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MIT Libraries Rewards and Recognition: 2007 Awards

2007 Infinite Mile Awards

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Individual Awards

Innovation and Creativity: Christine Quirion

If someone said to our next recipient: “So, ET wants to phone home. Could you maybe work on that?” -- it's not at all hard to believe that this astonishing individual just could, seemingly with a snap of her fingers, set a plan in motion to make it happen. Fast. After all, when the Boston Library Consortium announced that they were joining RapidILL, an article delivery service promising 24-hour turnarounds, they gave this individual a mere two weeks to get her staff trained, and implement the necessary catalog and system adjustments as well. As one nominator wrote, and I quote, “It was absurd.” But in the interest of improving article delivery for our patrons, she made it happen. It wasn't at all easy, but she made it look like it was. The many people who submitted separate nominations for this individual would agree that “painless delivery” could be her calling card. She was responsible for the integration of Interlibrary Borrowing and Document Services under one roof, successfully merging two cultures that brought with them technical, financial, and administrative differences. In under a year, she tossed the ILLiad ILB system into the mix. A few months after that, she expanded delivery of Interlibrary Borrowing items to other libraries in addition to Hayden. Without pausing to take a breath, she then applied her problem-solving skills and her positive, focused attitude to chairing the URSA project. On top of that, she's always ready to support others, as when she offered expert guidance to the Library Storage Annex’s pilot scanning project. In discussing a particular project proposal, one nominator captured the singularly generous spirit of this tireless innovator: "I was struck by her willingness to think beyond our traditional service model, her sensitivity to the concerns of our potential partners, and, most of all, by her willingness to move forward knowing that she would carry a significant load in the project implementation, if the proposal [was in fact] accepted." To her department staff, she’s as wise as Obi Wan Kenobi, while her committee members praise a “tactical deftness” rivaling that of Q, who some say is the real star of the James Bond movies. Well sorry, Mr. Bond: you may have Q, but the MIT Libraries has you beat: we have CQ. For her endless energy, her boundless creativity and intelligence, her generosity, her crucial contributions to several important initiatives that have transformed our services to the MIT community, the Libraries’ 2007 Infinite Mile Award for Innovation and Creativity is awarded to Christine Quirion.

Communication and Collaboration: Rich Wenger

"It's a rare event when a single person consistently combines efficiency, creative thinking, and special skill, with equal measures of humility, humor and warmth" -- so reads the opening line of the nomination for this next individual. The silent film star Lon Chaney was called "the man of a thousand faces." This Infinite Mile Award winner is apparently the man of a thousand talents. His nomination reads like a catalog of every attribute we could wish for in the people we work with. Though this person works far from the public eye, his own eye is always on the needs of our users, on the needs of his colleagues, and on the needs of the system. Here's just part of what his colleagues say about him: "He will always go the extra mile to make something work better and he truly keeps our users in mind while he works." "I've worked with this person on the big, deep, intellectual problems, and on the smaller, niggling, but pressing problems -- the ones that, when they keep coming, can feel like death by a thousand cuts. [But he] keeps his good humor, follows up, and gets the job done." "We're all proud to be associated with [this person] as part of the same organization. He makes a big difference for many of us, every day. He is an absolute pleasure to work with -- creative, fun, intelligent and very hard working." "We need [him] for his skills, yes indeed, but also, and importantly, for who he is - a person of integrity, intelligence, grit, and abundant good will and humor to offer the world." And in groups: "He has a capacity to create a calming effect when things get difficult, tough, and stressful." And then there's this: "[He] has learned to read my mind … I can now say to him, 'can you do that thing you did that time when we fixed that thing?' and he'll actually know what I'm talking about … this is the mark of someone with excellent customer service, translation, and people skills." One of the most famous lines in movie history is, "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." Well, though he works out of the public eye, behind a metaphorical curtain, we just can't help but pay attention to this particular colleague. And besides, in the "Wizard of Oz," the man behind the curtain was a phony. What we have here is something very different: is this MIT Libraries award winner perhaps a real Wizard? Expert programmer. Ability to juggle "millions of things" and remember all the details. Creator of scripts that non-scripters find easy to read. A person who reduces the stress in other people's jobs. Always able to lighten up a meeting with jokes, poems, and wonderfully witty remarks. In demand nationally for his contributions to the Aleph community. And even in the meditation group, he has a gift for listening and understanding others. He may not be the "Wizard of Oz," but we think he's better. He's "that Wizard of Ours." For varied and wide-ranging contributions that have improved our services, for his outstanding ability to communicate with his colleagues, his dedication to improving the user experience, and his outstanding collegiality, the Libraries’ 2007 Infinite Mile Award for Communication and Collaboration goes to Rich Wenger.

Results, Outcome and Productivity: Walter Marlue

We all know what it's like when a colleague is out sick for a day or two: we chip in and help get essential tasks taken care of, till our colleague returns. Sometimes there may be an extended absence, like a vacation, or maybe two people can't come in, and then it's particularly challenging to make sure our unit's basic work is performed. But this is the MIT Libraries, after all: people pitch in, and the work gets done. Then folks return from vacation, and things get back to normal. But what happens when absolutely everybody's gone, and they're not coming back, and the TV commercial comes true: you're an army of one? Well this individual has been there and done that, thank you. When staff departures left his unit with a total of only 2 part-time staff, this individual took on some extra hours so that the Libraries wouldn't need to hire a temp. But then, even that last remaining colleague left. For nearly a month, this individual WAS the entire staff. There was no one else to get the work done, so he got it done by himself. What we have here is the equivalent of "Ben Hur" or "Titanic" being performed not with a cast of thousands, but as a one-man show. This award winner took on still more hours, so that the work of the unit would keep getting done. After nearly a month of working completely solo, the Libraries brought in a temp, and this individual provided the training needed to bring the temp up to speed. He permanently changed his schedule from part time to full time. Not only did the work keep getting done: during this period, in order to provide better service to our users, the workload actually increased to include additional locations and tasks. And the entire time, the nominator writes, this individual's "cheerful hello and good nature prevailed, and even surpassed the gumption of the Energizer Bunny. He is always courteous, prompt, enthusiastic, and cheerful, and this did not [vary] with staffing changes." So let Bruce Willis pretend to be the "Last Man Standing." Here in the MIT Libraries, we have the real thing. When a lesser person might have resembled a "Dead Man Walking," this award winner proved that he could "Stand and Deliver." Who says "The Postman Always Rings Twice?" Here in the Libraries, our postman doesn't need to, because everyone's always so glad to see him. This person's positive, can-do attitude means that everyone's always glad to hear, "You've Got Mail." For hanging tough when the going got rough, for keeping materials flowing to our patrons and staff even when Delivery Services was reduced to a one man operation, and for maintaining a terrific spirit the entire time, the Libraries’ 2007 Infinite Mile Award for Results, Outcome and Productivity goes to Delivery Services' own Walter Marlue.

Results, Outcome and Productivity: Mat Willmott

Here in the MIT Libraries, it can sometimes seem difficult to keep up with the seemingly endless array of tasks and projects on our plates, while also working to create constant improvements in the services we offer. Sometimes doing everything we'd like to do can feel like "Mission Impossible." But certain individuals in the Libraries are somehow able to get their own work done, take on additional assignments, propose new initiatives for themselves, help others out, and do a crackerjack job each and every time. According to one nominator, our next award winner's mantra is, "Sure, I can figure out how to do that!" And fortunately for us, it seems that yes, he always can. Another nominator writes that this individual has built a reputation for his “impressive technical skills,” and his “ability to communicate the technical” in “layman’s terms” -- not always the easiest thing to do. He's worked on several Barton-related projects, prepared documentation for staff throughout the Libraries, and performed exhaustive system testing. He's also served on various committees and task forces, prompting colleagues to say things like, "[he's] an invaluable resource in providing special technical expertise," "he's quick to grasp the nature of the problem [and] its relevance to the MIT community," and "I always know he'll give 110 %." This is someone who goes way beyond his own specific job responsibilities to perform work that creates significant benefits for our users and our staff. He’s identified problems large and small during ALEPH testing and upgrades. Although he doesn't work in Barker, he helped update all of the Barker Core Competencies and worked on a form for advanced booking of the Barker Media Room. He clarified the recall notices we send to patrons, and straightened out problems with uncharged fines and grace periods that resulted from an Aleph upgrade. In an initiative that created a direct benefit to the MIT community, he tested the process, and produced instructions, for taking EndNote and RefWorks content and importing it into BibTex and LaTex. Oh, he also helps MIT students with their physics homework, and on top of all that, he plays for the Bibliotechs. (Go Bibs!) "Mission Impossible?" Not for this award winner. He's truly got "The Right Stuff." For his enthusiastic and varied contributions to the Barton Advisory Group, his continued work as the Branch Representative for the Access Services Group, and his service on the Indexing Task Force, for turning goals into actions that provide outstanding services to both the MIT Libraries and the MIT Community - the Infinite Mile Award in the category of Results, Outcome, and Productivity goes to Mat Willmott.

Community: Laura Andersen

Sometimes when a longtime staff member departs for other adventures, the projects or initiatives that they championed here in the MIT Libraries may whither away and disappear. But other times, someone picks up the torch and runs with it, and takes the project to the next level. This Infinite Mile award winner did just that. When a staff member left MIT, this individual took charge of a project that, while successful, had been very difficult to organize and maintain. Having taken it over, she discovered that she had to line up 10 or more staff members to help with set up, hourly shifts, and teardown. She had to round up equipment, select materials, coordinate statistics-gathering, and see to myriad other details to get this show on the road. And it literally is a road show. One nominator says that "we get large numbers of people browsing and we receive enthusiastic, positive comments from them. Users frequently tell us what a great idea it is. We get people who didn't even realize that MIT staff had borrowing privileges; and people who are clearly back for a return visit." What is this extravaganza? It sounds like "The Greatest Show on Earth." Well actually it's the Humanities Bookmobile, and this special person has taken a good idea, made it better, and made it her own. She always adds touches that really make the bookmobile pop: decorations, candy, special events and giveaways. Her efforts, which are strictly an add-on to her regular responsibilities, have given countless MIT students, faculty, and staff the chance to browse books, borrow CDs and DVDs, and even watch the MIT Salsa Club perform. All this, while passing through the hallways of MIT. This project has not only been a huge success with our users -- it's also enhanced the feeling of community in the Humanities and Music Libraries. One nominator writes that under this award-winner's leadership, the Bookmobile "has evolved from an arm-twisting affair" into "an activity that helps bring the staff together," and it's turned into "a wildly successful outreach program" as well. And this from someone whose own first name is the entire title of a classic film noir. For her efforts in fostering community within the Libraries and across MIT, taking the Libraries brand out into the Institute, and strengthening ties to our users, the Libraries’ 2007 Infinite Mile Award for Community goes to Laura Andersen.

Community: Chris Sherratt

Our next awardee is described by one of her colleagues as a phenomenon who simply embodies excellence in service to MIT’s research community. Her heartfelt excitement about the work of MIT’s faculty and students, her warm humanism, and the depth of her knowledge as an information expert are all but unparalleled. This person’s boundless energy is a benefit both to her users and to the Libraries, in countless ways. When librarians have left MIT, this person has repeatedly stepped in to take over new subject areas, and she's done so with energy and intelligence. When she takes over a new subject, she digs deep to understand the specific needs of the MIT students and researchers in the field, doing in-depth reading in the literature, attending lectures, talking with faculty and students, and poring over detailed catalogs and web sites. One nominator says she is "exemplary in selecting, honing, and managing collections for the MIT community." This individual is also one of our most tenacious and results-oriented reference librarians. As one nominator noted, “she will pursue an answer for days, and in a few cases, weeks!" Whether tracking down a thesis from Grenoble or digging up historic material from the DDC collection, she always goes the distance to locate what her users need. It's no wonder that someone so energetic was chosen to lead a group charged with reporting on the collection and library service needs of MIT’s Energy Research Initiative. A nominator says, "Her hard work on behalf of her group … was key to the Libraries' successful request for ongoing additional funds to support the Energy Initiative." The Libraries also receive notes of appreciation for her work, from graduate students and others who ordinarily are much too busy for such gestures. But this individual is just that impressive: even harried researchers at MIT are so struck by her talent and generosity that they find the time to say so. And we can't fail to mention that she's also recognized for her role as a treasured mentor to those who work with her. She is extremely generous in sharing her expertise with younger and less experienced colleagues, helping them to grow as professionals. She is a librarian whose aspirations and hard work inspire her coworkers, and whose excitement about the work of MIT's faculty and students is contagious. There must be a way to describe a person like this. Maybe it should simply be, "Woman of the Year." Certainly her talent and her willingness to help seem to stretch "From Here to Eternity." And her colleagues all seem to find that working with her makes them feel as if, indeed, "It's a Wonderful Life." In recognition of her energy, her intelligence, her peerless skills, her tireless dedication to her user communities and to her colleagues; for her warm spirit and her matchless charm, we award the Libraries’ 2007 Infinite Mile Award for Community to Chris Sherratt.

Team Awards

Innovation and Creativity: Darcy Duke and Rich Wenger

Working together, two can accomplish what would be impossible for one: Frodo could never have made it to Mordor without Sam. And while the winners of this year’s team award for Innovation and Creativity may not have saved Middle-Earth, their determination and complementary skills did enable them to accomplish something nearly as precious. They created what we in the Libraries have wanted for years: automated lists of the Libraries' newest titles, available to our users via RSS feeds as well as via the Web. The right partnership makes all the difference. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers moved flawlessly across the dance floor, making the most complicated steps look completely effortless. Our dynamic duo overcame the technical challenges of RSS and the “funny formats” in different subjects – particularly in music – to develop what a nominator called a “great service for our community, advertising our collections and highlighting the newest additions that are always of special interest.” After "Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure," they were able to present their homework assignment to very appreciative classmates. Our winning pair’s new book-feed assignment is appreciated not only by the MIT community but also by Libraries staff, who've been relieved of the arduous task of manually creating new-title lists. Also appreciative is the greater Aleph user community, with whom this team shared the details of their implementation. They continue to work together in Barton Advisory Group and on User Interface Group projects. To steal a line from Casablanca, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Please congratulate the recipients of the Libraries 2007 Infinite Mile Award for Innovation and Creativity, the team of Darcy Duke and Rich Wenger.

FY07 Selection Committee:
Stephen Skuce, Chair

Peter Cohn
Millicent Gaskell
Katie Harris
Greg Padilla

2007 Infinite Mile Award Recipient Photos

Individual Awards

From left to right: Christine Quirion, Laura Andersen, Mathew Willmott, Chris Sherratt, Rich Wenger, Ann Wolpert, Walter Marlue

Team Awards

Innovation and Creativity: Recent Additions to the Collection RSS Feed Team

Rich Wenger, Ann Wolpert, Darcy Duke

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