Educators That Rock: Lauren Pressley

Photo ©Wake Forest University by Ken Bennett.

Lauren Pressley is the instructional design librarian at the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. In addition to her role as a librarian, Pressley is an author, a blogger and a frequent presenter.

Pressley was named a Mover and Shaker by School Library Journal in 2009, and was sponsored by the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) Board to participate in the American Library Association (ALA) Emerging Leaders Program in 2007. She also recently developed a very popular toolkit of short videos (two to three minutes long), which answer patrons’ frequent questions.

In a phone interview last week, Pressley told findingEducation about the impact online networks have had on her personally and professionally. “As a quiet person … I’ve been able to find my voice online,” she said. “It’s opened up a lot of doors that wouldn’t have been open to me otherwise.”

Learn more about Lauren Pressley at Lauren’s Library Blog.

fE: This past fall, Michael Porter and David Lee King published a collection of librarian essays for a project they called Library 101. In your essay, you describe the disappointment you felt after taking a personality test that listed librarian as one of the last possible careers for you to consider. What did it suggest you do instead?

LP: It actually said I should practice law or be a “professional philosopher.” I have no idea what that means. So the thing that is sort of interesting to me about that test is that all the qualities that it said that I had that would have made me a poor fit as a librarian were because they were assuming that the person needs to be really rigid and rule-following and not necessarily friendly. But the things that make me good at my job are actually the very things that that test thought would make me bad.

It’s indicative of how the field has changed, that people have such a clear idea of what librarians were and make assumptions based on that.

fE: Maybe it’s because I recently watched the movie “Julie & Julia” or maybe it’s because you look a little like Amy Adams, but…

LP: (She laughs.) I just read the book.

fE: You did? I haven’t read the book yet. Anyway, I’m picturing you in that movie role, and it seems like it’s a lot of work developing an online persona. Can you speak to that?

LP: I’m actually really, really shy, which is sort of a funny thing, considering how much I’ve put out online. I went to my first ALA [meeting] and didn’t know anybody, and that was a little stressful. Then I did a little blogging, and got a little more involved online, and when I went to the next conference, I already knew 10 people. I didn’t just know them, I knew things about their personal life, and what was going on in their work and they knew me, and they were looking to find me. I thought, “It’s not just about the job; it’s about really connecting to all these people who are out there and trying to do good things in their libraries.”

Deciding how much personal information to put out there is kind of difficult to figure out, because a lot of my personal friends are also professional. I actually on some level have to think, “Does this add to the relationships that I’m building or is this something that only a few people I know will really care about?” And I try to make the call that way.

fE: Tell me about your book, “So You Want To Be a Librarian.” What was its takeaway message?

LP: In addition to just giving an overview of the field, I try to make it clear that this is a field where if you want to make a change, there’s room for you to do that now. I try to advise people that having an online persona is really worth thinking about, because a lot of the stuff that I’ve been able to do happened because of what I’ve done online. As a quiet person who would never have gone up to someone and introduced myself at a conference and asked if I could get involved, I’ve been able to find my voice online. It’s opened up a lot of doors that wouldn’t have been opened to me otherwise.

fE: Tell me about your new book, “Wikis for Libraries.”

LP: It came in the mail yesterday. It’s very exciting! It’s part of a series that Elyssa Kroski put together for Neal-Schuman Publishers. I think of the series as sort of a one-stop shop for people thinking about certain technologies. In my case, librarians might have been thinking, “I’ll wait for the wikis to go away.” And then they realize the wikis are going to be around and its time to learn how to use them. The book is designed to be a quick read but straightforward, and very concrete.

fE: What makes wikis so important to libraries?

LP: In libraries that are really small and don’t have a Webmaster, it creates a way to have a Web site, where you don’t have to find an expert to make it. You set it up and then you go in and edit the content. In larger libraries like mine, where we do have a Webmaster, it’s useful because we can create a reference resource on the fly about how to do our jobs and we can share policy information that is immediately exchanged with the whole staff. It’s such a flexible way to share information, and I think that is what gives them they’re sticking power.

fE: Is it difficult to be both a “book librarian” and a “Web librarian”? Do people pigeonhole tech librarians as not interested in books, and people who are interested in books as not knowledgeable about the Web?

LP: There is a little bit of that, which is part of why I try to keep a hand in both sides of things. I love books; they are why I enjoyed being in libraries as a kid. But I also have this other side, because I see the information environment as being the space where we really have to innovate and think of new things to do. That’s the type of work that I really enjoy doing.

fE: What are you reading?

LP: Honestly, lately I’ve been reading a lot of books about babies. [Pressley is pregnant with her first child.] I’m always a fan of David Weinberger’s books: “Everything Is Miscellaneous” and “Small Pieces Loosely Joined.”

fE: Can you tell me about being a young leader in the field of libraries?

LP: What I found in terms of actually making changes within ALA is that I’ve had pretty good luck by picking a smaller group to focus on, and then really pushing on the issues that matter to me the most within that smaller group. I spend most of my time with LITA, which is the information technology group. Several of us will try out a small little pilot project and if it works well we see several votes that impact the larger ALA organization. This can be a pretty good way to make things happen, by seeing if these concepts really work, and then seeing them rolled out on a larger scale.

But I also realize that there’s a lot of policy issues that the larger ALA deals with, so I’m running right now for council, which is the body that does the legislation for ALA. That election is at the end of this month. I have no idea if I’ll actually get in or not but I’m hoping that at some point, I’ll be able to serve on council and make change happen that way as well.

fE: I thought your video was great. Good luck!

LP: Thank you.

Lauren Pressley’s Favorite Sites

Google Reader
Google Voice
Google Docs
Remember The Milk