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

BOBCATSSS & Previews of Spring

As mentioned in a previous post, next week I will be travelling to Barcelona, Spain for BOBCATSSS. I will be co-presenting a paper written with my advisor on marketing in library & information science education. There are actually a handful of University of Illinois students presenting papers and posters at BOBCATSSS this year, as detailed in this news piece.

Very excited to be going to my first conference; also, still very much in preparations mode, hence the lack of a real post. But(!), some things on the horizons for this winter/spring:

  • Designing the table banner I have a marketing grant for
  • My new second job at my library system’s Virtual Reference Desk
  • The ever-evolving database instruction sessions at my main job
  • My personal thoughts/take on e-readers
  • And, obviously, pictures from libraries in Spain!

In the meantime, you’ll have to excuse my week-long absence, as I will be here:

Can't wait!

Can’t wait!

Marketing grant!

I just recently received news that a grant proposal submitted by myself and a coworker was accepted! Mentioned back in my Grants galore! post, the grant is for marketing efforts within the academic library where I work. We’re going to use the funds to create and produce a promotional banner for tabling at departmental and divisional events (to promote the library and our collections/services/location/etc.!) and promotional handouts/postcards so that we have something to give people at these tabling events.

Woohoo! Grant secured!

Woohoo! Grant secured!

Now comes the hard/exciting part of putting together the promotional materials and getting them printed at Document Services… I’ll definitely be posting updates on this project, as it is my first major grant project, as well as one of my first major marketing projects. In addition to creating the promotional materials, we also have to eventually submit a narrative report on our project once it is completed.

Reading for Pleasure – 2013

As I did last year, I want to take some time to go over my non-academic reading choices of the past year, establish new goals, and recommend a few new literary favorites!

In 2013 I finished 40 non-academic books for a total of 14,887 pages (up from 26 books and 10,611 pages in 2012). Some were for the book club I attend (which meets about once every 6 weeks), others were recommended by friends and family, and others were found online via Tumblr or Goodreads. Here are the books I read in 2013, with occasional thoughts and comments (for full reviews, see my Goodreads page) (also, my must-read favorites are marked with *’s):

  1. The Omnivore’s Dilemma*, Michael Pollan
    This one took forever. I started it in early December 2012. Let’s just say that non-fiction, no matter how engaging, can take me a while to get through. Nevertheless I very much enjoyed it and would highly recommend to everyone (get to know your national food system, people).
  2. Child 44*, Tom Rob Smith
    Excellent thriller I read for book club. Was surprised that I loved it so much. Can’t wait for them to turn this one into a highly suspenseful movie.
  3. Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories, Simon Van Booy
    Lovely language and turns of phrase that only occasionally become a bit overly sentimental.
  4. Different Seasons*, Stephen King
    Fantastic novellas, three of which have been turned into movies, two of which I’ve seen (Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me). All are lovely and wonderful, some are scary and some are sad. Would highly recommend to all.
  5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
    I seem to be the only person my age who didn’t read this book during adolescence. Nevertheless, understood why people like it and was pleased with the movie adaptation.
  6. Learning to Love You More, Harrell Fletcher
    Lovely art project that consisted of posting instructions and accepting/displaying output submissions. Interesting concept; loved the book.
  7. The Great Escape, Paul Brickhill
    Ah, my attempts to read “classics.” This book was entertaining, though not my favorite war story by any means. Interesting glimpse into a WWII POW camp, a setting with which I was not previously very familiar.
  8. A Game of Thrones*, George R.R. Martin
    Yep, I took the plunge. Mostly because I wanted to watch the HBO show and couldn’t stand the thought of doing so without reading the books first. Very much enjoyed the first one and was sufficiently hooked.
  9. A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin
    Still hooked but this one felt a bit slower. Needed to plow through it so I could keep watching the show though.
  10. Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter
    Read this one for book club; short and sweet rom-com novel that surprised me a number of times by not taking the typical rom-com easy outs.
  11. A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin
    Ugh so much death! I love me some sad fantasty plot, but goodness gracious! Definitely a number of interesting plot twists; cannot WAIT until the TV show catches up with the end of this book.
  12. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls*, David Sedaris
    Love him. Will continue to do so. Got my copy signed this fall. He drew an owl in it. It made me soooo happy.
  13. My Life in France*, Julia Child
    Really enjoyed this memoir about France, love, food, and life. Very engaging and offers much more detail than the related movie (Julie and Julia, which I also enjoyed).
  14. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Read this before seeing the new movie. Hadn’t read it since high school; the good news – it totally held up and I enjoyed it just as much. Yay, resilient high school reads!
  15. Revolutionary Road*, Richard Yates
    Normally when I read a book after watching its movie I am newly disappointed in the movie. However, in this case, I was doubly impressed by the direction and performances in the movie (which I already adored) as they did an amazing job standing up next to Yates’ incredible writing.
  16. A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin
    I anticipated this book being harder to get through (since it only covers half of the main characters) but found myself pleasantly surprised by the development of a variety of characters old and new (Jaime, Brienne, etc.).
  17. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt
    Finally got around to reading this on my vacation on Tybee Island (very close to Savannah, GA, where the book is set). Loved Berendt’s neutral, non-judgmental narration.
  18. A Dance with Dragons*, George R.R. Martin
    Oh, George R.R. Martin. You devil, you. Very much enjoyed this book, all the while lamenting the fact that I started an unfinished series. Now I’ll just have to wait around like all of the other SOFAI chumps for the next book.
  19. The Wayward Bus, John Steinbeck
    Read this for our “classic” selection at book club. Was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Steinbeck’s character studies and sense of time/place (seeing as how I hated Grapes of Wrath in high school).
  20. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy Kaling
    Yay for female comedians and The Office and light-and-fluffy, post-Song-of-Fire-and-Ice reads!
  21. This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Díaz
    For how many lists I’ve seen this book on I really didn’t enjoy it that much. Díaz definitely has a talent for evoking specific places/cultures very effectively, but I felt like the narrative was too disjointed.
  22. Sleepwalk With Me, Mike Birbiglia
    I’m a pretty big fan of Mike Birbiglia. This book has more sad/poignant bits than his stand-up, and sounds more like his Moth podcast stories. Overall, a great read, but I would suggest the audiobook (as his delivery really makes it).
  23. Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love, Thomas Maier
    Read this one for book club. Interesting biography of the two researchers, though fairly one-sided in favor of Johnson. The best parts were when Maier situated Masters and Johnson within the larger historical context of American feelings about sex, relationships, and sex research throughout the 20th century.
  24. All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps, Dave Isay
    Very lovely little collection of true stories by people all over the country in StoryCorp booths. Laughter, tears, all of it. ALL OF THE FEELINGS.
  25. The Secret Garden*, Frances Hodgson Burnett
    loved this movie when I was a kid and decided it was time to see if the book held up just as well. Conclusion: it is amazing and maybe even better than the movie. Beautiful descriptions of nature and articulate portrayals of the selfishness and loneliness of being a child.
  26. The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant, Dan Savage
    I enjoyed Savage’s podcasts and was interested in his story of adoption. Very funny, sad, and honest.
  27. Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian*, Avi Steinberg
    I really enjoyed this memoir. From the library/librarian references to the hilarious observations to the heartbreaking realizations, it was lovely. Read this on my own and then got it in at book club, where most members didn’t end up liking it. :( Not for everyone, I suppose.
  28. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote
    Enjoyed this novella SO much more than the movie. Can’t see why they made so many changes, as the novella is lovely as it is, completely different ending and all.
  29. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers
    Decided to side-step the hype and finally give this book a try. I… sort-of enjoyed it… Can’t say I’m a huge fan of the stylized/internal/reflective/constructed bits, but they’re not for everybody.
  30. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
    Another reread from high school, though I did not enjoy this one as much as I remember enjoying it in high school. Mostly just ended up wanting a corresponding novel told from the point of view of the female characters.
  31. Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps, Kelly Williams Brown
    I’m a fan of the blog this book is based on and of the concept that 20-somethings often have “I’m not a real adult!” moments. Some pretty sound advice, some of which was new to me.
  32. Ender’s Game*, Orson Scott Card
    Another case of wanting to read the book before seeing the movie. Very much enjoyed the book – good sci-fi, realistic portrayal of childhood cruelty, and an interesting starter novel for a narrative world (am interested in reading more in the Ender series).
  33. The Light Between Oceans, M. L. Stedman
    Another surprisingly good book club read. Historical fiction set in 20th century Australia with ambiguous moral/ethical situations. Would recommend to those who enjoy historical fiction.
  34. The New Kings of Non-Fiction, Ira Glass
    Yay for compilations that introduce me to new writers! The only bummer being that merely two of the “new kings” are ladies. :(
  35. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
  36. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
    Reread these two in anticipation of the Catching Fire movie. Still love them. :)
  37. The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism, Naoki Higashida
    An illuminating book that attempts to shed some light on the inner life of a person on the autistic spectrum. Would recommend to those wishing to broaden their mindset.
  38. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed
    This book will make you want to hike. This book will make you judge naive hikers (looking at you, Cheryl). This book will make you want to tell your mother you love her. Overall, very enjoyable. My only critique is that there were no pictures! (Though I did find some by googling.)
  39. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, Nora Ephron
  40. I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections, Nora Ephron
    Picked up these two as they were on display at a local library and I love Nora Ephron’s screenplays. While both have a tendency to get a little first-world-problems at times they also each include a number of poignant observations on aging, femininity, death/dying, and being a human in the 20th/21st century. Pretty light/fluffy, but worth a read nonetheless.

Overall, a very good year. Definitely met my goal of keeping up with 2012 me (at least 25 books and 10,000 pages). One series, a handful of “classics”, 20 non-fiction books (including 14 memoirs), and a variety of novels and short story collections.

As for 2014, I’m stepping up my goals a bit, to match my new speed. Seeing as how my workload will be the same, I’d like to accomplish about what I did in 2013: around 40 books or 15,000 pages (whichever comes first?). I’d like to maintain a goal of at least one new series a year. Despite any misgivings, I’d like to continue pushing myself to read non-fiction for pleasure, and I want push myself to read more older (19th century?) classics. Yay for for-pleasure reading!

Norwegians are the best

Finals and conference deadlines have my brain scrambled. So here’s a fun fact/news item: Norway is in the middle of digitizing its ENTIRE national library:

As The Atlantic was lovely enough to highlight, the Scandinavian nation is hard at work, with the goal of digitizing their entire Norwegian-language national library by the mid-2020s:

“Imagine digital archaeologists coming across the remains of early 21st century civilization in an old data center on the warming tundra. They look around, find some scraps of Buzzfeed and The Atlantic, maybe some Encyclopaedia Britannicas, and then, gleaming in the data: a complete set of Norwegian literature.

Suddenly, the Norwegians become to 27th-century humans what the Greeks were to the Renaissance. Everyone names the children of the space colonies Per and Henrik, Amalie and Sigrid. The capital of our new home planet will be christened Oslo.”

I can dig it. (Although not really because that would mean that the Norwegians were the only nation awesome enough to care about massive digital preservation which would be upsetting!)


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