True Librarian — Interviews with UWM Libraries Staff: Aaron Dobbs

Aaron Dobbs

Aaron Dobbs. Photo by Christina DeSpears.

Aaron Dobbs, who has been UWM Libraries Circulation Services Coordinator since 2011, also serves as one of the Libraries’ administrators of Alma, the new UW System Libraries program that manages library resources. Aaron began working in the library as a student in 1996 while pursuing his BA in English. He joined the staff full-time in 2000, earning his MLIS in 2005. He is committed to the Libraries’ efforts to foster student success and research excellence at UWM. Aaron loves working in a library and can’t imagine doing anything else except perhaps playing professional baseball, although he admits that “the Brewers are not calling.”

Q: What is Alma?

Aaron: Alma is a web-based library services platform. It’s the back end of library work. Primo—which we have branded “Search@UW” and was implemented in 2013—is the front end discovery layer that the patron uses.

Q: With these new systems, what has changed for the user?

Aaron: Before, patrons had to search various silos of information to find a book or an article, and now they can find almost everything through the “Search@UW” box. I think that it’s really, really useful for undergrads, for folks who haven’t focused their research yet, by offering “facets,” like Amazon does, to narrow down a search.

Q: So, searching is easier. Is it faster?

Aaron: Yes. The other big improvement is that before, a patron might have to search many campuses, one at time, before finding an available book. Now we have what’s called a “rota” which automatically spins through the UW Libraries until it finds the item, moving through every campus automatically, and if nobody has it available, we’ll send the patron an email cancelling it with a big, bold link to our Interlibrary Loan, which will look outside the UW System and get it for the patron.

Q: What is your favorite part of your job?

Aaron: The most satisfying and aggravating parts of my job are probably the same thing: being co-chair of the Shared Systems’ Discovery Fulfillment Expertise group. I like the innovations that Alma provides. The system is very dynamic, very powerful, and it’s very exciting to learn the new things it can do. It’s also frankly a challenge. Alma releases are monthly, with hot fixes that usually follow two weeks after, and Primo releases occur quarterly–you’ll swear, didn’t we just have a release?– that the pace, it’s pretty frenetic. And it’s all multiplied by two as these occur first in our sandbox environment (which we use for testing), and then in production. People probably have little idea how many hours are spent on Sunday mornings by the Discovery Fulfillment Expertise Group, throwing around expletives and appreciation (in equal measure) regarding changes to each system. But overall, it’s very satisfying. I get to use my brain in different ways and that’s been nice. And we have access to so much more data on this platform than on our former one.

Q: You have brought a more customer-friendly approach to Circulation Services since taking on the supervisor position.

Aaron: We want to ask everyone what they need. How do you get to “yes” every time somebody approaches you, within reason, of course. We try to be flexible. In these times of budgetary stress we’ve seen faculty really put through the wringer through certain legislative changes. So I don’t really want to contribute to their dissatisfaction with anything that’s going on. We are intended to be a service to the entire campus community. How do we help each patron? The answer is as basic as the golden rule: give them the service you would expect anywhere else.