The Start of a Digital Journey

For my independent study this semester, I’m working on two digital projects: first, to tell the story of A. Louise Klehm, Skokie’s first lady doctor, and second, to digitize and create an online exhibit around Skokie Public Library’s fantastic solar eclipse party from 2017.

The goal of the A. Louise Klehm project on a practical level is to become familiar with Omeka, the content-management tool the library uses to create digital collections. The digital ‘items’ and the metadata surrounding them already exist; it’s now a matter of organizing them into a cohesive and interesting story.  As I’ve been digging into the material and starting to shape the exhibit, here are some things I’ve been learning and thinking that will help drive what comes next.

Message – what’s the big idea? 

First and foremost, what is this about? A helpful way to begin to answer this question is to use the formula, “My story is about X, but it is really about Y.”

“My story is about A. Louise Klehm, Skokie’s first lady doctor, but it’s really about perseverance and resilience, about women breaking barriers in history.”

Audience – who cares?

Knowing who you are speaking to drives organization, design, and storytelling decisions. For example, the likely audiences for this project are:

Community members interested in local history – for them, this is primarily a storytelling mission, so it makes sense to emphasize local ties to places and people and relevance to the current day (common pain points, triumphs). What are the moments of drama?  Let’s shape the story around those(for example moments of conflict or overcoming obstacles), How will it end? In this case, we can end on a high note with an uplifting message.

Students – for example, how can we balance giving them the factual information they need without doing all the work for them? What additional resources can we include to help with further research? How can we incorporate this into what our youth librarians are doing?

Researchers (local/Illinois/country) – this isn’t our main audience, but there may be people interested in specific items as part of a larger context, like 19th century medical equipment (or is it early 20th century? shoot, I’ll have to check) or the history of female physicians. How can we present this information so it is easy to find and rich in needed detail?

Us! – How can we use this in the library? Talking through the project with Jessica and Annabelle, Annabelle suggested launching it for Women’s History Month in March and  thinking about how it could work with youth research projects and/or a Civic Lab presentation. In addition, we should think about how the Virtual Community Engagement department can help get the word out.

Narrative – what themes will guide the story you’re telling?

What will audiences learn? What will they feel? What do we want them to do at the end of all this? I’m in the process of categorizing all the items to help me find emerging themes around which to tell the story.

Design – what’s it gonna look like?

This isn’t just about colors and pictures, it’s about how the content is organized and what major principles will inform decisions. For example, the design principle of, “Show, don’t tell,” may translate into keeping the navigation simple and the text minimal, instead using imagery and interaction to communicate.

What’s next?

Now that I have a handle on the answers to some of these major questions, I am digging into all of the items in the collection in detail and starting to organize them. Thanks to Jessica, I have a articles and papers about Dr. Klehm that I can pull from for the story itself. The ultimate goal is to have this ready to go by the end of February so the library can start to promote it as part of Women’s History Month in March. Lots to do, but it’s fun, so I’m sure time will fly!

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this approach so far, especially around the messaging, intended audiences, and potential for collaboration with others.





Learning well with others

A group of geese is a gaggle. A group of cats is a clowder. A group of sharks is a shiver.  So what do you call a group of collection-development librarians?  Last Friday, Annabelle invited me to Schaumburg Township District Library to sit in on a collection-development librarian networking meeting. It was beneficial to hear about the real-world issues librarians encounter, and I learned so much just by listening. I would advise students (in particular those like me who don’t have a lot of experience working in libraries) to see if there’s a way to attend networking meetings in their areas of interest, because hearing from practicing librarians helps make manifest the things we learn in class.

The meeting started off with a good and frank discussion of efforts to introduce and measure equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in collections. Annabelle began by talking about her efforts at Skokie (if you saw her panel about this topic at ILA, you know the gist; if not, I’ve got a blog post about it in the hopper). One of the larger points of discussion was how to make a good faith effort to diversify collections when the demographics of a library is mostly homogenous and the current interest level is low. One of the responses that resonated most was that even in homogenous communities, it is important to know each others’ stories. (On a related note, if you haven’t heard, ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, I highly recommend it.) A point was made that, ‘it’s not going out,’ is not a good enough reason for not including diverse materials – active promotion is the next step. Commit. Make an effort. Try different things and see what happens. Be creative – librarians are good at this!  Some ideas that were brought up: Include diverse books in storytimes. Incorporate diverse materials into programs and readers advisory. Create adult reading challenges like, ‘read outside your comfort zone’ or ‘travels to…’ various places. As a librarian, consume diverse books and media so they become an organic part of your conversations. When selecting, don’t forget genres and independent presses. I am sure I am forgetting other good ideas, but if this is what comes up from just 20 minutes of discussion, plenty of inspiration is out there.

We didn’t talk about this on Friday, but I would bet that incorporating EDI into strategic plans (like at SPL!) makes a huge difference. There are certainly things individual staff members can do to promote diverse collections, but it is inevitably a tougher road without official support. On the other hand, if there is resistance, it may help to start small. Taking a lesson from my past experience, especially when user experience was a fairly new field, it was often challenging to try to convince companies that investing in it was a worthwhile long-term strategy – it not only takes time and money, it often requires a big shift in culture. Building up small, measurable successes over time, combined with visibility, transparency, and sustained advocacy, can provide proof of value in the long run. (Confession: this did not always work – resistance to change is a powerful thing, especially when the resistance comes from the top.)  

Back at the meeting, the group moved on to discussions of hot spots (how do you get people to return them? how long do you lend them out?), board games (good idea? if so, how do you keep the pieces together?), tips for streamlining the process to make items ‘shelf-ready,’ and experiences with Vox books, My Media Mall, Canopy, RB Digital, and Great Courses. Again, hearing both positive and negative direct experiences with these platforms/products/services was invaluable. Because the Collection Management class at Dominican gave me a solid understanding of the responsibilities and processes and vocabulary in this area, I was able to listen to the details of this discussion without having tons of questions about the basic lingo. Onward and upward!

I can’t think of a smooth way to end this post, so here’s a photo of the Trickster Native American Arts Gallery, which I drove by on my way out of the library and had to go check out (it was cool):


Skokie Welcomes Everyone – Including Library Interns

Hello – my name is Meredith. I’m one of the two new excited (and highly excitable) Access Services interns who will be here at Skokie Public Library through the fall and spring as I work toward my MLIS degree from Dominican University.  I’ve just been through a whirlwind two days of internship orientation, and from the moment our cohort of interns was greeted at the door with a bags of SPL swag from our mentors, through the van tour through the streets of Skokie where we learned more about the community we’ll be serving, it has been a welcoming, thoughtful, and thought-provoking experience.

It has been quite interesting to learn more about my fellow interns and the varied paths we have all taken to arrive here. I have a background in user experience, and as part of my MLIS program, I am working toward a Digital Curation certificate, so I am really looking forward to learning all the ins and outs of Access Services with Annabelle, Lindsay, and the rest of the Access Services group. I’ve been through classes that cover metadata (glorious metadata), collection development, and the impact of technology on libraries, but they all feel a bit unconnected at the moment, so I am really looking forward to learning how it all fits together in the real world. I am also looking forward to desk time in various areas of the library that will give me hands-on experience with Skokie folks. In general, I appreciate the flexible approach to the internship program and the cohort model – I have already learned so much just from the formal and informal conversations we’ve had in the last two days. I also appreciate that everyone I’ve met here so far understands the importance of knowing the best places to eat. I hope to also learn how to resize images in WordPress to make them smaller. Talk soon!

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