Library day (week) in the life: technology, communication, collaboration, and engagement

This blog entry is part of the Library Day in the Life Project coordinated by Bobbi Newman. I thought of four themes to emphasize about my week to help readers understand what a job in an academic library might be like: technology, communication, collaboration, and engagement.

Technology

Institutional Repositories

VTechWorks, an institutional repository, was recently started at Virginia Tech.  An institutional repository is designed to be the place where the university stores, preserves, and provides access to digital files related to its mission.  These files can include academic papers by professors, images of campus through the years, student projects, and videos of events.

We made some minor changes to the way that VTechWorks appears; a facelift of sorts.

VTechWorks before the change

Before

VTechWorks after the change

After

The changes are mostly cosmetic; some people may even prefer the old version.  So why change at all?

 

  • The visual elements have been changed to look like Ensemble, Virginia Tech’s Content Management System.  This visual correspondence will help to link the system to the university, which may encourage use.
  • The system (and half of the team that is responsible for it) is new.  This update provides practice and understanding of how to maintain the system.

On Friday, an iPad 2 became available for checkout from the library, and I found a few problems with the new interface.  I’ll correct these, because the iPad is becoming popular, but at this time we’re not targeting other mobile devices, such as phones, for VTechworks.  There is very little access of academic materials through mobile devices, even when mobile interfaces are available.

Blogging

I took an introductory course on blogging this week, which resulted in this new blog.

Accessibility

I want to learn more about web accessibility for disabled users. This should be a core knowledge area for people who work on web applications, and there are applicable laws, but I’ve not been able to focus on this area. I was encouraged by a co-worker to visit the assistive technologies department on campus for training and information. In the mean time, I ran an auditing tool against a large system that I have been working on and found about 80 accessibility problems, which I am now correcting.

Future directions

The Digital Library and Archives department spent some time thinking about and preparing for future projects. We spent some time setting up technology infrastructure that will help us with new projects. We also had a meeting with the dean of libraries, who gave us some encouragement and contacts to start looking into systems for hosting research data. Nobody knows how these systems should work yet. They are very new, bleeding edge, and I’d like to help make them.

Communication

The meeting with the dean was enjoyable.  He is enthusiastic about our mission. He never demands that we do anything a certain way, but he gives direction and good advice, and helps us find contacts and resources to get started on projects.

I should mention that the meeting with the dean was one of nine meetings that I had this week, not including the two that I missed because of conflicts. That’s actually a very light load for an academic librarian.

A staple of librarian communication is the meeting. This is important to know for people who come to Libraryland from other occupations where meetings happen less often; perhaps most occupations.

In prior jobs, I worked in software development in non-library organizations. For an exercise in ethnography, view the instant classic “Shit Programmers Say”

My hunch is that for the typical computer programmer, about two meetings per month is ideal; one meeting related to a primary project, and another meeting with workers on other projects. I believe that the typical librarian would prefer to have two meetings per day, at minimum.

I point out this seemingly mundane aspect of librarianship so that new librarians who are less fond of meetings will be substantially prepared to avoid seizure when they encounter the following scenario:

A meeting has been scheduled some time in advance. A week before the meeting, someone realizes that things have changed and there is no longer anything to talk about during the meeting. Instead of canceling the upcoming meeting, one of the librarians schedules ANOTHER MEETING to discuss possible topics for the meeting.  Other librarians think this is a great idea and rush to accept the invitation.

This is not a rare scenario; it’s likely to happen many times during the course of a library career.  Many librarians do love meetings. They are places to share information, and librarians were information freaks even before the information age. Sharing information is an important part of the librarian ethos; they do it as part of their job, they do it to show professional respect for others, and sometimes they do it to express affection in their own personal relationships. Don’t underestimate the importance of meetings in librarian communications. If you travel to a library conference and ask librarians about communications at their workplace, eventually you’ll encounter at least one librarian who spends two-thirds of a typical work week in meetings, but wishes that communication was better and will suggest more meetings as a solution.

I’ve learned some skills for coping with the meeting-heavy environment by observing colleagues, but will save them for another post.  For now, embrace the meetings!  They are opportunities for collaboration.

Collaboration

In academic libraries, collaboration is enormously important. We collaborate across departments. We collaborate with instructors and other libraries to make purchasing decisions. We collaborate with students to design library spaces and training classes.  We collaborate with anyone we can whenever we can, because libraries are changing and searching for their new roles. (And you may have guessed that people who work in libraries often like to help others).

Computer Science Seniors

This week we worked out projects with two groups of computer science students who are enrolled in a capstone course in digital media.

  • Create a solution for providing access to a collection of music recitals by securely integrating streaming audio with VTechWorks, our institutional repository
  • Design a better interface for VTechWorks. (That’s right, we hope to throw away the interface that we just put in, before the end of the year)

I’m excited to be a client for the students. It will give them “soft skills” experience in working with challenging people, and our department will benefit from their work.

 Autistic Authors Project

I saw the film Wretches and Jabberers this week. It’s about two severely autistic men who have learned to communicate through typing. The men travel around the world to educate people about autism, and to provide support to other autistic people. Some of the people that they meet also communicate by typing, and have become very skilled writers.

One touching moment in the film occurs when Tracy is typing to a Buddhist monk. He tells the monk that he feels he has no purpose in life.  When the monk explains that everyone sets their own purpose in life, Tracy decides that his purpose will be to provide education and outreach that will help others like himself.

We can help, too! Libraries collect things, and redistribute them, especially written things!  I’d like to work with some groups on campus and in the community to collect creative writings by autistic people, and then display them appropriately.  I feel that this will help correct wrong perceptions about autism; everyone has a rich inner world.

I’m not completely confident about the idea, though.  There may be a similar effort elsewhere. Also, I’m not sure if it’s somehow exploitative or insulting, saying “hey, look!  these people are so different but they are doing amazing things!”.  We should expect that we can be amazed by anyone, at any time.

Engagement

Community Engagement

Engagement is important at Virginia Tech University Libraries.  We have an Associate Dean of Learning and Outreach that works with people across campus to make sure that the library has the facilities and services that students need to succeed.  We also have an Event and Community Relations Coordinator who is always finding ways that the library can help people across the university, in town, and throughout the region.  She is currently compiling a list of library staff involved in community service to show how we exemplify the university motto, Ut Prosim, which I am told means “that I may serve.”

Personal Engagement

In addition to being engaged in the community by virtue of being a Hokie, I am fortunate to feel personally engaged. I realized this on Thursday after my active day stretched out past fifteen hours, twelve of which were solid work hours. I walked home under the clear sky, past the munching horses and the flowing creek feeling refreshed, instead of tired, and it’s because I enjoy what I do.

These days are not required and not common for me, but it’s not uncommon for people who work in libraries to work hard. I often hear that my colleagues have been in over the weekend.  At another library, I’ve witnessed a librarian lead meetings, teach information literacy classes, host an event at a carnival style open house, work shifts at the reference desk, design a tour for a new building, and lead tours of an old building in the same week – and these are just the things that I saw. Sometimes long hours may be required because of special circumstances, but when people are good their jobs, I tend to assume that they feel personally engaged by the work.

That’s how I feel now. Engaged.

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