Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-post series on engaged librarianship by Maureen Donovan, the Japanese Studies librarian at OSUL. The second post will focus on Maureen’s experience collecting, teaching, and creating tools for the study of manga (Japanese comics).
In his post about engaged librarians, Craig Gibson described a “collaborative landscape of scholarly method and practice”. I realize the key for participating in this for me always involves active listening. Of course when scholars discuss research findings or explain the subjects they are studying it can be fascinating, but I find myself pulled into more active engagement when they start mentioning things like the pitfalls they face, work-arounds they devise, or frustrations they encounter in the course of research. Active listening involves asking questions. I press for more details, want to know the circumstances, ask for their ideas about potential solutions, wonder how many others face the same problems. And, being the Japanese Studies Librarian, I often respond by developing resources for the Japanese studies wiki.
A specific example is a page on Japanese photography resources created when someone mentioned how hard it was to find such books in the library’s catalog. I collected some citations, thereby “curating” content held in different library collections at Ohio State. By responding to this specific need with an openly accessible wiki page — rather than a private email communication — the possibility of wider impact opens up. Lately there is a lot of interest in visual information; still, I am simply amazed when I realize that this wiki page has received over 19,000 views so far. Truly, my listening and responding to one scholar’s needs by collecting/curating some citations brought me into engagement (however superficial) with many others.
Does creating online resources like the wiki change or increase my engagement? Indeed it does! On a daily basis I use new technologies (especially wiki and twitter, as well as blogging) to bring library resources, databases, web resources to the attention of people who might be interested and this has really increased my engagement. In the past it might have been enough to select a book and let it wait on the shelf until someone picked it up. Now it seems that acquiring and cataloging resources are only initial steps that enable the possibility of engagement. But only by proactively pursuing opportunities to connect researchers with our materials, following up on careful listening during conversations, can it begin.
In 2010 Janice Mutz and John Dupuis gave a talk on “Our Job in 10 Years: The Future of Academic Libraries” at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference in which they threw out a question which is very relevant to the topic of librarian engagement. They asked, “When you see a great big room full of books, do you see it as something alive or as something dead?” I find that using wiki, blog and twitter to promote or curate content makes it come “alive” and brings me into active engagement with people, into connecting resources with researchers.