Interview with ULS Chair Rebecca Blakiston

Rebecca Blakiston is the 2016-2017 Chair of the University Libraries Section. Currently she works at the University of Arizona Libraries as a Team Lead for Web Design & User Experience. In this interview Rebecca talks about her involvement with ULS and what she hopes to accomplish as Chair.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be an academic librarian?

As an indecisive sociology major in college not sure of my future, I took an aptitute test my sophomore year to find out what type of profession might suit me best. The results pointed me to a career in librarianship! Not immediately sold on the idea, but intrigued by the possibilities, I soon got a job shelving books at the campus library. By my senior year, I’d worked the coordinated shelving students, worked the circulation desk, and collaborated with a number of librarians. I had a taste of the inner workings of the academic library and fell in love with it. I enjoyed helping other students while learning something new every day. Next thing you know, I’m applying for graduate school and working full-time in access services. After graduating, I was able to get my first librarian job in undergraduate services.

How long have you been involved in ULS and what attracted you to the section?

My colleague, Leslie Sult, was an informal mentor to me when I started working as an instruction and outreach librarian. She had been involved in ULS committees, particularly the Membership Committee, and encouraged me to volunteer within the section. She had great things to say about the people and networking opportunities. I was fortunate to be appointed to the brand new Technology in University Libraries Committee in 2010. I wasn’t disappointed, and found it was one of the most engaged committees I’d worked on – we organized online learning opportunities, shared content through social media, and landed a regular “Tech Bits” column for C&RL News. I was then elected as a Member-at-Large from 2013-2015. It’s been a great experience all around. I’ve found that people who work in university libraries share many of the same passions for teaching, learning, and the research mission of a university. It’s great to be around likeminded professionals to share challenges, successes, and lessons learned.

What do you think are one or two major issues academic librarians face today and how can ULS help address these?

Just one or two? It’s hard to know where to start. The landscape of higher education is changing and we struggle with funding, retention of students, balancing our teaching and research missions, and our very identity. The research lifecycle for faculty is changing: funding requirements, data management, digital publishing models, etc. Student expectations and challenges are changing as we hear about massive student debt, the high cost of textbooks, and concerns over the value of a university education. Not to mention trends towards more online education, an increasing global and non-traditional student population, and shifts in technology we can’t yet imagine. Not to mention the recent 2016 presidential election and upcoming shifts in priorities at the federal level. It’s a crazy time to live in.

As far as how ULS can help address these: ULS is 4,000 members strong – the largest section in ACRL. As a strong community of members, we can help drive some of these conversations and share creative solutions. We have an active email list, a strong presence on social media, and we put together speakers and other programming. Our program proposal for ALA 2017 was recently accepted and will bring together experts to talk through how to best navigate the evolving scholarly communication landscape. This is a collaboration with EBSS and ReSEC, and is a major issue for our profession. I encourage everyone to attend!

How did you come to serve in this ULS leadership role — chair of the section?

When serving as member-at-large, I became pretty familiar with the workings of the section. I was thrilled and honored when the Nominating Committee reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in running for Vice Chair. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

What advice do you have for members who are interested in taking on a leadership role within the section?

Start somewhere and get involved. Be open-minded and flexible. Build relationships with other members, and reach out to committee chairs and discussion group conveners if you’re interested in their work. As you participate in different committees, learn what type of work you enjoy most, whether it’s conference programming, seeking award nominations, facilitating discussions, or sharing content via social media channels. There are lots of opportunities and ways to get involved.

What goals do you have for the section during your term? How do you envision committees and members helping the section achieve those goals?

One of the new exciting things this year is our brand new Professional Development Committee. The goal of this committee is to provide members with opportunities outside of ALA conferences to learn, grow, and connect with one another. Jason Martin, Past Chair, is chairing this new committee and I can’t wait to see what they come up with. I was innagural chair for a professional development committee for our state library association and it was incredibly valuable. I have no doubts this new committee is going to do great things, and other ULS committees and discussion groups are already contributing ideas, whether it’s topics of broad interest or potential speakers for programs.

Also, as a user experience librarian, I care deeply about how members (and potential members) access our valuable content on the web. So one of my big goals is to improve the content, architecture, and design surrounding our web presence. This includes our blog, social media, manual, best practices, and soon our LibGuides. I want current members to have easy access to content they need to get involved, do their committee work, and engage with the ULS community. I also want potential members to be able to easily see what ULS does and how they can get involved. If I can accomplish that this year, I’ll be super happy.

Where do you see ULS going in the future? How does it need to change and evolve to stay relevant to academic librarians?

To stay relevant, we need to be flexible, agile, and proactive. Just because we’ve done something a certain way for ten years, doesn’t mean we should keep doing it for the next ten years. Let’s rethink how we do things, continue to question our assumptions, and evolve as a section. A good example was creating the new Professional Development Committee this past year – we realized that there was a strong desire to provide online opportunities, and we needed a group of people dedicated to seeing it happen. So when we see those gaps or a needs, we should address them. We need to be responsive to members and make sure we’re providing value through content, community, and professional development. And with the energy and dedication I’ve seen from our members, I’m confident we will continue to do just that.

What last words would you like to convey to ULS members?

Thank you for reading. I hope you get involved in our community if you aren’t already!

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