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Engaging the disengaged

***cross-posted from the CACUL Re:Generations Blog ***

Engaging the disengaged

As I finish my second year as a librarian, I can say that I still have most of the optimism I had leaving library school. However, there will always be days when it’s really, really frustrating to have a handful of people show up to something I’m really excited about, and it’s challenging to work with students who don’t appreciate the range of services and resources offered to them, because they can get by without the library.

I think one of the central tenets of librarianship is accepting that we will always be much more excited about a new database feature than, well, anyone else. Our users love the library – the helpful staff, the study space, the technology, though they may not be aware of everything we have to offer. But, what about those that don’t even make their way through our doors? The dreaded “non-user”. How do we engage the disengaged?

Last week I was part of a wonderful conference for faculty spearheaded by the new Vice President Academic. The number of registered faculty was well above our expectations (more than double the anticipated turnout) and the level of engagement of faculty to help plan ‘new directions’ in the college was very positive and inspiring. One part of event had faculty fill out a quick ‘compass’ survey – inspired by CBC’s voting compass – to gauge the direction and willingness toward change among respondents. One category, the Stoic (or, the Disengaged) received, unsurprisingly, zero respondents. Of course, the truly disengaged would have deleted the email invitation without a second thought.

So, should we just plod forward without the disengaged?

For the library, we offer faculty sessions by academic division to highlight new features and services, and it’s always the regular library users who attend. At library sessions for students, it’s the eager, straight-A students who show up and take notes, while everyone else has skipped.

So, should we harass the students studying at the pub instead of the library and knock on faculty office doors until we get answers as to why they don’t like us?  (A side note, I keep bugging students to ‘like us’ on Facebook and I cringe every time). Gill (2010) discusses the challenges of surveying non-users at the Newport News Public Library System, conducted in order to create a specific marketing strategy toward the non-user. This type of survey would be easier to handle with a defined college community, but how to pull it off without seeming so desperate?

We’ve made changes to the library related questions on the college-wide student survey and have included questions probing further from the response ‘I don’t use the library’. We’re very curiously awaiting the results.


Gill, K. L. (2010). Surveying people who don’t use libraries. Marketing Library Services, 24(2): 1-7.

Canadian Library Association Conference 2010

I cannot believe it’s almost July! June came and went in no time at all.

The first week of June I spent at the Canadian Library Association Conference in Edmonton, Alberta. Though the location was within my province, it is about a 7 hour drive to Edmonton from where I live.

I attended sessions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, as well as the keynotes by Sue Gardner, Executive Director, Wikimedia Foundation and Michael Geist, law Professor and Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce law at the University of Ottawa. Their presentations are here, and here.

I attended some interesting sessions; the most reassuring part of attending a conference is finding out that most other libraries are in the same boat – facing budget cuts, reduced collections space, and never ending technology woes. It’s also inspiring that librarians are such a positive group of people – the enthusiasm is really contagious.

I also co-presented with my colleague a session on our text messaging reference service. This was a fantastic experience and the session was well received. I barely got any sleep the night before, making the 8:30am session go by in a blur. By Friday evening, I was feeling the wear.

The best part of the conference was catching up with library school friends and acquaintances – those living in Edmonton and those visiting for the conference. It was hard to believe it’s already been a year since graduation and we’ve all been experiencing the challenges of working our first jobs.

I also got to see some lovely places in Edmonton, including the Art Gallery of Alberta and the River Valley (as well as several cute restaurants and pubs).

The next two weeks in June I spent dealing with a nasty cold and the last week I was moving apartments. I’m looking forward to a relaxing July.

Article Published in Faculty of Information Quarterly (F/IQ)

I originally prepared this paper for my graduate class Introduction to Digital Humanities in the spring of 2009. I underestimated the amount of work involved in re-working the paper, including the consideration and changes made based on my professor’s comments, changing the style from MLA to APA (a huge pain), writing an abstract and responding to the editors’ suggestions.

The main theme of the paper The Librarian as Digital Humanist: The Collaborative Role of the Research Library in Digital Humanities Projects grew out of class discussion on the collaborative nature of digital humanities works. The specific example involved the significant contribution of a computer programmer in the development of an online repository, and how the role of the programmer was essential to the project, rather than one of support to the scholars. IT staff are often relegated to a subservient role as technical support for academic projects; when the technical aspects of the projects are the defining features of the project as ‘new’ scholarship, this role needs to be redefined.

So I started thinking about the similar ‘support’ role of librarians and the library in general. Often the mission is to ‘support’ the research of students and faculty and not an active membership in the creation of research and ideas. So I wanted to explore why this is the case and if the role of the library can be one of active participation and initiative, rather than reactionary role to faculty requests and needs.

In my institution specifically, as a librarian I am not considered faculty. I also don’t think that having faculty-status on paper necessarily grants librarians equal status and respect as professors. However, I do think it is up to librarians and libraries to pursue partnerships in order to keep the library vibrant.

Recently, we had a professional development session on faculty learning communities, which was open to all staff. Interestingly, the strongest attendance was from the library and the educational technology department. An educational technology staff member acknowledged that they had attended because they felt strongly about their department’s role of supporting faculty teaching. I would argue that as the demand for educational technology rises, these departments play a significant role in teaching and content creation that goes beyond simply support for faculty. It is the skills that those in such departments possess that will influence the delivery of instructional content.

Of course, this means that these ancillary groups are highly interested in working with faculty. However, the lack of faculty presence at this initial meeting suggests that collaboration is not on the radar of most instructors.

The article can be found in the February/March 2010 issue of F/IQ, the Faculty of Information Quarterly, a graduate student journal at the University of Toronto.