Library Life Issues

Issue I, 2015

Springer Spotlight: Mike Thompson© University of Houston University Advancements

Each issue The Library Life sits down with a unique librarian and spotlights them on what’s shaping librarianship and new innovations at their library.

This month Sarah Schulman, Account Development Specialist spoke with Mike Thompson, Head of Acquisitions at University of Houston.

Photo credit: University of Houston University Advancements

Our questions

Q: Tell us about your current role as Head of Acquisitions at University of Houston.

A: Our department’s responsible for purchasing all the content that we make available to our patrons. This involves all of the typical means and methods of purchase such as firm orders, approval plans, package subscriptions—it’s quite a wide array. I supervise a great group of dedicated individuals who work hard day-in, day-out to keep operations working as efficiently as possible and who also work with other folks from across our institution, like Accounts Payable, the Purchasing Department, etc.
Also, I have direct oversight over the materials budget, which represents about half of our entire library budget. I’m always surprised by the percentage of our budget that’s devoted to sunk costs—subscriptions, standing orders, memberships, and those types of expenses. Once we account for those sunk costs there’s very little left for discretionary spending. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, because at least we do have some discretionary funds.

Q: In your opinion, what is the number one issue impacting academic libraries today?

A: I’d have to say it’s determining how libraries can provide a recognized impact on our user community. Libraries are constantly developing new products and services, redefining and shaping the ways we serve the community. The question is, how do we provide this seamless access that we all strive for without becoming invisible? How do we define and convey that impact in a manner that’s recognized and appreciated across user groups?

This includes groups like the university administration. We don’t want to be taken for granted, but rather acknowledged and celebrated for bringing value-added services and products. This is something we all struggle with—making ourselves known and appreciated, but doing so in a way that feels natural, unobtrusive and gracious.

Q: In what ways can publishers and libraries work together to bring about solutions?

A: The main thing I keep going back to is ensuring that vendors work together to devise solutions which incorporate the library. For example, this week we had a subject liaison request some video content. Usually, if it’s streaming video content, it’ll be on one of our already established platforms, or sometimes we still buy DVDs. But in this case the content was only available as a digital file that would need to be hosted. At this point we do not host streaming video, so I had to work with another, separate vendor whose business model allows libraries to host films on their platform. If folks aren’t working together on the vendor side, it is much more difficult to work out these solutions.

I think vendors already recognize this to some extent. We’ve seen some pretty big mergers in our field lately, and with each announcement we get assurances that prior vendor-to-vendor working relationships will be maintained even though the new parent companies may be direct competitors in certain areas (like discovery, for example).

Q: What is new and innovative at University of Houston’s Library?

A: We’re developing a usage dashboard to help our subject liaisons find out how their LibGuides are being used. Are they effective? Are people clicking on certain things and not others? So, we are pulling together information from the API functionality in LibGuides and Google Analytics. Subject liaisons can access this information through a customized dashboard where they can see exactly how their subject and class guides are being used.

Another area of development involves digital humanities and data storytelling. Digital humanities is the taking information from the traditional products of social science and humanities disciplines that were not originally intended to be data and using software to develop data from it. Think of things like text mining. For storytelling, we are finding ways to take the data and apply it to graphical forms that make it useful for faculty and student research. For example, we might take ethnographic data and combine it with information on educational background and apply that information to a map of the geographic area covered by that data.

Also, we are in the middle of a huge website redesign and one of the tools they’re using is a process called contextual inquiry, which is a way to study how people perform research. This involves in-depth interviews, where the users walk through fairly common tasks but they do it in the same physical environment where they normally work and in the way that they would normally work. So it’s not just sitting down, doing a focus group and answering questions. Our folks will actually go across campus to observe faculty and students performing research in their own labs and offices. These finding can then be applied to how we approach or make changes to the redesign.

(Library photo: M.D. Anderson Library, main library at the University of Houston)

Q: What’s next for you and your library in the new academic year?

A: Dana Rooks, our dean of eighteen years, is retiring this summer and we have just appointed a new dean. Dean Rooks started here at University of Houston in 1979 and worked her way up to become an extremely successful dean, someone who works very effectively with people like the provost and the university president. She has those kind of relationships not only on campus and within the community, but also nationwide. She has been the dean at UH for the span of my entire career at UH, so this is going to be a major change for myself as well as the library.

The incoming dean, Lisa German, is currently serving as an associate dean at Pennsylvania State University and will begin working with us August 1st. She’s overseen areas like collections and information and access services. She has also done a lot with policy development and assessment, so I think we’ve got a great person coming in. Right now, we are still moving forward, business as usual, but with the new dean coming, there will be new directions. And that’s what we have on the agenda for the next year—saying goodbye to a longtime dean and welcoming a new one. 

Notes from the Field

UNLV’s 2nd Annual Edible Books Festival

By: Mitch Moulton, Account Development Specialist

When I joined Springer’s Account Development team the first thing my predecessor said was to be sure and meet Lateka Grays (Hospitality Librarian, University of Nevada, Las Vegas) to discuss the collaboration on UNLV’s 2nd Annual Edible Books Festival. My eyes quickly glazed over.

Read more

“Eating books? Why would we want that? While high in insoluble fiber, it’s hardly a best practice for weeding a collection... And here I thought Account Development’s goal was to support libraries in achieving the best ROI from their Springer e-resources.” Before I started questioning everything I knew about collection development and book conservation, Lateka filled me in.

In 2000 Judith A. Hoffberg and Béatrice Coron organized the first international Edible Book Festival celebrating the birthday of French gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826). Brillat-Savarin is famous for his book Physiologie du goût, a witty meditation on food. From there the event flourished, expanding across the globe with annual festivals in twenty –three countries spanning five continents, including Honh Kong, Australia, and Russia ( The guidelines are straight forward: participants model their favorite book using only edible materials such as deli meats, cake, candy, snacks, fruits, or vegetables.

UNVL Edible Book Contest 2015 students and faculty offered a wide interpretation of their favorite titles with nearly thirty entries. The iconic depiction of homo sapiens’ evolution from Darwin’s Origin of Species was recreated with toast. Eric Schlossar’s Fast Food Nation took the form of corn dogs, burgers, and French fries in the shape of the fifty states (never was I so appreciative of central air conditioning), while Yann Martel’s Life of Pie provided a clever twist depicting the literal life cycle of pie from dough to uncooked pie and then crumbs. These edible books generated a considerable draw to Lied Library with nearly three hundred students, staff, and faculty attending the festival to vote for the Best Overall edible book. Additional categories, judged by a guest panel, included Most Creative, Best of Fiction Genre, and Best of Non-Fiction Genre.

The 2nd Annual Edible Book Festival is a success even beyond the impressive number of entries and attendees. Each year it creates a playing field for cross-departmental and community partnership. The world of academia has a wide range of members including: authors, editors, reviewers, publishers, vendors, libraries, faculty, students, and researchers. Each member has a unique role which relies on, supports, and bleeds over into the next member. Having a firm understanding of how each member supports the other greatly contributes to the success of the library. Specific to the relationship between students and academic libraries, Matthew Ismail says, “We in academic libraries need not only to raise awareness of library services, but we need, much more fundamentally, to make clear the relevance of the library to our students” (Against the Grain, Vol 26, Number 3).

One way Lateka Grays fosters this reliance and relevancy with students is by organizing an annual collaborative partnership between Springer, Lied Library, and UNLV faculty, offering students a perspective of the library as efficient, friendly, and open. It also provides a sense that the library is a positive and desirable space both in the building and online. A quote from the post-event survey seconds this, “It was very well coordinated, loads of fun, and really brings the library some fun visibility.” Needless to say, plans for next year are already in motion!

Are you interested in discussing an event opportunity at your library? So are we! You can find your Account Development Specialist at

Photo credits: University of Nevada, Las Vegas 

Poll Question

How important is it to your library to be at the control of web-scale discovery tools to guide usage? 


Essential - 70%
Important - 15%
Of limited importance - 0%
Not important - 0%
My library does not have web-scale discovery tools - 15%

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