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Navigating above Cloud-Level

(Note, I am alone Christmas Eve, but Sandy joins me tomorrow–so excuse the holiday post!)

Though I hate the slog of air travel per se, I do love flight, and my favorite moment is when the plane lifts above cloud level, with the sky above us and the cloud stretched out underneath in an infinite soft white duvet. In that moment, everything is possible, and my heart is as light as the misty tufts  drifting below.

One of my current professional challenges is to help change what a university community knows about library services. I’m rewriting the library narrative for My Place of Work. It’s exhilarating and scary and a freakish amount of effort.

I feel the responsibility of doing this, not simply for MPOW, but for our profession. Every student, every faculty member, every staff person who experiences our library carries that narrative into the rest of their life. They become the people who sit on library boards, vote on library bonds, and decide what other university libraries should be.

I am alert to opportunities to revise our narrative. One opportunity became apparent went I heard about OCLC‘s Navigator. To boil this down into non-jargony terms for my non-librarian readers, basically, Navigator makes interlibrary loan a pushbutton experience. (Behind scenes, library elves have myriad tasks to complete, but from the user’s point of view, it’s designed to be as easy as clicking a link.)  I felt an “ahah” when I saw Navigator in action. I knew immediately we needed to do this (and the pricing is right, too).

There is more to Navigator than interlibrary loan–including a cloud-based library management system (LMS) that makes absolute sense for a library our size. That’s down the road, and we are currently using another LMS, but you can bet I have my eye on Navigator’s LMS. No disrespect to current products, but it’s the difference between Dialog blue-sheets and Google.

(For library wonks, I also see Navigator tying into two other things that are key: service to distance-ed/adult students through affiliate libraries that serve as pickup locations; and even more ambitiously, being able to use Navigator to retrieve items from centralized storage facilities. This latter point will allow us to relocate low-use items from our facilities while retaining excellent service to our users.)

However, moving back to the interlibrary loan function, to be able to move to Navigator, the library had to be a full member of OCLC, which it was not. This membership also enables other things we need to be able to do, such as streamline cataloging, purchase cataloging records when we buy books, and so forth. And in a bigger sense, it is important for our library to become part of something as significant as an international database of library records. It is saying that we are bigger than the walls that surround our books.

Well, the upshot is that today, after a lot of hard work from a rep who frankly had many other bigger libraries to deal with, we received the quote to upgrade to OCLC full membership. We would be crazy NOT to do this, and I had already surgically relocated the appropriate organ from one section of our budget to another to make this happen. I signed the paperwork and tried to fax it… the library’s fax machine hates me… all fax machines hate me… so I popped the form into an envelope and mailed it to the Big O.

I feel very complete at the moment. I realize someone running a big ol’ fancy-schmancy ARL may think, big whoop, her teensy library joined OCLC; where is our digital-repository-electronic-thesis-fully-automated-commons? The answer is that we are farther down Maslow’s Hierarchy, and for us, this is a big achievement.  Not only that, but we’re not just joining OCLC for the records. Our instrument panel tells us we’re headed into the clouds.

With that, I’m going to open a beer and watch It’s a Wonderful Life. My best to all of you, library wonks and otherwise!

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  1. Julie wrote:

    Merry Christmas!

    Friday, December 25, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink
  2. stevenb wrote:

    I can relate to your post because not all that long ago I was where you are now – directing (I think you are the director)a small college-becoming a small university-(2500 fte) library at a resource constrained, tuition-driven private institution. I recall those no-brainer revelations for a new resource that we just had to have because we knew it would tremendously benefit our user community and would much improve the teaching and learning. So I am actually glad to hear success stories from libraries of all sizes, despite that I now work at an ARL. One thing I learned about myself from my college director experience is that there is something uniquely rewarding about being at a behind-the-curve institution with a struggling library that needs change badly. When you have even a small victory it makes a huge difference. Before that I worked at a well-resourced ivy league library where we could get almost anything we needed and had a sizable tech staff to implement the latest whatever. But that was the expectation – to be in the cloud looking down at others (what Robert Danton referred to as “lesser libraries” (see But the ARL I work at is far from the Ivy cloud. We still don’t have a repository. We have a bunch of computers, but no commons. We just started dealing with e-dissertations. We barely have anything digitized. We are just working hard to make a better library experience for the community after many years of terrible underfunding and dysfunctional leadership. What I learned is that it is much more rewarding to work at the resource constrained, behind-the-curve library because your small (by standards) accomplishments are more powerful and more greatly appreciated. I would certainly hope that no one at an ARL library would look down on your accomplishments, because we should all remember that we’re in this profession together and that a rising tides lifts all of our boats. At least I don’t feel your ARL comment applies to MPOW.

    Friday, December 25, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  3. Steven, You exactly state what is so very satisfying about this job to me (and was satisfying to me in other libraries and projects where I have been the MFWIC). I think we’re on the same page, though, just to clarify, this isn’t ARL-bashing.

    Friday, December 25, 2009 at 11:58 am | Permalink

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  1. [...] have been giving a lot of thought to some issues Steven Bell raised in his comment to my last post about the challenges of directing small, private, tuition-driven university libraries.  One of the [...]

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