Welcoming myself back

It’s been over two years since my last post here. I doubt that anyone really noticed, but I’ve been thinking constantly about how to find the time and motivation to start writing again. It’s not for lack of things to write about, that’s for sure.

Two years ago, I was beginning work on the next phase of a website redesign project for our library, developing a content strategy that would align all the of the units across the library and emphasize how everything we do supports student learning. My mentor and one of our most active librarians decided to retire, which was heartbreaking for me. Things seemed a little bit up-in-the-air in the library as we felt our way into new roles and positions under the leadership of a new Dean. I had been asked to take on the position of interim systems librarian by our previous Director, but was feeling very unclear about what that meant and what I should do in that role.

I won’t lie: the last two years have been challenging. Over that time period two more librarians retired and three departed for other positions. Sonoma State also welcomed a new president and executive cabinet in the summer of 2016, and there have been a lot of changes on campus. It’s not unusual to see turnover when leadership changes, but I felt like I was losing some of my closest friends (we’re a very tight-knit little team here). Not to mention the work overload that resulted for the remaining six of us. The 2016-17 academic year was like a particularly grueling marathon, but I’m remarkably proud of all the things that we accomplished.

Over the last year my primary responsibility shifted (yet again), and I’ve been the project manager for our migration to a new integrated library system, Ex Libris’s Alma. Our entire library consortium (all 23 campuses in the California State University system) is migrating to this shared platform, so it’s been a massive undertaking. We are launching in less than two weeks, and I’m so excited to see all of our hard work come to fruition. And a little anxious, because change is hard, and managing change is hard, and all I can do is hope that I did enough to prepare people and make it a smooth and relatively painless transition for everyone.

Once we’re live, I think my role is shifting again (I think it’s changed a little bit every single year I’ve been here). We haven’t determined exactly what it will be yet. I’ll be moving back into more of a metadata-centered role, which I’m excited about. But I’m not enthused about giving up my web services role, either, because I had to abandon several projects mid-stream in order to take on project management of our migration. I’d like the opportunity to wrap them up before moving on. But we’ll see.

The 2017-18 year promises to be a little less painful as we’ll be bringing a few new librarians on board. I’m thinking a lot about how I can support the new librarians and build a strong team as the faculty chair. My new role, whatever it might be, also involves being the work lead for a bigger staff team (we’re not allowed to call it managing), so I’ve been doing some reading and learning to develop stronger management skills.

One thing I can say about the last two years is that, in the midst of the chaos and anxiety and frustration, I have gone through some significant learning experiences and sharpened my own sense of myself as a librarian, about the role of librarians in higher education, about the role of higher education itself, and about leadership. I have a lot of thoughts and ideas about all of these things, and I’m re-committing to spending more time writing about them. So I hope it won’t be another two years before I make an appearance here again.

Library Websites: Assessing the Problems

When I first came to the SSU University Library, the number one thing I heard from people across the Library was that the website needed to be redesigned. It was hard to navigate, no one could find anything, it took too many clicks to get to what you wanted. I knew without a doubt that this was the first thing I needed to do. Of course, I didn’t want to jump in blind. I needed to know more specifically what the problems were, so I undertook a pretty extensive assessment of the existing website and of how people felt about it.

I decided to start with our Library Faculty and Staff for two reasons. First, I wanted to get a sense not only for how people perceived the existing website, but also for how they perceived the Library in general, what they thought our primary objective is, and what they thought we should be accomplishing with our website. Second, honestly, Library faculty and staff use the website more often than anyone else. We have a distinct set of needs from the website, and a unique perspective.

I created a really basic Google form to gather feedback from within the Library. I asked the following questions, with plenty of space for answers:

In your opinion, what is the main purpose of the Library website?
What is most important in the Library in general? Our collections? Our services? Our study spaces? Something else?
What do you most frequently use the Library website for?
What is your favorite part of the Library website?
What would make the Library website better?
What else should I know about the Library website?

I made the survey completely anonymous, because I wanted people to feel free to share their honest opinions. I got feedback from 13 out of 32 people in the library (40 percent). In the same period that this survey ran, I ended up having informal conversations with a lot of people addressing these same questions, although I have no way of knowing if they are the same people who filled out the survey or not.

The feedback I got from our people was insightful and thoughtful. People took the time to really think about what I was asking, and it was useful for me, as someone very new to the Library, to hear how people think about what we do. I think it was also a good opportunity for me to demonstrate that what staff and faculty think is important to me.

The one thing I would change if I created the survey again would be the second question, about the important things in the Library in general. I would probably remove the suggestions at the end of the question. I think this guided thinking more than I wanted to; I’d initially been concerned that people wouldn’t understand what I meant when I said “in general,” but I think that was a needless worry, and it would have been interesting to see how people interpreted that question.

Of course, our users are also important to me. I thought a lot about the best ways to survey our students, and I decided to start with what I called the Five-Second Survey. In retrospect, my technological limitations didn’t allow this to work quite as well as I think it could have, but I still found the insight I gained from it valuable.

The Five-Second Survey consisted of two questions that popped up on the library website when a user exited the site. The questions were “Why did you visit the Library website?” and “Were you successful?” We ran the survey for three weeks and received 162 responses. Based on an analysis of the responses, we determined that up to 151 of those who responded were using the site to access library resources.

I tried to set the survey to pop up randomly, so it wouldn’t happen every time a user left the site, but I don’t think that worked very well. I also should have tried to set a cookie so that if a user saw the pop up one day, they perhaps wouldn’t see it again until a few days later. Another flaw in this method is that often our users were leaving our website to search a database, so they were really only at the beginning of their research/library experience. I got a lot of answers like, “I haven’t been successful yet because I just got started.” My favorite response came from someone who wrote that s/he hadn’t been successful yet but knew s/he would be because, as s/he wrote, “I and this library website are awesome.”

However, I found many of the responses provided good insight into how our students think about their use of the library website, the research process, and the content they were unable to find or were dissatisfied with.

We used several other methods for assessing our library website and our students; these were the two I started with to get a quick picture of where we stood. In my next post, I’ll talk about the Design Your Library series of events I put on with our Instruction and Assessment Librarian to try to engage students and get their feedback on a variety of aspects of the Library and our services.

Creating a Web Project Plan

Working on web projects in a library can be a lot different from traditional corporate, agency-led web projects. In libraries we’re usually working with a fraction of the technical staff: often only one or two people to play the roles of project manager, designer, user experience expert, programmer, information architect, content strategist, and more. As in any organization, our colleagues are invested in the website and have ideas about what they’d like to see there. But web staff in the library don’t get to take on the role of outside experts, the way a team from an agency does, so it might be harder to convince others to follow our lead, to recognize our expertise.

One thing I’ve found that’s infinitely valuable in this situation is to share a project plan with colleagues before starting work on any web project. A project plan will give others a sense of timeline and most importantly, a sense of scope. Defining from the outset what you are and are not including in a particular web project can make a lot of difference in how people give feedback and respond to the work you’re doing.

What does a project plan look like? There are a lot of things a project plan can include. Some components may be more or less important in your specific library. In general you want to include information related to

  • A statement that defines the project. What are the reasons for undertaking it and what are the objectives you’d like to attain?
  • Some information about stakeholders, and who as the authority to make what decisions.
  • Detailed notes on scope: What is included in the project, and what is not included.
  • Milestones: Breaking a project up into milestones can make it easier for people to understand the process, and feel confident about what you and you’re team (if you’re lucky) are doing.
  • Timelines: These can help layout your expectations, but you should probably make it clear that they are tentative and subject to change, at least at this stage
  • Team roles, if you have a team, or impact on library staff

You can see the project plan I created for our website revamp project at this link: Website Project Plan Example

There are a lot of things that changed about our timeline and our particular milestones as we worked on the project, but this broad overview document gave everyone a sense at the beginning of the process of what I was planning on doing and when. Having this document gave me something to come back to when I started to feel that things were shifting. It reminded me of what we were doing and why, and helped me stay on track. And it made my colleagues feel involved in the project, and like they understood what we were doing.

The next step that undertook was to do some user assessment, of both our students and faculty and our library staff and librarians. In my next post I’ll talk about my user assessment plan and the different methods we used to get feedback.

Planning a Website Re-Vamp, Part I

Before I started working in the Sonoma State University Library, I knew re-designing the Library website was going to be a priority. Everyone made it clear to me during the interview process that they weren’t happy with the site and that it had historically been one of the bigger challenges in the Library. Fixing the website was one of the Library’s strategic directions for the coming year and was the first task they had in mind for me when I started in September 2013.

So how did I take on that task? What did we do and what are we planning to do? I’m going to share my answers to those questions here in a series of blog posts. I’m happy with the approach that we took and I hope that my experience might be useful to some of you, especially if you’re in the position of managing a website without a ton of web experience in your skill set. I’m going to share the steps I took, the documents and reports I put together, the tools I used, and my techniques for overcoming some of the bigger challenges, which, as I’m sure you know, are rarely technical and are more about building shared understanding and meeting people’s needs. I don’t pretend that I did this perfectly, and I hope you can learn from my mistakes as well as my successes. I hope I can learn from my mistakes, too; in fact, part of writing this is so that I can take a step back and see where I might have done things differently.

Creating a useful website for a Library is a different beast from creating a business website. We have unique goals and priorities that don’t center around “conversions,” “subscribers,” “sales,” and all the other business terms that are usually used in writing about the web. I want to write something that will help other people who aren’t in traditional for-profit institutions to translate some of the business-speak so that it works for them and their Library and education-centered needs.

We are by no means finished with our “website redesign,” and in truth we probably never will be. Creating a useful website is a process that involves a lot of trial and error, tweaking and changing things as we go to better meet the needs of our patrons. We called the first phase of the project a Website Re-Vamp rather than a Redesign because we didn’t touch on the design portion of the site in this phase. I wanted people to understand that it was a small, first-pass project, a spruce instead of a remodel.

People had two main issues with the site that were laid out in the strategic directions, after hiring a Web Services Librarian (a.k.a., me): they wanted to reduce the number of clicks and reduce the number of silos on the site. Reducing the number of clicks it takes to get to useful information is a common goal. People have come to think that the more “clicks” a user needs to make, the worse a site is. One of the things I wanted to help people understand is that it isn’t necessarily the number of clicks that are the problem, it’s whether those clicks are taking them closer to their goal or making them feel frustrated. It’s quality not quantity, man.

The silos issue is harder to deal with. If you’ve worked in a library, you know all about the silos problem. So much of our content comes from different places and is stored in different digital homes. We have databases and catalogs and digital collections, we have metadata that don’t play well together, and we’ve made only baby steps toward bringing our content together in one easily searchable place. It’s hard to manage and difficult for our users to understand. This problem isn’t one we could solve with a website redesign, but we can make an effort to help people better understand our content and how to find it.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to walk through phase I of our project, which started in October 2013 and wrapped up in August 2014, just in time for the Fall semester to start. Some of the things we did include user testing, surveying, and card sorting, implementing version control, redesigning our information architecture, and redesigning the homepage.

Next week I’ll share the Project Scope document I created for our faculty and staff, and talk about how we decided on the scope of the project and how we communicated about what we were planning.

Why I Changed My Mind About e-Books

When I first got a Kindle in December of 2010, I was so excited. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to buy a book and be able to start reading it instantly. And e-books were cheaper! I can’t resist a good bargain. Not to mention that that Kindle made travel far less of a back-breaking endeavor. I thought it was brilliant.

I read a lot of books on my Kindle over the next few years. I occasionally checked them out from my public library, although the selection was limited, the good stuff always had a long hold list, and a few times I wasn’t able to finish the book before it disappeared. I bought plenty of books, and found services that sent advanced reader’s copies of not-quite-published books for free. But in the last year my feelings about e-books have been souring.

The first thing to start making me a little fidgety is the whole ownership question. I knew that I didn’t actually own any of my Kindle e-books from the beginning, but I allowed myself to ignore the issue. But I hate the fact that I can’t legally lend an e-book to a friend, and that even under the rare circumstance that it’s “allowed” it’s for brief periods of time determined by the software, not by the reader or book owner. And I brindled at the terms that forbid me to migrate my books into a different format and read them on a different device. I hate being told what I can and can’t do.

Then I saw a few notifications that a book I’d previously purchased had been “updated.” Updated? I looked to see whether an errata had been added to the book, but none of the changes were obvious. As someone who cares about the integrity of the written record, this is unsettling. I know it reeks of paranoia, but I have images of history books and political works being altered to reflect majority opinions, or at least the opinions of the strongest shareholders.

Over time, I also started hating the intangibility of my digital library. I never felt that I had a sense of what books were part of my collection. I couldn’t remember buying things that were there, and worse, I often couldn’t remember reading them.

This has been the final nail in the coffin of e-books. My retention of digital material is much, much worse. For me, the first indicator of this was the realization that I didn’t have a physical sense of where a particular idea, phrase, or scene was in the book I was reading. When I read on paper, I can often recall where on the page something occurred, which makes it much easier to go back to it, and also makes that idea more real and concrete somehow. The physicality of reading a print book makes its content more solid in my mind. Ferris Jabr wrote about this over a year ago in Scientific American, saying “When we read, we construct a mental representation of the text in which meaning is anchored to structure.”

Jabr’s article points to many studies that have been done showing that reading a physical book is better for reading comprehension and retention, and nothing but my own anecdotal experience has proved that for me.

In the Library where I work, we’ve been building our e-book collection rapidly. In general, the default format for purchasing books at this point is to purchase them digitally. While there are many positive aspects of this for our collection and for the Library, I can’t say that I believe this is the best choice for our students. Several people have claimed that our students prefer them, but we have no evidence of this. And I’m not sure we should let students’ desire for convenience trump their learning experience. I’m a big meanie like that.

I never thought I’d be the person to take up arms for the print book, but the more I learn about learning and the act of reading, the more I want to fight for our print collection. And while my husband may sigh in distress about the size of my personal library, I know that for myself, I’ll be buying a lot fewer e-books in the future.

One Year In

Hello, internet. I’ve missed you. Holy moly but it’s been a long time since I’ve had any kind of regular presence in blog-land. I’m not really sure how to account for that, other than to say that I’ve been busy. But aren’t we all?

I’m a little over a year into my job as the Web Services Librarian at Sonoma State and I’m happy to say that I still love it. It is hands down the most demanding, engaging job I’ve ever had. I don’t know that I’ve ever found myself bored at work, and I’ve never had a job about which I could say that. I might have shared that here before, but it still kind of amazes me. What it also means is that I’m actually mentally tired when I get home from work (in a good way), and I often feel like I don’t have a whole lot of energy for other things, like blogging or sewing or cooking. My work feels kind of all-consuming, again, in a good way.

So after one year in, what have I managed to accomplish? The biggest thing I did this year was to take stock of the existing SSU Library website and make some big changes to the underlying information architecture and content organization. I feel like this year was all about laying the foundation for the continued growth and increasing usefulness of the Library website.

I also took a seat on the University’s Academic Senate, participated in a couple of search committees, took on the role of marketing coordinator for the Library, and became the Library liaison to the Computer Science, Engineering, and Math departments. I’ll be teaching my first Engineering info lit class later this month, about which I’m both excited and nervous.

There are a lot of things that went into all the work I did last year that I really do want to write in more detail about. And I’m also excited about all the things that are coming up this year. The biggest thing is that the University is finally adopting a content management system for the web sites.

All of the campus sites are currently manually created and maintained with basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. We in the Library are also lucky enough to have access to a server with PHP and MySQL installed so we can do a few more slightly fancier things than other campus departments. It’ll be a huge leap forward for us to move to a CMS, and it also means there are some governance, infrastructure, and management things that need to be decided between the Library and IT. The Library has always had its own server infrastructure, and I’d really like to keep it that way so that we can continue to do the work we need to do without being tied to the timelines of the under-resourced campus IT department. So far it’s been a bigger diplomatic struggle than I anticipated, and I am definitely having to practice a lot of patience and compromise, which aren’t always my greatest strengths.

I’m also working to craft an effective content strategy for the Library website, which is tied to a bigger marketing strategy for the Library overall. I think we struggle sometimes with putting forward the right content at the right time for the right audiences. We just put ALL THE INFORMATION on the website without being strategic or thoughtful about how we’re crafting our messages. I will just say that changing this practice is going to be an uphill battle. It has proven really hard to make people understand the role of the website and the content we put up there. So I want to amass a lot of data and information to help me argue for the changes that I think we need to make.

And I really want to make it a regular practice to come back to writing in this space. I haven’t been writing very much at all, and I think it makes such a big difference in how I process and work through what I’m doing. I’d also really like to share some of the things I’ve learned so far, and the things I’m sure I’ll continue to learn. I feel like this past year has been a HUGE learning experience, although I can’t think of a single year in my life that hasn’t been.

And in non-work and non-Libary related things, this weekend is my husband’s and my first anniversary. It’s hard to believe it was only one year ago that our friends and family were descending on Oakland for what was the most fun party of my entire life. I almost wish we could do it all again.

A Week in the Life of a Web Services Librarian: Day Four

I managed to drag myself out for another run this morning. I’ve been running at least twice a week for about six weeks now and I thought it would get easier over time. Instead, it seems like it’s getting harder. What’s up with that?

8:30: Arrived at work and managed to accomplish one task right off the bat: I installed a captcha plug-in on our News and Events blog. We’ve been getting deluged by spam comments ever since our website soft launch, so I’m hoping this captcha stops the madness.

8:45: Brief conversation with a colleague, who stopped by my office on her way in. She wanted to show me the new Derek Jeter Nike commercial, and some how we ended up talking about feminism in Disney films and how children subvert gender roles in their play. I’m still not totally sure how we got from Derek Jeter to Frozen, but it was a fun digression.

9:15: Email and prioritizing of the To Do list

9:45: Went out the Juvenile collection and looked through the non-fiction books to see where we have gaps, what needs to be weeded, and what needs to be replaced. There are some eye-popping doozies out there. My favorite was book called “Indian Costumes” published in the 1960s. That has to go.

11:00: I finally buckled down and started working on the big, ugly problem I’ve been avoiding all week. I’m trying to install and configure an open source space use assessment tool from NCSU and have been running into some configuration problems. The developers have been amazing about responding to my questions really quickly. I feel like I’m so close to figuring this out. There’s definitely some kind of connection problem between the application and the database, and it’s making me a little bit crazy.

1:00: Met with our public services and assessment librarians to talk about how we want to use the tool I can’t install. It would have been way better if I’d been able to figure out my problem before the meeting, but at least we talked a little bit more about what it is we really want to be able to assess.

1:45: I got an email back from the developer, and sent him some of the information he wanted. Then headed outside for a walk and a snack. Must walk away from computer.

2:00: Spent a little more time browsing through the Juvenile collection to see what we should replace.

3:00: Back at the computer, banging on this app. Still no luck figuring out what’s wrong. It seems like it’s not connecting to the database, but I can’t figure out why not. Grrrr. Computers!!!!

3:45: Spent a little time brainstorming about our marketing retreat next Friday, coming up with concrete goals of what we want to take away from the day.

4:30: Time to head home. I’m debating whether to take the full day off tomorrow: I’m already taking a half day and going to a bachelorette party over the weekend. I could do the few tasks that I want to get done from home tomorrow morning. It would be nice to have a leisurely morning. I’ll have to sleep on it…

A Week in the Life of a Web Services Librarian: Day Three

8:30: Arrived at work after another sweaty walk. I’m a little baffled by the fact that it’s actually kind of cool out, but I still get to work and am a sweaty mess. I managed to get a lot checked off my To Do list right away, though: Emailed tech services staff to talk about a global link update that needs to happen in the catalog, sent out an email to University Affairs to publicize our single sign-on changes, and finished up the meeting minutes from yesterday’s Faculty meeting. I also managed to add three more things to my To Do list in the same amount of time. It’s an endless cycle.

9:15: Found some documentation about changes we have to make to ILLiad to enable single sign-on for ILL, in preparation for a meeting this afternoon. Doesn’t look like it should be difficult. Famous last words.

9:30: Updated our collection scope notes for Computer Science, Engineering, and Math. I might not know what studying analog electronics or microprocessors or pure math MEANS, but I know they do it here. I had a brief moment of thinking, “Maybe being a math major would have been kind of cool,” then I looked at the courses required and my eyes went all buggy the way they used to when I had to do math and I laughed at myself. Computer Science maybe I could have pulled off as an undergraduate but math? No way. I’m majorly impressed by anyone who studies math.

9:45: Way too much time getting sucked into email, following random links, and losing track of time.

10:30: Talked to our marketing assistant about a few of the signs and fliers we’re going to need at the beginning of the semester. We want to create some kind of visual icon for all of our banned books events this fall, and we also need some new signs explaining the new scanning feature on our copiers. It’s nice to have someone else who can take a crack at this stuff first…

11:00: Meeting with my web services staff person. We try to check in with each other once a week. I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be a work lead (not technically a manager), how to delegate appropriately, and how to let go of things I’m used to doing all on my own.

11:40: I’m clearly procrastinating because the next thing on my To Do list is kind of hard. I’m feeling distracted, and there are about a million thoughts going through my mind at once, which makes it awfully hard to buckle down and work on the hard thing. Maybe I need to take a walk? Get some tea? Procrastinator…

12:00: Aha! I was reminded by my colleague that today is lunch time knitting day! I’m very slowly working on a cardigan, my first ever non-scarf, non-basic rectangle knitting project. One of our lunch time knitting cohort is practically a professional knitter, and she always offers us newbies tons of help, which is one of the reasons I love lunch time knitting. It’s also nice to just have an hour to sit and chat about things that are not related to the library (or gossip about things that are, as the case may be…)

1:00: Quick meeting with our public services librarian about setting up single sign-on authentication for ILLiad, just to pin down what we still need to know and what steps we have to take to start down this road.

1:20: Email check: I feel like I’m drowning in email this week. Usually I’m pretty good at keeping close to Inbox Zero, but it feels like a never-ending flow right now.

1:30: Now it’s time for tea…or better yet, coffee.

1:45: I’m realizing that today is best suited for smaller tasks that have a recognizable finish point. Deciding to push the hard, intangible, complicated problem off for now and focus on things that can be reliably and quickly pushed off the To Do list. Next up: making some changes to the directory structure of the website, and updating a few links.

2:00: Met with Special Collections to talk content strategy and what our next steps should be to make the site super awesome. I’m feeling a lot better about our work on this particular section of the site than I was, oh, a month ago.

3:00: Public Services meeting, which usually consists of updates about what’s going on in the library. It’s always interesting for me to go to these because my public service in the library is very limited. It’s a great way to hear about what’s going out in the front of the house. One of the agenda items asked for feedback about our website’s soft launch, which just happened about three weeks ago. I made a change that many of our public services folks aren’t happy about: There used to be a page that consisted of nothing but links to other area libraries. This page drove me crazy because, well, that’s what Google is for, right? It was basically a page of bookmarks, á la 1995-era Yahoo. Well, everyone misses that stupid page. Even though the only people who ever visited that page were staff. I suggested putting it on the intranet, but no one wanted to have to log into the intranet to get to it. I suggested creating bookmark files that could be imported into all the public services browsers. No, people really want it on the website. So now, I want to think of the best way to include that information on the website without having to have some random directory listing of other websites. Sigh.

4:00: Back at my desk, and staring at my overflowing email inbox. I re-arranged a few things on the To Do list, pushed a few projects back until tomorrow, Friday, and next week.

4:35: After half an hour of inbox triage, I’m back to Inbox Zero. Not without a few more items added to the To Do list, of course.

In case you’re curious, I manage my To Do list with a tool called OmniFocus. Here’s a screenshot:

Screen shot of an organization tool called OmniFocus

Screen shot of my OmniFocus To Do List

I love this tool. I’m an organization and productivity geek, and I really like how I can schedule things out, add notes to tasks, assign them to different projects, and then check them off with a big shiny check mark when I’m done with them. It also uses this concept called “contexts” that I haven’t yet fully explored, which I think is tied closely to the whole Getting Things Done cult system. I don’t really have a whole life system, but this To Do list app works great for me. It’s also connected to an app on my phone, so I can add items to the list even if I’m not at my computer.

I only have one meeting tomorrow, so I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to crack down and really get to work on that difficult application configuration I was avoiding all day today. As for Tuesday, though? I’m going home.

A Week in the Life of a Web Services Librarian: Day Two

You would think in summer, when the sun rises earlier, it would be easier to get out of bed in the morning but the past few weeks I’ve had to force myself out of my cozy bed. I’m trying to get up early enough to get some exercise before work: this morning I went for a three mile run, which, thankfully, was much easier than they have been lately. It was nice and cool this morning which can make a huge difference.

8:20: Arrived at work and settled in. I read something yesterday about why you shouldn’t check email first thing in the morning, so I decided instead to start the morning by finishing up a small task that I didn’t get done yesterday: I finished giving myself an overview of the Math and Statistics curriculum here. Today is a packed-with-meetings day, so I want to try to get as much done in between the meetings as possible.

9:00: Library faculty met to talk about our assessment strategy. We talked about all the data we’re collecting in our different program areas and what that data says about us, and we talked about the data that we still want to know and tried to connect our assessment interests with our mission. It was a good, energetic conversation, and I’m looking forward to part two of this process.

10:40: Quick snack, bathroom break, and email check before another meeting.

10:50: I had a quick pre-meeting meeting with another librarian to talk about why EBSCO displays different things in different ways depending on how you access an article. This might be related to accessing something via the API, this might be related to different access from different EBSCO databases. Who the heck knows? It’s all a black box to me.

11:00: Meeting to talk about our plans for banned books week. We thought we might start focusing each year on a different theme related to censorship, instead of just presenting the same “These books were banned” lists each year. This year we (and ALA) are going to focus on censorship in comics. We’re planning a panel discussion and a mini-comics workshop, among other things. We talked about some of the planning and marketing logistics and divvied up tasks for the coming weeks. Man, summer is going by fast.

12:30: Lunch, and some time spent digging into EBSCO databases to see if I could re-create the behavior we were seeing earlier. Plus a chat with our server admin about firewall rules for single sign-on and a breakthrough in communication with the vendor (sort of) about expected behavior for users. And then checking my To Do list again to see what the heck it is I’m supposed to accomplish today. I feel like my mind has been hijacked a little by issues not related to my To Do list.

1:10: Updated the website with the newly approved revisions to the Collection Development Policy.

1:45: Got totally distracted looking at polka dotted fabric online. How did I get here? Damn you, internet! I also stumbled across this article: At Sea in a Deluge of Data, in which I found this paragraph:

Many employers said their fresh-from-college hires frequently lack deeper and more traditional skills in research and analysis. Instead, the new workers default to quick answers plucked from the Internet. That method might be fine for looking up a definition or updating a fact, but for many tasks, it proved superficial and incomplete.

If this is true, then I think it’s safe to say that libraries aren’t really meeting our educational goals. There is more in this article that I think is thought-provoking and from which we can take some ideas for instruction. But I’ll save that for another blog post.

2:00: Library Faculty meeting, at which we discussed our priorities for renovating/remodeling/re-thinking some of our library space, among a few other things. Faculty meetings can sometimes make me crazy, because they aren’t always very outcomes-oriented and we often end up talking everything to death, which I am also guilty of. BUT I also really appreciate how engaged, creative, and thoughtful my colleagues are. It’s a trade-off, but the efficiency-focused part of me gets a little twitchy.

3:30: Back at my desk, where I quickly filled out a few travel authorization forms for upcoming off-site meetings and events (LODLAM training day and a Code4Lib NorCal meet-up, YAY!). It’s always good, when I’m feeling like my day just escaped from me, to focus on a few quick and easy things I can just do and check off the list.

3:50: started typing up the minutes from the faculty meeting on our wiki.

4:05: Two of my colleagues stopped by my office to fetch me for our semi-regular taco Tuesday happy hour. I looked at my unanswered emails and unfinished to do list, closed my laptop, and packed up to follow them out of the building.

Tomorrow there will be far fewer meetings and way more time to get stuff done. And I have a lot of it. It’s obvious that we’re nearing the beginning of the semester: everything feels a little more important and time-sensitive suddenly.

Time to get to bed soon: the older I get the more I need to get a good night’s sleep to be productive.

A Week in the Life of a Web Services Librarian: Day One

For many years, Bobbi Newman hosted a blog round-up, Library Day in the Life, in which librarians around the world shared information about their day-to-day work lives in order to give people a better sense of the wide variety of jobs that take place in libraries. I always loved reading about how other librarians spent their days, and I also loved having a record of what I did all day, and a chance to reflect on how I spend my time at work.

Library Day in the Life is no longer an active project, but I miss doing it. So I decided to spend some time this week writing about my own Library Days. I haven’t written much here since I started my new job, and I miss that, too. I think maybe doing this little project for myself will jump start me to write more, and will also give any of you who are interested a sense of what it is that I do as the Web Services Librarian at Sonoma State University.

You might be wondering what, exactly, a Web Services Librarian is. In short, I manage the Library’s web presence and the online user experience. If you’re thinking that that sounds kind of broad and vague, you are correct. What constitutes the web presence? Here at Sonoma State, the Library uses a lot of online tools to create content: We have our website, of course, but we also use LibGuides (a content management system for creating research guides), and there’s the online catalog as well as a consortial discovery layer, and we have several different social media accounts. We also use DSpace as an institutional repository and CONTENTdm as a digital asset management system, and have experimented with Omeka to create digital exhibits. And the campus uses Moodle as the course management system. There are a lot of web presences, and at times, it’s not exactly who clear who manages what. The Library team is very collaborative, and there aren’t really clearly defined departments or areas in which we each work. I think that’s a great thing, but it also means that Who Does What can feel very fluid and shifting, and for someone new to the Library, it can take a while to figure out.

In addition to my work on the web presence, I’m also the liaison to the Computer Science, Engineering, and Math departments, and I’m currently heading up the Library’s marketing programs in conjunction with our awesome Outreach Librarian.

In my almost-a-year here so far I’ve focused primarily on the website. We just soft-launched an update with a new, streamlined information architecture and I’m starting to delve into content strategy. So what does all that mean on a day-to-day basis? This week, I’ll talk about how I spend my days each day and hopefully give you (and maybe even myself) a better idea about what a Web Services Librarian actually does.

So what did I do today?

8:15: I arrived at work after a nice (warm) walk: I live only about a mile from campus, which is nice. Email usually takes up a good chunk of time on Monday morning. This morning I had to send an email to one of our Computer Science faculty letting him know about a subscription he wanted that we weren’t able to purchase. And not because we couldn’t afford it, for once, but because, seriously, the vendor doesn’t want to sell it to us unless our whole consortium buys it. What’s up with that? I also got some good feedback from another faculty member about a change to the website that confused her. I love getting feedback from people on campus. It’s invaluable in helping me understand how people use the website and what they need from me. I wish I got way more email like this.

9:15: We’re currently doing some much needed refreshes of parts of the collection, and I was assigned the Juvenile and Young Adult collection. Yipppeeeee! This is sort of the highlight of my career as a librarian so far. I spent about an hour and a half this morning selecting books for the collection. I have to say: I never thought it would be hard to spend $3,000 on books but I’m kind of surprised by just how many books that really is. I am also SO EXCITED about some of the awesome things we’re adding to the collection.

10:45: Morning snack and email check. I spent a few minutes back and forth with our marketing student assistant on an image she’s creating for one of our webpages. We’re working right now to create a unified visual aesthetic for the library website and the library marketing. Which is fun, but I won’t lie: I’m not a designer and no one here on staff is. We’re doing our best but I really wish I had more design chops.

11:30: Worked on some updates to our Special Collections pages. This is where my content strategy focus is for the next few weeks while we try to make this great, unique content more easily findable and usable for students. Our Special Collections people have some really good ideas about how to tie Special Collections more closely to the campus’s curricula and to undergraduate research projects. Right now there’s a lot of excellent content but it’s kind of in a jumble on the website. My goal for the site is to teach students how they can use primary source material in their research.

12:15: Uploaded the new Library Instruction Summary to the institutional repository and added a link on the website. We’ve transitioned to using git to manage our website updates across our dev, staging, and production servers, and there is still a learning curve. It does mean that minor updates take a little bit longer, but I really like the fact that we have a history of changes made and a more defined process. We didn’t have a dev or staging server before I got here, and I feel like that alone is a big improvement on our previous workflow and infrastructure.

12:45: Lunch and reading from Hack Design, an awesome email “course” on design for the web. This week I’m reading about mobile and responsive design, something we need to start thinking about yesterday.

1:45: Wrote a blog post for our Library News blog about our upcoming roll out of single sign-on for library accounts. We’re still trying to figure out exactly how this will be implemented, and are still seeing some weird bugs with our ILS vendor. This roll out is happening next Monday, so I have my fingers crossed that all of our concerns will be addressed this week. The person in the library who’s directly handling this is actually out of the office this week, which is a little nerve-wracking, but I’m sure everything will be fine. Right? Right?

2:00: Meeting with our Instruction and Outreach Librarian to brainstorm about marketing strategy (and take a walk to get some iced tea). We came up with a few good ideas for faculty outreach and events around data sharing and data management. Whoo hoo for getting out of the library and talking about fun stuff.

3:00: Looked at some search form embed code in Moodle to figure out why it wasn’t fitting into a content box. Oh, the modern web and it’s varied screen and browser sizes…

3:30: Reviewed the Computer Science and Engineering department websites to begin to get a better grasp of the curriculum. This will be my first semester as liaison to the departments and I feel like I still have so much to learn.

3:45: Impromptu conversation with a colleague about putting together the annual report, hiring for the temporary librarian pool, writing a content strategy vision statement for the website, and what the problem is with the word “understand” when you’re talking about outcomes. I love my colleagues.

4:30: Packing up and heading home. It’s HOT here today so it’ll be a sweaty walk. I didn’t know Sonoma county was going to be so much warmer than Oakland. Alas.

Today was actually a little more productive than most Mondays, although I didn’t tackle two of the big ugly projects on my to-do list. I guess that’s what Tuesday is for…