Connecting with the community: Chad Kahl on using federal resources and data

By Tiffany Medina, PR Assistant, SAGE Publishing

At the ALA Antmedinanual Conference, we were pleased to present Chad Kahl with the 2016 Marta Lang/SAGE-CQ Press award. An interim associate dean for public services and information technology at Illinois State University, Chad is an active member of ACRL’s Law and Political Science section (LPSS). He also writes about the nexus of libraries and the government and is passionate about promoting civic engagement on campus.

Interested in learning about the issues facing political science librarians, we interviewed Chad about his role. Read on for his take locating federal government resources, working with open government data, and the library’s role in supporting voters.

Q. This award honors a librarian who has made distinguished contributions to bibliography and information service in law or political science. How do you support legal or political studies on your campus?

Kahl_ChadI am or have been a subject librarian for law and political science for Illinois State University’s Department of Politics and Government and their Legal Studies program.  In my traditional subject librarian roles such as collection development, instruction, reference, and research consultations, my biggest impact has likely been on the legal studies collection.

When I took over the position, the Legal Studies program was undergoing accreditation by the American Bar Association with Milner Library’s heavily print-oriented collection.  An onsite reviewer commented that we had a collection suitable for a small law school.  While it was meant as a compliment, it did make me consider how well it was suited for a paralegal program.  In addition, the ABA was changing their standards to allow greater use of electronic resources.

At first, we tried the use of QR codes to provide more point-of-need information about the items.  They were underutilized, but I wasn’t sure if it was due to lack of comfort with QR codes and/or lack of use of print items.  So, we paper banded a dozen print serial resources comprising of roughly 2,100 volumes that were located in our book stacks.  Over two semesters, only 77 bands were removed and the three quarters of those were for one title.

I created an advisory group from classroom faculty from a number of departments on campus to discuss changes to the collection.  Utilizing the aforementioned data and the disciplinary expertise of the members, a large percentage of the print materials have been converted exclusively to online access only.  It has allowed the library to save considerably on staffing time and subscription costs, allowing us to add new online resources which have proven to be very popular.

Q. Federal government resources can sometimes be hard-to-find or hard to navigate. What are some top tips that you would recommend to researchers on navigating these resources?

I have been fortunate to work with great government document librarians over the years from having graduate assistantship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Government Documents library to collaborating with my current colleague, Angela Bonnell.  Not only are they knowledgeable about governmental information resources and services, they have a real commitment and passion for open access to information.  They are powerful advocates for American citizens.

Q. How has open government data impacted the role of political science librarians?

It has been a very exciting challenge.  When I chaired the Association of College & Research Libraries’ Law and Political Science Section, I initiated a discussion about working with Grace York to resurrect her Statistical Resources on the Web resource.  Working with the Numeric Data Interest Group and the Government Documents Round Table, I later chaired a working group that suggested adaptation of the content into a format that could be easily integrated with custom search engines and online guides.  We also acknowledged the need for professional development opportunities for libraries.  Not only do we need to help our patrons connect to open government data, but we need to be able to advocate for its open and free accessibility.

Q. Has the election year impacted the work you do or types of information requests that you receive?

In addition to helping patrons find useful resources for better evaluating and understanding election-related information, libraries have a real opportunity to promote civic engagement.  Milner Library has been a very active voter registration location on our campus for years, helping thousands of people to become eligible voters.  In addition, we can lend our professional expertise and interest to campus civic engagement efforts.  What better place than a library to encourage voters to become more active and better informed consumers of political information?

Congrats again, Chad! It’s a pleasure to see the group of Marta Lang/SAGE-CQ Press award winners grow. Interested in nominating a law or political science librarian for the 2017 award? Submit your nomination here.

The Connecting with the Community series is a collection of interviews with industry experts and forward-thinking minds on topics such as discoverability, research methods, librarianship, tips for writing and researching and the peer review process. Find out more about our Connecting with the Community series here and read past Connecting with the Community posts here.


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