Category Archives: Office Hours

Office Hours: The Age of Participation

My February column is up at Library Journal:

IT’S THE MUSEUM DIRECTOR’S conundrum. She has six brief seconds to grab the visitor’s attention as they walk past each exhibit. Once they pass the exhibit, they’re gone for good. That thought went through my mind as I stood talking with a museum administrator at a stammtisch [“regular get-­together”] in Berlin in March 2010. Could this brief window of opportunity be maximized by adding a social, participatory component to museum ­exhibitions?

I couldn’t help but think that this is the same problem facing libraries. How can we grab the public’s interest despite the one-click availability of information? How can we compete with the seductive voice of Siri?

I revisited these questions and more at the Salzburg Global Seminar program “Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture” (, held October 19–23, 2011, and cosponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Representatives from over 20 countries gathered for five intensive days of discussion and deliberations about the future of cultural institutions in a time of hyperconnected social ­participation.

Building collections and seeking ways to engage the public and promote curiosity challenge us all. The seminar gave me a newfound appreciation for the work of museum professionals and cultural institutions. The era of participatory culture demands that cultural and information professionals play an active, visible role in our communities. My takeaways were many….

Office Hours Extra: The Salzburg Curriculum

The mission of librarians and museum professionals is to foster conversations

that improve society through knowledge exchange & social action

Lifelong learning in & out of formal educational settings
These topics are equally applicable to librarians and museum professionals
These topics must be contextualized

The following values permeate these topics:

  • Openness & transparency
  • Self reflection
  • Collaboration
  • Service
  • Empathy & Respect
  • Continuous Learning/Striving for Excellence (which requires lifelong learning)
  • Creativity and imagination

The Salzburg Global Seminar convenes numerous meetings throughout the year focused on creating solutions  for issues on an international level. In October, I was honored to participate in the session co-sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services “Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture.” Representatives from libraries and museums from over 20 countries came together for five intensive days of discussion and deliberations about the future of cultural institutions in a time of hyper-connected social participation. Working groups formed to provide solutions to the many challenges discussed. As part of my role, I was asked to participate, present about emerging technologies and blog the sessions.

I joined the working group devoted to building the skills of librarians and museum professionals. Lead by Dr. David Lankes, Syracuse University, our group adopted this mission statement: “The mission of librarians and museum professionals is to foster conversations that improve society through knowledge exchange & social action.” We developed several curricular topics/skills to frame our work: Management for Participation, Asset Management, Cultural Skills, Knowledge/Learning/Innovation, Technology, and Transformative Social Engagement. The framing statements are reproduced above this post.


  • crowdsourcing / outreach
  • ability to engage and evolve with technology
  • ability to impart tech to community across generation
  • creating and maintaining on effective virtual presence

The technology focus I recently explored in SJSU SLIS’s Student Research Journal ( )includes the ability to engage and evolve with technology, the ability to impart technology to cross-generational communities, and the ability to create and maintain an effective virtual presence. These should already be part of an LIS student’s educational experience. Evolving as technology does afford information professionals the chance to continuously adapt services, access and collections to the information environments of our constituents. Online presence – what you do, what you say within the professional networks – can carry a lot of weight. See “The Role of Mentoring” for more.

Transformative Social Engagement

  • activism
  • social responsibility
  • critical social analysis
  • public programming – fitting to larger agenda
  • advocacy (organizing communities to action-political, policy)
  • sustainability of societal mission
  • conflict management
  • understanding community needs

Another interesting and dynamic section of the proposed curriculum – transformative social engagement – merits further exploration and discussion.  Under this banner, our group selected a series of thematic areas future LIS grads should experience as part of their preparation for future professional positions. The forthcoming report from the seminar and IMLS will include further details, and Lankes explores the curriculum as well in an video at his blog ( These ideas about transforming communities, however, have already illuminated my planning and content for courses and I wanted to share them.

Fluency in critical social analysis, “participating deeply within the community,” as our group defined it, transcends the more simple notions of community outreach and “going where the users are.” Consider the public librarian participating in community planning or development, or the academic librarian housed full time within their assigned liaison department. The potential for enhanced understanding of the needs of those particular communities is enticing. Stressing this need for participation, Lankes posited “Why showcase culture if we are not enabling conversations about that culture?” as part of his remarks during the seminar.

Related is understanding and participating in advocacy efforts. As part of my new faculty orientation at SJSU, I spent a day with other new professors touring various service agencies in the Bay Area. We were introduced to various initiatives, community service organizations and supporting entities. At a lunch and presentation at the Health Trust, a Silicon Valley organization promoting wellness, I had a realization – everywhere we visited could benefit from the skills, ethics and knowledge of an information professional as a means to extend, support and sustain the success of these organizations.

Both of these areas have something in common: the information professional with these skills may spend more time OUTSIDE library walls than within. This shifting paradigm is one that Lankes illustrates well with his emphasis on a positive future for librarians instead of libraries.

I took many good things away from my work at the Salzburg Global Seminar. I have a new appreciation for the work of museum professionals and cultural institutions. The boundary between what we do in libraries and what they do in museums – especially in a technology-enhanced participatory age – has become less blurred. Imagine a mash up library/museum school of the future where transformative social engagement, cultural memory and knowledge creation/curation techniques are cultivated and taught.

There’s much more to the proposed curriculum.  My hope is this curriculum, began in Salzburg, will inform and guide the evolution of educational programs far and wide.

I am off to the ALISE meeting in Dallas today and thought it would be fitting to publish this post on the way.


Seminar Session:

Full text of the Curriculum:



Beyond the Walled Garden – An Essay in SJSU SLIS Student Research Journal

I have an invited contribution in the new issue of SJSU SLIS Student Research Journal:

I recently participated in a meeting convened at the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria. For five days, over 50 librarians and museum professionals from all over the world gathered to critically examine the impact of participatory culture on library and museum work. The event was sponsored by both the seminar and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Participatory culture, defined by Henry Jenkins in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (2006), “is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” (p. 3). When barriers fall away, participation is possible.

The seminar included presentations, working groups, and discussions centered around how library and museum service should adapt to an environment in which participation is not only possible, but encouraged. The working group I joined developed curricula for new professionals in both arenas. One aspect we highlighted was the importance of engaging with technology. Within that area were three skills our group strongly believed future professionals should possess: the ability to engage and evolve with technology, the ability to impart technology to cross-generational communities, and the ability to create and maintain an effective virtual presence.

Use the link to read the whole essay.

Citation: Stephens, Michael (2011) “Beyond the Walled Garden: LIS Students in an Era of Participatory Culture,” SLIS Student Research Journal: Vol. 1: Iss. 2, Article 2.
Available at:

Office Hours Extra: Library Science without the Library by Jane Greenstein

Recent MLIS graduates are gravitating to different fields than their predecessors. According to theLibrary Journal survey, respondents are working at “software and Internet companies, practicing information architecture, user interface analysis and design, and software engineering…and in medical centers and pharmaceutical companies, law firms and corporations.”

But the survey also states that graduates are accepting “lower salaries and part-time hours as retail clerks, baristas, and office assistants in order to pay the bills.”

While my motives for entering library school may be anathema to many librarians, students with my background are becoming hard to ignore.

It’s safe to say that library students are beginning to branch out—by force or by choice.

But my impression is that library and information schools don’t know how to properly court prospective “information”-oriented candidates or appeal to my colleagues in the interactive field.

How can this situation be remedied? If a library school were to consult a marketing agency such as the one I work for, we’d undoubtedly recommend a media campaign to “re-position” their message and “re-brand” their image.

Many (including myself) have discovered multimedia careers by way of graphic design, copywriting, business strategy and computer programming–without formal training as “information professionals.”

Something has to change to keep library schools successfully recruiting students-and for students to remain hopeful about their future. If students think there aren’t any jobs waiting for them on the other side of their academic trek, MLIS programs face extinction.

While no one becomes a librarian for the money, no one thinks they’re going to end up without any long-term job prospects when they graduate either.

At this critical juncture in both library science and information technology, it’s incumbent on MLIS programs to not only offer classes, but also develop a solid curriculum (and encourage a non-traditional career path) for the next class of graduating librarians.

Office Hours: What We learned from Learning 2.0

My new column is up at Library Journal:

In their recent book, A New Culture of Learning (CreateSpace, 2011), Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown explore similar concepts and the importance of continuous learning. The parallels to the original Learning 2.0 model are striking. The book is based on several assumptions about our new normal, for example, “The world is changing faster than ever and our skill sets have a shorter life,” and “Play is the basis for cultivating imagination and innovation.”

Planning for ongoing organizational learning for staff may seem like just “one more thing” in our stressed environments, but without backing and emphasis from library leaders, exploration and innovation may wane.

The library should serve as a hub for sustaining a culture of learning around technology and research using variations on the model. Extending the program to users or shifting focus from technologies to other areas of learning and reflection is a natural progression. The public “Looking at 2.0” program at the State Library of Queensland continues to engage users with topics and award prizes. Consider new audiences as well, such as Research 2.0, a program created for researchers at Imperial College in the UK.

How do you sustain the learning culture in your setting?

Office Hours: Putting the UX in Education

User experience (UX) thinking was born at information schools but hasn’t found a home in many libraries. Why not? The answer is simple. Many LIS programs haven’t integrated UX coursework into their curricula, and libraries suffer as a result.

Granted, a few schools have incorporated UX elements to varying degrees. New York’s Pratt Institute SILS program, for example, offers a Cultural Informatics track with coursework devoted to “usability, human computer interaction, cultural heritage description and access and digital archives and libraries in global information environments.” Jen Waller, a grad of the iSchool at the University of Washington, reported via Twitter that her program included UX, and it was woven throughout the curriculum, just like the emphasis on professional ethics. (Disclosure: Aaron Schmidt taught one of the two classes she took devoted to UX.)

But students with a keen eye for the larger information landscape have noticed a missing component in most programs. Gemma E.S. Petrie at her site UX & IA ( writes, “Good information architecture combats information overload—a well-covered concept in LIS education.… Why hasn’t my grad program offered a course on information architecture in more than five years?”

Just as UX deals with all aspects of library service, UX thinking must sprout from many different places in order to become a natural part of library operations: from library administration, front-line staff, veterans, and new hires alike. In fact, its foundation must go even deeper. Planning for the user experience should begin during library school. This is a natural intersection of our two columns, The User Experience and Office Hours.

Melding foundational practice with the growing interest in creating positive emotional interactions with various services prepares future grads to guide libraries into a user-focused future. This may even yield new certificate programs or pathways to becoming a UX librarian. LIS schools reviewing curricula may want to shift some of the focus placed on materials and process to user needs, behavior, and creating experience. Coursework might include the following:

Interpreting & Employing User Research: Recent reports from Project Information Literacy, ITHAKA S+R, and OCLC offer bodies of evidence to help librarians and administrators make decisions and plans. Mining Pew Internet and American Life research reports can provide a picture of how we interact with technology and the web. Other foundations and research entities offer glimpses into the mind-set of specific groups, such as YAs, college students, and faculty. Understanding the process of research and decoding user statistics prepares a future librarian to do the same for her constituents. Students should not only learn how to use these studies but explore their specific strengths and weaknesses, while also gaining familiarity with user research methods in general (see “The User Experience: Getting To Know Your Patrons“).

Usability Testing: Every graduating student interested in working on library websites should grasp the benefits of usability testing and the basics of conducting usability tests. Likewise, training in observation and incremental improvement can broadly serve librarians in the design of other services as well, from the placement of a self-check station in high-traffic areas to where librarians and patrons ought to sit in relation to each other during a reference interview.

Focus Groups: A course might also be devoted to designing and running focus groups as a means to understanding the user. It’s very easy to sit in a librarian-only meeting and pontificate on what users want/need/should have. But it’s another to have users join the meeting and give open, honest feedback. The student panel at the LJ/McMaster University Future of the Academic Library Symposium (see “Office Hours: Listening to Student Voices” and “Future of the Academic Library Symposium: Service To Continue but in What Form?“) provided a glimpse into student perceptions of libraries and librarians.

Library Buildings: Designing library buildings has evolved from planning for a certain number of Library of Congress and Dewey ranges to making room for collaboration and creation spaces. This would include courses beyond the LIS curriculum. Business, marketing, psychology, and architecture all have aspects that play into a keen insight of how our buildings should be designed and arranged.

Graphic Design for Libraries: Many librarians end up needing to create the occasional poster or brochure on the job. Graphic design deals with the appropriate arrangement and presentation of information—a topic well within the range of LIS coursework. We don’t need to turn every student into a graphic design visionary like Milton Glaser, but we can improve libraries by taking this seriously. (See “The User Experience: Signs of Good Design” for more.)

No more silos?
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.

The LJ Salary Survey offers further evidence that is both illuminating and persuasive (“Stagnant Salaries, Rising Unemployment“). Those with UX experience had the highest average and median salaries and the second highest base salary (see excerpt below).

While these figures include people working outside of libraries, they signal that these are extremely valuable skills for those entering the workforce; all LIS programs should introduce their students to them. Meanwhile, many students come to LIS drawn to its service and people facets. UX skills extend these concepts in new ways—ways we believe strengthen the connection between library services and the individual.

Delving deeper
Our columns don’t just meet at the junction of UX and LIS coursework. In thedebut column of The User Experience, the core value of empathy took center stage: “You need to listen to and observe your community in order to develop an empathetic focus on people.” Designing the user experience via empathic listening and observation is best done with a focus on the heart, as described in “Office Hours: Heretical Thoughts“. Understanding, kindness, and warmth are key ingredients as well.

These elements do not necessarily translate well to curriculum and pedagogy. We can teach LIS students to consider the details of all aspects of library service. We can teach students to think about the real needs of their communities before zeroing in on library-focused assumptions. We can demonstrate how libraries have the ability to transform people’s lives. But how do we teach LIS students to engage with patrons in a deeply personal way? How do we teach LIS students to care?

These behaviors should be modeled on the job, to be sure. More effective than just expecting grads to have these important attributes, however, is the combination of skill designation with smart hiring practices. Hiring for people’s attitudes and their desire to make your library the best place it can be is crucial to planning for engaging service.

Just as UX can be further integrated into the library world by being incorporated into LIS curriculum, libraries creating UX librarian positions must work closely with LIS programs to ensure that coursework is well aligned with expectations. Only by breaking down the barriers between LIS curricula and the library world will we create the user-focused library.

Note: Aaron Schmidt  and I coauthored this piece which first appeared in Library Journal.

Office Hours: The Role of Mentoring

Forgive this late post, but I totally forgot to link to my September column in LJ:


Mentors can advise new librarians on all aspects of the profession, including tips for getting along with coworkers, the ins and outs of dealing with library administrators, and the like. The online world offers a new twist. While much is gained by participating in the ubiquitous social networks, there are pitfalls as well. A professional’s expressions are now open for the world to read, hear, or view. Because anyone tweeting, blogging, or Facebooking can share their thoughts so easily and post sometimes without thought, a strong mentor who guides students or new grads in the ways of online life could help make or break a career.

Online LIS Education—or Not | Office Hours 

Online LIS Education—or Not | Office Hours 

My new column is up at LJ!

I may have a bit of a bias, but I would much rather my students make the short trip to their desks and computers instead of commuting across town or farther. Time saved on travel could roll over into time spent on coursework or finding balance among school, work, and life. Money saved on gas and travel could transform into paying for classes or student loans.

Other students may be drawn to the classroom, to in-person interaction with a professor and other classmates. I would argue, however, that the technologies available at San José State that allow me to lecture, interact with, and guide my students rival those classrooms. My weekly drop-in office hours via web conferencing software give students a chance to ask a question or just say hi. An integrated IM program automatically populates class tabs with my student rosters, so faculty and students can exchange quick messages.