All posts by L. Stein

User-Centered Spaces: Part 1

This blog post is part of an assignment I am doing for my Reference Course for the Sciences disciplines. The purpose of the assignment is for us to pick a science-oriented library that has recently undergone a renovation to meet the needs of the users. So, I decided to discuss the recent learning commons renovations at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where I just completed my Spring practicum. In this post, I will introduce the learning commons at Georgia Tech and describe some of the highlights.

2 West Commons
2 West Commons

While I was interning, I met with Charlie Bennett, who is the Commons Coordinator at the library. Charlie is responsible for monitoring the commons, ensuring that it is functionally designed for user tasks (i.e. independent studying, group collaborations, etc.). He also gave me a tour of the Georgia Tech library commons area. The Commons actually consists of 3 areas: the east and west commons on the first floor (LEC and LWC respectively), and the newly renovated 2 West area on the second floor.

LWC

Library West Commons terminals

The LWC contains a wide space of desktop computers provided by the library. Whenever I was at the library, this area was always packed, and it was very difficult to get a computer.  There is a screen upon entering the library that shows which computers are in use (in red). Users can also go to the library website and see available terminals. Now, of course, since it is the summer and it is almost 11:30 PM (up late as usual!), many computers are green (but this is not the norm!).

LEC

The East Commons is a very interesting area of the library, and has a lot of innovative aspects. The area has a more modern and “hip” feel. It contains a cafe and vending machines (including ones that sell coffee), so users can get that extra bit of fuel to get through the school’s intense curriculum.  This space is also used for the campus film society to host events, as well as other campus-related exhibits.

This area is very focused on collaborative group work. It also contains computer stations with large monitors so multiple students can share a workspace, as well as a small DVD library.

Library East Commons

A key theme that Charlie wanted to focus on in this area is flexibility – to give the user control of how he/she utilizes the space. Thus, furniture is lightweight and easily movable.  One feature that the commons has serendipitously acquired was movable extension plugs that hang from the ceiling.  These were actually left by the electricians during the renovation, but Charlie decided to keep them so that laptop users were not restricted to areas where there was an outlet. I cannot tell you how many times I have been frustrated going into a Starbucks , bookstore, or other WiFi hotspot and not be able to use my laptop because all the seats near an outlet were taken. During long study hours, a laptop battery usually will not last.

Students even have flexibility over the lighting.  Charlie implemented RBG overhead lighting (similar to what is used in stage lighting), instead of fluorescent lighting. Students can customize the amounts of red, green, and blue in the lighting to something that is easier on their eyes.

2 West Commons

This area is located on the second floor. It is a very open workspace for collaborative projects. It contains large, restaurant-size booths and tables for study groups to meet, or for individual studiers to spread out (especially for the architecture students).  Collaborative work areas are partitioned by translucent screens to give the study groups a sense of solidarity without making the area seem too claustrophobic.  I have also seen students here utilize whiteboards to work on complex  math problems or tutor others.

What’s next?

In the next post, I will discuss my thoughts about the renovation and how these improvements have affected users.

MLIS Program Tips From a Classmate

My super organized, intelligent classmate and fellow INTJ Adelle Frank has provided several useful tips on how to successfully get through an MLIS program without wanting to rip your hair out or kick the cat.  In her post Secrets and Tips: How to Survive Library School in 5 Simple Steps, Adelle provides useful information for anyone considering going into grad school while working full-time. My personal favorite nugget of wisdom is reposted below:

“IV. Keep it relevant

Relevance is another key to surviving and thriving in your library program. If you don’t care, your work will show it and you won’t get much out of it. And what fun would that be?!
“Leave aside for a moment the fact that you will have at least one required course that just rubs you the wrong way and focus on what you want to get out of this degree, other than letters at the end of your name.

In required classes, try to find the parts that could be useful to your current or future career.

In choosing classes and projects, pick with an eye to those that interest you or fit into your current/proposed career path.”

However, I am inspired to share my own perspective:

First off…don’t let some of the stuff about the reading scare you…an MLIS program is not really super-hard or challenging (except when you are left to your own devices to figure out certain kinds of technology). In fact, I struggled more with grades in my undergrad than I did in Library School. I will be honest…I maybe did half of the listed readings (80% of which were out of date anyway), and have not made less than an A on anything in my program. It’s what I like to call “slacking smart.” And I am not really all that smart. A lot of the work is tedious busywork (especially in your core classes), and just something that you have to plow your way through. Any veteran librarian will tell you…library school is just something you “get through.”

This is why I cited the paragraph above…what you learn in library school is so different from what librarians actually do, and some of the work is boring, so you want to make it relevant to your interests. Plus, library positions are pretty adamant about your experience with certain software, metadata schemas, etc. Library school is the time to go out of your comfort zone and develop these skills, and if you don’t do something perfectly, it’s OK, you’re a student.  In other words, to get a good challenge out of your program, don’t be afraid to take on things that are novel. After all, you are paying good money for that degree, make something of it!

TIP:  professional association dues are a LOT cheaper for students so you want to get involved in those as well. It is hard to juggle that and your full-time workload and classes, but committee  participation is more long-term-oriented and only requires maybe 1-2 extra hours a week, depending.

That being said, however, I must take heed to Adelle’s advice and GET SOME SLEEP. It’s after 1 AM already! O_O

ALA Part 2 – Lessons Learned

So, as I had mentioned before, the ALA conference was my first foray into large national conferences. It was overwhelming, but I also had a lot of fun.

I am also very thankful to have a mentor who is a veteran conference goer, so she was able to give me some good advice on how to prepare. You would not think it takes a lot of preparation outside of travel arrangements, but it really does. It really does…gotta study the maps, what is close to your hotel, make plans with friends and colleagues, etc.

Anyway, I thought I would share my knowledge of what I did right, what I did wrong, or…what I realized works best.  So, I bring you my list of lessons learned. I hope that this will be useful for anyone who is new to conferences.

1. Get your schedule planned BEFORE you go

The best nugget of advice my mentor imparted upon me was to choose the events and times that worked best for you (i.e. no 8 AM sessions if you are a night owl like me). The conference booklet is literally the size of a small city phone book. They almost always publish a schedule of events beforehand, and you don’t want to be left floundering with said booklet, overwhelmed by so many options while at the conference.  But you always want to keep your schedule flexible, and have some back-up options in case you want to meet up with your colleagues or friends.

My mentor also mentioned giving yourself plenty of time to rest and meet up with people. It is not a good idea, especially if you are introverted like myself, to go to 3-4 sessions a day and then the evening socials. I nearly ran myself ragged that Saturday…did 3 sessions, dinner with my cohort, and then took the Metro up to Bethesda to go to a friend’s party. All that walking and transportation will leave you downright ragged.

2. Comfort is important

One thing I wished I had done was carry around a water bottle with me to my conferences. I found that the convention center had very spare water fountains (plus it got to almost 100 degrees in DC). Also, all the bottled drinks at the convention center cost $3.00!

While all that walking makes you parched, it is also hard on your feet. Perhaps those “sensible shoes” can come in handy. One thing I struggled with upon packing for this conference was what to wear. Since a goal of mine was to network, I wanted to look presentable, as if I was going for an interview. I probably did overdress a little, but thankfully in my indecision I packed comfy flip-flops, as well as more dressy shoes that I carried in my tote bag to wear around the convention center.

3. Book your travel/lodging on a credit card, especially if you are being reimbursed

This was something I learned the hard way. Apparently, I had used my debit card to book my hotel room (which was very expensive in Washington).  I figured they would not charge the full cost of my room until I checked out. While the hotel did not charge my room, they DID put a hold on the room (3 nights plus a $100 refundable deposit) while I was staying there. But apparently my bank interpreted that as a charge. So, for the whole conference, I had less than $100 to my name. And that goes by real fast with meals and cab rides (did I mention the $3 bottled water :p…my mojito cost $10!!! ).

4. Check conference newsletters for any revisions

At ALA, they have a daily newsletter that is distributed that lists all the changes that have been made. I wished I had done so. The Sustaining Digital Workflow event that I had volunteered to blog about for LITA), was moved from its lovely, convenient time at 10:30 AM  in the convention center, to 8:00 AM the next day in a hotel that was very far out and a 20 min shuttle ride.  I will be honest, I almost decided to go to another event to blog about, but I figured I could cancel an afternoon session and then do an afternoon nap since I had to get up so early. Thankfully, the event had a great turnout…though a lot of people were trickling in after 8:10 or so.

5. Don’t be shy!

OK, my last tip…and something that was extremely hard for me as a socially anxious introvert…introducing yourself to conference presenters. As a student, it was intimidated to talk to people who were more seasoned professionals.  If people know you are a student, it is a great icebreaker for conversations, and if you are not quite sure of yourself, people will understand. A conference is a great place to network, and you never know who you are going to meet.

ALA Part 1: Overview

I hope everyone had a great 4th of July weekend, and hopefully you have a wonderful extra day off to enjoy! I just got back from having a nice dinner with my mom and her boyfriend, and we got a chance to sneak in and see the Lenox Square fireworks (but at a lot further away to avoid the massive crowds).

Anyway, thought I would give the recap of my trip to ALA in Washington, my first national conference.  I was there from Friday (6/25) to Monday 6/28). Overall, it was a great time, although extremely busy because I had a lot jam-packed in the visit. I was not only there for the conference, but was there to visit my dad and two good friends of mine who live in DC. I also attended several sessions.

The Recap

Friday, I attended the LITA Open House, which was a great opportunity to meet current and prospective members.

On Saturday, I went to a session on LibGuides, and two awesome professional development sessions. One was on seeking non-traditional library jobs (i.e. working for vendors, corporations, etc.). But the most useful and informative session was “What Every New Librarian Needs to Know.” Two young librarians  discussed the ins and outs of publishing and research, as well as provided a pep-talk on creating a unique brand for yourself and utilizing networking opportunities.

Sunday, I attended sessions on digital library workflow and designing usable websites. I also met with my mentor, and we were so extremely exhausted after all the stuff we did. I spent Sunday night in my room enjoying my hotel, and took a leisurely walk to Whole Foods to pick up dinner, and watched backlogged episodes of Fringe on my computer.

Travel Arrangements

I had great luck with my flights in and out (flew in to DCA, which I highly recommend flying into over Dulles or BWI). My hotel, on the other hand, was just so-so. For what I paid, the room was sparsely decorated, the TV was not even a flat-screen, and the wireless was free but very spotty. Plus, the hotel was smack in between 2 Metro lines (the closest station being a half-mile walk), so I had to either pay for a cab or hike in the sweltering DC heat (for the record, it was 10 degrees hotter there than in Atlanta). However, the bed was comfortable,  the pool was nice, and they had a real “cheap” breakfast option ($4 for eggs and toast).

The convention

The convention center was quite large, and there were a ton of people there. Thankfully, there were not as many fashion faux pas as is stereotypical of library conventions, but I did see a few interesting personalities. One was one lady who I swear was dressed just like Molly Ringwald in Pretty In Pink.  Honestly, I thought  it was a cute outfit, but pretty retro. Needless to say, I did see more than my fair share of women in maxi skirts and tennis shoes, and men who wore socks with their sandals.

 

Exhibit Hall

 

It was interesting to meet people from all over the county. Lots of people from the North, and I also met several students, alumni, and employees at UNT.

The Exhibit Hall

The exhibit hall was also quite large as well. TONs of vendors. Most of them were book publishers and database vendors.  Some of the integrated library system and next-gen catalogs looked really promising. One particularly impressive one was an automated system from Auto-Graphics, which had this real snazzy Web 2.0 interface, very colorful.

The highlights of the exhibit halls were the poster sessions. Some very interesting and helpful research was being conducted, and I listening to a few presenters (some posters were so crowded with people, I could barely see, especially some of the metadata ones).

Job Placement Center

In my eagerness to get my first professional position, I was hoping the Placement Center would have had more recruiters out there. But while  hiring is getting better, it is still lagging considerably.  As a wise classmate always says, we have to “keep hope alive.”

Strangely, they were giving away badge ribbons stating “Librarians for Hire” and “Librarians Wanted.” While I did see several people (especially recent MLIS grads) walking around with the former ribbon, I don’t think I saw a single person with the latter. Not surprising considering how competitive the librarian job market really is (which is why I got my concentration in digital content management to help give me an edge).

 

Placement center ribbons

 

I considered adding a “Librarian for Hire” ribbon to my badge, but I shied away from it, as I did not want to openly advertise that I was looking (from what I hear from hiring managers, that appears to be a sign of desperation, which can be a turn-off). Besides, I received great job leads just from chatting with people. One gentlemen from a very prestigious university actually informally interviewed me on the spot at one of the sessions I attended. Thankfully, I had my trusty portfolio with me so I could show him my work.  Prayerfully, he will keep me in mind as I send in my application.

Anyway, that is the end of my ALA report. Stay tuned for Part 2: Lessons Learned (aka, my conference faux pas, which can land you in deeper water than wearing ugly shoes 😉 ).

One Step Closer

Last Friday, I completed yet another milestone in my journey to graduation. Last week, we had our comprehensive exams: “The Capstone Experience” (or the Crapstone Experience as one classmate lovingly put it). Basically, we were given one week to write 3 mini-term papers. On Friday, June 11, the exam opened up online, and we were asked to choose 3 topics in library and information science from a list of 10, and we were to write a 10 page paper on each. Including references, I wrote approximately 8,000 words…in one week. Yes, that’s right. A week! The first paper was pretty easy to get through, but by the third, I was ready to give up, as the glow of the lovely summer day, and the hypnotic glow of the  TV during the night, continued to seduce me.

To prepare, I did some serious spring cleaning, since I knew I had to devote the entire week to paper writing (when I was not working). I stocked up on food and snacks to keep me caffeinated.

Capstone nest

Then, I camped out on my bed with Leslie (my laptop) and began the furious process of researching and writing.  The kitties were right there beside me for moral support. Due to my keenness in librarianship, I discovered the lovely method of federated searching in the EBSCO databases, as well as Google Scholar, so I could find everything online.  In thick of it all, to the left was what “the nest” looked like…(note, there were more papers on the floor, and those two black blobs are actually my kitties. Of course, I totally had to have my I-Tunes.

When the trials and tribulations were over, I treated myself to a massage. I had a gift card I got for Christmas that I never used, and I am so glad I waited to save it! When the semester is truly over,  I should host a bonfire and invite all my classmates to bring their journal articles and throw them into the fire.  By the time Capstone rolled around, I had about 3 bins worth of crap. And you know what’s funny? For a degree in Library Science, only about half of my classes required books. In fact, I don’t think I spent more than $500 on books the entire term. But don’t get me wrong, I had to read a LOT of articles.

Going to DC tomorrow!

So, the big conference has already started.  I will be flying out first thing bright and early tomorrow, and last night I packed up all my clothes. I still have several more things I need to do to get ready, like clean the house. I have already made my schedule of the sessions I plan on attending. I have gotten in touch with my friends and family in DC, and will spend some time with them. My mentor and advisor will be there as well.

I have also volunteered to contribute a blog post to the LITA blog. It’s my first time, but it’s a great volunteer opportunity. My spring internship supervisor is a LITA member, and loves it, so I am going to check them out while I am there.  I will be attending several of their events.  Specifically, the one I am most interested in is the Developing a Sustainable Digital workflow, and plan on covering that event. Too bad I will have to miss the LITA Open Source CMS playroom (I really hope someone blogs about that!). This is my first time as a contributing blogger, but it will hopefully help me get some librarian street cred :p.

So are you done yet?

That seems to be the question everyone is asking me after I told them I was completing my graduate exams. And the answer is NO! I have one pesky 5 week class left that I start in July. Though it looks like a very interesting course: Reference and Access in the Sciences. Plus, another cool think about the course is that is taught by an actual reference librarian – someone who knows the work day-in and day-out.  She was actually a guest speaker in my academic libraries class, and did a great job giving advice about what it’s like to work in an academic library, and (most important : p ) how to get a job in an academic library.

I decided I needed to take more reference classes. Good reference knowledge is so important for any type of library. It not only helps with communication skills (something my shy self has always been diligently working on), but librarians in all types of libraries must know how to utilize mad reference skills. This dawned on me during my fall internship last year, which was in a small library. ALL librarians were responsible for covering the reference desk, even the cataloger and systems librarian. I even helped out a little bit. My courses have given me a wealth of library technical knowledge,  but I need a refresher in reference because at some point in my career, I will probably need to use it.

Lost in the Stacks

Support college radio!

Every Friday afternoon, from 12 – 1 PM, Georgia Tech’s radio station (WRECK 91.1 FM) hosts a show called “Lost in the Stacks“, which features music and interviews with various librarians, faculty, and staff. I have taken an interest in the show because they have been interviewing various individuals I have had the pleasure of meeting during my studies and internships. Usually, the show revolves around a particular theme (one 2 Fridays ago was “Bicycles”, for example).

Tonight, I am listening to the archive of the show they did today; this week, they have invited some librarians from Georgia State University to discuss what they do at the library, as well as what is going on at the GSU library. Ironically,  I have been a fan of GSU’s radio station (88.5 FM) since I was in middle school…they used to play strange and eccentric music late at night. And for those who know me, I am a fan of staying up late, as well as strange and eccentric things :). I would always tune into the station, and pretend that aliens were communicating with me through the music.

Anyway, weirdness aside… as I was listening to the show, I was realizing that this show could serve as a great resource for current or future MLIS students such as myself to learn about the various roles people serve in the library.  I personally think that it’s a cool idea that the library has a radio show. Of course, this is one of the many examples that the Tech library has been forward-thinking regarding library services and marketing. But having a presence on the radio station (even if not a lot of people listen to it) emphasizes the fact that there is more to libraries that just a building that houses books and journals. If anything has been beaten into my head since my intro to reference class I took my first semester of library school, it is that libraries are all about dissemination of information. Freedom of information is the rock on which ALA builds its house. However, it seems unheard of for libraries to utilize the airwaves as a means of dissemination.  A library that collaborates with student activities – intermingling with its primary user population – can serve as an effective means of outreach. At little cost, an academic  library could reserve a spot on the campus radio, which not only broadcasts within the university boundaries, but into the public as well.  Furthermore, today’s show in particular reveals that there are many facets to librarianship. Librarians are not just frumpy old ladies who sit behind a desk and scowl, but provide a diverse set of services, and come from a variety of different backgrounds.  One guest has a developed a very technical background and has taught many sessions on emerging technologies, while another guest had a marketing and graphic design background (as well as creates his own comic books).

I can think of a couple interesting ideas that libraries can utilize the radio. Similar to Lost in the Stacks, subject specialist librarians can host a show related to an interesting theme on their topic specialty…something educational, yet fun and interspersed with relevant music. Or, I can see the library present itself on the radio as an information sleuth…offering a answers to life’s commons questions. Maybe something similar to Loveline with Dr. Drew….but perhaps less sexually charged. After all, librarians are sexualized enough due to the fantasies some men have about us wearing a leopard print thong under our maxi skirts.

Perhaps the library can use the airwaves to host fascinating intellectual debates. I have a fond memory of back in my undergrad days where a faculty member hosted a debate between this ultra feminist religion professor, and the head of the religion department at crazy fundamentalist Bob Jones University (BTW, they really need to change their domain name from “bju.edu”…just reeks of pent-up sexual frustration). The debate topic? Homosexuality. I was actually so excited about that one that I wanted to sit up in the front row and bring a tarp. And I know many friends who were eager as well for the verbal jousting that would ensue. The turnout, of course, was tremendous. The library, which prides itself on objectivity,  could serve as a great debate host.

As someone who hopes to enter to profession some way, I want to keep the traditions of the library, but I also want to view it in a new light. The library is not what it was 30 years ago (anyone can tell you that), and if the profession is to survive, it is imperative to be creative to find new ways the library can connect with and serve its users.  I think as more and more people from diverse backgrounds are entering the profession, it may open up a new spin on library services that appeal to today’s user…which would hopefully help those with the purse strings to not view the library on the top of their list of programs to be slashed.

Like people, some books just refuse to be labeled :)

So today, there was a very interesting thread in the Georgia Library Association’s listserv, which offered some great LULZ. While 80% of the listserv tends to deal with personally non-consequential stuff (at least, until actually get my MLIS and become a “real” librarian), this one in particular stood out. Essentially, someone had received a book in their collection that was covered in – of all things – AstroTurf. While I suppose we must give book binders props for creativity, it causes problems because a bar code cannot stick to the outside surface. If you don’t believe that, for some ungodly reason, someone decided to bind a book in AstroTurf, the offending tome is seen below (courtesy of Amazon.com):

Some creative workarounds were offered. One person (my personal favorite), suggested “mowing” part of the book so that there could be a flat surface on which the bar code can stick. In my option, if just enough was shaved to lay the bar code, I would not consider the book too horribly damaged. Perhaps an electric beard trimmer should be a necessity in the acquisitions toolkit :). After all, I can guarantee that this is not the first book to have a…unique presentation. For example, when I was a wee thing, one of my favorite books was Pat the Bunny, which had synthetic bunny fur that felt oh-so-soft and it had this really nice fragrance to it. You cannot really tell from the picture, but the book I had did have the fur on the cover.:

So, I would not be surprised if there was a book on cats that was covered in cat hair, or a book on birds covered in feathers. And perhaps Amazon should then recommend books on “How to keep your book from shedding on the carpet.”

Others solutions included placing the bar code on the inside of the book, while another mentioned rebinding it. Perhaps the book could find its home in reference (it looks like sports ready reference to me), among books that do not need to be circulated. There, the book could be bar-coded from the inside, or not at all (depending on the collections). The archivist in me wants to keep the book in its original condition…it all its gaudy glory. Because God made everything in the world different, and without such oddities, the world would be a boring place, so…why not have a book in circulation that is different too? If that book was stripped of all its turf, it runs the risk of being ignored…just the same as all the other books. The average sports enthusiast, who is visually stimulated and only aware of the obvious, could easily look over this book if its bristly bright green grass was no more.

As the saying goes, we always judge a book by its cover. I do hope that The Sports Book‘s content is as interesting as its binding :)…