November 16, 2017

Academic Movers 2014: In Depth with Cathryne Kaufman

Cathryne Kaufman (R) with Brittany Dudek. Photo by Photography by Megan

Cathryne Kaufman (r.) with Brittany Dudek. Photo by Photography by Megan

In the latest of our In-Depth Interviews with Library Journal Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, sponsored by SAGE, we spoke with Cathryne Kaufman. In 2011 she and Brittany Dudek were working in the library at Illinois Central College, a large community college in north central Illinois—Kaufman as library services director and Dudek as electronic resources librarian. In the process of collaborating on a number of programs, they realized that there weren’t enough professional development opportunities aimed at community college librarians, whose needs often differ significantly from those of their counterparts at four-year academic institutions. After conducting a survey of their fellow community college librarians and realizing that there was a need for just such an opportunity, in 2012 they developed and launched ForwardFocus, a national professional development event for community college librarians. Dudek has since begun working at Colorado Community Colleges Online, but Kaufman continues to refine the ForwardFocus model, and is looking forward to 2015’s event.

LJ: What led you to academic librarianship, and a community college in particular?

Cathryne Kaufman: My experience as a library student worker at my alma mater, Millikin University, got me interested in library work in the first place. After graduation, I was offered a full-time job in the archives. After about a year, my supervisor recommended that I consider a master’s in library science. At the time, I hesitated because it was not what I had envisioned for myself, but I knew the library felt like home. Through some twists and turns of life, I ended up leaving a job in a corporate atmosphere to become a small public library director in my hometown. I loved the unique challenges of public librarianship but missed the rhythm of the academic year, which is something that had been ingrained in me since childhood as the daughter of two educators. When I accepted the job at Illinois Central College, I felt like it was the perfect blend of academic librarianship and outreach to the surrounding community. Community colleges are unique in that we serve students no matter what their background with our “open door” admissions policy. This adds a different dimension to the services we provide. We also serve the entire community college district, meaning that members of the public can come in and use our materials and services as well.

CQ Press Supreme Court Collection

In this interview series, sponsored by SAGELJ 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 made you feel that you wanted to work together on ForwardFocus?

Brittany brought the idea of creating a conference to me, as her supervisor. We talked it over extensively and couldn’t come up with a good, solid reason why we shouldn’t do it. Brittany’s highly organized, so I knew that the two of us could collaborate well as we had on other projects to bring this one to life.

Can you talk a bit about your experiences putting the event together?

The first year was really interesting because we had to create the whole thing from scratch—there were no registration forms, no website, no agenda, no budget, and no potential attendee list. Each and every piece of communication had to be developed from the ground up. We were wondering if people would actually show up (or login, for the virtual conference), but they did. It was thrilling to watch it all come together in the end! Now we have a solid base of loyal attendees, who have watched the event grow through the last couple of years. One of the big accomplishments we had this year was the introduction of online registration through the website. We were able to make the process a lot easier for our attendees and for us on the receiving end.

What worked right out of the gate?

The in-person event worked well right from the very beginning. We got excellent feedback from participants the first year (and continue to) about the value of the event. In fact, it was so successful the second year that we had people ask us to expand the in person event from one day to two. We did that in 2014, creating a preconference the day before the full conference day, and it was very well-received.

What was a stumbling block?

The first year we did simultaneous virtual and in-person events with the exact same agenda. We streamed each and every session. It was difficult for us to not only take care of our in-person participants, but those online as well. The second year we streamed the panel discussion and had a separate agenda going for virtual participants for the rest of the day. This format was easier for us to staff, but still not ideal. In 2014, we totally split the days (October 24 for in-person and October 31 for virtual) and rebroadcast the panel discussion from the in-person event. While it worked logistically for us, we are still exploring ways for the virtual day to be more interactive for participants.

Are you still involved with ForwardFocus, and if so what will the next one look like?

I am still involved and am collaborating with Jessica Bastian, our new Digital Services Librarian (Brittany’s replacement), to develop next year’s event. We’re excited to announce that the 2015 event will take place November 5 and 6 (in person) and November 13 (virtual). Based on feedback from our participants, we’ll be developing more workshop/hands-on activities for the in-person event and continue to look for ways to make the virtual event even more engaging. We are considering developing tracks for administrators and librarians for 2015. For instance, this year we heard time and again from the administrators who attended that they would like to tackle HR and management issues in sessions next year. On the other hand, librarians told us they would like to learn more about publishing in the field and website development.

The call for proposals will go out in early summer and we hope to generate a lot of fresh ideas from a broad range of libraries throughout the country. We’ll continue to develop our website and streamline the online registration and call for proposal process throughout the year as well.

Each year ForwardFocus has been slightly different in its format, but every year, I walk away from it feeling like we have helped our colleagues. It’s a rewarding feeling to produce something that seems to be adding value to the profession. As long as we continue to get feedback along the same lines, we will continue to grow ForwardFocus.

How do you see community college library/librarian needs differing from those of four-year colleges?

In a lot of ways, our needs are similar. I think the distinction primarily comes from the admissions process at a community college as opposed to a four-year college. Community colleges have an open door policy, meaning that they do not deny admission based on previous educational challenges students may have faced. As a result, our students come to us with extreme differences in terms of preparedness. We simultaneously serve students who excelled in high school and students who barely received a high school diploma and need lots of intervention in order to get up to college reading and writing levels. We also work a lot with students who are retraining for a new career after losing their job due to downsizing. For Illinois Central College, this was especially true during the recent economic crisis. As librarians, this means that we serve a tremendously diverse set of students in terms of academic and technological preparation. Our challenge then, is to keep the broad range of student needs in mind as we develop library services to help them succeed.

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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