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Slowly, slowly run, o horses of the night

Caught up in the rapture, by Flickr user Analogick

Caught up in the rapture, by Flickr user Analogick

It was the end of the semester as I knew it, and I felt fine (Sr. Helen Prejean was our commencement speaker, and she was wonderful; you can watch her here, fast-forward to minute 22). Before I get into a little catch-up with the five of you still reading this blog, please note that our university is in search for a Vice President for Advancement.

We all evolve, and part of my evolution is to appreciate how my work life is unfolding at a different pace than it has in all but a couple previous positions. By now,  a year and a half into a job, one of two things would have happened: either I would start to get itchy feet–often driven by the sense I was “done”–or our family situation would require I start preparing for another household move.

But in fact, I feel as if I just arrived at my job, and one way or the other, we’re here for good. I spent 30 years living worldwide, and I now understand the meaning of “home.”

“Lente, Lente”

At work, I have big ideas, but they necessarily take a back seat to the essential groundwork for big ideas (“Lente, lente” as our university president puts it–Latin for “Slowly, slowly”).

It’s obvious to anyone familiar with state-of-the-art higher-education libraries that our facility needs assessment, a major plan, and renovation/overhaul. But a big part of our groundwork has been to maximize our “essentialness” to our university — as I put it yesterday as we welcomed students in the summer-long advising sessions known as Hawk Days, we’re part of their student success. (The other part is to be patient through our university’s transition to new leadership.)

Whether it’s a book talk, a gaming night, a traditional “info lit” class, a Smartboard seminar for faculty,  buying multiple copies of a “hot” title, training student workers, or making the facility more comfortable and attractive, our service suite fits together as a whole, all of it equally important: providing research help, training faculty on emerging technologies for instruction, making the library a welcoming second home to students, offering formal instruction in information literacy,  and offering informal instruction through art and literary events that teach students that libraries are a life habit worth acquiring.

Even something as seemingly small as our signage policy looms huge, as our commitment to radical hospitality includes not scolding people before they’ve had a chance to do anything wrong (and signage has zero impact on offenders, anyway). We model ourselves after the nicer libraries we’ve visited; being small doesn’t preclude being stylish or elegant. I’ve developed good relations with our marketing department because frankly, we’re not experts in this area.

Books are for Use

I’ve been asked about our faculty-driven acquisition model. Basically, I turned most traditional print acquisition over to faculty for 2010-2011, holding back 15% of the book budget for supporting interlibrary loan and sundry purchases, and distributing the rest through allocation letters and frequent reminders by email and paper mail. (Note: most of our “collection” is electronic journals and databases; the book budget is less than 10% of the overall collection budget.)

The faculty were greatly appreciative, but participation was uneven, and managing the allocations was a pain. However, what I learned from their selection was fascinating.

Most of the selection was in DVD, for high-quality sets to use in the classroom. None of it (thankfully) was “reference” (we have excellent coverage of this type of title anyway in our online resources). Some of the choices featured books that faculty were personally interested in reading, and they requested these titles very tentatively, warming up when I assured them that yes, their research needs mattered.

In the discretionary-spending area, I held off on any predictive “the library should own this title” purchasing and watched for demand and situations. I think I scandalized a few folks when I purchased 14 copies of “Getting to Yes,” which was featured in our kickoff “Books That Helped Me” book talk series, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat; every one of those books was checked out at least once.

I also purchased “If you liked…” titles for our First Year Experience books (we’re reading Zeitoun this fall, and last year was Persepolis), and also bought multiple copies of all the titles we were evaluating. This helped us build a small popular-reading collection.

Once in a great while, I bought a book I felt we should own, such as Infinite City, Rebecca Solnit’s atlas/love poem to San Francisco. I am a librarian, after all.

For 2011-2012, I am retooling. From the top, I am setting aside more of the budget for multi-format popular-reading materials — not just books popular with students, but current academic hot stuff like DIY U and Academically Adrift.

I’ll launch the year with enticing collections, dead-tree and electronic (in some cases buying in both formats). Then every month I’ll remind faculty they can select books, and I’ll spend up to a predetermined amount. (I call this the Darwinian model.) That way the book budget will flow to the faculty members most motivated to act on it. At the end of the third quarter, as with this year, the book budget reverts entirely back to the library.

The library/ian is a living organism

We have an interesting to-do list for the summer, from implementing Overdrive and WorldCat Local to chomping through a significant part of our uncataloged books, weeding print journals, and buying slatwall towers for our popular reading, now bulging from a small display stand. Plus the work by two successive interns to catalog our K-12 collection has freed up another room perfect for large study groups or small conferences.

After the “new” room is tricked out with table, chairs, and whiteboard, I’m going throw a “room-warming” to celebrate it. Every once in a while I wonder what it’s like to be the dean of a very large research library, and it probably doesn’t involve so much joy over something that small.

Soon I will do my regular “this is what I think I’m doing at ALA” post, and if I had been blogging since 1992, you would notice that a regular dinner I attend has moved from 8p.m.-ish back almost 2 hours, and at that, I know we’ll be yawning when we’re done. Slowly, slowly we evolve physically as well — we too are “living organisms” and wisdom and experience make up for creaking parts and earlier bedtimes.

Bonus to those who read this far

We haven’t finished drafting the position description, but we are funded for a new librarian position — an entirely new position — as of July 1.  We did quite well with our last position, and now we will have a two-person team — at last, we’ll be able to launch a small but real faculty-liaison program.  One librarian will do ERM and the other will do e-theses and other repository work; both will teach, provide research help (aka “reference”), and “other duties as assigned” (if you like to weed, you’ll LOVE our library). We’re still pondering the right complement of subject expertise to benefit our institution.

Enthusiasm and optimism, emotional maturity, esprit de corps, openness to new ideas, non-aversion to small-library scutwork, willingness to give and receive feedback, a bias toward excellence, excellent communication skills, and the ability to be your own administrative assistant are essential, but so is library and other work experience.

I apologize in advance to those who send in their c.v.s and never hear back; in such a small institution, we need workers who are shelf-ready and known commodities. That probably sounds awful, but it’s to your own benefit that we only consider experienced candidates. There’s no extra padding in our tiny library. The flip side is that if you have lots of experience and the job market is making it hard to get that higher-level position, our library requires us all to be executives (as well as our own minions) — a nice career-building opportunity.

It will take several weeks to formalize the announcement (lente, lente), but it’s real and it’s a great opportunity.

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