Diversity Recruitment in Library Information Technology

“A study of innovation in corporations found that the most innovative companies deliberately established diverse work teams (Kanter, 1983).” 

The above quote is from a book length treatment on innovation in the workplace, this finding underscores the need to recruit diverse perspectives in order to sustain innovation. Past reports on Racial and ethnic diversity in libraries are an unsettling read for me personally. These include the Racial and Ethnic Diversity among Librarians: a status report, and the Diversity Counts study. I can see clearly from reading these two documents that diversity has not reached rates that makes us an inclusive profession. Take a look at the diversity counts report and you’ll learn that one of the issues librarianship faces is not simply recruiting into the profession, but also keeping diverse perspectives in libraries as well.

I am, at present, winding down a two-year stint on my library’s Equal Employment Opportunity Committee. In this role I personally attend every search committee kick-off meeting. With the number of retirements in the library we’ve been hiring at an ambitious rate. At every search committee kick-off meeting, I suggest ways to recruit for diversity into the library; making and extending invitations to apply by way of personal contacts to diverse candidates seem to get the best results in terms of building a diverse pool of applicants.

Merely posting to the American Library Association caucasus’ list serves, these include the American Indian Library Association, Asian Pacific American Librarians Association, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Chinese American Librarians Association, The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking (REFORMA) does not in itself result in a diverse pool of candidates– that is a rather passive approach to diversity recruiting.

One area I wanted to ask the readership here about is intentional recruiting for Library IT jobs. By diversity in recruiting, I take diversity to include (as set by my campus Office of Equal Opportunity and Access), in entry level IT jobs include goals for both women and minoritiesHispanic or Latino (A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rico, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race); American Indian or Alaskan Native – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community attachment; Asian – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian Subcontinent, including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam; Black or African American – A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. 

But to continually define terminology is to sidestep the bigger issue which I turn to: the number of diverse perspectives we generally find in library information technology settings is few. My concern is that libraries and the profession as a whole will become conservative and homogenous and ineffective in meeting twenty-first century challenges if it doesn’t take sustained and intentional strides to implement diversity recruitment in library information technology settings.

With funding from a University of Illinois Library Innovation Grant, I hired and am actively working with a team of student diversity interns who are doing library information technology work. I advertised in a number of locations, including the undergrad library blog; the informatics program web-board; campus virtual job board; and numerous registered student organizations.

 

minrva team, summer 2012

The students have built mobile software modules and are also investigating article search inside of mobile applications. Over a series of 8 weeks they are all now proficient Java coders, and can implement RESTful web services in a Tomcat/Jersey servlet. Their work will be showcased to the library next week–a few students were interested in Drupal experience, so they built a Drupal instance on my Linode here: http://minrvaproject.org

While the summer internships will be funded into the fall semester, we (the university library) are specifically hoping to understand how to broaden and build the diversity recruitment for library information technology.

By the end of the grant the innovation questions that we hope to answer include:

1)    How to recruit individuals with diverse backgrounds into library information technology positions?

2)    How individuals with technical backgrounds from two-year schools can be recruited into library IT positions?

3)    What types of mentoring support and transitional initiatives are necessary to create bridges between two-year programs and graduate study in library and information science?

Recent work (see for example the student coded Minrva app) with undergraduate student software teams has shown that students who have earned two-year degrees (associate level) in software engineering or programming will be valuable to library service development. These students have shown to be particularly effective in developing micro-services that could support library wide production environments. Students with these practical backgrounds have much to offer the University Library particularly as it turns its focus to discovery layers that are a part of the new strategic plan— the outputs of student work that this grant will fund supports Goal 1 – Provide access to and discovery of, library content and collections.

What library IT diversity recruitment are you doing in your library? Do you address this gap in diversity with sustained support?

Cited

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. The Change Masters: Innovations For Productivity In The American Corporation. New York : Simon And Schuster, 1983. Print.

Consulted

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Office of Equal Opportunity and Access – http://oeoa.illinois.edu/resources.html

How to diversify the faculty – http://oeoa.illinois.edu/SupportingDocs/HowToDiversifyTheFaculty.pdf

 

 

 

Demystifying the Library with Game-Based Mobile Learning

How do you orient students to to the library? Put them in a classroom and show them the website? Walk them around in a giant herd, pointing out the important spaces? That’s how we at North Carolina State University Libraries were doing it, too. And we were finding ourselves a little disappointed. Wouldn’t it be better, we thought, if we could get the students out into the library, actually engaging with staff, exploring the spaces, and discovering the collections themselves?

Classroom Based Library Orientation

 

Background & Rationale

We had long felt that classroom-based library orientation had inherent flaws and we had tried several alternatives, including a scavenger hunt. Although the scavenger hunt was popular, it was not sustainable: it took a significant amount of work to hide paper clues around the library before each hunt and the activity could not be scaled up to meet the needs of over a hundred ENG 101 classes per semester. So, we focused our efforts on enhancing traditional classroom-based instruction and creating online tutorials.

In 2011, I held a focus group with several instructors in the First Year Writing Program, and the message was clear: they believed that students would benefit from more face-to-face library instruction and that instruction should be more active and engaging. This confirmed my gut feeling that, while online tutorials can be very effective at delivering content, they do not necessarily promote our “affective” goals of reducing library-related anxiety and fostering confidence in using the library’s collections and spaces. After classroom instruction, we distribute a short survey that asks students if they remain confused about how to find information, about whom to ask for help, about how to navigate the physical spaces of the library, or anything else. The most common response by far – from 44% of surveyed students – was that they still didn’t feel comfortable finding their way around our large library, which is in fact four merged buildings. We needed to develop an activity that would simultaneously teach students about our collections and services, introduce them to critical library staff, and help them learn their way around the library’s spaces.

Project Development

It was with this feedback in mind that two colleagues — Adam Rogers and Adrienne Lai — and I revisited the idea of the scavenger hunt in March 2011. Since the last scavenger hunt attempt in 2010,  mobile devices and the cloud based apps that run on them had become mainstream.  If we could develop a scavenger hunt that relied on mobile technology, such as iPod Touches, and which didn’t rely on students finding paper clues throughout the library, we might be able to sustain and scale it.

We first investigated out-of-the-box scavenger hunt solutions such as SCVNGR and Scavenger Hunt With Friends, which were appealing in that they were self contained and provided automatic scoring. However, we did not have a budget for the project and discovered that the free versions could not meet our needs. Furthermore, apps that rely on GPS coordinates to display challenges and questions did not work reliably inside our building.

Ultimately, we decided we needed to come up with something ourselves that would allow students to submit answers to scavenger hunt questions “mobilely”, automatically calculate scores or allow us to score student answers rapidly, and enable us to display results and provide feedback at the end of the 50 minute activity. Our eventual solution made use of traditional approaches to scavenger hunts, in the form of paper maps and clue sheets, alongside novel cloud-based technologies such as Evernote and Google Docs.

The Scavenger Hunt in 50 Minutes

0:00-10:00: A class arrives at the library classroom and is greeted by a librarian, who introduces the activity and divides the group into 3-5 teams of about 4 students. Each team gets a packet with a list of 15 questions and an iPod Touch. The iPod Touches are already logged into Evernote accounts assigned to each team.

Our eventual solution combined old and new technologies.

10:00-35:00: Teams disperse into the library to discover the answers to their 15 questions. Some questions require text-based answers; others prompt students to submit a photo. We ask them to introduce themselves to and take a photo with a librarian, to find a book in the stacks and take a photo of it as evidence, and to find the collection of circulating DVD’s, among other things. Each answer is submitted as an Evernote note. While students are exploring the library, a librarian monitors the teams’ Evernote accounts (which have been shared with our master account) and scoring their answers using a GoogleDocs spreadsheet. Meanwhile, another library staff member copies student photos into a PowerPoint document to run while students return at the end of the hunt.

Students consult the question list.

35:00-50:00: At the end of 25 minutes, students return to the classroom, where a slideshow displays the photos they took, the correct answers to the questions, and a URL to a short survey about the activity. After all team members have returned, the librarians reveal the teams’ scores, declare a winning team, and distribute prizes.

Student meets a librarian.

Feedback

The scavenger hunt has been very popular with both students and faculty. In the two semesters we have been offering the hunt (Fall 2011 and Spring 2012), we have facilitated over 90 hunts and reached over 1,600 students. 91% of surveyed students considered the activity fun and enjoyable, 93% said they learned something new about the library, and 95% indicated that they felt comfortable asking a staff member for help after having completed the activity. Instructors find the activity worthwhile as well. One ENG 101 faculty member wrote that the “activity engaged students… on a level that led to increased understanding, deeper learning, and almost complete recall of important library functions.”

Lessons Learned & Adjustments

After almost 100 scavenger hunts, we have learned how to optimize this activity for our target audiences. First we discovered that, for our institution, this scavenger hunt works best when scheduled for a class. Often, however, one instructor would schedule scavenger hunts for three consecutive sections of a class. In these cases, we learned to use only half our iPods for the first session. In the second session, while the second half of the iPods were in use, the first half would be refreshed and made ready for the last group of students.

In the very early scavenger hunts in Fall 2011, students reported lagginess with the iPods and occasional crashing of Evernote. However, since some critical iOS and Evernote updates, this has not been a problem.

Finally, after an unexpected website outage, we learned how dependent our activity was on the functionality of our website. We now keep an ‘emergency’ version of our scavenger hunt questions in case of another outage.

More details about implementing the NCSU Libraries Mobile Scavenger Hunt are available on the NCSU Libraries’ website.

 

About Our Guest Author: Anne Burke is Undergraduate Instruction & Outreach Librarian at  NCSU Libraries. She holds an MSLIS from Syracuse University and an MA in Education from Manhattanville College. She like to explore new and exciting ways to teach students about information.

Career Impact and Library Technology Research

This blog post is not concerned with the specific application of a technology, rather it advocates the rather post-modern idea of research and writing in library technology for career impact. I take as my departure point the fact that not all research articles are useful contributions to the field. While intellectual rigor has its place in research, if the connection to service improvements or broader big picture questions are not addressed by scholarly research outputs the profession, as a whole, will not advance.

In a sense, it is after tenure when academic librarians begin to think of notions of careers of impact. We may ask ourselves what library needs or open problems were met by our work. We ask: did our research outputs matter?  Did our research stand up over time? Has the field moved forward at all?

A major problem in library and information science literature from an editorial perspective is the local-ness of any given paper. To generalize, many papers now coming into journal submission portals report how a specific local problem was addressed. The paper does its intellectual work only as far as its local institution is concerned. Broadly, what is needed in library writing — writing that is primarily driven from tenure line librarians is a need to consider practice of librarianship beyond the boundaries of a discreet study.

This underscores another significant problem which could be addressed by the right kind of mentorship in library settings: addressing the why of publishing, this would be a good corollary to the how, which veterans can teach – veteran tenured librarians will be able to speak to the methods for getting into print, getting even into the top tier journals like the Journal of Academic Librarianship. However, what is missing, and what this post is fundamentally concerned with, is the why of publishing for tenure.

When I started writing, the impulse was to sound smart. This is something I regretted deeply when I watched new library school students take notes on that paper. Now, I’m writing to communicate, since a wise person once said: “the smartest people are those who can communicate with others,” and what it is we are attempting to communicate when we publish are ways to improve practice – to move the field forward. That is why we publish. That is why we research. That is why we choose and stay on the tenure track, to have a career of impact in the field.

Can such a thing be taught? It’s like asking if morality can be taught, because it is a rather moral (and, possibly post-modern anti-ego thinking) choice to think of your profession as advancing and not yourself. While most tenure track activities can have the effect of growing ones ego, the path worth going down, the very interesting and profound path librarians must follow, if they are to remain honest, is to empty the ego, to empty any concern for the individual career and to think instead of the profession.

Our careers are not our own, anymore than the libraries we worked in and lived in were ours. The IT career of impact for librarians is that career which was made in the service to the profession.