Question: So often librarians hear of colleagues in all types of library settings who stumble into this profession. Was becoming a librarian always on your radar, and what was the first job you landed in librarianship?
Answer: I stumbled into librarianship and into my first librarian job. My prior work experience was in frozen custard, commodity trading and HR, so it took me some time to discover librarianship as my profession. During my MLIS practicum at UW-Madison, I worked on a Tibetan Buddhist metadata project with an art historian at Northwestern University Libraries. Ultimately, I did not become a metadata librarian but because of my project management and data analysis skills, the practicum turned into a full-time project assistant position on an open source digital project. My love of pivot tables may have landed my first librarian position in the electronic resource group focusing on collection analysis.
Q: Which job experiences do you feel have uniquely prepared you to become the new administrator of the Tennessee Electronic Library and why?
A: Although the skills and technology that I used at Northwestern are the most pertinent to what I do every day, my experience working in a restaurant has really prepared me for the speed and variety of work that it takes to keep TEL up and running all while trying to provide excellent customer service. No matter how busy the day may be, I want anyone that uses TEL to have a good and productive experience so if I need to troubleshoot over the phone or provide additional training opportunities to make that happen, I’ll do it happily!
Q: Any examples of life experiences whose lessons learned have ultimately equipped you for the task?
A: Never say, “I’m never going to have to do that again!” As a librarian, I didn’t think I would need my Excel skills that I used at CME Group but I am always looking at stats to track how TEL’s website and resources are being used. When I left Northwestern, we had used Agile Software Development and so was the IT group working the TEL’s website redesign! I’ve been able to apply skills that I did not think would be needed as the TEL Administrator, whether it is brushing off Photoshop skills, creating a personal Scrum board, using Drupal, geeking out over the power of a Pivot table -- you never really discard any useful skills.
Q: Please tell us a little about the role of TEL Administrator – what does “a day in the life” look like for you, and how does what you do vary from day to day and month to month?
A: During the first five months in this role, TEL has rolled out two new resources and a new website, so I might not know what a day in the life looks like yet! Training is a big component of my role, so I am often working with vendors to schedule training opportunities, creating training materials or presenting on TEL resources to librarians and teachers.
I’ve spent considerable time on the content of the website and will continue to enhance the content for librarians and teachers in the coming months. I work with the Planning and Development team within TSLA, so we collaborate on each other’s programs; for the Summer Reading program, we had some webinars about TEL resources that supported the theme of “Libraries Rock.”
TEL is very seasonal so in the summer the focus is on training, fall is conference time – see you at DataFest! TEL hibernates, plans and plots during the winter and picks up on training the trainers in spring.
Q: What have you enjoyed most about being in your post so far?
A: I have really enjoyed learning how different people across the state of Tennessee use TEL resources regularly. Not only do I get to work with the amazing librarians from schools, public and academic libraries but I also get to talk with and train teachers, administrators, students and parents. I also have a very welcoming group of co-workers from the Tennessee State Library & Archives and the Regional Library System who have been supportive and helpful; I enjoy coming to the library every day!
Q: Twenty years ago last May, Tenn-Share published “The Tennessee Electronic Library: A Proposal for Delivering Information Resources to Local Communities.” Two years later, Tennessee’s Legislature had approved funding for TEL, and over time, Tenn-Share helped to secure continual state funding. What are some of the unique challenges faced by an endeavor that has such a wide expanse of scope and coverage, and how can those challenges be met?
A: Although the benefits of providing TEL resources may seem obvious to the library community, TEL always will benefit from hearing how access to these resources has impacted Tennesseans’ lives. By collecting the examples of 1) how students increased their ACT score using the practice exams in TERC, 2) families able to learn more about their family history in HeritageQuest, or 3) a small business was able to secure a loan by using resources in Business Insights, we can let legislators know the impact of these resources on their communities.
TEL serves everyone in the state of Tennessee, so it can be challenging to find resources that are beneficial to the maximum number of users. When evaluating resources, it can be hard to look at usage data and realize how essential some aspects of a certain resource may be to a smaller but dedicated group of users. When going out to bid for resources, getting feedback from as many users [as possible] is essential to make the transition between resources as easy as possible.
Although TEL has so many users and advocates across the state, there are so many people who have no idea that TEL exists. Trying to determine how to reach the non-users is difficult. Again, getting feedback through conversations, surveys and focus groups are all methods I’d like to use to see how TEL resources can be improved and explore different channels to reach new potential TEL users.
Q: In its first year, TEL provided Tennesseans free access to 18 databases. That number has now nearly quadrupled. Personally, what are your Top Five favorite databases provided by TEL and why?
A: I’m really excited about Testing and Education Reference Center for this next school year. Not only does it have practice exams for the ACT, SAT and AP exams, but it also has ebooks, study guides and practice exams for so many different professions – nurses and health professionals, accountants, massage therapists, teachers and more. There is a really robust scholarship search tool and a resume builder, all available in one resource!
Transparent Language is an easy-to-use language learning tool I am using to refresh my French skills, which withered away after a decade of neglect. Even if I only have five minutes, I can practice short little lessons on my phone. It can judge me on my pronunciation, so hopefully it will rid me of the Wisconsin accent by the time I go to Paris!
Beyond French, it offers those lessons in more than 100 different languages, so there is something for everyone. You can learn English from 29 different languages. Not only are Transparent Languages developers always adding more content to the existing languages but they also have recently added an American Citizenship Course and lessons in Spanish for librarians.
The In Context databases -- Research in Context, Student Resources in Context, and Opposing Viewpoints in Context --are an excellent series of databases that can really help students learn and build upon the research process. Not only are students getting access to quality, vetted educational resources not available from an Internet search engine but also so many built-in tools, such as citation builders, and integration with Google and Microsoft tools that make the research process easier to manage.
I really love how the tools that are available in Research in Context -- which is geared to middle schoolers -- are available in the more sophisticated databases, too, so students can hone their research skills year after year. Some of TEL’s biggest users are community colleges and universities, so it can be a great advantage for students if they start using these resources in elementary or middle school.
I’m still new-ish to Tennessee, so often I am referring to The Tennessean to keep up with what is happening across the state. The database goes back to 2002 so I can also use it to fill in any gaps of what has happened regionally in the last two decades.
One database I am always using personally is the Culinary Arts Collection. I like to make messes in the kitchen and bake cookies. By narrowing down the content type, I can even search recipes and have found a great Cauliflower and Wisconsin Aged Cheddar Soup recipe. Beyond just recipes, I also scope out food trends so I can impress and annoy everyone around me with my foodie opinions!
Q: In a few sentences, how would you boil down your ultimate goals for TEL as you move into the next six months? For the next year?
A: In the next six months, I really want to understand how various users actually use the TEL website. The new website is a great improvement but there are still areas that need to be developed and enhanced.
Because of Tenn-Share, TEL is turning 20 next year! We need to celebrate 20 years of great resources and ensure that Tennesseans have 20 more years of access to great resources. We will be working on enhancing our current resources, trying to get new users for TEL and finding out how using TEL has impacted people’s lives across Tennessee.
Q: What are some specific ways members of Tenn-Share can further the mission of TEL in 2018 and beyond? Are there volunteer opportunities available?
A: There are so many groups of teachers, retirement groups, local Chambers of Commerce and career development groups across the state that would benefit from knowing about these resources. If you love talking about TEL, TEL needs trainers who are willing to meet with various groups to discuss the great resources available. If you are interested in becoming a TEL trainer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. There will be multiple “Train the Trainer” dates for 2019.
Q: What do you consider the greatest challenge of being a librarian in the 21st century?
A: Advocating for funding and resources.
Q: As a seasoned librarian, what is your advice to new and veteran librarians coping with the rapid and continual change taking place in our profession?
A: I’ve worked in a lot of different industries and I can say, hands down, librarians are my favorite people -- always willing to help and teach a new skill! Use your old library school cohort, your colleagues, the new intern or your state librarian to ask questions and learn new skills. Take advantage of all the free webinars and trainings out there! There are so many good resources that will teach you tips and tricks that can save you loads of time or inspire a new program/marketing idea. It’s hard to build-in that time to learn new skills, but it will equip you for the next big change.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
A: I am so impressed by the library staff and teachers across the state. Thank you for being so welcoming!
---Ellen Kimbro, Tenn-Share Marketing Committee