June 18, 2018

ASU Launches Sun Devil Shelf Life

When a school is as large as Arizona State University (ASU)—one of the largest public universities in the United States, with nearly 59,000 undergraduates and more than 13,000 postgraduate students currently enrolled, as well as more than 3,000 academic staff, all spread out across five campuses in the Phoenix metropolitan area—it is not always easy to find books written by members of the university community. To that end, ASU Now, the university’s internal news site, has developed Sun Devil Shelf Life, a new online platform providing information and access to works by ASU faculty, staff, alumni, and students.

Sun Devil Shelf Life—named after the school’s mascot—is searchable by title, author name, genre, division of ASU, or keyword, and provides data for each book—publication information and ISBN, genre, an author bio and the author’s ASU unit, and a synopsis—plus links to borrow or purchase a copy, as well as social media share buttons.

Links to the ASU Library online catalog are provided whenever they are available; library staff members have enthusiastically embraced the site and plan to help to promote it. Among other features, Shelf Life allows individual university units to pull any book entries tagged with their unit onto their website’s newsfeed, if they wish.

SHELF LIFE’S EARLY LIFE

“The goal was for ownership of this site to be shared across the university,” said Penny Walker, ASU Now director of news and strategic communications. “Once we knew the site was 99 percent ready for launch—and after several bookish beta testers had given it a whirl—an email went out to the university’s communications staff at each school, college, and department with upload directions and the hoped-for launch date.”

The site began life as a “wouldn’t it be cool if…” idea a couple of years ago, according to Walker. In summer 2017 the ASU Now team decided to make it a reality. They met with colleagues in web development to design a database and website, and also spoke with people involved with publishing and book production across different units of the university. ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination was particularly helpful, said Walker, steering the team toward examples of publishers’ sites for inspiration. A university developer built the Drupal-based site in-house based on the team’s wish list; no extra funding was required.

After a year of on-and-off work—“We fit it in around our regular work of writing and publishing news about the university,” explained Walker—Shelf Life launched in the first week of June. Books are filed by the university’s various divisions and units; the site currently holds about 250 books, and will continue to grow as units add entries.

How each unit chooses to gather book information has varied. Several enterprising units set up Google docs for faculty to upload the details, Walker reported, and some are still working through internal lists. So far it has been the communications staff more than the authors who are uploading the book entries, she added, noting that “We haven’t even scratched the surface yet.”

ASU’s social media accounts have promoted the site since its launch, and ASU Now will include Shelf Life promotional materials in community events come fall, and send reminders to faculty via internal newsletters to make sure their books are included. A note in the ASU alumni magazine will encourage the university’s alumni to submit their work as well.

Current faculty, staff, and students can contact the communicator at their school or college to submit their book information. A link at the bottom of the site’s home page allows alumni and former faculty and staff to submit their work.

Shelf Life is very much a work in progress. A number of recent novels are included, such as Adrienne Celt’s Invitation to a Bonfire (Bloomsbury), Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage (Algonquin), and Kelly DeVos’s Fat Girl on a Plane (Harlequin Teen), as well as academic titles like Serendipity in Rhetoric, Writing, and Literacy Research (Utah State Univ.), edited by Maureen Daly Goggin and Peter N. Goggin, or Julie Codell’s Genre, Gender, Race, and World Cinema (Blackwell’s). But ASU alumna Temple Grandin, who has published extensively on animal science, animal ethics, and autism, has not yet been added to the database.

The Shelf Life team welcomes ideas for input, however. “It will take time to get to a place where we feel like we’re ‘nearly there’ with having the bulk of the books uploaded,” Walker told LJ. “Early users have been great in giving feedback—no digital launch is without its minor bugs—and overall reactions have been positive.”

She added, “The hope is that it leads readers to interesting books they might not have found otherwise, and that it helps build a better understanding of the people who make up the university, past and present.”

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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