Communications & Public Programs Coordinator
Robert E. Kennedy Library, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
MA, Education, University of California, Berkeley, 2004
Photo by Dennis Kleiman
Karen Lauritsen was not necessarily seeking library work when she left her job in continuing education at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), three years ago, but she knew she wanted an environment where unconventional, interactive learning could thrive. “I was looking for an agile organization in education or public service that embraced creative experimentation,” Lauritsen says.
With its “Learn by Doing” philosophy, California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) seemed like the perfect fit. Since her arrival, Lauritsen has made many experimental ideas come to life with the active participation of faculty, students, outside professionals, and various academic organizations and departments.
At San Luis Obispo’s first Mini Maker Faire in 2013, Lauritsen invited technologist Michael Newman to lead an interactive game that introduced the audience to physical computing by allowing them to race to blow up balloons using their smartphones. Like other events she has put on, the game combined Lauritsen’s signature ingredients of technology, crowdsourcing, and a healthy dose of fun.
And, as with other events, Lauritsen made sure there was video documentation posted on the school’s YouTube channel for those who couldn’t attend in person. Lauritsen has sought to build an “inspiring collection of creative digital artifacts” based on library activity, including videos, audio podcasts, and the Out Loud blog, which library director Anna Gold says has seen a huge boost in popularity since Lauritsen arrived.
“An important part of Karen’s impact is simple: she shares,” says Gold. In the last three years, the library has produced more than 60 videos, and Gold says they have been viewed over 8,000 times.
Lauritsen doesn’t just share documentation of school events. She also shares her communications expertise and library philosophy. She even created a communications handbook to help her colleagues determine what to tweet, post, and email in order to foster a constructive online discourse.
Lauritsen has put on several popular events for the school’s Cal Poly Science Café series but says she is proudest of “On Foot! Community Design and Public Health,” in which 150 attendees created their dream cities using found objects.
Lauritsen’s philosophy on the role of the library has evolved over time. When she gave a TEDxUCLA talk about her first year at Kennedy Library, she called the library “Switzerland” because it was “neutral.” “Now, though, I think it’s more about being an interdisciplinary place, which [is more] exciting to think about than neutrality,” she says.
Working at Kennedy Library, Lauritsen has made use of her background in design and education, but some of the principles she has come to rely on most come from her experience in improv comedy. “The basic rules of saying yes, listening closely, making your scene partners look good, and being okay with failure are all important,” Lauritsen says. “So is laughing together!”