Over at The Liminal Librarian, Rachel has a great post about “Making Our Careers Happen”. She highlights one thing that I really love about being a librarian: we have the power to make things happen in any number of areas. My job has had a remarkable amount of flexibility, letting me get experience in a number of areas: reference desk hours, instruction, systems work, and any number of special projects. Starting next monday, I’ve found a new hat to wear: distance learning.

At UAH we provide library services to Kaplan University, a mostly online school with over 20,000 students (and quickly growing! In 2001 they had just 34). We manage their database subscriptions, provide reference service, set up course reserves, and deliver articles and books to students worldwide. I’ll be stepping in and supervising the department – at first on a short term basis, keeping an eye on how to restructure my role and the whole department in the future. I’m really, really excited about this opportunity! I’ve spent the last two weeks intensively observing and training in the department (causing my online disappearance), and really like what I see. It’s been exhausting, but I still feel genuinely motivated. Distance learning is pretty cutting edge stuff, and the chance to work on emerging services and technologies like this is something I’ve always wanted. On a smaller level, the stories of distance learning students continually amaze me. Today a call came in from a student deployed in Iraq, and I’ve heard about others in the most remote parts of Alaska or central Asia.

I can’t say that I truly made this opportunity happen – to be honest it actually fell in my lap. But I still feel that the skills I’ve cultivated in myself over the years have led to this point like an arrow. Will I stay in distance learning long term? Who knows? But now that I’ve gotten my feet wet in a number of areas, I’m ready to focus in on just one for a bit. I’m nervous, but also excited. And the latter outweighs the former.

With the ability to make our careers happen comes a responsibility to learn to roll with change as it comes – made by us or not. Take the skills learned from change and mash them into your career direction. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned in my year and a half since grad school.

Symposium Wrapup

I’ve been pretty quiet here as of late, but am in the process of making a ton of posts over at the UAH Symposium blog. Our “E-Info Global” symposium wrapped up on Friday, and early indications are that it went very well! I know I personally enjoyed listening to every speaker, and had some great conversations with other attendees during the breaks. By the end of today I hope to have the rest of the speaker summaries posted.

It was fascinating to see this symposium come together from behind the scenes. I now have a much deeper appreciation for those who plan conferences!

We’re thinking about doing it again next year, so keep an eye out!

UAH library browser tools

This has been my pet project for the last few weeks:

Browser tools!

As the name implies, I pulled together a number of browser-based search options for our resources. So far we’ve got: Firefox search bar plugins (for that search box in the upper right corner) for the catalog and Academic Search Premier, IE7 search bar plugins for the same two resources, and a full fledged Firefox toolbar with a number of campus-related links and search options.

It isn’t quite live to the public yet – I want to increase the list of search bar plugins available, and I’m still toying with a couple of options for an IE toolbar.

They probably won’t be much good to anyone not affiliated with UAH, as everything gets routed through our proxy, but I’m just proud of the results and wanted to share 🙂

Here’s some stuff I learned in the process:

  1. Firefox toolbars are really easy to hand code – it’s just XML and javascript, and mostly takes a bit of trial and error. This tutorial was very helpful.
  2. IE toolbars are unfortunately much more complicated – the programming involved is beyond my level of expertise, at least for something to be done in my spare time at work. I’m looking at toolbar generators like instead, which a lot of other libraries have used.
  3. Firefox search bar plugins are pretty simple to look at once created, but if the url for a database or catalog is complicated, creating it is a bit of a headache your first time.
  4. IE7’s search bar plugins conform to the Opensearch standard, and are ridiculously easy to code. Each one is a simple XML file – the part that took me the longest was figuring out that XML doesn’t like raw ampersands in the content.
  5. I’ve starded using these tools in my day to day work, and the number of clicks and page loads I’ve cut down on is amazing.

Mostly, I just hope someone else finds them useful. I learned a lot in the process of creating these tools, and look forward to expanding our list.

Our new library website!

UAH’s new library web site is live!

We’re also blogging!

This is the culmination of many months of work, and I’m quite happy with the results. I should mention that we’d still be slogging away if it weren’t for Daniel, our amazing student worker from the communication arts (graphic design) department. But a lot of people had input, it was a real team effort.

The site didn’t get a complete overhaul – our link structure is probably 99% the same as it was. Secondary pages on the site are untouched except for a nice new banner at the top which will let us highlight upcoming events, and will be redone more completely as time goes on. But our new front page design, in addition to looking more modern, is flexible in both design and content. Our old design was functional, but adding or removing anything from the page tended to make the design explode. Very hard and frustrating to work with. And with the addition of dropdown menus, we’ve been able to bring a lot of deeper pages’ links to the surface without destroying the menu items people are familiar with from the old design.