State of IRIS
August 11, 2004
Anne R. Kenney
July 1 st marked the second anniversary of IRIS, following a 6 month transition period in which a small group of staff, led by Pat Schafer and including David Block, Paul Constantine, Lenore Corral, Susan Currie, John Dean, Carla DeMello, Nancy McGovern, Nancy Skipper, took stock of where we were and developed a basic skeleton for this new division. Linda Bryant and Chet Warzinski—and many others both within and outside IRIS—offered them invaluable support.
A lot has changed in the past 2 years: for instance, raise your hand if you have had your job change. Raise your hand if you have physically moved. Moved more than once? More than twice? We’ve definitely been changing, but in what direction?
In preparation for this state of IRIS review, I went back to some of our early documents and in particular the IRIS vision, mission, and values statement. Pat Shafer suggested they would as a good score card against which to measure the past 24 months. Are they still valid? Where have we made progress? Where do we need to focus our energies more? In reviewing these here, I will offer examples, but by no means an exhaustive list, of the considerable accomplishments we’ve achieved over the past 2 years.
The very first thing that struck me in preparing for this talk was how relevant the document remains.
IRIS Vision: To bring individuals and information together. What’s not to like about this vision? Perhaps today I might argue for adding “in effective and productive ways” to the end of the sentence. Working with those in public services reminds me of the old adage, “you can bring a horse to water, but can you make it drink?”
Mission: IRIS is a vital component in the Library's goal of maintaining its place as the primary information resource for Cornell University. New programs and initiatives will not come at the expense of essential services, and all will be treated as valued functions.
This is a good mission with two distinct parts. In the first sentence, I would probably consider substituting “preferred information resource” for “primary information resource.” According to various surveys, we know that the library is highly regarded by faculty and students and use by almost any measure is up. But we also know that the lure of the web is strong: according to the national LibQual survey, use of non-library gateways by faculty, grads, and undergrads across the country is twice as high as library gateway use. We need to focus more on ways to bring the library to our users in meaningful and effective ways. “Preferred” says to me that a choice is made rather than a default….
As for the second sentence, it’s important to recall that this mission was written before we had major budget concerns and the LARIS planning process. Overall, however, I think we have worked to balance new initiatives and essential services.
It’s when we get to the Values for Users that I think we can best measure our progress.
Value 1: The primary focus of IRIS is on users, and its goal is the provision of high quality content, expanded access, responsive services, and learning opportunities.
This still serves as a quintessential value for IRIS—important because it acknowledges that all areas of IRIS, whether on the front lines our not, are motivated by what’s best for the user.
Value 2: IRIS strives to provide responsive service and accurate information for our users, at their time and place of need, whenever possible.
Really good progress has been made in supporting this value over the past 2 years and the staff deserves very high marks. Three examples come easily to mind: space, services, and hours.
Facility improvements have been numerous. Within the past two years we’ve seen a major renovation of the Olin first floor—information service point and new counter top at circulation; new reference desk and reader space on the south side; newer and additional computers (anyone remember the Sun Rays?), the opening of the Current Periodicals and Newspapers Reading Room, the Media Center. Facilities improvements in Kroch Asia included relocation of the Icelandic circulating materials to provide more stacks and processing space. Plans are currently underway for phased renovation to the Severinghaus Reading Room. Uris has seen the renovation of the Kinkeldey Room, upgrades to the Fiske and Willis rooms, a facelift for the Electronic Classroom, the creation of the Tower Café, new space for the creation stations, development of the Instruction Department’s office suite, and soon to open the Cornell Library Collaborative Learning Computer Lab (CL) 3 in the former media room. We have also just gotten the go ahead for refurbishing/carpeting the Dean Room. Fine Arts first floor was renovated and refurbished. Africana Library will be getting a new building and is temporarily relocated in Uris. Construction for the new Library Annex has been approved and planning is well underway; and we are currently working on plans to provide a joint Media/LRC facility in Olin lower level.
Through all these moves—including some not mentioned such as the HFL, Olin 8 th floor, Uris, old rare vault—the staff of the Department of Preservation and Collections Management have provided exemplary service and deserve our hearty thanks. Special thanks for to John Marmora for the many hours he has put in planning and executing these moves, including moving the Africana Library collections to Uris in one day.
Document Delivery Services: The library continues to enhance fast and cost-effective document delivery services that save faculty and students time. Wireless was installed in OKU libraries beginning in 2002.. T he Borrow Direct book delivery service from other Ivy League schools increased the speed of delivery, reduced staff costs, and wow’d library users. A Cornell English professor identified Borrow Direct as “the greatest thing since sliced bread! It makes the research process so much easier.”
In January, CUL offered library-to-library book delivery. During the spring term, the total number of patron requests was nearly 3,500. This service will be extended to include library-to-department book delivery next year. And in the fall, the library will begin to offer electronic document delivery for materials owned by Cornell and even faster service for interlibrary loan copies of non-returnables through Rapid.
Extended hours: In 2002, Olin hours were extended to midnight S-Th and then to 9 on Fridays. In January 2003, Olin’s hours were extended by 14 hours/week, including a 2:00 am closing Sunday-Thursday and a 10:00 am opening on Saturday and Sundays. Probably most visible to users was when Uris became a 24-hour library Sunday-Thursday. During the spring semester, nearly 12,000 patrons made use of Uris Library between 2:00am and 8:00am. As one student noted during prelims: “Dear University Library, Just wanted to thank you for instituting 24 hr library service. It's saving my gpa tonight.”
Value 3: IRIS actively promotes information literacy (research and evaluation skills) for our users.
Aside from terminology—is it information literacy? Fluency? Competency?? individual library units and departments within IRIS have been working on this. But to date a system-wide effort has been an elusive goal. I am heartened by the fact that both PSEC and LMT have identified it as a top priority for the coming year with a special emphasis on collaborative partnerships with faculty and general outcome-based measures at both the horizonal level (what should an incoming freshman be able to do) to the vertical (what should a music major conducting research in her senior year know?) There will be a series of events and planning efforts over the coming year to bring this about…this is a “watch this space” and must-do issue.
Value 4: IRIS supports and facilitates user self-reliance.
Having participated in ARL’s Lib Qual survey, we know that our patrons value our collections, services, and staff—ranking us first among our peers. What we also know is that library uswers want more personal control and access to information. “Easy to use access tools that allow me to find things on my own” is the number one concern of undergrads; the number 2 for grads, and number 3 for faculty. David Block pointed out to me that we might want to amend this value to read “IRIS supports and facilitates enlightened self-reliance”—emphasizing the need to make things easy to use but coupling that with information fluency. Google’s easy to use, but how well are our users skilled at navigating and assessing its contents and in knowing what isn’t there but accessible in other ways?
Good progress has been made in this area, but there are many other things remaining to do. First in terms of the physical library, the Sign Committee— co-chaired by Kim LaMorte and Craig Mains, including Ida Martinez, Bethany Silfer, Sharon Wargo, and Beth Katzoff—has done a lot to support physical wayfinding. Their cellphone zones seem to be working. Until recently their focus has been on Olin and Uris, including non-IRIS areas, but they are now working with Music and up next will be Fine arts. The consolidation of the Media Collections in Olin is another milestone, enabling user browsing for videos from Olin’s 8 th floor, and Kroch Asia for the first time and encouraged faculty to assign more videos in courses. Media charges grew from a little over 19,000 in 2002 to nearly 32,000 projected for this year–a 168% increase. In other self-reliance efforts, FAL has been experimenting with self-serve reserve collections within the library itself.
IRIS staff have also been hard at work to make electronic wayfinding easier as well— I’ve already mentioned Borrow Direct. Maureen Morris was appointed the Web Librarian for all of CUL and she and the Gateway Redesign Committee did a terrific job in overhauling the Gateway. Other web-related efforts include new websites—Africana for Olin/Uris, Research, Kroch Asia, soon to be released Fine Arts, and the development of a design site to support web site creation, presentation, and publicity efforts by the IRIS Design Group. The Reference Department has developed a template for subject guides, and in cooperation with subject specialists within OKU, have been creating subject reference guides in a range of areas. The real test of their usefulness is that academic departments are providing direct links from their web sites to those guides.
There has also been a 22% increase in the use of e-reserves over the past 2 years—particularly among professors teaching at the graduate level.
Value 5: IRIS seeks to be a full partner in the educational and research process, anticipating and adopting technology advances and changing behaviors in research, teaching, learning, and information seeking.
One of the hallmarks of IRIS is its R—which stands for Research. Over the past 2 years, the Research Department under Nancy McGovern’s leadership has conducted ground-breaking studies and teaching in the area of digital preservation. Its Digital Preservation Management tutorial just won the Society of American Archivists Preservation Publication Award for2004. As of Sept 1, The Research Department will be renamed Research and Assessment Services, and will have principal responsibility for system-wide statistics and other data (e.g., ARL stats, annual statistical report). Linda Miller will devote full time to assessment in support of the library system. We will also appoint a network of CUL information providers in each unit/division to ensure that accurate data is supplied across the library. LMT will serve as the advisory board for assessment-related activities.
I previously mentioned that the Collaborative Learning Computer Center will soon open in URIS—this is the result of a collaboration with CIT, faculty in the Computer Science Dept, FABIT, and the Library to bring a high end experimental space to the library to support new forms of learning and teaching involving collaboration and technology.
Other partnerships with faculty and librarians are underway, including an internal grant on the Analysis of Chat Reference, with a team of librarians ( Virginia Cole, Nan Hyland, Nancy Skipper, Kornelia Tancheva, and faculty from the Communication Dept ( Jeff Hancock and Bruce Hardy). Last November, the team digitally recorded all phone and in-person interactions at Olin and Mann Library for a day. The transcripts of the recordings are being compared with chat and reference email questions from the same day. Communication theory is being used to analyze specific aspects of interactions so that librarians may better understand differences in user behavior and expectations in different modes (in person at the desk, chat, email, or phone).
Over 3000 students took part in instructional programs working in Olin and Uris libraries last year. Several IRIS staff hold appointments in various departments including History, Music Department, Comparative Literature, and the Asia Program. The Instruction and Research departments are pursuing more extended relationships with Syracuse University School of Information: Nancy McGovern and Susan Markowitz on formal internship process, Peter, Nance, Ira on joint teaching and research—will host a faculty member on sabbatical leave this coming year and planning for a joint LIS and ARL invitational conference on the notion ofteaching libraries.
Values for Staff
Value 6: IRIS staff collaborates with all of CUL, with compatible institutions and organizations beyond the University, and affirms the CUL mission.
IRIS staff have played key roles within the Library system in such areas as annex planning, the Huntington Free Library gift, Olin renovation, developing preservation metadata standards, and most recently collaborating with the Provost’s office in creating one university website for The Reading Project—just unveiled at reading.cornell.edu. Tremendous effort on the part of Lance Heidig, Carla DeMello and Jenn Colt DeMaree went into making this collaboration work.
Throughout the year, we have consulted with OCLC, LC, and GPO, and we regularly host visiting firemen from other libraries and research institutions. Most notably this year, Carmen organized the weeklong visit of Russian librarians to Ithaca in early July. John Dean has made it a regular part of doing business to serve as one of Cornell’s ambassadors to Southeast Asia; David Block plays a similar role in Bolivia; and this year the Preservation Department won a special grant from NEH to create an Arabic version of an online tutorial on preservation and conservation as part of a special initiative to help rebuild Iraq’s cultural heritage institutions. IMLS has just funded the Department to provide preservation training for tribal colleges, a collaborative project with the Native American Indian program here at Cornell, and the American Indian Higher Education Committee.
I’m also pleased that we’ve been able to work with JGSM, Hotel, and ILR (Don and Gordon joined IRIS Cabinet) while Ross is on medical leave.
Value 7. Staff are encouraged to experiment and innovate.
All across IRIS I am impressed by staff willingness to take chances. In thinking about what to say about this value, Pat Schafer suggested that I point to examples of “successful failures” that have taught us something. At first I couldn’t think of any(!) and then they started rolling in by the scores. Several to illustrate this point:
Many of you will not be surprised to learn that we have decided to establish a "one stop shopping" location in Olin to be the point of contact for all patron/public requests. This will be located in 116 Olin and an implementztion group headed by Carmen, and including Sara Spoonhower, Bethany Silfer, Kim LaMorte, and Lynn Bertoia are working to bring this about by the beginning of the fall semester. This office will handle things like special requests for use of facilities, public classroom scheduling and key pickup, special event ticket pickup, lost and found, library cards, billing and fines, and faculty studies, grad carrels, and lockers. Our goal is to automate as many of the processes as possible (including the development of web-based forms and online fee payment capabilities to enable users to apply for library cards, pay fines and fees, and renew online studies, carrels and lockers. You might be asking, “didn’t we have that before?” My response is “yes and more so.”
Other successful failures: The Loo Report, which folded after two issues; a failed Echols Curator search but I’m delighted that David Wyatt is stepping in; course correction with laptops; 14 day books in the Libe café, noise pollution on the first floor of Olin—and we’re still fighting food and drink issues.
Value 8. Staff and administration promote our services effectively to users.
Much has been done in this area and it’s hard to choose examples, but I’d highlight the appointment of Ida Martinez as Outreach librarian. And the new faculty orientation program (thanks to Howard Raskin, Matt Morrison, and Ida), and the focus on graduate students—with an welcoming reception for graduate students following the Library Technology Fair in the Lib Café on August 24 th. And what about the new CUL logo designed by Carla DeMello, which is useful in branding library content and services…the publication of Arts & Humanities Library News co-edited by Marty Crowe and Ida Martinez.
Value 9: IRIS works to ensure that the Library's collections continue to keep pace with the demands of research and are maintained in usable condition for future users.
Stacks maintenance is incredible. I have never been in another library where such pride is taken in caring for the collections. The establishment of Collections Coordination and Support Services (CCSS) under Yoram Szekeley brought the 20 or so selectors for Olin and Uris together and initially led them in such efforts as the development of guidelines for moving materials to the annex. Staff have worked with RMC to identify medium rare materials to move from the open shelves, and worked hard to meet an increasing demand for more electronic resources.
Values for Administration
Value 10. IRIS administration maintains flexibility in programs, staffing, space, collaborations, and administrative structure.
The past 24 months have seen more cross deployment of staff and several course corrections in programming (e.g., Africana Library emerged as a better fit in Information Services with the other departmental libraries). We have worked hard to move beyond the static structure of departments and units to more initiative-based way of doing business that cuts across divisional lines.
Value 11. IRIS encourages staff to develop new competencies and apply them to the tasks at hand.
We’ve seen more uniform support for staff training and travel and it was IRIS staff who piloted the university’s supervisory development training program. At the end of the first year, IRIS Cabinet established formal evaluation and performance expectations for academics, which have been used in annual performance reviews and personnel budget allocations. Much more can be done in this area.
Value 12. IRIS involves all staff, as appropriate, in analyzing tasks and investigating alternative ways of doing things.
IRIS staff have been in the thick of planning for major library initiatives over the past several years and have spearheaded projects that affect the entire library system, such as the Convenient Business Hours Study, the LibQual study, and the LARIS staff survey and documentation. Internally, we’ve used task groups to look at how to make best use of facilities, collections care, extended hours, technical support, and user services. The establishment of the Technology Support Team and the local IT support providers network connects staff across IRIS in rationalizing support and troubleshooting security and hardware/software issues. Program changes as a result of staff changes have been both creative and lead to greater flexibility in supporting both essential services and new initiatives. Cross unit staffing and backup is becoming a regular part of doing business.
Value 13: IRIS administration ensures that staff are well informed about the nature and progress of change and that they have opportunities to make their views known.
Communication is always an area that can use work, but I do point with some pride to the creation of IRIS News & Notes as a vehicle for reporting issues and challenges facing not just IRIS but the library itself. Listservs abound, and I’ve learned a lot by lurking on a number of them—first is that some are quite active and others are “also rans.” If a listserv isn’t getting much traffic, is it really fulfilling a communications role? I also spent a very productive time in my immersion process—visiting with IRIS staff in all the units. I came away more informed of what you do, your concerns, and with a profound respect for the quality of people who work in our division. But more can be done in this area.
Value 14. The administration ensures greater parity and more centralized support across IRIS and promotes the use of new technologies to produce streamlined and less redundant operations.
With the appointment of Susan Currie as Director of Resources and Planning, we moved to provide IRIS-wide support in technical services, financial planning, space allocation, design and web development, publicity, and grants budget preparation. Public programming increased under the direction of the Cultural Events Committee, chaired by Barbara Berger Eden and Lance Heidig, with public readings, lectures, music, and exhibit space in Kroch Alley. There is more art in the library: remember the return of the Bather? The student art shows in Fine Arts and Tower Café? IRIS staff have curated two major exhibits in Hirshland Gallery: Lenore Coral’s one on Mozart and Thomas Hahn’s Tianjin exhibit, and preservation staff assist in the mounting of all Hirshland exhibits.
Areas needing work
We can take justifiable pride in where we’ve come, but there are areas needing our attention.
Communication is a two way street: It shouldn’t just trickle down, perhaps it even needs to pour down, but it must also percolate up through all units and levels of staff. You need to be willing and able to bring your ideas to the table. I want to begin today by inviting you to fill out a 3X5 card and place it in the suggestion box located conveniently near the ice cream table. Describe an issue or concern and a potential means for addressing it and we’ll offer you a free coffee coupon good for use in the Libe and Tower cafés. I am also considering a reward system for suggestions that get implemented and will take this up with the IRIS Cabinet. I also plan to begin to hold brown bag sessions, inviting staff to weigh in on various issues. For over two years I’ve had “Brainstorming as a normal part of business” on my white board and it’s time to make good on that promise. I’d appreciate your thoughts on how to improve communication within IRIS.
Equity of support across the system: We’ve made progress here, but I’m particularly concerned that we support equity in terms of student budgets, facilities use, staffing, salaries, and resource planning. This will continue to be an ongoing goal.
Reaching across divisional lines: This goal is represented in the formal evaluation and performance expectations for academics and will become much more common as both a way of doing business and in fulfilling our mission of bringing individuals and information together. Some of our colleagues within the library call IRIS the 800 lb gorilla. I want IRIS to become known as the first to step up for collaboration.
Strengthening PSEC as a voice for public services: One way to reach across divisional lines is through public services. PSEC is currently in the midst of a strategic planning process designed to reflect user needs system wide, not just within individual units. More on that front later this fall.
IRIS alignment with the Ten CUL Priorities: I see IRIS promoting all of the new CUL priorities, but in particular providing strong support for the following six priorities:
We need to think anew about users’ experience with our digital library—to have our web presence support those who are fully conversant with the wealth of materials and services we offer but also to meet the needs of information novices, where complexity is revealed as needed.
As noted earlier, this is a bread and butter issue.
I expect IRIS to play a strong role here as well.
Much needed services to speed access and reduce staff costs are underway; the emphasis soon should turn to making the process from the reader’s perspective much simpler to use.
We’ve spent two years reinventing ourselves and I expect this to become a steady state process—attention must be paid to building support systems and skill sets for the next generation of library leaders.
Thank you for all your hard work, creative ideas, suspension of disbelief, and support for IRIS over the past 2 years—By working closely together, we can fulfill our common vision to bring individuals and information together in effective, productive, and exciting ways.
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