Interview with John Russell

John Russell is Scholarly Communications Librarian at the University of Oregon Libraries, which involves open access advocacy and scholarly publishing as well as digital scholarship services. He has been actively involved in digital humanities projects, primarily related to text encoding, and teaches a digital scholarship methods course as part of UO’s New Media and Culture graduate certificate program. John is teaching a course for us next month called Introduction to Digital Humanities for Librarians, and he agreed to do an interview to give people a better sense of what DH is in a library context, and what they can learn from his course.

Hi, John. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview.

Thank you, Rory, for letting me be a part of Library Juice Academy.

I’d like to start by asking the question that is on a lot of people’s minds, which is, what is digital humanities, exactly? I have learned a bit about it from a certain perspective, but I’d like to hear your take as someone who has been very involved in it.

Digital humanities (DH) is such a nebulous thing, to the point that for many people simply doing the humanities with computers in any fashion constitutes DH. I typically define the digital humanities as using computers to analyze humanistic objects, making humanistic objects machine readable, or using computers to make humanistic objects. However, a lot of DH people, whether they admit it or not, do public humanities, so even though I see digital humanities and public humanities as entangled but separate things, I’ll often include the latter as an important aspect of DH.

Could you elaborate a bit? Maybe you could describe a couple of exemplary DH projects that have been done?

I’m being a little vague because the first week of the course revolves around this very question and I don’t want to prejudice student responses too much. But a good example of what I’m talking about is Lev Manovich’s Selfiecity project – well, he’s the project coordinator, it’s the work of a number of people. Selfiecity is a sizeable sampling of selfies taken by people in different cities (Bangkok, Berlin, New York, Sao Paolo, and Moscow). The images were analyzed by software that estimated the position of the eyes, emotional expressions, and a few other things. By analyzing a large number of selfies, the group was able to identify patterns in the data (for example, Bangkok selfies are far more likely to involve smiling than selfies from Moscow). All of this would be hard for a researcher to do without the aid of a computer; certainly not impossible, but very time consuming. You can go to the site and read their conclusions, but you can also play around with their data. The project is designed to engage people, not just report out to them.

Is it generally true that DH projects are done by teams, with humanities scholars and technologists working together?

Digital humanities does involve a lot of collaborative work, to the point that one could say that collaboration is a core value for DH. Because DH work can involve a lot of different skills – web design, programming, project management, data management – working with others who possess different areas of expertise is essential for large projects. Take a project like the Walt Whitman Archive, which I see as a pretty exemplary project. The list of people who have worked on this project is so long because it’s been in process for a long time (since the late 1990s) and the whole enterprise depends on things like digitization, text encoding, web programming, and maintaining the server. All of that in addition to the intellectual labor involved in scholarly editing and putting all of this material in some kind of context. As many people will tell you, the data work (getting, cleaning, organizing) that is part of doing digital humanities is very time consuming and anything ambitious is going to require more than one person. Of course, there are any number of small scale/individual DH projects, especially graduate students working on their dissertations, so collaboration is not essential. However, even in the case of small projects, you often have less-formal collaborations because something isn’t working the way you need it to or you need someone to give you a push in the right direction.

The class you’re teaching for us is going to be a lot about how librarians can have a role in DH projects at their institutions, is that right? What are the roles for librarians on these project teams?

Librarians play a lot of roles in DH projects; at UO, the unit I’m in does digitization, metadata, web programming, and project management. Librarians also create digital humanities projects, so it’s not just about being partners – librarians are leaders, too. However, that’s not the sole focus of this class. The library literature on digital humanities tends to over-emphasize projects, but academic libraries are partners in the research *and* teaching mission of their respective institutions. Personally, I’m much more interested in how librarians can partner with teaching faculty to integrate DH into the classroom or how we can be involved in training faculty and students in DH tools and methods. Also, libraries have the data! What does it mean to think about our special collections as humanities data? How can libraries improve access to humanities resources that can support this kind of computer-heavy research? Librarians who may never work directly on a digital project or do DH-related instruction have a role to play and I’ve tried to set up the course to facilitate thinking about DH throughout the library.

That’s very exciting. I hadn’t thought about the teaching aspect. So, would you outline the class? What will it cover, and what can people expect to come away with?

The first week covers the question this interview started with: what are the digital humanities? That’s such a huge question, so I select a few readings that illustrate a broad range of approaches and just try to give students a taste of what kind of work is being done. That’s followed by a section where students learn to do basic text analysis, mapping, and text encoding, so that there’s some exposure to DH tools and methods. The second half of the course switches to focusing on libraries: what kinds of engagement with digital humanities has been going on in libraries? What’s missing from that engagement? We finish with the students working on a brief project that allows them to create something applicable to their library: a digital project, a collections policy, a research guide, an instruction session, planning for needs assessment, really anything they can come up with. My hope is that students aren’t just learning about digital humanities for the sake of knowing more about it, but are leaving the course with a real sense of how they and their libraries can participate in DH.

That sounds great. Now, next month is going to be the second time you’ve taught this class for us. What was your experience like the first time around and what did you learn from it?

Much of what I’ve said above about the relationship between DH and libraries comes from comments students made. I’ve long been uneasy about the narrative of “doing DH” in libraries, but hadn’t really put all of the pieces together. The way students pushed back against the readings helped me see how the story of DH and libraries has been constructed in our profession and what’s been missing from that story. But also how this narrative – very research and tech focused – makes some librarians feel excluded, or at least gives folks the sense that all of this digital stuff isn’t relevant to their career or their situation. So I learned a lot and, given the really great projects I saw, I think I was successful in getting students excited about how they can be involved in the digital humanities, too.

It sounds like you’ve taken an open-minded approach, and that has paid off. It sounds to me like what digital humanities is is something that is in flux, and that perhaps librarians can actually take part in shaping it as it changes, by taking part in ways that are new. Would you agree with that?

Yes, digital humanities is very much an open field and there are so many ways to contribute.

Well, I’m very glad that you’re teaching this course, to get people started.

You’re teaching this class because you were recommended by more than one person when I put a call out out to find someone to teach a class in DH. But I am wondering, if you could teach any other class that you wanted to, what would it be (or what would they be)?

Well, I’ve done a bunch of work to put together a Twitter Research Methods course that, because of work commitments, I won’t be able to teach this year, but I would like to offer it at some point. My start in libraries was in special collections and I still have a great interest in old books, so I’d love to teach a book history course again. I’ve actually thought about writing a book history textbook because there really aren’t good survey options. Media history or data history would also be fun. My history graduate work focused on French intellectuals and (even though I’d need to get back up to speed) I’d enjoy teaching something focused on Michel Foucault. I like teaching, so I’m always happy to do more of it.

Those sounds like great ideas. I hope to hear more from you about some of them at some point.

Thanks for doing this interview, and good luck with the course next month.

Thanks, Rory. I’m excited to be doing the course again!

Interview with Joe J. Marquez

Joe J. Marquez is the Web Services Librarian at Reed College in Portland, OR. He has presented and written on topics related to service design, website usability, IT implementation, and marketing of the library. His current research involves implementing a service design methodology in the library environment. He is teaching a class for Library Juice Academy in September, titled, Service Design: Towards a Holistic Assessment of Library Services. Joe kindly agreed to do an interview here, to give people a better idea of what they might learn in his course.

Hi Joe. Thanks for agreeing to this interview.

Hi Rory. Thanks for the opportunity.

I’d like to start by asking you to tell readers about the service design methodology. What is it?

Service design is a user-centered, holistic, and co-creative method for assessing services. In our case, we are looking at services offered and provided by libraries, but this methodology is used in the private sector as well. It is user-centered because we look at services from the user’s perspective. It is holistic because we focus on the context in which services occur, but also all the various elements that make up a service experience. It is co-creative because the research team works closely with actual users to understand and refine or create services. By working closely with actual users, we get a clearer insight into what works and what doesn’t work for users.

And while the title says “service” we don’t strictly look at person-to-person interactions or exchanges. We look at everything a library has to offer as a service. This could mean traditional services like reference or circulation, but also the library as place. The key to service design is to get a better understanding of user expectation and see where we can meet, exceed, or close the gap between current delivery of service and user expectation. By taking the user perspective, we really see the library as it is viewed and used by them.

So you’ve been implementing a service design methodology in your library. Can you tell people a bit about that experience?

Working with service design has been an eye-opening experience. If approached with an open mind, it allows us to get at student motivations and better understand user expectations and how they might refine or recreate services.

Our study has evolved over a two-year period. In our first year, we assembled and worked closely with a student working group (SWG). The SWG was comprised of seven students from different years and different majors. The reason behind this was to get a diverse group of user feedback. As students progress through Reed College, their demands on library resources changes, and we wanted to capture how different students use the library and its services. That first year was also a lot about planning as we, the Library User Experience Team (LUX), were still really learning and adapting the methodology to our environment. A strong point of service design is that it can be adapted to any environment.

That first year we held four meetings with the SWG. During those meetings, we had the students go through a few exercises that revealed how they use the library and its resources. We would also give them some “homework,” but the majority of that year’s meetings were focused on discussion around various topics. The discussion lead to deep insights into how students use the library, but also allowed the LUX team to better understand student motivations and got at the underlying culture of what it means to be a student at Reed College. Context plays an important role in the service design methodology because services don’t happen in a vacuum, but rather in tandem with other established resources and within service ecologies. As we understand the user in a specific context, we can then better understand how to refine or create new services that are suited for the user and a given environment or ecology.

During our second year we turned the tables a bit. Rather than going back to the SWG for additional feedback, we integrated them into the LUX team. We now wanted them to help us learn more about the insights we gathered that first year by having SWG members lead focus groups with other Reed students. The SWG members created an outline for focus groups as well as a list of questions and then ran focus groups. Due to time constraints, we were only able to hold two focus group meetings in year two. As we enter year three, we will hold additional focus group meetings and really begin the synthesis of feedback to formulate a recommendation for our College Librarian.

I was recently asked why the process takes so long. It is not that service design takes three years, but we have drawn it out since we are not working on this one project full time. I estimate that with the ability to focus more on the project, we would have been able to hold the various discussion meetings and focus groups in an 8-9 month time period or a single academic year. Again, service design is a very flexible methodology can be adapted for any environment and allow the research team to go as deep into gaining insights as they choose. To me, service design is more of a toolbox or framework and less about a step-by-step process.

So what will students come away with if they take your class? What does it cover?

We’ll cover foundational concepts (What is a service? How do users perceive services? What is systems thinking? What is service design?, etc) review service design activities, define the various phases of service design, learn tips for creating internal and external teams, and create a draft plan that could be used in the student’s own library.

There are hands-on activities to get students to be both a researcher and a participant. By performing the activities, students will be able to feel comfortable introducing them in their own library service design plan. The final project will be to create a draft plan for use in the student’s own library or work environment. One of the key parts to service design is asking the right question. By understanding what we want to learn more about, we can formulate a research question and work at getting feedback from users. As a group, we will help each other refine our research question and draft plan. I will also work with students to help them choose the right tool for a particular job. Students will come away with an understanding of service design and be more comfortable with using some of the tools (exercises) often used in service design. It may sound like a lot to cover in four weeks, but the content will get the students engaged and thinking differently about their own library.

So who would benefit from this course? Just library managers or others?

Library managers and others that hold decision making roles, definitely. But, it will also benefit those who are involved with any form of usability or user experience in their library, be they UX team members or chairing the usability team. I would even think that a traditional reference librarian or someone working in public or access services looking to improve their service point(s) might find very useful tips on how to improve their services and come away from the class with a different perspective on what a service is, how users perceive services, and how to improve to meet or exceed user expectation(s). The course does not require a background in understanding user experience or usability training. What I do ask is for students to have an open mind when approaching the material.

That sounds good. I want to thank you for sharing this info about your course. I hope it will be very successful, this first time and in future sessions.

Thank you. I am looking forward to this experience and sharing service design with others. I also look forward to learning as much from the students as I hope they learn from me.

Interview with Catelynne Sahadath

Catelynne Sahadath is the Head of Metadata Development at the University of Calgary, where she manages the cataloging section, where she was responsible for leading their transition from AACR2 to RDA in 2013. Catelynne has previously worked on cataloging and digitization projects for the Government of Canada, and her research focuses on change management in technical services and the impacts of cataloguing changes on public services. Catelynn is teaching a class for us next month, on AACR2 Legacy Practices, and a class in September titled, Introduction to Library Classification in Dewey and LC. She agreed to do an interview about these here.

Hi Catelynne… Thanks for doing this interview.

Hi Rory, thanks for having me!

I’d like to start by jumping right in to talk about the AACR2 Legacy Practices class. Could you summarize it?

Certainly. I’ve noticed that since the switch from AACR2 to RDA in libraries there’s been a kind of disconnect between those who have taken AACR2 in school and are now working in RDA, and those who only ever learned RDA. That second group of people tends to be folks who have learned to catalogue since 2013. It can be frustrating for them because AACR2 records still exist in large numbers, as well as hybrid AACR2+RDA records.

What this course is designed to do is to bridge that gap for anyone who has learned RDA in school or on the job, but who is still working in an environment where AACR2 and hybrid records are all around. By the end of it, students will be able to work more comfortably in that hybrid environment, and will be able to identify and upgrade records from AACR2 to RDA. They will also learn in which scenarios they should not upgrade AACR2 records to RDA, and how to add information to AACR2 records while maintaining standards properly.

Sounds like it fills a definite need. What are the kinds of things people in the situation you describe need to know about AACR2?

In a MARC environment, they will need to know which fixed fields to use in AACR2 and in hybrid records, as well as which ones to change when upgrading a record from AACR2. There are a lot of abbreviations and Latin terms in AACR2, which are not very intuitive. People in these situations will need to be able to translate those old terms and abbreviations into the more explicit language of RDA. Some MARC fields have changed between AACR2 and RDA, and it is important to know which fields these translate into.

Finally, there are certain elements of the work, expression, manifestation and item level data that folks in these situations will have to parse out. It is more intellectual and judgement based than simply translating and following standards, and that is where students of this course will have an edge. For example, learning to parse out entry points from data that would have previously been hidden away in a free text field, or optimizing physical item level data for non-standard formats that could otherwise remain unseen by most users. Library users certainly have a lot to gain from the proper treatment of these records.

That sounds very interesting and useful. I think it is clear from your description what kind of background knowledge is needed to benefit from the course. I’d like to switch gears a little to ask a more personal kind of question. How do you personally feel about RDA?

My opinion on this is simple: RDA is better for users, therefore it is better for libraries.

It makes room for the rich description of alternate formats that was never available in AACR2. It creates relationships between works, their creators, and their content that allows for serendipitous digital discovery, which is important in environments where physical browsing only offers a small slice of what is contained in an entire collection. It’s flexible enough to allow for the addition of formats that we can’t anticipate in the present.

There’s an uncomfortable learning curve for cataloguers with regard to the transition to RDA, but whenever I think about how awesome RDA records are for users in comparison to AACR2 records, it’s completely worth it.

I’d like to turn to the class in classification at this point. Will you describe that class?

Students who complete this class will be the go-to experts on call numbers in their places of work.

The classification class is going to get into the nitty gritty of creating call numbers. A well crafted call number is actually very tough to create, and if it’s done incorrectly it has a huge impact on users. On a practical level, this course is going to teach students how to create Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal Classification numbers using some open and some proprietary online tools. Most cataloguing courses go over the basics of how to create classification numbers, but this course will make students experts in it. It will go over how to create call numbers for traditional print books, as well as online resources, alternate formats, and other library oddities. At the end of the course, students will be able to catalogue the food in their fridges or the shampoo in their showers, if they feel so inclined. Students who complete this course will have the skills and confidence to serve as experts in call number creation in their library circles or places of work.

That sounds great. I’ve been wanting to add a course in classification for some time and I’m very glad you’re going to be doing it.

To kind of cap off this interview, I wonder if you could tell me, if you could teach any class for us that you could dream up, what would it be?

I would teach Radical Metadata! I don’t think people realize how controversial or political metadata and cataloguing can be, but it really is. It’s not just non-cataloguers who are unaware of this; I think there are a lot of folks working in metadata who don’t realize how much impact their work has on the representation of information for diverse and marginalized groups. I’d love to teach a course that presents metadata as a vehicle of social justice.

That sounds really cool! We should talk about that idea.

Thanks for doing this interview and telling us about your courses.

Thanks to you as well!

Interview with Megan Wacha

Megan Wacha is the Scholarly Communications Librarian at the City University of New York. Driven by the statement that Wikipedia is “the encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” she utilizes this open resource to teach information literacy skills and to make underrepresented groups more visible on Wikipedia. She has presented this work at conferences such as the LITA Forum, ALA Annual, WikiConference USA and Wikimania, the global Wikipedia conference. Megan is teaching a class for Library Juice Academy next month, titled, Wikipedia: Library Initiatives and Expert Editing. She agreed to do an interview here to give people a better idea of what they will learn from her class and a bit about her background for teaching it.

Hi Megan! Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed.

Hello! Thanks so much taking the time to talk with me.

I’d like to start by asking you to talk a bit about your experience working on Wikipedia and your motivation for doing so.

Of course! I started working with Wikipedia because I was interested in addressing the Wikipedia gender gap. a finding that between 84% and 91% of editors are men. At the time, I was a newly appointed research and instruction librarian at Barnard College, a small liberal arts college for women, so addressing issues related to women’s history and representation was central to the mission of the Library and the College. This was back in March 2012, a time when women’s access to health care was part of the conversations on campus, so a library colleague and I worked with the Barnard Center for Research on Women to organize a Wikipedia edit-a-thon about these issues. Once the date was set, we taught ourselves to edit, and to teach others to edit (yes, we really did it in that order!). The event was such a low-cost, high-impact way of working with our community, that I began organizing edit-a-thons each semester. Eventually, I also began to use Wikipedia as a site for instruction, partnering with faculty to develop course assignments in which students write Wikipedia articles rather than a traditional term paper.

Wikipedia is an incredible information resource, and the possibilities for libraries are endless!

So you have significant experience editing and teaching people to edit. I think you’re just the right person to teach a class on Wikipedia, which we’ve been wanting to offer for some time. The course you planned – why don’t you tell us about it?

My primary goal for this course is to empower librarians to lead a Wikipedia initiative at their institution, whether it’s a public library or private special collection. It can be intimidating to make that first edit, so this course will support students as they learn the basics of editing and the ins and outs of the Wikipedia community. We’ll also discuss a range of library initiatives that use Wikipedia, identifying what it might look like at our own institution or what we might do differently. There is a lot to cover, but we’ll build that knowledge together over the course of six weeks.

I strive to teach to who is in the room, virtual or otherwise. I’m eager to meet the students and to tackle their questions and interests together!

Sounds good. The course is six weeks in length. How is it structured over that time period?

Each week will address both the technical and social components to Wikipedia so that students will learn how libraries and librarians are engaging with Wikipedia while simultaneously learning how to edit. So, for instance, one week we’ll learn how to upload images to Wikimedia Commons while discussing how cultural heritage institutions are using Wikipedia to make their collections more discoverable. Another week we’ll learn about citations in Wikipedia while exploring how academic libraries use Wikipedia to teach information literacy skills. Content will come in the form of readings, class discussion, and brief videos.

So what will participants end up knowing or able to do at the end of the course?

Participants will leave the course empowered to edit Wikipedia, to engage with Wikipedians, and to articulate how the principles of Wikipedia (collaboration and openness being key) relate to the core values of librarianship. Participants are not required to publish in the main space of Wikipedia, but they will conduct edits in a Wikipedia sandbox as well as develop a plan for a Wikipedia initiative at their own institution. I see myself as a facilitator, and really look forward to meeting the participants and to supporting their goals for the course!

That sounds great. Thanks very much for doing this interview.

Thank you – It was a pleasure.

Interview with Maria Accardi

Maria T. Accardi is Associate Librarian and Coordinator of Instruction and Reference at Indiana University Southeast. She served as a co-editor of and contributor to Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods (Library Juice Press, 2010), and is the author of Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction (Library Juice Press, 2013), for which she received the ACRL Women and Gender Studies Section Award for Significant Achievement in Women and Gender Studies Librarianship. Maria’s research and practical interests include critical pedagogy, feminist pedagogy, the relationships between storytelling and teaching and learning, and combating library instruction burnout. She has taught two classes for Library Juice Academy thus far. They are: Changing Lives, Changing the World: Information Literacy and Critical Pedagogy; and Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction. She is preparing to teach a new course for us, which will be titled, Transforming Your Teaching Toolkit. Maria has agreed to do an interview here about her course and her experience teaching for Library Juice Academy.

Hi Maria, and thanks for agreeing to do this interview.

Thanks, Rory, for the opportunity.

I’d like to start by asking you to say just a few words about the courses you’ve taught for us previously and what it was like teaching them.

I’ve previously taught two courses multiple times: Changing Lives, Changing the World: Information Literacy and Critical Pedagogy, and Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction. Both courses were inspired by Library Juice Press book projects I’ve been involved with. I co-edited Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods (2010) with Emily Drabinski and Alana Kumbier, and then I wrote Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction, published in 2013. Those texts provided the general structural backbone for each course. Both courses were primarily concerned with the burgeoning critical information literacy/critical library instruction movement in academic librarianship. The Changing Lives course looks at critical pedagogy more broadly, while the feminist pedagogy course looks at approaches to library instruction more specifically through a feminist lens. Teaching these courses with Library Juice Academy has been incredibly rewarding and enriching, not just as a teacher, but as a librarian interacting with peers on topics that matter a lot to me.

Great to hear. Thank you for continuing to teach for us. The new class is different than the others, not being based on a book and being more of a workshop. Could you talk about the new course?

The new course was inspired by an activity that I’ve done in both of my previous courses. This activity involves participants submitting a lesson plan, along with any materials like worksheets or assessment ideas, for a library instruction session taught from a critical or feminist perspective. The lesson plan is discussed and critiqued on the discussion forum and I provide feedback and ideas as well. This activity always seems to go over very well, based on comments I’ve received from previous participants. In addition, I really enjoy this particular activity and I feel like my years of experience in library instruction, both as a teaching librarian and as the coordinator of an instruction program, provides me with an informed perspective on what has the potential to be successful in the classroom. I also think that instruction librarians don’t often have the chance to discuss their teaching materials with their peers in a constructive and supportive way. So, since I seem to have a knack for helping librarians think through their teaching plans and materials, and since people seem to really get a lot out of the experience, why not base a whole workshop-style course on that idea? That’s where I’m coming from with this new course.

I think it is a great idea and will be very useful to people. I think bringing in what you’ve learned from your prior teaching experience with LJA will be very helpful. Would you tell us a bit about how it has been teaching for LJA previously? What are some things that really worked and what are some things that were surprising?

Teaching for Library Juice Academy has been a sincerely delightful experience. LJA participants are interesting, hard-working, and smart people, and I love working with them. I’ve found that facilitating a safe space for productive and critical inquiry and exploration is a challenge that requires constant tweaking and reflection, but it is a genuine pleasure, because the payoffs are so rewarding. I work to create a environment that is supportive and flexible, and it has resulted in immensely enriching online discussion forums that I truly believe advance the knowledge of the participants, and, in turn, the knowledge of the profession in general.

Based on my prior teaching, I’ve learned that it helps to have a transparent structure and organization and a schedule, so that people know what to post on the discussion boards and when, but it also helps to allow a bit of creative ambiguity. In my feminist pedagogy class, I’ve been experimenting with the activities for the final week of the class, and I’ve tried providing options but ultimately leaving things open-ended. I think that open-endedness can feel a little anxiety-producing, but it also has immense potential for interesting things to happen.

I’ve been surprised and moved by how candidly participants engage with the readings and online conversations and activities. I’ve witnessed students allowing themselves to be vulnerable in the midst of a bunch of strangers, which is amazing and a privilege to observe.

That’s great! I am glad it has been such a positive experience for you and the participants. Thanks very much for the interview. Anything else you’d like to say?

I think that about covers it. Thanks for the chance to chat about teaching, and I look forward to interacting with LJA learners this summer!

Interview with Mandy Henk

Mandy Henk is a librarian at DePauw University, and was a law librarian at Vanderbilt before that. She specializes in access to physical materials, resource sharing, and personnel management. Her interests include social class and librarian/staff relationships, the development of international resource sharing systems, and copyright in the academy and the library. She recently published her first book, Ecology, Economy, Equity: Building the Carbon Neutral Library, with ALAEditions, which we interviewed her about in April. Mandy has a couple of classes with Library Juice Academy this summer. She recently taught Trends in Library Automation, and next month will be teaching Access Services – Keeping the Common. She agreed to do an interview with us about these classes.

Mandy, thanks for doing another interview.

Thanks for talking to me, I am always happy to have a chance to talk about Access Services.

I want to start by asking you to talk briefly about the class that’s coming up next month. Would you summarize it?

So the course is really a combination of a broad look at what Access Services Departments do and how they do them. So we will look closely at a number of libraries’ Access Services websites to get a sense of what different places include in Access Services and who this department serves. There is some variation across universities and I have tried to choose places for us to look at that reflect that variation. Beyond that, we will look at what it means to develop a workflow, how to sort out a best practice, what resources exist to help Access Services Librarians develop professionally, and, finally, some of the management challenges and ethical dilemmas that Access Services departments deal with on a daily basis.

Sounds boring. Kidding! It doesn’t sound boring, but I was a reference librarian, and people on the reference team where I worked were happy to let people on other teams do their thing, and we didn’t have much interest in learning about what they were doing. I always thought it would pay for people in different positions in a library to know about what is going on elsewhere, in order to better understand our own work in the larger context. But beyond that, why should people be interested in access services?

Because Access Services transactions (think circulation, reserves, interlibrary loan) represent the primary contact most patrons have with the library most of the time. Reference is great, I love doing reference and we certainly have a busy desk here. But when you look at transaction volume, for most patrons, Access Services is their most frequent and primary point of contact with the library. Getting that right, and that means everything from customer service skills to good workflows to good software choices, will have a far greater impact than almost anything else a library can do to ensure that patrons are well served.

It is important to understand. Do you agree that there is a lot of practical benefit in understanding what different units are doing? That is, do you think that learning about access services can help a reference librarian or a technical services librarian or a systems librarian understand their own job better? And if so, how? Maybe you can think of some examples.

Absolutely. Knowing how each unit functions is really important for each librarian to understand the larger picture. As a general rule, understanding the big picture is important and Access Services is a huge part of the big picture in any circulating library.

But, it is also important on a day to day level. For example, reference librarians need to have a very detailed understanding of the policies of the Access Services department so that they can help patrons navigate though them effectively. How long do holds last? How do you put something on reserve? What are the overdue policies? Can you a given patron recall a book and what is the process for initiating that recall? Beyond that though there is also a need to know basic Access Services workflows to understand what various catalog/discovery layer statuses mean, what kinds of material can be accessed via interlibrary loan, and how long the material takes to arrive.

For the systems and technical services librarians, they should understand things like how to best coordinate with Access Services on new book workflows, including holds, how to handle it when a portion of the collection needs recataloging, whether or not their method of recording price is working for the folks who have to collect payment from patrons for lost books.

Systems librarians and Access Services librarians probably have to work together more closely than any other two librarians in a given library because these days Access Services are almost completely automated. So, working together on managing updates, designing workflows that don’t create either software or service problems, and most of all, making sure that Access Services software is working properly. Even with cloud-based systems, sometimes things go wrong and having a systems librarian working closely with the access services librarian can be invaluable in troubleshooting and getting things fixed. Oh, and roles and permissions in the ILS also tend to fall in the systems librarian category. And that can be a huge issue for access services departments that rely on a large student labor pool.

Thanks for that. I think that shows some of the range of topics that you will get into in class discussion. I’d like to turn now to the other course, the one that you are in the middle of teaching now, Trends in Library Automation. Would you like to say a bit about that course?

Of course! I really like this one because it focuses on what I think is one of the most important transitions that libraries are currently undergoing–the move from traditional client-server ILS’s to web scale cloud based systems. It’s a change that is smaller than the initial automation process, but probably the next biggest change after the change to GUI that libraries and their patrons have had to adapt to so far. I also believe that, for working librarians, especially those not in reference, the ILS/Library Services Platform is by far the most important software product we work with. We need to know how they work and how they differ from our current product. At the same time, understanding the market for ILS/Library Services Platforms and the range of products available–along with the ethical issues surrounding them, can only help librarians as they walk through this transition in their own libraries.

I will say too that part of the class involves students looking very closely at their relationship with their current ILS. What do they love about it? What do they hate? What have they never been able to actually implement etc. So that part should help librarians to really think deeply about what their library needs from one of these products. For most of us outside of reference, knowing our ILS and being able to get what we need from it is a huge patron service issue and also a huge quality of worklife issue. Migration is not only an enormous expense, it is also blood sweat and tears. Going into it informed and knowledgeable about what your library needs is important to the success of the migration.

That sounds like a very timely course, and it sounds like it’s going well. How do you like teaching for Library Juice Academy?

I enjoy it, but I will say getting used to the asynchronous nature of online courses is hard. It requires lots of working without feedback and that can be a bit stressful. I also miss seeing my students’ faces. I think at the end of the day courses like this do require more trust between students and between instructor and students. Since we can’t see each other, I have to do more to encourage feedback than I would in person. I have gone out of my way to ensure that students will feel comfortable asking if they have a question or don’t understand something. I can’t rely on just looking at them to sense confusion like I can in the classroom.

I will say that I really like Moodle. As an LMS/CMS I have been working with it for years, but mostly from a manager or librarian role. I find it is easy to use, but complex enough that it can do everything I need it to do. I have been experimenting a bit with using lessons, labels, and assignments to try and create a visually engaging course that gives students interesting material to work with.

Oh, and I also tried my hand at making videos for the first time ever with the Trends in Library Automation course. Part of learning about library automation is understanding where we came from. I was not able to find any freely available readings on that subject that I liked, so I did an interview with the most senior librarian in my library. He has 31 years of experience working closely with ILS’s and now a Library Services Platform and I think his perspective is good to hear for those of us who don’t quite have his depth of experience. Perspective is invaluable and he did a great job providing it.

Overall, I am enjoying the mix of pushing myself in new directions and sharing content and conversation that I think is very important and certainly close to my day to day work experience.

I’m glad it’s going well. This is quite a different interview than the one we did about your book, much more nuts-and-bolts librarian skills oriented, like our courses in general. I wonder, thinking about both, do you have any fantasy courses that you would want to teach if you could teach anything for Library Juice Academy?

You know, honestly, it would be a circulation focused class. And a “Making Your Reserves Collection Popular” class. Oh, and a class on managing staff with a social justice focus, which is a huge part of doing Access Services well. I know that ILL and Reference and pretty much everything else in the library world is considered cooler and sexier than circ and reserves, but, as I said before, these are the services your patrons have the most contact with–make them good and you help to ensure that your library will be well loved and strong. And strong libraries is what we all want for ourselves and for each other.

Thanks. I think that’s a good way to conclude the interview. Thanks for doing it. It’s been great talking to you.

Oh thank you! I enjoyed it as well.

Library Juice Academy Makes $1,000 EveryLibrary Fundraising Challenge

Post on March 5, 2015 by John Chrastka

EveryLibrary today announces a new “Monthly Donor Challenge” from Library Juice Academy, a noted provider of professional development workshops and training for librarians. Library Juice Academy is pledging a $1,000 donation to EveryLibrary when 25 personal donors contribute at least $10 each month as reoccurring donors before March 16th. Donations can be made at to support our work with library Vote YES committees across the country in 2015.

Library Juice Academy is donating to help EveryLibrary expand its voter support for libraries. “Libraries exist today because of progressive tax policies that fund the common good”, says Rory Litwin, founder of Library Juice Academy. “We are donating to EveryLibrary because it is uniquely focused on supporting libraries when their basic tax revenue is on the line. We’re challenging personal donors to make a commitment and help fund this work.”

Since early 2013, EveryLibrary has worked with 25 libraries on the ballot, winning 19 campaigns and securing over $46 million in bond, levy, parcel tax, and other referendum campaigns. John Chrastka, EveryLibrary executive director, says, “This Challenge is a great way to work cooperatively to reach our funding goals. For every donor dollar we have invested in campaigns, we’ve returned $1600 to local communities in stable library funding. We appreciate Mr. Litwin’s this call-to-action about our pro-bono work across the country.”

The Library Juice Academy Challenge runs March 9 – 16, 2015. Personal donors are asked to make reoccurring contributions of at least $10/month through to help EveryLibrary meet this Challenge.

About Library Juice Academy:

Library Juice Academy offers a range of online professional development workshops for librarians and other library staff, focusing on practical topics to build the skills that librarians need as their jobs evolve.

About EveryLibrary:

EveryLibrary is a politically active organization that is supported by contributions from individuals, corporations, and unions nationwide who believe that libraries matter in our society. You can learn more about EveryLibrary and its work building voter support for libraries at

Library Juice Academy Makes $1,000 EveryLibrary Fundraising Challenge

Contact:John Chrastka
Executive Director

4 March 2015

Interview with Andrea Baer

Andrea Baer is the Undergraduate Education Librarian at Indiana University-Bloomington. She holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Washington and a Masters in Information Sciences from the University of Tennessee. Andrea’s work in libraries and education is deeply informed by her teaching background in writing and literature and by her interests in critical pedagogy and critical inquiry.

Andrea has designed and taught three different courses for Library Juice Academy thus far. They are: Information Literacy, Composition Studies and Higher Order Thinking; New Directions in Information Literacy: Growing Our Teaching Practices; and Backward Design for Information Literacy Instruction. We interviewed her about her background and about a couple of these classes last summer.

Right now Andrea is getting ready to teach a new class, Threshold Concepts in the Information Literacy Classroom: Translating the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy into Our Teaching Practices. If you’re an instruction librarian in the U.S., you know that this class is very timely. Andrea agreed to be interviewed about this class to give you an idea of what it covers and what you could expect to get out of it.

Andrea, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I’d like to start by asking you say a few words about the new Framework in order to lay out the context for the class. Most readers have probably followed this development to some degree, but I feel we should cover it briefly here.

Thanks for the interview, Rory. The new ACRL Framework has been a significant topic of discussion in each of the Library Juice classes I teach, and it’s been very clear from those classes that many librarians are thinking a great deal about what the Framework means for their own teaching practices and that many would like more opportunities to reflect more on the practical applications of the Framework.

In short, the Framework has been in development since 2013 and was just approved by the ACRL Board at the 2015 ACRL Midwinter Meeting. Though the task force that developed the Framework initially recommended that it replace the ACRL Information Literacy Standards, the Board ultimately ruled that for the time being the two documents will co-exist and that the Framework will be a “living” document open for revision. This decision comes after a great deal of heated discussion about the Framework and the Standards.

The development of the Framework came as a response to arguments that the ACRL Standards (adopted in 2000), while having been instrumental in establishing information literacy as essential to higher education, had become outdated. In June 2012 the ACRL board approved the recommendation that the Standards be revised, and a Task Force was formed to create the new Framework. The Task Force developed and solicited feedback on three versions of the Framework. Unsurprising, there were strong reactions to the Task Force’s plan to sunset the Standards, which have been key to many academic libraries instruction programs and which have helped many to gain support for information literacy education as an institutional priority.

Common critiques of the older Standards have been that they focus heavily on skills while giving too little attention to conceptual understandings, the social and recursive nature of research, and students as producers of information. Many have also argued that changes in digital technologies, knowledge production, and scholarly communication have led to a need for re-envisioning how our profession conceives of information literacy. The Framework, in contrast, centers on “threshold concepts” (conceptual understandings that are considered to be initially difficult to grasp but essential to engaging critically in a discipline). Each of these threshold concepts is associated in the Framework with specific “knowledge practices” and “dispositions.”

While many librarians have welcomed the Framework’s emphasis on information literacy as a complex range of integrated skills, most have understandably struggled with how to translate this into our teaching practices (particularly when most library instruction still takes place through the traditional “one-shot” session). Another common concern has been the challenges the Framework presents to assessing student learning. This class is intended as an opportunity for participants to grapple with such concerns while also developing at least one concrete instruction plan that relates to the Framework. Participants are invited to think critically about the Framework in light of the specific contexts in which they work while they share ideas and feedback on their instructional approaches.

Thanks for that explanation. The course runs for six weeks. How is it structured?

Throughout the course participants will reflect on their understandings of and potential applications of the Framework. At the same time each person will develop and receive peer feedback on an instruction plan that relates to some aspect of the Framework. Like the other Library Juice classes I’ve taught, the course draws heavily on principles of backward instructional design (considering learning outcomes and potential evidence of student learning before planning instruction). Within this broader course structure, we’ll engage with themes and issues that emerge from our conversations.

Each week is focused on a particular course theme and on related course readings, discussions, and assignments. First we’ll discuss our understandings of and questions and concerns about the Framework. Participants will then identify a teaching scenario they’d like to work with over the coming weeks and will incrementally build and get feedback on their related instruction plan.

That sounds good. I think of you as one of the strongest teachers we have. I wonder if you could say a few words about your experiences in teaching your other courses for us?

Thank you. To me the most exciting part of these classes is the sense of community that develops as people draw connections between pedagogical theories and their actual teaching. In our everyday work we generally don’t get enough time to come together and to think deliberately about our instruction. These courses hopefully create more of those opportunities.

Most class participants come from different institutions. This seems to help everyone gain new perspectives on how we approach both our individual and our collective work. At the same time, sometimes several librarians from the same institution take a course together. In those cases, it’s been fun to see how these groups work together on larger departmental goals.

I think there’s a creativity and a playfulness that often comes with these kinds of interactions among colleagues. Those experiences open the possibilities for our teaching and our profession.

That’s good to hear. I am glad the courses have been working well. Thanks again for teaching them and thanks for the interview.

Thanks for the conversation, Rory. It’s been a pleasure.

Interview with Melissa Robinson

Melissa S. Robinson is the Senior Branch Librarian at the Peabody Institute Library’s West Branch in Peabody, Massachusetts. She is teaching a class for Library Juice Academy in April, titled Library Makerspaces: From Dream to Reality. Melissa agreed to do an interview here to tell us about her course on this hot topic.

Melissa, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I’d like to start by asking you to say a little bit about yourself and what your experience with makerspaces is.

Thanks, Rory! I’ve been fascinated by digital media spaces and makerspaces since I first came across the Chicago Public Library’s YouMedia program for teens. At the time, I was a teen librarian and loved the possibilities spaces like these have for teens. I spent over two years researching media labs and makerspaces and writing grants and planning a makerspace at the Peabody Institute Library in Peabody, Massachusetts. The more I learned, the more I became convinced that makerspaces have enormous potential for libraries and communities and they can offer benefits to people of all ages, not just teens. The makerspace that came out of my research and grant writing is the Creativity Lab at the Peabody Institute Library, which opened in February of 2014. It’s a 1,500 square foot space that provides tools and learning opportunities for children, teens and adults in making digital and physical projects such as 3D printing, computer programming, woodworking, sewing, sound recording, electronics and more.

That sounds cool. So now you are going to share what you’ve learned. Can you outline the course for us? It’s a four-week class. What will you cover and what activities will you do?

I love talking about makerspaces with other librarians, so this is a great opportunity for me to do that.

The course will lead students through the process of creating a “plan” for a makerspace or maker activities for their library. This plan will include a mission statement for the makerspace/program, a justification for why maker activities are needed in the community, a list of partners, funding sources, space requirements, tools, programs and workshops and a budget. This plan can be used to convince administrators, community partners and funders of the need for a makerspace in the library.

Students will participate in course discussions, research existing makerspaces in libraries and other organizations, brainstorm programs, learn about the most popular makerspace tools and use this information to tailor their makerspace plan to their community.

Sounds like a good way to do it. So what are some of the more interesting things that have come from your library’s makerspace? Any surprises? How has it worked out?

People have made some really great stuff! Beautiful baby quilts and really fun original music, but some of my favorites are the items people have created on the 3D printers. They’ve done everything from birdhouses to planters to cell phone covers. One of my favorites was done by a teenage boy who “printed” a pink rose with a green stem for his mom for Mother’s Day. I’m always impressed, but not surprised, by our community members’ creativity. We’re getting great feedback from people who are excited and impressed at this new type of library service that’s fun, different and really valuable. So I think it’s worked out great! It was totally worth all the work it took to get it started!

And your bosses and funders are pleased?

Absolutely. Our library director has been a big fan of the project all along and she has loved seeing it come to life. Our funders are impressed with our program statistics and the feedback we’re getting from our makers. We received an Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners to fund part of the Creativity Lab, and they are excited about the potential it has to serve as a model for other libraries. I think one of the exciting potential benefits of library makerspaces is that it can show a different side of libraries that can attract new partners and open new funding opportunities up to use.

Well that’s really cool. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience with us. I hope it turns out to be very useful for the people who participate in the class and that it helps a lot of makerspace projects get started. Anything else you’d like to say to people?

And thanks for taking the time to interview me, Rory! Makerspaces can be a daunting project to take on, but when you see the results and the excitement it can create in your community, you’ll be glad you did it! I hope that the lessons I’ve learned through the process of starting the Creativity Lab can help other librarians discover all the possibilities makerspaces have.

Server upgraded

Our users may be pleased to know that we’ve just done a server upgrade. We’ve been challenged recently to accommodate increased traffic, but now we should be good. In case you’re curious, here is what we are now running:

Intel Xeon processors, two of them
Both running at 3.1 GHz
4GB memory
8MB cache
300GB disk space
Running linux and apache

This should hold us over for a while…