MLIP/Ph.D. Candidate: Free Range Librarian Karen Schneider

March 17, 2014

"By working toward a doctoral degree, I have developed an appreciation for my university faculty's research efforts."

"Although we take it for granted how easy it is to use email today, it was difficult to explain to users twenty years ago. People would ask, 'Do you have to be there when the message arrives?'" Simmons GSLIS MLIP/Ph.D. candidate Karen Schneider reflects on her early technology lessons. If you have heard of the Free Range Librarian or read the American Libraries' "Internet Librarian" and American Library Association's (ALA) "TechSource" columns, you know Schneider as an expert in teaching librarians to use and share technology. When she is not writing literary articles or participating in zymurgy, Schneider is the University Librarian at Holy Names University, which has about 1,400 students and received the highest diversity score in the U.S. News and World Report 2012 to 2013 rankings.

Schneider's unconventional career trajectory to a library director position started when she was a captain in the United States Air Force, where she worked for eight years as an aircraft engine mechanic and maintenance officer. She switched careers "to pursue other intellectual activities," which lead her to librarianship. After being a children's librarian for six months, Schneider was recruited by the technical services team to launch the first online catalog at the Queens Borough Public Library in New York. She later was an entrepreneurial library consultant, before she stumbled into library management. "I walked into an interview for a reference librarian position and walked out a library director. Someone else saw something in me when I had not yet made the leap." Later, she worked in several director of technology positions at various New York libraries before moving to California. There, she became director of the Librarians' Internet Index website project, where she increased the number of subscribers from 4,000 to 30,000 during her five-year tenure.

When Schneider first arrived at Holy Names University in 2009, half of the collection was not cataloged. She discovered a "procedural and policy vacuum." Staff vacancies enabled Schneider to build a library team from the ground up, and she has been "orchestrating a mission shift from a print repository to a learning organization." To support high quality research, Schneider has created and re-structured library initiatives, including a faculty liaison program, consortial and express lending, cultural events, and a dog therapy program. She emphasizes "radical hospitality," which involves incorporating students into the information service process and embedding librarians in faculty projects. Her vision is "to produce a lifelong interest in pursuing information by making students and faculty feel welcome and motivated to share ideas." She is currently working on an architectural library renovation with the administration. Her service changes have resulted in an increase of about 8,000 visits from 2012 to 2013.

Schneider is leading regional efforts to deal with the serials crisis in academic publishing and "the unsexy topic" of managing print collections in limited library spaces. "Publishers are bleeding libraries' dollars in subscription fees. Academic scholarship is held hostage by the current model, which is built on the slave labor of academics. It is not sustainable," says Schneider. In addition to being on ALA and Library and Information Technology Association's (LITA) committees, Schneider is the founding chair of the Resource Sharing Committee of the Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium (SCELC), a licensing and resource-sharing network of more than 100 private small to mid-sized libraries in California and Texas. Currently, the group is working on a feasibility study to learn how to collectively and cost-effectively manage and preserve print collections among libraries in the consortium. The group also consolidates the clout of the libraries to collectively negotiate prices with vendors. Prior to the SCLEC, the Camino User Group was also co-founded by Schneider to address new policies with vendors.

Schneider is an award-winning technology leader in the library and information science field who has authored more than 100 articles and several books. A Practical Guide to Internet Filters positioned her as expert to provide testimony for the 1998 Mainstream Loudoun First Amendment case. Her book was based on a team-led six-month evaluation of Internet filters and how they can be used to prevent users from accessing certain types of content. The judge had ruled in favor of the Loudoun citizens who protested that the library could not use filters to block certain types of content, such as pornography. "The case was a powerful lesson in how librarians can influence the law," says Schneider.

With a long list of accomplishments, Schneider decided to matriculate into the Simmons GSLIS MLIP/Ph.D. program since "a doctoral degree is highly prized in higher education. By working toward a doctoral degree, I have developed an appreciation for my university faculty's research efforts." In her February 1994 Library Journal article "Train for the Mission: Librarians vs. Top Guns," Schneider says that she believes that librarians need to stop basing their practices on anecdotes in favor of evidence and ongoing professional development training. "I've been able to enhance my leadership and evidence-based evaluation approaches as a result of the program. Being part of the cohort's small group classes, especially my class with former interim GSLIS Dean and ALA President Maureen Sullivan, allowed me to enter the 'third place,' the intellectual plane that exists above daily life," says Schneider.

Although her library research proposal is currently a work in progress, she plans to explore successful influence tactics that lesbian, bi-sexual, gay, and transgendered (LBGT) library leaders use among their staff. She would also like to explore how LBGT leaders respond to staff burnout in the workplace.

Schneider says, "I feel honored and privileged to be part of the Simmons GSLIS doctoral community."

By Dean's Editorial Fellow Jennifer Moyer

Picture credit: Cindi Trainor