Not Your Normal Librarian

It’s been an amazing year at Briar Cliff. I started here in July 2010 as the Reference and Instruction Librarian, and in July 2011 became the Director of Educational Technology. This is due in large part to having a wonderful library director and incredibly good timing. A quick rundown of things that have happened over the past several months:

Fall 2010

  • the library started checking out iPads
  • started the casual discussion series Let’s Talk

Spring 2011

  • launched an iPad Pilot with 30 faculty member volunteers
  • trained Education and Nursing students in using WordPress as an online portfolio
  • created a task force for staff and faculty to start evaluating LMS alternatives to replace Angel

Summer 2011

  • trained 25 more faculty on the iPad

Fall 2011

  • deployed over 400 iPads to students
  • led a Faculty In-Service on technology training topics, with mini-sessions from our early adopter faculty members

A lot has happened in one short year. We have a new Reference and Instruction Librarian now who brings a whole wonderful set of mad skills into the mix. We have a coffee shop in the library’s lobby for the first time. The campus has switched to a semester calendar rather than terms, and we have students from the Writing Center doing their evening hours in the Library – which has been a goal for the library for a long time.

When I think about how much everyone has accomplished in the last 14 months, I am astounded. When I think about how much my own job has changed I’m downright dizzy.

This semester started out a little strange since Mark and I had to be out of the country when classes started. I’m also trying out a very different schedule: I’m working Mondays to Thursdays from about 10 am to 8 pm. “About” means I actually arrive much earlier but the upside to these long days is that I don’t come in at all on Fridays. I wanted to try out a schedule like this in hopes of being available for the widest range of people on campus. I set my “office hours” as 4pm to 8pm – a time when anyone with iPad or classroom tech questions can come find me and get some answers. The 4pm to 8pm window straddles the time from faculty getting out of their last classes to the evening students arriving for their night classes and the on-campus students start pouring into the library for their late night study time. If I had the stamina to stay up later, I would probably get far more questions between 9pm and midnight, but 8pm is already pushing my bedtime.

I have to admit, the evening hours have been more productive than I expected. I often have a regular stream of questions from both students and faculty, and when I don’t have a visitor I can get more catch-up work done because most staff and faculty go home by 6. Most of my daytime hours are spent answering questions on the phone, in email or going to people’s offices to show them how to do something. I love all this. It feels like That Thing I’m good at. But there is always more to do, too, and it’s very easy to feel very behind. I’m also seeing an unexpected benefit in having more morning hours at home. I’m starting to set a routine of waking up, writing for at least half an hour, reading some RSS articles and with the arrival of our brand new treadmill, I’m even able to squeeze in a work out, which I am absolutely ecstatic about. These things never happened after work even when I was leaving at 4:30. Typical work days leave me wiped out by the end of the day so why not make it the true end of the day? So far, being personally productive in the morning is far more successful than it ever was in the evening.

Next up – I want to set up some specific workshops (the persistent challenge – when will people come?) and find a way to reach out to more students. I’m hoping we can have a couple longer faculty workshops during the J-Term. In the spring it would be great if we could start beta testing a couple learning management system options and Google Apps.

The biggest change I want to make is creating a culture of ongoing professional development across the campus. One of the long workshops I would love to do would cover Getting Things Done and the most basic elements of project management wrapped up in a package to help employees with time management, productivity, and communication. That’s a huge goal and I have to keep reminding myself that it won’t happen with one workshop. I have to figure out a way to incorporate these elements a little bit at a time until they seem second nature. If you have some ideas, I’d love to hear about them!


Ebooks: something new, something borrowed

Just as live theatre continued after radio, and radio survived TV, and TV goes on despite the internet, so, too, will paper books coexist with digital books for a long, long time.  At first, ebook creators tried very hard to mimic the older sibling, which had a few centuries to mature into its own style, with page numbers, chapters, tables of content, margins, and nice bindings.

Finally the ebook is starting to experiment with a style of its own, though the wardrobe changes are happening fast, depending on where you look. Below are a couple ebook trends that I find particularly interesting.

Something new

A couple background bits to better understand my interest in ebooks of late — first, I’m a bibliophile and librarian. Second, while I was getting my graduate degree, I took a few classes on user experience design and usability.  At the time, I thought about usability in terms of websites for library catalogs, databases, and so on.  I was fascinated to see how storytelling became an element of user experience, and now I see user experience entering the realm of book design.

In the paper form, books did not seem to stray far from the traditional codex format.  Now that ebooks are morphing into apps, almost anything is possible.  The table of contents doesn’t have to be a table anymore, chapters don’t have to follow each other, and the whole notion of page numbers can be turned into something else entirely.

Along these lines, I’ve been following a few blogs that are diving into these questions.  My favorites so far:

  • New Kind of Book by Peter Meyers – some of his pieces are repeated at the blogs below, but I still think it’s worthwhile to catch each of his posts
  • Digital Book World – this multi-author blog looks at ebooks from the publishing point of view, more fascinating than I would have thought
  • Publishing Insight on O’Reilly Radar – the more technical side of ebooks and publishing

I’m excited to see the traditional idea of “what is the book” turned upside down.  Perhaps, after a heady phase of experimentation, we’ll end up using the old book trappings after all, even in our ebooks.  Or maybe, as future writers grow up reading ebooks of varying formats, they’ll begin to write in completely different styles that push ebook formats into further changes.

Something Borrowed

Another trend popping up again lately (seems to come and go in waves) is serialization.  When I think of serialized books, I think of old London magazines in the late 1800s selling pieces of Charles Dickens stories and then later, selling Sherlock Holmes cases to such raging popularity that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to bring the character back after killing him off.  I find it somehow strange that there hasn’t been a online serialized story that has gone viral quite like Dickens or Conan Doyle did in their day.  The blog format seems like the perfect tool for such a narrative unfolding over time, but it just hasn’t taken off in that way … as far as I know, at least.  The closest thing I’ve seen to something like this was the @MayorEmanuel twitter feed during the Chicago election.

Another, shorter Twitter story unfolded recently, as described by Peter Meyers.  And there have been reports of serialized ebooks coming out, with various levels of pricing options:

As readers become accustomed to using devices like the Kindle and iPad for subscriptions, I wonder if serialized fiction will make a comeback.  We have some serialized fiction now in the form of TV miniseries and sitcoms, but I’m hoping for something better.  Deep down I see serialized fiction as the format that will usher in a tidal wave of social reading — people talking about the latest piece of the story over dinner with friends or over coffee at work. Maybe it’s just me, but one big thing I think we would gain from a shared experience of literature (over the shared experience of TV, for example) is the space for imagination, the wiggle room for interpretation that is hardly present (or to a much lesser extent) in the visual and aural world of TV.

Would you subscribe to a novel?  Would you read a chapter at a time as it was released, or save them until you had the whole book?

And most of all – what do you see as the biggest difference to emerge so far between ebooks and paper books?

Library Day in the Life: Day 3

Wednesday 1/25/2011

Had just enough time in the morning to send out some belated email responses before the entire library crew (there are 4 of us full-time) packed into a car for a field trip to see the University of South Dakota’s new Academic Commons.  Don’t worry, we had trusty students working the desk while we were away.

USD is only about 45 minutes from Sioux City, and we counted ourselves very lucky when we heard they had just completed a collaboration / renovation of sorts.  We spent about an hour touring the new spaces and a couple hours talking with the Dean of Libraries and other staff members about the changes, the process, and the challenges.  We came away with very valuable information and insights.

We got back to our campus in the middle of the afternoon, with all sorts of email waiting.  Before I had a chance to even touch that, our IT partner came over and we talked about how to present our ideas to the Board of Trustees on Friday (gasp and woo hoo).

While we were gone, we had the pleasant surprise of being included on the campus tour distribution list – which means that whenever a tour of prospective students comes through the Library, a library staff person will give a 3-minute schpiel about what we offer.  This is something we had talked about but didn’t expect to happen quite so soon, but librarians are all about rolling with whatever comes.  I’m hoping to catch up with the tour coordinator next week when she’s back from vacation and explain the magic of using a shared calendar over several emails a day.

At the last minute, we had a flurry of reference questions — one of which was about Rucker Park in Brooklyn.  It’s amazing to me how very broad and very focused the topics we get can be.

Library Day in the Life: Day 2

01/25/2011 – Tuesday

Day in the Life of a Librarian

Flipped throug the “bestsellers” catalog for our leased collection of popular fiction and nonfiction … reminded myself not to do such depressing stuff first thing in the morning. Managed to pick out a couple books in the end. If I think the App Store is full of junk, I should look at the Bestselling Books.

Updated apps on the iPads. Discoverd a popular writing app had drastically dropped in price and snatched that puppy up.

Sent out an email to other iPad users on campus … asked about starting a users group and mentioned the iA Writers app price drop.

Jeepers. Ate my 3 cookies already and it’s only 9:15.

Answered emails about the iPad user group question — conclusion all around seemed to be that our best bet was a website where we could all post any questions or tips, since no one has time for any more meetings.

Did some email troubleshooting with a campus partner who uses iPads for their instructors — they were looking for a way to easily get iWork files into Dropbox from the iPad. We found two potential solutions: DropDAV ( ) and Send to Dropbox ( ). I tried Send to Dropbox first, but it seems the servers are too overloaded. Fortunately, there is also this list, including a few other similar services: .

Once again, Twitter answered a question for me — I asked about estimates for consultant fees and very soon had a direct message from an excellent librarian far away who told me about her library’s experience. My library is hoping to bring in someone to help us evaluate our collection with an eye toward massive deselection, but we needed a ballpark figure for the budget we were scrambling to put together. Fun times!

Later in the day, my director and I decided to go storm the IT office so we could get some feedback from our IT partner before sending out our proposal document to the campus admin. Turns out our dear partner had a really bad morning but pretty soon we had the converstaion rolling and got some really good suggestions.

I quickly made the changes back at the library before running out again to the Let’s Talk session – which, I am delighted to report, had the highest attendance yet! And the funny thing is, it had the theme “Household Gadgets” with the intention that we would all figure out at least one cool thing about our respective gadget … but the only gadgets people brought were the iPads so it became primarily a Q&A about those, which is fine with me. It was a terrific discussion, and I think we all learned something — either about a cool website, or a resource, or even free text messaging. I’m looking forward to more talks like this.

Library Day in the Life: Day 1

01/24/2011 – Day 1 of Library Day in the Life

Working Noon to 8pm today since it’s my turn at evening reference. Spent the morning putting together a short proposal outline with graphics for a big transformation project that the library and campus IT are working on together. Emailed it out to fellow editors… waited impatiently for feedback.

Got to work at 11am since I couldn’t take the waiting anymore. Quickly answered some emails and in so doing, scheduled a Skype call between an iPad-in-education guru in Scotland and the head of our campus IT. Sweet!

Walked around one of the target renovation areas of the library with my director, pointing at shelves and ceilings, and saying “Oh my…” several times.

Reviewed several articles and blog posts read last week relevant to the projects we have coming up — Lorcan Dempsey’s post about collections ( ), the Educause Learning Spaces book ( ), and OCLC’s NextSpace issue on ROI for 2020 (not on their website yet).

Added batch of new books to our WorldCat list and tags; most of them were Critical Insights – discovered that the link to SalemPress doesn’t show up in our Local WorldCat, only in the old catalog … someday we will be able to afford the OPAC we need.

Sent out a friendly reminder about the “Let’s Talk” session for Tuesday — this is a bi-weekly casual conversation series that I set up last semester for folks on campus to talk about any techie topics that might be on their mind. It’s had really good feedback from faculty and staff who *want* to go but also rather low attendance (maybe 3 – 6 people). This semester I’m trying a different time slot in hopes it will be easier for folks to participate.

Answered a question from our sister campus on the other side of the state about resources for their online instructors. I find that whenever I send out an email to all employees, I get at least 2 or 3 emails back on completely unrelated subjects. It’s like just seeing a librarian’s name reminds people of questions they want to ask. I find that fascinating.

Read through the summary report of local survey findings on faculty attitudes toward technology. We are lucky to have a very intelligent person for campus assessment and she’s fun to work with, too. Hoping to pick her brain about measurement tools for the library as we move ahead on big projects that require plenty of supporting data.

Talked with IT head about possible grant sources for our big collaboration venture / library remodel. Did some scheduling / juggling of phone calls and meetings. Finally tracked down a couple printing extensions for Google Chrome after repeatedly “printing” ugly PDFs. Why no print preview? Why?  Thanks to Twitter, found a couple Chrome extensions that partly fill that void.

Checked out a couple of our new books because I can’t help myself.

Worked all evening with the library director on our proposal document, editing meticulously in hopes of getting it right. Both of us really wishing we had other people to bounce it off of. Specifically, people who know what the college president is looking for. Went home and half-watched the first episode of Dollhouse while recreating and tweaking a graphic to explain how staff of the Library and IT Center will overlap with the new collaboration model we’re working on.

Laws of Library Science Redux

I’ve been batting about some ideas lately in the cat-swatting-a-toy way, and just to get some of these things off my mind, I’m dumping them here.  These musings are not perfectly articulated, and I realize that…  so I hope you do, too.

For review, Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science (Wikipedia):

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

On the Wikipedia page linked above, you will also see a few of the many variations that have been created over the years. I know we don’t need another goshdarn version of the Five Laws, but some online readings of late had me turning these over in my mind.  It started with the if:book post about the future of the app, which reminded me of a couple posts from earlier this year — one arguing for books to become apps, and one about Elements, a website that became a book and then an app.  I personally don’t want my books mixed in with my apps just yet, but at the same time I can see how the interface potential of apps can offer a whole new twist on our relationship with text.  In the Elements article, author Theodore Gray was asked about the blurring between the book and the app version, to which he replied:

I think it’s confusing … for there to be both a bookstore and a books category in the App Store. These two places exist for purely technical reasons, and not very good ones at that. Hopefully at some point Apple will fix this. In the mean time, all the interesting ebooks will need to go in the App Store, because the iBookstore is not able to handle them.

When talking about the Future of the App, Bob Stein wrote:

In the past we had books, movies and songs. Now they’re all being bundled into one category — apps — to be further delineated by a descriptive prefix. It’s easy to imagine today that movies will have back stories and fan elaborations available on the web and new fiction forms will explore and make use of a complex amalgam of media types. The categories — books, songs, movies — meant something in the past that loses specific meaning in this fluid digital domain where each can incorporate aspects of the other.

So whether I like the idea or not, I do agree that the nature of our media is changing and morphing into something we can’t necessarily describe right now.  The potential of coming-soon apps like Rethink’s Social Books has me excited to see what kind of community experiences we can have with our rediscovered love of reading.

This leads me to thinking about the Five Laws of Library Science because somewhere deep down I have long been annoyed that these famous library principles restrict us (perhaps not literally, but by connotation) to books.  Rather than restrict us to any format at all, I came up with a revision like this:

  1. Information is for use.
  2. For every question, an answer.
  3. For every answer, a question.
  4. Save the time of the information seeker.
  5. Knowledge is a growing organism.

For my purposes, I am defining information very simply as “the answer to a question” and information seekers as “people with questions”.  These questions might be anything from “What is the sun made of?” to “Who else is on Facebook chat right now?”  A book might answer the first question but cannot possibly answer the second.

Yes, I know “information” is a loaded term with a long history of debated definitions.  Unfortunately, I don’t know of a better term to use.  “Knowledge” is just as fuzzy – in my visual-thinking brain, I imagine Knowledge as the older, more mature sister of giddy, high-strung Information.

What I like about this version is that I can (more easily) apply it to far more scenarios in the library because the medium carrying the information is altogether removed.  This also serves as a reminder to me (and as a geek, I need it) that it’s not about the gadget, silly.  Books are gadgets, iPads are another gadget.  Jason Griffey has elegantly pointed out that the distinction between content and container is becoming more important, but I disagree with him on one key point.  He says “We already know, more or less, how to deal with content.”  I think it’s the opposite — I think we’ve been so focused for so long on curating the containers that we lost sight of just how significant the content is.  With the Open Access movement, content seems to be slowly getting the proper attention again.  But if we allow ourselves to be distracted by the containers – the books and gadgets – then the star-crossed destinies of questions and answers will be reduced to financial transactions.


A change is a-brewing

Almost one week since ALA’s annual conference ended and I’m just now catching up to some ALA-related posts that I’ve been meaning to put here.   Before I go on to more session-specific postings, however, I wanted to write about the most important element of ALA and, for that matter, any conference:  the people.

My primary mission at the conference was to meet my fellow library folk, talk to them, find out what was buzzing through L-y-wood, and this mission was fulfilled beyond my expectations.  The most exciting part was finding out how many people were feeling the same way I did – that something’s gotta change.

To all the fresh new library students, librarians, library staff out there who are asking themselves “is this all there is?” please allow me to introduce you to some restless natives, of all ages, who are ready to get the New Librarian Party started:

Karin Dalziel, librarian and artist, as well as the creator of where library students can get together and compare notes.  Just before the conference she had a great post about marketing in libraries, which hits at one of our biggest issues.

Cindi Trainor, techie librarian, blogger, mama, and model.  Cindi wrote about change in libraries and how we need to, you know … do it already!

Nathan Bomer talked me into the Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. lecture, for which I am very grateful.  He’s also musing on the state of ALA and what we can do about it.

I met Michelle Boule at the OCLC Blogger’s Salon.  She did a great job on the BIGWIG Social Software Showcase, which has been lauded across the blogosphere several times over.

Forward thinkers like these can be found in droves at some great wiki spaces such as Improve ALA and Library Society of the World.   But if this desire for change is going to go anywhere, we need to get together and really start throwing some ideas around.  These wikis are great places to start and I’ll be keeping tabs on both of them.  Hopefully we can all have our own little New Librarian Party organized in time for Midwinter … whaddya say?

The Ultimate Debate: Do Libraries Innovate?

Karen Schneider
Joseph Janes
Stephen Abram
moderated by Andrew Pace (standing in for Roy Tennant)

Bullets from the discussion —

Innovation comes from individuals, not institutions so perhaps question should be, “do *librarians* innovate?” which would be answered “yes” but to ask about institutions is a non-question. Institutions either “facilitate or get in the way of the individual” per the panel.

Stephen Abram — we have innovative people but very poor *diffusion* … when there’s a good idea in the business world, it spreads quickly; when there’s a good idea in the library world, hardly any one knows about it. Fix our diffusion, our communication. Start bragging.

Library culture is one of victimization, creating self-fulfilling prophecies of failure, but truth is that libraries are doing just fine, even as some libraries close, many other libraries have increased budgets. We have a doomsday culture right now. Why?

Karen Schneider — Changing the terms of how we succeed — Flickr was originally intended to be a gaming site by founders, but they looked at how the site was getting used and changed gears.

Stephen Abram — innovators vs. slugs … slugs are the ones with a long silver trail behind them

Joseph Janes — San Jose’s Second Life school might not work, but at least they’re *trying* it; public library in Arizona that dropped Dewey in favor of bookstore-like genre browsing has had zero complaints from users. Library community beats up on those who try new things without waiting to see how it turns out.

My impressions: The culture of librarians came up a lot in this debate. Our stereotypes, our self-perceptions, our obsession with the status quo. The panel members were terrific and dynamic and almost seemed to be calling for a sort of library revolution… but not quite. I can’t really put my finger on what exactly they were calling for, but it would be a change from what we have now, whatever it is. Change in many directions, from the way librarians negotiate to the structure of ALA itself. I think this is a conversation that needs to continue and develop into action, not just conversation. Do we, as librarians, already have a centralized place to continue this discussion? Perhaps our diffusion problem is as symptom of our fragmentation. But then, what form could this imaginary conversation venue take in order to accommodate the most librarians and the greatest diversity of librarians?