Category Archives: Office Hours

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:

“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.



This post from Ben Lainhart inspires me to do everything I can to make online LIS learning and engaging: (emphasis mine)

One of the worst things about being an online MLIS student is the lack of meaningful interaction with professors and students. Let’s face it, Blackboard is still stuck back in 2001. Ideas do not organically flow there. How can they when you have to make two insipid posts per week – 1 original, 1 response please! I am nearing the end of my program and though I am sure I have had more than a few classes with several students, I never really interacted or networked with them.

So, I wonder why more LIS professors have not embraced social media and recognized the great potential for learning that exists there. I am not saying Blackboard is completely obsolete (an upgrade wouldn’t hurt though). However, it is past the time for classes to shed the familiar shell in which they exist. I do not want to take any more online classes that are exactly the same: sign into BB, read the “lecture,” read the articles, make my obligatory posts on the discussion board and occasionally write a paper. How uninspiring! This model of learning belongs back in the physical classroom (actually, it doesn’t really belong there either). Online learning should be a dynamic and self-directed experience. The professors role is to act as guide by curating materials around the web. Basic competencies should be taught and then the students need to be led on their own journey of learning through doing, interacting, trying (maybe failing), and working hard.

I kid you not, this was actually in a textbook (time for these to go too) that I had to read for one of my classes. Thank you, Info 530, for teaching me about the most famous internet: “the Internet.” Glad I am going into debt for this.

(see the post for the image of the textbook entry!)

I recently met with one of my professors in a private pod she created on Drexel Island in Second Life. The meeting was excellent. We chatted as if I had stopped by her office. She answered my questions and explained a bit more about SL to me. Lectures and meetings in SL with professors and students would greatly increase the ability to interact and network. It provides a space to learn more about each other as well. It pains me that this resource is available (for free!) and it is so rarely used.

Especially in the LIS field, emerging technology is incredibly important. If professors and students are not willing to attempt to use them to learn and expand, we are going to make ourselves obsolete. This must to start in school. I have learned some great things at Drexel, but I can’t help but wonder about how it could have been better. I am convinced that there have been days that I have learned more on Twitter than from an entire class.

As I begin to prepare for two classes centered on emerging technologies for SJSU SLIS in the fall, please tell me TTW readers what you’d like from an online course…

Office Hours: Scanning the Horizon

My new column is up at Library Journal:

If you are on the fence about emerging technologies, take a look at the new Horizon Report ( The 2011 report not only pre sents technologies to watch but offers a road map for planning and an ongoing dialog about change in education, learning, and libraries. Supported by research and evidence, it points the way to the future.

This rich trove will spark your thinking, as it did mine. Here are some of my observations and ideas.

Conversation-based reading
Reading becomes social. While the ebook market continues to steamroll past libraries, the report offers an intriguing concept: “What makes electronic books a potentially transformative technology is the new kinds of reading experiences that they make possible” (p. 8). Reading can remain a solitary, enjoyable activity for all, but some may choose to experience a more conversation-based form of consumption of content.

I’ve long included “context books” in my teaching—notable titles centered on social issues, learning, and technology outside our field to illustrate LIS concepts and expand students’ purview. This semester, I used the highlighting feature on my Kindle to clip passages in Peter Morville’s Ambient Findability and Nick Bilton’s I Live in the Future. Those thought-provoking bits sit on a web page devoted to my reading ( I can choose to tweet those highlights and 140-character commentary to my classes via a hashtag. I can display highlights and commentary of selected context books within my course sites. In turn, students will be able to comment on the passages, as well as retweet them to others.



Office Hours Extra: What’s On the Horizon? Emerging Technologies & Key Trends

Don’t miss the new Horizon Report!

Since 2002 the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiatives have released the yearly Horizon Report, which “introduces six emerging technologies or practices that are likely to enter mainstream use within three adoption horizons over the next five years” in the realm of learning and inquiry.

The last few editions of the report have highlighted these trending technologies: social computing and personal broadcasting (2006); social networking and user generated content (2007); “grassroots video” and collaboration webs (think free and easy online tools) (2008); mobile devices and cloud computing (2009). The 2010 edition featured mobile computing and open content. All of these concepts are probably familiar to you and we can safely say the authors and advisors who create the report each year are spot on with many if not all of their choices.

This year the report identifies these six technologies on the adoption horizon: electronic books and mobiles in one year or less, augmented reality and game-based learning in two to three years, and gesture-based computing and learning analytics in four to five years.

Beyond technologies to watch are some key trends the group monitors year to year, including:

People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want.

The world of work is increasingly collaborative, giving rise to reflection about the way student projects are structured.  (page 3)

And these are some key challenges:

Appropriate metrics of evaluation lag behind the emergence of new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching.

Economic pressures and new models of education are presenting unprecedented competition to traditional models of the university.

Keeping pace with the rapid proliferation of information, software tools, and devices is challenging for students and teachers alike. (page 4)

Finally, the concept of learning analytics offers a future where a student’s education is custom tailored for their lives, learning styles and pursuits via “data mining, modeling and interpretation (p. 28).” It only follows that the K-12 and academic libraries might also better serve their users with an understanding of an individual’s learning profile.

Office Hours Extra: Hack Library School

I’m enjoying the writing at this blog:

From the About page:

The Web is our Campus.

This is an invitation to participate in the redefinitions of library school using the web as a collaborative space outside of any specific university or organization. Imagine standards and foundations of the profession that we will create, decided upon by us, outside of the institutional framework. Ideas like the democratization of the semantic web, crowdsourcing, and folksonomies allow projects like this to exist and we should be taking advantage of it. What will the information professions be next year if we define it for ourselves today? If we had a voice in the development of curriculum, what would that degree entail? This is our challenge to you; participate or come up with a better idea. How would you hack library school?

Office Hours: Seek a Challenge

My new “Office Hours” column is up at LJ. It’s about challenges:

Slackers not wanted
At a recent focus group for a research project for the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiatives conference, a small group of librarians and library IT support staff shared their insights about the changing educational landscape. They all agreed that the requirements for supporting a university’s mission are changing, just as our students are changing (see “Can We Handle the Truth?” Office Hours, LJ 1/11, p. 44). One librarian noted a particular challenge: “some librarians are coasting to retirement—they’ve checked out.”

Coasting, in library school and in our jobs, is not an option. Sending students who have coasted through their LIS program to your library to coast perpetuates this problem. I can tell which students are merely sailing through their program, just as I can tell when a professor has “checked out” of his or her own job.

Students—are you doing the bare minimum in your LIS program? Are you turning in “good enough” papers that show no excitement, curiosity, or passion for librarianship? Or are you going above and beyond the expectations of your teachers? You get what you bring to your program.

We can’t force you to learn or open your mind to the future possibilities of libraries. And, yes, you may get an okay or better grade for just coasting, depending on your teacher; grade inflation is alive and well in many LIS programs. A friend and colleague said of such slackers, “The field can’t afford them, I don’t want to teach them.” Amen.

Office Hours Extra: It’s About People Talking to Each Other

I’ve received some wonderful and challenging emails offering feedback about my column in “Office Hours” in Library Journal.

A few folks keyed in to the statement I made in the first column:

If the online world is not for you, then neither may be a career in librarianship. The most prevalent LIS jobs in the next few years will probably be ones where you’re not tied to your desk and you communicate well beyond the physical walls of the building.

It’s not just students who should participate in this online world. Librarians must find their niche as well. Five years ago the conversation went on in blogs. Now it flows vibrantly across media platforms, enabling a stronger connection with library users through marketing, outreach, and the human touch.

I keep returning to this idea to reflect further – and a few months later it still holds true  for me. I can’t imagine a librarian holding a position in a library in 2011 that would not benefit from participating even to the smallest degree in the professional communications that flow via our niche in the social networks. Kyle Jones, currently pursuing his doctorate at UW Madison, and I just completed a chapter for a forthcoming book edited by Dr. Bill Crowley on defending professionalism in librarianship. We examine the benefits and rewards of what we call the LIS professional commons – but really when the tech falls away, it’s about people talking to each other. This is and will be an invaluable virtual space for continuing development for LIS professionals.

We teach the reference interview, and cover the basics of communication in leadership classes, but a stronger emphasis on how people interact with each other, how to effectively communicate with all sorts of folks in person and electronically, and how to create and encourage strong connections between staff and users should be a primary focus of LIS curriculum in the 21st Century.  In that first column, I stated that every library job is or will be touched by technology of some form. The tech discussions of the day still center around social software and mobile connections but – again – it’s really just about people talking to each other.

Librarianship is evolving. Face-to-face interaction, something that has been one of the core skills of our profession, are being joined by the online skills that will be a part of our future. Librarians are becoming more capable professionals, developing new and multi-faceted skill-sets that will allow us to reach all of our users.

It’s no longer reasonable to think that a librarian can leave graduate school and sit at a desk all day talking with patrons. It’s also not reasonable to think that they can sit in a back room chatting on Facebook or Twitter as all they do. In a strong, well-focused LIS program, students are being taught new skills alongside foundational expertise, and they’re learning how to best balance and utilize a combination of the two.

Office Hours Extra: Geospatial & Geosocial!/nypl/status/25616837626560512

Job description:

Duties include:

  • In collaboration with others, develops scaleable tools for delivering NYPL’s digital collections to the public using web mapping discovery technologies and advises on best practices for metadata schema
  • Collaborates with Library Sites and Services staff and engages with users and researchers to provide reference and research services including individualized consultations; engages with users online to foster an interactive and creative use of collection content
  • Promotes and interprets the collections through the use of online tools, classroom instruction, curriculum development, exhibitions and publications
  • Expands outreach to local, national, and international audiences, including K-12 groups

Again – a new reality. I can’t help think that for many folks it’s easy to take sites like Foursquare and Gowalla lightly, when in fact,  it gets so much more interesting by thinking forward and  adding geosocial/geospatial layers to library services like map collections. See this post for more: