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CFP: PaLA CRD Connect and Communicate Series

November 8, 2021

The Pennsylvania Library Association’s College and Research Division Connect and Communicate Series looks forward to providing another year of excellent programming that is relevant to and useful for academic librarians.

If you have a session you would like to share with our academic library community, we invite you to submit a proposal. If there is a speaker you would like to hear from, you are also welcome to include that information in our proposal form.

Please submit your ideas here:

There’s more information here:

Recordings of the most recent recent sessions are available on the C&CS YouTube channel:

Thank you!

CRD Connect and Communicate Team

The Comeback Code

October 26, 2021

Picture it. Western PA, 2012 or 2013. A group sits at a restaurant booth, looking at a ketchup bottle label with a square space and pixel pattern. It’s a QR (Quick Response) code, and I’m explaining how it works. The group is not impressed. We pick up our menus and choose our breakfasts. 

Fast forward into a global pandemic. Contact with people and surfaces is a bigger deal when it comes to menus, keypads, keyboards…the list goes on. From this dismal situation, the QR code re-emerged as a touch-free way to scan a code to access forms, menus, and other online information on your own phone or tablet. 

Image: xat-ch, pixabay

With this resurgence, QR codes are also being used for marketing and outreach in higher education. Here are a few examples on social media from libraries or other institutions around Pennsylvania: 

At our library, QR codes have been used to provide quick access to LibGuides and other online tools, like our study room booking system. We often see students successfully using them. In part, this may be because many mobile phones now have QR code readers already installed.  

The QR code can be convenient for the person scanning them, but there’s still a need to be smart about privacy and other concerns. Just like any website URL, codes send the user to websites that may be tracking activity and collecting data. For example, a company might record a customer landing on a product page via a QR code, and then promote that product to them on their next visit.  

Codes could also lead to malicious websites, just like a spam or phishing email link. Experts suggest avoiding a code in an email from an unknown sender, or a code printed on a label or flyer by itself. This Washington Post article from earlier this month explains. Creators should provide some context with QR codes, so the audience knows the purpose. 

Of course, QR codes may not always be the right — or most accessible — tool for the job. Patrons may not have smartphones and data plans, or would prefer not to use them. We often include a short URL with our codes for that reason.

Like any initiative, deciding to create QR codes requires some thoughtful consideration of audience, purpose, and timing. This time, it seems like QR codes will be around for a while.

Pennsylvania Library Association’s Teaching, Learning, & Technology Round Table Invites You to Attend a Webinar!

October 24, 2021

I would like to share the following message from the Pennsylvania Library Association’s Teaching, Learning, & Technology (TL&T) Round Table’s current chair, Sam Bardarik. I am the incoming Vice-Chair for this round table come January 2022 and I am hoping you will join us!

The Teaching, Learning, & Technology Round Table (TL&T) of the Pennsylvania Library Association (PaLA) invites you to attend a free webinar titled “The Locomotive Engine of Change – Technology Innovation in Academic Libraries.” TL&T is hosting this webinar on Tuesday, November 9, 2021 from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.

Our speaker is Dr. Karen Rege, former PaLA member and current Dean for Information and Innovation at Harford Community College in Bel Air, MD. Using her considerable experience as a college administrator, she will identify the successes and challenges in implementing and sustaining large technology projects, balancing technology-related budgets, and changing the role of the reference librarian in order to best address the advances in teaching and learning through technology and pedagogy. Looking at technology from this perspective can better inform our decision-making from both our current vantage point and as we look toward what is on the horizon.

Please register here:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Sam Bardarik
Chair, 2021
Teaching, Learning, and Technology Round Table
Pennsylvania Library Association

One Year of Working in a New ILS

October 21, 2021

We started looking for a new ILS before the world knew what COVID-19 was. In looking for a new product we had a few areas that we wanted to prioritize: a better patron experience, better customer service, lower cost, and the ability to retain EBSCO EDS as our discovery tool. We looked at a few ILS platforms and decided that the best fit for us was going to require us to go outside of our comfort zones and become early adopters of Folio, an open-source ILS. What really sold us on this option were the cost savings that came from bundling our contract for FOLIO with other EBSCO subscriptions and the ability to get customer support through Bywater. So, we signed on the dotted line and ended up being one of the first five libraries in the whole United States to go live with this software. 

Folio library system logo.

We expected pain points transitioning to any new ILS system, but this transition was complicated by COVID-19. All the library staff were working from home and receiving training on the new system over Zoom. I work with three other library staff to make up our Tech Services department and we really struggled to get things moving. We went live on Folio in July 2020 but we were not able to catalog a new book in the system until January 2021 because we were waiting for some of the modules to be further developed and with each of us primarily working from home, access to materials was limited. So, I count this January as the end of year one working with this system in Tech Services. Looking back, many positive changes have occurred because of moving to a new system and dealing with COVID.  

We had not been acquiring ebooks through direct purchase but that changed with COVID. In the past year, we developed an acquisitions process for our liaison librarians to select ebooks – indicating platform and user-model and then have our acquisitions assistant purchase them, import records for them, and add the access links to the record. For a time period we established a direct link between our system and Gobi to test if it would be a more efficient workflow for purchase information to be brought into our system from Gobi rather than manually added. That ended up not being a great fit for us, however, it was cool to have the flexibility of the system to try something like that.  

We also took this time to re-think how we manage print periodicals. This was another workflow helped by COVID. We knew when we signed the contract with Folio that they did not have a module for print periodical predictions & check-in. We had already made a decision to focus on transition from print to electronic periodical which was sped up during COVID. Luckily, with the money we saved by choosing Folio as our ILS we had money freed up for more electronic content. We are down to just 12 print periodical subscriptions and we’re able to manage that using a spreadsheet.  

While Folio does have modules that allow for the creation of PO’s and receiving items in the system as we implemented our workflows, we struggled to use these modules at first. This prompted us to have a discussion in-house as to whether these processes were doing anything for us or if they were just additional work. For us, a small library with a small staff who is purchasing even fewer print items, we were able to eliminate these steps and just import records to the system and then pay the invoices. This has streamlined how quickly items move through our system and out to the shelves.  

Is everything perfect after a year together? Not quite – we’re still waiting for spine label printing and the ability to generate reports. However, the reporting issue (and many others we’ve dealt with along the way) is offset by the amazing customer service we receive from Bywater. Our implementation team still has weekly meetings with Bywater to address issues we’re experiencing. With our past system, updates were infrequent and labor-intensive but with Folio and Bywater we get quarterly updates and Bywater helps prepare us for the changes that will be coming and pushes out the updates overnight, with very few interruptions to services. They also help us when it comes time for us to cast our votes for which areas should be prioritized to be developed in the Folio community. Since they’re familiar with our workload and the areas in which we have had trouble, they are able to guide us to the projects and proposals that have the most potential to help us.  

In my office right now is a book truck with two-shelves of “low priority” books waiting to be cataloged that were rolled into Folio from our old system. It is my goal to have these books out on the shelf by the time we hit our true one-year anniversary of using Folio in Tech Services. I’m finally ready to put thoughts of our old system out of my head and embrace our new ILS. If you’re considering Folio or want to hear more about our implementation experience, two of my coworkers will be presenting with EBSCO on Folio on November 10th at 10am.  

Being “back”: Reflecting on the return to in-person work

October 11, 2021

I had the privilege to spend most of the pandemic working remotely — something I know was not afforded to all of my LIS colleagues. At my institution, for more than a year, the majority of classes were online, and therefore, I had to adapt to teaching on Zoom, like many others. But now, that era has ended for me, and I’m in the middle of my first semester “back,” as many on my campus are saying, in the physical library, office, and classroom.

In some ways, it’s felt like when I started my first job — prior to July, it’s the longest stretch I’ve been “out” of the classroom since I became a professional librarian in 2014. In other ways, it’s seemed like nothing changed, and we never left — aside from the masking.

Students seem happy to be back, and I am too, though there are small things I miss, like being able to drop a link in chat so that I can quickly get everyone to the same starting point or resource. But when I remember the challenges of group activities and other active learning exercises in a remote environment, I’m glad to be a the front of the classroom.

I’ve also returned to an in-person reference desk shift. I did a lot of virtual reference before the pandemic, so that was not a big change for me. I was apprehensive about starting back on the desk, but students have been eager for in-person help and respectful of COVID safety guidelines. A few weeks ago, I accidentally scheduled myself for a chat reference AND in-person reference shift during the same hour. I ended up chatting with a student who was upstairs in my library and struggling to find books in the children’s section (boy, those tiny labels are hard for even the experts among us to read!). While I was happy to help her online, I knew this problem was going to be best solved by being in person. I convinced her to wait until my desk shift ended, and we searched for the books together on the third floor. Interactions like this make me glad I’m back, though I’m still wary sometimes of the health risks that we can’t mitigate.

I’ve spoken with others about things we will “keep” in our toolkits from the pandemic experience. At my library, we were already doing many things virtually because of Penn State’s World Campus and our model of one library, geographically dispersed. This made us better suited to pivot than others might have been, though it was still a huge adjustment. One of my “keeps” is Zoom reference — it can make it easier for students to accommodate hectic schedules and screen sharing makes it much easier to demonstrate than trying to work over someone’s shoulder. But it certainly can’t and shouldn’t replace in-person reference when needed.

We’ve also been running a virtual book club (we’re headed to week three of four!) which has been a great success so far. Virtual programming allows us to bring together from many different campuses which we obviously could not do in person. I want to keep virtual and hybrid programs going where I can, because I want to increase access for our students and resource share for our librarians and libraries.

So, how is your fall going? In August, I felt hopeful but skeptical that this would go well. I’m more optimistic now, though I am still being a realist as we head into the colder months. But no matter what, I know we can make it work!