Bulletin Boards – They’re Not Just For School Librarians!

My last big project of my summer job at a health sciences library was to create the “welcome back” fall bulletin board. I’d previously worked on exhibits and displays, but never a bulletin board! Luckily the library was well-equipped with giant letters, poster board, and colored paper. While I have no desire to become a youth librarian, I do find an amazing amount of zen-like joy in cutting out paper square and rectangles. I also follow a Library Displays Tumblr, which did help me develop my own board’s design.

Luckily, I was able to work with the content from last year’s “welcome back” board, so I mostly just had to update the map and some of the information. People seemed pretty pleased and it was a lovely way to spend my last few days.

My board!

My board!

While my normal job doesn’t currently have a library bulletin board, there has been talk of getting a fancy electronic bulletin board. So perhaps there will be new forays into library bulletin boards in my future!

What Can We Learn From a Scarring Reference Interaction?

Last week I had the experience we all dread: a bad-beyond-bad reference interaction. The problems were twofold:

  1. I did not know enough about the subject of the patron’s question to be very effective (at least right away).
  2. The patron was very disgruntled and clipped, shortly telling me to leave.

The bulk of my customer service experience comes from a job at a college bookstore where I was regularly yelled at and treated badly by customers who were angry about book prices, glitchy financial aid systems, and a variety of other problems. Therefore I can usually remain fairly unfazed in the face of hostility. But this particular patron got to me. I felt very deflated and upset after the interaction.

But with the space and time to heal, I have been able to pull two positive results from the fiasco:

  1. The subject of the patron’s query was our new scanner. I, unfortunately, had not been able to experiment much with the scanner, which led to my ineffectiveness during the reference interaction. The next day, I set out to remedy this oversight – I sat down at the scanning station, fleshed out a number of scenarios, and typed up more extensive instructions, with screen-grabs, to post at the station.
  2. In an attempt to figure out what had set the patron off on me so intensely, I brought the interaction up to a coworker, who happened to have worked with the patron before. He assured me that the patron is one of the most difficult he has ever encountered and that it took multiple interactions for a sense of positive feelings to emerge between them. He explained that most of this patron’s questions are about scanning, technology, and privacy. It was at this moment that a fuller, less caricatured portrait of this patron started to form in my mind. This patron was not a spiteful, heartless person (as I had come to view them in my mind), but a person who struggles with technology and library anxiety and, while short on patience with others, needs a certain amount of patience from others.

Library anxiety. It’s a real thing, y’all! And sometimes it manifests as library rage. (Image via ALA Store)

All of this is just to say: while I dreaded the return of this patron for a few days, I’ve now come full circle: I want this patron to come back. As soon as possible. While I’m on duty! Instead of flailing, becoming flustered, and ultimately walking away on the verge of tears, I want to assert that while I may not have the right answer immediately, I can be of service and we can figure out the new scanner – together.

Special Collections in the Health Sciences

Last week I had the interesting task of creating an inventory of books that were originally donated by a retired professor. Many of the books were historic textbooks from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. I couldn’t resist peeking inside a few, much to my fascination and dismay. Want to assure yourself that time travel would not, indeed, be fun? Read a medical textbook from the 1920s; we’ve come a long way since then.

But there were also a few amazing finds that I couldn’t resist sharing with my readers. First off, the opening image from The Modern Apothecary: A Compendium in Four Parts (1941), which is a drawing of the “prescription department of the Wade Drug Company, Cleveland, Ohio.”


The book comes in its own hardback case, presumably for pharmacists on the go!

And the other interesting finds, which were slightly harder to inventory as they were never actually published, were a set of day-books used by a doctor (or multiple different doctors) from the 1880s to the 1920s. They are fascinating primary documents that the donor must have picked up at auction or an estate sale somewhere. Each details the patients, number of visits, paid status, and sometimes specific ailments.

I’d love to have more information about them, but I suppose that will be up to the librarians in the Special Collections department.

It’s always a pleasure when archives and special collections pop up in unexpected places. Though I did end up with red rot all over my hands and pants (from resting the spines on my legs as I typed the inventory). Learned my lesson on that one!

Talks about the profession

There are posts all over the internet (many on my beloved Hack Library School) about defending the LIS field and developing your elevator speech. And while being prepared to counter the arguments of “Isn’t the internet making you obsolete?” and “Oh, so I guess you don’t want to make any money…” is definitely important, I’ve found some other recent conversations to be more interesting/engaging.

These conversations were less attack/defense than some can be, and instead about engaging on a personal level with people about their ideas about information, the role of libraries and librarians, and the connections between LIS and other disciplines.


Elevator speeches are the bomb and can definitely be expanded upon and incorporated into other conversations when necessary.

The first example is a humorous one that I detailed on my Tumblr: an auto parts store employee, upon learning that I am an LIS student, exclaimed something to the effect of, “Wow, that’s awesome! Librarians make so much money!” This came as a bit of a shock to me, as librarianship is widely (and for the most part, correctly) considered a “labor of love” profession – you probably won’t become  rich doing it, but you will experience intellectual fulfillment and you will be able to help your community thrive and grow. Rather than brush him off or counter with “What…” we ended up having a conversation about the realities of being a present-day librarian and how many in the LIS field are undervalued and underpaid. It ended up being an eye-opener for both of us, to say the least.

The second and more recent example came on a weekend trip with friends when, over lunch, one of them inquired about my LIS degree: “But you guys are doing some cool stuff, right? Since books are kind of going away? What do you have in the works?” It was, again, refreshing not to have to start with “no, my field is not obsolete because of the internet.” I explained that not all paper books are going away, particularly in the cases of high circulation copies of new books and classics in public libraries and of special collections/unique original materials. And then we got into the fun new stuff – digital libraries, e-books and e-journals, data management, etc. And we ended with a discussion about stickers (as an engineering tech, he frequently has to de-sticker things, which also occurs in the library world).

Both experiences were great examples of the changing perceptions around the library science field. I relish conversations like this, as they serve to clarify and expand ideas around what librarians do/can do/will do. Plus, they make me happier than the ignorant alternatives. :)





Health Sciences Library

I’m back in action with an extra gig! This summer I’ve taken on a new position as a grad hourly at the University of Illinois – Chicago Health Sciences Library in Urbana. Basically it is a branch library of the health sciences library at UIC in Chicago that serves the branch medical program located here in central Illinois. So far working here has been a great way to expand my experiences in science librarianship, as the patron base, subject material, and policies/work environment are all slightly different than my steady gig over at the Funk Library.

My first big project was to help with the recovery from a flood they had this past spring! The library is housed on the 1st and 2nd floors of the Medical Sciences building. A few months ago pipes burst on the 3rd floor where renovations have been ongoing for months, leaking gallons of water right onto the bookshelves! :(

This is still what it looks like today; tarp + missing ceiling tiles = fear for the books!

This is still what it looks like today; tarp + missing ceiling tiles = fear for the books!

Luckily this happened during business hours, so staff members leapt into action and moved hundreds of books out of the watery area. Unfortunately many books were damaged beyond easy/cheap repair; therefore, the library’s insurance will likely pay for the repurchasing of most of the damaged books that the library still wants.

Water and books just never mix. I've found everything from severe warping to dark mold. Don't worry, I wear gloves!

Water and books just don’t mix well. I’ve found everything from severe warping to dark mold. Don’t worry, I wear gloves!

Thus, one of my first projects this summer was creating an inventory of the damaged books, including current availability and price, to submit to the administration and insurance company. It was definitely a dirty job (with occasional mold; yuck!) but also very necessary for the library to eventually bounce back. In the meantime, the construction is still ongoing (but hopefully now with less book damage!) and I’m on to more projects, which I will detail later in the summer. If you’re in the area, feel free to stop by and visit!

Library of the Health Sciences – Urbana
102 Medical Sciences Building
506 S. Mathews
Urbana, Illinois, 61801

Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30AM-5PM

When the State Librarian is not, in fact, a librarian…

I don’t often lend a great deal of airtime to local and state-level libraries issues that aren’t in Illinois. While there are exceptions, I generally assume that there are many local factors at play and I try to defer to the judgement and statements of the affected local librarians. That being said, last week’s news from California definitely caught my eye…

California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Greg Lucas, a man with no library background or training, as the state librarian. Now, as an Illinoisan, I don’t really have much ground to stand on here. Our “state librarian” is lumped in with the title of Secretary of State. And while I, like everyone else, respect and admire Jesse White, our long-time Secretary of State, it is a bit of a bummer that we don’t have a dedicated state librarian. Thus, I really envy states that are, by law, required to appoint a “technically trained librarian” to the position, as is supposed to be the case in California. Brown is skirting around this issue by insisting that Lucas will be “pursuing additional technical training through San Jose State University’s library science program in the months ahead,” even though he has had no training at the time of his appointment.

While I don’t want to be too quick on the trigger, I do think that someone with librarian training and experience would bring background knowledge and a sense of purpose that would enhance the position. While Greg Lucas is a political blogger and writer and, thus, may very well do an excellent job advocating for libraries and librarians in California, it still does not sit well with me that the governor felt it appropriate to appoint Lucas. Why should the librarians of California be represented by someone that has never even walked a single day in their shoes, knows nothing firsthand of their struggles and realities, and has not even begun his study of the theoretical frameworks and issues surrounding modern librarianship? It frustrates me to see this happening to my coastal peers.

As mentioned above, I usually try to seek out local librarian viewpoints before making my own decisions. I leave you with the thoughts of a Sarah Houghton, a California librarian whose blog, Librarian in Black, is consistently fantastic and insightful:

I am disturbed by Brown’s appointment, but will reserve my final judgement until we know more about Lucas and hear directly from him. Hopefully that will happen before his confirmation hearing […] As a librarian it’s my job to advocate for my community[…] I, for one, am not yet convinced that this appointee is good for my community. I sincerely hope that he is–that he’s the best damned State Librarian we’ve ever seen. But until he is confirmed, I encourage my colleagues in positions of power within the state association and state government to ask the questions that aren’t being asked. Our California communities deserve no less.

I will be interested to see what becomes of this appointment, as I think it represents one of the key struggles that librarians face today: asserting and justifying our importance and value as trained professionals in our communities.

The Ongoing Learning Experience of Instruction

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been part of an ongoing database instruction project at work for two semesters. And what has struck me the most about the process is that I’ve come to view it as a process instead of a project. As we dive into the second semester I wanted to jot down a few things that I’ve learned from the process:

  • It is hard to get people to come to drop-in sessions. Last fall we scheduled two weeks of sessions on popular databases and promoted the heck out of them. And we only had a handful of people show up to each one (at most). :(
  • But(!) the patrons who did come were amazingly engaged and excited about the sessions! Patrons want this information!
  • We had to broaden our mindset in terms of audience: initially we were just targeting undergrads (mostly freshmen and sophomores) but we found that grad students and even faculty attended some sessions and wanted the database instruction information.
  • We decided to include a short survey at the end of each session, at the suggestion of our mentor librarian, for assessment purposes. It has been great for getting feedback about what worked, what didn’t, and what patrons want from such sessions in the future.
  • Our marketing/promotion approach has changed and intensified so much even with the short time period that we’ve been doing instruction. Last fall our promotion was largely poster, social media, and email-based. It has expanded this semester to include: website mentions, social media mentions, emails to departments, professors, and students, electronic signage and billboards, some posters (more targeted), small handouts, and announcements on the PA system in the library (shortly before the sessions start).
  • We also started to rethink the entire way we set up the sessions. While we’re still offering the drop-in sessions, we also crafted an email template to contact professors in our subject departments early in the semester with a solicitation for class-specific instruction sessions. This proved very successful, as we had multiple classes come for sessions on databases related to their material/assignments. It was great to be able to schedule a session and know that 30 people were going to be there.
  • Also, at the class sessions we passed around an email list for info about upcoming drop-in sessions. That way we can email interested folks directly!
  • As the person in charge of marketing/promotion, I decided it would be beneficial to write up a working list/document for each semester, complete with contact info, email templates/scripts, and chronological action items. It should help me keep things straight and will help with continuity when all of the current graduate assistants have graduated.
  • Lastly, actually preparing a half-hour instruction session on a database really helps you as a librarian. I’ve been able to delve more deeply into the search features of a few of the key databases that I recommend to people every day. Thus, my reference skills are improving as I teach!
This is what I look like while teaching (always with the moving hands, of course). One of the things we've tried to practice is moving around and engaging more of the room. (Photo credit: Terry Weech)

This is what I look like while teaching (always with the moving hands, of course). One of the things we’ve tried to practice is moving around and engaging more of the room. (Photo credit: Terry Weech)

We’re starting the spring drop-in sessions next Monday. Thus, the process continues. Hopefully by May we’ll have learned even more about successful strategies and methods.

Where in the world is the best library?

A few months ago I bookmarked a paper titled “Public Libraries in the Knowledge Society: Core Services of Libraries in Informational World Cities.” I had found it by way of mentions in a few articles about the “best libraries in the world.” I was initially interested in where US libraries ranked (most of the headlines had mentioned that Chicago Public was 3rd).

But after coming back to the paper this week, with a sharper international lens from my recent BOBCATSSS experience, I was more interested in the study’s criteria for their rankings.

For instance, for what reason (other than its lovely building) did Vancouver merit first place?

For instance, why (other than its lovely building) did Vancouver rank first? (Image source)

The study ended up breaking down qualifications for each library into its two key presences: the physical library (architecture, building space, drinks/food, RFID, ease of returning items, Wi-Fi, and library marketing activities) and the digital library (website, web-OPAC, e-resources, digitized content, digital resource guides, digital reference services, social media, and mobile development & access/apps) .

While I think a lot of those features make for valid criteria, it got me thinking about *my* criteria for what makes a great library. And while giant show-boat-y libraries in large cities are lovely and can make the rankings in worldwide studies, I think there is something equally valuable in smaller libraries that work with their modest budgets and really stand out in their communities as a gathering place, an access point, and a destination for discovery.

In short, big gorgeous libraries are big and gorgeous, but it doesn’t, in my opinion, mean they’re the best. Work with what you have and give your patrons the best you can offer and you’ll be #1 in my book.

Virtual Reference Desk

This semester I have been afforded an opportunity to work a few hours a week at my library system’s Virtual Reference Desk. While my normal job entails logging in to the library’s IM chat system (as referenced in my “Chat Reference” post), we at the Funk Library serve as back-up for the IM chat system. We usually only hop in and help when the volume of questions is very high or when we are referred questions about agriculture, biology, etc.

But the Virtual Reference Desk is the main hub for the library’s IM chat service. They receive and answer most of the incoming chats and transfer chats to subject specialists as needed. It has definitely been an interesting experience so far; being on the front line for virtual reference is very akin to working a physical reference desk: no matter the question, you need to figure out at least some way to try to answer it, even if that means referring it to someone who has more/different knowledge.

Yes, there are real people on the other end of the library chat service. We are hear to help you; and we are not robots! (Image Source)

Yes, there are real people on the other end of the library chat service. We are hear to help you; and we are not robots! (Image Source)

The Virtual Reference Desk is set up so that two people are always working, side by side. Each team is supposed to have at least one person who has done virtual reference for at least a year. I’ve found this extremely helpful, as I share my shifts with veteran graduate assistants and faculty librarians who I can turn to if I need help with a question.

So far my experience has been challenging, but very positive. The library where I work a reference desk is located near undergraduate dorms, so I’m used to a variety of questions. But working the Virtual Reference Desk has exposed me to all new kinds of questions, including everything from market data for cosmetic companies to digitized historical map access.

The other interesting/challenging part of extensive virtual reference is adapting my reference interview techniques to the IM chat medium, which is an ongoing process. It can be difficult to provide reference and instruction via IM chat because: you don’t know if the patron is successfully following along with your guidance; you cannot read the patron’s facial expressions and body language; you cannot point to specific links/buttons/areas on their screen, but rather have to describe such things and hope the patron finds them effectively. These issues seem trivial, but they definitely affect how you interact with patrons. And while I’ve been doing chat reference in a support/supplementary role at my current job for over a year, it is another animal when working shifts that are entirely devoted to virtual reference.

Overall, I’m extremely glad I have the opportunity to get more virtual reference experience and have relished the new challenges and experiences. While I may not be able to see my patrons in person, it doesn’t stop me from feeling like I’ve done some good and helped them find what they’re looking for.

Recent interaction with a bro-y patron. :)

Recent interaction with a bro-y patron. :)

Libraries I Love: Barcelona edition!

I spent last week in Barcelona, Spain for a library conference! The conference was fantastic and my presentation went well. I was also able to do a number of tourist-y things throughout the city, including visiting a few libraries! So here are the top 10 reasons to visit the National Library of Catalonia, or Biblioteca de Catalunya:

  1. It is located just off La Rambla, a popular walking district in the city with lots of shops, food, and fun times.

    I personally gave in to the gelato stands… So delicious…


  2. With roughly 3 million items, the National Library of Catalonia is the place for Catalan linguistic and historical research.
  3. The library hosts a number of temporary and travelling exhibits, so there is always something new to see and learn about!
  4. The library is housed in a former hospital building and the inside is truly gorgeous:
    I would study here every day!

    I would study here every day!


  5. The library still owns its original card catalog (which stopped being updated in the 1990s when the catalog became digital), complete with handwritten cards dating back to 1914!
  6. The library owns one of the oldest documents written in Catalan: the Homilies d’ Organyà, a collection of six sermons written in 1204.
  7. The library’s courtyard has its own orange trees! Maybe this is more common in Spain, but I found it to be pretty charming…

    Complete with a fountain!

    Complete with a fountain!

  8. The National Library contains the Frederic Marès Book Museum, a privately-donated collection that illustrates the history of the book from medieval times through today. Definitely a must-see for bibliophiles.
  9. Along with four other libraries in Catalonia, the National Library has partnered with Google to digitize and add books in Spanish and Catalan to the Google Books Library Project. Definitely a great access initiative that will open up Catalonia to the rest of the world!
  10. A local public library is housed in the same building; so if you’re in the mood for something lighter or less academic, it’s just a stroll across the courtyard!
    There is also a lovely children's department (not pictured)!

    There is also a lovely children’s department (not pictured)!


To visit the National Library of Catalonia:

Hospital, 56
08001 Barcelona, Spain
+34-93-270-23-00 (ext. 3155)

Hours: Monday-Friday, 9AM-8PM; Saturday, 9AM-2PM; Sunday, closed



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