March 25, 2017

Academic Movers 2014: In Depth with Karen Lauritsen

Movers2014webBigLauritsenbIn this first of an interview series sponsored by SAGE, LJ goes in depth with this year’s Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, delving into just how and why they pulled off the projects that brought them recognition as innovators, change agents, and more. Karen Lauritsen was chosen as one of this year’s Tech Leaders for her work as Communications & Public Programs Coordinator at the Robert E. Kennedy Library of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

Library Journal: You’re not a librarian by trade. What drew you to the position you currently hold at Cal Poly?

Karen Lauritsen: I was interested in being able to help shape a totally new position. There have been people doing pieces of this position before, but it had never been a single, full-time job. That means there’s some room to help learn what the job should be, and some flexibility to really establish something on the public programs side. I was interested in the communications side as well, an especially in taking a look at how we can tell document these programs and tell their stories.

Explain what you mean by telling the story of a program.

It’s up to us to figure out what works best for a podcast versus a video, for example. Sit-down interviews with a presenter can be a million times more compelling than having a camera on a tripod during the lecture and hoping this person doesn’t step out of frame. It also means keeping in mind that the lifespan of a project doesn’t end at “OK, we did that, time to move on to the next project.” We have to keep working and find audiences for that material outside of the library as well.

Talk about the role that partnerships play in in your work.

Building partnerships for things like our Cal Poly Science Café series may be the most important part of what I do. Part of building great programming is moving from a relationship of “We’re offering you a time slot to come and give a lecture” to one where we’re collaborating with presenters to create a meaningful experience for everyone who shows up.

Sage KnowledgeIn this interview series, sponsored by SAGE, LJ goes in depth with this year’s Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, delving into just how and why they pulled off the projects that brought them recognition as innovators, change agents, and more.

What’s a project you consider a particular success?

The Science Café programs were popular and well-established, but about six months ago, I really started thinking about the definition of what a public program is, so we launched Open Science Cafe, which asked for student proposals for what they would want to see from that program. A panel of judges invited the top three proposals to present their ideas. We were looking for something that was more than just bringing a speaker whose work you admire, but also about creating an experience. We went with a proposal from Ali Albiani, a senior studying art and design, and we’re developing a really great event with Steve Duenes, graphics director for The New York Times, who is working with us on ideas for how to create an interactive workshop. To me, it’s really inspiring to see students taking the lead on bringing an inspiring professional to the library.

When you’re working with programming partners, what do you look for in a successful event or series?

Two things that spring to mind are excitement about the topic and a feeling that a partner is approaching you as an equal. We’re looking for a middle place where we can come together as professionals and agree that whatever we want to make, we want to work together to make it awesome. That to me is real partnership, but it also takes a lot more time than just saying “Hey, can you put on two or three events every quarter?”

Have you faced any challenges in your transition to library work?

People are really supportive and excited for the most part. People can be a little cynical about the communications piece, but once that communications team helps the library win awards for the good work it’s been doing, like the ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries award we received this year, people come around to having a team who can frame the story and highlight what they’re doing. That can be hard to do for yourself.

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

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  1. A minor corrrection. Cal Poly won the ACRL Excellence for this year – not last year. They are one of the 2014 award winners. See: