And we’re back!

Well, first, UGH. I hate not following our own advice and abandoning this blog. When I was due for a blog post (January? February?), I had a million other things going on (who doesn’t), and it became this looming, horrible thing in my mind. Adriane gave me permission to take a step back, and what a long step it turned out to be!

The title of the post I had in draft was “Paralyzed,” because that’s how I felt then (and many months afterwards). I had been at my new job for several months, enough time that I thought I should know more than I did. I know now that’s nonsense, and as a friend pointed out on Facebook, when you know it all at work, then it’s time for a new job.

My struggle has been in expressing my value to myself and my organization. Our staff size is small, so I double as a reference librarian for about half my work hours. I had always prided myself on my reference librarian skills, but our collection is complex and requires trying several different entry points, so I’ve had days where I’ve felt fairly useless. Time at the reference desk can then sap my energy for my department head responsibilities, so I’ve often felt that I’m doing two jobs poorly. Never mind jack of all trades, just master of none.

As usual, someone else more clearly articulates this feeling. It’s imposter syndrome (thank you, Char Booth, a librarian I’ve admired from afar!). I’ve suffered from this for years, and it’s not enough to take my mother’s advice about it, I need to hear it from an outsider. So, I pledge to reread Char’s post whenever I start beating myself up (I’ll soon have it memorized). In the meantime, I can point to some accomplishments that make me feel I’m making a contribution. I finally wrote a post for MPOW’s blog (now to write another one!). And, I’ve had some exciting discussions about social media with the Executive Director of the Chicago Collections Consortium, and together we’ve launched the CCC’s Twitter account.

And on a personal note (because isn’t that what the internet’s all about?), after losing my beloved 19-year-old cat Katie, I adopted a little boy kitten Teddy, who just recently led me on a wild ride. The loss, then joy, then sheer terror, then huge relief remind me that it’s not all about work.

EXTRA! EXTRA! Potty Publication Pleases Patrons

Like peanut butter and jelly, bathrooms and reading material just seem to be made for each other. After all it’s where we do our best thinking, right?! Short of relocating the stacks to the stalls, how can we engage this, ehem, captive audience?

That’s the idea behind (haha, get it, behind!) Lav Notes. This full color bi-monthly newsletter with a tag-line of “help for the stalled” is posted in every library stall and above all urinals. Being mindful of the academic calendar, each issue addresses the changing needs of our patrons over the course of the year. For example in the fall we create one around a “back to school” theme with library basics like how to check out books, where to access your online account and who to ask for help. Then over the summer we get all relaxy with book and DVD recommendations. Each issue includes changes in library hours and upcoming events like instructional workshops and author readings. We even encourage user-generated content in exchange for a gift card to the library’s café.

While I can’t take credit for this ingenious idea, I can heartily encourage you to give it a try. Only a handful of academic libraries including UVA and Dartmouth are currently taking advantage of this brilliant marketing opportunity. I’m here to testify–patrons will thank you! I’ve gotten emails and Facebook posts–even Valentines–from students expressing their appreciation. And when I talk to people about my various job responsibilities, only Lav Notes catches their attention.

If you want to get in on the magic, here’s the deal. You’ll want to make a basic design template that you can reuse for each edition. Ours has a simple text header with the name, date and volume of the publication. For aesthetic purposes we also include a rotating graphic, which can be your library’s logo or an open source doodle. To compile the newsletter I like to use the Adobe Creative Suite, specifically Illustrator and InDesign. Publisher will also do the trick and comes standard with Microsoft Office. Then you just stick in a few text boxes about library happenings and hit print. It’s all done in house, so it’s cheap and easy. Our custodial staff kindly posts them in reusable holders affixed to every library bathroom stall door and above the urinals, both in public and staff spaces.

Truly the only complaint I’ve ever received is that they’re not updated frequently enough. So there you have it: a way to reach the hearts and minds of your students… through their, lets say, excellent hydration habits. Believe me, everyone will think you’re a superhero.

2012: Our Year in Review

Well, WordPress notified me they’d auto-renew our site, and our first post is date-stamped January 5, 2012, so happy first anniversary to us!

And what a year it’s been! It’s ended with the two of us no longer working at the same library, but I want to return to where it began. Adriane and I, fresh off our poster session at Educause on social media, realized that we wanted to continue sharing what we did—what worked and what didn’t—and the best way to do that was via a blog.

We each brought particular strengths. Adriane’s emphasis started out in Marketing and Events while my focus has been on Reference Services with a smattering of Collaboration. What I’ve enjoyed seeing over this past year is how we’ve both stretched ourselves. We started writing things that we felt expert in, comfortable at, and with changing responsibilities for Adriane and a completely new job for me, we both stepped out of our comfort zones and wrote about new experiences we were having. I won’t speak for Adriane, but for me, sharing what I’m learning as I navigate a different type of library has helped me sort out what I’m doing and realize what I’ve learned.

As for blogging, we’re entering year two as energized as we were in year one. I miss my friends in Baltimore, my fabulous student workers and the super-smart Sociology Department, but continuing to collaborate with Adriane keeps me connected with that world. And collaboration remains a key word. Just as I know I’d never be able to work in a one-person library, I also know I couldn’t blog alone. I need Adriane’s lovingly critical eye to read my drafts and e-mail “do you really want to say that?” Just as I’m sure she needs me to make pop culture references that are way too old.

So, 43 posts and 2,700 page views in 2012 means we’ve had a lot to say and more than just our moms reading us. Stay tuned for 2013!

Come On-A My House

Okay, now I’m just being deliberately annoying because I wasn’t even alive when Rosemary Clooney recorded this, but it’s fun to make Adriane roll her eyes at my dated references.

We had a full house last Saturday at MPOW, plenty of students in for History Fair research, researchers from Friday continuing their work on Saturday, new researchers, and members popping in from the members’ holiday party across the hall. Days like this, or even less busy days, remind me of what I always told my Information Desk students at MSEL: you’re often the one responsible for our students/faculty/visitors’ first impression of the library so SMILE and be welcoming. Now, I’m the one responsible for the first impression at the Research Center.

And here’s where my welcoming reference librarian skills run smack into my most anal qualities. To use the Research Center, you need to give us a ticket you’ve received at Visitor Services, sign our Research Center register, and lock up your coat and bag in one of our lockers. Not being that great at multi-tasking myself, I like researchers to take care of all that before asking their questions. So, I really have to watch how I come off to our visitors. They’re excited about using our resources, so they come in and launch right into their research request while I’m wanting to corral them into doing the paperwork, as it were.

I’ve settled on a few behaviors to take care of both our needs. I usually stand up from behind the reference desk as I see someone enter the Research Center. Like being at a cocktail party, I say “Welcome!” Unlike being at a cocktail party, I add “we’ll take the white ticket you were issued, have you sign in right here, and ask you to lock up your coat and bag in one of the lockers behind that door.” Getting the requirements out up front and using the royal “we” seems to help me establish an appropriate tone. “Let’s get this business out of the way and then we can turn to why you’re actually here.”

Where this has backfired on me is when we go off script—when people come in without registering with Visitor Services to use the Research Center. I cringe when I remember the family of four who wandered in to see what we had on a particular topic. I got way too hung up on the fact that they hadn’t registered and was about to send them back to the first floor. Fortunately, my wiser colleague intervened and asked them first what their topic was. She determined that what they wanted wasn’t well-represented in our holdings and saved them $20 ($5 per person) in registration fees. Moments like these are a good reminder to me that one of a librarian’s most important qualities is flexibility. We have to roll with the punches, not anticipate that we know the answers, or be rigid in our expectations, but engage in conversation. If one of my Information Desk students had been less than welcoming, you bet they would have had an earful from me. So, I’ve got to remember to practice what I’ve preached lo these many years. Somewhere, years of Information Desk students are laughing at me.

The Social Media Policy Breakdown: Educational

Now that I’ve finally digested all my Tofurkey, it’s time to dive into our bread and butter—the social media policy. We’ve already covered frequency, responsiveness, entertainment and neighborliness. Coming attcha now is the seemingly obvious call to be educational. While we certainly have a lot of fun with our social media channels, and we’re big advocates of using informal language and making cultural references to entertain our target audience, this engagement strategy ultimately serves our overarching mission: to be educational. Whether in person or online, it is our duty to highlight library resources on a particular topic and share professional insight.

Appropriately enough, the library forayed into social media for this very reason. We had an outdated website that more often than not obscured the very information people were seeking. Launching a blog gave us a platform to highlight our resources. We’ll certainly include links to popular sites such as YouTube, but the emphasis is always on our collections, especially hidden gems. Just the other day we asked a blog contributor to change a link from Wikipedia to a library resource. The author initially switched it to a catalog record, but we ultimately decided it would be even better to highlight one of our lesser known databases. We even added a further endorsement in the closing paragraph.

While in the reference office, librarians serve as generalists, but on the blog we give them a chance to show off their subject expertise. This value-added type of approach where librarians not only recommend what resource to use but also their reasoning. If they suggest a particular database they can give some context as to why that one might be better than another for what they are seeking. In this way social media augments our in-person service. In fact, there are occasions in the reference office where we’ll even pull up old blog post by way of an answer, like for example, why we don’t have an institutional subscription to the New York Times.

So there you have it, an educational post about writing educational posts. Whoa.

Oh, You Are My Only One

The lack of a post last week was my fault; I was busy catching up with Baltimore friends (oooh, let’s blame Baltimore!) and trying to untangle my thoughts about my post below (I’m not sure if I have).

And yes, the title is another reference Adriane will roll her eyes at because I AM OLD, but hey, I think in terms of musical references and Seinfeld shows. Lately, this refrain is running through my mind because day after day, the e-mail in-box at MPOW is full of plaintive inquiries about holdings that ONLY WE HAVE. I’m sure this is old hat to friends who have worked in special collections libraries longer than the three-plus months than I have, but it continues to challenge my thoughts about accessibility.

When I worked at MSEL, although not a humanities librarian, I was appreciative of resources like Early English Books Online and Eighteenth Century Collections Online, digitized primary sources that meant our graduate students didn’t have to go further into debt to travel to special collections departments that were the only possessors of these works.

And yet this article in the Chicago Reader really resonated with me. I work at a destination. When the research assistant for a professor in Canada e-mails about accessing a collection of more than 100 boxes off-site, my reply is “on-site only.”  But, we get more and more inquiries about remote access; the cost of travel can be prohibitive, making our remote photocopy request look relatively inexpensive. Yet, I hesitated to send it to a researcher who was inquiring about a small archival collection. I retrieved the file to insure it was there, and as I leafed through the collection of nineteenth-century letters, I thought something would be lost in photocopying. Then I mentally chided myself for being so presumptuous. Something would be better than nothing.

So I’m back to sorting through my thoughts about access, and I’m feeling that while getting a photocopy is better and more reasonable than making someone come in person, it’s a stopgap. It recalls my interview with our president several months ago. The museum’s mission is to share Chicago’s stories, and so he asked me what I thought of Google Books. I said as a librarian and a researcher, I found them invaluable. He was a fan as well and in fact, he’s found items of ours they’ve digitized. Remembering that conversation makes me realize what’s nagging at me about a photocopy–just one person gets it. This is no great revelation; our president has noticed this and thought about distribution. In fact, prior to my arrival, he worked with ProQuest, with the result being that they’ve digitized our holdings of the Claude A. Barnett papers and added them to their History Vault database. This has opened a door for us–what else could ProQuest digitize? I think in the end, we have a lot of thinking to do about our holdings. We can’t be only a destination. We also need to be a gateway.

Are You Being Served?

Apologies for the radio silence last week. Several of my cohorts and I snuck out of town just before the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy to attend the ARL Assessment Conference in Charlottesville and present our beautiful poster, “Coding Reference: An Analytical Approach to Assessment.”  I gave you a brief preview just a couple weeks ago, so now I wanted to spend some time getting into the meat of what our service model is actually servicing.

Our two-tiered model places the Info Desk, staffed by grad students, directly in front of the Reference Consultation Office. The student workers screen basic, straightforward questions like “where is Special Collections” or “do you have a copy of Cat’s Cradle?” More involved queries such as incomplete citations or help gathering sources for a research paper are referred to the librarian on duty. The difficulty of each question is rated according to Dr. Bella Karr Gerlich’s six-point scale. Based on these rankings, we found that 41% of questions that came through the reference office could have been answered by an Info Desk student.

Now this is not any reflection on the aptitude of the student workers. They are so great, and they catch the lion’s share of the questions—17,000 last year compared to the Reference Office’s 2,400. The unexpected traffic we’re seeing in the office may be a simple matter of overflow, which could be corrected by additional staffing during heavy periods.

Of course if you give a mouse a cookie…he’s going to ask you to code the Info Desk data. Before we make any knee-jerk changes to the front line service, we will first need to conduct a similar analysis of the stats we’ve been collecting at that desk. We have also realized that we need to consolidate all front line stat forms so that everybody is entering standardized data into a central location. Makes sense, no?

Our assessment revealed some other surprises. A full 20% of reference transactions serve non-affiliates; 25% of questions concern subject searches; at least 50% of patron requests are for printed materials. We also had some unsurprises as well. For example, did you know that because of the high visibility of the librarian on duty, they often serve as a catch-all “fact machine?” I mean, you guys know everything, right?

As you can already gather, the implications are far-reaching and touch on staffing, budgets, marketing, information systems and collection development, among other areas. The completion of this assessment is by no means an end, but rather the beginning of many conversations on how to optimize the service model for us and for our patrons.