New Year, New Weed

I think a lot of us have New Year’s resolutions or goal-setting on our minds as we start the spring semester, but this time of the year has me thinking more about our fiscal year goals. Heading into January means that we’re wrapping up the second quarter, and we can evaluate how the collection is measuring up to goals that were set before I started. The best way for me to determine progress is by looking at the data, and the most effective way to share that with my colleagues is through data storytelling. I’m still growing my data literacy, but narratives (the storytelling part) I can do.

One of the action items for our strategic plan is to incorporate new tools for assessment. I recently found out about Dossiers from BLUECloud Analytics, a SirsiDynix tool that is powered by Microstrategy to pull data and create visualizations. Using knowledge I gained from a Learning Analytics course at Mizzou during my MLIS, plus from consulting books like Storytelling with Data, Data Science for Librarians, and Data Visualization: A Guide to Visual Storytelling for Libraries, I crafted a brief presentation as an update to the annual collection report. Honestly, compared to other programs like Tableau, this Dossier was tough to make. Although, between creating it and writing this post, they have upgraded their system to include new features that I would have loved to use. I spent a lot of time figuring out the system, making the visualizations, and creating a visually appealing template. Besides finding out how extra I am, I think my colleagues had an easier time understanding the data, and gained a better understanding of where we stand. This is a small start towards incorporating data storytelling into our work culture.

Page of BLUECloud Analytics Dossier from ERAU

The biggest takeaway from this project was that deselection of materials had a largely positive impact on the age of the collection, greater than just adding brand new materials could. It’s like trying to mix a grey paint; you’re going to need to dump a whole lot of white onto your black paint to get it to lighten up. It’s so much more effective if you take all the old, unused stuff away first. Committing to keeping up with how we are progressing towards our goals is the only way I would have found out that the time invested by liaison librarians into collection development has been paying off – and more importantly, just how much of an impact their actions made. I think it is so much more valuable to see that quantitative comparison in the data than to simply say “good job.”

There is an IMLS project coming out of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for a “Data Storytelling Toolkit for Librarians” that I am really excited to learn more about. With a resource like that, we can all learn more on how to gain insights from our data, and especially how to share our impact with our stakeholders, whether they be internal or external. When people ask me what the most beneficial classes during my MLIS were, I always list Learning Analytics among them. We live in a data culture, and in my first year as an academic librarian, I am definitely seeing how it is starting to seep into my everyday work.

FYAL Observations

Editor’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Rosemary Medrano, Collections Management and Research Librarian at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, as a new First Year Academic Librarian blogger for the 2022-2023 year here at ACRLog.

As I slide past the 3 month mark that concludes my probationary period as the Collections Manager and Research Librarian at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, it’s a good time to reflect. This is my first job at an academic library, but I had been working at a local public library for close to 5 years before this. After graduating with my MLIS in May, I knew I wanted to make a shift that would better match my professional interests. A position opened up in the same city that I live in, and while it was hard to leave the public library and all the good work we were doing, I think I made the right decision. I’ve been thinking a lot about the day-to-day work in each library and here are some of my general observations:

  • In public libraries you’re expected to be all things to all people, or maybe you expect yourself to be. I found this to be completely unsustainable. So far in this job, I’ve been able to focus on the two aspects of my job title, but I can see how even that demonstrates a trend in the workforce of having to fill multiple roles. They are totally different skill sets that could be filled by two people. I’m sure this is mirrored at countless other academic libraries where librarians are pulling double-duty. It will be interesting to see if and how this trend will change as the workforce changes in age and culture.  
  • There are different kinds of busy. At the public library, I could not sit at the computer in my office for very long before being interrupted by a phone call that bounced back from the reference desk, a coworker needing help after a long line of patrons started forming, or patrons casually strolling into the office to chat or ask for help. At times, it was difficult to complete other tasks. Now, I am rarely not at my desk, the work still piles up, but I look forward to being interrupted by students needing research help. I wonder if a year from now I will be an open door or closed door type of librarian when I am not having office hours.
  • I was worried about making the shift, but skills I developed at the public library are definitely transferable to the academic setting. What has been difficult is the transition to a different service model. It’s not better, or worse – just different. I’m sure I’ll be spending this next year developing this different style of research help where we teach how to search and how to use the catalog instead of just giving people their answers. Honing collection development to be more data-driven and curriculum supporting will also be a lot different than purchasing for the public library collection based on reviews and usage. I have some ideas on improving circulation that I brought with me, and I want to experiment with here. I’ll report back if I’ve had any success on the implementation or on the increasing circulation part.

Before I graduated, I was able to connect with some librarians across the US and Canada. They generously shared their time and talked about their paths to academic librarianship. It really gave me an advantage when I was applying for this job. It also gave me some perspective when I was thinking about changing jobs. To me, the academic library was shiny and new, and I held it up on a pillar. I’m thankful for the reality check and I look forward to the challenges this job brings.