By Meredith Farkas | October 4, 2005
I’m nearly two months into my job as a Distance Learning Librarian. When I think back to what my dream job was in library school, I am shocked by how close my reality fits the dream (other than the fact that Michael Stephens, Jessamyn West and all my other favorite bloggers don’t work with me). I work with the nicest people imaginable. I get to work with websites, develop cool tech projects, and still provide reference assistance and instruction. It’s the best of both worlds. What shocks me even more is how much I’ve accomplished in this short amount of time:
- Created a proposal to provide IM reference services and got my supervisor to agree to launch a pilot project in the Spring Semester.
- Did usability testing of our current website.
- Developed a mockup of how I thought the Web site should be reorganized (based on the usability results), presented it to library staff, and got the green light to make it happen.
- Got a VPS (Virtual Private Server) off-campus where we can put Captivate tutorials, create an Intranet, have a wiki, and do other webby things. Prior to this, the library didn’t have any server space of its own. Someone outside of the library was in control of the website and there was no way the library could just upload something without asking. For my IM proposal (which I did as a Web page), I had to upload it to my home server! Without server space, there was no way I’d be very effective in my job, and (understandably) no one on campus wanted those bandwidth-sucking tutorials I’ll be creating on their servers. This is the first time I’ve ever set up a domain and a server on my own, so it’s been terrifying and empowering. I’m glad to have the opportunity and am so happy to have server space!
- Developed a Library Access FAQ to address the many off-campus access issues we got emailed about daily. Hopefully it will help students to help themselves. I also created a webform so that we could get the information we need to quickly troubleshoot problems.
- Lobbied to use a wiki for our subject guides, since ours need an overhaul anyways. I’m not sure if it’ll happen, but I’m definitely getting some interest in the idea. I think I’ll set up MediaWiki on the VPS and let staff play with it!
This is where you get when you’re a pushy bee-otch like I am! That’s not true. Well, I am pushy, but I would have come up against brick wall after brick wall if I didn’t work with such open-minded change-oriented people. Our Library Director is just as impatient as I am. She wants the library to have as much control over our electronic destiny as possible. Her enthusiasm is absolutely contagious, and I’m thrilled to work for such an inspirational woman. My supervisor is very tech-curious and is the sort of person who’s always asking, “well why can’t we do this?” The Systems Librarian definitely has a user-centered orientation (he even works reference shifts!). He’s supportive of my ideas, but rightly tempers my enthusiasm with good practical questions about security, workflow, etc.
On the institutional level, my job is more of a delicate dance. I walk a fine line between wanting to be liked by everyone and wanting to push for change. Inside the library, everyone is very open to change. Outside the library there are varying levels of openness and varying levels of understanding of the place of the library in Distance Learning. I’m learning that different people and different departments require different approaches when you want to get something done. Some require a direct approach, some require more finessing, and others you need to get someone powerful behind your idea before approaching them at all. It makes me wish I’d taken some marketing or public relations classes.
In any other library, I don’t think I would even have felt comfortable making any major suggestions in the first two months, but MPOW was really ripe for change. There were things the staff wasn’t happy with, but they just didn’t have the manpower (or womanpower) to change them. Still, I sometimes catch myself being a little too pushy and I have to slam on the brakes. In academia there are so many policies and rules that keep things from getting done in a timely manner. And Norwich has way fewer than most. Although I totally understand the logic behind it, I don’t like the rule that one person is a liaison to this group and all communication goes through them (even though I am the liaison to two of the most important departments on campus). When it comes to IT stuff, I just want to get it done, so these conventions make me crazy. I’m not a fan of rules that keep me from getting things done, even if there are very good reasons for them. I’m just so impatient. I’m trying to learn patience. I’m trying to see beyond what would be good for the students and anticipate the effects my ideas will have on faculty and staff as well. I’m trying to be diplomatic. I’m trying to see the big picture and realize that I don’t need to get everything done now. My career is just starting. I have plenty of time.