Welcome to The Library IT Crowd – a new column brought to you by the Ontario Library and Information Technology Association (OLITA). We want to showcase some of the great librarians and library workers who are currently working with technology, get to know them, and share their experiences! We hope we are able to inspire you, and shed some light onto what goes on behind the scenes with library tech workers!
Your name: Ben Shaw
Your title: Community Librarian – Learning & Skills Development
Where do you work: Markham Public Library
1) Tell me a little bit about your role. What do you do at your library?
As a community librarian my role focuses on engaging with the community around us. We do this through traditional outreach to subject specific community conversations. Part of my role includes a focus on digital literacy, and this has led to some amazing partnerships and opportunities within the community.
2) Tell me a bit about your background. What made you interested in libraries? In technology?
I have always been interested in technology, but I have always been a hobbyist in tech. I paid my way through my undergrad in history and philosophy by working as a web developer / systems admin for a consulting firm. My boss kept telling me that I was wasting my time with a BA and that I would end up working in the IT field. I don’t think this is quite what he imagined, but his words have come true.
3) What projects over the past year are you most proud of?
The project that I am most proud of over the last year has to be CoderDojo Markham. CoderDojo is a worldwide movement of free, volunteer-led, community-based programming clubs for young people and is a perfect fit in our Library. The program has led to parents requesting a “CoderDojo for Adults” and has reengaged community members who never thought of the library as a technology hub.
4) What upcoming projects do you have on the horizon?
Over the last year, we have built on the success of CoderDojo Markham and I am currently looking to help package CoderDojo in such a way that it can be easily implemented in any library.
5) If you had unlimited funds, what would be your dream project at your library?
I would set up a portable makerspace and lending library. I saw an article highlighting a makerspace that was built in a transport container, and I would love to figure out a way to replicate that. Being portable, the makerspace would be ideal to bring to events/fairs, and with the school board having a focus on modern learning it would be a great way to work with the schools as well.
6) What’s your favorite “shoestring” project that you could recommend to others?
I know that I have mentioned it a couple of times already, but CoderDojo is a great project. If you have a community that is able to bring their own devices, or you are able to load software onto your computers easily, then CoderDojo is a winner. It is an engaging program that uses open source programs and can be entirely volunteer run. Even if you don’t have the volunteers with a background in programming, the participants start to mentor each other.
7) Do you partner with community groups or other organizations in your current position? If so, what are those partnerships like? Do you have ongoing projects with them?
Creating partnerships is a key part of my job function. In fact, with such a broad focus there is no way I could do my job without my partners. Many of these partnerships start out like most relationships, someone expressing an interest, and then seeing if it can go anywhere. Reaching out to local maker groups, attending MeetUps in my area, and following up with customer comments have let me develop informal partnerships that look more like volunteerism. I have also been able to seek out large-scale partnerships with organizations around Markham. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of my position.
8) What is the best part of your day in your current role?
Granted it doesn’t happen every day, but my favourite part of my job is when I am speaking with a partner or a member of the community and they state that “I never would have thought of the Library for this.”
Sarah Macintyre has been working in libraries for over 5 years, and has been at St. Thomas Public Library for half that time. In her position, Systems and Support Services Librarian, she has overseen many new digital initiatives, including the launch of the Creators’ Community services. She can be reached at smacintyre [at] stthomaspubliclibrary.ca.