Category Archives: Office Hours

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:

Office Hours Extra: The New Reality!/mickjacobsen/status/25217483560460288

I shared this with my Participatory Service & Emerging Technologies class. Skokie PL librarian Mick Jacobsen finds himself in the new reality: developing Web sites as part of his work but without the title or duties of web developer noted in his job description. It makes me wonder – are the proficiencies necessary to create online info environments (think Info architecture, if you will) and online communities becoming part of the greater skill set of the 21st Century Librarian?

Office Hours: Can We Handle the Truth?

My new column explores some recent studies about students, faculty and librarians.

Ultimately, the authors of the report make a series of recommendations, including a few that librarians must heed.

“We believe library instruction could benefit from some serious rethinking and re-examination. We recommend modifying sessions (in-class and reference encounters) so they emphasize…framing a successful research process…over research-finding of sources.” (p. 39)

Librarians’ focus on sources over teaching the research process itself has probably contributed to these disheartening survey results. But they also make me wonder how most college students see librarians. Are they invisible within their libraries and academic departments? Ineffective in bibliographic instruction sessions? (Just typing “bibliographic instruction sessions” makes my eyes glaze over.)

These findings complement those reported by ITHAKA earlier in 2010 (, which state that university researchers are relying less and less on the services of libraries and librarians and more on specific online resources. What role will academic librarians play in the lives of students as well as these faculty who view the library as less and less of a partner?

University librarian Jeffrey G. Trzeciak at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., believes “librarians have lost their audience” already…. [T]hey will likely never come back….”

His gloomy words should be a rallying cry for all university and college librarians and to LIS education as well.

Office Hours: Heretical Thoughts

My newest “Office Hours” column is up at Library Journal:

Not all students are ready to take this on. Some can only operate within the constraints of their own limited assumptions of what library work is. To conclude last semester, my LIS701 class walked a local labyrinth, as Pink describes, to engage the left brain and free the right to explore new ideas. “Think about your professional practice,” I said before the walk. “What can you do to encourage the heart of your library users?”

I caught up with one of the students from that class, Tara Wood, and asked her what she thought about it. “I think that it is just as easy for students to fall into a certain ‘comfort zone’ as it is for librarians. We get used to coming to class, listening to lectures, writing papers, etc., but these are not always the best methods for learning. At first, we all felt a little silly walking the labyrinth, but by the end we felt differently…. [I felt] a sense of clearing out the ‘junk’ in my mind and being able to focus.”


What are your heretical thoughts about libraries and LIS education? Personally, I never give exams and focus instead on writing and personal reflection about the practice of librarianship. The strongest student papers are usually those with a personal slant that tell a story as a means to show comprehension of course material.

I’ve received some good feedback, including this from Nann Blaine Hilyard, director of the Zion-Benton Public Library in Zion, IL:

Michael’s closing paragraph recalls something that Lawrence Clark Powell wrote:   “A good librarian is not a social scientist, a documentalist, a retrievalist, or an automaton. A good librarian is a librarian: a person with good health and warm heart, trained by study and seasoned by experience to catalyze books and people.”

Nann let me know the quote is posted in the ZBPL staff area and is most probably from “Books in My Baggage.” I think it’s beautiful.

Office Hours: Goals of an LIS Educator

My new column is up at Library Journal online:

This exercise helped me clarify my philosophy of LIS education. Some of my goals include:

To prepare LIS students for a decidedly digital future in libraries. With titles like Digital Strategy Librarian, User Experience Librarian, or Strategy Guide, jobs being advertised speak to an evolving skill set that not only includes a solid understanding of the core values of LIS but a strong knowledge of information architecture, online user behavior, and the ability to build networked resources and services. We do our students (and programs) a disservice if they graduate with only a cursory understanding of library tech—emerging and otherwise.

To remember that 20th-century policies don’t always work in 21st-century learning/sharing spaces. I still post library signage on Tame the Web ( that shows how backward some library policy is. There’s just too much competition from other third places for us to greet our user communities with placards proclaiming No this and No that. Beyond signage, do our user policies extend the library to our constituents in ways that benefit them? Is the library usable? (See Aaron Schmidt’s LJ column, The User Experience, for more on this.)

To promote truth and open communication. For over two years, Michael Casey and I wrote The Transparent Library column in LJ. Transparency—open planning and open communication—should be key in managing our organizations in this post–Web 2.0 world. Institutions bound in secrecy and controlled information flow cannot thrive. New graduates with different mindsets can be change agents—hire them.

To give students environments for exploration and experience. With Dominican GSLIS grad Kyle Jones, I’ve built online communities for each of my classes. I want my students to experience writing on the open web and not behind the firewall of Blackboard. New grads will find few jobs where all of their time will be inside a firewall or hiding in the back of the library. As a service-oriented profession, many of our services have, or will have, an online component. Other jobs/services will take the librarian physically beyond library walls into academic departments or the community.

Welcome to Office Hours – My New Column in Library Journal

I am very happy to announce I’m writing for LJ again! I thoroughly enjoyed writing The Transparent Library with Michael Casey for over two years – hopefully Michael and I can continue writing again soon! Those columns are some of my favorites. Now, I’m happy to be exploring avenues related to educating future librarians.

WELCOME TO “OFFICE HOURS,” a new space in Library Journal where we’ll explore what’s happening in library and information science education. In the coming months we’ll talk about the ongoing discourse about LIS schools; research that informs us, our users, and our facilities; and stories from the trenches on the realities of working toward a degree at a time when libraries are facing serious competition. Google, Netflix, Apple, Amazon, and the web itself are all in the running for bits and pieces of our core services and foundational practices.

Just as librarians work to align with our fast-changing world, so should LIS education. That’s the concept of Office Hours—and thanks to Aaron Schmidt, author of LJ’s The User Experience, for suggesting the title.

I am looking forward to exploring various topics and ideas surrounding the current state and future of library education. I welcome all comments and suggestions for future columns. The more I ponder it, the more I see LIS EDU as a collaborative effort between faculty, students, practitioners, and technologists. The world can now be our learning laboratory. What do you think?

A bit more to close – please read the whole column and let me know what you think –

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.

Technoplans vs. technolust

A well-thought-out technology plan can help libraries stay on course

We may know that technology is not an end in itself but a tool to help us meet our libraries’ service goals, but that’s easy to forget. After all, technology often sucks up huge amounts of attention, money, and staff resources. Our users, also technology consumers, have evolving expectations of what the library should provide. Yet new technologies can be disruptive to both staff and public. Added to all this, some of us remain technophobes while others are consumed by technolust – an irrational love for new technology combined with unrealistic expectations for the solutions it brings.
How do we find our way through this confusing technological terrain? We need only one thing: a plan. The overall goal of such a plan is to ensure that technology meets the mission of an organization. It should clarify who is to be involved in the process and the plan’s intended audience and life span. Staff must buy into the plan. Promote it to all stakeholders so they know what’s ahead-the goals-and what it takes to get there-the work. While it’s not discussed here, every initiative also needs solid cost analysis, from hardware to software, from staff training to ongoing hours. And, keep that technolust under control.

Meet the mission

“A successful technology plan should be based on the institution’s overall mission,” says Jim Gingery, acting director of the Milwaukee County Federated Library System (MCFLS). “The plan should be robust enough to stretch staff without overwhelming them.” As part of its overall mission, MCFLS aims to assist “member libraries in the utilization of current and evolving technologies to provide the highest possible level of library service to all residents of Milwaukee County.” Its plan builds on that, setting as its vision “the maintenance and improvement of end user public service.” The plan includes four goals relating to infrastructure, the shared OPAC, documentation and training, and resource sharing. Objectives expand further, each with specific activities (establish Help Desk services to troubleshoot equipment problems; offer users the ability to place holds.)

The mission of the Portage County Public Library, WI, is to “provide information, support lifelong learning, and promote reading and literacy.” Its vision for technology is to guide library customers in their use of electronic information and provide access to information with the necessary hardware, affordable products, and services. This includes creating and maintaining a state-of-the-art infrastructure incorporating objectives such as implementing wireless telecommunications and the Z39.50 protocol to connect to other library holdings.

Depending on the size of your library, a planning team might be made up of administrators, IT personnel, reference librarians, and others, including those who interact with patrons and understand what they want. Planning teams might also bring on board stakeholders from outside the library, such as IT leaders in local schools, colleges, and museums-this could also lead to new partnerships.

Staff participation works best “if there is good communication already going on between supervisors/managers and front-line staff,” says David King, IT/web project manager at Kansas City Public Library (KCPL), MO. New services, of course, must have folks to run them or know how they work. “IT will sometimes plan something with new technology, and no one else knows about it until it impacts the front-line public services staff.”

A living document

Many library technology plans, like MCFLS’s, span two or three years. At KCPL “planning is done formally every year,” King says. “The whole library system submits projects, ideas, and possible initiatives to IT, and we put them on a list with projected completion dates and go from there.” Those ideas are evaluated for impact on budget, staffing, and the library system.

Jessamyn West, outreach librarian at Rutland Free Library, VT, believes a “good plan should last a while because it should anticipate at least some technologies, but it should be flexible enough to incorporate others. A three-year plan gets you some solid tech with no huge surprises, while the ‘vision thing’ can last five to ten years in terms of what role the library wants.”

No matter what the duration, a technology plan must be a “living document,” says Chris Jowaissas, network deployment manager for the Gates Foundation. Oversight again must include all stakeholders. Gingery reports that MCFLS uses biennial reviews that include MCFLS staff, a technology advisory committee, the board, and multitype library representation. Sandra Nelson, author of Wired for the Future: Developing Your Library Technology Plan (ALA Editions, 1999) is more demanding: “Once a plan is developed, it should be reviewed monthly and updated as new products and services that support the library’s services priorities become available.”

Buy in, not out

Communication is important for staff buy in. One Midwestern library implemented a virtual reference project with little staff input. “All the librarians just kept forgetting to log in to manage chat,” one of the librarians reports.

In addition to involving staff from the beginning, buy in can come from staging informational meetings for all stakeholders and providing good training up front and regular updates on how and when the plan is being implemented. Surprising a team of library workers with a new technology is a recipe for front-line, and customer service, disaster.

Obviously, not every staffer will agree with every technology initiative. But, says West, “they should at the very least feel consulted and not be hostile toward it.”

Who are we planning for?

Everett Rogers’s Innovation Adoption Curve is a useful model for library planners. It includes Innovators, who jump on the latest, greatest thing; Early Adopters, who are on the cutting edge but proceed carefully with implementation; Early Majority, the folks just behind the early adopters who proceed even more carefully; Late Majority, who only implement when everyone is doing it; and Laggards, who drag their feet until the new thing is old hat.

When beginning a technology plan, think about who you are planning for. Are you trying to satisfy the innovators in your IT department? Are you planning just enough so those laggards on your staff won’t have to deal with too much, too fast? All are important, but users are the real focus of our planning.

A planning librarian will seek to understand where on the Rogers curve her community more or less fits. She understands that her users may not care about metasearching of database content but may care very much about placing holds on materials from home via the library’s web site.

Every few months a new technology, or at least buzzword, makes its way through the conferences and blogs. Yes, we need to follow developing technologies in our industry and the consumer world as well. But it’s not so important which technologies exist as it is when-and if-they hit the tipping point and “everyone” in your community starts using them. In your library’s neighborhood, for example, when do you need to use a DVD player to view a rental movie? Or when is every other young adult in your library carrying an iPod? How does this portable storage device relate to library content?

Lusting in our hearts

The flip side of such mindfulness is technolust. We have all seen it. A librarian returns from a conference, high on the possibilities of that oh so hot technology. Twelve months later, that expensive new technology sits on a dusty virtual shelf. Or a trustee hears of a technology that has changed the workflow of well-known retail establishments and decides the library must have it as well.

“Some directors who succumb to technolust want the latest, greatest tech toy because they themselves are techies,” says author Nelson. “Others who get caught up in technolust…have little interest in technology…[but are] pushed into unwise decisions by technology staff.”

Technolust can send a library spinning in too many directions. Often technolust ignores the library’s technology plan in favor of speedy implementation. Meanwhile, service initiatives are put aside to kowtow to the next big thing.

Good planning can deflect technolust. King reports that KCPL was interested in staff using PDAs in its renovated library. New technology at KCPL is always part of the technology plan, with “some sort of planning group working on the impact on staff, impact on the budget, and what the outcomes might be.” With PDAs, “we set up a committee, let them try out PDAs, and had them report back,” comments King. The result? PDAs wouldn’t work for staff.

Do we need a fax machine?

“Technomust” may be more prevalent than technolust, according to Gates Foundation’s Jowaissas. “Many libraries experience technomust and follow the crowd, albeit later rather than earlier…. They buy technology because others do, not because they have a plan about how they are going to use it to provide better service,” Jowaissas says.

Technophobia can cause problems as well. Nelson says, “There are still directors who resist every technology advance almost to the point that the technology has been superseded by a newer technology…. One common excuse is ‘No one has asked for it.'”

Technology and libraries in the 21st century are wedded, and this marriage is a long-lasting one. A library that recognizes how technology can improve services for its community is destined for success. No matter what technologies or services you go with, remember to plan with your users in mind.


Portage County Public Library Technology Plan 2003-2006
( offers several web-based resources for planners.

This post was originally published in Library Journal as Technoplans vs. Technolust.

Stephens, M. (2004). Technoplans vs. technolust. Library Journal129(18), 36-37.