Salud!

I’m back in public libraries! And, I’m also back in Texas. Both of these things are great. A little anecdote to illustrate my love for Texas:

Today, I drove two hours to Austin to pick up barbecue that I had on pre-order from Franklin’s, because barbecue is legitimately important here. On the way back home, I took the back roads, and came across a spot with chickens in the road. When I got out to ask about buying eggs (because I now keep egg cartons in the trunk), the following conversation ensued:

Me: Hey! Do y’all sell eggs?

Man: Never sold an egg in my life. Let me show you where they are!

He showed me a small barn/coop where the chickens live with lots of bunnies and a tortoise named Darwin, and sent me on my way with a dozen free eggs and an invitation to stop by to play with the bunnies the next time I drive through.

Here’s to the boonies, brisket, Captain Underpants hold requests, and Texas public libraries.

Digital preservation

This is one of my favorite topics. I spent a lot of time in school studying the theories and standards and then a lot of time in internships working on actual projects. I am hoping to be able to implement some new projects at my current workplace, and along those lines attended a day-long workshop on digital preservation this past week.

A lot of the workshop was rehash for me, but that wasn’t a negative in this case. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to talk to other people with this expertise in the boonies (I use the term with affection – there were cows loose on campus at one point last week), so I enjoyed soaking it in and brainstorming for both work and personal projects.

I’m currently working on a photo archive for my family about which I’m pretty excited. Whenever I manage to have time at work to do something similar, I will, but for the time being I have a platform on which I can play with the metadata, organization, and display. The goal is to make a professional project that much more expedient whenever we do manage to get it off the ground (and, of course, my family gets a searchable archive). I have an Omeka install running a demo site, and I think I might like it enough to stick with it.

Now I get to play with Dublin Core and develop a controlled vocabulary! I love information science.

Academic Libraries on Rural Campuses

Public libraries are well known as vital institutions of rural life and meeting information needs, but I haven’t seen a lot of commentary on what an academic library can mean to a rural college campus.

My college is very proud of its legacy of community involvement – as they should be. The college is the epicenter of learning for the whole region, and the only institution of higher education in a county that is larger than the entire state of Connecticut. There are many challenges associated with these kinds of logistics, namely:

  • People may be very far away from each other. I commute 30 miles each way to the library everyday, and I know many people who come from even greater distances.
  • Public transportation to and from the library may exist, but it is not typically very convenient, and most people must maintain the cost and condition of a private vehicle.
  • Internet connections may not be fantastic. When I first started working at the college, we had about 2 weeks with no internet whatsoever. As a cataloger, that “And other duties as needed” line on every job description became most of what I did until we were back online.
  • Many patrons and their families may be in subsistence careers like farming. Hence, there may not be a great deal of disposable income, and purchases like personal computers may be considered a luxury for some families.
  • Many areas of collection development deserve special consideration, e.g., when I order items for the nursing program, I need to be on the lookout for any new items related to rural healthcare.

I got my MSI close to a major metropolitan area in a very technologically literate town. During my classes, we were told that things would change rapidly once we left, and our education there was largely theory-based to accommodate that. When I then immediately went to a rural library, I found that instead, we were playing catch-up. That theory education ended up working retroactively so that I could help build our programs to be more current.

It would seem like an easy fix to focus on online resources to accommodate the issues with physical distance – but then, what if your patrons do not have reliable internet and a personal computer at home? And, if your patrons do not have personal computers, then doesn’t the building become that much more important for ensuring student success?

When your commute may take (what seems like) forever, then you want each trip to count. When you’ve got 2 hours in between classes, but you live 60 miles away on county roads, you need a place to spend extended periods of time.

While I have of course placed a necessary premium on online resources, we have put a lot of effort into our physical space. The library recently underwent an addition, and our head counts have gone up exponentially. What we have learned is that the building will always be important, especially in rural communities. If you put good computers, wifi, and a lot of comfortable furniture in a space, it becomes a gathering spot. We’ve found that it leads to more study groups, extracurricular activities, and better information literacy.

Rural libraries are a challenge. We typically have a limited budget and a lot of ground to cover (literally). Those who do have reliable internet access and personal computers want current, comprehensive services that do not necessitate an extended trip to town. Those who do not or cannot obtain access to those resources need the “traditional” library experience. We must be everything we can be, and then some.

Audiobooks

I mentioned audiobooks in my last entry, and it’s enough of a part of my daily life for me to have a lot of opinions about them, like:

  • If Simon Vance could narrate my life, it would sound much more dignified than my typical self-narration.
  • A bad narrator can really ruin a book experience (I’m looking at you, Bob the Builder, making all of us who considered listening to the Percy Jackson books say, “… nevermind.”).
  • When you only listen for a couple of hours a day, an overly long audiobook is more painful than its book counterpart. There’s no skimming for a good part to skip to in an audiobook – you have to listen to it all. I am currently listening to a 27 hour book, which means I hear nothing but that book for several weeks. But you’re worth it, Dr. Rice.
  • Serious books that were downloaded with good intentions will inevitably get pushed to the back of my Audible queue, much like documentaries get pushed to the back of my Netflix queue. I will probably get around to I Am Malala some time in 2018.

Besides keeping me entertained on my way to the office and decompressed on the way home, daily consumption of audiobooks has helped me retain good listening skills. Those of us who sit in front of a computer most of the day and take in information visually sometimes lose some of the ability to process and retain lots of audio information, and audiobooks are counteracting that well for me.

The more I listen to audiobooks, the more productive my meetings at work tend to be. For someone who has traditionally preferred communicating in writing, this is a huge bonus. As a department head, I don’t have the luxury of taking the time to write out everything I want to say as deliberately as possible, because I am often on the phone or at a conference table. The extended periods of listening and processing mean that my mental turnaround time stays as fast as I need it to be.

Really, it’s also a way to find a positive for the 60 mile round trip commute. Make lemonade!

Special collection preservation

When I enrolled at the University of Michigan, I had every intention of specializing in both Library and Information Services (LIS) and Preservation of Information (PI). I knew I wanted to be a librarian, but I also love rare books and working through digital preservation access issues. Despite scholarships, it was still in my best interest to finish my 48 out-of-state hours sooner rather than later, so I crammed everything into 3 semesters and ended up graduating with what I thought was the more pragmatic LIS, only 3 credit hours short of the second PI specialization.

TL;DR – I really, really like preserving information, and I was >thisclose< to having the paper to prove it.

This past semester, I did my first real preservation assessment since leaving grad school, and I focused on the special collection that we have here at the college library. Many research hours and pages and citations later, I had an assessment in my hands – and while the finished product is great for us to have in the library, I think I personally got just as much (if not more) out of the process of writing it.

When professional development budgets are limited, as they are at my workplace, you have to create your own activities and motivation. This year, I am unable to go to ALA or SLA, but I feel good about making sure that I am continuing to challenge myself professionally. While I was writing up the assessment, I went through research that I did in grad school, but I also had the opportunity to read up on all of the scholarship that has happened since I graduated.

I have a lot of different duties in my current position as Assistant Librarian. I head up access services, collection development, and bibliographic instruction – it’s great experience in a lot of areas, and I’m a better librarian for it. One of the best perks of this job, however, is the freedom that I’ve had to pursue projects like this preservation assessment. It’s easy to get caught up in day to day activities, but I’m remembering how much nerdy joy I derive from analyzing environmental conditions and books’ physical compositions.

Side benefit: I got to use the assessment in a grant application, and with any luck, this time next year we will have additional resources to help me preserve these books even better!