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Find more Notes from the Field
Sarah Beasley is the coordinator of e-Resources at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where she oversees the databases, downloadables, and other content offered via the library’s website.
More and more libraries are seeing the need for librarians who specialize in electronic resources. What can you tell us about your current position as coordinator of e-Resources?
Sarah: I love my current position. I get to do selection, evaluation, and organization of resources, staff and public training, and promotion. Luckily, I get lots of help from the great librarians and staff throughout the library, including our Technology Training Team, IT, and the Communications and Creative Services department. Since the world of e-resources is growing and changing so quickly, I am also involved in developing our digital strategy. It’s a great mix of practical and theoretical work.
Tell us a little about yourself and what drew you to the library world.
Sarah: I attended library school at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I had finished my undergraduate studies but wasn’t quite ready to be done with school, so I was working on a master’s degree in Spanish. I was getting close to completing that and still wasn’t sure what I would or could do practically with my degrees. A friend of a friend was in library school and mentioned a job posting for a UN librarian in Rome. The job requirements included the ability to speak Italian or Spanish and a library degree. My dream job! So I applied to library school. Of course, I never ended up doing anything like that, because I fell in love with public libraries.
It probably also doesn’t hurt that my dad is a librarian (now retired) and my mom worked in libraries. (Yes, theirs is a library love story.) I actually didn’t visit the library very much because my dad would just bring books home for me. (Sadly, the same is true for my own kids!) I was also a late reading bloomer. I came to reading for pleasure a little later in life than most librarians. We always had the dictionary or encyclopedia out at dinner, though, looking up the etymology of a word or the brief history of something, so I think the impulse to find answers was ingrained early.
How has your career changed over the last 10 years?
Sarah: A lot! Ten years ago if you had told me I would end up working primarily with electronic resources, I would have laughed. At the time, I was managing the “Popular Library” at Chicago Public Library. That job was all about physical materials and public service. We offered best-sellers and other popular fiction and nonfiction, DVDs, and music CDs. I did a lot of reader’s advisory, display building, etc.
In 2004, I moved to Pittsburgh to manage Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s (CLP) Film & Audio Department. In the beginning, it was still all about physical materials, but within a year, we were offering downloadable audiobooks. I was actually a little resistant to digital materials, but it fell to my department because we were dealing with audiobooks (although CLP had started offering some e-books several years earlier). Over time, I really began to appreciate the opportunity to be involved in something so nascent. As we expanded into other formats, it didn’t make as much sense for everything to be centralized in the Film & Audio department, so my current position was created. Now I do all of the things I mentioned earlier but very little public service. Luckily, through training opportunities, I still get to interact with the public a bit.
Speaking of training, I know you have completed an extensive staff training. Tell us more about the E-Resource Challenge.
Sarah: The E-Resource Challenge was an online training program I developed with Jamie Wilson, my counterpart at Free Library of Philadelphia. We stole the idea from the South Dakota State Library. They had taken the “23 Things” model and focused it on electronic resources. Jamie and I were both looking for ways to train on and promote resources that were underutilized and/or intimidating to staff. We thought it would be fun to modify the South Dakota Library Challenge by turning it into a friendly cross-state competition.
It was a 10-day program, with a new exercise posted each day. The first week focused on downloadable media, and the following week was all about databases. Library staff could complete as many or as few of the challenges as they wanted, but they earned a chance for a prize each time they completed a challenge. The winning library was the one with highest staff participation and was awarded bragging rights. In the end, CLP eked out a victory, but it was close. You can see more details about the program here. We got a lot of great feedback from staff, and we’ll both probably use the same format again, with or without the cross-state competition.
Are there any trends you can report on as far as e-resources go? Counterpoint to that, what’s still a constant?
Sarah: One happy trend is that e-resources are becoming easier to use. I think this is true of both databases and downloadable services. They are developing cleaner interfaces, easier downloading processes, greater functionality.
I think the constant is that we still don’t really know how the whole e-resource model (or models) will play out in libraries. We are still wondering when it will feel like things are settled. In some ways, it feels like the trend in terms of library models is that things are getting more complex and complicated. Hopefully, it’s like cleaning out your closet—it gets messier before it gets better.
What kinds of things do you find your e-resources collection is in need of most right now?
Sarah: Well, of course, it’s a given that I wish all publishers would sell to libraries! We just launched Zinio, and it’s been hugely popular. We have a lot of great titles, but, as with all e-resources, we’re limited by which publishers will allow library access. I wish the collection could be more diverse.
Other than access to content, I’d have to say that the thing that would improve our e-resources collection the most is better discovery and integration with our library catalog and customer database. This would involve greatly improved catalog records and a smoother technology experience.
Moving away from e-resources, is there something unique or different that your library does in its approach to readers’ advisory or collection development?
Sarah: Our New & Featured department at the Main Library is doing some interesting low-tech reader’s advisory. In addition to having staff picks online, they mark their picks with color-coded flags. Each staff member has a different color. If a customer finds a kindred reading spirit, they can look for the flags for that staff member and get recommendations even when the staff person isn’t there. Our Teen Department is doing something similar, but in their case, each staff member is making a bookmark with Instagram photos that reflect their personalities, literary interests, library-related endeavors, etc. In most cases, the top photo, which will peek out of the top of recommended books, will be of the staff member.
New & Featured also recently added three new chalkboards to their space. The idea behind those is to encourage peer-to-peer reader’s advisory. They “bait” the chalkboards with questions, and patrons fill them up. People love the chance to contribute their ideas and recommendations in a quick, low-pressure kind of way.
I also always like to put in a plug for our remarkable music collection. We’ve got one of the best collections of music in any public library anywhere. In addition to the books, scores, and recordings you would expect, we also collect unique, local, historical music materials such as LP and cassette recordings, clippings, photographs, programs, and scrapbooks. The collection has been developed and nurtured by really great folks along the way. It also includes the Oral History of Music in Pittsburgh collection—more than 300 interviews conducted mostly by a Friend of the Music Library, Maurice Levy. The interviews are with Pittsburgh musicians in all genres, educators, reporters, historians, DJs, and promoters.
You can learn more about all of these efforts on our Eleventh Stack blog, which might be my favorite CLP reader’s-advisory tool. It really goes way beyond reader’s advisory, though, to promote all aspects of what we offer, from books to databases to programs and more. Staff from across the system, including librarians, clerks, and administrators all contribute incredibly thoughtful and well-written posts about their interests or things they’ve discovered in the library. I’m inspired by it daily.
There are certainly plenty of great things happening at CLP! Anything else you’d like to tell us about?
Sarah: I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this organization at this time. I feel like we are really in the midst of a golden age at our library thanks to great leadership, remarkable staff, and the overwhelming and intensely gratifying support of our community. We recently completed our 2013–17 strategic plan. Those can be dry, I know, but one of the things coming out of that plan is an Office of Digital Strategy. That’s really exciting to me because it recognizes that we need to be thoughtful and deliberate in our response to how the digital element is impacting our library and provides a framework within which to make that happen.
I’m also really proud that we have a Technology Training Team. It’s a group of staff from across the system who heeded the call to help make sure our organization is ready to assist those we serve with the technology we offer. In a system our size, that job is too big for one person. Every member of the team understood that and got involved. It’s really affirming to have staff from all different locations and positions willing to share that responsibility. It’s also a great model for addressing needs that no single person in your organization is responsible for.
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