Visiting DeVry Decatur Library and the Robert Woodruff Library at Atlanta University Center

I went to Atlanta to see my family two weeks ago and while there I was able to visit the director of library services at DeVry Atlanta Metro, Tiia Kunnapas. I’d met Ms. Kunnapas while waiting for the airport shuttle at the end of this year’s American Library Association meeting.  Ms. Kunnapas was kind enough to set up a tour for me of her own library at the DeVry campus at Decatur as well as a tour of the Robert W. Woodruff library at the Atlanta University Center, which serves four historically black institutions: Spelman and Morehouse colleges, Clark University, and the Interdenominational Theological Center.

Ms. Kunnapas, Pam Bamberg (Lindsay’s mom!), Lindsay, and Mrs. Daniel at the Robert Woodruff Library. Photograph taken by Mr. Oscar Daniel.

Both Ms. Kunnapas and her colleague, Jacquelyn Daniel at the Woodruff Library, gave inspiring accounts of their experiences as academic librarians. For Ms. Kunnapas, her position as Director of Library Services at DeVry Atlanta Metro, which she has held for four months, was her first time with the job title that clearly marked a leadership position. Nonetheless, in her previous positions, she prepared herself to lead by jumping at the chance to do anything and everything, getting a taste of reference and circulation, acquisitions, instruction, budgeting, management, and access services. She believes these highly varied experiences put her in a much better position to manage a library where she is the only full-time trained librarian–and therefore the “jack of all trades”! Ms. Kunnapas is full of energy and ideas, and wants to transform the way the DeVry Atlanta instructors perceive information literacy skills and the library’s role in improving them.

Ms. Kunnapas is proposing a for-credit course that will lay the foundations of research for the many students who enter DeVry. Ms. Kunnapas showed me a fifteen minute Power Point presentation that serves as her “elevator speech” to instructors, showing them the vast array of resources the library can provide for their students as well as the practical analytical skills needed to assess information. She carries this presentation on a flash drive with her everywhere and takes every possible opportunity to talk to instructors about coming to their classrooms to do an instructional session.

As a “solo librarian,” Ms. Kunnapas was adamant about the need to show your value, to be connected with the rest of the organization and be a part of whatever their latest initiatives are. She is campaigning to revamp the library’s image as a place that is the heart of the academic community. I have no doubt that Ms. Kunnapas is on the right track, following the needs of both the students and the instructors, and trying to gain buy-in for a much broader vision of information literacy skills.

At the Woodruff library, Mrs. Jacquelyn Daniel showed us around their beautifully renovated space. Mrs. Daniel is a reference librarian for the social work and psychology subject areas, as well as the liaison librarian for students and faculty at Clark Atlanta University. She does reference, instruction, some acquisitions, and outreach in her role.

The new space features amphitheater-style seating near the front entryway, suitable for lectures or events, the 360 degree “Echo” room for instruction that allows the instructor and class to be taped for later consultation by students, audio/visual editing studios, presentation practice rooms, and small group meeting rooms that feature TeamSpot collaborative software. Furniture in the new space is easily moveable and can be reconfigured for a variety of group or individual needs. Whimsical light fixtures make the space feel modern and fresh; art and sculpture can be found throughout the library, cleverly combining gallery space with functional spaces. A large casual seating area near a Starbucks was filled with natural light –even though our visit was during the relatively-slow summer term, several students were studying and relaxing there.

I am so thankful to Ms. Kunnapas and Mrs. Daniel for showing me their wonderful libraries and letting me get a glimpse of the working lives of academic librarians!

Thoughts on Applying Collins’s Good to Great and the Social Sectors to Libraries

Here are some thoughts on how Jim Collins’s Good to Great and the Social Sectors could be applied to the library world. I highly recommend this little monograph–it can be read in an hour, but the ideas will keep your mind whirling long after!

Not having read many management or leadership books in the past, Collins’s monograph was eye-opening for me. I keep hearing very different things from the library world: on the one hand are those who insist libraries should be run like businesses, with far greater accountability and assessment of their effectiveness. On the other, are those who believe that librarians can’t follow a business model; by their mission as educational institutions, libraries are bound to serve each of their patrons equally. Collins offers a way to bring these two perspectives together in my mind.

The financial structure of a public or academic library is very different from that of a typical business, and so are the power structures. “…[S]ocial sector leaders face a complex and diffuse power map,” Collins points out, explaining, “In legislative leadership… no individual leader—not even the nominal chief executive—has enough structural power to make the most important decisions by himself or herself. Legislative leadership relies more upon persuasion, political currency, and shared interests to create the conditions for the right decisions to happen”  (Collins, 2005, p. 10-11). I understood this immediately—achieving something in a legislative organization requires much more patience and persuasiveness.

From my own experience, I have learned that bureaucracies don’t move quickly—even good ideas that are universally agreed upon have to go through layers of committees and approvals that can slow progress dramatically or stall a project altogether. I like Collins’s assessment, “Social sector organizations increasingly look to business for leadership models and talent, yet I suspect we will find more true leadership in the social sectors than in the business sector…Indeed, perhaps tomorrow’s great business leaders will come from the social sectors, not the other way around” (Collins, 2005, p. 12-13). It does seem sometimes that if a leader can achieve something while working with a board or committee, he or she has done so with much greater diplomacy and persuasiveness than a CEO who declares that “it shall be so” and simply waits for his/her employees to make it happen. I particularly loved Collins’s anecdote of the CEO who tried being a Dean and found “a thousand points of no” among the many faculty under his jurisdiction (Collins, 2005, p. 10).

I also very much connected with Collins’s idea that non-profit and social sector institutions need to develop their own metrics, distinct from the kinds of data for-profit businesses rely on. It seems clear to me that if the measures of success are not in alignment with the mission of the organization or with what employees are really doing every day, a great deal of discord and confusion follows. I know that creating meaningful metrics is an area that libraries, especially academic libraries are really struggling with. How do you measure the indirect benefit of a professor using the library resources to produce a published work? Or the increase in a student’s performance thanks to a quiet study space outside of their apartment? Circulation statistics and gate counts can be basic indicators, I think, but they only scratch the surface of what is really happening at a library. New analytics from websites, records from chat sessions, and usage logs from databases could have interesting implications—perhaps offering new ways to learn about the information seeking behavior of users by asking—how many articles are being downloaded? How long does a user spend reading an e-book? And so on. I like Collins’s point, “What matters is not finding the perfect indicator, but settling upon a consistent and intelligent method of assessing your output results, and then tracking your trajectory with rigor” (Collins, 2005, p. 8).

While I was at this year’s ALA conference in Anaheim, I attended a session on the LibValue Library Assessment project, an IMLS funded project with half-a-dozen or so research projects at universities around the country, all centered around finding appropriate measures of an academic library’s value. Some of the projects attempted to determine a kind of return on investment figure, another tried to assess how much value users assign to e-books. Bruce Kingma at Syracuse University used the economics concept of contingent valuation to ask library users how much they would pay to replace access to library resources if the library was magically taken away. Students and faculty reported how much time they would spend finding replacements for those resources and how much they would spend to pay for them. Kingma applied the values reported from his sample respondents to the total number of students and faculty at the entire university. Using this method, Kingma estimates that Syracuse faculty place the economic value of library resources at $32.6 million and students at $37.6 million, compared with the library’s actual budget of $17 million (Kingma, 2012).  This seemed like a very interesting way to try to make business-data meaningful in a social sector context, but I am not sure how well it would work for other institutions. Related to this problem of assessing library’s value, I would be interested to learn more about what the Library Research Service is doing to find meaningful library metrics that can be used to compare institutions across the country.

Collins recounts the story of Roger Briggs, a Boulder school teacher who found a way to get the “right people on the bus” and create an exceptional science department, without having a great deal of authority (Collins, 2005, p. 13-14). Briggs used emergent leadership (or, could we say, embedded leadership?) to make a difference, using what influence he had. It probably didn’t hurt that Briggs is one of the rock climbers who pioneered some of the most famous first ascents of routes in Eldorado Springs Canyon. I can imagine that the discipline and persistence he used to push climbing to new (forgive me) heights, helped him greatly when facing faculty challenges in the Boulder Valley School system.

Baby African Pygmy Hedgehog, photo by Adam Foster, used under Creative Commons license.

I liked the idea of the Hedgehog Concept very much, too. I think it could even be applied to an individual’s outlook on life or career decision-making. Briefly, the concept is: “Focus on what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be best in the world at, and what drives your resources engine” (Collins, 2005, p. 19). When it all comes down to it, these are the three questions that really matter, ‘What are you good at, what makes you happy, and how can you support yourself?’ For libraries, understanding the resource engine as being distinct from just monetary funding seems key. Understanding that volunteers can be a key part of a small library’s day to day operations could represent a valuable attitude shift between the “haves” and “have nots.”

I also liked the Center for the Homeless anecdote, which explains why an organization decided not to go after federal funding, despite being eligible for it, because it didn’t fit with their model of connecting people in their community to each other (Collins, 2005, p. 22). It is clear to me that many libraries are facing similar challenges. When a wealthy donor offers to support the library through a bequest that has strings attached, it can be tempting to take the offer, even if doing so leads the library further from its mission.

Finally, Collins’s use of the Stockdale Paradox seems to apply particularly to libraries: “You must retain faith that you can prevail to greatness in the end, while retaining the discipline to confront the brutal facts of your current reality. What can you do today to create a pocket of greatness, despite the brutal facts of your environment?” (2005, p. 30). Before starting the MLIS program, I talked to as many librarians as would agree to speak with me. I wanted to know about their perspective on the field, where they thought libraries were headed, and advice on how best to prepare myself for a library job. All of the librarians I spoke with were extremely helpful, yet a few of them were frustrated within their organizations and with the budget situations in their libraries. I wonder if things would have been different for these people if their organizations had leaders who were honest about challenges, but willing to say, “we will do what we can with what we have today” and still strive for something excellent. I like Collins’s last words, “Every institution has its unique set of irrational and difficult constraints, yet some make a leap while others facing the same environmental challenges do not” (2005, p. 31). Naturally, it sounds more fun to be the former!

Citations:

Collins, J. (2005). Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why business is not the answer: A monograph to accompany Good to Great. Boulder, CO: Jim Collins.

Kingma, B. (2012). LIBValue: Valuing the academic library [Powerpoint slides]. Retrieved from http://libvalue.cci.utk.edu/sites/default/files/KingmaLibValueALAMidwinterJan2012.pdf

My First American Library Association Conference: Lessons Learned

I’ve just returned from my first American Library Association Annual conference. I had a wonderful time and met many lovely people.

While I heeded the advice to wear comfortable shoes, there were a few things I wish I would have known!

  • Dress warmly for the air conditioning in the convention center. A light sweater is not enough. Long underwear might be acceptable.

    The beautiful, and freezing, Anaheim Convention Center, location of many of the conference sessions and vats of ice water…
  • Bring a notepad or notebook that will fold over on itself rather than a fancy portfolio that opens flat. When you are squished in between people in a session, they may glare at you if your stuff spreads onto their laps.
  • Don’t go to the opening of the Exhibit Hall. Those mild and friendly-looking librarians may stampede when the Exhibit doors open. Also, it is unwise to get between anyone and the free canvas bags from Baker and Taylor with cats on them.

All kidding aside, here are some highlights from the sessions and panels I attended and some of the great ideas I heard:

  • The Unconference- the Marketing and Programming discussion tables yielded some great ideas for increasing the visibility of your library and its programs. My favorite: a bike outreach cruiser that goes around to local festivals and farmer’s markets promoting the library and signing people up for library cards. Pima County Library is already doing this. Could I have this job, please?
  • Keynote speech- Consent of the Networked author, Rebecca McKinnon, gave a sobering talk on ways governments and corporations are undermining internet privacy and censoring free speech in the U.S. and around the world. McKinnon has a great TED talk if you want a taste of her thought-provoking research.
  • LibValue and Academic Library Assessment- some wonderful research projects are going on around the country, funded by IMLS and headed up by Dr. Carol Tenopir of University of Tennessee and Bruce Kingma of Syracuse University. The projects will help establish new ways of measuring the value of academic libraries, including Return On Investment measures and use of the contingent valuation method.

    This lovely table surrounded by flowers looks so inviting, doesn’t it? This first-time attendee was too busy to smell the flowers, though! “How do I catch the shuttle for the Disneyland Hotel in time for my next session??”
  • ACRL 101- Great information about how to get involved with ACRL divisions, committees, and interest groups. Did you know there is a ‘List of Lists‘ for all of the ALA-affiliated listservs? Thanks to Lindsay Sarin for pointing this out!
  • ACRL New Members Discussion Group- This panel discussed the “Other Duties as Required” in your job description, including pros and cons of working in areas that are not part of your “essential duties” and the perspective of library leadership, who often need flexibility among staff to help cover shortages and reduced budgets.
  • Diversity and Outreach Fair and Bookmobile Parade- Great poster presentations by a variety of information professionals:

    A display of the 2012 Coretta Scott King Book Award finalists at the Diversity and Outreach Fair.
  • Joel Nichols, representing Philadelphia Free Library’s new Techmobile (provided for by the BTOP grant)
  • San Diego County Library’s beautiful custom-built bookmobile that travels thousands of miles each month. If I could live in one of these, I think I would.

Finally, a huge thanks to Elliot Mandel and John Amundsen at the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services and to Don Wood at the ALA Student-to-Staff program for allowing me and 39 other LIS Students to attend this year’s Annual conference!

Do you have tips for me on attending future conferences? Were there great ideas that you heard about at ALA? Please share your thoughts!

Every Lego-lover’s dream! The awesome Lego store at Downtown Disney.

User Needs Assessments–Woohoo!

I really enjoyed 2 of this week’s articles in particular, “Designing a music digital library: discovering what people really want” and “The people in digital libraries: multifaceted approaches to assessing needs and impact.” I like that both articles had a practical, real-world focus when examining prototypes of digital libraries and trying to analyze what users are really looking for.

By examining a popular music forum website and comparing it to the Meldex digital music library, the authors of the first article discovered elements of the user component that the Meldex digital library didn’t offer: interaction and information exchanges with other music fans. I thought it was especially interesting that the Meldex system offered a search-by-humming feature that users were not taking advantage of, and that the authors found many users preferred to browse or ask other people when trying to track down a particular song.

In the second article, the needs assessments for the three prototype digital libraries also revealed some interesting themes. The second case study featured, the Baltimore Learning Community, revealed that teachers really didn’t have the time to invest in creating and sustaining the digital library. The third case discussing user needs assessments for the National Digital Library project also showed gaps between what media-specialists and teachers thought would be most useful for them. I think this just goes to show that while DL designers and creators may think they are filling a need for a particular user group, confirming this with a wide variety of potential users in the community can save a lot of time and money!

I loved the quote from the “People in digital libraries” article, “An inherent limitation in directly assessing the human needs for an innovation is the fact that potential users must imagine what the innovation can and will do for them. This is very difficult to do and innovators often justify adopting a “build it and they will come” policy based on their own imaginations of needs and applications” (Marchioni, et al).

My takeaway from these two articles was that DL designers need to balance “build it and they will come” with a thorough understanding of what users really say they need and want.

Evaluating Digital Collections

After this week’s course readings by the DELOS Working Group, Ying Zhang, Tefko Saracevic, and the NISO Framework, I am excited to learn more about Nielsen’s heuristic evaluation methods and start evaluating a few collections.

After examining resources and background information for this week’s Information Package, the idea of defining digital library criteria in a way that many researchers can agree on and, more importantly, specifying how those criteria will be measured or assessed, seems to be the biggest challenge.

The Information Retrieval aspect of digital libraries is relatively well established, but the User-Centered approach is filled with criteria that, until now, have been seen as largely subjective.

Some of the criteria discussed in Zhang’s article, “Developing a holistic model for digital library evaluation,” such as “ease of use,” “courtesy,” and “attractiveness” could vary enormously among individuals.

How can researchers ensure, when discussing these concepts with users, librarians, or designers, that everyone is talking about the same thing?

Perhaps detailed surveys with numerical rating systems (such as a 1-5 scale) and a definition of each criteria before each question would be one way to begin to define these criteria more narrowly.

More Digital Library Challenges: Preservation and Standardization

In my first discussion post, I touched on some questions I have regarding the maintenance of digital libraries—specifically who is trained to maintain them or migrate them as technology evolves.

In this week’s readings, Suleman and Fox (2001) write, “Most DLs are intended to be quick solutions to urgent community needs—so not much thought goes into planning for future redeployment of the systems.” This is understandable given how exciting new technologies can be—every organization wants to have a flashy webpage and start putting content on the web. Yet as we are quickly discovering, electronic formats do not necessarily mean an item is preserved! You could even argue that in some cases it takes more man-hours to care for digital items that it does for low-tech books and periodicals, since electronic items need to be migrated and webpages can disappear after a few years.

A prime example of this: in reading the articles for our week 3 Info Package project, I wanted to check out some supplementary material the author, Ying Zhang refers to in her article “Developing a Holistic Model for Digital Library Evaluation.” The links to this supplementary material no longer work, however, though the article was only published in 2010.

The technologies behind building a digital library are fairly similar, but as we can see from Pyrounakis and Nikolaidou’s article, “Comparing Open Source Digital Library Software,” there are still some significant differences among DL software systems, especially at the conceptual level of how they allow an “object” or “item” to be constructed and defined. These differences seem to indicate that standardization has not yet been agreed upon in this still-young field.

One reason for this, as the “DELOS Manifesto” points out, is that the various disciplines contributing to or using DLs have varying perspectives on what they want from a DL, tinged by the perspectives in their particular discipline. This isn’t a bad thing—but it does make creating standardization across the field more challenging.

Finally, a little plug for our student ASIS&T group: this past week’s Tech Bytes talk was given by Beth Tillinghast of the University of Hawaii-Manoa, whose digital repository uses DSpace. You can view the recording of her talk here: https://connect.du.edu/p1eotaye4xb/ .

References:

Candela, L., Castelli, D., Pagano, P. & Thanos, C. (2007). Setting the Foundations of Digital Libraries. D-Lib Magazine 13(3/4).

Pyrounakis, G. & Nikolaidou, M. (2009) Comparing Open Source Digital Library Software. Handbook of Research on Digital Libraries: Design, Development and Impact. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

Suleman, H. & Fox, E. A. (2001). A framework for building open digital libraries. D-Lib Magazine, 7(12).

Maintenance of Digital Collections, or “I built this awesome digital library…Bye!”

Now that I have read some of the introductory material in How to Build a Digital Library for LIS 4804: Digital Objects and Collections, I am really excited about all of the potential applications digital libraries could have—there are so many useful bits of information, audio recordings, videos, etc. that could be made available to the public. Particularly at the level of local communities, you could have a digital library of chamber of commerce meetings, or media snippets about your organization, or a digital library of kids’ performances at a particular elementary school. There are so many possible applications.

But this begs the question—who is going to take care of all of this? I can see a lot of useful applications that are separate from library contexts. It’s easy to imagine a motivated person setting up a digital library for a non-profit or school and then no one else knows how to update or maintain the system. This happens pretty regularly for websites—and we can all attest to how frustrating it is when you encounter an outdated “shell” of a website.

I have been brainstorming some possible uses for the digital library project we will create for LIS 4804. But a lot of the ideas I have for useful, practical projects mean we students would either have to continue to update the library for free, or teach someone how to maintain the digital library.

Here are the ideas for our final project that I have had so far:

Create a digital video library for the ASIS&T@DU recordings of TechBytes talks. The videos from TechBytes are currently posted on the club’s Portfolio page, but as more talks are recorded, it would help to have them better organized and preserved! Here’s what it looks like now: https://portfolio.du.edu/pc/editport?page=3&uid=23174

Create an online collection for DU’s Anthropology Museum. The museum website has a couple of little things online right now: http://www.du.edu/ahss/schools/anthropology/museum/onlineinfo.html but there is no comprehensive way to look at pictures of the holdings. I toured the museum’s back room a few months ago and they have some incredible fabric and ceramic pieces. It would probably be too much to try to post something for each item (they have thousands of artifacts), but I think it would be possible to build a digital collection of artifacts from a particular donor or field project.

Create a library for the DU Creative Commons Flikr stream. Take a look at it here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uofdenver. These are photos submitted by study abroad students or taken by students in photography classes or working for University Communications. Almost all of the photos can be freely distributed and many campus organizations use them for their websites and social media sites. They are not very well organized, though!

Create a digital collection of some holdings from the Cable Center or the Lamont music library. Does the music library have video or audio of student performances?

It seems to me that for larger projects, like institutional repositories, automation would be essential to a successful digital library, especially as the project grows in popularity. For smaller digital libraries, there needs to be easy documentation for others to maintain, add, delete, and update the library. There might need to be several people with administrative privileges to be able to make changes and updates. But the system would need to be easy enough that a well-meaning “admin” doesn’t accidentally break it.

I am very curious to see what the Omeka experience is like. If a completed library could be as easy to update or maintain as Google Sites, or Weebly, it would be a huge step forward for small, understaffed organizations!

Let me know what you think!