The Librarian as Magician

I was always terrible at magic tricks. Occasionally my mother would play along and ignore my completely obvious tells, but she was the only one. The rest of my family made sure to quickly kill my dreams of becoming a magician. And when Hagrid didn’t come bust down my door at the age of 13 I had to come to terms that magic was not going to be a part of my future. Until I became a librarian…

People look at you like you just turned water into wine, when you are able to help them at the reference desk quickly pull up articles that relate perfectly to their topic. Patrons know that obviously you have been trained in an ancient secret language when you are able to take a random compilation of letters and numbers and take them exactly to the book they are wanting. The largest part of my job is handling our Inter-library loan requests. Before I forward any patron article request out to potential lending libraries I make sure a run a simple Google search for the article title in “quotes.” So far this year I have been able to fill 18% of my article requests instantly.

From a customer service stand-point I love it. I am able to send a patron within minutes an article that they had almost given up hope of gaining access to. Patrons are incredibly happy and they view me as the magical librarian who is able to destroy Elsevier’s pay-wall dementors. Customer satisfaction is high and they are likely to return again and again for their next information incantation need.

However from an information literacy standpoint, I hate it. I feel like our library and the systems they have interacted with before us have completely failed these students. An LC call number is not a magical code. Patrons should be able to use those numbers to easily locate a specific items, and even beyond that they should have a grasp on the letters and numbers that correspond to their areas of interest. Student’s should understand the research process and be able to stick with their topic and dig up resources even when they don’t appear instantly after one keyword search. They should be able to approach from a different angle, and narrow down their topics using our database filtering tools. And they should know about the amazing open source movement. In the middle of the night when they stumble on that perfect article citation and find that the library doesn’t have immediate full-text access, they should know that hope is not lost. That a quick Google search might rescue their paper due at 8am; and that chances are one out of five times it will!

It is critically important that we remember our goal is not simply to solve a patron’s immediate need, but instead to empower by forming them into information literate individuals. Keep the magic alive; make sure your patrons needs are met and that they have a phenomenal experience. While doing that remember, “A librarian always reveals their secrets”

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Filed under Ponderings from the Trenches

Get out of your library (and into another)

In the beginning of August I took a week long module called “Oklahoma Information Environment.” It was absolutely phenomenal. For 12 hours a day for 4 days I got to do nothing but explore the amazing libraries in Oklahoma and talk to even more amazing people. We went to the expected: OU and OSU including their branch libraries, the downtown OKC library, and the Oklahoma Department of Libraries. But where I learned the most was at the not so expected locations: the Chickasaw Cultural Center, Chickasaw Regional (Public) Library, Stillwater Public Library, and the Oklahoma Library for the blind. As I spoke with people at each of these places, what seemed to be true for so many of them is that they had never imagined themselves holding the position they currently do. Many of them had switched from public to Academic, and back again. No matter where their journey had taken them however they always recognized the educational value of their past experiences. We often spend so much time dealing with our exact niche group of practitioners (You know only those who belong to “HFUS KIO committee for the promotion of inter-library loaning of material for schools with an FTE between 3000-3050.”) There are amazing people out there doing fantastic things. Get out of you building and look around. Work out of you public library for the day. Put your claim on a study room at the college down the road and allow the magic of collaboration to begin.

A few thoughts from my adventure into the wild world of Oklahoma libraries:

1. A public librarian talked about helping a student at the local college who told her they prefer to study at the public library because it offers them a place for their children. We have a huge Children’s curriculum section to resource our education majors, but if it was designed to include comfortable seating for children as well then parents could study close by while their kids entertained themselves. Over half of our students are non-traditional and many of them are parents.

2. The Tulsa County public library no longer assigns books specific branch locations. The book is shelved wherever it is returned. We have been really trying to figure out how we can better serve our students who meet at alternate campuses. I would love to experiment with the idea of starting mini collections at those campuses where students could pick up and drop off books. Material would be dropped off and collected from the campuses once a week. 

3. “You don’t need a field background, just a willingness to learn” That quote came from a librarian who worked reference at a health science library. It really encouraged me because as I have been thinking about our own library’s need for departmental liaisons I have been worried about serving those departments that none of our staff have subject specialties in. Hearing her say that just made me feel relief, and encouraged me that through hard work and a bit of curiosity I will be able to provide great service to even those departments way beyond my comfort zone.


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Filed under Library Design, Ponderings from the Trenches, Thoughts from Library School

The New Year – Mayhem of Construction and Lack of Communication

I ended up taking the summer off from blogging. Originally I just got busy, covering for people on vacation, going to conferences, and a week long graduate module. Then I just had so much I wanted to talk about I couldn’t choose! It’s going to be busy as the school year starts up, but I will do my best to keep posting regularly. If for no other reason, than I want to make sure and take the time to really sit down and process all of the great information I received this summer. Before we jump into that however, a story of stress, miscommunication, and eventually expectation.

The library was approached back in February and asked if we would be interested in opening a conversation with our food vendor and possibly getting a full service coffee shop installed in the library. As part of this deal we would be getting a decent renovation for half of our building.

We were excited about the renovation opportunity (our building has been mostly untouched besides the occasional paint/carpet since it was built in the 60s). Also there is a homey, comfortable vibe to coffee shops that helps bring out creativity and collaboration. People have romanticized visions of libraries and all they represent in academia. Combining that academic ambiance with the coffee shop vibe may burst forth in a building that perfectly epitomizes our hope for academic library space in the 21st century. I digress.

After that original conversation in February were we as a staff decided we were open to beginning conversations, we heard nothing. All of a sudden it was May and there had not been a single conversation about it. We decided at this point summer construction would be out of the question and any renovation possibilities would be pushed back to next summer.

Fast forward to July. We begin to notice people surveying our building. We investigate and find out that coffee shop construction is a go and we are also bringing an entire academic department down and placing them in what had been our space. A few days later the President send out an email to the entire student body telling them that a coffee shop will be open in the library by mid October. (AKA – in three months)

Panic ensues. We begin frantically moving library material out of the space because in order to meet an October deadline, construction should have began weeks ago. An entire quarter of our building is cleared out. Bound periodicals moved, furniture re-organized all over the  building to make room.

And there the room sat empty for three weeks. No sledge hammers, no supplies, no construction. We receive an update: exterior construction may begin by the end of August, project might be finished by the end of December. So we have re-colonized most of the space (though sparsely and with only the lightest furniture). We have seen a few drawings at this point and are incredibly excited for what this space will add to our facility and to the campus in general (Whispers of 24hr study space are in the air! We make sure to keep those rumors alive.). It should be a fun adventure and I will make sure to keep you updated with failures, laughs, and hopefully some triumphant successes.

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Filed under Library Design, Ponderings from the Trenches

ACL Poster LibGuide

I have been loving the Association of Christian Librarians Conference in Huntington, IN! We still have more workshop sessions tomorrow, but I have already gotten so many great ideas from workshops, lightening talks, the keynote speaker, and wonderful conversations. I cannot wait to get home and flesh out some of the ideas and what they might look like for the SNU library. There have been some great presentations so look forward to future posts on them! 

For those of you who I got the pleasure to talk to at the poster sessions, thank you so much for allowing me to bounce ideas off of you and for indulging my passion for a bit as I shared. I promised I would provide a link to the libguide from my blog and so here it is:

As always feel free to use and edit any of the content you find on the guide however it might be useful to you and your institutions instructional goals. 

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Filed under Emotional Side of Research, Instructional Design

Designing for Serendipity

Today I had the pleasure of attending the Amigos Annual Membership Conference online. I was particularly impressed with the closing session by Steven J. Bell titled “Collections Are for Collisions: Let’s Design it into the Library Experience.” The idea behind the presentation is that current library trends are removing many of the possibilities for serendipitous knowledge acquisition, finding helpful information by chance.

Now that almost all journal subscriptions have moved to online a researcher will almost never just flip through a discipline specific  journal and run into an article that relates to their current projects. Bell also showed a video where he had interviewed students on his campus and asked if they ever unexpectedly found a library book that ended up being helpful or meaningful to them.  Overwhelmingly the response was no. Students indicated that they either did not visit the stacks or if they did it was normally to grab a very specific book. Furthermore as libraries move more and more of their collection to e-books it becomes even less likely that students will browse the shelves. Bell views this trend as a problem, and I strongly agree. Many libraries are justifying large weeding projects (and rightfully so in my opinion) by stating that they need to add more collaboration space for students. However as a library the goal is not simply for students to collaborate with one another, but instead to combine their exploration efforts, each bringing their unique perspectives, and build knowledge together by wrestling with high quality resources. If students are only using the library to access resources they are already aware they need, then we are not opening them up to the full horizon of intellectual possibilities.

Bell offered a few suggestions and examples of how a library can work to engineer serendipity including: placing new and interesting books close to the computer stations that get high usage, providing space for students to pitch their favorite reads, and a book blind date program.

While I think these specific examples are great, I think the strength of Bell’s presentation was it’s ability to make us aware of the issue and open up a space for conversations. While the conference had many great sessions, this was by far the one that spurred the most conversations for our staff. I will probably go back and watch the recording simply because I know I missed great info during our lively discussions!

Within our context we thought the following ideas might be helpful:

1. Weeding – nice clean attractive shelves will help encourage people to remain in the shelves and browse.

2. Labeling the different shelves with subjects that explain the LC number in that area. Often we find students are surprised to learn that items are shelved categorically!

3. Our space is very split with areas for books/shelving and areas for collaboration. We think intermingling the two would encourage people to venture into the stacks! As we are potentially about to start a large moving process we are excited to figure out how we can incorporate this idea.

4. A new book shelf organized by call number where books would be shelved for up to a semester in a high traffic area. Currently we have just a small new book shelf that we rotate new material onto constantly. Since it is not organized by subject, people don’t give it much attention. This would also help with our collection development as it encourages us to grow the collection across all disciplines!

We’d love to hear any ideas you have! And watch the blog to see some of these ideas pan out.

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Filed under Acquistions, Library Design