Outreach Writing

Call for CJCLS Newsletter Articles

CJCLS colleagues — we would love to hear about what is happening in your libraries and communities! Why not write an article for the Spring 2023 CJCLS Newsletter? We are looking for stories about:

  • library programming
  • library instruction
  • equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives
  • collaborations with other departments or institutions
  • other ideas — what do you have in mind?

Please contact us with any questions, or submit a story between 200-500 words with your name, job title, and your library name to by Monday, April 24. The newsletter will be published in May on ALA Connect, via social media, and our Newsletters webpage.

We look forward to your ideas and submissions!

Friday Finds

Today’s Library… and Tomorrow’s Library

I recently came across a fantastic Pinterest board with library design ideas assembled ten years ago by the Inver Hills Community College Library as they planned a remodel. Wouldn’t it be inspiring, I thought, to create an updated version of this?

Next year, my library building celebrates its 30th anniversary. From the outside, it still looks contemporary and appealing. This plot of land has come a long way since it was home to a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant!

The PCC Shatford Library at Pasadena City College

Much has changed, though, since the library was built in 1993. The year of our grand opening, a student might have walked out the door of our sparkling new edifice with a backpack full of books, a ream of photocopies, or a stack of printed articles accessed via CD-ROM databases. Today, students can access sources and get online research assistance without ever setting foot in the building, but the many who do come in expect a robust WiFi connection, power for their devices, easy access to help, and spaces for both quiet study and group work. (Yes, and books, too.)

Birthday cake celebrating Shatford Library 20th Year in 2013
Our 20th anniversary cake in 2013.
Next year, another photo cake?

How has our building kept up with the times? Some areas have been successfully repurposed over the years. For example, the Periodicals room gave way to our “Research Zone” computer lab. The copy room is no more – in fact, our photocopiers have all made way for book scanners and networked printers. We have plenty of computers for students, the WiFi is generally stable, and we’ve installed a phone locker that sanitizes devices with ultraviolet light while they’re charging.

However, our wish list is growing. We need more outlets throughout the building to accommodate students’ needs, but that wasn’t foreseen in 1993, and we’d have to dig into the concrete floor to run more power. Shelving that once housed a massive and aging reference collection and a wide range of print periodicals now begs to make way for collaborative space for students, but the only lighting in that area was built directly into the top of the shelving itself. Oops.

Hey, let’s build all the lighting into the shelves!

Our faithful Reference Desk is an island set apart from the imposingly large Circulation Desk – the pinnacle of 1993 library services planning. We’d love to see a combined services desk giving us more flexibility, and students less consternation. Now we’re talking demolition and construction.

You may approach.

We librarians are a scrappy bunch, and we’re always dreaming/devising/proposing ways to update our 30-year old building. When infrastructure isn’t adequate, we find a workaround when we can. But the wish list, it keeps growing. And planning is made even more challenging as we wonder whether pandemic-era changes have made a lasting impact on library use.

How old is your library building? Has it kept up with changes in use? What were the best changes made over the years, and what do you want or wonder about for the future? Maybe you’ll stir a colleague reading from across the miles to propose something new. May today’s Friday Finds lead us to find some inspiration!

Friday Finds

Making Reference Count

 “counting IIII” by Martin Fisch. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

For years, reference stats meant keeping a tally using hash marks on a paper form. Over time, though, simply measuring how busy we were at a physical desk no longer sufficed. The value of the community college library and its services must now be demonstrated year in, year out. Identifying trends can also help us adjust our services to meet our students’ needs. Hash marks no longer suffice. What tools can help us with a more sophisticated analysis?

This subject came up in the CJCLS Community on ALA Connect when a librarian asked colleagues to respond with how their libraries capture reference data. “We currently use the READ scale (on paper),” she wrote, but “our current data collection doesn’t tell us if it is email, chat, etc. And we aren’t currently capturing the subject of the question.”

Answers came in from librarians around the country. Several referred to the Springshare line of products, including LibInsight and their LibAnswers component, Reference Analytics. Sandra McCarthy from Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan, uses yet another Springshare product to track reference desk questions. “We created a LibWizard form,” she wrote. The form captures date, time, day of week, and level of reference following the Warner Model.

A Florida librarian says that her library uses DeskTracker from Compendium Library Services. “The program is very flexible,” she writes. It “allows us to add questions or comment boxes for each of our forms.”

Lisa Eichholtz, from Jefferson Community & Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky, says because her Learning Commons incorporates both library and tutoring services, some of their data for extended reference services comes to them through Tutortrac.

The free Google Forms site works for one librarian in Texas, who writes that the form was customized to collect much the same information that can be found in Reference Analytics and then sorts the answers into a spreadsheet.

I also responded to this query. I used to work at a library in Los Angeles which used Gimlet to track reference stats. Gimlet’s tagging feature was especially nice for analytics, as we could design our own custom tags to make reporting easy.

If you’re considering more sophisticated reference tracking tools, these are all worth looking into!

Having maintained reference stats forms for the past fifteen years, I have learned that there’s a balance to strike between collecting richly detailed data and keeping the form simple for librarians to fill out on the fly. “It takes a few seconds to document each patron interaction, but I’ve found I can usually do it immediately after the patron walks away,” writes a librarian in Houston, Texas. That’s the sweet spot to aim for. It helps to separate the nice-to-knows from the need-to-knows: What can you use to help improve services from the ground up? What does library management want to find out? What does your larger campus administration need to know in terms of the value of your library’s services?

The biggest question for me, right now, is whether there is a way to gather data that will show us whether students who use our reference services show greater academic success compared to students who don’t get our help. Causality is hard to prove, but even a nice correlation would be nice to see! Tracking students while hiding their identities behind random ID numbers is certainly possible – but will asking students to “swipe in” be a deterrent? Perhaps this can be our next discussion in the CJCLS Community on ALA Connect!

Want to join the conversation? See How to Use ALA Connect Like a Listserv.

Still need to join our community in ALA Connect? If you’re not an ALA member, create a free login. With your ALA login, you can go directly to our community page and click the big blue JOIN COMMUNITY button up top.

Friday Finds

Finding Our Community

Wyverstone Community Cafe” by Oatsy40, modified by Kenneth Simon.
Licensed under CC BY 2.0

In 2021, ALA discontinued use of the Sympa platform for listservs. Subscribers were encouraged to come over to ALA Connect and keep the conversation going. At least in the case of CJCLS, the conversation hasn’t really kept going. What happened?

The CJCLS Communications Committee sent out a survey to its members last week to find out just what is happening. The answers point to some common themes.

If you want to jump right to the heart of the matter, visit our new CJCLS Community FAQ which addresses the most common barriers to joining and participating.

Now, to the results!

The survey was emailed to 1,574 CJCLS members and was also posted to the CJCLS Community on ALA Connect. To date, 14% of email invitees have responded, and an additional 30 people have responded from the post in the Community.

Member or not?

Oddly enough, nearly 13% of respondents did not know if they are CJCLS members. Even stranger, 23% of people who answered from the link emailed to the current CJCLS membership list said they are not CJCLS members. Perhaps this reflects some attrition, but it may also speak to some confusion about ALA’s structure of divisions and sections.

Most respondents (81%) used to be subscribers to the CJCLS-L listserv. Of those respondents, 60% say they used to participate by posting new topics or replies to the listserv.

Now, we get to the CJCLS Community on ALA Connect – the forum that was intended to replace the listserv. 71% of respondents said they are CJCLS Community members, 9% are not, and that leaves a mysterious 20% who do not know if they are members. This is a sign of confusion about the ALA Connect Communities, what they are, and how they function. Along the same lines, 20% of those who said they’re not members of the CJCLS Community on ALA Connect indicated that they want to learn more before they decide whether to join.

How Do I Use This Thing?

Only 51% of respondents who identify as members of the CJCLS Community on ALA Connect say they know how to post/reply. 22% of respondents say they don’t know how, but that they want to learn. This is a great opportunity.

What Do We Do About It?

We asked respondents to “describe any reasons or barriers that have discouraged you from participating in the CJCLS Community on ALA Connect.” 119 of the 203 survey respondents described barriers. Frequent reasons cited:

  • ALA Connect seen as confusing / unintuitive / inconvenient to use (26)
  • Having to log into the ALA Connect website to read and/or post (50)

Other common responses:

  • Time / too overwhelmed to learn to use something new
  • Belief that one must be an ALA member to join/participate
  • Nothing interesting to reply to / lack of community
  • Dislike of the Daily Digest format, particularly:
    • long subject line that obscures the identity of the digest email
    • having to log into ALA Connect to read/reply to messages

Especially in these times, dealing with change can be overwhelming. It’s easy to set aside the task of learning to navigate a site that feels unintuitive. To rebuild the community, we need to communicate that:

  • Yes, you can receive posts via email, reply to them via email, and initiate new topics via email.
  • Once you set it up the way you want it, you don’t have to log into ALA Connect again.
  • You do not have to be a member of ALA to join or participate in the Community.

What about an easy-to-find, clearly worded FAQ that puts you in the right place to sign up, steps you through a one-time setup process, and leaves you ready to receive and make posts right from your email, just like the old listserv?

With that in mind, introducing the CJCLS Community on ALA Connect FAQ

Questions? Comments? Does the FAQ need to cover something more? Leave a reply and let us know. And, if you want any support with using ALA Connect, use this contact form to get in touch.

Want to join the conversation? See How to Use ALA Connect Like a Listserv.

Still need to join our community in ALA Connect? If you’re not an ALA member, create a free login. With your ALA login, you can go directly to our community page and click the big blue JOIN COMMUNITY button up top.

Friday Finds

Ready Reference and Other Empty Shelves

photo by Ken Simon, licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

One day long ago, ready reference shelves were full, bursting with directories, annuals, The New York Public Library Desk Reference, the current year’s course catalog, and more. But change was afoot. Now, many of those publications are only available online, or have ceased entirely. The shelves behind the reference desk in my library are now mostly bare — and empty shelves aren’t a good look. We’re in no position to remodel right now, so… what’s next?

A recent discussion in the CJCLS Community on ALA Connect, and on the LIBREF-L listserv, explored the dilemma of empty shelves, particularly those at ready reference. What do we do when a physical collection becomes obsolete? This is one area in which public and academic libraries can find inspiration from each other.

If you’re dealing with shelving with high visibility, Jozina Cappello of Gwinnett Technical College in Georgia has some display ideas:

  • Invite Design students to show off their work.
  • Highlight special make-up effects from Cosmetology students.
  • Partner with an instructor to have their class create a “history of” display for their subject area.
  • Encourage clubs and organizations to advertise and educate about what they do.

For shelving in easily browsable areas, Carol Beers of the Tulare County Library in California suggests rotating displays, highlighting “interesting collections of college staff, community members or students.” Why not add your institutional archives to the list of potential sources, too?

The ready reference shelves in my library are highly visible, but not easily browsable since they’re just behind the back of the reference librarian’s chair. What if the shelving is visible, but not easily perused up close? Sharon Blank, Assistant Director of the Screven-Jenkins Regional Library System in Georgia, suggests looking through common staff areas of the library building for items that would both be functional and look nice. For example, a glass punch bowl could be filled with library swag to hand out. “Our library system is small,” she writes, “and our budget for unnecessary stuff like decor items is even smaller, so we get lots of practice reworking whatever we happen to have on hand to meet whatever needs we might have.”

Maria Belvadi, Collections Librarian at the University of Prince Edward Island, turns to the broader (but also dwindling) entirety of the reference stacks: “One thing we’ve done is to use wooden dummy blocks with QR codes and printed spine labels with LC call numbers,” she says. The codes and labels bring attention – and access – to online resources that normally aren’t visible to those exploring the physical collection. With a little effort, those dummy blocks could be wrapped in pseudo-book covers to make their appearance more attractive and interesting.

Shelves could be filled using a seasonal approach, says Sarah Thogode of the Clay County Public Library. She’s thinking not of holiday seasons, but “seasons as seen by what the students/professors would be experiencing in the classroom.”

  • At the beginning of the fall semester, put out material to welcome incoming students – think titles about beginnings and fresh starts.
  • Homecoming season? Why not show off titles related to family traditions across the world, or race relations in divided nations?
  • In the spring, material on climate and gardening could be appropriate and eye-catching.

Sarah continues: “We would put the Reference material for those items on the Ready Reference shelves and let the professors know what we were doing so they could plan accordingly.”

Not all libraries have called it a day for the traditional ready reference collection. One responder, who chose to remain anonymous, says that their ready reference shelves continue to house dictionaries for all the primary languages taught at their institution, style manuals, the Statistical Abstract of the United States, writing handbooks, and (being a denominational university library) directories of churches and various versions of the Bible.

Sharon Blank sums it up best when it comes to bringing empty shelving back to life: “Don’t be afraid to mix it up. Don’t be afraid to put it to uses that it wasn’t intended for, and think outside the box!”

What’s your take on ready reference? How has your library made creative use of empty shelves?

Want to join the conversation? See How to Use ALA Connect Like a Listserv.

Still need to join our community in ALA Connect? If you’re not an ALA member, create a free login. With your ALA login, you can go directly to our community page and click the big blue JOIN COMMUNITY button up top.

Friday Finds

Friday Finds

“The Long View”

The listserv is dead: long live the listserv!

The CJCLS Community in ALA Connect has inherited the aim, and most of the subscribers, of the late, great CJCLS-L. If you haven’t joined yet, see the end of this post to find out how.

This past week, one of our topics was about taking the long view: out of all the changes and adaptations community college libraries have made during the pandemic, which do we want to preserve even when these pandemic times are behind us?

More than one person noted that they hope to continue offering hybrid reference services, with both in-person and online options. Suzanne Bernsten of Lansing Community College Library notes that reference via online videoconferencing “has worked out very well for students, so we hope to keep it in the future.” She points out that this will be a matter of balancing in-person and online services. Perhaps that balance has shifted, even for colleges that began to offer videoconference reference appointments before 2020.

Debbie Herman of Manchester Community College says that they are “keeping the curbside pickup service for library materials. Many of our students (and faculty!) have very young children, so this is a great option for them as well as for those with mobility issues.” Along the same lines, Rebecca Funke of Des Moines Area Community College notes that they’re keeping their scheduling option to borrow a mobile hotspot. She notes that “the online scheduling option provides a more equitable opportunity for our students.” Holding on to new practices that make physical materials more accessible, and available more equitably, is well worth considering!

Not all changes are patron-facing. Garrison Libby of Central Piedmont Community College notes: “Instead of trying to get every library staff member from six campuses in the same place at the same time, we can just hold trainings and meetings virtually and make things so much more accessible for everyone. It’s been a big, positive shift, and while there’s definitely benefit to those in-person all staff meetings, there are so many that can be done virtually with no loss.” Even for colleges with a single campus, virtual meetings have great advantages. How to balance those with the different advantages that in-person meetings bring? Are hybrid meetings with both in-person and virtual attendees worth pursuing? I’m sure that many of us will be asking these questions over the coming months.

Robin Brown, Head of Public Services at Borough of Manhattan Community College (and current CJCLS Chair), is glad to say goodbye to one piece of technology: “For environmental reasons, I hope the copiers don’t come back.” Here at Pasadena City College, our copiers left the building too! Perhaps between the reduction in paper waste and the reduced reliance on physical presence, one lasting benefit we can hold onto from this most difficult time is a reduced environmental footprint.

Not getting community members’ posts in your email? See How to Use ALA Connect Like a Listserv.

Still need to join our community? If you’re not an ALA member, create a free login! If you have an ALA login, you can go directly to our community page and click the big blue JOIN COMMUNITY button up top.