Jennifer Koerber is a consultant, writer, and trainer working in the intersection of technology, libraries, and everyday life. She held a variety of roles during her 17 years at the Boston Public Library and is currently the training project manager for Harvard (University) Library’s implementation of the Alma unified resource management system.
Jennifer has written extensively for Library Journal on technology and public service in libraries and is co-author of Emerging Technologies: a Primer for Librarians (Rowman & Littlefield, May 2015, with Michael P. Sauers).
In May of 2018, Libraries Unlimited published her second book, Library Services for Immigrants and New Americans: Celebration and Integration. In what remains of her time, she is a semi-professional photographer and crafter. Visit her online at www.jenniferkoerber.com and on Twitter @jenniferkoerber.
What inspired you to write Library Services for Immigrants and New Americans?
I wrote the article version of Library Services for Immigrants and New Americans on assignment for Library Journal in June 2016, and in the fall, Barbara Ittner of Libraries Unlimited asked me to turn it into a full-length book. After the presidential election, she sent me an email: “With immigration policies and populations now in flux, and a lot of confusion and concern circulating, it occurs to me that a practical book on this topic is sorely needed by librarians.” (via email, November 2016) I jumped on the chance to add to a topic that I’d barely scratched the surface of in my article. See the article at http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2016/06/library-services/celebration-integration-public-services.
You interviewed several people for your research. What was your workflow for these interviews? How did you keep track of your data?
Ha! And by “several,” you mean more than 20, in-person, on the phone, and via email. I prefer to work via email whenever possible because it gives respondents time to craft their answers and gives us a shared reference if I need to go back and clarify details. That said, many folks preferred to speak by phone because they found it easier to have a conversation than write a response. For those interviews, I used Go To Meeting’s recording feature and then used the Transcriptions app for Mac to manually transcribe them. I will say, if I ever have to do that many interviews again, I’ll be splurging for an automated transcription app or service, because while I’m a good transcriptionist, it wasn’t the best use of my time. At the very least, I’ll get the proper foot pedal/headset set-up and better software to speed things up.
For the actual organization, I simply used folders on Dropbox to collect the transcribed responses by library. Gmail’s internal search was invaluable: I’d use it weekly to track who’d responded, and could look up details by keyword as well as by interviewee. Finally, even though my life revolves around technology, I really do prefer reading and editing offline, so I printed and marked up all the responses on paper and organized them in physical folders. Then, I could see multiple responses from one person while writing up sections and chapters.
For my next book, though, I’m going to give Trello and/or Scrivener a whirl. I was more than halfway through the project when two different folks suggested them, and it would have been more work to start using them than I had left to do. I think both platforms mimic the analog workflow I prefer closely enough to be right for me.
What is one key takeaway from this book that you will apply to future research projects?
“Every project is different. Have a plan, learn from the past, but expect it to be a whole thing unto itself each time.”
Every project is different. Have a plan, learn from the past, but expect it to be a whole thing unto itself each time. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into after co-authoring my first book, but that project was all about researching a topic and this was largely coordinating interview responses. Totally different approaches and commitments of time and energy.
You have worked in both public and academic libraries. What opportunities and challenges do you see information workers facing while pursuing research in these settings?
At conferences, you can tell just by the slides who’s an academic librarian and who’s in public libraries. Academics have numbers and charts everywhere* while the public librarians tend to have some charts interspersed with more descriptive information. To me, this was the visual representation of a fundamental discrepancy: academic librarians tend to be encouraged to engage in research because they’re steeped in that environment, while public librarians usually don’t have the support (or opportunities) to pursue research projects in a work context.
This is less true higher up in the organization chart for both library types, but in my 17 years as a public-facing librarian, I don’t remember hearing of anyone who was doing genuine research for the library. We did reference all the time, and accumulated statistics about library use, but didn’t pursue our own research on or related to libraries.
* A notable exception is my friend Jim Delrosso at Cornell University. His use of Prezi is inspired: https://prezi.com/user/niwandajones/prezis/
What is one piece of advice you would offer to a new professional just starting to craft their research agenda?
Here’s where I make the confession that I was a little conflicted about responding to this interview request. I don’t consider myself a “researcher” – I’m a library journalist and consultant who engages in research in pursuit of the writing I’m doing. My writing focus is split between public library service in general – which is where Library Services to Immigrants… fits in – and the intersection of libraries and technology in public service.
“Discovering your own agenda and your own voice – at whatever stage you’re at in your career – is critical.”
So, as someone who doesn’t have a research agenda yet, the advice I’d give myself is simply to develop one. I’m interested in SO MANY THINGS, but most of the research (and writing) I’ve done to this point has been in response to assignments and consulting work. Discovering your own agenda and your own voice – at whatever stage you’re at in your career – is critical. It’s all fascinating, but try to narrow down to what compels you most strongly or what you feel would have the most impact on others.
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