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Wildcard Wednesdays

Data Management in These “Unprecedented Times”

Like many academic librarians, I left my campus library at the end of the fall semester not knowing whether I would be coming back in the spring. Our administration hoped to begin spring 2022 on campus, but they had warned us to take anything we needed home, just in case.

A colleague spent much of 2020 carting physical file folders back and forth between her home and the library. I tend to travel lighter, but hopping from my campus desktop to my laptop still required the transfer of hundreds of digital files. With our work locations still up in the air from week to week, here are some data management tips that can help make those transitions as smooth as possible.

A file folder containing a sheaf of papers.
Image from Free SVG

Make regular backups

This is good data management practice in general. I back up some critical files every Friday, and I made sure I left at the end of the semester with up-to-date copies of everything I might need. Our library doesn’t use anything fancy, either – we’ve got a lot of labeled USB drives. What you back up and how often will depend on your situation.

Keep track of file versions

There’s nothing worse than working on a document for a while before realizing it’s an outdated copy. If the date created/modified isn’t clear in the normal display you use to view and access your files, you might consider adding it to the file name, at least for files that are updated frequently and contain time-sensitive content.

File naming

Take it from someone who had to figure out what a .jpeg titled ‘link issue’ meant – if you spend the time to name a file clearly in the present, your future self will thank you. This is even more helpful if you may be sharing those files with colleagues who won’t know what you meant when assigning vague names or abbreviations.

Folder nesting

A logical system of nested folders can help you pinpoint what you need faster. For example, imagine looking for 2020 statistics in a folder labeled 2020 within a folder labeled Statistics, rather than digging through 80 different documents piled into one folder for old materials. (Not that this example draws from real life experience, of course.) Your folder structure will be based on your workflow and preferences, but keep it consistent and it’ll be much quicker to find what you’re looking for.

As of posting this, I’m headed back to campus, although many teaching faculty at my institution will remain remote. Even so, these habits have helped me switch between devices and find the documents I need with minimal headaches. What data management practices have helped you?

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Wildcard Wednesdays

Survey Season: What to Expect from the ACRL Survey

It’s November, which means reporting season for the annual ACRL Academic Library Trends & Statistics Survey is in full swing. Invitations should have gone out in late October. If you’ve responded in the past but didn’t receive an email this year, contact acrlbenchmark@ala.org. ACRL is using a new data collection tool, and not everyone got their invitation.

If you’ve never responded to the ACRL survey, it’s an annual survey that collects data on academic libraries’ staffing, expenses, collections, and services. The survey also asks questions about a different trend in librarianship every year. This year’s trend focuses on instruction and group presentations, particularly how those services changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, the survey had a record response rate of 52.1%. High participation creates the best possible picture of academic libraries’ resources and impact, which aids in benchmarking, advocacy, and decision-making. Participating institutions get free access to summary results. View more of ACRL’s reasons to participate.

Depending on your library’s workflow and data collection habits, participating in the survey may be simple or time-consuming. ACRL encourages libraries to at least submit the data they are required to collect for IPEDS and offers a way to export those responses to make IPEDS reporting easier.

Curious about the results? ACRL publishes the ACRL Academic Library Trends and Statistics report every year. The book can be purchased through the ALA store.

Does your library respond to the ACRL survey? Have you ever used ACRL’s metrics for benchmarking and advocacy?

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Wildcard Wednesdays

Digital Accessibility: Quick Tips

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many institutions online. Although colleges are now reopening, demand for online materials and resources remains. When creating digital materials, librarians must keep access considerations in mind. Digital accessibility is a complex subject, but here are a few tips to start improving access to your materials.

Headings

Have you wondered what all those different sizes and colors in the Styles panel of Microsoft Word mean? Headings give your document a hierarchical structure. Breaking text up makes it easier to read and understand, and headings also allow screen reader users to navigate between sections.

Learn to create headings in Word and create headings in Google Docs. If you don’t like Word’s default look, you can customize headings once the style has been applied.

Alt Text and Image Descriptions

Alt text provides a description of an image or graphic for screen reader users, as well as people with poor internet connections who may have trouble loading pictures.

Alt text should be applied whenever an image is not purely decorative. If alt text is not supported, include an image description below the image.

For more details, read a guide to alt text and learn how to add alt text in Office.

Descriptive Links

Screen reader users can navigate directly to links, meaning that link text should make sense without additional context. Link text like “Library catalog” rather than “Click here” ensures users are clear on the link’s destination.

Captioning

Video is becoming a common format for sharing information, and captions benefit Deaf people as well as other users who may not be able to or want to enable audio. Some video editors include captioning tools, but if yours does not, here are some free captioning tools available.

Color Contrast

Color can make your materials stand out, but it shouldn’t sacrifice accessibility. Use contrast checkers to ensure any text on a colored background is readable.

Accessible tagged PDFs

PDFs are a popular file format, but they’re not always accessible. To create an accessible PDF, save the document’s structure and tags during the export process. (Make sure you’re converting an accessible document.) If you’re working with an existing PDF, you can use Adobe Acrobat to improve accessibility.

Accessibility Checker

This may seem overwhelming, but there are tools that can help. Microsoft Office programs have an accessibility checker, which can spot some (but not all) issues.

These tips only scratch the surface, and they aren’t intended as legal advice, but hopefully they can start you thinking about how you can make your digital resources better for everyone.

Are your libguides, tutorials, and online handouts accessible? What tools and resources are you using to monitor or improve accessibility?

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Wildcard Wednesdays

Library Disaster Planning: Are You Ready?

In recent years, libraries of all kinds have dealt with increasingly severe weather events. Wildfires continue to rage across the West Coast, contributing to smoke cover and evacuation orders, while the East Coast experiences hurricanes and flooding. Right now, ALA is raising funds to support libraries impacted by Hurricane Ida.

ALA also maintains a Library Disaster Preparedness libguide. Another robust disaster preparedness and recovery guide was created by the South Central Regional Library Council. Does your library have a disaster plan ready? How will you respond to the next challenge that comes along?

Weather events aren’t the only kind of disaster that can strike. As libraries become more reliant on virtual services during the COVID-19 pandemic, ransomware attacks continue to rise. Right as my college switched to remote instruction in spring 2020, we were hit by a ransomware attack. Our library lost years of material stored on the college’s network drives, although we did have a USB filled with outdated files saved before we had begun relying on the district’s automatic backups. Over a year later, we’re still feeling the effects of what we lost.

The best advice for ransomware preparation is to ensure employees know what kinds of suspicious activity to look out for, and to back up material regularly in a location that’s isolated from the rest of the system. For more tips, check out the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s ransomware guide or read the story of a public library struck by ransomware.

Interested in how libraries recover from disasters? The first season of Choice’s Patron Driven podcast follows a Texas community college library’s recovery after Hurricane Harvey. Listen to episodes of Patron Driven here.