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IAmRUSA Interviewee for the Week of July 14th is
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Hi Everyone, my name is Joe Thompson and it’s my honor to serve you, our RUSA members, as RUSA President for the 2014-2015 ALA year!
My work in libraries goes back to March 1992 when I began shelving books at the Cockeysville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library. From there I went on to become a Circulation Supervisor, Library Associate, and eventually a MLS degreed Librarian at BCPL in 2001. There was a side trip in there to become certified as a secondary education teacher as well. It was my role coordinating Maryland’s statewide virtual reference service, AskUsNow!, that allowed me to meet so many of the people at the academic and public libraries who became my friends across the state. I’ve been active in RUSA since 2003 when I attended my first ALA Annual Conference in Toronto (the conference that only about half the registrants attended – remember SARS?). It was incredible opportunity for me however. I made my first RUSA contacts by attending a program organized by the RSS Cooperative Reference Services Committee. I asked a question during the program, and they asked if I’d want to join the committee!
I’m big into volunteering and participating in library activities. Though, I’ll admit that perhaps the greater reality is that I’m terribly challenged at actually saying “no.” Until recently I chaired Maryland’s Library Associate Training Institute’s (LATI) Oversight Committee. LATI is our statewide paraprofessional training program that allows bachelor-degreed staff to provide many librarian functions across our Maryland public libraries. I’ll also soon be serving on the advisory board for my alma mater, the iSchool at the University of Maryland College Park. One of my volunteer involvements that’s helped me refine my library advocacy experience is serving on the board of our statewide friends-of-libraries group, Citizens for Maryland Libraries (CML). I serve on the CML board as the representative from the Maryland Association of Public Library Administrators (MAPLA).
My career path has changed quite a bit over the past six years, and most especially since this March! In 2008 I began working as the Associate Director of the Western Maryland Regional Library, one of Maryland’s three regional libraries established by the state to advance service to the public libraries outside of the central Baltimore-DC core. It was an incredibly rewarding experience. With the start of March 2014 I began a new chapter, by coming to the Harford County Public Library as the Senior Administrator – Public Services. At HCPL I’m now responsible for the eleven branch libraries. It’s an incredibly innovative library system and a great place to work.
I think I’ve probably gone on quite long enough with the biographical info! Before I wrap this up, I do want to also commend my awesome wife and daughter, who allow me the time to get all of this work done, in addition to all of the volunteer commitments. We find time for fun by taking trips to parks and going hiking, which includes our trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks following the recent ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas. On a regular weekend we might end up at a nature center, museum, or historic site.
What questions do you have? I’m happy to try to help!
Thanks so much for participating in IAmRUSA! I was wondering if you wouldn't mind talking about how your MLIS work helped prepare you for a focus in virtual reference and online services? Did you have a background in online services before you got involved with "AskUsNow!" or was it all new to you at the time?
That's a good question. To some extent I'd say that the MLS degree work prepared me for virtual reference, for instance in terms of how to develop a search strategy. However, I think what truly prepared me the most for Maryland AskUsNow! was the experience I had working the desk and answering the phones at the Towson Library at BCPL before, and while, I was getting my degree. Towson had a legacy as a 'central' library for BCPL, so it was the perfect place to handle meaty questions, such as those on business and legal topics. While at Towson I was also put in charge of coordinating the Information desk and Reference collection, so that gave me a LOT of on-the-job experience.
Our state's paraprofessional training program, LATI, has a strong focus on effective communication and customer service. I'd also say that what I learned in that program in 1998 helped a great deal. The best practices for handling a face-to-face transaction translated very well for the chat/VR transaction. Of course the significant change is that the librarian needs to compensate for the lack of visual cues. I borrowed a fair amount of the LATI material and modified it for the training I provided statewide for our Maryland AskUsNow! providers those first few years.
I'd really be interested to hear from others who have graduated from MLS/MLIS programs in more recent years. How did your degree experience prepare you for providing chat or IM reference at your library?