Friday, March 29, 2013

JHU: What Would The Library Say?

When I asked the JHU librarians (I use the term here to refer to both the librarians and library-workers I spoke with) how they introduced students to the library, one of them jokingly replied with, "Facebook!" While at first I was taken aback, over the course of the conversation it was made clear to me what she meant. As with many libraries, the patrons use the facility regardless of formal invitation. The library is a place of community, discussion, and open doors (24/7, in the case of the Brody Learning Commons), and social media is a way to move beyond that into the digital world. Instead of trying to find the old "Comment Box" or finding the right flyer from the bulletin board, students can retweet, share, 'Like', and reblog as well as make suggestions and make inquiries. In this way, the library opens its virtual doors to spark conversation and interaction on a more personal level with students.

Something to be noted is that their motto is "one message, many platforms", so the subject matter of one blog post may be incorporated into another social network post but in a different way. Each network has its own voice, and keeping a professional standard can be difficult - it's a big responsibility. Adriane Koenig summed up their unique voices and consistent professionalism when she said that it helped her to envision the library as a person and imagine what it would say. This anthropomorphic view of the library can create a sense of personal stewardship for the contributors. You can see the JHU social media policy here and see how they approach their audiences, and I highly encourage everyone to visit - and browse/follow/'Like' the library's accounts - they're not just for students!

Twitter: @mselibrary
The Twitter account is, in a word, sparkling. Some professional accounts may be littered with too many retweets, more conversations than information, and an inconsistent voice. Here, there are four tweets a day during the semester (outside of the semester there are two tweets per day), their @ replies are kept to a minimum, and their retweets are from relevant sources or sharing a quirky article. The voice is conversational but not overly informal, occasionally including an emoticon or meme reference, meant more to listen than advertise.

While the Twitter account may link to the blog, the cross-postings are kept to a minimum. This means that there are no tweets saying "New blog post! Check it here: [Blog URL, etc here]". While they may link to the library's blog posts, the posts are not automated and the headline is a hook rather than the post's title taken straight from the blog. The account's aim is to entertain as much as it is to inform, and to give a home to the library's unique sense of humor.

The blog is more scholarly and formal, often featuring a new acquisition or a recent news story which relates back to the library. The posts are short, lending themselves to be informative to casual readers as well as providing material for dedicated subscribers. The topics can range from daffodils to medieval manuscripts to current important women, and each post is peppered with humorous links, beautiful imagery, and advertised with a catchy headline.

As its purpose is to inform rather than to create a platform for discussion, the blog is a great place to tout the library's achievements. Recently, the Peabody library was cleaned from top to bottom, the lights replaced with energy efficient bulbs, and the library was returned to its students cleaned, polished, and shiny. This event was covered in a humorous post entitled "Dust Bunnies Beware". The blog is also a great place to advertise the library's workshops and issues affecting the library.

When the blog was first created, there was an occasional mandatory contribution for each librarian. This was to get each different area involved and get them thinking about what they had to say and share with the students. Having the requirement to be involved brought some librarians out of the woodwork and gave them a chance to be heard, and some even discovered that they really enjoyed blogging. Now the entries are contributed on a purely voluntary basis, and students are also invited to write a post every now and then. Having a blog post on the university's official blog is a point of pride for the students, and it's something which can be shared on other networks and name-dropped in possible job interviews.

Baltimore is a city which prides itself on its devoted community. Baltimoreans put Texas Longhorns to shame when it comes to geographic loyalty. Festivals are held with frequency in the historic downtown district, and the Baltimore Book Festival is one of the most popular. It's a chance for libraries to set up a booth, answer questions and have an Italian ice while talking books with patrons. When JHU's Peabody library went one year, they found that they didn't have any literature or cards to hand to the curious festival-goers. Heidi Herr, the English and Philosophy library liaison, met this need by creating a Tumblr with a unique and memorable URL.

It's a more informal blog than the WordPress blog, and one that is used mostly to showcase things from the special collections which may not get much love in a day to day setting. It's updated on a more sporadic basis - sometimes once a month, sometimes more if Heidi finds wacky and interesting things to share. Some entries are sharing student projects, from a 360ยบ panorama to items discovered during an Intercession research class in the library to the students' paper airplane competitions during the History of Aviation session.

The majority of the content is visual, which lends itself well to the Tumblr format of reblogging and sharing rather than conversing with readers. If the official blog is the face of the library, the Tumblr is its ever so slightly mischievous little brother.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

JHU: Intro to Libraries (remixed)

In my academic history (which I consider relatively varied), each university I have attended has required students to take a one credit seminar on either research techniques, library resources, or something along similar lines. While this effort does help students understand the difference between keywords and subject headings, the material taught may fade quickly they realize that they don't remember a thing and that paper's due next week and who do they ask with questions. Johns Hopkins does things differently.

At JHU, there is no core curriculum, so the responsibility is on the students to take the initiative to seek help. Heidi Herr and Adriane Koenig were kind enough to speak with me about how students learn library resources. Each program has a library liaison (Heidi is the liaison for the university's Philosophy and English programs) who joins the students for their programs' research labs to offer help and answer immediate questions. This gives the students the opportunity to learn when they need it rather than prematurely. The program liaisons also have time when the students can make appointments or come individually to ask questions, allowing for more intense research sessions. While the librarians answer about 2,100 questions in the Research Consultations Office, they answer about 3,000 follow-up questions during their office hours.

In addition to program liaisons, Hopkins offers other unique ways for students to learn. During a three-week period in January, they hold an Intersession - a time during which students can voluntarily take seminars outside of their field of study. As of this January, the library decided to take party by offering library classes. This past Intersession they offered an Intro to Special Collections as well as a Research & Social Science Engineering seminar. Each program's librarian also creates and moderates their LibGuides, providing resources remotely and at need.

A recurring theme throughout my visit was that Hopkins does things differently. Their patrons are unique, and consequently so is their library. Their practices may not work for any other university, but it certainly seems to work for them. The librarians aren't afraid to try new things or do tweak something they've done for years. All four of the librarians I spoke to were excited about their field and the library without any of the disconnect that sometimes occurs. They are involved with their students and faculty, always looking to make the next step forward. The university is making strides in the world and so are they.

Monday, March 25, 2013

JHU: First Impressions

The Eisenhower Library (top), and the Brody Learning Commons (bottom)

Johns Hopkins University is home to several libraries, many of them specialized research libraries that are used for groundbreaking medical researchers. This being the case, they use a balance of physical and electronic materials to meet the needs of their patrons. They have found that many students prefer the physical print book to the electronic e-book, so their main building still holds the air of a traditional academic library with its labyrinthine stacks, but their recent addition has brought a distinctly modern lift to the architecture. The library is largely open and has areas that contain natural light as well as providing students darker and more secluded areas for long-term studying - these even feature natural cell phone signal blockage to promote concentration (yes, these spots are underground).

Near the front doors to the campus is a large digital screen with a Microsoft Kinect perched on the top, which students can use to play a round of games while waiting for their friends to arrive (when I was there they were playing a Tron game), and when there are no students in front it shows library news and updates. This integration of technology is seen repeatedly in the building, from digital displays on the walls to special projectors which project onto white walls in the collaboration rooms for students to connect to their computers and share their work.

The entire library has robust wifi throughout, and almost every table I saw sported a surge protector for students to charge electronic devices, and there are many pockets set up for collaborative learning. One of the first things I noticed in the library was that it was packed full of students. Some were in the stacks, others had their books and laptops spread out on tables, and others were puzzling over intense problems which floated on the walls like something from the future. For all the flash and dazzle, though, the students seem remarkably at home with their laptops and coffee cups. It's a building that invites a long study session as well as social interaction, a lifeline to knowledge as well as the thrill of independent discovery.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

preparation for an on-site visit

Several months ago I began to brainstorm libraries I wanted to visit. One if my first choices was Johns Hopkins Library. As both an academic library as well as a research library, I was incredibly curious. For one of my classes I completed an assignment that involved comparing library web portals, and upon looking at the JHU library, I was struck by their... openness. Many academic libraries I've seen online tend to lean towards campus accessibility rather than public transparency, but JHU had social media out the ears, and each one met their high standards and uplifted their reputation. At this point, I thought that maybe I could talk to their person in charge of social media or outreach and talk with their electronic services librarian to knock out this assignment at the same time, so I sent an email to their general inquiries email address.

Within a few days I had an email which gave me three names to contact, and their responses were swift, polite, and enquiring. As we emailed back and forth, I supplied the assignment questions to give them a more specific idea of what I was hoping to learn. I was invited to visit the campus on March 8th and speak with a few librarians and the women who ran their social media accounts, and I eagerly accepted.

I want to take a moment and reflect on the fact that four women who work at a prestigious library took the time out of their busy schedules near midterms to speak with a student from a different university. This humbles me deeply and makes me so grateful for the kindness that seems to run through the library community. There have been many instances where I've experienced it, and it's both encouraging and inspiring to know that I'm beginning a career in which I may be surrounded by people of this sort. Hopefully we'll all adopt their characteristics and practice them daily.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Movin' Right Along

It's been a while! Apologies, dear friends.

My work here has been shifted into overdrive, and for the first time I am creating metadata rather than simply recording and curating it. To say that it is nerve-wracking is an understatement, and I find myself wondering if archivists have existential anxiety. Again, Patrick's words come back to me: "Don't let what you don't know stop you. Just do it. You'll get it." So I stop worrying and overthinking and begin doing, knowing that with practice comes experience. No amount of book learning will prepare you for putting forth your own mark - even if it's just two sentences into a database. Just do it.

Recently I surveyed the Ron Hull Papers. Emails between he and his colleagues, memos, notes, scribbles, doodles, and little pieces of insight into what the construction of the collection must have looked like. I imagine that my anxiety over two sentences must have seemed like small potatoes compared to his burden. This project holds the essential ambassador programs of PBS to the world. Each program shares some aspect that has inherent value. Surely the selection process must have been harrowing to say the least.

Having respect for these materials seems to be central to this project - and archiving as a whole. Inflicting my own perspectives, opinions, and beliefs does no service to anyone, least of all the creator. Much like the rest of life, it's best when I try to set myself aside and do my best to see things as they are. It will take (again) time and practice, but it's a good exercise and something that I should start doing more often.