All posts by Maura Smale

About Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian and Department Chair, Library, at New York City College of Technology, City University of New York.

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Members of the ACRLog blog team write on any issue or idea that impacts academic librarianship, from current news items to workflow and procedural topics to upcoming changes in the profession and more. We aim to have group of bloggers who represent diverse perspectives on and career stages in academic librarianship who can commit to writing 1-2 posts per month. We’re especially interested to hear from librarians interested in writing about technical services and technology, to balance the public services strengths of our current bloggers.

If this sounds like you, use the ACRLog Tip Page to drop us a line by May 27. Let us know who you are and why you’d like to blog at ACRLog, and send us a sample blog post. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Maintaining in Academic Libraries

The spring conference season is in full swing, and one weekend earlier this month it seemed like there were conferences of interest to me all over the place, judging from the hashtags in my Twitter timeline: #PLA2016, #SAA2016 (Society of American Archaeologists), #OAH2016 (Organization of American Historians), #DifferentGames2016, and #AERA16 (American Educational Research Association), just to name (more than) a few.

But of all of those great-looking events, most of my conference envy (and associated hashtag-following) was reserved for #maintainers, hashtag for The Maintainers: A Conference, at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. From the description on the conference website:

Many groups and individuals today celebrate “innovation.” The notion is influential not only in engineering and business, but also in the social sciences, arts, and humanities. For example, “innovation” has become a staple of analysis in popular histories – such as Walter Isaacson’s recent book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.

This conference takes a different approach, one whose conceptual starting point was a playful proposal for a counter-volume to Isaacson’s that could be titled The Maintainers: How a Group of Bureaucrats, Standards Engineers, and Introverts Made Technologies That Kind of Work Most of the Time.

From the tweets I caught this conference looked fascinating, and you can read more about it in the shared conference notes doc (with many links to full papers) as well as in the essay Hail the Maintainers published in Aeon by conference organizers Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell the day before the conference. And since the conference I’ve been mulling over this tension of maintenance vs. innovation, and how it might be expressed in academic libraries.

Like our transit infrastructure, libraries require maintenance work to function, work that touches every part of our libraries: facilities, resources, services (in alphabetical order, not necessarily order of importance). This maintenance work, while crucial, sometimes seems easy to forget, especially as annual reporting season rolls around each year. Do we report the maintenance work we do? If we don’t report it, administrators, faculty, staff, and students outside the library might not know it’s happening, so I would argue that yes, we should report it.

But maintenance can’t be the only thing happening in academic libraries — as technology, access to information, and higher education more generally go through changes, libraries do as well. One danger of focusing only on maintenance is that it might prevent us from trying something new that could bring real benefits to us as workers or to the communities we serve. Adding new (or making changes to existing) facilities, resources, and services can also bring new requirements for maintenance. Perhaps there’s legacy maintenance that’s no longer needed, allowing us to balance between continuing and new efforts within the constraints of our time and budgets?

I bristle when I read the phrase “do more with less” because I want to resist the overwork and burnout that can happen to all of us, especially when necessary maintenance work can seem invisible or underappreciated. And I think that innovation as a buzzword can sometimes be used to encourage us to do more with less, to believe that innovation alone will overcome the limitations of funding and time. But I also don’t think that flat or declining budgets mean that we shouldn’t change — I think it’s worth our efforts to figure out if there is maintenance work that we can stop doing that can allow us to try something new (which, if successful, will of course require maintenance of its own).

Is maintenance the opposite of innovation in academic libraries? Can we do both? Must we do both? To be honest, I’m still puzzling through my thoughts about this, and I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Working on Wikipedia Redux

Last weekend I had a great time participating in the Wikipedia Art+Feminism editathon, an annual event to increase the representation and coverage of women in the arts on Wikipedia. You may remember Art+Feminism co-organizer Siân Evans’s guest post last December — Why GLAM Wiki — which well-explains the editathon’s aims and accomplishments.

I’m a huge fan of Wikipedia — for my (and my family’s) own use as well as in teaching undergrads and graduate students. I also think working on Wikipedia is a perfect fit for academic librarians, with our research skills and our ability to access paywalled academic literature (though the latter I hope will someday become unnecessary as open access continues to gain ground). But I confess that I’m not as active in editing and adding content to Wikipedia as I’d like to be.

Indeed, last weekend I found myself thinking about the last editathon I attended two years ago, which I wrote about on my very infrequently updated professional blog. That semester I participated in the editathon in part because I was co-teaching a graduate class on interactive technology and pedagogy with Michael Mandiberg, another Art+Feminism co-organizer. We included a couple of Wikipedia assignments for our students in our grad course, and I wanted to put myself in my students’ shoes by doing a bit of editing and adding content, too.

This semester I’m teaching the course again (though solo this time), and again students are working on a Wikipedia assignment. We’re also spending more time in the course reading and talking about Wikipedia as a community as well as a collaboratively-created resource. Again I find myself thinking, as I did two years ago, about undergraduate work on Wikipedia, especially in the context of single- (or 2-3) session instruction as opposed to an entire semester of work on a Wikipedia assignment. I know my grad students — many of whom are teaching right now or will be soon — are also thinking about this. How can we incorporate Wikipedia content creation into instruction in smaller ways than spending a whole semester on an article or series of articles?

This year the editathon I attended was at Interference Archive, a volunteer-run archive in Brooklyn, NY that focuses on social movements. Editathon co-organizers Nora Almeida and Jen Hoyer went through the archives before last weekend to pull particularly relevant files for us to work on if we were looking for inspiration. My background is not in the arts, so I especially appreciated these efforts and was glad to be able to jump into finding info about an artist whose work I found in one of the files. And it strikes me that this might be a good way for students to jump into Wikipedia editing, too — beginning with archival or historical materials and synthesizing them with sources we can find online.

I’m happy to see that the edits I made last weekend — creating a stub for the Australian artist Arlene TextaQueen, are still live as I type this. And even more pleasantly surprising? The edits I made 2 years ago are still live, too.

More Than Just Meetings: Thinking about Service to the Institution

Today was a Friday full of meetings for me that mostly took place outside of the library. I started out in the morning at the monthly(-ish) meeting of my college’s General Education Committee, along with other faculty and administrators from departments across the college. The college where I work is just beginning our preparation for an accreditation visit in a couple of years, so today we worked in small groups to consider the General Education course offerings for our students (among other tasks). After a brief stop in my office to answer a bit of email and grab my backpack, I hopped the subway to travel to my university’s central office for a training session on the new procedures for Chairs of the Faculty Student Disciplinary Committee on each campus. Lucky for me (and my fellow midday subway commuters), the second meeting came with lunch.

In my time as an academic librarian, both as Instruction Coordinator and as Chief Librarian, I’ve done and continue to do a fair amount of academic service work outside of the library. I’ve blogged previously about my work directing a major grant-funded project at my college. Though my current service load is not nearly as heavy as it was then, it’s definitely the case that college and university service commitments can take me out of the library for chunks of time. And it can sometimes be challenging to balance service responsibilities with library work.

Despite the time management challenges (and I readily confess that I’m looking forward to a meeting-free weekend), there’s much to value in college and university service for academic librarians. In joining a couple of college and university committees fairly soon after I started at City Tech I was able to learn a lot about how the college and university work. Many of the committees outside the library involve decisions and processes that involve or affect the library. For example, at my college all proposals for new courses and programs go through our College Council (like a Faculty Senate) Curriculum Committee. While there is a form within the proposal package that each library subject specialist completes, it’s also useful for library faculty to see the inner workings of the curriculum process and to help evaluate proposals. Beyond curriculum and collections, college service can help familiarize library faculty with the processes that affect students in their careers at the college. At our Reference and Circulation Desks we field lots of questions from students that don’t technically have to do with library services and resources — especially for new students who might not be sure where to go to ask a question, our service desks can be a first stop.

College service especially can be an opportunity to meet faculty and staff in departments and offices outside of the library. My college does a great job in orienting new faculty, which usually results in a strong cohort of folks who’ve been hired around the same time. But service commitments can offer the chance to meet faculty in all departments and at all ranks — from untenured Assistant Professors to tenured Professors with a deep institutional memory. This can be useful in our library work as we consult or partner with faculty around library services and resources. And, if you’re in a tenure-track or promotable position, committee work can introduce you to some of the folks who may be on the evaluation committees when you put in for tenure or promotion. In my personal experience it’s a relief to walk into that promotion interview and see a few familiar faces around the table.

What kinds of extra-library service are you expected (or do you sign up) to do at your job? What have you learned in your college service that’s useful for your library work and career? Drop us a line in the comments.

Academic Libraries and Mental Health: LIS Mental Health Week

This week is LIS Mental Health Week, organized by Cecily Walker and Kelly McElroy. The event involves “a week-long series of posts, Twitter chats, podcasts, and resource sharing about mental health issues for people who suffer and for their loved ones” (from a post earlier this month in which Cecily kicked things off on her blog). Folks from all across library and information science work are sharing their thoughts on mental health — using the hashtag #LISMentalHealth — to help raise awareness and push back against stigma. The posts I’ve read so far today have been inspiring and humbling, and I’m looking forward to reading more all this week.

Mental health concerns can impact all library workers regardless of where in the library we work. One tweet I saw earlier reminded us to take advantage of the employee benefits program if you have one in your library or organization. This often takes the form of work-life balance resources and can include counseling or other services that are anonymously available to all employees. My university has a program like this, and I’d guess that these services are commonly available at colleges and universities.

Of course, in academic libraries we also serve students, and undergraduates and graduate students may struggle with mental health issues during their academic careers. The university typically has one (or several) offices that work with students in crisis or otherwise address student mental health issues. Since these issues can also impact folks who interact with students — like library workers at service desks or in the classroom — it’s worthwhile to reach out to those offices to see whether they can offer information or training in handling challenging situations that may arise. At my library we’ve invited representatives from the counseling office and public safety to visit us and make a presentation, which gave all of us who work in the library a chance to ask questions and learn more about what resources are available for student mental health on our campus.

What kinds of mental health concerns have you grappled with in your academic library work, and what strategies have you used to address them? If you’d like to, please share your thoughts in the comments.

And if you’re around and online later this afternoon/evening (January 18), tune in to Twitter at 4pm Pacific/7pm Eastern time for the #LISMentalHeath Twitter chat. That link will also take you to a form that Cecily and Kelly have set up for folks to ask questions/pose discussion topics anonymously. I’d bet that they’ll Storify the chat as well, so check back to the website later this week to catch up with the chat if you have to miss it today (like I do, unfortunately).