Connecting information professionals across upstate New York.

Past Student Shadows

Student Shadow Emma Rogers Recaps on the Spring Conference

UNY/SLA’s 2017 Spring Conference – Government Data: By the People, for the People

Thank you again for allowing me to participate as a shadow student in UNYSLA’s spring conference Government Data: By the People, For the People. I made many wonderful connections and gained valuable insight into the challenges libraries face in the age of mass data.

The first speaker was Paul Bern from Syracuse University who presented the topic of Government Data and Data Security. Professor Bern’s topic covered threats to public data from the late 1700s onward. Although there were several points of interest for me during his presentation, one concept that recurred throughout the course of the day was the concept of Margin of Error. This concept, from what I gathered, was that data has been manipulated either purposely or mistakenly since the beginning of humanity for personal, sometimes nefarious purposes when the context or whole of the information is not included in the results. A fascinating discussion ensued regarding the role of librarians as instructors on the concept of margin of error.

After the first presentation I introduced Blair Tinker, a research specialist for GIS from the University of Rochester. Tinker discussed the history and evolution of census data mapping and questions to keep in mind when conducting a reference interview. Some of the questions Tinker recommended asking included: what the results will be used for, if the user is willing to put in time and effort to locate the correct set of data or if something more general is needed, will they use it in the future, and what sort of time restraints exist. Tinker warned that physical boundaries on maps have changed over time, so results may not always be available or correct. I enjoyed learning more about online mapping tools that Tinker uses regularly or has used in the past. The number of options to gather information from census data seemed endless.

I introduced the next presenter, Leah McEwen from Cornell University, who discussed the topic of Mining Public Data for Lab Safety. McEwen explained the necessity for risk assessment in laboratory protocols, and argued that a similar protocol for libraries could be implemented for users. I enjoyed listening about PubMed Safety, and how similar safety measures in the application could also be used to alert library users. I had just recently learned more about the semantic web, so trying to picture the future of the application and the concepts that could be taken away from it was particularly appealing to me.

The last presentation was by Jim DelRosso from Cornell University on Data Rescue. DelRosso spoke about his experience and knowledge on preserving data and websites, and why it has recently become a necessity. He explained national effort and those of Cornell University to preserve data for faculty and graduate students and the protocols they have in place. Although I had heard of data rescue events, this presentation was eye-opening for me because I had not known of the different aspects involved in such a process.

The conference ended with a panel discussion that included Jim DelRosso, Stephanie Jacobs, Sarah Prenovitz, and Sue Cardinal. Cardinal had prepared several intriguing questions about the various experience each panelist had with preserving data, and there were also several questions from the audience. One of the highlights of the discussion was about the collection of public data for the purposes of selling it such as, which gathers census records but charges users. It was agreed upon that it was a charge for using their services, but there were other means of finding that information. Another highlight was the rekindling of the conversation over who is responsible for educating the public on the concept of the margin of error and protecting personal information. One solution that seemed popular was to implement a course for students to learn about data protection and comprehension, although situations regarding intrusion of personal information may vary in degrees and context.

Overall, this was a very exciting and informative experience for me. I would highly recommend to any student interested in attending a conference to join a UNYSLA conference. This experience allowed me valuable insight into the opinions of librarians across the state, and to learn more about topics that I am sure will surface in the near future.

Assessing User Needs: Student Shadow Danielle Masursky Discusses Fall Conference

I was lucky enough to attend a terrific presentation on this topic by Gabriela Castro Gessner and Susan Kendrick from Cornell University.

Here are some of the takeaways:

The Cardinal Rule of Assessment is “Ask the right question.” Take time to really figure out what you want to know. Design a RESEARCH QUESTION that captures your assessment project. Brainstorming is invaluable at this stage. Then take the time to review and refine your Question so that your assessment project is really evaluating what you want to know.

A close second to the Cardinal Rule is to make sure that you ALIGN your METHOD to your research GOAL. A survey may not be the best method for your purpose and is certainly not the only method available. Consider other options and keep in mind that more than one method may be necessary to answer your Research Question. CONTEXT is “king” when making the decision about what method to employ – what type of library, what type of users?

OBSERVING is an underutilized tool, but it can be very powerful. Just sit and watch how patrons use your library’s space and your library’s resources – you can learn a lot.

An ONLINE SURVEY is good for getting feedback, but it is very important to keep it SHORT and ensure that all users can understand it. A PAPER SURVEY is good for targeting a specific resource or program that you want feedback on. It is essential to TEST DRIVE (pretest) your survey with members of the target audience: work out the kinks, ensure that people understand the questions, and make sure that you’re actually getting answers to your Research Question through this instrument.

FACE-TO-FACE methods can be a very useful way to get more detailed information on a topic, this includes focus groups and interviews. It is still important to fine tune your questions and ensure that they will solicit the feedback that you’re seeking.

Once you have data, figure out how to make it ACTIONABLE. Go back to your Research Question – did you learn what you wanted to learn? Did you find out unexpected or surprising things? What are you going to DO with the information that you have acquired?

Make sure that you ACT on the results of your assessment. Then EXTEND the life of your data by sharing it: put it in your Annual Report and reports to donors, publish it, write some blog posts about it, put it in your monthly newsletter and on your webpage, present it at conferences. And do it quickly, data gets stale.

Do a POST-MORTEM on your process. What worked, what didn’t? Did you chose the right method? Or try doing a “PRE-MORTEM” – have a meeting before you get started and conduct a thought experiment: why did this project fail?

One final key to success: it is absolutely essential to LISTEN – listen to your colleagues and collaborators during the planning process, and listen to your users during the assessment process.


Student Shadow Natalie LoRusso Reflects on UNYSLA Fall Conference

Natalie LoRusso was a student shadow at this year’s UNYSLA event “Staying Relevant, Keeping Connected,” held at the Onondaga Central Public Library in Syracuse, NY. As a second-year MSLIS student at Syracuse University, LoRusso is a graduate assistant at the Veterans Career Transition Program through the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). Upon graduation in May of 2017, she looks forward to joining an academic institution with a focus on library outreach and accessibility.

Speaker 1: Elizabeth Dunbar

The conference started with a presentation by keynote speaker Elizabeth Dunbar, the Director and CEO of the Everson Museum of Art. Dunbar spoke on how to get innovative with library programming, while staying aligned with their institution’s mission. There are three main components to implementing programming that engages local communities while staying true to the Museum’s mission.

Engage Diverse Communities

            Is your institution holding events that only appeal to one age group, interest, or hobby? Branch off from typical programming, and try implementing a program that appeals to a wide variety of community members. When planning a program, consider age, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, socio-economic status, and geography. For example, Dunbar discussed some ideas the Everson has had great success with, such as Ladies’ Nights featuring scarf-making and wine, Summer Film Under the Stars Series which is a huge hit for families, and Teen Style Engineers: Fashion through Science, which is a two-week camp that challenges teens to combine science, engineering, and fashion design.

Incite Curiosity & Lifelong Learning

            Speaking with a museum in mind, it is important to be able to offer enticing events for people of all education backgrounds. Museum workers want the art to be enjoyed by first-time visitors as well as seasoned art historians. One way to make this possible is to increase outreach and partner with local organizations to help spread the word. Some examples included tours, painting classes, camps, films, lectures and artist talks, demonstrations, and performances. Listen to what your community wants, and plan accordingly.

Contribute to a More Vital & Inclusive Society

There are many ways a library or museum can give back to their communities, but ultimately, the communities shape our local society. Community engagement is key for innovative programming. After all, in a museum, art is meant to be engaged with! Social events bring people together with a common objective, and outdoor activities can make use of the space. One example of this is the increasing popularity of yoga in and around the Galleries of the museum. When the weather cooperates, yoga classes are held outside in the plaza, but when the cold air makes an appearance, the classes are held inside. Make use of every inch of space, and if a programming initiative involves patrons creating something, be it a scarf or a painting, create a new exhibit centered around these contributions. Patrons will have a chance to have their own work displayed for the community to view, and contribute to the museum with their creations.

I found that implementing events that community members suggest was a great outreach method, and became curious as to what other programs my library could carry out that would intrigue our users. Libraries and museums are fruitless if they are not engaged with. What better way to reach our users than to listen to what they want to do, make, see, or hear? The list does not stop there, and I found myself wanting to brainstorm further initiatives because of this point.

Speaker 2: Susan Reckhow

Shortly after, Susan Reckhow, presented “Library Renovations with our Community in Mind.” As the Administrator for Branches and Initiatives at Onondaga Central Public Library, Reckhow was a main proponent of the recent renovations for the Mundy and OCPL branches. To get to the root of desired library space and function, she gave example questions for patrons to answer:

  1. Why is the library important to you?
  2. What would you like to see addressed through the renovation project?
  3. What are your main frustrations when using the library?
  4. What is one new service you would like to see the library offer?

She also asked questions about connecting with our communities:

  1. What does the community need to help it move toward the ideal?
  2. What changes can the library enact to ensure community needs are being addressed?
  3. What will have the largest impact on users in the new space?

After collecting answers to these questions, the library administration would take the physical space into account. One suggestion revolved around the picture books being too tightly packed into the shelf space, which proved difficult for young children to pull a book out without assistance. This resulted in parents picking out books to read, and not the children themselves. Reckhow explained that to rectify this, they opted to create a setup similar to vinyl record stores: have the front covers facing out so children can flip through them and pick books based on what they like. Though this method took up more space in the library, it fulfilled its purpose. After redesigning the picture book collection, circulation increased by 96%. Children were picking out their own books in a way that suited their dexterity, and benefited from wonderful books because of it.

For me, the tour that followed was the pinnacle of the presentation. As a first-time visitor of OCPL, I was in awe of the user-friendly layout, minimalist yet vibrant interior design, and comfortable reading areas. The Makerspace alone was enough to warrant the rest of my attention. I had not considered the importance of space, function, and accessibility to such an extent, but Reckhow elaborated on each decision, as well as ideas that did not work in their favor. I walked away with the knowledge that the answers to difficult questions lie in collaboration and involvement.

UNYSLA Spring Conference

Mark your calendars for the Spring 2018 UNYSLA Conference: Lead From Where You Are


When: Friday, April 13th, 2018

Where: Rochester, NY


Click here for more details!

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