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…

Advertisements

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.

2014-06-29 19.39.26

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!

2014-06-29 15.12.32

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.

2014-06-29 15.11.19

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

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.

Learning and Generating Ideas

Last week was a momentous one professionally. May 10th was my one year anniversary of working as a Regional Campus Librarian for the University of Central Florida. It’s been a year of great change for me personally, and I’ve grown quite a bit professionally as well. Working for a larger institution has given me the opportunity to interact with a larger group of librarians on a regular basis. This has helped me develop a better sense of who I am professionally and what my interests are within librarianship. I also had the opportunity to attend the Florida Library Association Annual Conference last week, which furthered my learning and helped me to generate some new ideas.

The conference spanned three days, and was attended by librarians from the entire state. It’s always interesting to interact with new people. I find myself having conversations with other academic librarians facing the same challenges, and also with public and school librarians who have a very different daily experience but who are rooted in the same core values. I find both to be valuable in my quest to provide the best service possible to my institution. The first day of the conference I presented a poster with two of my colleagues.

 

My colleagues and me with our poster. (L to R) Kelly Robinson, Carrie Moran (me), and Michael Furlong.

My colleagues and me with our poster. (L to R) Kelly Robinson, Carrie Moran (me), and Michael Furlong.

Our poster was titled “Mythbusters: The Digital Native”. We addressed the common myths about digital natives, provided evidence from our various reference desks, and offered some solutions to address the technology challenges all libraries face. I’m happy to send the PDF to anyone interested in the topic. The poster sessions were the first experience for most people as they took place immediately before and after the opening session. It was my first poster session and I enjoyed having the opportunity to discuss our work with multiple people in a more intimate setting than a presentation.

The keynote was fantastic. It was a talk titled “The Art of Perception” by Amy Herman. Herman developed a training program to teach police officers to enhance their observational skills while working at the Frick Museum in NYC. Her program uses art and imagery to teach these concepts and she was fantastic, so fantastic that I attended the follow up session later in the day. Her website The Art of Perception has more details, and anyone who works with the public should check it out.

On the second day I attended a great lightning round session. There were seven mini sessions and each one gave me something to ponder. One group of librarians used GoPro cameras to track user behavior in the library, another group used theater students to make library instruction videos, and one librarian discussed a project where he was embedded in a class who had to edit Wikipedia as a course assignment. After that I went to a session on retooling a reference program, and although I didn’t find what they did especially relevant, it did spark me to spend 10 minutes writing ideas for things I can do in my library.

The final session I attended that day was on project planning and it was fantastic. The speaker used a model from the “Getting Things Done” method, and gave us time to work in small groups to discuss projects we felt stuck on. One thing I am going to do as a direct result is make sure to start all meetings with a statement of purpose. I already do this frequently, but I think it should be the first step on any meeting agenda. The learning I did on day two inspired this tweet:

Screenshot_2

The final day of the conference was a half day but still packed with good stuff. I got to see a Twitter friend present in real life on library web performance and user expectations. I also attended a session on social media that focused entirely on public libraries, but still had some good takeaways. I think our library can do better about having conversations on social media and at making our posts more fun – even those that ask our users to do something. The closing keynote was from J. Jeff Kober from Disney. His talk was on customer service and creating excellence, and he was one of the best speakers I’ve ever seen live. The biggest takeaway from Kober was to make sure everyone in the organization knows the greater mission and cultivates that in his/her daily work.

I’m blessed to work for an organization that supports professional development and new learning opportunities. I am looking forward to applying some of the knowledge I gained to new programs and outreach efforts at my library. Attending this local conference also got me excited for ALA Annual in Las Vegas, hope to see some of you there!

Customer Service

My first job after finishing my undergraduate degree was a customer service representative for a company that sells comic books and comic paraphernalia from the major publishers to the stores. Depending on your level of interest in comics, this may or may not sound like a great job. I have limited interest in that world (although I am glad now to have learned about the industry), and for me the job was pretty miserable. It was high pressure and there were a lot of silly corporate rules to follow.

It did teach me a lot about interacting with people and with making quick decisions about which tasks were a priority and which could be tabled for later. I made great friends and looking back I am glad for the experience. My next job was as a crisis coordinator for a domestic violence resource center. This job required a more intimate level of customer service, and took priority management to a new level. Working with people whose lives were literally in danger has permanently shifted my outlook on what defines a crisis.

These past lives have made an enormous impact on how I approach librarianship. In fact, I’m talking about this in an upcoming presentation at my institution for MLIS Information Day 2014. I think our ultimate goal as librarians is to meet the needs of our users. This is a simple statement but it can be applied to all libraries and all users. Their needs may have nothing to do with a traditional view of what a library does, but I think it’s our responsibility to provide users with information about how to meet their needs even if we are not the answer.

Aaron Schmidt wrote about a similar concept in his blog post this week titled “Earning Trust”. He discusses the premise that our users must develop a level of trust (that we can meet their needs) in order for us to be useful. He then discusses a few key areas in which we can make that happen. My goal is always to leave each person I interact with during my library hours with a sense that the library is a helpful place. If I can meet their actual need while they are there it’s icing on the cake. This translates well to online interactions and doesn’t change if I’m interacting with students, faculty or staff.

This doesn’t mean we always have to be sweet or go over the top, but simply that each person who comes to me feels like they could do so again. I watched the recording of a webinar from ASERL that took place on Tuesday called “Successful Faculty Outreach Strategies in ASERL Libraries“. The focus was on scholarly communication, but each example given by the panel was really about getting people comfortable with you and showing them how you can meet their needs. Many of the presenters viewed their success in terms of who reached out and how that initial meeting/workshop/interaction led to more of the same.

I feel more fulfilled when a student comes to find me after a workshop than when I get them to show up for extra credit. I recently had a faculty member send me a PowerPoint file to ask me how the authors put together their slides. This is something I’m fairly skilled in so I offered to sit down with her and show her how to do something similar. It may not be filling the traditional librarian role, but it’s meeting my goal of being helpful and providing excellent customer service. That interaction could easily lead to in class library instruction or an invitation to a faculty meeting.

Customer service is a term that’s been over used, but at its core it’s meeting people’s needs to the best of your ability for the context. It’s easy to forget how important the concepts of good customer service are within the library setting because they become automatic. I hope that as a profession we can continue to focus on helping our users and providing value to our communities because we wouldn’t exist without their trust and support.

Compound Effect

I recently read the book “The Compound Effect” by Darren Hardy. It was an easy read and most of it wasn’t new to me as I’ve been studying the topic of achievement and goal setting for a few years. The biggest takeaway I got from the book was that small changes can have huge effects when applied consistently over time. This is good when we have good habits, but terrible when we have destructive habits.

I relate everything to health and wellness, it’s my passion. A great example of the compound effect in terms of food is that one extra 150 calorie cookie a day means 54,750 calories added to your diet each year! In the library there are many ways we can make small extra efforts that could potentially yield big rewards. Something I think about often is what our users get out of their interactions with us and our services.

This morning when I was on the reference desk a student asked if I could help her find an article from a citation in the back of her Psychology textbook (everyone in her class is doing this right now). There are several ways I could have approached this:

1. Quickly pull it up on my own computer and send it to her.

2. Quickly pull it up on a student computer so she could print/email it.

3. Walk her through the process while I controlled the mouse/keyboard and print/email it for her.

4. Walk her through the process while she controlled the mouse/keyboard and have her print/email it.

5. Walk her through the process while she controlled the mouse/keyboard, help her print it so she wouldn’t print any extra pages and confirm that she could do it again if needed.

As you can see, each option takes an incrementally greater amount of effort but one could argue that those small improvements will drastically improve her experience at the desk. I estimate that option 1 would have taken about a minute depending on computer speed. What I actually did (option 5) took about 3 minutes. To me, the extra two minutes is worth it because I know that student had a positive experience. She found her article, learned a new skill, and saved 20 cents.

The reference desk is an easy target for this thought exercise because it provides multiple opportunities that have a direct impact on a person. This might be harder to see doing other tasks, but small efforts yield big rewards in most endeavors. It’s easy to get caught up in a routine when we complete our job tasks. We are usually either on autopilot (copier is that way) or focused on long term goals/projects. Spending a little bit of extra effort on the small tasks is a good way to mix things up and to eventually make big changes.

If you are a fan of personal development topics I’d like to suggest the School of Greatness podcast. The host, Lewis Howes, is a former pro athlete who is now a “lifestyle entrepreneur”. He interviews people from many different backgrounds, but asks each one for their definition of greatness. One of his recent guests, Josh Shipp, defined it as “intentional consistent incremental improvement”. Short and simple, but something we can all achieve. How will you make a small change today?

Doing the Work

Seth Godin is likely a familiar name to many librarians. He’s the author of several books, has given many inspiring TED talks, and writes a great blog. I just started subscribing to his blog about a month ago. I love that his posts are short, varied, and contain out of the box ideas. Some of them apply to my work in libraries, some to my personal life, and some not at all (but reading them is still rewarding).

His post on January 24th of this year was titled “On doing the work” (yes, I ripped off the title). I won’t summarize it because it’s short and easy to read, but it got me thinking about where the motivation to really engage with something comes from. More specifically: how do I harness that motivation in myself, can I identify which activities are worth doing, and how can I get my users to do the work that comes along with libraries.

Part of my inspiration for thinking about these issues is the History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education MOOC I am taking. I find that I’m not as engaged or willing to do the work as I was in the Hyperlinked Libraries MOOC. I haven’t yet figured out why, although I can identify several factors that may contribute. The subject matter isn’t as directly applicable to my life, the format of the course assignments is more individual, the course has many more participants, and the course software isn’t as personal. This thought exercise has helped me understand some of my own preferences for learning experiences.

I am more motivated if I can identify a specific outcome of my learning relevant to my life. I feel more comfortable learning on my own or in small groups with an outlet to share what I am learning in my own way with my peers. I enjoy video lectures more than I would have thought (and wish I had more of them in graduate school!). Taking handwritten notes helps keep me focused on what I am doing, and typing those notes later is invaluable for processing the information I’ve learned. I am glad to have figured out these preferences, and wonder if higher education institutions provide the right environment for fostering this self-exploration in students.

I think higher ed is moving in the right direction but isn’t there yet. At my institution we offer classes in person, on video, split between online and in person, and fully online. Many seated classes now have an online space as well. I think this is good for students if implemented successfully. It would be nice for students to have the opportunity to experience each one of these modes of instruction early in their career to discover what suits their preferences. Librarians may not be able to directly impact a student in the way a faculty member can, but we can bridge the gap between the faculty, students, and administration. We can counsel students about their options and reassure them as they work through their adaptation to the college environment.

As I stated earlier, I have been pondering how to motivate students (and faculty) to do the work when it comes to their information needs. This is definitely an iterative process. I know that information sticks better when it’s repeated, when it’s relevant to an outcome in their life, and when it’s presented with humility. I try to keep these things in mind when I work with students at the reference desk or in the classroom. I taught a session this morning to a class where I am also embedded in their online space. I taught them how to cite articles and embed links in their discussion board. I made it clear that using library sources is easier for several reasons (credibility, citation generation, linking, sifting through results, etc.). I let them know that I can help them find articles if they are stuck.

I moved into a discussion on APA format by first talking about the reasons why citations are used in academia and in the workplace. I brought it back to their class assignments. I had them work together to complete a citation. I reinforced that I am around to help them with citations (or anything else they need). The professor also wanted me to discuss presentation skills. During this portion I discussed the skills in the context of their group assignment for the course, job interviews, and workplace presentations. Again, I reinforced how the library can be useful (research, study rooms for practice, etc.). I used humor as much as possible, and told personal stories of how these issues have impacted my work and that of colleagues and friends.

When I left their classroom I went online and posted links to the main resources I discussed in their online course space. I know that I won’t hear from most of them, but I know that I will hear from more of them than I would have if I’d not spent the time and effort to connect to their various motivations. I had two students (out of 23) find me at the end of class. One asked for where to go for resume help. Had I not connected presentations and research to the workplace, she may not have reached out. What this thought experiment has taught me is that as a librarian and educator I need to view each library user as uniquely motivated (or not motivated) to solve an information task, and that spending an extra minute or two figuring out the motivation will be invaluable.

Thank you to those of you who did the work to stick with this post! I wanted to also link out to an essay I wrote titled “Student Trends: Informing Library Practice” that appears in my library’s online newsletter for new faculty. It touches on several of the ideas I explored in this post.