Top-shelf service on a Utica Club budget

Presented by Matt Smith, Sullivan County Community College.

SUNY libraries are facing down the need to “make due with what we’ve go”, given our budget constraints.  The presentation title comes from the fact that Utica Club beer used to be the cheapest canned beer on the market (prompting a joke that if you relabel yourself, you can become a microbrew).

Libraries today are about quality of service — when Matt worked for FedEx, they moved boxes, at a base level, but their goal was to move boxes better than anybody else.  Libraries need to focus on that high level of service, as well, particularly when financial resources are small.  We always have service resources.

We’re caught in the conundrum that when budgets go down, expectations go up, generally because we set the bar high for ourselves.

What do they do at Sullivan to keep services up when budgets go down?  Leverage free technology.

They’re doing chat reference via Meebo.  Free, easy, simple to implement using Meebo’s widget generators.  They were pleasantly surprised with the results.  Students use it (particularly dorm students), and faculty use it (with more in-depth questions, often about services like ILL or reserves), and unafilliated users are also asking questions.  1/3 of questions were asked off-hours (by leaving a message in Meebo before 8 am or after 9 pm), opening their eyes to demand for off-hours services. Marketing currently happening through freshman seminar instruction sessions. Staffed by “whoever’s available”, and since it’s a very small library, that sometimes means it’s unstaffed.

Tumblr.  Used for a new book blog which can be pushed via RSS into their website.  Easy to use to pull together book jacket notes, a brief review and a link to the catalog.  Using the free account at, Matt is able to watch usage of this page.  Estimates 65 regular readers, which, given 1500 students, isn’t a bad return on a small investment of time. 1/2 of visitors are returning readers, and averages 2.8 pages per visit.  The content is engaging users, and they are returning.  Gut instinct tells him there’s an uptick in circulation, and a real-time catalog check shows that more than 75% of the books linked through Tumblr are currently loaned at Sullivan.  This observation of usage indicates there’s value to additional promotion and continued content creation.

Google Custom Search.  Used to enhance subject pages, with moderate implementation effort, but free.  End result is to create a mini-search pool of selected resources, powered by Google.  Good example is an assignment in which students have to research individual countries, and so Matt created a custom search that searches CIA World Factbook, and other similar quality resources.  Reduces noise in student searches, gets them better results in a familiar interface.  Too early in implementation to know anything about usage.

Serials Solutions Library Managed Holdings.  Not so much ‘free’ as “you’re already paying for it, take advantage of it”.  It can be a challenge to get holdings out of Aleph in a format that Serials Solutions can use, but Sullivan’s small, so they were able to do it relatively easily.  (Sometime’s small is an advantage!) And it works!  It’s an easy way to provide information to students more quickly and effectively, and is a step toward an integrated information environment.

ILLiad & IDS.  Even if you aren’t IDS participants, you can take advantage of the information they provide, and they tools they’re developing.  Custom holdings groups, ISBN imports from the SUNY Union Catalog, email routing, effective implementation tips, etc.  Information is all free, and with a small time investment, you can save yourself time and money down the line.

Angel (or other courseware like Blackboard).  How many campuses use one of these?  Lots of hands.  How many have a library presence in the software?  Very few hands.  If it’s where students go to do coursework — get syllabi, course readings, contact professors — why are our libraries also not there?  Get in there!  The campus is already paying for/implementing it, so why are we not clamoring to be involved? Claim some real estate for information resources.

“Use it up… wear it out.  Make it do… or do without.”  War Advertising Council May, 1944.  We have to use what we have and what we can afford to meet our own strong expectations for service, and devote our time to making up the gaps in our funding.  All we can do is try, and sometimes we’ll succeed.

And Matt says (kthxbai)

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