Category Archives: Technology Issues

For posts about teaching technologies, library technology issues, new technology

In the Wake of the Storm: How CUNY Libraries Adjusted After Hurricane Sandy

When Hurricane Sandy hit New York and New Jersey at the end of October, most of the twenty-three schools that make up the City University of New York were in the midst of midterm exams. With the devastation wrought by Sandy, the university was closed after the storm, as were many others in the area. CUNY is a public institution and many of the colleges provided shelter to displaced local residents during and after the storm. Some CUNY schools, both in Lower Manhattan and other parts of the city, were without power for the week (or even longer). The damage to mass transit systems on which so many New Yorkers depend made traveling throughout the city difficult for students, faculty, and staff.

Yet despite all of these challenges, overall most CUNY facilities escaped serious damage from the hurricane and were able to reopen to students on Friday, November 2. We all returned to a semester that looked different from the usual, and in some cases, very different. Here my colleagues and I share our post-hurricane adaptations in some of the libraries across the CUNY system.

New York City College of Technology, Brooklyn
Maura Smale, Information Literacy Librarian
At City Tech we were lucky to have no significant damage to our facilities and the library reopened on Thursday, November 1. I coordinate our information literacy and library instruction, so my main focus immediately after the hurricane was figuring out the impact on our teaching calendar. We typically offer over 200 instruction sessions during the fall semester; there were 11 sessions that had to be canceled while the college was closed. While it was a bit of a scramble to reschedule that many sessions just as we were heading into our busiest time for library instruction, thanks to the flexibility and patience of our instruction librarians and faculty colleagues we were able to find new times for all of the sessions that were missed.

One unexpected effect of the hurricane was the impact on library classes that did not have to be rescheduled. Our instruction sessions are highly assignment-driven, and I spend lots of time at the beginning of the semester working with faculty to ensure that their classes are scheduled to come to the library for instruction when it’s most useful for them. Because the hurricane closed school for several days most faculty had to revise their syllabi, which meant that we saw many more classes than usual in the library in which students did not have an assignment to work on. It wasn’t a huge issue, but it definitely kept us on our toes, and I’ll be interested to meet with the Instruction Team after the semester ends to discuss our lessons learned.

Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn
Benjamin Franz, Digital Reference Librarian
At Medgar Evers College we sustained no damage from the storm. After mass transit was brought back online, normal business resumed. The process was a little slow, but after a few days spent mass-processing information literacy one shots, the library was caught up.

Reference brought its own peculiarities: after the storm, attendance in the library was down. It gradually increased, but took until near the end of the semester to do so. Now with finals occurring, we are in full swing.

The impact came in the form of plans for the library renovation. Originally, the strategy was to cease loans on 11/30 and implement the move of the materials to the temporary locations in December. Hurricane Sandy slowed down this process. We have now met the movers, and they are busy labeling the shelves for moving. We will end all business and close the library December 23rd, as per the notice of our current Chief Librarian, Brian Lym. So Sandy delayed the full implementation of the move, but we progress well, if slowly, towards the renovation project.

Hunter College, Manhattan
Sarah Laleman Ward, Outreach Librarian
Hunter College has three campuses, with libraries at each location. Two of the campuses weathered the storm just fine. Our main campus at 68th Street and Lexington Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side functioned as an emergency shelter during and after Hurricane Sandy, and the Wexler Library at that campus reopened on November 1. Our newest location in East Harlem, which houses the Schools and Library of Social Work and Public Health, also sustained no damage and was able to reopen when classes started up again on November 2.

Our Brookdale Campus was another story. Located on East 25th Street near Bellevue Hospital, the Brookdale Campus houses Hunter College’s School of the Health Professions and the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing. The Health Professions Library (HPL) is located on this campus, as are Hunter’s dorms. The campus sustained extensive damage from Hurricane Sandy and when classes resumed at the rest of Hunter, the faculty, staff and students from Brookdale had no place to return to.

Hunter’s Chief Librarian, Dan Cherubin, was asked to find space at the Wexler Library for those displaced from Brookdale as the extent of the damage was assessed and clean-up began. Although the 3rd Floor of Wexler is already off-limits due to ongoing renovations, the 5th Floor was quickly turned into temporary office and classroom space for the faculty, staff and students from Brookdale. Spaces within the library and in other campus locations were secured to house Brookdale’s classes, and the semester carried on. This impacted the Wexler instruction calendar as we shifted classes around to accommodate the Brookdale classes and also attempted to reschedule our own classes from the days we were closed. Additionally, we welcomed our colleagues from HPL at Wexler and found spaces for them to work until the library reopened. Over a month later, there are still members of the Brookdale community being housed on Wexler’s 5th floor although some programs have now been moved back to the 25th Street campus.

We’ve been happy to accommodate our displaced colleagues from Brookdale, and they have been excellent roommates. But at a busy, crowded urban campus like Hunter’s, the squeeze on already limited study space for students is still being felt by everyone, particularly because it’s final exam time.

Hostos Community College, Bronx
Kate Lyons, Reference & IT Librarian
When we reopened after three days of being closed, we discovered a huge opportunity awaiting. Our Office of Academic Affairs, after meeting with department chairs, decided not to add any days to the academic semester, and instead requested that all faculty make up lost class time by posting assignments on Blackboard, and taking advantage of other interactive online tools. Our Chief Librarian called on the library faculty and staff to help support this initiative.

Lisa Tappeiner and I (chosen primarily because are currently offering our library information literacy workshops via Blackboard, and because I am the Faculty Liaison to our EdTech Office) offered one-on-one drop-in support for faculty new to Blackboard, and our library provided more circulating laptops in anticipation of an increased demand from students for access to Blackboard.

As a result of this initiative (and Hurricane Sandy) and the subsequent spike in faculty using Blackboard, we’re revisiting how we in the library work with faculty who teach using Blackboard, and how we ourselves use Blackboard to offer asynchronous information literacy workshops. The storm provided us an opportunity to connect with faculty teaching online, and to think about how to better support our distance students.

Lehman College, Bronx
Jennifer Poggiali, Instructional Technologies Librarian
Robert Farrell, Coordinator of Information Literacy and Assessment

Like Hostos, our Bronx neighbor, Lehman College was fortunate to come through Hurricane Sandy relatively unscathed. Our administration also suggested that discipline faculty make up cancelled classes online. The instructional unit at Lehman’s Leonard Lief Library saw an opportunity to create a so-called win-win.

Before the hurricane, we were planning to use online writing assignments to assess the learning outcomes of our library web comics. The challenge we faced was finding professors willing to work the comics into their syllabi. When we returned to work a few days after the storm, Robert had an idea: we could offer instructors the comics and their accompanying writing assignments as a way for them to make up the time lost due to Sandy.

Four professors took us up on the offer, with three of them using our assignments in a total of seven classes (the fourth professor preferred to hold an in-class discussion on their content). We wrote instructions for the students, handled any questions or problems they had, collected the completed assignments through Google forms, and sent the results to faculty on prearranged dates.

We found that having the learning modules prepared–for a rainy day, so to speak–was a good investment of time and resources for the library and the campus.

John Jay College, Manhattan
Bonnie Nelson, Interim Chief Librarian
“The Library is closed due to the storm,” said the notice on the Library’s homepage on October 29-30, while the city was reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. But by Halloween we realized how wrong we were, and changed the message to “The Lloyd Sealy Library is closed due to the storm, but electronic resources remain available.”

Of course, our students and faculty already knew that. Although the beautiful wood, carpet, and paper Lloyd Sealy Library was very much shuttered tight, the online library was wide open. 4,312 people visited the Library website from Monday to Wednesday of that week, viewing 9,240 web pages. During that same time there were 2,105 logins by students, faculty and staff members for remote use of our licensed electronic resources.

The Sealy Library is so busy during the course of a normal workday–with students studying in groups, reading, asking questions, or just chilling–that it is easy for us to forget how much of “library” work goes unseen. The subway may stop; the College may be closed; the Lloyd Sealy Library’s glass doors may be locked, but the Library is open.

Professional Jurisdiction

One of the many things I love about my position is that I’m one of only 3 librarians.  This means I have a fairly liberal allowance for things I can get away with, professionally speaking.  If I want to create my own outreach events, my boss invariably says “Go for it!”  If I want to create video tutorials to teach students how to retrieve full-text articles from our databases, the idea is met with “How soon can you make it happen?”  In other words, I’m not bound by the same position-specific job roles other librarians in large institutions may have.  I’m the outreach, reference, systems, emerging technologies, and instruction librarian all at once.

One of the challenges of this position, though, is navigating my professional jurisdiction.  My institution is very small (less than 1000 enrolled students) but we pride ourselves on spectacular support services.  We have Master’s-degreed writing and math tutors whose schedules are always full; we librarians spend most of our days meeting one-on-one with students for research consultations or conducting information literacy workshops.  But every so often, we’ll be presented with a unique student need and not know who to defer it to.  Unlike most of my first year librarian counterparts, I typically interact with students much older than myself: the average age of a student at my university is 38.  This means that some of our students are behind the technological curve and need some help catching up with basic computer skills. Is this the job of the academic librarian?

Public, and likely community college, libraries offer several classes a month in basic computer literacy skills.  They offer courses on setting up Email, Internet 101, and basic office software.   In addition to teaching these necessary computer basics, the courses might also cover more “high concept” topics like internet privacy and the politics of the publishing industry.  Typically, though, academic libraries do not offer these types of courses; maybe because the average college student is a digital native, or maybe because the university is in a city with a robust public library where the librarians can refer students with this need.  So when I began noticing a real need for technology support I couldn’t find many academic libraries to use for models.  For some reason, computer literacy workshops just don’t seem to fit in the library’s purview.

The library as a concept and place is in flux.  The needs of our students, the format of our collections, and the media through which we interact with the campus are all changing.  This means that as librarians, we’re always challenged to say one step ahead: to try to figure out how to best utilize our limited budgets and resources to meet the needs of visitors, students, faculty, and colleagues.  In this case of my campus, maybe this means taking on some of the more basic computer training.  Did I get my Master’s to teach classes in Microsoft Word?  No, not really.  But I did get my Master’s to facilitate a love of auto didacticism and self-sufficiency and life-long learning in my community.   However, I don’t want to lose the value of libraries by being a “one-stop-shop” or step on other campus department’s toes.  The question that remains on my mind is, given the changing demographics and needs of campus communities, where do library services begin and end?

Has your library faced a similar challenge?  How do you navigate where the library’s professional jurisdiction begins and ends?  Leave a comment or respond via Twitter, @beccakatharine.

Responding to Change

Recently I had the pleasure of hearing Paul Courant, Dean of Libraries at the University of Michigan, and John Unsworth, vice provost for Library and Technology Services at Brandeis University, speak on The Hathi Trust, Google Books, and the Future of Research. The event was the part of the BNN Symposium on the Future of the Academy sponsored by the NorthEast Regional Computing Program (NERCOMP), the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), and the Boston Library Consortium (BLC).

The theme of the day was institutional responses to technological change: how do we keep libraries relevant in supporting research? How can emerging technologies enable new kinds of research using traditional materials? How can we take advantage of changing technologies while preserving our values and services? This event was a great opportunity for thinking about these questions from a big-picture perspective.

Courant had a few central messages to his talk, which I summarize and comment on below. His words, paraphrased, are in italics, and my thoughts and questions follow.

  • Technology is a set of mechanisms that get you from input to output. Libraries produce value by making things reusable and sharing them; that’s a technology. We’re all using technology; there’s no such thing as a “technophobe.” Hardware and software, devices and databases, are all tools that function within this technology. Books are a technology: they move ideas along, from authorial input to reader output.
  • In a disrupted world, build things to see what works. Don’t wait for all the ducks to line up in a row. Dedicate time and energy for new initiatives, but don’t require that they be perfect, or have buy-in from an entire organization. Create and support spaces that enable experimental projects. (Is the Harvard Library Lab still operational? Are there others?) Learn from the things that don’t work.
  • The old system doesn’t tell you what to build. What do we do because we’ve always done it? Are there traditions (services, functions, processes) that we preserve for their own sake? What is worth preserving and what can we leave behind?
  • Look to purposes, not to things, although things can be the only way to some purposes. Is a traditional reference desk the only way to provide drop-in research help? What are other ways that we can provide time-of-need assistance? Must we be in the physical space of the library to provide this kind of help? Or does having a physical service desk in the centralized public space of the reading room encourage patrons to use librarians’ services? Does the presence of a reference desk enable user interactions that wouldn’t happen otherwise?
  • The library isn’t there for itself; it’s there to enable scholarship and learning. This is one of the “no-brainers” that I forget sometimes, especially with collection development. Creating an ideal collection with its own integrity can be very rewarding, but so can assembling connections to materials that enable and enrich research, teaching, and learning.
  • Preserve outcomes, not business models. Use the language of learning outcomes to help shape the direction of new projects. What do we want users to be able to do as a result of this service or product? What do users want to be able to do? How can we meet those needs using the resources we have?

The Ebook of My Dreams

We all have our frustrations with ebooks. The problem isn’t just one of print vs electronic or Luddite vs early adopter. Even as I happily consume Kindle books on my iPad and the new Project Muse collection for work, I find that ebooks simply don’t do the things I want them to do – the things the electronic format seems to promise. In an ideal world, what would ebooks do that would make them not a substitute for print books, but better than print books? What features would make ebooks represent a true new step in the evolution of information delivery systems? Here’s what I’d like to see :

Interoperability: Ebooks need to take advantage of the spatial navigability of the electronic environment. For example, the index should not exist separately as an additional PDF file, as many ebook indexes do. Instead, I should be able to click on an entry in the index (say, “deckchairs, rearrangement of”) and be linked to the place(s) in the text where that topic is discussed. With endnotes, it’s frustrating to flip to the end, especially when it’s just a bibliographic citation. Can you give me the information without taking me away from the text? Can I mouse-over and get the information in a pop-up window? How much more work would it take to link up index entries and notes? How much more of an intellectual payoff would we get?

Intertextuality: Does the book cite other books? Journal articles? Blogs? Websites? Well, connect me – not just to bibliographic information that I can port into a link resolver and then cross my fingers. Take me there: right to the page that the author discusses. Make the connectivity that we expect on the web a standard feature of ebooks. Is there an allusion to some other text? Identify the allusion and give me the option of linking to it. But also give me the option of turning off all of the annotations — sometimes I just want to read without interruption. Especially if I’m reading James Joyce.

Sharing: Hey, I just read this great essay in that new collection – it would really help with that project we’re working on. Want to borrow my copy with all my notes?  Great, and you can add your annotations too. When we’re done with work, want to borrow this great new novel I just finished reading? Oh, sorry, I read it on my Kindle. You’ll have to pay $9.99 too.

Device Neutrality: You have a Nook instead of a Kindle? No problem! You don’t have a device at all and you need to borrow one? Sure! You need to put the book on reserve, or use it on your laptop? Be our guest! But most of all, you don’t want to have to download an app just to read a book. Well, neither do I, and in my flying-car, jet-pack, futuristic fantasy world of ebooks, we don’t need to.

Curating: As a bibliographer, I need to acquire for my library the information that will support the research and teaching needs of the faculty and students on my campus. I don’t want a package that has been created by a vendor speculating about the needs of liberal-arts college library collections. I want to buy ebooks for my library just like I buy print books — some on approval, some as firm orders, some through patron-driven acquisitions, some because a new professor has been hired in that subject area, and some because they belong in a collection of record. I don’t want to be told that I can’t have an ebook in my collection because my vendor’s conglomerate competes with its publisher’s conglomerate. If two print books sit happily next to each other on a physical shelf, why can’t they coexist on a virtual shelf?

Can we also decide: eBook? e-book? ebook?

Yes, some of these features do exist already, often as standalone apps. Many of these are features we’ve come to expect from ejournal (eJournal? e-journal?) environments. What ebook features do you dream about?

Change–The Encyclopedia Britannica Editors Say “It’s Okay”

If you were saving some of your budget to purchase the next print edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, I have some bad news for you. Yesterday the editors announced that after 244 years of publication, they are going to stop printing bound volumes and instead will focus on digital editions. This decision is not altogether unexpected, given that most reference sources are going digital, but it remains somewhat surprising to those of us who are used to the 30+ volume set gathering dust on the ready reference shelf.

I found Encyclopedia Britannica’s blog post on this announcement very interesting. I was expecting something nostalgic, mournful, or even bitter. Instead, with the title of “Change: It’s Okay. Really,” it sounds as if they’re ready to move on. The Britannica Editors write:

A momentous event? In some ways, yes; the set is, after all, nearly a quarter of a millennium old. But in a larger sense this is just another historical data point in the evolution of human knowledge.

Unlike the blog post, the comments below the post are more melancholic. For example, one person says, “It’s a sad, sad day. I need no internet, no electrical outlet, and no batteries to read print.”

I vividly remember using the Encyclopedia Britannica in the children’s section of my public library in order to complete various homework assignments from elementary through high school. These are good memories, but will I miss the hardbound monolith? About as much as I miss the television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m serious—Buffy was a historical data point (at least in my own evolution) and this amazing show as well as the Encyclopedia Britannica helped me survive high school.  And now I believe that the time has come for us to let go.

At a recent EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative meeting, one of the presenters asked the audience if anyone had used the Encyclopedia Britannica within the past 12 months. Only one woman raised her hand and she explained that she used it to show a child how we used to look up information without computers or the Internet. This is how the Encyclopedia Britannica will continue to live on: as a symbol of how we used to gather and find information.

Poignantly, about 30 minutes after reading a news article about this announcement, I witnessed a pair of students pull one volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica off the shelf. Now, this is literally the first time I have ever seen a students use this resource in my library since I arrived here a year and a half ago. I couldn’t help but wonder—why didn’t they just Google the information they were looking for? Or use one of our online encyclopedias? My guess is either their professor asked them to consult to it or perhaps they learned how to use the print volumes at their public library just as I did. Nevertheless, it made me smile.

Please feel free to share your memories of the Encyclopedia Britannica (or Buffy for that matter) in the comments below.