While librarians are great at lots of things, one activity that we particularly excel at is asking questions. Another way that we will be getting to know our fellow Solos is through “20 (or so) Questions” posts that we will be putting up regularly. Laurie Calhoun has graciously agreed to be our first
victim… I mean question-answerer. Read on for both library- and non-library-related information…
1. Describe the work done by your employer and how you support the
The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) is a global research
institute with headquarters in Washington, D.C., and regional offices in Nairobi,
Kenya, and New Delhi, India. We also have a project office in Mumbai. ICRW
is comprised of social scientists, economists, public health specialists and
demographers, all of whom are experts in gender relations. ICRW’s mission
is to empower women, advance gender equality and fight poverty in the
developing world. To accomplish this, ICRW works with partners to conduct
empirical research, build capacity and advocate for evidence-based, practical
ways to change policies and programs. We produce research on topics such
as gender-based violence, engaging men and boys, economic empowerment
(including agriculture and property rights), reproductive health and population,
child marriage, adolescence, HIV stigma, and others. I support this mission
by assisting the staff with all of their research needs through managing the
collection, tools, subscriptions, and inter-library loans, negotiating with vendors,
providing training on tools, consulting on and doing literature reviews, responding
to reference questions, providing historical data and publications, and numerous
2. What percentage of your collection is electronic?
I don’t know exactly, but it’s still very small. The vast majority of our journals are
electronic and we have thousands of PDFs of research articles and publications,
but at present we have no ebooks and over 13,000 print books and grey literature
publications which are still heavily used. We are more like a special collection in
an academic library (although we are a nonprofit think tank with no connection to
any university) than like many corporate or government special libraries, so books
and monographs are still needed. Our niche subject areas also aren’t yet well
represented in ebooks and as a small nonprofit we can’t afford to buy big collections
of them. Many of our staff have ereaders and travel for weeks at a time, so it would
be great if we could add them to the collection soon. I’m interested to learn more
about how other solos are incorporating them in their collections.
3. Describe the services that you provide to your patrons.
I provide all the traditional library functions like basic reference, collection
development, database development and searching, training, inter-library
loan, document delivery, Intranet links to our resources, and also do research
consultations, literature reviews (when I can carve out the time required),
bibliographies, manage our archives, and manage some knowledge management
of ICRW resources. Mostly I try to save the time of the overworked researchers by
filtering information via many, many alerts and tables of contents, and proactively
sending them customized, relevant material and saving it for future reference. I also
do news summaries and trend monitoring. I consult with them on their research
and continuously assist them in building our collections and awareness of free
and low-cost tools. In addition I manage several knowledge management tools
including a networked bibliographic citation system and research repository with
15,000 citations to works in our subject areas. This system grew out of an internal
innovation fund which was managed by staff and it was selected by them in a
competition of proposals also submitted by staff. It has proven to be a popular and
time-saving tool for me and everyone. I add to it everyday and regularly train staff on
it. It is used far more than our traditional catalog.
4. How many patrons do you serve?
About 50 in DC, 30 in India, and 1 in Kenya.
5. How long have you worked there?
6 and a half years.
6. Do you have an MLS and if so, what school did you receive your degree from?
Yes, from Catholic University of America.
7. What databases do you subscribe to?
JSTOR and Science Direct. We use Popline, PubMed, and Google Scholar a lot
too and are grateful for any free tools.
8. Have you always been a “Solo”, or did you become one due to organizational
I’ve been a solo most of the time in this position, although before the recession
there was a planned position reporting to me in the budget for the FY 2009 year
which was later eliminated and I had a long-term temp whose funding was cut. In
my previous library position I was a director with 2-3 staff for seven years.
9. Is the library an independent part of your organization, or do you report into a
I report to the Chief Administrative Officer in the Operations department, but am also
a member of the Research and Programs department.
10. What do you do to market yourself as a librarian within your organization?
Sorry this is verbose and I’m not sure that these all constitute marketing, but these
are all things I do to show and tell how I can help. I do a one-on-one orientation
with all the new staff in DC and try to contact the new staff abroad to introduce
myself and my services, (and the library is in the main navigation of the Intranet so
it has some prominence there). We are so small that I can talk fairly often to most
everyone about their needs, attend all the subject matter team meetings, and attend
some researchers’ meetings when they launch projects (or if I am embedded on the
project). We also have a journal club to discuss new research articles for which I
recommend articles and I attend meetings. I make announcements or presentations
in staff meetings when relevant. I interview the Indian and Kenyan staff when they
visit so that I can better assist them.
In addition to items already mentioned, I proactively send relevant research articles
and relevant news to various teams on staff including operations and business
development, as well as new book/journal announcements and suggestions of
places to publish (calls for papers, etc.) or potential partners. I also circulate event
announcements, so I am in their e-mail regularly. The library services are included
in proposals and RFPs as part of our capability statement. . I also do periodic
polls in Outlook and Survey Monkey about library services and there is pretty high
awareness of what tools and services we have. I used to do library week displays,
quizzes, and giveaways, but our staff are so busy that few took part, so I stopped.
The library serves as the public gathering space where people can eat lunch (it’s
adjacent to the kitchen) or get away from their cubicles and we always have M & Ms
there for chocolate breaks (there is very high foot traffic due to this which I started
when we moved to this location). I have a display of staff peer-reviewed publications
right next to the kitchen for high visibility. The library is a “selling point” for visitors
(board members and high profile supporters like Ashley Judd often check it out, as
do attendees at various brown bags and events) and our tenants (we lease space
internally to several smaller NGOs). Sadly many development organizations don’t
have libraries, so visitors are surprised and usually excited at its existence.
I don’t think the issue is marketing per se, but better understanding of what I can do
for them which is harder to capture succinctly, but they seem to understand better
through seeing vs. telling. Now that our staff has shrunk some due to the economic
crunch they are more inclined to use my services in whatever way they can since
they are short-staffed. I’m always interested in hearing what other solos do to market
themselves and show their added value.
11. Are you involved in any “non-library” activities in your organization? If so, what
I guess this depends on your definition of “library” activities which is growing
and changing all the time. I am in charge of some knowledge management or
communications initiatives like our networked bibliographic citation software with
our 15,000 research citations and many PDF links and our database of staff (i.e.
peer-reviewed) and organization publications. I manage the internal communication
and public displays of these publications and help produce biannual lists of our
publications for the board and funders. I also share new publications with some
funders and portals and maintain our print archives. I disseminate a gender and
development news summary to staff several times a week. I assist with identifying
business development and prospect research opportunities and contribute to
proposals. I respond to inquiries that come to a public mailbox on the web site. I
suggest items for our Facebook page and tweets.
In a small organization like ours duties are constantly evolving and we all need to be
hands-on with all sorts of unexpected tasks. On occasion I attend external meetings
for staff when they can’t attend and need someone from the organization there. I
have also hosted visitors including groups of students. I manage a used clothing
drive each fall.
12. Do you currently (or plan to) have any library-themed tattoos?
Definitely no tattoos now or in the future.
13. As solos, we don’t have the luxury of walking down the hall to talk to librarian
colleagues. When you have a problem, need advice, or simply want to talk shop,
where are some of your favorite places to go?
I belong to a few small, but super helpful groups of librarians in DC and globally
(besides the Solos and DCSLA) who can be sounding boards and great advisers.
One of these is APLIC-I http://www.aplici.org/ which is a network of information
professionals in the areas of reproductive health and population. I have served on
their board and they are a wonderful group. Another great group is an informal group
of DC library managers whose organizations work on international topics. Of course,
I also use SLA forums and LinkedIn groups and attend quite a few DCSLA events
and webinars where I get great ideas and help.
14. Read any good books lately?
I am a mystery addict and right now I am immersed in the Louise Penny Inspector
Gamache series which so transcends the mystery genre that I recommend it to
everyone without reservation. She is an extremely talented writer and her characters
will stay with you for a long time.
15. Name one of your guilty pleasures.
Dark (i.e. high cacao percentage) chocolate – a little bit everyday. I lived in
Switzerland for a year and got spoiled. I am no longer a fan of milk chocolate.
16. What kind of music do you like?
Opera and classical music, classic rock, and some jazz.
17. What are your hobbies outside of work?
Opera and concert-going most of all. In addition I love going to DC’s mostly free
museums. I also am something of a foodie and love eating out, cooking, visiting
wineries, and sampling wines.
18. What would be your ideal vacation? Have you done it, yet?
You will sense a theme here. I have been lucky enough to enjoy my ideal vacation a
few times in Italy, France, and the U.S. I love to stay in a rental house or apartment
for at least a week or more in a beautiful, rural or semi-rural area (sometimes on a
farm or near farms and vineyards – in Italy they call it Agroturismo) in a place where
I can cook and try local foods and wines and take day trips to the surrounding area/
sights. You live more like a local and have a chance to really unwind and relax when
you stay in a home for an extended period.