Service as a Resident Librarian

Though I often heard about the importance of membership in a professional organization and had some exposure to the concept of service as a graduate student, professional service is something I wasn’t very familiar until my current position. Part of the orientation process for my current position consisted of my department head going over and explaining the criteria for my yearly evaluation. Lo and behold, service made up a significant portion of my evaluation. As a first-year librarian and a library resident, figuring out my approach to service work has made for an interesting journey.

My experiences with service during grad school, specifically librarians active in service work, were fairly varied. Of course, there was my school’s own Library and Information Sciences Student Association. Though I was only ever a very casual member (grad school, work, and my personal life were more than enough for me at the time), I was always surprised by the number of events held by the organization as well as the variety of librarians involved with said events. By volunteering to staff my area’s annual archives event, I got a small glimpse into just how small librarianship is as well as how easy it can be to meet other librarians. Looking back, I realize I probably volunteered for the event more out of hearing about the importance of volunteering rather than the relevance of what I volunteered for – archives is something I’ve never really had any interest in. Through the events I was required to attend as a Spectrum and Kaleidoscope Scholar, I got a glimpse into just how powerful mentorship and community with other librarians and library students of color can be. In retrospect, Spectrum and Kaleidoscope is where the potential of service work clicked for me – service doesn’t necessary always feel like work whenever it’s related to one’s passion.

Knowing that service was required of me, I decided to make sure that whatever service work I became involved with related to one of my areas of passion. After taking inventory of what those passion are – library instruction, BIPOC library organizations, supporting library students – I ultimately landed on a couple of organizations. REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos & the Spanish Speaking) and ACRL’s Residency Interest Group (RIG) were where I first decided to try my hand at service work.

Through REFORMA and RIG, I realized that sometimes interest is really all that’s needed in order to get involved with a professional organization. Neither organizations asked for much to serve: REFORMA required an application while RIG brought to my attention a call for volunteers to help develop a program for library students. Through REFORMA, I was able to join the scholarship committee which assess applications and selects recipients of the two scholarships given out by the organization (as I’ve been working on this post, we’ve actually begun this work). After sending an email expressing interest in the RIG project for LIS students, I found myself in a small planning group consisting of four other library residents. After our initial meeting, we decided our program would be a panel series that would serve as an introduction to the world of academic libraries. The series, aptly named Into the Stacks: An Academic Libraries Panel Series, took place once a month from January to April with one resident taking charge of a panel each month. Admittedly, I was nervous to host a panel by myself, but luckily my panelist were librarians who are a part of my own journey through librarianship. As such, my nerves calmed down a bit after we got going. If anything, the panel just reinforced how much I really enjoy chatting about librarianship period.

Understanding that service work can function as a form of professional development turned out to be a surprise lesson for me. It was determined during my orientation that, due to the temporary nature of my position, my service work would have a national focus. This led me to seek out national service opportunities and this is where ALA’s Emerging Leaders program came in. Through the program, early career librarians like myself are given the opportunity to participate in a national working group with their peers. Once selected for the program, I was given a number of different options in regard to the type of project I would work on. Luckily for me, among the options was a working on a LibGuide over inclusive pedagogy. Through my working group’s discussions and the collection and evaluation of resources for our LibGuide, I’ve been able to further develop my knowledge of pedagogical best practices. This has allowed me to reflect on my current instruction praxis with an eye for ensuring said practices are as inclusive as possible.

Looking back on my introduction to service work, there are a handful of lessons I’ve come to learn. Planning ahead is crucial. For instance, whenever I initially applied for Emerging Leaders last Fall semester, I knew that the program and its project would end by June. Thus I made sure to apply for some ACRL committees, knowing that they would begin right around the time Emerging Leaders would end. Yet, perhaps my biggest takeaway is that aligning my service work with my passions has made the work itself far more enjoyable than I could’ve imagined. Though service is a typical requirement for academic librarians, framing that requirement as an opportunity to give back to a field I love has made the work all that much more gratifying.

The flyer for our panel series

A Day for Design

Last week I attended the ACRL/NY Symposium here in New York City. It was the first time I’d been to my local chapter’s annual program and a fun day: great speakers and posters and a nice opportunity to catch up with colleagues from libraries in the NYC metro area. The theme of this year’s program was Innovation by Design: Re-Visioning the Library which, as the day’s first speaker reminded us, could not be more timely. Bill Mayer, University Librarian at American University in DC, started us off with his talk “Redesigning Relevance: Creating New Traditions in Library Design.” He noted that in this economic climate renovation is often the new new construction: many of our institutions won’t have the budget for new buildings, so it’s important to make the most of what we have.

Mayer reminded us that the recent Ithaka report reveals that faculty use of our physical spaces is declining. He encouraged us to think about how we can make the library best for students, our primary users. He sees library-as-warehouse as an outdated model, and recommends reducing the collections and materials kept onsite as well as increasing reliance on consortial collections to free up more space for students to use.

Mayer shared some of the ways that this kind of redesign has been implemented at American University. After moving many volumes to offsite storage, they discovered that the additional space available for the books that remained made it easier for students to find books. Students wanted more computer workstations and access to wireless, so they added more space for student work too. Mayer cautioned that of course local conditions matter — there’s no one size fits all approach. He suggests making our process inclusive and asking faculty, students, and administrators for input during the process.

The next speaker was Lauren Pressley, Instructional Design Librarian at Wake Forest University, who presented “Re-Visioning Teaching: Adapting to a Changing Educational Environment.” She began by acknowledging that libraries are changing, as is higher education: there’s more information and technology, and higher expectations and costs. How can academic libraries adapt to these changes? Pressley suggests that instructional design can help. Systematic design can provide structure for our library instruction and produce data we can assess, which is becoming increasingly important for demonstrating the value of our libraries.

Pressley assured us that we are already engaging in instructional design in our libraries, we just might not be aware of the vocabulary that can be used to discuss it. She described the ADDIE model: analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation. Most of us probably follow these steps when creating library and research instruction, whether for in-person one-shots or multiple sessions, or for other forms of student research support like tutorials or research guides. Pressley encouraged us to find the best instructional solutions for our students and situations.

Aaron Schmidt, Digital Initiatives Librarian at the DC Public Library and one half of the consulting team Influx Library User Experience, was up after lunch, with “Librarians as Designers: Making Deliberate Decisions.” He wants librarians to be proud of what we offer, and provide our users with better experiences. Schmidt began by showing us examples of poorly-designed signs and experiences. He emphasized that everything is designed, even if by neglect; design is arranging things for a purpose, and we can choose to have good design in our libraries.

Schmidt thinks that libraries are spread thin trying to be lots of things to lots of people — we could make 50% of people ecstatic about our services rather than 100% lukewarm. He recommends that we practice design and look at the actions of our users more than their motivations. What are people doing in our libraries, and how can that knowledge guide our design? One interesting suggestion is to implement a “work like a student” day in which we use only the resources that students have access to, for example, public workstations and study areas. Schmidt reminds us that ultimately libraries are about solving problems for people, and well-designed experiences can help.

The day’s final speaker was Leah Buley, Experience Designer (with an MLIS) at design firm Adaptive Path, who spoke about “User Research in the Library: How to Understand and Design for Patrons’ Needs.” She noted that user research can help us understand how people really experience information and how we can help them use the tools that are available in our libraries. Buley began by mentioning a few exemplary user studies, for example, the University of Washington’s website redesign revealed confusion over what is available on a library website, which suggests that users may be confused about what is available in the library. In a study at Cal Poly, students led the research to evaluate a federated search product, which helped students broaden their views about library services.

Buley reminded us to “Know Thy User,” and detailed a variety of user research methods we may want to implement. We can examine log files to find out what search terms are being used, which can help us learn what users are looking for. Ethnographic methods like observation, timelines, and diary studies can give us a window into user needs and experience. Paper can be put to good use to prototype design ideas, or we can invite our users to codesign by drawing their ideas. Buley suggests that we ask what we need to know about our users — the answers will guide us in choosing our research methods.

The Symposium gave me lots of library design possibilities to think about and I’ll definitely need some time to digest it all. The program organizers will be adding notes and slides from the speakers to the Symposium website soon, so head over there for more information. And if you’re interested in reading more about design thinking for libraries, our own Steven Bell blogs regularly at Designing Better Libraries. Thanks to everyone involved for a great day!

Get Involved In ACRL Regional Chapters

Editor’s Note: ACRLog is hosting a team of ALA Emerging Leaders. Each month one of our Emerging Leaders will contribute a guest post, and each will focus on some aspect of gearing up for the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. This month we have Amanda Dinscore, Public Services Librarian at California State University, Fresno, offer her perspectives on the value of participating in ACRL at the regional level.

If there is anything good that I can take away from the poor economy these days, it has to be my renewed appreciation of what I do have. As a new librarian at a state-funded institution in California, I, like many of our colleagues, have a very limited travel budget that makes attendance at national conferences difficult. While I would never make the case for not attending national conferences, I would like to advocate for becoming more involved in the ACRL regional chapters that are often right in our own backyards—many of which hold events that are hours, if not minutes, away.

While involvement at the national level is unquestionably important, there are many opportunities that are a little closer to home and are certainly easier on our travel budgets. There are 42 regional chapters affiliated with ACRL, all of which are independently governed and provide a variety of opportunities for involvement. Some host annual or biennial conferences, while others host programs at state library association conferences. Most sponsor professional development and social events that provide opportunities for learning and networking with other academic librarians. Each organization is unique in what it offers, but all provide opportunities to learn more about the issues facing your own particular region or state and provide opportunities to get involved at a local level. Membership dues vary by chapter but are usually relatively low.

My own regional chapter, California Academic and Research Libraries (CARL), hosts a conference every other year, usually in April. I attended the conference for the first time this year and found it to be a thoroughly worthwhile experience. These smaller conferences are often a great, accessible opportunity for new librarians to present our work. For instance, a colleague and I had the opportunity to lead a discussion and present our research on usability testing of our library web site. We both found it immensely rewarding to share our experiences with a group of librarians who were also interested in this topic, many of whom shared experiences similar to our own. The added bonus was that we were able to make connections with other librarians who worked in our own state, many of whom are employed by the same state university system. There are often many points of commonality between individuals involved in regional chapters which can make for very rewarding networking and collaboration opportunities. I am still in contact with several people I met at the conference and we’ve discussed topics as diverse as tenure requirements for librarians, library web design, and library instruction. And, the conference cost about a quarter of what a national conference would have.

To learn more about getting involved in your regional chapter visit the ACRL list of chapter web sites. You can also contact the chapter officers with additional questions. If you’re attending ALA this year, you can also make connections with chapter officers at the ACRL Chapters Council Annual Conference meeting in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, June 27 from 8:00 a.m. – 12 noon in the Capital Hilton, Room Federal A. Additional information is also available on the ACRL Chapters page.

Attempt at Midwinter

In youthful naiveté, I assumed being a new member of the profession (and ALA) that I would just go to Midwinter, attend some stuff, get involved, etc. My brother moved to Philadelphia a few months ago so it sounded like a great time to make a visit to him and attend my first ALA conference as a professional. So why do I get the feeling I’m not actually invited?

ALA does make a big deal about saying that Midwinter is for “handling the business of the association” so I wasn’t in the dark about that; I just somehow assumed that by being a member I was therefore a part of said “business.” Now, I’ve never been to Midwinter of course, but it seems from looking at the bits of program information I can see online that there are plenty of meetings going on hosted by various sections – but am I allowed to go to any of them? I am a member of ACRL of course, and even of a specific section as well, but I’m not even sure if anyone would let me in the doors of their business meetings. Would it be a waste of my time (and travel budget) to go at all?

Again, I’m new here, so I’m still figuring out how all this works. But it does seem to me that more could be done to encourage new members to get involved. I have received a newsletter and invitation to events from my section (thanks, LES), but I don’t really know if I would have anything else to go to if I made the trip. From this distance it almost seems like Midwinter is an exclusive club closed off with bouncers and a velvet rope – Sorry, Josh, you’re not on the list.

I joined ALA and ACRL as a new professional specifically because I wanted to get involved. I’m aware that there are grumblings in the blogosphere (and regular-sphere) about how ALA doesn’t actually return any real benefits to its members, and I’m also aware of the discussions of how virtual conferences and committee participation need to be embraced by the Association. I’m not old and cynical enough about the profession to think things like Midwinter are pointless yet – I’m here, I’m new, I have energy, and I’d like to get involved, so why is that so hard to do? It took a good deal of poking around to even find the ACRL New Member Wiki, which did have some decent information, but I feel like all the Associations could do a better job of telling their new members (once they’re in the door) how exactly it is they can really get involved. Perhaps a more pointed email could be sent to new members describing the workings of the Association, how committees are structured, what they do, how to get involved, and what exactly goes on with the “business” of Midwinter. I feel like I know nothing about what I can do at this conference, yet it’s the only one I can go to this year (Anaheim? Are you joking?)

So, seasoned friends, should I bother taking the train (12 hours, though it is my preference) down to Philly? Will you let me lurk in your meetings or will beefy librarians toss me out on my ear? I have this platform to query the ACRLog readership, but what about the rest of the MLS class of ’07 that has the enthusiasm but no clue how to get started?

Notes From The Campaign Trail: Part 5

Editor’s Note: Here is the fifth and final post in a series from Scott Walter, ex-ACRLog blog team member, in which he shares his learning experiences as a candidate for ACRL office.

When I started thinking about the most important observations I might share from the unique opportunities that I had to talk with people about the future of ACRL during my time on the campaign trail, I focused on things I had heard, issues that seemed to need to be addressed (and ways in which they might be addressed), and things I had learned. I’m going to close this series with one more nod to learning.

In a response to one of my earlier posts, Karen Schneider brought up the success that LITA had with its regional institutes. While she was commenting on new models for professional development programming, the other issue that it brought back to my mind was the critical importance of making more robust the connections between ACRL National and ACRL Chapters.

I won’t lie and say that I’ve been a long-time contributor to Chapter programs. I haven’t. I’ve been a member of ACRL Chapters in Ohio, Washington, and Kansas, and I’ve presented at Chapter programs, but “my” ACRL has always been ACRL National. To many of the people I heard from, though (yes, even those who attended Midwinter or ACRL National in Baltimore), “their” ACRL is local. I heard story after story of the vitality of local ACRL groups and programs, of the ability of ACRL Chapters to foster the personal relationships and networks that are critical to successful recruitment and induction into the profession, of frustration that many creative and active ACRL Chapter members are not being brought into discussions at the national level, and of concern about what it means for the future of ACRL National if those creative and active members don’t see themselves as part of a larger whole. This is where the “learning” part came in for me – all politics are local, all participation is local, and a member-driven organization like ACRL must find ways to engage the grassroots in support of its strategic initiatives. Moreover, those initiatives should include lessons learned from the successful programs initiated and nurtured at the grassroots.

The Regional Institute model Karen mentioned is one way of building connections between strategic priorities, “national” speakers, and local groups. As with any stand-along program, though, it’s expensive. Perhaps another approach would be for ACRL to support, for lack of a better phrase, a “speakers’ series,” i.e., a group of experts on a designated set of issues who could be supported to present at Chapter programs. Presently, ACRL supports the participation of the Vice-President, President, and Past President at Chapter meetings, and those present great opportunities for local members to interact with national leadership; could that model be expanded to bring content experts active at the national level to programs they might not otherwise be supported to attend?

The flip side of that question (and the thornier one) is how to bring local initiatives to national attention. My experience with Chapters Council being limited, I don’t even have a hat to toss into that ring, but would love to see some discussion here among people active at the Chapter level of programs they would love to see shared more broadly across the Association, and ways in which it might happen (either through existing channels, or new ones).
With that last call for discussion, I’ll close out this series of observations. I want to thank the ACRLog team again for this opportunity to reflect on my experience last year and to share with the community some of the things I heard. In the end, ACRL is our association, and it is what we make of it. I’ve met some great people on the campaign trail committed to making it better, and I look forward to seeing what happens next.