User Engagement Librarian, checking in

My first update on my new role comes over three months after starting, so that might be an indication of how busy I have been!

My official title is User Engagement Librarian. There were many discussions leading to the development of that title, and I think it was the best possible choice for what my role has been thus far. The discussion of what to call myself sparked a greater discussion about the name of our department (Information Literacy and Outreach), and how we might look to change that in the future. These decisions have a weighty impact, so if a change happens it will likely take years!

The project taking up most of my time presently is our library’s website redesign. I am on the team charged with designing the new site, and also that will draft policies/procedures to ensure that our site is more cohesive and responsive in the future. I was selected to be part of this group because of my education and experience in user experience design (UX). My concentration in graduate school was digital libraries, and UX has always been a professional passion.

At my previous institution I built the library’s website from scratch using LibGuides and was able to design and run my own user testing. The college decided to redo their website and I brought my knowledge to that project, and helped plan and run the user testing. That has been my role again here, but with a much larger audience and for a very complex website.

We have been mostly in the information gathering stage and in the new year transitioned into more of the testing phase. We are currently running an online card sorting activity and library faculty/staff survey. We have future plans for focus groups, user testing, A/B testing and potentially another survey. I am so blessed to be able to start my new role with a project of this magnitude that is also intellectually stimulating.

That project helps me define my role as being part of my department, but also as one that communicates across the library to improve the services we provide to our users. I’ve also been working on our in person and online instruction, developing standards for online videos, engaging users through social media and events, an institution wide project investigating the needs of transfer students, and partnering with our current Psychology and Social Work librarian to take over his duties when he retires this summer.

Outside my institution I have an upcoming ACRL panel presentation, a presentation at the Florida Library Association (FLA) Conference in May, and a book chapter due in March. I’m doing a lot of work with ACRL committees, FLA committees, and two ALA roundtables. I’m also getting more involved on campus with the Pride Faculty and Staff Association.

It seems overwhelming when I write it all out, but I come to work every day energized and excited to do work. Again, I will end with a hope for more consistent blogging in the future. Time will tell…

Seasons change

This is my last full week as a Regional Campus Librarian. I have taken a new position at my institution’s main campus, title yet to be determined. Our Information Literacy and Outreach department head left a few months after I started, and one of the librarians from that department took over as head over the summer. I am taking over her old role, with some new twists. My job will be to focus on emerging technologies, and also how to best serve our end users.

I’m also going to work with the current Psychology and Social Work subject librarian to slowly take over those duties as he gets ready to retire. So basically, this is the job description I would have written for myself after my first year as a librarian. The title is still TBD because the whole department is going to sit down and discuss what our roles are, and how we classify ourselves.

I am thrilled to be moving to what I like to call the mothership, as I think it will give me more opportunity to work on joint projects and ultimately move our library in a positive direction. I love the campus where I work now, and was blessed to have wonderful colleagues here. I am going to be a part of the search committee to fill my current job which will be posted soon.

My last hurrah here at this campus will be a faculty conference that I am planning in conjunction with our faculty administrator here. I had the idea to plan a day for all the regional campus faculty (we have ten locations) to attend professional development sessions that would be useful in all areas of their work. Of course, I am presenting one of the sessions!

We were also able to get a keynote speaker from one of our content providers, and speakers from several offices on campus. We sent the registration information yesterday and have four faculty signed up already. The conference takes place in early November, so I tried to get as many details worked out as possible while I was still on this campus.
I hope to blog more as I take over my new role. I am planning to spend time analyzing what we currently do, but also exploring new opportunities (like 3D printing!).

Sneaking into Fall

Fall semester always sneaks up on you. Summer is often spent catching up on projects and days tend to be far less structured. The realities of a full semester start to sink in with about two weeks left as the calendar fills with meetings, classes, and other obligations. This week is our last before the Fall semester starts, and I’ve managed to get some great work done in the last two weeks to prepare.

I’m fortunate to be working with one of my colleagues on a research project using Project SAILS, and we’ve been working to create marketing materials and get buy in from faculty. We’ve already scheduled 5 minute project intros in several classes, and should meet our target of 200 students taking the assessment. I’m sure I will share more details on this as the work unfolds.

I’ve also been lucky to have the support of faculty from last year who were happy with the instruction I provided in their class. I have already been asked to teach in four classes within the first month of the semester, and all of the faculty are giving me as much time as I need during a whole class period. Three of the four are classes I’ve taught before and already have solid plans and supplementary materials.

Our library transitioned to the new Libguides over the summer, and I’ve been working to assist one of my colleagues with that process. I’m channeling my library school self with CSS coding! I think all librarians should take a class in basic HTML/CSS coding, it’s been extremely useful for me in this job and in my previous role.

Another initiative I’ve been working on is creating new marketing materials for students. Here are some of the handouts/posters/flyers I’ve developed. I’m posting them as PDF but would be happy to share the Publisher files or websites I used to create them.

Easy Button Flyer – this one I have posted at the main administration desk for my institution on my campus, and by the free student printers.

Hot Mess Citation – I saw a comedic version of this out at a store and turned it into a handout that can be used when I work with students on correcting citations. As you can see, I appreciate humor!

Library flow chart – I intended to turn my “Top things about the library” handout into an infographic, and got distracted by the idea of making a flowchart instead. This was developed using the easelly website.

Student newsletter – I create one of these at the beginning of each semester.

For my faculty I created personalized emails for each person based on the interaction I’ve had (or not) with them in the past. Being on a regional campus is nice that way – 30ish emails felt very doable! I included information about all the services the library or I could provide them and their students during the semester. I’ve gotten a bit of feedback so far, but expect to get more when the semester starts on Monday.

I have come to look forward to this time of year, apprehensive, but still excited about the great work I get to do!


I’ve recently shifted my perspective on the importance of consuming content as part of the creative process. This shift came as a result of my fledgling explorations of the world through poetry and with a cultivation of new friendships with writers. I’ve done quite a bit of blogging, and I see how this parallels my consumption of content – I read blogs and short articles more than almost anything else.

A new blog/site that I’ve been into is Medium. I was alerted to it because I read danah boyd’s blog, and she’s one of the contributors. The articles cover such a variety of subject matter that it would be impossible to summarize, however, I do find that many of them have applications in my work as a librarian. One recent entry by Clive Thompson titled “The Novelty Effect” was especially valuable.

It’s a short discussion on the adoption of new tools and technologies, and how the novelty effect impacts both tool users and makers. As libraries we often cater to both audiences, and certainly use various technologies to accomplish our work. Thompson argues that the novelty effect can be a good way to stimulate work on a project, and I think this is a way for libraries to sell their tools/technologies to users.

In my academic setting the obvious tie-ins are the midterm or end of semester projects in which students are engaged, and faculty research and writing activities. We need to stay abreast of what our users need and find ways to insert the library as a potential solution. I think we can also take advantage of the positive feelings associated with novel tools even if we didn’t create them or explicitly provide them.

For example, if I’m doing a workshop on presentation skills and introduce students to a new tool that helps them successfully complete a project, then I will gain esteem which might reciprocate for the next project – even if the tool is no longer relevant. It should be clear how this applies to all types of libraries. We may have lost our novelty, but we can still find ways to benefit from the novelty effect.

Of course there is the flip side in that much of what we show our users is likely to fall prey to this effect. They may enthusiastically use a database in the weeks following instruction, but forget it completely by the end of a semester or academic career. In those situations we have to trust that the positive feelings from the first use will encourage users to seek us out again.

In our non-public facing roles, we need to ensure that the novelty effect doesn’t color our decision making. I think this is especially relevant in the wake of ALA – I’m sure we all heard about or experimented with new tools and technologies, but we need to make sure any purchases will have a lasting impact on what we do, and that we aren’t investing in something new as a bandaid for an old problem. Awareness is always the first step in making change, and being aware of the novelty effect can have a big impact in our work.

Library Summer Camp

I’m hoping that anyone who reads this had the chance to go to summer camp as a kid, and to actually enjoy the experience. There’s something magical about time away from home with people you see infrequently, doing different things, learning together, and getting very little sleep. When I was leaving ALA’s Annual Conference in Las Vegas I felt like I was leaving summer camp.

This feeling may have been heightened by the fact that I was staying with seven other librarians in two suites, but I think the communal aspect comes through even when you are staying solo. I can (and will) talk about the sessions, meetings, and learning but what I found most valuable this year was the time to be around other librarians having conversations ranging from personal to professional and back again. The eight of us that stayed together came from Florida, Ohio, Texas, California, Utah, Mississippi, and North Carolina. Some of us had met in person, or online, or not at all.

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Most of the suite at dinner

We spent a lot of time together in the evenings and in spare moments. I took something from all of them, and from the myriad other librarians with whom I interacted. The most important outcome of this conference for me was a rekindling of my passion for what I do. It’s never been lost, and I am more thankful each day for the work I do, but I’ve had a rough year personally. I separated from my partner of 11 ½ years, and there were times when it felt impossible to focus on work. I am healing, growing, and changing from the experience and ALA felt like a confirmation that I’m ready and able to throw myself fully into librarianship again.

That being said, the rest of my conference was good although not as rich for learning from sessions as other conferences I’ve attended. This was primarily due to the things I had to do for committees and work projects that took away from the time I could spend in sessions, coupled with a frustrating experience traveling to/from events. My first big/important event was Saturday morning, when I moderated the ACRL DLS/ULS panel “Leading From the Side: On, Off, and Within Your Campus”. It’s interesting to be on the other side of the podium at ALA!

Doing my moderation thing!

Doing my moderation thing!

The room looked massive, and we had around 180 attendees. I got there early to make sure we were set up and that our speakers were comfortable. The session went well from what I could tell. I had to modify some of the language written on our outline to make the session flow better, but it was a good way to stay fully engaged while the panelists were speaking. As a side bonus, the information they imparted was useful! I got to catch up with some friendly faces and meet some new people after the session, and I felt a big weight lift off after we successfully implemented the panel session.

On Saturday I also attended the inaugural Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT) board meeting. I went to a meeting for SustainRT at ALA in Chicago and agreed to be their webmaster, a role that I am still committed to. I’m also the unofficial social media person. The meeting was fantastic, there was a lot of energy in the room and I think we made some great decisions about how to move forward. If you have any interest in sustainability in libraries (environmental, collections, architecture, outreach, instruction, really anything!) it’s a great group to join.

After that I attended a session on training from the Learning Round Table that was interesting but not applicable to what I’m doing, however it did pique my interest in that RT. After a “quick” trip back to the hotel, several of my suitemates and I attended the joint ULS/DLS social. It was good to see more familiar faces that I met in Chicago and meet some new librarians. After that most of our suite went to see the V variety show and spent some time taking in the ridiculous Strip.

Sunday morning I met a colleague at the Springshare booth where we spent about 90 minutes talking through our LibGuides V2 migration that happened yesterday! He and I are leading the effort to migrate and hopefully revamp our guides. I spent a good bit of time in and out of the exhibits area this year and I thought it was very well done. I also held out for the best swag!

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After my meeting I caught the Sunday Ignite sessions and got to see a friend from NC do a presentation. I enjoyed every single one and took some short but good notes on marketing and design. I attended the SustainRT lightning rounds in the early afternoon. It was great to see the cool sustainability work going on in libraries around the country. I hope SustainRT can continue to hold the lightning round sessions at future conferences. It’s a great format for sharing.

After the lightning rounds I made my way to the Starbucks to meet my Hyperlinked Library MOOC instructor Michael Stephens in person. I ran into my panel co-chair John Jackson in line and the three of us had a great conversation.

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That evening I attended the LearnRT social at the LVH pool with some of my suitemates and a UCF colleague/friend. We met librarians from around the US and Canada, and enjoyed our time by the pool. After that we had dinner in the LVH and then spent a bit of time on the Strip before returning to the hotel. We all had early Monday meetings!

Monday morning we spent the hour getting to the Convention Center and then several of us attended the meeting for the ACRL Innovations Committee that is working on several events/opportunities/things for the 2015 conference in Portland. It was a busy 90 minutes but we got a lot accomplished. I like being able to meet with my committee members in person, it makes it easier to communicate virtually after you have a chance to get to know people. In the afternoon six of us drove out to the desert to hike Mary Jane Falls in the Mt. Charleston area.

PicMonkey Collage 2

Even the hike was educational! At some point during the 3 mile round trip I paired off with each person for a while and had discussions about programs, instruction, imposter syndrome, career development, publishing and research (among more personal topics!). That night I attended a burlesque show with some colleagues. Tuesday morning was time to say goodbye. My flight was at noon and I was blessed to have one of my suitemates on the same first leg of the flight! We didn’t plan it and figured it out once we were in Vegas. I love when life works out that way.

If you’re still with me or TL;DR: great trip!

Scenes from the trip

Scenes from the trip

Human Interaction

I do my best to consume content from a wide range of sources and on varying topics. I often find myself reading a book about a topic like meditation for personal development, and find ways to connect that to my work as a librarian. Similarly, I’ll read articles on librarianship that give me ideas for working on my personal goals and creative tasks. One topic I follow is higher education in general. I think as librarians we need to be engaged with our greater institutions and the challenges they face.

I read an article on a psychology blog I follow titled “Attending a Better University Doesn’t Make You Happier, Here’s What Does…”. This title is clearly clickbait, but it’s important to what I do so I checked it out.  The article reported on a Gallup survey of almost 30,000 college graduates. Here’s the passage that struck me:

“For example, college graduates were more likely to be engaged at work if they’d…

  • had a mentor to encourage them.
  • had a professor who genuinely cared about them as a person.
  • had at least one professor who made them excited about learning.
  • been to a college which was passionate about the long-term success of its students.

The same factors above also predicted when graduates were more likely to thrive in life in general.”

There are many things I find fascinating in this quote. First, graduates who were more engaged at work were more likely to thrive in their lives. This strikes me because it affects my own life in that I do enjoy my life more now as a librarian than I did before. I also try to engage any student I interact with in a conversation on their passions and future goals. I do my best to help them navigate the difficult choices they face if they are willing.

In my last role I had a student tell me about her passion for art therapy and was able to connect her with a good friend who is an art therapist to get more information. It didn’t take much of my time, and it could have had a big impact on that student.

The second thing that resonated in that quote was how important it was for students to have someone from their institution who is passionate about helping them learn and succeed. The article specifically mentions professors, but this is a role that I can see librarians filling. Many of us who work in higher education can identify a few students who make heavy use of the library and reference librarians while they are attending the institution. These students are easy to reach and we should strive to treat them with respect and full attention, even when they might annoy us!

We can also facilitate these relationships with students in shorter interactions by communicating our passion to help them succeed. When I teach classes and workshops I do my best to let students know that I like learning about the work they are doing. I hope they will come to me with their assignment so I can look up the information and increase my own knowledge. When we’re doing reference work or are out on the floor, we can take steps to make the environment more conducive to learning. Last week I was helping a student format a paper, and her son was fidgeting anxiously next to her. She apologized for bringing him as she said she had no other option for childcare. I chose to offer to help her find some books from our children’s literature collection to keep him engaged. She accepted, and we were able to keep him engaged while she finished her task. This only took an extra minute of my time, and made it easier for her to complete her task.

The more work I do in libraries, the more I realize that communication and customer service are the key aspects of the work we do. It doesn’t matter if we work with the public, with businesses, with administrators or with colleagues – we can always be cognizant of how we interact with other human beings and do our best to make it a fulfilling experience for everyone involved.

Admitting Ignorance

I’m a podcast junkie. I started with health and fitness podcasts but quickly expanded my library to include a wide range of shows. I listen while I drive, while I exercise, and sometimes while I cook or do chores. I still can’t make the leap into audiobooks, but I have very much enjoyed the opportunities to learn while engaged in other tasks.

This week I listened to an episode of the Freakonomics Radio Podcast. Many of you are likely familiar with the book Freakonomics and its authors Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner. The podcast is billed as “telling stories about cheating schoolteachers and eating champions while teaching us all to think a bit more creatively, rationally, and productively.” I like this podcast because each episode is on a wildly different topic, is short, and is never boring.

The episode I linked to above is titled “The Three Hardest Words in the English Language”, and this concept is explored in more detail in their newly published book Think Like a Freak. It took a while to get to what the words were. I’ll spare you that agony here, they are: I Don’t Know.

As soon as I heard that it was like lightning going off in my brain. I immediately resonated with this because it’s something I struggled with mightily in my first few jobs after college. The podcast discussed the implications of this in children and in the business world, but I think it’s a cultural phenomenon that affects all of us. It’s incredibly scary to admit that you don’t know something, and it can be a blow to your ego.

In my first few jobs I would get confronted with situations where I knew I might have been trained on how to handle them, but couldn’t remember the preferred method or procedure. Instead of asking for help, my instinct was to act like I knew and wing it. Fortunately this worked in a majority of cases, but there were a few times where my work suffered and I had to admit later that I wasn’t confident in that task. I’ve found that it’s much more comfortable to admit your lack of knowledge at the start, get assistance, and move on.

When I started my first library job I committed myself to this principle, and had far fewer moments where I felt out of my depth. Saying “I Don’t Know” is crucial to receiving feedback and ultimately growing as a person or professional. Recognizing and reflecting on moments where we say “I Don’t Know” is a practice that can help us to recognize patterns in our work and to discern areas of potential improvement in our skill sets. These moments have become sparser as I move past one year of service in my current position, but I have learned to appreciate them when they come.