SLA-UW kicked off winter quarter with a South Lake Union library crawl. We started at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Arnold Library. Doug Shane, the acquisitions librarian, was our tour guide. Ann Marie Clark is the library’s director and spoke to us before the tour. The library is very supportive of the iSchool. Most of the librarians are UW graduates and they regularly offer internship and student work opportunities. Fred Hutch is very innovative and provides great support for the library so that the librarians can support the researchers effectively.
Arnold Library is similar in many ways to an academic library as the majority of their work involves supporting federally funded, grant based research. Fred Hutch used to include a hospital but no longer does. Instead they partner with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for patient treatment. The library does get some questions from patients, usually quite technical as they come from people who have already done a good amount of research.
Like other libraries we have visited, Arnold Library has seen changes and continues to adapt to researchers’ needs. They canceled all print journal subscriptions in 2008 and get them all online now. The library is embedded in the center’s shared resources group and contains the group’s computer center, partially located in the former reference room. Upstairs, a room that used to hold print journals is now being converted into video production use. Next to that room is a quiet study area.
The librarians do a lot of “house calls” to assist and train researchers. They train on citation management software and help researchers get their papers into PubMed Central. They handle many interlibrary loan requests, and do outreach especially as major changes happen. Providing and communicating the library’s value is always important, just as it is for all libraries today.
Most of the staff came in with little or no medical or scientific background, but expertise in finding information and using reference tools. Many have worked their way up from office roles and built domain knowledge along the way. When asked what MLIS courses would have helped him in his career, Doug mentioned archives as particularly useful since they are getting into digitizing and organizing an archive. He also would have taken more technical classes.
We rode the streetcar to the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library and arrived as Mandy Gonnsen, the youth services librarian, was setting up a poetry slam for teens with a Valentine/anti-Valentine’s theme. Her outreach activities focus on getting kids to come in and feel comfortable, and providing a community space. Mandy is taking a Braille class and demonstrated for us on a vintage-looking Brailler. She showed us some of the different ways books can be adapted for the visually impaired. They can add Braille to picture books, which generally also have large print. For blind parents to read to their sighted children they can also make transparent Braille overlays and bind them in between book pages.
Mandy works with schools, generally via telephone and email, to get them the types of books they need for their visually impaired students. She does outreach both at the library and in schools. The summer reading program lasts eight weeks, and the library mails out packets with book lists, vocabulary words, and activity and craft supplies.
After spending time with Mandy we toured the library with David Junius, the volunteer services and outreach coordinator. WTBBL serves people who are visually impaired or unable to hold books. Services are free and supported by the Free Matter for the Blind program of the NLS. The library has a large print collection on site similar to what might be found at a public library, but is now focusing more on Braille and audio materials. Readers’ advisors work via phone and email, looking at what books people have read and taking their interests into account. Readers can get books automatically by mail with a service that resembles Netflix, or on request.
The shipping area is filled with books in Braille and two audio formats. The majority of the audio collection is still on cassettes, but digital cartridges are gradually replacing them. Some Braille and audio books are produced locally, with a focus on Northwest authors and subjects. David keeps the Evergreen Radio Reading Service running and showed us the audio production equipment and software he uses.
The library also has a computer lab with screen readers and Braille displays as well as an OCR scanner. The children’s room, visible through large picture windows, is open to the community.
Five of the six librarians at WTBBL are UW iSchool graduates. They have hosted directed fieldwork students and are also sponsoring a capstone project this quarter. David has plenty of ideas for other projects, so let him know if you’re interested in working with special populations in a unique setting!
We finished the crawl with a drink at the ever-classy 13 Coins. Thanks to everyone who joined us and our gracious hosts!