Friday, September 23, 2011

On Beer Snobbery, Part II

Last week I wrote a piece for on what happens when craft beer gets "too popular." This week I defend, sort of, macro beers, like those made by InBev (Budwiser) and MillerCoors. Do check it out.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Transforming Library Spaces

The library where I work is old. Not geologically, and not even all that old in terms of years. It was built in 1963, on a campus where at least one building dates back to 1897. It's old in the sense that it's out of date. Every wall in the building, every last one, is a load-bearing wall. In this environment, change is difficult.

While fancier digs are hopefully on the way, we're not standing pat. I've worked with stakeholders across campus to modernize the facilities, adding computers, and making the most out of the spaces we've been given by noting how those spaces are used and then acting in ways that complement and accentuate their usage.

For example, library staff noticed both students and faculty congregating in a ground floor space that also houses our microfilm and bound back issues of journals, magazines, and other serials. At the same time, our School of Continuing Education was looking for more space to hold classes. It just so happened that these students and faculty were primarily Continuing Education, and so a partnership was born. We moved the microfilm against a wall, installed two whiteboards, and brought in some classroom furniture from elsewhere. A drop-down screen and a hanging projector are en route. This space, so popular that adjuncts have asked to use it for office hours, is now going to be a classroom, and a place where students, faculty, and other patrons can come together to accomplish things. What began with qualitative evidence on the part of library staff became a partnership with another campus organization. Together we fought for that space, and in particular that projector, when some on campus wanted to skimp on materials. I can see how proud Continuing Education is of that space. These students are commuters and there's not much that "theirs" on our campus.

Math labs are all the rage on many campuses, and ours is no exception. A math professor proposed one someone on campus. I proposed the library, thinking that anything that gets people in to the library is a win. The professor agreed, and in a space that previously held empty shelving, we now have five computers and two white boards, with weekly math sessions and daily tutoring available. Thanks, math department!

Finally, an extra blackboard and an empty wall became a match on the 2nd floor of the building. Students were quietly using the Religion/Religious Studies room (our stacks are broken into rooms, I told you it was an old building) to study, so an uninstalled blackboard found a home.

Lessons learned from these experiences:
  • Observe how space is being used, then act on it - the data we compiled for these spaces began as anecdotal evidence. Library staff members telling each other what they noticed in the building. Without open communication and a staff committed to constant improvement, this will be difficult.
  • Find allies where possible - this doesn't happen unless there are regular lines of communication between the library staff and the rest of campus. Keep your eyes and ears open, as well as at least part of your budget. Be part of the greater community, because you'll find something
  • Be the squeaky wheel - I've been pushy as a library director, and I'm sure there are lines that people think I've crossed. I understand that and I'm conscious of it, but at the same time, I want results. This isn't a science, and it's not even an art, but if you don't ask for something, you won't get it (lifehacker link). It helps that asking is easier if you have other campus organizations and institutions supporting the endeavor.

Monday, September 12, 2011

On Beer Snobbery, Part I

I've got another beer post up at, do check it out. I may be spending more time over there with beer-related content, but as always, I'll link to it over here. As the above title suggests, the post is about that line you can't always see, but you know you've crossed, when you engage in snobbish behavior.



Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Power is On!, or What failure looks like, and what it doesn’t

Due to Hurricane Irene, sometime between the close of business on Saturday and our opening on Sunday, the library lost power. Conferring with the powers that be and staff on the ground, we closed the building for Sunday, hoping that we could reopen in time for the start of the workweek and the second week of courses. So we waited. And waited. We were without power for about 80 hours, and this is what happened, and what we learned.

On Monday library staff were relocated to a basement classroom in another building. It seemed that nobody missed us. We had a few e-mails, but no walk-ins, nobody asking about reserve books, even. It looked like a failure; a library goes dark and nobody notices.

But the next day, after finally persuading the higher ups that we needed an all campus e-mail about the situation (??), and word got out. We had a few visitors in our new digs, and I lead an impromptu reference session on the steps of the library via a laptop and wifi. Our reference librarian visited the bookstore, where students asked about us and when the building might reopen.

Wednesday morning was slightly busier, and finally we got power back on Wednesday afternoon. The library is hopping, so I am happy.

We don’t do a lot of marketing here. We’re an academic library and there aren’t any public libraries within walking distance; students are somewhat stuck with us, which is a lousy choice of words, but it’s true. They’ll continue to use Google and Wikipedia first, and then the library databases a distant second, but I was struck by how quiet our makeshift library was while the power was out. I didn’t like it.

This situation became, for me, something of a test run. What might a library look like without books, without a building? We went to other locations on campus, we interacted with students in locations they wouldn’t expect to see us, like the dining hall, the bookstore, and even outside.

And so a power failure shed light on what were were and weren’t doing as a library, and as librarians. A marketing failure became an opportunity, one that we’ll continue to explore. On my shelf I have a few books on library marketing. It’s time to take a look at them.
  • Marketing Today’s Academic Library, Brian Mathews (2009)
  • The Accidental Library Marketer, Kathy Dempsy (2009)
  • Building Bridges, Monty McAdoo (2010)
  • Academic Library Outreach, Nancy Courtney, ed (2009)
Another failure was our disaster plan. Chiefly, we didn’t have one. We will now. Laptops with all the software we need, a projector, a power source, and if the building is safe (and it wasn’t for a time here, as the power surge damaged one of our air conditioning units, threatening a fire) we’ll close the stacks and retrieve books for patrons.

And so what began as a loss of power became something beneficial by exposing what needed to be done. It’s post hoc, but it’s a start.