Librarian Embraces, Teaches Technology

Communications Manager
Tuesday, May 12, 2015 - 3:30pm (updated Friday, July 24, 2015 - 3:22pm)
John Burke

John Burke, library director of the Gardner-Harvey Library at Miami University Middletown, began his career just as online catalogs and periodical databases were becoming widespread and the nascent Internet was gaining interest.

His interest in this technology drew him to the field – as well as led him to help others keep up with the ever-changing field as the author of a technology textbook.

OhioLINK recently talked with Burke about working at a regional campus, changes in technology and their impact on librarianship over the past two decades

What are some of the advantages of working at a regional campus?

Being in a smaller environment, our staff of five gets to work in a variety of different areas. For me, my mix includes handling administration and budgeting, working with the community and supporting professors and researchers. We all also work a good bit with different technologies, and we get to teach people those technologies.

You’ve written extensively about technology. How did you get started?

A colleague gave me the idea to write a book very early in my career. Over the course of nearly 20 years, I’ve written a total of nine different books – four of which are updated editions of the same title. That’s the current book I’m working on: “Neal-Schuman Library Technology Companion, Fifth Edition: A Basic Guide for Library Staff.” 

The original version came out in 2001, and at the publisher’s request, I update it every few years. It’s used as a textbook introduction to library technology, and there has been enough interest over the years to keep it going with revisions.

As you can imagine, with any book about technology, things change very, very quickly. It’s always very humbling to review previous work, and very exciting to bring things up to date and continue to improve. 

What technology changes have you seen since the last edition?

I surveyed librarians and library staff members nationwide on the technologies and technology skills they use in their everyday work.

The standard technology expectations are still there: computer use, word processing software and email. But, I also have seen some growth in social media tools. Various cloud-based services, such as Google Drive and Google Docs, had a big surge this year too. 

The newest technologies are in the Makerspace direction; 3-D printing showed up the most in terms of state-of-the-art technologies. [A Makerspace is a creative space where people can gather to create, invent and learn, often using equipment that would be cost-prohibitive to purchase independently.]

What advice would you have given yourself 20 years ago?

Looking back, I didn’t have a good a sense of how dramatically technology would continue to transform libraries. I have been amazed by the amount of changes in the library world and the speed with which they’ve moved. Advice to myself would be to really stick with the different technologies that come along and continue to learn more about them.

What’s the best part of your job?

I used to say that I like the variety, which is still true. I think the other element I enjoy in my job is the autonomy. While I can’t go willy-nilly and do crazy things, I do have the freedom in this position to serve the needs of students and faculty. We are able to make fairly quick decisions to respond to our patrons’ needs, both in terms of providing staff time or working more closely with students through one-on-one appointments. The campus administration leans toward that, and really the set up of the university as a whole is very flexible.

Can you give me an example?

After some faculty requested resources in their online classrooms, we developed an embedded librarianship program. The idea is to place a librarian into a class, within the university’s learning management system. Based on the courses’ syllabi, we place information into the online sites, with links to different library resources, as well as contacts for the librarians.

The program has led to a variety of student contacts, often through new channels. Because we are involved in the class on a certain level, we have the same access to assignments and class materials. It gives us better background to really help them. Also, we can post or email additional information to the class if we get a lot of questions on a topic.

What's one of your most memorable library requests?

We recently had a request for a digital copy of a set of record albums of an author reading his novel. His wife contacted us because he had died, and she wanted a recording of his voice to share with her kids.  The record set was out of print, and the publisher was unable to make a recording available to her.  She had also pursued buying a copy through Amazon and eBay, but no luck.  So, I created a set of MP3 files from the records for her.

What's your favorite thing to do when you aren't working? 

I enjoy camping and hiking a lot, or anything I can do with my wife and kids that gets us interacting and off of our phones.