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[Image] Library Journal's Mover and Shaker

Library Journal's Mover and Shaker

Josh Neff, graduate of the School of Information Studies (SOIS) at UW-Milwaukee, was recently named one of Library Journal’s Movers and Shakers in the category of Change Agents. Neff, who graduated in 2005, was chosen for his work helping to build the Library Society of the World (LSW), an online social network devoted to professional issues and services in librarianship. With colleague and fellow LSW founder, Steve Lawson, Neff has attracted hundreds of librarians to their chat room on Meebo as well as their groups on FriendFeed and LinkedIn.

Neff, who works as a Web Developer for the Johnson County Library System in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, admitted to being surprised when he was notified by Library Journal that he had won. Considering he and Lawson created a website called Shovers and Makers (shoversandmakers.net) to parody the very award he was to win, Neff says he felt a bit astounded.

In 2007, he and Lawson came together to create the LSW in order to give librarians better access to new ideas and new developments in librarianship. Neff, who shrugs at the idea of being called a “leader,” chose the name, designed the organization’s logo, and set up their wiki. Through social-networking technology such Meebo and FriendFeed, the project immediately gained the respect of the library community.

Neff says that the idea all along was to let the organization grow organically, so that no one person was in charge. The LSW, as a collaborative organization, seeks to bring the do-it-yourself (DIY) confidence to all of its participants. Neff cites a great example involving a librarian working at a rural Wyoming public library. The librarian was attempting to redesign the library’s website. “There aren’t a lot of resources for that type of library,” Neff admits, “but with the help of someone like Steve [Lawson] and some other members, they worked with her to write the code and learn more about web design.”

The DIY mentality is a big part of what keeps LSW moving. Neff describes attending conferences where “one person is lecturing and everyone else is bored.”The antithesis this atmosphere is what Neff calls the “unconference,” or the conference that is primarily participant-driven and more open to new ideas.

Blogs, Twitter and other social-networking media also play a role in shaping the LSW’s success. “Many of us don’t have access to academic and professional journals,” said Neff, “so blogs are an easy and cheap way to exchange information.” As many of the LSW’s members were already bloggers, linking them created a huge network of valuable information resources.

SOIS and the Informed Librarian

Neff began his career in librarianship in his undergraduate days working the checkout desk at the University of Iowa library. He remembers responding positively when co-workers encouraged him to go on to a Masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS), but the advice went unheeded until later in his career. After teaching for several years and then working at a public library, Neff finally made the decision to attend UWM in 2003.

At SOIS, Neff sought to study what was then considered to be some of the more recent developments in public libraries, such as the addition of coffee shops and RSS feeds. “This was before iPhones or Twitter,” Neff laughs, recalling his final semester in 2005, in which he wrote a paper advocating the introduction of beverages into libraries. His idea was to allow people to bring hot drinks such as coffee and tea into library settings. He got to propose the change he studied to a library in Olathe, Kansas.

Neff references this example in lauding his experience at UWM. “At SOIS, we learned practical things that I actually use in the real world [of librarianship],” said Neff. Thanks to a the research project he did for his Public Libraries course at SOIS, Neff made a credible pitch to fellow librarians at a staff meeting. “By basing the experience off of that research, my co-workers were seriously interested,” said Neff, who described interviews he had performed at Marquette’s Raynor Library in advocating for the introduction of food and drink to the library.

Having done some web development at his previous library job, Neff was eager to get into what he calls the “frontier of libraries,” exploring how libraries can use technology. As a youth services librarian in Kansas, he had acted as a de facto trainer for the other librarians on staff. “The person who was supposed to be doing the training was going too fast,” Neff explained, “so I ended up using my basic HTML skills to do some training for my co-workers.”

At his current position as a web developer for the Johnson County Public Library in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, Neff is once again at home making informed decisions for the sake of the library. Being responsible for both some of the content as well as the layout of library’s website, Neff has to constantly get updates from librarians and users.

The responsibility has paid off. Not only was he recognized by Library Journal, but Neff has recently helped the LSW set up a new website. He encourages librarians to get involved and help create a bigger, yet closer-knit society of information professionals. He cites the example of fundraising that the LSW did for the Louisville Public Library, which experienced significant flooding in 2009. Undertakings like these “bring people together, create good connections and goodwill,” said Neff.

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Photo by: Cindi Trainor

The Library Journal's Movers and Shakers honors librarians of all kinds across the world who are considered to be shaping the future of libraries. This year, 50 librarians were selected for this recognition. For the complete list of Movers and Shakers, visit: http://www.libraryjournal.com/?layout=MS2010

For more information on the Library Society of the World, please visit: http://thelsw.org/