Author Archives: Brian Mathews

July 15, 2015, 10:22 pm

My Final Blog Post

May 22, 2006. That’s when I started The Ubiquitous Librarian Blog. I wrote before at Alt-Ref where I explored new approaches for reference and instruction. But I felt too boxed in. Ubiquitous gave me freedom to roam.

It ends today. Right here.

 407 posts

9 years  1 month  23 days

When the Chronicle of Higher Education informed me that they were dropping the Blog Network I was sad. But after a few days I got over it, mostly. I realized they had given me a gift. This was a chance to move on and do other things.

I’ve probably written and presented too much over the last decade. I’m looking forward to letting that taper off. I want to focus on Virginia Tech and the great people, projects, and programs we have here.


Me as a soldier in the name of greater library experiences.

Rick Anderson says we…

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July 15, 2015, 8:46 pm

Leaning Circulation. Kaizen with John Borwick.

Lean Startup had a strong influence on me. I had wanted to blog more about lean principles across library organizations, but that didn’t work out.

I’ve benefitted from some conversations with John Borwick (Director of IT Services at Virginia Tech Libraries) who is well versed in continuous improvement and project management. His blog explores how IT can effectively deliver more value while minimizing waste.

John approached my team about conducting a lean activity and examining some of our processes. Here are some notes:

Why Circulation?

John wanted to explore the laptop check-in, check-out process. A lot of people care about this service. It is valuable to patrons. The laptops are always in demand so there seems to be a sense of urgency to improve.

On one side it seems like an IT Services matter since it involved computers. But circulation views it as a workflow…

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July 15, 2015, 7:25 pm

Value Proposition Design For Librarians (a quick overview)

Of course I have to dip back into the business literature one more time.

I really like the value proposition design tool. Stephen Abrams blogged about it a few months ago and it’s something we’ve been working on here at Virginia Tech. Slowly. It’s a low priority. But the value to me is less about the output (a nice fancy report) and more about the process of having these conversations and thinking differently (more broadly) about how libraries can engage more fully.

Here is the 5-minute version. Please see Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want for full version.

My advice. Make this about individuals, not broad categories (ie: all undergrad students or all faculty.) Talk with a few assistant professors working on tenure. What’s different and what’s the same between them? How are their experiences and expectations different?…

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July 15, 2015, 2:45 am

ENCODING SPACES: Shaping environments that unlock human potential (coming fall 2015)


Leigh Ann Soistmann

I have a project that has been in the works for a number of years. It’s 95% written and around 15,000 words or about 50 pages. It contains everything I want to say about libraries as physical spaces.

There is something for everyone in it. Big philosophical questions and practical design tips. It touches on concepts like harmony, balance, and rhythm. There’s choice architecture and decision interfaces.  Ambience and atmospheric audits. Priming, congruence, visual cues, impulse design, and neural wi-fi. It’s sort of like interior design crossed with social psychology and neuroscience with a heavy heap of retail principles and experiential design.

I explore four different “future” models for libraries: Showrooms, Studios, Boutiques, and Salons.

And I also propose four…

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July 14, 2015, 9:40 pm

Virginia Tech Signs Banner for Garissa University

I wish I had had more time to develop this post—but only about 24 hours to go.


Jade Womack (recent Virginia Tech alum—now entering graduate school at Cornell) put together a banner signing for Garissa University back in April. She worked with Monena Hall (Community Engagement Librarian) — within in three days they captured over 400 signatures.

pres banner

VT President Timothy Sands with Jade Womack and Monena Hall.

Here is an article about it: Garissa banner created to support community

The thing that fascinated me was this Facebook post from Jade:

On a personal note, here is the banner I signed in eighth grade after April 16, 2007 in my middle school cafeteria. Our teachers didn’t tell us many of the details I would eventually learn about April 16th, but encouraged us to sign it telling us there was an…

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July 14, 2015, 9:03 pm

Raising the volume on HipHopEd. An interview with Joycelyn Wilson.

JoycelynI’ve had many great conversations with Joycelyn Wilson (Assistant Professor, Education, Virginia Tech) about music, history, Atlanta, and teaching—actually, all of those things combined together.

She came to the library a few years ago seeking guidance with her vinyl collection—it is great to see what she has done with it. Joycelyn is a leader in hip hop and education—I’m glad we got to explore that theme a bit here.

What is the Hip Hop Imagination? 

The Hip Hop Imagination is both conceptual and methodological in that it allows for the use of practices, sensibilities, and artifacts unique to Hip Hop culture in learning environments. Think about it as a pair of glasses; like a lens made up of these Hip Hop-influenced aesthetics. When you put them on you see the world through Hip Hop. It’s primarily informed by the sociological imagination of C. Wright Mills and…

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July 14, 2015, 7:11 pm

Group Projects: creating an environment for collaboration. Interview with Tom Ewing.

Every time I talk with students about doing group work there is a moan of displeasure. Most of them prefer to work alone despite the push for more collaborative learning.

Ewing Photo Almaty 2008I wanted to get some faculty perspective. [Originally I planned to make this an ongoing series talking with faculty from different disciplines, but since this blog ends tomorrow -- this is it.] I spoke with Tom Ewing (Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, Research, and Diversity in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech) regarding group work.

Tom told me about a course he taught where we added a collaborative project. Along with tests and a final paper, groups worked together to develop a research poster.

He admitted that the project was challenging because there is very little published about the topic: the Russian-American telegraph. Each team explored different themes such as the…

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July 14, 2015, 1:15 pm

Researcher-In-Residence in the Library

We’re kicking off a residency program next month.  Here is the gist:

The Researcher-In-Residence Program at the Virginia Tech Libraries aims to provide faculty, researchers, and designers with the opportunity to focus on a unique academic endeavor of their choosing in a supportive environment that includes interacting with the information and data professionals of the Libraries.

This annual residency is for visiting scholars, post-docs, or faculty on sabbatical whose work explores the application of data and information for technological advancement or human progress.

This Program is designed to:

  • Encourage and support applied interdisciplinary research across several areas including data curation, analysis, and visualization, digital libraries, publishing, literacies, instructional design, virtual communities, and learning environments.
  • Foster collaboration between librarians…

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July 12, 2015, 11:58 pm

Feminisms & Interaction Design. An Interview with Jennifer Sano-Franchini.


I’m a reader for a teaching award at Virginia Tech called XCaliber (shorthand for exceptional, high-caliber work.) It recognizes individual faculty members or teams of faculty and staff who integrate technology into teaching and learning. The award celebrates innovative, student-centered approaches. I enjoy reviewing the packets because I always learn so much about interesting pedagogical approaches all across campus. 


Jennifer Sano-Franchini

A recent recipient was Jennifer Sano-Franchini, assistant professor in the Department of English. She received the honor for a course on Feminisms & Interaction Design. I was fascinated by this combination and asked her some questions. She agreed to be interviewed and provided an interesting model for critical pedodogy. I recommend checking out her Course Syllabus; i…

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July 12, 2015, 10:39 pm

Library Engagement with First Year Writing: 4 strategies. An interview with Julia Feerrar


Julia Feerrar

Here is an interview with Julia Feerrar, Learning Services Librarian at Virginia Tech. She joined our team last summer and spent the past year experimenting with first-year writing courses.

The team tested some new approaches and focused on relationship building in order to become better partners with the writing program.

Tell me a little about your work with English 1106 this year. What did you do differently?

JF: English 1106 and 1204 (honors) are first year writing classes at Virginia Tech that focus on writing from research. Traditionally (and not too surprisingly), these classes have been a high-volume instruction area for us and an opportunity to reach many students at a critical point in their college experience.

This past spring semester our teaching team tried some new things in our…

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