Jennifer Lau-Bond…ipl2 Manager of Reference Services
I have been volunteering with the Internet Public Library (ipl2) since I started library classes at Drexel University in 2009. I loved volunteering with the ipl2 so much, I continued volunteering after I graduated and still volunteer to this date as a reference volunteer. The ipl2 has had a huge impact on my career as a librarian, giving me a very positive experience with learning how to answer reference questions in a digital environment. I have also been exposed to a variety of patron questions on many different topics. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Lau-Bond on the ipl2 and her job position.
Leigh: How did you become the IPL2, Manager of Reference Services?
Jennifer: I actually have a long background with the IPL/ipl2. I started as a beginning reference student answering questions when the Internet Public Library was a part of the University of Michigan. I then moved on to an advanced workshop class and other work with the service. It just so happened that after I graduated in 2003, a job opened up managing the reference service at the IPL, and I was thrilled when I was hired. I did that for a few years, but when Drexel and the IPL Consortium took over, I decided to try something new. I became a Reference/Instruction Librarian and Distance Learning Specialist at an academic library, but after having a baby in 2010 I was looking for something with less hours and more flexibility. Once again, I got lucky and a work-from-home job opened up as the Researcher in Distance Education at the newly renamed ipl2. (The name change came after our merger with the Librarians’ Internet Index.) I was in that position until early 2012 when the Manager of Reference Services left, and I moved into the job once again.
Leigh: Could you tell me about the IPL2 and what your job entails as IPL2, Manager of Reference Services?
Jennifer: The ipl2 is unique in that it serves both the general public as well as our LIS partner schools–our public services really exist to provide students with the chance to gain hands on library experience. I have lots of different duties on both sides of that mission. We do have a group of spectacular advanced volunteers doing most of the day-to-day operations, like processing of incoming questions, monitoring the student question answerers, etc. I help manage that group of volunteers, recruit new people, handle sensitive/confusing questions, and just generally deal with the issues that are beyond the duties of everyone else. I work closely with our other two talented part time librarians, and we handle all the training of students and volunteers, monitor the admin email address (where students and volunteers contact us when they need help), and keep an eye on all aspects of our service to ensure that they’re running smoothly. I also work with instructors at our partner schools, setting up accounts for everyone, doing virtual presentations or Q&A sessions in classes, communicating with instructors about struggling students, etc. Finally, I’m also responsible for administrative things like record keeping, and I recruit and mentor interns and practicum students. It keeps me busy!
Leigh: Please share with us some of your accomplishments from working for the IPL2.
Jennifer: I was able to create and promote many learning objects and curricular materials, which the ipl2 created as part of our past IMLS grant. I always love getting involved in the design of ipl2 assignments because the ipl2 is really a learning laboratory for students first and foremost! I also am proud of the work my team and I have done on the training materials. It’s tricky to create training that can serve both brand new reference students as well as more experienced professionals looking to volunteer with us. We’ve also added more advanced training for some of our special volunteer positions, which has really helped improve the consistency of our service.
Leigh: What is your favorite thing about working for the IPL2?
Jennifer: I love so many things about my job, but probably my favorite is that I get to work with information professionals just entering the field. They bring an enthusiasm that’s wonderful, and I love that they have the chance to work with real patrons through the ipl2. Since the beginning, the ipl2 has been a student driven project. It was essentially started by students. Students built most of the collections. The reference questions are almost entirely answered by students (and some professional volunteers, who are most often former ipl2 students). My conservative back-of-the-napkin calculation is that probably 4000+ students have worked with the ipl2 in some way over the years. I can’t think of any other organization that has given so many students so much hands-on experience. I love being a part of that!
Leigh: What are some of the challenges you have encountered on the job with the IPL2?
Jennifer: As with many organizations, we have very few resources for anything beyond standard operations. We’ve always made due with a bare bones staff because students and volunteers do the bulk of the work, but that brings it’s own challenges. Just when students get very competent and confident, they leave and we have to train a whole new group! It also makes long term projects difficult because it’s rare that we get students who stay with us for more than a term. It’s also challenging to motivate volunteers. We have no problem recruiting, but we have a hard time getting them to be active when we need questions answered. It’s only through the incredible dedication of our advanced volunteers and staff that we have continued to offer quality service for so long.
Leigh: What blogs and websites should be following?
Jennifer: I don’t know that I can offer a ton of advice here other than stay well rounded! Follow library leaders like KG Schneider, David Lee King, Meredith Farkas, etc. Beyond that, I try to follow what’s posted on general news and tech sites like NPR, Ars Technica, Wired, Chronicle of Higher Education, etc. Read as many local sites as you can, too, either for the community where you work or the ones where you want to work. You’re a better librarian when you have a sense of what’s going outside of libraries.
Leigh: What job-hunting advice do you have for our INALJ readers?
Jennifer: I’d give all the standard advice, like volunteer, get to know the information professionals in your area, learn whatever skills you can, etc. You’ve heard that before though! But here’s something you may not have thought of: treat every assignment in school, part time job, volunteer opportunity, etc as important. I’ve seen many library/info sci students at the ipl2 and in other libraries where I’ve worked who’ve just done the bare minimum. They only put in half effort, or complain, or just generally make themselves look uninterested in their work. And then they encounter one of the librarians they worked with elsewhere, and that librarian remembers their poor attitude/work and isn’t interested in helping them get a job. I’ve actually heard this same story many times! If the student had shown an interest and put forth their best effort even on a task they didn’t see as important, the librarians they encountered would remember them positively and be much more likely to try to help if they have a chance. Treat all your activities as a potential part of your job search, because you never know who might be a valuable connection down the road. (Plus, what employer wouldn’t prefer to hire someone who puts forth their best effort on all projects?)
Leigh: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us about your job or the IPL2?
Jennifer: Some of you may have read Joe Janes’ column in American Libraries, where he announced that the ipl2 was closing (http://www.americanlibrariesmagazine.org/article/rip-ipl). Since that column appeared, we have received a small reprieve! Our managing school, Drexel University, has decided to pause the shut down while they work out further details. We’re going to remain open during that process, at least through the next 6 months. This means we’ll reach our 20th anniversary on March 17, 2015, which is pretty incredible for an organization that was one of the first major library projects on the Internet! It also gives everyone a chance to check us out if you haven’t already. (We’re also looking for advanced volunteers interested in weekly shifts–if interested contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.) The ipl2 has a long history that we’re very proud of, and I feel amazingly lucky that I get to be a part of that history.
Jennifer Lau-Bond has been working with the IPL/ipl2 off and on since 2003, first as the User Services Coordinator for the IPL, then later as the Researcher in Distance Education and the Manager of Reference Services for the ipl2. She also teaches undergraduate courses in writing and critical thinking and is an Adjunct Librarian at a community college. Previously, she was a Reference and Instruction Librarian specializing in distance learning at a private university, and she has worked in various capacities in both public and special libraries. Jennifer has a Master of Science of Information from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Women’s Studies from Albion College. She lives outside of Chicago with her family.