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.

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