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!

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.

LibGuides Are Here!

I’m going to try my damndest not to make this post sound like product placement but I feel like Springshare‘s biggest fangirl right now. MPOW got LibGuides! And yes, I can’t quite believe how happy this makes me.

As I noted earlier, much of our collection is unique and requires an in-person visit to be viewed. Still, travel to Chicago isn’t possible for everyone. This week alone, we received e-mails from the UK, Germany, and exotic California. And I can see patterns forming, questions being asked that could be answered through our website. While what we have is serviceable, it’s not very flexible. That’s where LibGuides comes in. It’s a flexible, user-friendly platform, easy for Research Center staff to populate and change on the fly.

Our recent acquisition of LibGuides also reminds me how much I’ve changed in my eighteen years as a librarian. Well, not changed so much as relaxed (stop laughing, Info Desk students!). When I was a much younger librarian, everything had to be perfect. I think I prepared for my first library instruction class with a solemnity usually reserved for . . . actually, I can’t complete that turn of phrase as even debates have drinking games these days. I was super serious about it, okay?! Basically, I remember when everything had to be perfect; examples for teaching had to be prepped so I wouldn’t be caught off-guard; handouts had to account for every possible question (and thus be super-long and boring); and reference and instruction was a monologue instead of a dialogue. I realized how far I had come from those days when, in one of the interviews for my current position, my future co-worker asked what I thought of “more product, less process.” I was unfamiliar with it as it applied to archivists, but I caught the gist: get the information out there, it doesn’t need to be perfect, after all “perfect is the enemy of the good” (and I should know as I used to be my own worst enemy).

So, what does all that have to do with LibGuides? It means that I’m not going to take forever to get these out. In fact, although we’re not going live just yet, I’ve started enough to share, so take a look and feel free to let me know what you think. If you were visiting us virtually, does this answer some of your questions? What’s left unanswered? I know I’m wordy so you can’t hurt my feelings by telling me to cut back on the verbiage. Additional guides on Building and House History and Family History are forthcoming (just in case you’re wondering!). I’m taking a page from what my former colleagues are doing, but on a smaller scale. No struggling on my own–I’m crowdsourcing!

I’ll Have What She’s Having*

Soooooooo, that time management thing I talked about in my last post isn’t working out so well. I never got my act together last week to write my post (and don’t even ask about performance appraisals). But, my blog partner is a forgiving sort (actually, I think she just said “whatevs” when I kept texting her my excuses), and she reminded me the deadline was self-imposed.

There’s my subtle introduction to this post: having a friend who supports you at work. If you’re feeling a bit deja vu-ish, forgive me, Adriane discussed this only two months ago. It’s been on my mind, though, as I find my way in my new position. I bitched and moaned about living in Baltimore but I can never discount those nine plus years of my life–they brought me wonderful friends, and almost all of them from my job. Most of us were in the same boat; we had moved to Baltimore for the job. That meant familiar support systems were gone. When I moved there, my new colleagues went out of their way to invite me to lunch and dinner or even just for coffee. After a few years there, I had what I thought was a profound revelation, we had fashioned ourselves into a family, helping each other both at and outside of work. Now that I’m back home, with my biological family, I’ve realized that even when I lived in the city I love the best, I’ve always had a “work family.”

If I were my friend Jen, I would have stats off the top of my head about how much time we spend at work. All I know is, it’s a lot of time. And yes, we hope the work is engaging, but the bottom line is that we don’t work in a bubble. Adriane’s post reminded me that we work better when we have a support system. I’ve taken some baby steps towards finding that at MPOW and people have definitely reached out to me. It’s time to take it further, however, both at work and in my library community. To that end, I’m excited to see friends from DePaul this week when they visit the Research Center and meet my fellow museum librarians out at the Morton Arboretum at the end of the week. I also need to take my CHM colleagues up on their offers of lunch and coffee and sit down with some very important people, the Research and Access staff, to talk about our department’s goals for this year. I’ve still got a great big to-do list of work that only I can do but it will go down easier if I have some support.

*The post title is a shout-out to Adriane, who makes me feel really old when she doesn’t recognize important pieces of pop culture.

So THAT’S what Friends Are For

I’ve been back from MLLI for more than two weeks now, and I still don’t think I’ve caught up with emails. But the five-day retreat was totally worth the time spent– Maryland librarians take note, this may be the best professional and personal development opportunity out there. You all know the first rule of Fight Club, so I won’t go into specifics, but I will say it was incredibly energizing to be around so many like-minded people committed to the betterment of their respective communities and the library profession at large.

It’s impossible to pare the week down to a single lesson, but I’ll share one of my many “aha” moments in hopes that it may help others who are struggling with the same issue. As you already know, I’ve worked very closely with Ellen for the last two years, and we are a kick-ass team of getting sh*t doneness. So how did my mind go and turn this wonderful partnership into something negative? Easy! I felt I should be able to do everything myself, therefore working closely with others must be a personal deficiency. I certainly recognized the value of collaboration in the early stages of a project, but I thought that to advance professionally I would need to learn to work alone. After all, if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself…right? When Ellen left, I figured this would be my chance to come into my own. As I learned just a few weeks later at MLLI, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The fierce individualism I was hoping to cultivate was a recipe for burnout. In order to keep the MLLI momentum going, our terrific facilitators urged us to form alliances with colleagues who shared our professional goals or at least held the same values dear. We would serve to keep each other’s spirits up and work collaboratively towards innovative solutions. So that was my big revelation—professional alliances are actually healthy! I know that sounds obvious, but our local Myers-Briggs expert assured me this is a very common mistake among my kind.

The nice thing about this revelation is it is actually very easy to apply. I was lucky enough to have one of my awesome colleagues, Heidi, as a fellow attendee, and we even have a couple of alums at the library, although a certain somebody has left us for Chicago (ahem). This isn’t an exclusive club, though. I’ve also started working more closely with colleagues across various departments, most notably our User Experience Director. And while working with Heidi and Steven certainly isn’t new, the way I’m approaching it is. Now if only we could collaboratively answer all those emails…

Ch-ch-changes

Adriane and I have established a Wednesday posting schedule, which means I’ve actually written this post before Wednesday, July 18, my first day at my new job. So, when this posts, I’ll have no idea how my first day went (well, I hope!).

I’m a creature of habit–same mug for my coffee every morning, same time for my haircuts (Saturdays at 8 am, get in and out early)–so although I’ve been looking forward to moving home, professionally, I was moving out of my element (academic libraries) and into a new sphere (museum librarianship). At a previous job, we joked that our mantra was lifted from Wayne’s World. When I was offered the job at Johns Hopkins back in 2002, I didn’t leap at it; instead I agonized about leaving Chicago and all I knew. Less agonizing was involved in this latest move, but my brother, knowing my predilection for all things familiar, was concerned for me, wondering if I’d be happy outside of academia. I told him and other friends who asked that I felt about this challenge the way I felt about moving to Baltimore: excited and a little scared.

The day before the first day of my new job, I’m still excited and a little scared. I haven’t been the new kid in almost ten years. Now, in addition to being the new kid, I’m the boss (no added pressure there!). Tomorrow (today, actually), I’ll take what I’ve learned over the last ten years, adding in leadership lessons gained in Maryland from professional opportunities and one of the best bosses ever. I’ll meet my colleagues and learn what they expect from me and my department. I’ll drink many cups of coffee (no changes there) and I’ll go home at the end of this day. I’ll call Adriane and hear how her week is going, tell her how my first day was, talk about the blog, and then cuddle with my nineteen-year-old cat, whom I will have collected from the emergency vet. I’ll look forward to participation in new professional groups, learning the collection, and reconnecting with old friends.

So, if you’re on the Evanston Express, I’m the one with the big smile, humming some Bowie, looking forward to my future.

Library as Community – Part One

For those of you clamoring for a post last week, we apologize. Ellen desperately needed a week off in light of her impending move (not to mention an extended period sans electricity). Since next Wednesday marks the first day of the rest of her life, her forthcoming post will surely be juicy–no pressure, El!

This week I wanted to take a moment to expand upon my thoughts on community. Virtually, I think we do a great job of reaching and engaging a diverse audience. But I’m wondering if our core library users feel as connected? I have the perfect opportunity to explore this topic next week at the Maryland Library Leadership Institute for our assignment:

Identify a library project that will make a measureable contribution to your community.

First, the challenge of defining community in the academic setting. Based on the input of library leaders, I will specifically be focusing on the needs of the undergraduate population on the Homewood campus. Working with the library’s User Experience Director, we will strive to understand this population in new ways and determine how we fit into their lives.

What do we already know about these students? Positive psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar recently spoke on stress and happiness at Hopkins. He described institutions such as ours as academic pressure cookers. So beyond the basic provisions of books, databases and study space, what is our obligation to library users? We already host a number of stressbusting events, and I’d like to put together a proposal that builds upon that existing programming in a strategic, thoughtful way to further serve undergraduate needs. We like to think of ourselves as the heart of the university; we want to ensure that students feel the same.

I’ll keep you posted as this project begins to take a more definite shape over the next few months; stay tuned…

The Social Media Policy Breakdown: Neighborly

Ironically the “social” aspect of social media is easily overlooked when devising a communications strategy. We clearly see how these platforms will serve the library’s needs–advertising upcoming events, broadcasting early closings–and we forget that in order to have followers or fans, there needs to be something more substantial in it for the patron. Utilizing the platform to fullest extent means taking time to cultivate relationships and foster a two-way conversation. After all, these sites were devised for that very purpose. So we spell it out in our policy: “Forge relationships with the University, other libraries, Baltimore & beyond.” So in the spirit of the breakdown, let’s break it down with some examples from our Twitter account.

University – We’ve always been friendly with @JohnsHopkins. Given their name recognition, any conversation we have with them is a powerful endorsement, not to mention a free advertisement to their 20,000+ followers. We also communicate with the various departments and organizations around campus. We’re part of a Hopkins Social Media listserv, so we have a great support group whenever anything changes or if we just need help getting the word out about a given program.

Other Libraries – Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: we love the library community. We are so inspired by what everyone is doing—from our great former colleague running the social media outreach at Dartmouth College Library to the people at our fabulous local public library system. As Enoch Pratt approached 4,000 Twitter followers, they started a campaign to stir up #prattlove. We tweeted to our followers to join them and they were very grateful and willing to return the favor as we approached the 1,000 follower milestone soon thereafter. You’ll recall @ShushLady (part of our university community) was a great champion as well.

Baltimore – This city is our home, so the neighbor analogy is quite literal in this instance. Weeding projects are ongoing at any library, and in ours, space in Gen Ref is at a premium. While we knew we had to get rid of our largely unused Lit Crit volumes, we were loathe to throw them away. We reached out to a librarian at a local high school who was happy to take some for her kids. While we actually knew the librarian from “the real world,” we made it official by following them on Twitter ;) and they immediately tweeted us their gratitude for the books!

It was easy to pull these examples from Twitter because of the lists we use to categorize followers. However the same rule applies to all platforms. We blog about local film festivals and famous Baltimore authors, and we Facebook about everything under the sun. As with most of the things we advocate for, virtual service isn’t fundamentally different than what you would do in person. The online community is a little bigger than the street you grew up on, but you still treat everyone with the same respect, asking them about their day, helping each other out, and of course, talking about ridiculous things you found on the internet.

The Social Media Policy Breakdown: Entertaining

If there’s one thing that librarians have, it’s personality, and we like to show that off. In fact our social media policy mandates it, encouraging contributors to use humor and everyday parlance to connect with our audience. That doesn’t mean we’re not talking about Serious Business, but you can only convey pertinent information when people actually read what you’ve written.

We first embarked on our social media journey five years ago in order to foster community engagement, and this particular strategy gets to the heart of that. We have one librarian who blogs all about Sci Fi and eBooks and another who is an avid film buff that touts all the local festivals and screenings. We’re so proud to cover this broad range of subjects. Moreover these types of messages make us relatable and the library a welcoming space.

What exactly constitutes entertainment? Well, we like to slide in pop culture references and embed memes whenever we can. Arrested Development, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Ryan Gosling are all fair game. Entertainment is more than just a one-liner though; it is also an attempt to make connections through shared interests—be it concern for the environment or celebration of a particular heritage. At times we can wow people with our authoritative knowledge in our respective subject areas, but it’s also important to approach every post with the patron in mind. Why do they care? How can it we frame a particular issue to appeal to their sensibilities?

Some people are leery of personality-driven communications. After all, isn’t it ultimately about the organization, not the people? The trick is blending personality with professionalism, so this strategy, as with all things in life, must be applied in moderation. While we encourage people to write about topics that interest them, we’re also clear that the agenda they are promoting is ultimately the library’s, not one’s own. As such we have checks built into the Social Media Policy to keep any one person stealing the show. But unless you work with Jenna Maroney, this really shouldn’t be an issue.

Jump Starting Your Library’s Social Media Presence

For the last six weeks, our library has been hosting a very sweet woman from the University of Pretoria as part of the Carnegie Library Leadership Academy for South African librarians. We were interested to learn from her that social media is just starting to gain widespread traction in that part of the world. And while, they have established a Facebook page and a YouTube channel, they’re still trying to figure out how it fits into the bigger picture.

We’ve already outlined why we do what we do, but we know from personal experience that the hardest part is always getting started. Even for those who have taken the plunge and set up pages, it can still feel like you’re floundering. For this very reason, we devised a roadmap to success, no matter what stage your organization is at. But for this post, let’s start at the very beginning.

  • Start small. It’s tempting to want to take on every social media outlet, but don’t be an Atlas, stuck with the weight of the world on your shoulders. Focus on doing one thing, and do it really well. We started with our library blog in 2007, and that was our only outreach method for a full year. It wasn’t until after we had got our bearings and found our voice, we folded in Twitter and Facebook. I’ll admit we flew under the radar with those for a solid year as well before beginning to advertise our presence.
  • Recruit help. Very few libraries are lucky enough to have a dedicated marketing or outreach person, so librarians must often fill that role. While many hands make light the load, we also just like having the opportunity to show off the personalities and expertise of a wide range of library staff.  Having a dozen contributors is one of our greatest strengths!
  • Read up. Social media sites are changing all the time, and often the platforms are the last ones to notify you (Goodbye CoTweet, hello Timeline!). We regularly read tech blog Mashable to keep apprised of any developments and gain insight on how other organizations are using social media. For Facebook specific changes, we also pop in on AllFacebook from time to time. Of course, our rad fellow librarian bloggers have some of the best ideas. But no surprises there!

Seasoned social media’ers—am I missing any biggies? What advice would you give to a library new to the scene?