LIS, knowing full well that in some libraries “Books are for use” comes with a few disclaimers, including that library that continues to put new and notable materials on a table for examination for TWO WEEKS. Patrons are encouraged to place holds for future pick up. Repeat after me: “Save the time of the reader.” Or viewer. Or listener.

While those stories cause me concern, I’ve also heard many wonderful stories that make my heart happy and demonstrate the amazing service that libraries provide.

I recently spent the day at a well-known library where the order of the day is a user-driven service philosophy. Staff are empowered to go above and beyond. In fact, they’re encouraged to do so – with full administrative support. There is no way the above examples would ever fly. The mindset is just too different. Over lunch, the staff gathered with me to share stories of what they’ve learned dealing with their users.

A patron was in desperate need of a certain title, a book that was out and overdue. The young staffer so wanted to help this person that she ordered the book on Amazon and had it delivered directly to the patron’s home. “Bring it in and we’ll catalog it when you’re done,” she said to the happy patron. Trust of the radical flavor for sure.

Another similar story ended with a staffer purchasing a desperately-needed children’s book at the local big box bookseller and dropping it off at the patron’s home. A human connection made for miles on the car and the cost of a book.

Is it out of the question to set aside a tiny bit of our book budgets for these type of “save the day” endeavors? Should we trust our users enough to bring back that book? Will the world end if someone tricks us and gets a free copy of “Twilight?”

I don’t think so when the obvious result is a user that remembers that interaction for a very long time – and tells everyone whenever the library is a topic of conversation.

Those stories offer AHAs as well to my students, many graduating this year. The ongoing conversation about user-focus and service in libraries – with participants like Shera, Buckland, and the current LIS philosophers out there making a name for themselves online – continues to shift and adapt to the times. I hope the places we’re sending them to are listening closely.

What stories would you share about barriers or saving the day?

Office Hours: Stuck in the Past

My new column is up at Library Journal:

http://bit.ly/hmosLw

“I like books.” This is one answer to the introductory question I ask when meeting a class for the first time: “What brings you to librarianship?” The answers vary just as LIS students do, whether they’re recent college graduates or those returning to school for a second career in libraries. The “books” answer begs the question, “Do you mean the content or the container?” Students starting graduate school who want to work in libraries with stacks filled with books may be aiming for the wrong ­profession.

Archives and rare books collections will always need librarians to curate and preserve, but the shift within public and academic libraries of late may mean a very different set of duties not revolving entirely around the containers so many of us love.

At a recent dinner with three academic library directors, all detailed plans to move more and more of their book and print journal collections to storage facilities to make additional space for students to study and collaborate.

The book–library connection isn’t limited to wannabe librarians; it’s the public’s view, as well. OCLC’s recent study Perceptions of Libraries, 2010 reports that the number of people who associate the word library with books has risen to 75 percent—up from 69 percent in 2005. As Borders stores close around the country and ereader popularity soars, we need to focus on what comes next in the evolution of our services.