The ACRL Distance Learning Section (DLS) Membership and Event committee started a “Member of the Month” initiative to highlight our diverse members. Here is our highlight on Matthew LaBrake, Senior Director, Online Library & Technology Services at Berkeley College.
If you are interested in being or nominating an ACRL DLS “Member of the Month”, please fill out this brief nomination/sign up form.
Name: Matthew LaBrake
How long have you been a DLS member?
Where do you work and what do you do there?
I serve as the Senior Director, Online Library & Technology Services, at Berkeley College. I provide leadership and vision for all aspects of distance learning library services, while also working across our seven physical campuses and Berkeley College Online in the exploration and integration of new and emerging technologies for teaching, learning and creative inquiry. My responsibilities span across budgeting, staffing, strategic planning, policy, electronic collection development, system administration, reference, instruction, assessment, and virtual co-curricular programming.
What is unique about your institution, and how does your work as a distance services librarian support the mission?
At Berkeley College, we pride ourselves in ensuring our distance learners receive the same level of services and support as their onsite peers; and thus have a dedicated staff and budget to support the online library. We have over 1,200 students completing degree programs completely online, and over a third of our campus based students are taking at least one online class. Berkeley College Online is certified by the United States Distance Learning Association for excellence in distance learning, and we have been ranked among the Best Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs by US News and World Report for six consecutive years. I lead a team of online librarians in support of the College’s mission. We offer a comprehensive embedded librarian program, live virtual reference services 90 hours a week, and an array of virtual events and clubs available to all students.
How do you bridge the distance with online learners? What’s one way you create community for your distance learners?
We connect with students through synchronous chat, text messaging, and video conferences. An automated appointment-booking tool allows online students to schedule research consultations to be held through Zoom. As many of our online students are working parents, I hire part time librarians who work remotely to support our virtual reference at night and on weekends. The library presence is fully embedded in our learning management system as a tab in every course, and we’ve introduced LTIs that allow for our electronic resources and instructional materials to be embedded at point-of-need within course shells. Librarians work closely with faculty to provide information literacy instruction in online courses, often creating assignments and facilitating weeklong discussions where students apply research skills in relation to course learning outcomes. Some of us create brief video introductions as to apply a level of personalization to our interactions with online students.
We’ve been very successful in building community for distance learners through virtual co-curricular programming initiatives, often in collaboration with faculty and other student support departments. We host an Online Book Club on Goodreads where students participate in asynchronous discussions each term. Book discussions are typically supplemented with live streamed author events where online students can relay questions to guest speakers in real time. We host many other online programs, some of which include a Virtual Art & Creativity Festival, Online Essay Contest, Virtual Field Trips, Online Chat-and-Chews, and Virtual Scavenger Hunts. We find many of our onsite students also participate in these activities, connecting our entire student population across our campuses and virtually.
How do you recharge your knowledge of distance library services?
I’m a lifelong learner, regularly attending and presenting at state and national conferences on topics related to distance learning, online library services, instructional design, online student engagement, and emerging technologies for teaching and learning. I’ve attended the last couple DLS conferences and have found them to be an excellent course of inspiration and networking. I also make an effort to participate in non-library-specific conferences such as OLC and EDUCAUSE. I’m a member of the DLS Instruction Committee and help plan professional development activities for librarians. I also stay up to date by reading the latest library publications, and networking with other librarians through Listservs and other channels like Slack and LinkedIn.
What’s something fun that you’re doing now (outside of your work as a distance librarian)?
My role allows me to work closely with faculty and librarians to evaluate and implement new and emerging technologies for teaching and learning. Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to drive innovation with augmented and virtual reality at Berkeley. I recently led a Virtual Reality Faculty Interest Group that led to new research on the impact of VR on student engagement and learning. I’ve also collaborated with campus librarians to develop an Augmented Reality Mobile Scavenger Hunt to orient students to our libraries through a gamified hands-on experience. My continued research interest is around the impact of these technologies on distance learning.
My wife and I are expecting a baby boy later this month and I can’t wait to be a dad!
What are you reading right now?
“Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” by Joseph Aoun, “The Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss, and “The Expectant Father: The Ultimate Guide for Dads-to-Be” by Armin Brott.
Twitter, LinkedIn, or other handles you would like us to share?