Beyond the Job Title: Web Technologies Librarian

A library tech job interview with Alec Ellis

A woman with a laptop sitting atop a job posting for web technologies librarian

Core to LibTech Insights‘s mission is demystifying the broad and dynamic field of tech librarianship in higher ed. In this series, we interview a librarian every month to learn a little more about their position. As library tech jobs proliferate, they sometimes come with unfamiliar, jargony, or intimidating titles. We want to go beyond the title and look at the responsibilities, skills, and joys that make up the job. We hope this series will increase your knowledge of library tech jobs and skills out there and offer you greater insight into the working lives of your colleagues.

For our second installment, we spoke to Alec Ellis at Colorado Christian University to learn more about his job as a Web Technologies Librarian. Check out our archive of job profiles. 💫

Can you give us the basics of your position? Where do you work, what is your title, and what are some of your primary responsibilities?

I work at Colorado Christian University, which is a private Christian school in the Denver metro area. We have about 1,500 residential students, many more online, and we as a library team seek to serve both types of students equally. My title is the Web Technologies Librarian. As librarians, we are used to wearing a lot of hats, so while we each do a lot of different things here, we also have some overlapping responsibilities, such as conducting reference interviews and responding to the library’s chat service.

Some specific responsibilities to my role are to:

  • Manage the library’s online presence through LibGuides, including updating pages and creating new subject guides
  • Conduct user experience tests and keep up-to-date on best practices for website design
  • Manage the Library’s OPAC (we are a part of a library consortium in Colorado, so my role is mainly to customize CCU’s instance and report issues back to the consortium, who has the ability and staff to fix problems)
  • Manage all our databases, including troubleshooting and customization
  • Work with our IT department to manage our SSO, EZproxy
  • Respond to internal library work orders and tech problems 
  • Create video tutorials
  • Manage the interlibrary loan process
  • Manage the university’s archives and institutional repository

Can you describe your career trajectory leading up to this position? 

I wouldn’t say being a librarian is a second career, but it did take me a while to get to the point where I had an MLIS degree and was a professional librarian. After my undergraduate work, I pursued a Master of Arts in Theology and then worked in a university registrar’s office for five years. Along the way, both before and after working in the registrar’s office, I had stints in a public library as a page, staff at an elementary school library, and a staff member at a university library. When I started this current job at CCU in 2021, the year I graduated from San Jose State University with the MLIS degree, it had been 11 years since I decided I wanted to be a librarian! The biggest barrier I faced to becoming a librarian was finding the time and money to go back to school while having a family and living in the very expensive city of San Diego.

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What does “web technologies” entail? Has it shifted over time?

I have only been in this job for three years, and I know before I started there were discussions about what the title should be. I think since my main responsibility is to manage and update the website, “Web Technologies Librarian” was chosen. Additionally, I manage our databases and the OPAC, which is also done on a web interface. But just as important as the “web technologies” half is that I am still a “librarian.” I still perform “traditional” library tasks, making my job far more than just tech support and IT. Yes, building out and updating a website take technical skills, but they also require resource evaluation and selection. They require that I anticipate the informational needs of the users and place resources where they can be accessed. The skills I learned in library school help me in these tasks. I also appreciate that I still do reference interviews and work on a team where we are all involved in decision-making and planning. Thus, I feel that I am still engaged with the broader library world and not solely focused on technology.

Can you give an example of a project you’ve worked on?

A major project I worked on last year was conducting a usability test as a part of our website and technology program review. Rather than doing a traditional usability test where you watch the participants conduct certain tasks, we conducted surveys of faculty and staff. We received 149 responses that were in proportion to all the various types of library users CCU serves. We had a mixture of multiple choice and short answers to produce qualitative and quantitative data and had a chance to hear directly from the library’s users. We also sent out a different survey to the staff at CLiC (Colorado Library Consortium) to hear outsider voices who were familiar with libraries and library websites. Combining these two surveys with my own internal review of the entire website led to many significant improvements and contributed to the overall website and technology program review we were required to submit to the university’s administration.

What is the most gratifying part of this position?

One thing I enjoy about working at a university with residential undergraduate students, and especially our student workers, is that it provides a space for us librarians to get to know our students on a personal level and help shape and send them into the world. At the same time, we also learn from them and get to see the world from a different perspective and through the lens of a younger generation. I also enjoy meeting with students and researching alongside them.

Something I enjoy about being the Web Technologies Librarian is the balance it provides me to have projects and tasks that I do quietly by myself, like updating the website, while at other times I get to collaborate, get out of my office, and meet with others. This balance provides the perfect environment for my personality. I have worked jobs where it was either too much alone time or always public-facing, and I wanted a job more in the middle. Each day is unique and brings different tasks, challenges, meetings, and people into my life, and I enjoy working in this setting where I feel like I am making a difference by participating in each of our students’ education!

One more thing I would offer as advice to someone thinking about a career in librarianship is to be ready to work as a team and collaborate. The librarian world is not about an individual plugging away on their own tasks. Everything requires teamwork inside the library: with fellow librarians and staff, with IT departments, with administration, and with the larger library world to name just a few. So, if that sounds exciting to you then jump into the field and I think you will have a fulfilling career!

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