Interview of the Month: Steve Smidl on Collection Development in a High School Library

There are a few people I met in graduate school that I thought, “This person is going to be awesome at whatever he/she wants to do.” Steve was one of those people. He’s a natural born leader, easy to talk to, and great at connecting with kids. All of these things led me to feel no surprise at all when Steve got a high school librarian job right out of library school last May. After talking with Steve about his job and the challenges of collection development, I’m also not surprised to learn that he’s already kicking butt at being a high school librarian. Here’s some more about Steve:

Steven Smidl graduated from University of Illinois’ Graduated School of Library and Information Science in 2013. He is currently the librarian at Grant Community High School in Fox Lake, IL.  Before he became a librarian, Steve was a high school English teacher in Champaign and the NW suburbs. When he’s not working in the library, Steve is the announcer for all soccer games and coaches Boys’ Bowling. For fun, Steve loves to cook, travel, play trivia and see theatre.

M: So how are you?

SS: Pretty good. It’s the end of the year and I’m trying to get books back. I went over the collection yesterday because we had over 700 lost titles.

M: Oh my gosh, 700?!

SS: Yeah well, no, it was a lot more. I had 26 pages of lost items and I had to go through each barcode and ask “Is this classified with a student? No? Ok, delete.” And I had to figure out what could still technically come back and the ones I realized would never come back. And then, do I want to purchase another copy of this or not?

M: Is it typical for that many books to be lost?

SS: Ok, so this is a little bit more of what I’ve been doing this past year. When I came into this job the collection had over 17,000 items and all the shelves were just jam-packed. And when I saw some of the titles I thought, “What is this? When was this purchased?” And when I went through a lot of it, it was from 1978, 1971. For example, anything in technology, social media, web access, the internet and searching, anything financial—if it’s from before 2008 it’s crap because everything has changed with the recession. Whatever you thought before, it’s gone. And some of that stuff is not even going to pertain to a high school student. And I found out that the inventory at this library hasn’t been done since 2011, or in some cases 2009 or even be before then. Some books have never even been touched. That’s been my reality when I first came in. Because that was the one part of the job I did not really have any experience in: doing inventory, weeding, and withdrawing materials from a library. That was my biggest challenge. So my first year was really focusing on clean up. Clean up and establishing that this is my house and this is how we’re going to do things from now on. We’re making strides but it’s been a lot to go into.

M: So could you describe what else your job entails beyond collection development?

SS: A big part of my job is classroom management, keeping track of the students that come into the library whether it’s from lunch or from study hall. Through the whole year we’ve had over 24,000 kids come into the library.

M: Wow.

SS: On average, it’s over 170 a day. Especially when we have major projects or end of the year finals, we will get over 200 per day. The most we’ve ever had in one day was 230. So classroom management is a very big thing, especially when I’m trying to keep track of over 40 kids in one class period and making sure they’re not goofing off.

M: Are you doing this all by yourself?

SS: I have one assistant and she is definitely the mother type. And it helps because having librarians of different sexes can be good in some cases. For example, when some of the girls are dressing inappropriately and I feel uncomfortable Sharon can just go up to them with no issues because she is a woman. She can be more frank with them than I could because if I did that it’s going to look off, at least in their minds, and I can get backed into a corner.

Hm, what else? I do all purchasing for the library. When it comes to administrative work, it’s having a budget, keeping track of what comes in and keeping track of bills. I do circulation as well. And Sharon definitely does a good portion of that. I’m also in charge of all library aids. Essentially I promote, I train them, I set their schedule and have them complete special projects. I don’t have them do original cataloging, we pay for a lot of that.

M: So you don’t do a lot of cataloging?

SS: No. And if there is any cataloging I would have Sharon do that. I really don’t work on cataloging at all.

M: So do you actually teach classes for students or do you just supervise when they come in?

SS: No, yeah that was the other part I was going to mention. There are many parts to this job! [laughs] When teachers bring a class into the library, if they’re working on a project that requires research I’ve been trying to offer my services. Like, “check out this database” and show them how to search the catalog to actually do research. And that was one thing I did—I attached our online catalog to every single database we have so it’s more like doing a search in Google. That was something I wanted to do because so many kids still will go to Google and think that’s how to do research. I’m trying to change some of that, especially when talking to our feeder schools, which would be all of our middle school libraries. What resources do they have? I’ve learned that most of the kids after leaving middle school don’t even know how to use [Microsoft] Office. They don’t know how to make PowerPoints or attach a picture, they don’t know how to send an email of their presentation. Even though they have more skills with the internet and online resources than I do. There’s job security right there with digital literacy. So that’s some of the stuff I teach them on the fly.

M: Ok, so coming back to collection development, you may have already said this, but what is most challenging for you about collection development?

SS: That’s an easy question for me because it’s been one of my struggles this past year and I think it’s going to be a struggle forever. It’s choosing content that’s going to be relevant and that will be beneficial for the students and the teachers. When I came into this position we did not have a collection development policy. There was nothing in place. When I asked the previous librarian if there was a policy she said no and pointed to her head to say “It’s all up here.” And that’s nice, but what if someone comes in and challenges a Neil Gaiman graphic novel of the Sandman, which we have? Or Maus or Persepolis? So that was my initiative my first semester, to get a collection development policy in place. So the stuff we have here is for their benefit and for the educational value. So I have some materials that address homosexuality or teen pregnancy and if someone asks me about it I would say, “We have some students here who become mothers at a young age or who are gay, and they may want to research that.”

M: Ok, so what book (or books) are you reading right now?

SS: Oh my gosh. Well, I’m in the middle of a graphic novel series called Attack on Titan, and that’s ongoing. I started reading Gone Girl, I’m in the middle of Everyday by David Levithan, I have Paper Towns on there and I’ll finish that one this summer.

One thing that I think applies to library students or new librarians is that a lot of school librarian students think that they’re going to get to read all the time. That’s not the case at all. It’s really not. It’s surprising how much babysitting or classroom management is involved. Especially if you’re really soft, because you do want everyone to be there using the library and you want to have a friendly environment, but you do have to establish some rules. And you have to enforce them.

M: I suppose it takes a certain kind of personality to do this job.

SS: Well, I guess whenever I get to talk about this it’s therapy. Because I can’t really talk to teachers about this because they don’t get it. I can’t talk to them about it the way I can talk to you. We’re in different fields because you’re an academic librarian and I’m a school librarian—

M: It’s probably not as different as you think. [laughs]

SS: But you know what I mean. But we’re both librarians so we can talk about a lot of the same issues. When I get to talk to another librarian about this stuff it’s therapy because you get to express a lot of issues and the other person can say “Yeah, I totally get that.”

M: What advice would you have for library students or new librarians entering the profession?

SS: As far as my classes at U of I [University of Illinois], I think I was most prepared by my web design experience, by my assistantship in ITD [Instructional Technology and Design], and especially with Carol [Tilley]’s class in Youth Services. As a teacher I had the instruction experience, but what I really lacked was programming experience. Like promotion—I find it hard to sell myself, but I’ve been working on that so I did National Library Week this year. And I did get some kids to come in and use the library that may not have come in before, and some of them have stuck around.

M: So it sounds like you’re doing okay.

SS: Well, the year’s come to an end …

M: You survived. We both survived!

SS: Yes! We survived. I definitely feel like I have made my mark and my signature is on this library.


The Secret to Being a Good Public Services Librarian

Ok, so this might not be the only secret. But I’ve found in my first year of being a librarian, more than anything else, the number one method to success for me has been saying YES. I know, we’re supposed to not say “yes” to everything because it’s important to budget our time and all that jazz. But by being involved in my community and saying yes to things, I’ve made more connections (and friendships) on campus and in the community than I ever could have hoped to if I had said no.

A few examples:

-the Americus Arts Center needed volunteers for one of its major fundraising events and I said yes. The coordinator of that event also happens to be one of the marketing and outreach people at GSW, and she now often promotes my library events.

-the local theater group was putting on White Christmas this past December and needed players for the pit orchestra. I said yes. Now I know many of the students involved and have collaborated with the music department chair to promote library services.

-a teaching circle leader (teaching circles are professional development meetings held on campus) asked for help promoting her teaching circle about professional publishing. I said yes. She is also the faculty advisor for a group that, at her urging, helped me enormously in distributing and collecting boxes for our book drive.

-when I first came to Americus I had some extra time and learned that the public library could use some extra help. I said yes to volunteering for a couple hours a week. Later, when I needed to market my Money Smart Week event, the public library was happy to help out by letting me put up signs and by promoting the event to patrons.

-a couple of my fellow faculty members wanted to form a band. I said yes. We recently performed at a local coffee shop open mic and I both met and was impressed by the talents of many GSW students, who I now say “hello” to in the library.

There are many other examples, but you get the idea. The awesome thing about this, is that many of the things I said yes to weren’t even library related. I just said yes to getting involved in my community and the results were that the people around me were willing to collaborate on library projects, making the library a more present part of the larger community. The other result of saying yes is that I’m so happy to be working here among people that I know–people I perform with, volunteer with, create with. When I walk around campus I find myself saying hello to so many people who I know to be talented and kind from personal experience. Being happy to give back to your community means that you’re happy being in your community. Maybe that’s the real secret.

Interview of the Month: Katie Salerno on Being a Teen Librarian

Have you ever had a friend that you could call at any time and demand a frozen yogurt run? Or who would happily have a long conversation with you about which Doctor was the best one? Katie Salerno was that friend for me while we were in grad school together, and now she’s a super successful YA librarian putting her awesome interests to good use. I still go to her for advice and nerdy discussions, so I thought I would ask her some questions about what it’s like working with teens and being a new professional. Here’s some more about Katie:

Katie Salerno graduated from the University of Illinois’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science in December 2012. She currently works as a YA librarian at Somerville Public Library, a branch of the Somerset County Library System in New Jersey. When she’s not working, Katie enjoys writing her own YA novel, spending time with her family, especially her nephew Matthew, and interacting with the fandom communities of Teen Wolf, Supernatural, and more. She is currently reading Rainbow Rowell’s YA novel, Eleanor and Park.

M: In your transition from being a student to a new professional, what was most surprising to you?

KS: I’ve learned that communication, both written and verbal, is very important in the work place. For school, little communication was necessary to be successful. I always let my supervisors and my co-workers know what teen programs are being offered and what changes are made to the teen room, so if I’m not available when a question about teens is asked, my colleagues can answer with no problem. I’ve found that the best way to communicate is both in person and through email. This method ensures that my associates know and understand the current teen services.

M: What do you like most about your current job? What do you find most challenging?

KS: The best part is interacting and providing for the teens! Teens are a fun group, and I learn from them as much as they learn from me. They help keep me informed about their interests like gaming, while I teach them about topics such as research, SATs, and college.

The most challenging aspect is time management when working in a small library. Because we have such a small staff, I provide reference service for the majority of time I work, so I take advantage of any free time I have to work on programs and marketing.

3) How do you keep up with the interests and trends of teen patrons?

KS: Talking with local teens and other YA librarians is the best way to keep up with teen interests. I also use online book databases, such as Goodreads, to see what the newest YA book releases are, and blogs, such as Tumblr, to learn about teen movie and TV likes and dislikes. It also helps that a lot of my interests are similar to that of teens, such as Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games. This allows me to have casual easy conversations with them, which in turn makes them feel comfortable enough to ask me questions about library services.

M: What do you find most challenging about managing a collection for teens?

KS: In my library, the most challenging part about collection management is circulating teen books. Since the library I work in is small and a part of a large system, often teens in the community go to the bigger library down the street that has a much wider YA selection. I found that displaying books and creating a section for new materials helped circulation rates increase.

M: What’s your favorite YA book/book series?

KS: I have quite a few favorites. One of the first books I’ve ever enjoyed was Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. It’s a classic in YA literature, and I still remember it because it is the book that made me realize reading is enjoyable. It has a very unique feel mixed in with intense drama, which immediately caught my interest as a young middle school girl.

My current favorite book is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell because she shows a distinct group of the teenage population, the fandom community. Not all of fandom is teenaged, like myself and other adults, but I feel like this group has not been represented before in such a realistic fashion. I haven’t related so much to a YA book as I did with Fangirl.

M: What advice would you have for library students or new librarians entering the profession?

KS: My advice is to be as personable as possible. Get to know other librarians and attend any teaching workshops your library offers, such as readers’ advisory training. It’s a great way to network and to learn more about how to be a better librarian.

Developing a Library Instruction Course Curriculum

Although this semester is not even halfway over, I feel as if I’ve learned an incredible amount in these past few months, mostly due to the one-credit information literacy course I’m teaching this semester. Last semester I managed to master the one-shot library session and I entered this semester feeling fairly confident in my instruction abilities. Well, as it turns out, teaching a regular credit-bearing course is a whole different ball game than a one-shot session.

1) In my credit-bearing class I’m not the friendly class guest that the students feel a little pressure to be on their best behavior for. I see these kids everyday and they really don’t feel any pressure to be on their best behavior with me. In fact, I have to earn every bit of attention I get from these people.

2) The organization of a full credit-bearing course is MUCH more complicated. Not only am I dealing with grades and deadlines, I’m also trying to manage how larger course themes should be organized and presented. I really didn’t anticipate how difficult this would be.

3) If I thought one-shot courses were time consuming, they really are *nothing* compared to a full course. For every little 50 minute class period I spent HOURS putting together activities and lectures. And then I looked at most of them and spent HOURS changing them so they weren’t so terrible. When I got to the week before classes started I thought I had finished and was ready to go. Wrong. Everything changed when the class actually started and realities messed up all my hard work (i.e. snow days, the timing of activities being off, students having excused absences, etc.).

4) The students become more … real. Now that I see their work consistently and I’m learning more about them, I feel like I have a stronger relationship with each of them and more of a responsibility to help them succeed. In a one-shot session that complexity is missing from interactions with students.

For those of you readers who are preparing to teach an information literacy course or are already teaching, here are some pointers from my own experience that may be helpful in developing your own course curriculum and preparing to teach a credit class.

Use the Resources Available to You

I was lucky enough to have access to the lecture slides and some instruction materials from my predecessor, but to be honest I got most of my content from exploring the Internet treasure trove of information. It’s no secret that librarians like to borrow and share information–why reinvent the wheel? Being a true librarian, that is exactly what I did. Some useful sources for me:

ACRL Instruction Session – Source of instruction standards, ideas, and discussions.

ili-listserv – I asked and the genius instruction librarians of the world responded – I would highly recommend asking this group if you have questions because they are very eager to help newbies!

PRIMO – Lots of things in this list actually end up relating to ACRL, but this is an especially helpful list of instructional tools compiled by ACRL IS that have been reviewed by instruction librarians

Books – Some helpful books that I ended up consulting included Karen Sobel’s Information Basics for College Students, Char Booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning, Scott Sheidlower’s Humor and Information Literacy, and Claire McGuinness’s Becoming Confident Teachers: A Guide for Academic Librarians.

Colleagues – I learned to unabashedly peddle my former classmates and current mentors for ideas and feedback on what I had planned for instruction. I know some pretty smart instruction librarians! (See previous post – an interview with one of them …)

Google – Is this sad? The truth is, I Googled many times in the creation of my curriculum and was able to find some fantastic activities, library guides, and syllabi from my colleagues across the US. Some of the most useful things I found came from just Googling.

Publications & Presentations – Because I’m such a nerd, whenever I’m reading a library publication I instantly am drawn to the instruction articles, and the same is true at conferences. From this kind of geeking out behavior I’ve learned about flipped classrooms, reaching out to faculty, using technology in the classroom, and tons of other valuable things. One of my favorite publications (again from ACRL, big surprise) is College & Research Libraries.

Be Prepared for Surprises

As I mentioned earlier, planning ahead is a great idea, but don’t be surprised when your plans, applied to a real situation, are quickly destroyed. This is especially probable if you’ve never tried those plans in a classroom before. It’s okay! If you know that your plans will go out the window, you can embrace the flexibility required to be a good teacher. Be ready to adapt your instruction to whatever your class is like that day and be realistic in your planning. Eventually you won’t feel like every class period is a circus about to spin out of control. I promise.

Reflect Often

I’ve reflected after every instruction session I’ve ever done as a librarian and it has helped me tremendously. For one-shot sessions it’s especially helpful if the class comes again another semester I can look back on my reflection and have a better idea of how to approach that class. For the credit-bearing course it’s been extremely valuable to document my progress and make each class period better than the last. I’m also working with a coworker in a critical friend relationship–more on what that is hopefully soon …

If you have any advice or reflections on preparing for credit-bearing information literacy instruction, go ahead and share below!

Interview of the Month: Emma Clausen on Library Instruction

I’m so excited to share with you the advice and experiences of another instruction librarian and a really fun, cool person. Because I know Emma is an awesome teacher, I asked her to share a little bit about both her transition to becoming a new professional and her role as a library instructor.

Emma graduated from the University of Illinois’ Library and Information Science program May 2013. She currently works as a Reference & Instruction Librarian at Pierce College in Washington. In her free time, you can find Emma hiking with her canine pal, Harold, learning at her sewing machine, or wandering around thrift stores. She’s currently reading J. Robert Lennon’s Mailman.

M: So in your transition from being a student to being a new professional, what was most surprising to you?

EC: To tell you the truth, I kind of puzzled over this. It’s hard to remember what you didn’t know… now that you’re having the experience. It was surprising to see how my day-to-day ended up. How reference and instruction duties were split and how my involvement with projects and committees has evolved over the last five months. And then sometimes at the end of the day, a whole day has passed and I maybe didn’t get done what I needed to get done. I’m sure you have that experience, too, where the day gets away from you.

M: Mm-hm. Yes, definitely.

EC: That wasn’t very poignant. [Laughs]

M: No, no! I understand what you mean. I don’t know—maybe it’s like a reference and instruction librarian thing to have a really weird, fluid schedule where you don’t even know what you’re going to be doing that day. I don’t know. That’s been my experience.

EC: Yeah, yeah totally.

M: In your job duties, what do you enjoy most and what do you find most challenging?

EC: What I enjoy most is working with students one-on-one at the reference desk, or in the classroom as a group – you get a different flavor working with a group of students.  Seeing them learn from each other and knowing that I’m contributing to their success in their courses and hopefully in their future careers and lives is an incredible experience. To some extent, I think we’re unprepared for the unexpected things that happen when we’re teaching and interacting with students, but we’re also unprepared for when a student says, “You really changed the way I do research for other classes.” So it’s just really cool to marvel at touching another human life and improving it.

So I had to puzzle about this too because a lot of things challenged me in making that transition. [Laughs] What has been most challenging in my first professional position has been trying to find a way to carve out a place on my library team. What I mean by that is developing a special interest – something that I could bring back to the library that would be unique so I could feel like I am making a contribution outside my day-to-day job duties. Even though I’m beginning to feel competent in the everyday, what else could I bring that’s value added? I have really struggled with this because the library world is huge and there are so many different things that I could explore and, of course, it depends on library and institutional goals. Another librarian and I are exploring Open Education Resources, so slowly but surely I’m finding a way to shape myself as a librarian.

M: Yeah, definitely. So what would you say is most difficult about library instruction?

EC: One thing I really struggled with when I was starting was feeling confident enough to teach. I think you sent a question out to one of the list-servs about teaching in disciplines with which you have little familiarity. It has been a struggle for me too. In library school we learned a lot about what it means to be a generalist and of course we have search strategies in our back pockets, but building confidence in disciplines outside of our comfort zones takes a lot of exposure and exploration. I’m beginning to get my footing as a generalist and one of the most exciting things every day is learning with students and other faculty, but it’s kind of disorienting to go into a session where you teach veterinary technician students about finding information on zoonotic diseases. [Laughs] I work closely in conversation with the discipline faculty member to understand what the students need to learn and be able to do, and I rely heavily on my library colleagues to learn about their experience teaching in the disciplines and to plan instruction.

M: Oh yeah. Well you know because I asked the list-serv, but I really had issues with that. I was like “What do you mean I have to teach the science students??” [Laughs]

EC: Yeah, exactly. What do you think was most helpful for you with that?

M: Well what I try to do is I make a LibGuide and in the process I look at as many other LibGuides in that field as possible. Then as I’m creating it I learn a lot about how to do research in that field. And like you said, talking to the faculty members helps too. And I’m really clear with them—I’m like “I’m not an expert at this, you are! So if you see things in my guide or in what I’m saying that are wrong, please just tell me. I’m not going to be offended.” I don’t want to teach the wrong thing. Like I was terrified and I thought I was just going to teach them everything wrong. But I’ve kind of mastered that a little bit better …

EC: Right.

M: What do you wish you had learned before you started teaching and do you feel that library school prepared you well for teaching?

EC: I wish I had more experience with instruction and course-related assessment. It’s not necessarily that I felt under-prepared. While in school, I took advantage of courses, had an assistantship, attended conferences, and pursued other opportunities. It’s just that replicating the process of instruction from planning to assessment during school is challenging and you experience it differently once you’re applying theories and techniques – once you’re living it.

M: Yes, that is true.

EC: I do feel that library school prepared me to teach the extent that taking classes can. There were classes like the instruction class, the reference class, use and users of information, and others that I feel gave me a strong theoretical grounding and hands-on experience, but I also think that I was really fortunate to have an assistantship when I was in library school. That’s where I gained a lot of practical and valuable experience, applying what I was learning in the classroom. And I think that having that support from really talented and dedicated librarians at the University of Illinois set me up for success. Do you feel the same way?

M: Oh yeah, definitely. I feel like that’s really where I learned the most.

EC: Yeah, me too, me too. I regret that more students do not have that opportunity.

M: Me too. I feel really bad. Because I try to imagine if I didn’t have that experience and I feel like I would not do well at all.

EC: Right. It would make that transition harder.

M: Okay. What advice would you give other new librarians who are just starting to teach?

EC: One approach that has helped me feel more motivated and confident in my teaching has been seeking out opportunities to get involved on campus. I’ve helped score high school completion culminating presentations and I’ve observed final presentations for a criminal justice class for example. After I began to feel more connected and comfortable with students and started building relationships with them outside the library I felt like I was better able to tailor and scope my instruction. I understand more about them and what they were learning. It takes so long to learn about degree programs and courses on campus, and honestly I’m really just scratching the surface of either where I am or what my students are doing, but it’s really been an essential part of my planning process for instruction.

M: So in addition to your advice for those starting to teach, do you have any general advice for new librarians?

EC: I can’t offer very sage advice after only being in my first position for five months, but one piece of advice that I’d share with other new librarians would be to recognize that it’s normal in the beginning to equate your feelings of newness with inadequacy. This can lead to questions like, “Am I in the right career?” “Am I capable at all?” It can be really crippling if you don’t recognize and dismiss the feelings. They still come and go for me.

M: Me too!

EC: Yeah! It’s very important for me to recognize that and reach out and talk to my colleagues or mentors and ask them to share what their transition was like in their first position. I have to remember to keep things in perspective, document my success, and then reflect on how far I’ve come and what I’ve learned. One of my colleagues recommended keeping a reflective journal for the first few years. Which for me is a Word document where I write about the unexpected and challenging happenings in instruction, reference, and daily work. When my mind goes back to the place of questioning my abilities, I look back at some of the experiences I have had.

M: Yes, that is really good advice.

EC: Well thanks for inviting me to do this. It’s actually really helpful to reflect on what that transition was like because I hadn’t been very intentional about it.

Interview of the Month: Afton Hallauer on Library Outreach

Hello and welcome back from a long break from interview of the month! I’ve been a little distracted having a wonderful holiday with my family and friends. 🙂

Back to business! For our next interview of the month, I talked to a fun, cool librarian who not only knows how to knit a mean scarf, but also can make the best shortbread cookies I’ve ever tasted. Her name is Afton Hallauer and I’m so happy I met her one day at the Champaign Public Library as we whiled away the hours, withdrawing old cheesy romance novels from the catalog. A little about Afton:

Afton graduated from the University of Illinois’ Library and Information Sciences program in May and currently works as the Youth Services Librarian at the Fairfield Public Library in Iowa. She originally planned to work in public radio, but decided to switch to public libraries. She is now a super-talkative librarian. Her favorite children’s book is The Phantom Tollbooth, and her favorite adult book is Shades of Grey (not THAT Shades of Grey, Jasper Fforde’s distopian comedy Shades of Grey — and thank you so much E.L. James, for making this distinction necessary).

In our talk, we focused on programming in libraries but covered everything from the heartbreak that readers advisory can cause to accidentally finding your dream job.

MG: What surprised you most about life as a professional librarian?

AH: Actually, when I got home today I realized that I didn’t have anything to do. By and large, I have nothing hanging over my head after work, which is very different than when I was a student. When I started out going into public libraries it was beaten into me that I would have to work nights and I would have to work weekends, but I feel so spoiled because in my current position I can come home at fairly reasonable hours and I don’t have to work weekends. At the same time, time off is more precious. I actually spend more time at work, unlike when I was a student and I could spend most of the day studying or whatever. That’s been a big adjustment for me. Until now I never had a real job, so it’s been a big change.

MG: What do you find most challenging about your current job? Most rewarding?

AH: What’s challenging is in some ways also the most rewarding. Because my library is so small I get to do so many things and it’s fun because you never get bored. I’m not bogged down with limitations. At the same time, it’s been challenging to learn everything as a new person—there’s been a huge learning curve.

Reader’s advisory is another one that has been both challenging and rewarding. Sometimes I’ll have a patron come up and say “I’m looking for a book like this,” and you look everywhere and do everything right and you pick the perfect book for that person. And then when you come back later, all the books you picked out are back on the shelving cart. So readers’ advisory can be really great or really challenging. It’s a great feeling when you connect a kid with a book but it’s heartbreaking when you can’t or when they’re not interested.

I was lucky in a way because my library has had a lot of turnover, so when I arrived they already had a set of tasks for me to do on a weekly or monthly basis. I also had a really good trainer. Filling an old position that has been vacated made it easier too, although it can be hard because they all loved the previous person.

MG: What outreach efforts have you made so far? Are there any programs or events that you plan on trying in the future?

AH: We have a lot of in-house programs, so that could be considered outreach. We have a program called “When the Lights Go Out” and for that program we collaborate with local Broadway theater actors and that was really great. Outreach can be hard, but it has been really effective here because this community values its library.

We also do some programs off-site. I visit daycares to get the kids connected to books and more familiar with the librarian. I also take books there and leave them for a while for the kids to read (which boosts my circ stats!).

Another good way to do outreach is to connect with other organizations. Collaboration is really valuable—it allows you to do things as an organization that you couldn’t do on your own. Our community has something called “Art Walk,” and they set up on the square in town once a month to showcase local artists’ work. So during that time we have story time a little later so people can stop by and warm up (now that it’s cold), and when it’s nicer we’ll set up story time on the square during the event. Events like that can raise the visibility of the library and provide you with people you can go to for collaboration ideas. We also work with KRUU radio station in town. A librarian will go to read bedtime stories on the air during their kids program, so that’s been another way for the library to be out in the community. It is time away from the desk to do these programs, so it’s good to have the administration on my side allowing me to do this.

MG: Where do you get outreach ideas?

AH: I’ve been fortunate because a lot of outreach was set up for me. I added a couple of programs, but mostly it was already set up before I came. It was great because I could use the structure already in place and tap into it for ideas. The librarian who previously had my position kept records of everything she did, which is good because now we have a resource to go back to. So if we want to rehash something we did a few years ago we have a stockpile of old ideas to use.

As far as new ideas, I would recommend that you plan well in advance. If you start planning several months out, you can wait for inspiration to strike instead of sitting there the day before hoping to think of an idea. I would also recommend talking to other librarians—people you’ve worked with in the past, libraries you admire. This field seems really open to sharing and some libraries actually put up their programs on their website, so that’s a good way to find ideas. It helps keeping in touch with other librarians to get ideas and feedback too. Of course, I’m spoiled because youth programming has lots of programming resources—it might be harder for librarians in other kinds of libraries.

MG: How do you market your outreach efforts to patrons?

AH: Well I’m working in a small town community, so the local media and information sources are extremely valuable. Even so, you can put signs everywhere, make announcements on the Facebook page, the newspaper, the radio, announce it at another library program, and you’ll still have a parent that says “I didn’t know about that event!” So there’s no way to reach everybody. Still, the more ways you can tell people, the more they’ll remember it. It could be helpful too to reach out to people who have talent like a graphic design student or someone in marketing to help you advertise.

Word of mouth is really important for raising awareness. Just talking to people about the event can make a big difference. The sad part is you can put in all that time and effort and people still won’t come sometimes. And sometimes it’s out of your control! I had a program that wasn’t well attended because it was so cold out, but there’s nothing you can do about that. Also, make sure that another group isn’t having an event at the same time. You don’t want to have competition with your event—you don’t want there to be a lot of other things for people to choose to do instead.

MG: Do you have any advice for new librarians or library students preparing to enter the profession?

I don’t feel like I can be too sanctimonious here—I just started a few months ago! For students I would say to take as many classes as you can because you never know what direction you’ll end up taking. Look at me—I took a Youth Services class as a joke and now that’s what I’m doing! So try to get experience in a wide variety of areas and that’ll make it a lot easier for you when you’re applying for jobs. When you start applying, don’t pigeon-hole yourself to a certain kind of position. Don’t not apply for something because you don’t think it’s for you. Look outside your comfort zone. Now that I’m in the position I’m in, I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.

SELA/SCLA Conference: Take-Aways

selaLast week I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Greenville, SC for librarians in the south-east United States and present a poster about web-based reference statistics tools (see my post about that here).

Instead of recapping every session I went to (as much as I want to–there were so many amazing things I learned!), I thought it would be more helpful to share the biggest take-aways I got from the conference. I know that it’s common to go to a conference and get fired up and full of wildly awesome ideas and then …. slip back into a normal routine soon after returning. So the purpose of this post is partly to share some fun ideas and partly to hold myself to giving them a try myself. 🙂

1) Be cute, funny, and brief. One of my favorite sessions was one by two Clemson University librarians that described their journey from showing incoming students several long, informative tutorials, to deciding it was much more effective to show them two videos under two minutes (one involving unicorns). Besides being adorable and setting a great tone for the library, the videos were a great lesson to me about the value of brevity–someday I’ll learn, less is more!

2) My life is disorganized. The intent of the session about Evernote and Scoop.It wasn’t to show me how disorganized my life is; it was to show how librarians might organize information more efficiently to put into LibGuides using cool new web tools. However, I saw a LOT of potential in those tools to make my life easier through nifty features like tabbing and tagging. Librarian friends, I recommend checking them both out!

3) I am a yellow hat thinker. One of the sessions I went to described De Bono’s six thinking hats, each one a different color. The session was really fun (the presenter was wearing a tutu … don’t ask), but it also really made me feel better about the differences in my own thinking as compared to others. See if you can determine your own thinking hat color (or colors):

blue hat leader, synthesizes the information, moves forward
white hat fact-finder, gets/uses the stats
green hat creative, throws out lots of alternatives
red hat emotional, questions how he/she/patrons will feel
yellow hat optimistic, sees all the potential positive outcomes
black hat sees all the potential barriers (seems negative, but is really helpful!)

4) Faculty don’t know what they want. One of the most valuable sessions I went to talked about reaching out to faculty and attempting to provide great service for them. One of the issues discussed in the session is how we can possibly know what faculty need–especially when, as the presenters admitted, the faculty might say they want something in a survey but prove they aren’t really that interested when they never attend that webinar, workshop, or presentation. One solution: get to know your faculty more! Then you can figure out what they really want for yourself. 🙂

5) Web content is often very inaccessible. This was one of the hardest sessions to hear. The session about web accessibility made me alarmed, ashamed, and indignant–there’s so much out there that is inaccessible to those with disabilities! Sadly, I’m contributing to that inaccessibility and I didn’t even know it… Turns out flash files (like the fancy ones I’ve spent months making for my tutorial videos) are very difficult for a people with a whole host of disabilities to access. A hard-learned lesson, but one I feel was very important.

Overall, I had a fantastic time at SELA meeting lots of friendly, innovative librarians. Hopefully I’ll be able to see some of these friendly south-eastern librarians again when SELA is in Georgia next year!

Waste of Time or Valuable Opportunity?: Trying a MOOC

The amount of times I get emails relating to MOOCs these days has gotten a little out of control. MOOCs in higher education, MOOCs and the library, MOOCs and the future of learning. For a while, it was all I was hearing about. At first, I had no idea what a MOOC was and I didn’t care to learn. Slowly, however, I got curious. Now I can say I am a proud completer of a MOOC, and I’m glad that I gave it a chance.

First of all, what is a MOOC? MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course, and is an acronym to describe an online course that is completely free and open to anyone. The most popular MOOCs draw hundreds of thousands of students from all over the world and are often taught by prestigious professors at expensive, high-end universities. To reach thousands of students, MOOC professors approach teaching in new ways–more video content, online non-writing type quizzes (multiple choice, problem sets, etc.), large-scale discussions, and use of social media. While many issues with MOOCs have been discussed at length–such as the effectiveness of a course that has no repercussions for students who barely participate or drop out half-way through, or the capacity of MOOCs to affect the jobs of professors who are paid to teach the same content covered in a MOOC in a classroom environment–there are many who speak of the benefits of MOOCs and the spirit of life-long learning behind them.

After all this controversy and opinion-swapping, how could I possibly resist trying one of these new-fangled MOOC things myself? The MOOC I chose was called Creativity, Innovation, and Change and was taught by three professors at Penn State: Dr. Jack V. Matson, Dr. Kathryn W. Jablokow, and Dr. Darrell Velegol. The course was offered through Coursera, which is currently one of the biggest MOOC platform companies. Over the course of eight weeks, the class attempted to lead students to discover their own creative potential through planning, brainstorming, and collaborating, among other methods.

The course allowed students to choose their level of commitment and, in turn, the amount of formal credit received for taking the course. Students on the Explorer track (like me) watched the weekly lectures (which lasted no longer than 30-40 minutes each week), take 6 of the 8 content quizzes, complete at least one exercise, and reflect on the exercise in a survey. These students, if they met these requirements, could receive a certificate of completion for the course.

For students who wanted more of a challenge, there was also an Adventurer track, which included all of the duties of the Explorer track but added a requirement for a longer-term creative project, which would be assessed through four self-reflection surveys over the course of the 8 weeks. This could earn students a Certificate of Completion with Distinction.

So I enrolled in the course, completed the Explorer track, and passed with flying colors. So what? What did this experience do for me? Was it worthwhile? No one is holding me accountable or cares about my performance in the class. Why did I take the time to do this?

These are questions that all MOOC students must answer. The MOOC learning format is unique because it requires the students to rely almost completely on intrinsic motivation, which can lead to a lack of interest or sense of fulfillment once the class has been completed. If there’s one thing I learned in my MOOC experience its that to really learn things, sometimes someone has to make me do them.

I did participate in all of the required parts of the course, but all the optional parts–recommended reading and videos, class discussion forums, additional projects–I ignored completely. And while I did learn from the class, I am fairly certain I would have learned much more if I had been forced by the prospect of course credit or even an arbitrary grade to participate more completely in the class. This is possibly a reflection on me more than anything, but I do feel that this is an issue that MOOCs will have to address. What can a student really earn from a free course (besides knowledge, of course)? In our generation, practicality and relevance is of up-most importance, so if MOOC creators can’t provide students with concrete motivating rewards for taking courses, they’ll find that they aren’t reaching the students and their efforts (which, from what I understand, are not small) are being wasted.

That said, the MOOC experience I had was a positive one. I may not have learned as much as I could have in a face-to-face, semester-long course, but I did gain some valuable skills and perspectives, all for free. I think this particular MOOC did a good job of recognizing that without that extrinsic motivation, it’s unreasonable to expect students to watch hours of lecture each week or write long essays for class (both things I have experienced in other MOOCs … which I eventually dropped out of). When MOOC creators are careful and reasonable in their planning of the course, they can accomplish much more than instructors who expect too much of their students’ intrinsic motivation and drive students to give up before they’re finished.

Have you had a MOOC experience you’d like to share about? Go ahead and write about it in the comments section below!

No More Tallies: Comparing Web-Based Reference Statistics Tools

Last week I got the opportunity to present at the Library 2.013 Conference virtually for an international audience of librarians. Besides being a great opportunity to get presentation experience, presenting also motivated me to become an expert in the subject of web-based reference statistics tools. The link to the presentation itself is here, but if you want a quick recap, keep reading.

When I arrived at my current position, the library was still using paper and pencil to record reference statistics. Fortunately, my supervisor was very willing to consider something new. The research that I did to decide which direction to go with our own reference statistics recording resulted in the information here.

Reference Statistics Tools Chart

Some questions you might ask if your library was deciding which web-based statistics tool to use:

  • How much customization do I need?
  • How complicated can the tool be? Who will be using it?
  • What is my budget?
  • What are the assessment needs of my library?
  • What kind of reports do I need to be able to run? Am I willing to do reporting manually?

There were a few things that I found in my literature review to be true about the process of choosing a reference statistics tool regardless of which tool was eventually chosen.

  1. Choosing a tool requires careful thought about what kind of metadata your library wants to collect (i.e. type of question, where it was asked, how long the transaction was, etc.). This means all staff involved in reference data collection need to be involved in this decision, and the needs of your library must be carefully considered.
  2. A reference statistics tool is only as useful as the data put into it. So no matter how complex or detailed the tool is, if the users of the tool don’t put in high quality, standardized data (or if they fail to use the tool at all), the tool won’t be useful in data analysis. Which means …
  3. Complicated isn’t necessarily better. If your staff has to answer a slough of questions every time someone comes to the reference desk or sends an email, they may be discouraged enough to just skip recording reference data altogether. A good way to look at it is to examine how much the tool disrupts the workflow of the librarian weighed against the quality of the data collected.

This is just a little snapshot of what I talked about at the conference. If you have questions or comments about reference statistics tools, don’t hesitate to contact me! And if you have experience with any of these tools, please share your impressions below to help other librarians decide which tool would be the best fit for them.


Bedoya, Jaclyn. “Reviews: Gimlet — Staff Your Desk Wisely.” Rev. of Http:// MARS: Emerging Technologies in Reference Section 8 Jan. 2012: n. pag. MARS: Emerging Technologies in Reference Section. American Libraries Association, 8 Jan. 2012. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

Bell, Marissa. “Reviews: Tracking Stats with Reference Analytics.” Rev. of MARS: Emerging Technologies in Reference Section 30 Jan. 2012: n. pag. MARS: Emerging Technologies in Reference Section. American Libraries Association, 30 Jan. 2012. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

Bravender, Patricia, Colleen Lyon, and Anthony Molaro. “Should Chat Reference Be Staffed by Librarians? An Assessment of Chat Reference at an Academic Library Using LibStats.” Internet Reference Services Quarterly 16.3 (2011): 111-27. Library and Information Science Source. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

Breitbach, William. “Gimlet.” Rev. of Http:// The Charleston Advisor Apr. 2011: 36-37. Library and Information Science Source. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

Carter, Sunshine, and Thomas Ambrosi. “How to Build a Desk Statistics Tracker in Less Than an Hour Using Forms in Google Docs.” Computers in Libraries Oct (2011): 12-16. Library and Information Science Source. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

“Desk Tracker.” Desk Tracker. Compendium Library Services LLC, n.d. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

“Desk Tracker Demonstration.” Online interview. 14 Oct. 2013.

Flatley, Robert, and Robert Bruce Jensen. “Implementation and Use of Reference Analytics Module of Libanswers.” Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship 24.4 (2012): 310-15. Library and Information Science Source. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

“Gimlet: Staff Your Desk Wisely.” Gimlet · Staff Your Desk Wisely. Sidecar Publications, 2008. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

“Google Drive.” Google Drive. Google, n.d. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

“Libstats – A Simple Web-based App for Tracking Library Reference Statistics.” Libstats. Google Project Hosting, n.d. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

Prokrym, Tanya. “Reviews: Keeping Track of Interactions with Desk Tracker.” Rev. of MARS: Emerging Technologies in Reference Section 23 Dec. 2012: n. pag. MARS: Emerging Technologies in Reference Section. American Libraries Association, 23 Dec. 2012. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

Rager, Janie L. “Reviews: Collecting Customizable Stats with an Access Database.” Rev. of Http:// MARS: Emerging Technologies in Reference Section 16 Jan. 2012: n. pag. MARS: Emerging Technologies in Reference Section. American Libraries Association, 16 Jan. 2012. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

“Reference Analytics Module.” Springshare LibAnswers. Springshare LLC, 2010. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

Rozear, Hannah. “Diktuon: Web-Based Statistics Trackers.” Theological Librarianship 5.2 (2012): 1-3. Library and Information Science Source. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

Todorinova, Lily, Andy Huse, Barbara Lewis, and Matt Torrence. “Making Decisions: Using Electronic Data Collection to Re-Envision Reference Services at the USF Tampa Libraries.” Public Services Quarterly 7.34 (2011): 34-48. Library and Information Science Source. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

What is the Flipped Classroom?

I just found this great Flipped Classroom infographic from Ohio State University and it inspired me to try harder to incorporate flipped classroom lesson plans in my own library instruction. I’m still a new teacher, so I find myself making the classic mistake of trying to fit too much into a library session, but I really do believe that there is more that students need to learn about the library than what I can teach them in 45 minutes. Besides providing more long-lasting learning, a flipped-classroom situation can be a kind of solution to the dilemma of the “one-shot session.” And besides, it’s more fun for everyone!

It can be difficult to plan for a flipped classroom situation when doing so requires faculty cooperation, but statistics like these, as well as faculty who appreciate the importance of library instruction (which, fortunately, describes many of the faculty I work with!), can make arguing for a flipped classroom approach to library instruction more productive. With a little explanation and negotiation, it soon becomes clear that a library session that’s a flipped classroom is a win for everyone.

I mentioned the Scoop.It site in an earlier post, but I thought I would share my topic board for Information Literacy with everyone (where you can find this infographic among other useful links). There are some fantastic resources out there for librarians who teach! If you know of any more and would like to share, please post them in the comments below!

Information Literacy Scoop.It Board