May 25, 2018

Academic Movers 2014: In Depth with Brittany Dudek


Photo credit: 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 Brittany Dudek. In 2011 she was serving as electronic resources librarian at Illinois Central College, a large community college in north central Illinois, and working closely with library services director Cathryne Kaufman.

As they collaborated on other programs within the library, the two 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, they developed ForwardFocus, a national professional development event specifically designed for community college librarians, which launched in 2012.

Dudek has since continued her community college career as instructional online librarian at Colorado Community Colleges Online.

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

Brittany Dudek: I have never wanted to be anything other than a librarian. After undergrad, I was very fortunate to work for Schaumburg Township District Library (IL) as a summer reading van supervisor and reference assistant and to be mentored by Melissa Jones, Director of kidsZone. I enjoyed my work in youth services very much and was fortunate to have a variety of responsibilities that included programming, electronic resource management, website content development, collection management, and the support to try out new ideas, which opened my eyes to the different types of librarianship that were available to me. When the position opened at Illinois Central College, it was a perfect fit for my interests and abilities, and seemed like the perfect hybrid of academia and public librarianship.

SAGE Journals

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 develop ForwardFocus?

Cate [Cathryne Kaufman] and I have always had a really great, complementary working relationship: she is full of ideas and I’m a doer. After the conversation with Lori Bell and Tom Peters that spurred the idea of a conference, I couldn’t wait to talk to Cate about it. I knew that together, we could put together a really great event that would fill the void in many community college librarians’ professional development needs.

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

To be honest, I think we were both a bit surprised that we actually did it! ForwardFocus was a terrific learning experience that helped me hone and develop a new skill set. Since we started it from scratch in 2012, we spend many hours researching, learning, decision-making, and acting out our vision. It was a really exciting and time-consuming process, but we made sure to make decisions that could translate year-to-year, which made 2013 easier. Our colleagues at Illinois Central College were absolutely wonderful with their assistance and we couldn’t have pulled it off without them. We also asked for feedback from our participants and used it to make changes each year. We know how difficult it can be to get the dollars or time for a professional development opportunity and we wanted to be sure our participants felt they got what they hoped for out of ForwardFocus.

What was a stumbling block?

Neither Cate nor I had any formal event planning experience. That was, and still may be, the biggest stumbling block, in my opinion. We just knew what we liked and didn’t like about conferences and tried to put on an event that we would be excited to attend. We didn’t get it all right, but we used feedback to adapt each year to tailor ForwardFocus to the needs of its attendees. We also dreamed really big: we planned a simultaneous in-person and virtual conference that involved streaming in-person sessions live to our virtual participants, and hosting virtual sessions while continuing the in-person conference. We hit a few hurdles there with technology, but we continued to adapt each year to make it run more smoothly. This year, Cate and Jessica Bastian (who took over for me) moved the virtual date so more focus could be spent on each event, which was a great idea!

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

I moved to Colorado in March of 2014 and stepped back from planning ForwardFocus, though I did participate as a presenter for the 2014 event. I’m fortunate to continue to be involved in community college librarianship with my position at Colorado Community Colleges Online, and would love to get more involved again with ForwardFocus at some level next year.

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

Community colleges remove the barrier from achieving higher education for students, as they’re more affordable and often offer flexible courses. This means that not only do we have a great number of nontraditional students, but many of our students are balancing school with work or families… sometimes both! Our students’ needs are similar to those of a four-year school, but since they’re often keeping so many balls in the air, we need to adapt to meet them. For example: convenient hours, 24/7 chat, always-available electronic collections that rival or beat our physical collection, and virtual instruction sessions for classes or one-on-one research appointments with students.

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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