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Interview: Librarian By Day Bobbi Newman

Bobbi Newman
Bobbi Newman

Bobbi Newman is the OCULA Spotlight speaker at OLA Super Conference 2014. She is the author of the award-winning blog Librarian by Day and in 2011 was named a Mover and Shaker by Library Journal. She is currently an ALA Councilor-at-Large and a serves on the advisory board for the Pew Internet & American Life research on Libraries in the Digital Age. She is the founder and coordinator of the semi-annual Library Day in the Life Project, and co-founder of the award-winning This Is What a Librarian Looks Like. Bobbi co-founded and wrote for the award-winning Libraries and Transliteracy Project. She has a Masters in Information Resources and Library Science from the University of Arizona and is currently pursuing a Masters in Political Science with a minor in Mass Communication.

We caught up with Bobbi online to find out what she’s up to these days. Here’s what she said.

Q: What inspired you to go back to school?
A: I am interested in the intersection of technology and with political behavior and communication and policy. I had been considering returning to school for several years, but could never figure out the right time. I took advantage of an opportunity presented a couple of years ago and returned to study policy. Prior to returning to school my work had focused on technology, specifically digital literacy, and the digital divide, so policy (and political science) made perfect sense.

Q: What are your observations of the library at your university from the other side of the desk?
A: I have very little interaction with librarians, I’m pretty self-sufficient and I have been very impressed with the speed of inter-library loan requests. My favorite discovery was the large scanning machines that allow me to scan chapters of books I need and email the PDFs to myself. I can still remember during my undergrad doing research in the basement of the library and feeding nickels into a microfilm machine to print out articles I needed!

Q: What do you think of the recent fervour and debate around MOOCs?
A: Honestly, I am ambivalent. The potential is there for anyone who wants and education to get it at little to no cost. An idea that many who work in libraries, especially public libraries, are familiar with after all the library is the university of the common man. But I don’t think I have ever taken an online class that provided the same level of discussion, interaction, and direction that face-to-face classes do. I’ve long felt that webinars are great when there is no other option but they can’t replace in person interaction, and I think the same applies to MOOCs. That’s just one of many challenges MOOCs face on the road to long-term success.

Q: What solutions do you see to the strained relationships between libraries and publishers
A: I would really like to see libraries partner with interest groups and organizations that are interested in electronic access and interests and step up the game. I don’t think playing nice is working. Think of the first sale doctrine here in the U.S. publishers didn’t just concede those rights, lawsuits were involved. As the only public institution that provides free access to information (and. some would argue, one of the pillars of a democracy) libraries have an obligation to their patrons to ensure access to that information even when the container changes.

Q: Your blog is Librarian by Day. What’s your alter-ego?
A: Ha! When I first developed my online professional presence I wasn’t comfortable using my name or photos of me. I chose “librarian by day” because I felt that if it was good enough for Barbara Gordon it was good enough for me. It was also meant as a hat tip to traditional librarianship as well as all the other aspects of librarianship these days – I’m also a trainer, a teacher, a technology troubleshooter, a gamer, and a crafter (I think they call that a maker these days).

Q: We love your blog This Is What a Librarian Looks Like. What stereotype of the academic librarian would you most like to send packing?
A: Probably that of the unhelpful librarian who just serves to shush people, which is kind of hard to combat with photos. Librarians are incredibly helpful and accessible, I’m amazed at the students (both graduate and undergrad) I encounter who just don’t realize how much easier the librarians can make their lives. I would love it if when students needed assistance with project the first person that popped into their head was the librarian.

Q: I’ve been told you’re a beer connoisseur. Have you tried any Canadian beers that you like?

A: I definitely wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur, but I do like a good beer now and then. I recently returned from Germany and had some really interesting beers there, and I’m looking forward to trying some Canadian brews. [Super Conference planner] Jane [Schmidt] mentioned C’est What in one of her emails and I looked at the selection, it would be hard to pick just one! But Big Butt Smoked Dark Ale, Caraway Rye Beer, Coffee Porter, and Steve’s Dreaded Chocolate Orange all sound very interesting.

Interview by Carey ToaneInsideOCULA deputy editor.

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