October 8, 2015

Rachel Vacek | Movers & Shakers 2014 — Innovators



Head of Web Services
University of Houston Libraries

MLIS, University of Pittsburgh, 2001

@vacekrae; RachelVacek.com; Game On, Cougars!

Photo ©2014 Michael Pilla

Big Ideas, Microgrants

As head of web services for the University of Houston (UH) Libraries, Rachel Vacek and those in her department develop, integrate, and maintain the various systems that make up the library’s digital presence. But Vacek is also a force at the university and in the wider library field. At UH since 2007, Vacek has sat on more than a dozen committees and served as chair of three (she led the UH Libraries’ strategic directions planning process). One quarter of the libraries’ 120-person staff have taken the yearlong Technology Training Program she developed.

Nationally, she’s the president-elect of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Library and Information Technology Association (LITA).

Along the way she’s been breaking new ground by getting her big ideas funded by small grants—specifically, microgrants.

The UH Libraries Microgrant program is an ongoing, in-house small grants scheme that awards grants of up to $2,500 for initiatives that offer new, innovative library services. So far, Vacek has been awarded more than $16,000 for nine different microgrants.

“I’ve been able to propose and implement innovative and sometimes crazy ideas,” she says.
Some projects are aimed at library users—such as Game On, Cougars!, the library’s first-ever gaming event, held in conjunction with ALA’s 2013 “International Gaming Day @ Your Library,” which brought together students and other community members with game developers, local Kickstarters, and publishers. It was supported by a $2,100 microgrant.

Other microgrants back professional development and training.

Supported by a $2,000 grant, the Discovery Day Camp is an annual daylong conference for Houston-area libraries that focuses on new and developing trends in web-scale library discovery systems. The 2011 Cougar Social Media Showcase highlighted innovative uses for Web 2.0 technologies in the classroom and beyond. A $1,137 microgrant paid for the event, which included 16 presentations and was attended by 100. Vacek modeled the showcase after LITA’s “BIGWIG” software showcase, which ran from 2006 to 2010.

“I love…bring[ing] together colleagues from both the campus and neighboring library communities,” Vacek says. “I like to take an idea and show people my vision for what could be, how it benefits our users, and how it sets us apart from the average—and often boring—approach.”

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  1. Rachel has certainly accomplished a lot this year — great article!