Non-Librarian Professionals Making A Difference

The first night of class I tell my academic librarianship students that the key to learning about academic libraries is getting out and going to academic libraries and talking to the people who work there. I learned how true that is last week when I visited two different academic libraries. On Wednesday I was treated to a guided tour of the library at Wright State University by Stephen Foster, University Librarian. The full-scale replica of the Kitty Hawk hanging in the library’s atrium is certainly unique, but that wasn’t the highlight of the tour. While there are lots of great folks working at the WSU library one of their stars isn’t a librarian at all. Vishwam Annam is a web developer for the library, and I was duly impressed by some of the innovative work for which he’s responsible.

The next night I visited the library at the University of Pennsylvania. I always take my students there for the grand tour. It gives them an opportunity to see some of the behind the scenes action, and get to know a few more library practitioners. I’ve been at Penn’s Van Pelt Library many times, but this was my first chance to see their new information commons which was smaller than I expected, but impressive none the less. I think what my students enjoyed most was our post-tour demonstration of and discussion about Penn Tags. This innovation would probably be impossible if not for the non-library professionals who do the web programming. We learned that the Penn Tagging that’s integrated into the catalog isn’t actually in the catalog, but is just a layer on top of it that’s the result of AJAX programming. Pretty amazing stuff. We also learned Penn’s Library is unveiling a new look home page next week that appears to be heavily influenced by a company whose name begins with a “G” – take a look.

You probably read Jim Neal’s article about “feral professionals” that points out that it’s increasingly becoming a necessity, not a luxury, to have non-librarian professionals within the academic library organization. Based on the experiences of the two libraries I visited last week I can clearly see the importance of having web programmers on staff. The real problem is that the vast majority of academic libraries won’t be able to afford it – or be willing to commit to the change. The large and mid-sized university libraries seem to have the staffing flexibilities to add a range on non-librarian professionals to their staff. Small universities and colleges will be hard pressed to do the same, but perhaps they can develop some strategies to share ideas and resources for utilizing the talents of our non-librarian colleagues.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to spend a few days each month just visiting different academic libraries. It’s always a learning experience.

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