Where Are They Now? Former FYALs Reflect: Lily Troia Asks: Who are We When We Leave “The Library”?

When invited to write this former first-year librarian “where are you now” post some questions immediately popped into my head: What does it mean to be “a librarian;” is it synonymous with practicing “librarianship;” and perhaps, what most would assume — does it require you to work IN a library? Ironically, these were questions we often debated when I was earning my MLIS with a focus on archival practice — what were archivists? Were WE librarians, working in special collections, sometimes with “Librarian” in our title, yet technically members of an entirely different praxis? What about embedded librarians or those working for corporations, law firms, or (gasp) publishers? 

I look now at the circuitous path my career has taken and I see much more intersection and overlap than the converse — and find many ‘former’ librarians like me, who seem very much to live and breathe librarianship in all they do professionally. When folks ask me what I do for a living (pre-COVID), I always reply, “Oh, I’m a traveling librarian,” intended to sound seemingly oxymoronic, and always a conversation starter. Regardless, I love my job. 

For the past three and a half years I’ve been fortunate to be “at” Digital Science, working remotely and on the road, first as Engagement Manager for Altmetric — or as I liked to describe the position, an instruction and advocacy librarian to our global user base, supporting those interested in richer, more contextual bibliometrics, with an eye on connecting research visibility to broader impact. Now I specifically help research and scholarly institutions in this hemisphere develop frameworks for digital solutions that meet their unique needs — a role very similar to that of the electronic resources and scholarly communication librarians with whom I often work, only speaking from the solution-provider perspective. 

I cannot exaggerate how lucky I am to have found a company headquartered in London, providing me with numerous opportunities to explore the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany — plus time frequenting some of the most impressive cities North America offers: Toronto, Boston, Washington D.C., Montreal, etc. and exploring those less-appreciated but worth discovery, like Cincinnati, OH, Rochester, NY, and London, Ontario (“the other London”). The privilege of zipping cross time zones on a weekly basis is not lost on me, nor was it a lifestyle I’d ever previously enjoyed. And all this while working with exciting new technologies, furthering my own scholarly and professional pursuits, and diving deeper into a global community committed to open science and scholarship. 

When I was officially a First Year Librarian for ACRLog I worked in an actual academic library at William and Mary, where I helped launch research data management for the campus and digital services for the VIrginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). This was an amazing position for me coming out of Simmons, where I balanced a pastiche of part-time digital asset management and scholarly communication jobs. I got to spend time on open access advocacy, work directly with researchers, and get involved with organization-wide committees and a taskforce focused on aligning technical services across campus, thanks to the keen leadership of a director who ensured the library was engaged in broader discussions at the institution. 

Did I mention the corner office with a view of the York River and the occasional dolphin sighting?  

It is more coincidence and circumstance that I ended up leaving. I began researching altmetrics when tasked with assessing ways of measuring broader social impact at VIMS, and serendipitously found Altmetric’s job ad when the time was right for me to move. A position that splits remote work and travel is not for everyone but suddenly in today’s shifted, crisis-mode climate, getting accustomed to working from home seems an apt skill to have developed in advance. 

I realize I am a vendor — in sales even — maybe the furthest thing from what most would view as a librarian, but I am a part of the same ecosystem, and at the very least library-adjacent. I speak and work with librarians every day, not across but at the same table, working to develop and seek the best solutions for each institution. I still speak at conferences and webinars, publish posters and contribute to literature in the LIS field and beyond. I am collaborating with librarians, IT, research administrators, scholars, faculty affairs, and more — just like before. 

It’s hard not to see how I practice library and information science every day, from the skills I learned while earning my MLIS — information management, metadata, copyright and instruction — to my approaches to librarianship, scholarship, responsible metrics: I bring my librarian self into everything I do. Whether helping the Ohio Innovation Exchange craft a job posting for a Library Engagement Strategist or blogging for my own company about cross-organizational efforts around managing faculty data

Yes, I work for a commercial company, but I feel genuinely proud to work at Digital Science, an organization started by researchers and scientists, employing more than a few librarians, each functioning in a unique role of librarianship — from systems project management, to bibliometrics, data curation, or metadata mapping — skill sets valued by our peers, and seen as unique and critical to our successes. Further, we are a team committed to supporting the scholarly community via direct partnerships, free offerings, and continued technological developments and insights that enhance and improve our shared landscape.  

I may not be working out of one library, but we all know today that librarians have roles across a litany of professional fields, and many of us are taking our degrees and turning librarianship into something new that works for us. For that, I am proud to still call myself a librarian. 

Dane Ward: Teacher, Leader, Friend

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Craig Gibson, Professor & Professional Development Coordinator, Ohio State University Libraries.

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope.”—Reinhold Niebuhr

One bright summer day in 2002, I saw in my email box a message from longtime colleague and friend Mary Jane Petrowski, informing me about her excitement about making a new hire for the ACRL Immersion Program. “We’re getting Dane Ward to join us,” she said. I could sense her anticipation about someone special joining our group and bringing talent and a new perspective to our discussions, and to our collective vision for the program.

I first met Dane Ward at one of our Immersion faculty meetings, and was immediately impressed by his genuineness, sense of humor, and easy grace in relating to others.  He listened carefully to our wide-ranging discussions in Immersion faculty meetings, made pointed observations in those discussions, and quickly earned the respect and admiration of colleagues for his quiet but assertive confidence in his beliefs. He had obviously experienced enough of the world, and of our profession, to have firm convictions about what our larger purpose should be as librarians and as professionals.   

Of course, all of us on the Immersion faculty learned quickly about Dane’s sense of humor and his willingness to take risks and be fully engaged in some of our experiments in creative programming.  As many participants in Immersion from those years know, our group coalesced around a “Wizard of Oz” theme in pursuing the path to knowledge and information literacy enlightenment (a trip to the Emerald City, but ultimately, returning to home with much learning and growth).  We invented numerous skits and followed the “Wizard of Oz” theme in performances.  In his very first year as faculty member, Dane was asked to play the role of Munchkin with another long-term friend and colleague, Beth Woodard, and he was totally game for it. His performance in that role demonstrated his willingness to take risks, be vulnerable, and engage with our faculty group and participants alike in learning that builds a community through laughter and the sharing of vulnerable human moments. 

Part of what I learned about Dane, and the immense respect I quickly developed for him, drew from my reading of the book The Collaborative Imperative: Librarians and Faculty Working Together in the Information Universe, which he co-edited with Richard Raspa. I found the book compelling because Dane had already imagined what is possible for academic librarians through that book, which continues to influence the thinking of many. Dane possessed an early and profound intuition about what true collaboration means, as opposed to what we often refer to as “collaboration”, which is more often performative and may be nothing more than coordination and protection of turf.  For Dane, authentic collaboration involved reimagining roles in higher education in a transformative way so that a shared energy and collective work emerges from partnerships.    

For years afterward, and beyond his time on the Immersion faculty, Dane and I would often share a hotel room at ALA conferences, and we had an ongoing discussion about cultures of organizations, the role of librarians, the concept of information literacy, and what matters in leading a good life that would encompass our professional and personal selves. I have often thought that I learned more from Dane in those conversations, over dinner or just talking between meetings or in extended discussions in the shared room, than I did from many of the conference speakers.  Dane was an extraordinarily reflective person who could delve deeply into questions that he cared about, and he cared much about librarians becoming more integrated into their institutions and making a difference for students and faculty.  I could often sense his impatience with the technocratic aspects of our work and how it might limit the imaginative and the productively ambiguous dimensions of it. For him, we need the wellsprings of creative thinking to energize our relationships within our campuses, and he was totally dedicated to those spaces and times within which creativity could flourish. 

Dane’s influence on my own thinking, about the role of librarians as educators and as change agents in the academy, grew out of those many rich conversations.   The way he conversed and listened, and offered insights that would cause me to pause or rethink some statement I’d made, were part of a continuing pattern of learning for me, of helping me to understand where I was falling short in my own thinking.  He sometimes challenged me, quietly and humanely, and I grew better after each conversation.  Conversations with him were like a tonic, sparkling and energizing and full of brightened prospects for even further learning together.

Dane was the best kind of colleague and teacher for me—one who was interested in working alongside me in a collaborative spirit as we searched for a more compelling understanding of information literacy and the role of libraries. He also understood, in a very fundamental way, that teaching and leading are relational activities that draw on the full emotions and imaginations of the teacher, who leads students in discovering their previously unknown talents and in knowing themselves better; and of the leader, who teaches others through example and building community.   In the words of Henry Mintzberg, Dane believed in “communityship,” not in models of leadership that focus on the single heroic individual at the apex.  

At various times in the past fifteen years, my conversations with Dane have shown me his character and wisdom.  Dane and I co-taught the “Leadership” track in the  Immersion Program, and our conversations about that large topic while planning the curriculum and teaching it together showed me that his ideas about the collaborative search for meaning in the academy are integral to the practice of leadership; that leadership is not a formulaic, technocratic,  practice; and that disciplined character and judgement, combined with humanity, kindness, and cultivation of others through listening, are crucial in leading, guiding, and mentoring others.  Dane did not care about the trappings of leadership or those who use the word “leadership” too carelessly, because he believed that leadership is always a journey, a disciplined practice of becoming more human in guiding others and helping everyone develop a shared purpose and meaning.   Dane’s wisdom, intuitively gained, mirrored that of Parker Palmer, who was part of our Immersion journey.  Palmer wrote in his Courage to Teach that “the power for authentic leadership is found not in external arrangements, but in the human heart.” 

I recently finished reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University, written by a digital humanist and scholar at Michigan State. Among much else, that book is about reinventing the university and helping us reimagine its core purposes around engagement with what we often refer to as our “constituents,” and to learn new ways of listening and talking to each other to help build community within our institutions.  I couldn’t help thinking of Dane as I finished this book, and pondering how he had identified the same search for meaning through building community.  Dane himself embodied the call to a new way of thinking—the “Generous Thinking” of the book’s title.    He was always a “generous thinker” for colleagues and friends wherever he worked and in whatever role—someone who believed in bringing out the best in us and creating new bonds for the greater good.

Dane aspired to help all of us understand how to build a new academy, based on the collaborative spirit and creative imagination, and would show us the role of the library as energizing hub within that new academy—a collegium of partners who learn from each other, who found new initiatives together, and who look outward toward their larger mission and inward in forging new bonds of friendship and community, instead of accelerating the hypercompetitive individualism and prestige obsessions rampant in the academy.  To Dane, the library had a special mission for creating conversation, community, and networks of friendship that enliven a campus and point it to a higher calling, a community of scholars, teachers, and learners.  The activated collection and library as essential partner would be integral in that new academy, where, in these fraught and pandemic times, our work aspires to great meaning and moral purpose in making a better world. Dane’s voice of leadership was prophetic: the need for greater community in these times of tribalism, polarization, and fractured institutions speaks to his intuition in what matters most in helping all of us reach for our better selves.

Dane’s own learning took him to places that he and none of us, neither his family nor his friends, would ever have wanted for him.  Two years ago, after moving to Boone, North Carolina, to accept the Dean of Libraries position at Appalachian State, he received a diagnosis of ALS, an incurable neurological disease.   When I learned of the diagnosis, I, along with all of his friends and colleagues, were heartbroken because of the nature of the disorder.  But we immediately learned of Dane’s great courage and spirit in his response. He wrote about the need to learn about the disease as an information literacy problem, the scattered nature of medical information about ALS, and his need to educate himself.   This determination to continue learning shone in all of his later communication.  He was also determined to support others, in whatever way possible, through ALS fundraising and education.   He no doubt found a new community through ALS patients, and a new bond with them and their families.   The shared recognition of human possibility and frailty alike is one of the key attributes of a true leader, and the need for compassion and bringing forth the best in people under the most challenging personal circumstances.  

Dane found meaning and purpose in the last part of his life through that community, through continuing friendships, and the love of his family.  He was, I believe, one of the most humane teacher/leaders in our profession, and it was because he lived the great questions of life. Across the years I knew him, we always returned to those questions in our talks.  In the spirit of words from the New Testament, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation,” he lived the questions across the arc of his life.

When I think of Dane, I recall the words of Rilke from his Letters to a Young Poet:

“. . . be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Dane lived the great questions of teaching, of learning, of the role of libraries, of the mission of the academy, throughout his days, and drew others into his reflections. He did not pretend to have answers when he lacked them, but he did teach me to inquire, to be curious, and to aim for better understandings, in a continued conversation with others. He also never considered himself an expert, but a teacher who helps others discover themselves. His spirit of teaching is best captured by a well-known quote about the famous art historian and part-time boys football coach Kirk Varnedoe, described by Adam Gopnik in a New Yorker article in this way:

“A guru gives us himself, and then his system; a teacher gives us his subject, and then ourselves.”

Dane Ward’s life is a testament of faith in the spirit of collaborative leadership, searching for shared purpose in forging new roles for academic libraries in the academy. As a leader and teacher, he has truly given us ourselves, and we will always remember his example and be inspired by it.

Thank you, Dane Ward, for coming our way.

Celebration Ceremony Link

Dane Ward’s family hosted a Celebration of Life in his memory on July 18, 2020.   Friends and colleagues can view the virtual event at this link:

Sources

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019.

Gopnik, Adam, “The Last of the Metrozoids,” The New Yorker, May 10, 2004.  Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/05/10/last-of-the-metrozoids

Mintzberg, Henry. “Enough Leadership. Time for Communityship.” Henry Mintzberg Blog.  February 12, 2015. Available at: https://mintzberg.org/blog/communityship

Palmer, Parker. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco: Wiley, 2007. 

Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet. New York: Norton, 1963.

Selected Works by Dane Ward

Raspa, Richard, and Dane Ward, eds. The Collaborative Imperative: Librarians and Faculty Working Together in the Information Universe. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2000.

Ward, Dane, “Revisioning Information Literacy for Lifelong Meaning,” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32/4 (July 2006): 396-402.

Ward, Dane, “The Future of Information Literacy: Transforming the World.” Illinois State University/Milner Library. Faculty/Staff Publications, October 2001.   Available at:  https://ir.library.illinoisstate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1031&context=fpml

Ward, Dane, “It Take a University to Build a Library.” Illinois State University Library/Milner Library.Faculty/Staff Publications, April 21, 2015. Available at: https://ir.library.illinoisstate.edu/fpml/68/

Where Are They Now? A FYAL Update

Since 2008, ACRLog’s “First Year Academic Librarian (FYAL) Experience” series has annually featured 1-2 academic librarians in their first year on the job in an academic library. This new series, “Where Are They Now? Former FYALs Reflect,” features posts from past FYAL bloggers as they look back on their trajectories since their first year. This month, we welcome a post from Rebecca Halpern, Undergraduate Engagement Team Leader at The Claremont Colleges Library.

Looking back at my posts from the days in my early career, I’m struck by how uncertain I seem. I definitely don’t remember feeling uncertain at the time, though I am known to stick to a strict “fake it till you make it” policy which results in an overinflation of confidence. In those early days, I grappled with what it means to be a do-it-yourself librarian and the bounds of jurisdiction, how to incorporate my critical politics into one-shots, the role of reference work in critical librarianship, and what the point of my MLIS even was. Underneath all this was that I was also grappling with part-time and precarious employment, much like many of my peers who entered librarianship during The Great Recession. I was worried and anxious, but also curious and (I’ll admit) idealistic. So much has changed in the last 7 (!!) years, but also really not that much.

What’s Changed, or Where Am I Now

The professional experience I gained while writing for FYALE gave me insight into how libraries work. As a member of 3-person library team, I was involved in collections, ILS and LMS management, interlibrary loan, reference, and instruction. I was fortunate to have a strong mentor who allowed me to try (and fail) a variety of projects, and ultimately I was able to identify the areas of librarianship I was best suited for. The combination of a supportive mentor and a platform like FYALE to explore the profession and learn from peers, aided in my search for my niche within the profession.

After leaving that position, I became the liaison librarian to the online Master of Social Work program at the University of Southern California. To say it was a complete change of pace from my previous job would be an incredible understatement. While my day-to-day work was largely the same (reference, instruction, collection development), working at a huge R-1 university where librarians were faculty and on a tenure-like system couldn’t have been a bigger culture shock. Suddenly I was faced with tenure and promotion schedules, publication and presentation requirements, and having to navigate a complex system of hierarchies and (sometimes unwritten) rules. More than anything, due to being part of a faculty system and serving on the library’s faculty council, I learned about power – how it works, how its distributed, how its sustained, and who doesn’t get any. I realized I wanted to move into a position that would allow me to have positional influence to be able to redistribute power to those least likely to get it.

With that realization, I changed positions and institutions to take on a role with positional authority and to continue to develop what were my burgeoning skills in facilitation and programmatic design and assessment. At The Claremont Colleges Library, I manage a team of two librarians and a handful of student staff members who do first-year instruction and non-curricular outreach, as well as overseeing our reference program. We’re a team that builds relationships and we especially look for ways to support students who are marginalized or historically underserved. It’s rewarding, but hard – and hoo boy do I still have a lot to learn about power.

What hasn’t changed, or How I’ll Always Be a Rabble Rouser

In one of my FYALE posts on critical librarianship (though I didn’t call it that at the time), I stated that my goal in instruction was for “my students to be rabble rousers.” While that statement shows my naivety to think that all students get a fair shake in their rabble-rousing opportunities, and obfuscates how the privileges I have allow me to a rabble rouse, I still kinda want to be around people who can shake things up, who are willing to confront and change harmful status quos. In addition to maintaining my, and developing a more complicated understanding of, critical library instruction practice, I’ve adopted anti-oppressive management techniques and seek out opportunities to identify ways to relinquish and redistribute power in my organization. I’m using the skills I’ve developed over the last 7 years – facilitation, lesson planning, program and outcomes assessment, qualitative methodology, and coalition building – for management, supervisory, and leadership roles in order to create more just and equitable processes in my workplace.

Moving Forward, or What Does the Future Hold

Like everyone else, I have no idea what the future will bring. I hope to move into more management and leadership positions, but what that will look like or where that will be is anyone’s guess. What I do know is that, in my experience, past is prelude. Since being an FYALE blogger, I’ve learned to do more listening than talking, more asking than answering. I try to attend at least one conference a year where I don’t present, so I can spend the time soaking up new knowledge rather than spending (at least part of it) obsessing over my slides and notes. And as I continue to find my way in this profession, as I take on more management and leadership roles, I know that deep and reflective listening will be my most-needed skill. I intend for the trajectory of my career to be one of inclusion and antiracist practice, and to continue the work of listening, problem-solving, and rabble rousing.

Special Collections and the COVID-19 Return to Campus

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Paul Doty, Librarian for Special Collections & University Archives, St. Lawrence University.

With the Coronavirus Spring of 2020 behind colleges and universities, the time to reflect on a semester compelled online has immediately rebooted to planning for an uncertain fall. Attention turns from helping students cope with the dashed expectations of a sudden physical disconnect from campus to a tangle of financial and health and safety concerns. Assessing the situation has prompted some in higher education, notably the California State University System, to announce (or argue) for a continuation of remote learning. Some campuses, notably Wells College in New York State, have suggested their continuance depends on having students back on campus. As the practical matters of dorm life and classrooms play out amidst the ongoing pandemic, there is also going to be a need to articulate why a community should be on campus. Within this, special collections and archives can be restorative as academic life returns to its quality of sanctuary by providing tangible hands-on materials that demonstrate re-acclimatizing to the life of the mind anew.

A very useful summary of questions that librarians will need to address is “Now and Next: What a Post-COVID World May Bring for Libraries” on the IFLA Library Policy and Advocacy Blog. Two questions that are specially apropos for special collections are, ”Many of our activities have ‘pivoted’ to online – will they stay there?” and “Education has been disrupted and delayed – can we limit the scarring effects?”

Addressing the first point, the post asserts, “Nonetheless, the possibilities of digital – for learning, researching and accessing all forms of culture – will be clearer for all, and convenience may well replace necessity as a reason for using online tools” (Library Policy). This is doubtless true, and certainly how libraries have provided online services in a climate of necessity is an opportunity to assess future services, but life online does not life make. Much of the discourse in the media suggests a high level of student dissatisfaction with the unexpected online curriculum; one PBS study pegged this near fifty percent (Krupnick).

A university archives can reconnect students with the tangible manifestations of the institution wrought over its history. Of our relationship to information technology Neal Postman wrote, “Unlike television or the computer, language appears to be not an extension of our powers but simply a natural expression of who and what we are” ( 124). The relationship of language to the identity of the institution can be made clear in archival collections. Particularly, if students can see the papers of university professors or presidents, or correspondence related to the important work of the university—if they can hold those materials in their hands—then students have an ability to see the genesis of where they are in a very real way. This is a way to reorient from being online only—a lot of blood, sweat, and tears have gone into making online courses, but universities have to reckon with reestablishing community identity. Certainly, institutional identity will be revived within many social circles, but here is also an avenue for people to connect with the college through its archives. In so doing, it is also an opportunity to encourage faculty and administrators to reconsider the archives as a critical teaching tool for a university curriculum working to make academics bespeak the post-COVID-19 future students will need to consider.

The concern about educational delays and disruptions is addressed in another post on the Library Policy and Advocacy Blog titled “Storytelling in Difficult Times: Accessing the Past During a Pandemic.” The post tackles a number of questions related to technology and archived materials, and suggests that “In our modern, hyper-visual era, we are inundated with media…[though] stories don’t seem entirely real until we see visual evidence of them” (Library Policy, Storytelling). As academic communities regather there is a clear-cut need to again argue the case for the intimacy of our relationship with primary source material. Bombarded as they have been by news from medical and elected officials filtered through endless online spin, a post-COVID-19 student body will be hungry for the challenges in seemingly simple materials they can see for themselves and hold in their hands. How to identify handmade paper and to what aim watermarks work are investigations well recast as exercises interacting with the real. Having materials in hand to examine reasserts agency over events—obviously examining a book by Kelmscott Press is not going to mitigate the lasting effects of the events of March and April 2020, but it demonstrates creativity within the detail, that you can regain a sense of proportion and inspiration. Clues to whether paper is handmade or what watermarks on a flyleaf signify demonstrate that there is a story in the details which anyone, if they are willing to try, can decipher. These are discrete projects and discrete questions to reinstill a sense of agency in young people who have likely felt at the mercy of events.

Finally, as academic communities regather, archives are uniquely positioned to make the case for the essence of what a library is within the academic setting. Of course, how they will gather when they return according to yet to be articulated social distancing guidelines is still an open question, a prickly question when you would like to see classes forming as communities of readers to consider books. Alberto Manguel explained it this way when thinking back on the most legendary of all libraries, “as a public space the Library of Alexandria was a paradox, a building set aside for an essentially private craft (reading) now to take place communally” (31). Being a visible (visual if you will) argument for the primacy of reading within everything else a library does is a great role for an archives, a special collections department. This primacy will be asserted through the necessity of training critical skeptical readers, and this training can be greatly aided by studying original texts. Attempts by interested parties at major media platforms to try to create controversy over COVID-19 mortality data brought to the fore the need to know how to read data. One can find great explanations—a beautiful example here by John Burn-Murdoch, Valentina Romei and Chris Giles writing for the Financial Times—that underscore the need for experience with primary source material if one wishes to read to debunk (Murdoch). Special collections can emphasize the process through which students reinvent themselves in reading’s mental demands. According to a quotation widely attributed to American President Harry S. Truman, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” The physicality of reading demonstrated via studying old books and manuscripts can get the consideration of reading where it needs to be; it can inspire our post-COVID-19 student leaders.

Works Cited

Burn-Murdoch, John, Valentina Romie, Chris Giles. “Global Coronavirus Death Toll Could Be 60% Higher Than Reported. Financial Times. April 26, 2020. https://www.ft.com/content/6bd88b7d-3386-4543-b2e9-0d5c6fac846c

Krupnick, Matt. “Forced Off Campus by Coronavirus, Students Aren’t Won Over By Online Education.”  PBS Newshour, March 27, 2020. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/forced-off-campus-by-coronavirus-students-arent-won-over-by-online-education

Library Policy and Advocacy Blog. “Now and Next: What a Post-Covid World May Bring for Libraries,” Blog, April 6 2020. https://blogs.ifla.org/lpa/2020/04/06/now-and-next-what-a-post-covid-world-may-bring-for-libraries/

Library Policy and Advocacy Blog. “Storytelling in Difficult Times: Accessing the Past During a Pandemic,” Library Policy and Advocacy Blog. Blog. April 2 2020. https://blogs.ifla.org/lpa/2020/04/02/storytelling-in-difficult-times-accessing-the-past-during-a-pandemic/    

Manguel, Alberto. The Library at Night. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Postman, Neal. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Knopf, 1992.

For the Public Good: Social Distancing with Online Events

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Verletta Kern, Digital Scholarship Librarian, and Madeline Mundt, Head of the Research Commons at University of Washington Libraries.

Everything was going smoothly! This was an event we had planned twice before–third time’s a charm, right? We had been planning since September and were just hitting our stride when news broke that the first case of coronavirus had made it to the US, just north of the city of Seattle where our university is located. It soon became clear that what started as one small case was turning into something more, as Seattle became the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak in early March. With less than a month before our event launch, we faced a tough decision–should we move forward with planning for an in-person event for 150 people? Was it even ethical to ask people to gather in a confined space given all that was going on? Should we postpone to an unknown future? Should we cancel? Should we move this event fully online? Could we move it fully online in 21 days? What if we moved forward with an in-person event and the University closed operations, leaving us to cancel and deal with the messy work of canceling catering contracts, etc.?

“Going Public: Opening Scholarship to All” was designed to be the third in our series of annual “Going Public” events, which encourage researchers to come together to learn about and exchange experiences communicating research openly beyond the walls of the academy. The 2020 focus was equity in the production of and access to scholarship and we were excited to bring this work to our campus community. We hoped that shifting online would allow us to reach a broader audience beyond the University of Washington. With the encouragement of our wonderful planning team and the support of our Libraries’ administration, we began the scramble to convert our event to an online format in 21 days. Shortly after we made this decision, the University of Washington became the first university in the country to suspend in-person instruction in favor of finishing the quarter online. 

The shift wasn’t easy! We needed to confirm our presenters were still okay with presenting online and to talk with them about the possibility of recording their sessions and sharing them following the event. We revisited conversations with our five event co-sponsors to see if they would still be willing to co-sponsor an online event. We negotiated the purchase of a zoom webinar license to protect the privacy of attendees. We set up live captioning for the event to provide equitable access to all. And then we tested. And we tested. And we tested the technology more. We tested it ourselves. We tested it with our speakers to make sure they were comfortable. We assigned chat moderators to moderate the question and answer period. And with two weeks remaining before our event, we felt confident enough to launch registration!

Without the constraints of a physical space capacity to worry about, we opened registration with 450 spots, assuming somewhere around our normal 120 people would register. To our surprise, numbers rose quickly and by the time we closed registration 24 hours before the event we were at 269 attendees! Our largest group of registrants were graduate students, followed by staff and faculty. About two-thirds were affiliated with the UW. While our marketing campaign was not so different from a normal Going Public campaign in its content, it was conducted entirely online at a time when we were all beginning to look for ways to engage remotely rather than in person. Many face-to-face events at the UW and in Seattle were canceled in early March, and we suspect our event may have stood out as a rare online option at the time.

All 269 attendees received an email with a Zoom Webinar link about 24 hours before the event; this email cautioned them to refrain from sharing that link with colleagues (who could instead contact us to register). We hoped that by sharing the link in this restricted way, we would head off any “Zoom-bombing” or other malicious activity–things that were just beginning to hit the news. Then, on March 26th, they joined public scholars, librarians, and experts Nikkita Oliver, Chris Coward, Jason Young, Negeen Aghassibake, Lauren Ray, Gillian Harkins, Clarita Lefthand-Begay, and Linda Ko for a keynote, short talks, and a panel on inclusive research design. Sessions covered topics from libraries as spaces for public engagement (Oliver) to equity in research data visualization (Aghassibake).

Although our link-sharing strategy worked to prevent Zoom-bombing, we did belatedly learn the importance of creating a code of conduct for online events like ours when a UW attendee began making inappropriate comments in the webinar chat. Going forward, we will use event codes of conduct based on our UW Libraries Code of Conduct, with procedures in place to make sure all attendees understand our expectations and what will happen if harassment occurs. 

Along with the importance of a code of conduct and other tools to address malicious use of Zoom, we also learned the importance of timing for online events like ours. We originally planned a six hour in-person event with simultaneous talks attendees could choose between and workshops scheduled over the lunch hour. To make the shift to online manageable, we cut the workshops and decided to run the day’s event from a single zoom webinar account. As a result, we were able to cut the event down to five hours. We limited ourselves to very short breaks between sessions, reasoning that attendees wouldn’t need to move between breakout session venues. While this was true, we learned that people wanted longer breaks to combat the draining nature of starting a screen for hours on end. Although we traded off moderating chat, the length of the online event proved exhausting for our symposium planning team as well. In future online symposia, we will build in 10-15 minute breaks and stick to a three to four hour event. Overall, the hours selected for the event seemed to be accessible across multiple time zones as registrants from the west and east coasts as well as the Midwest attended.

Credit for the successful online shift of “Going Public: Opening Scholarship to All” is due to the creativity, enthusiasm and hard work of our planning team along with the support of our Libraries’ administration and our wonderful event co-sponsors. Thanks in particular go to our planning team: Joanne Chern, Robin Chin Roemer, Beth Lytle, Sarah Schroeder, Elliott Stevens, Sarah Stone, and Christine Tawatao. Due to this collaborative effort, we were able to successfully social distance yet still share our message of equity in the production of and access to scholarship to a wide audience at a time where research communication and access is more important than ever.