What if we redefined making in libraries?

In my last post about What Ifs, I asked “What If we adopted the maker movement as part of campus movement towards creativity and innovation?”

That question has come up in two different venues for me this week, one driven by an administrative opportunity and a second originating with a faculty member. In the administrative context, a member of our campus advancement team asked me how all of this “making stuff” fits into the vision of an academic library. And in the faculty context, I’m helping a teaching colleague figure out what equipment would best meet his needs and goals around innovative educational technology, specifically for 3D printing. And then the SUNY Council of Library Directors email list yielded a discussion of 3D printing and whether or not SUNY libraries charge non-affiliated folks for use of library printers…

And so here we are.

“What If we adopted the maker movement as part of campus movement towards creativity and innovation?”

I say this.

Libraries have always been about making things. Traditionally, in our information world that was based in print publications, paper indices, and reference librarians who were experts on local collections, libraries were where you “made” written academic work. You did research, and you gathered the information you needed, and you wrote a paper or a speech or  report. You typed it, you printed it, and you turned it in. And we don’t think of that as “making”; it’s just “doing academic work.” We are still doing that academic work, now, in our world of online information, searchable full text databases, and librarians who are experts on broad collections of information resources. Our students are still making things in this context, writing papers and turning them in.

At campuses like mine, though, which has a 199 year old School of Education as well as the 129 year old Crane School of Music, our students have also always made more than straight-up academic work. They make — have always made — lesson plans, classroom manipulatives, and visual teaching aids. They make music,  composing and performing. And in our School of Arts and Sciences, they make art — still, moving, dramatic, and 3D. They make scientific breakthroughs, and they make new creative written fiction and nonfiction works. They make computer programs, and they make business proposals. They make public health surveys, and they make archaeological discoveries.  The act of education, and the act of learning, are acts of creation. And we create — have always created — far more than just the written academic work that we default to in our thinking of what libraries facilitate.

Libraries, and the information access we facilitate, do more than help students write papers. We help them create those lesson plans, those musical works, that art, that science, that creative writing, that programming, those proposals, those surveys, and those discoveries. Information access underpins every tangible product to come from education, and libraries have a place of pride, centered in information access, in the heart of academia.

So why should we not also have a place of pride in more modes of making than just writing, typing, and printing? Why should we not also be facilitators and supporters of other types of making?

What if, instead of a building that contains a computer lab to facilitate online information access, research and technology support services, print information collections, and collaboration space, we were something more?

What if we were a building that contained a computer lab to facilitate online information access, research and technology support services, print information collections, collaboration space… and also a video, audio, and digital object creation lab, an arts-sciences-business-creativity fabrication lab, a GIS and data visualization lab, an IdeaPaint white box, interactive display galleries to showcase all the kinds of making going on in our communities, and … whatever else comes next?

What if?

What if?

I’m a big fan of “What if?” questions when it comes to planning and imagining. They’re my favorite way to think through both the positive and the negative about what we do, and I do it in my personal life as well as my professional one. (“What if I enrolled in a PhD program? What if we tried to have a baby?” was a recent and fruitful What If dyad, for example.)

And right now in my professional world we’re in the midst of a lot of change, both internal to the libraries and external to the College. We have a new president, and several new VPs, and several pending administrative retirements. Things are going to be changing, and I always prefer to be ready to offer options to my supervisors rather than to receive direction (though I am capable of taking direction!), because I believe you can’t declare yourself an authority on your area of expertise if you aren’t willing to share that expertise.  And so I’m doing What If thinking like crazy right now.

What If we adopted the maker movement as part of campus movement towards creativity and innovation?

What If we double down on research help and information literacy and reframe our goals around them?

What If we truly became the technology center for the campus, including all support and technology literacy?

What If we embraced the “academic social space” role for our students and folded it intentionally into the mission of the libraries?

What If…

As I have the time and the coherent thoughts, I’m going to share some of those What Ifs, workshopping my own thoughts in writing. I invite you to play along as you wish!

I’m curious: What would you ask about libraries if you were going to do a What If?

values

I am painfully careful about what I say about my place of work, about the people I work with, about the people I work for. Transparency is all well and good, but so is appropriateness. I work — I struggle — to balance both. And so the image in this post is blurred as artfully as Instagram’s filters will let me blur it, because the content of our internal discussions about values are our own business, and I have not asked for permission to share the discussions. Nor do I want to; frank conversations need to have space to happen, and that space is often private space. And we’re not done yet.

But I’m really pleased, and very proud, and I wanted to gloat a little.

Right now we’re in a deeply transitional space in our libraries. Overall, we’ve lost 30% of our staff to attrition (family crises, promotions, life changes, and new opportunities abound), and the librarian corps has been hit hardest. In our main library, we are now at 50% librarian staffing.

Half. We’re running this library on half. The hiring requests are in, and we’re aiming to have new folks to bolster our ranks and share in our work by fall semester, but for now we have to make it through this spring semester on half.

And we can do it. We will do it. We’re bloody amazing, and we’re going to do it. But we also need a clear vision of what we wish we were doing instead, and why. Because while we know this is unsustainable, there’s little I like less than saying “fix my problem! No, I don’t have a solution to suggest!” I much prefer “I need your help to fix my problem. Here’s my proposed solution.” And we need a proposed solution

So we started doing some strategic planning this week, with the core group of librarians who are are our Half. (I refer to my interns as the Horde, and I think I just accidentally coined my new librarian label. Don’t tell ‘em.) We started with a discussion of lived values. What do we believe in? What beliefs do we embody in our work? What beliefs do we value most, and see as highest priorities? Which are we ambivalent about? What would we like to add as additional lived beliefs? What stops us from doing that?

Strategic planning

A photo posted by Jenica Rogers (@jenicasedai) on

And in the end, 9 priority values rose to the top. This morning I transcribed them to a clean sheet to post on the wall as we start on the next step of our planning, and as I look at the list, I am proud. Those are good values. They’re authentic to this place and these people. They are why we are going to succeed on Project: Half. They are worth being proud of as a base for a community. They describe a place I want to work.

Aren’t I lucky that I do?

turning in my crossbow

Remember when I said I was going to be borrowing energy from my interns? Yeah. I take it all back.

Instead, I’m going to be siphoning off their energy like I’m a starved vampire. Because damn. They are on fire.

I just sat in a room with five undergraduates who are working toward degrees in history, literature, anthropology, women’s studies, classical studies, and professional writing, and all five of them want to work in archives or libraries. One said the phrase “data curation”. They asked the question, “Is this unusual? To have five people who are so psyched about libraries?”

Yes, yes it is. And it is spectacular.

It’s a rough year for me, administratively — some unexpected staff departures mean we’re in “keep the lights on and the doors open and to hell with innovation for the next three months” mode, which hurts our professional souls. No one likes that mode. We’re also riding out a leadership transition at the college which, I believe, is taking us in the right direction but is going to require a period of chain-of-command uncertainty, and a financial reset for all of us at the Director level. Basically, for a short period of time, it’s just hard to do our work right now.

But these students. They don’t care. They’re giddy that I’m going to let them into the Archives, that they might get to touch old stuff. They want to explore our oldest living alumni, study our history during the Civil War and World Wars I and II, track the architectural history of the campus, do Then and Now of student life (specifically “what was college like for our parents?”), and find fun facts on our most off the wall student groups. They want to make things, and learn things, and they’re excited.

And so I’m excited.

So this vampire hunter is putting down her crossbow for a few days. The world can save its own damn self. Instead, I’m just going to feed on their energy, and then I’m going to keep going. I’m going to keep doing. I’m going to keep the doors open, and the lights on, and we’re going to make something. We’re going to make something good.

A warning to 2015

So, 2015.

Let’s talk.

I had really high hopes for you. I wanted to make something awesome with you.

I still do.

But this thing you’ve been doing for the last two weeks, where you go from the sublime to the ridiculous to the horrifying AND BACK AGAIN approximately every four working hours?

That shit needs to stop, or we’re going to have words.

Sincerely,

The Management.

Jenica Rogers. I thought that you were driving, but you've given me the wheel.

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