Ken Varnum

ken@varnum.org
Updated 12 April 2013

About Me

I am the Web Systems Manager for the University of Michigan Library. Library Web Systems creates and maintains the web applications that make the library's web site tick. I also maintain a blog, RSS4Lib: Innovative Ways Libraries Use RSS, where I discuss various ways libraries can (or should) take advantage of RSS as an effective data exchange tool.

Drupal in Libraries, my book, is now available for order. It was published in May 2012 by ALA TechSource. See the companion website.

2004-2007: I was a librarian at the Edwin Ginn Library at The Fletcher School (Tufts University's graduate school for international relations). Half of my position was is mix of traditional and "library 2.0" work -- reference, database development, web site design and programming, and so forth. One of my projects is the Fletcher Faculty Publications database and RSS Feeds. The remainder of my time was spent managing IT services for The Fletcher School's faculty, staff, and students.
1997-2004: I was an Information Specialist for the Ford Motor Company research library. I oversaw the library's web site and information architecture projects. We developed information services including customized e-mail alert services, automatic text classification, and intelligent agents. Please see the Publications and Presentations section, below, for details on some of these projects.
1995-1997: Before working for Ford, I worked for the now-defunct Open Media Research Institute (OMRI) in Prague, Czech Republic. OMRI was a non-profit research and publishing organization that studied the then-new democracies and emerging states of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and that was funded by the Open Society Institute. Although OMRI no longer exists, the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine has preserved portions of the OMRI web site.
I'm a 1989 graduate of Grinnell College and a 1994 graduate of the University of Michigan (with Masters degrees from the School of Information and the Center for Russian and East European Studies).
Fun fact: I am co-inventor of two U.S. patents: Personal Audio Recorder in a Vehicular Entertainment Sound System (U.S. Patent Number 6,664,234) and Personal Audio Recorder in a Vehicular Entertainment Sound System using Recommended Audio Signals (U.S. Patent Number 7,027,602).
Publications and Presentations
Patterns of Undergraduates' Use of Scholarly Databases in a Large Research University
Loyd Gitari Mbabu, Albert Bertram, Ken Varnum. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Volume 39, Issue 2, March 2013, Pages 189-193, ISSN 0099-1333, 10.1016/j.acalib.2012.10.004. A pre-print is available in the University of Michigan's institutional repository
Drupal in Libraries. ALA TechSource, June 2012.
Volume 14 in the Tech Set series, Drupal in Libraries is a how-to manual for the non-technical librarian who wants to build a Drupal web site. Through step-by-step instructions, the book walks the site adminstrator through the Drupal interface and illustrates how to build a functional interactive web site without need for programming skills.
See the companion website.
Drupal in Libraries. ALA TechSource, June 2012.
Volume 14 in the Tech Set series, Drupal in Libraries is a how-to manual for the non-technical librarian who wants to build a Drupal web site. Through step-by-step instructions, the book walks the site adminstrator through the Drupal interface and illustrates how to build a functional interactive web site without need for programming skills.
See the companion website.
Library Favorites and Resource Modeling
Presented at the LITA National Forum, Columbus, Ohio, October 5, 2012. Web site visitors to the University of Michigan library can save some kinds of resources (catalog items, databases, online journals, and article citations) to their user account for future use. Users can optionally organize these resources into categories (the system recommends courses they are taking and categories they have previously used, but individuals can create any categories they like).
In this session, attendees will learn about our design process (including user studies, design elements, and Drupal coding) and the usage of the tool. The pool of saved items becomes a rich data source for providing anonymized, aggregated data to library staff and site visitors. We will conclude by exploring some of the possible uses of this data, including building supplemental reading lists for specific courses.
"Discovery Here, Discovery There: Pros and Cons of Local or Remote Hosting of Discovery Tools"
Discovery systems are powerful tools to help users find information resources across the breadth of the library's online holdings. Many of these tools offer APIs for libraries to build their own user interfaces to the search index, allowing a library to keep site visitors within the library until the time they access the full text of a resource. What are the pros and cons of keeping discovery local? This talk will explore the user interaction, interface design, and user expectations of such homegrown interfaces.
A "Conversation Starter" at ALA National 2012, June 23, 2012
"Don’t Go There! Providing Discovery Services Locally, Not at a Vendor’s Site"
Presented at the Michigan Library Association's Academic Libraries 2012 conference, 10 May 2012.
"Social Metadata for Libraries, Archives and Museums"
This webinar was presented (with 5 others) at the conclusions of the RLG Social Metadata Working Group on 9 March 2012.
"Social Metadata for Libraries, Archives and Museums. Part 2: Survey Analysis
Co-authored by Karen Smith-Yoshimura, Carol Jean Godby, Helice Koffler, and Elizabeth Yakel. 2011. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research. Available through http://www.oclc.org/research/publications/library/2011/2011-03.pdf.
Serials Solutions’ Summon: Familiarity Breeds Success (Library Journal Reference Supplement, November 15, 2011, p. 18)
Describing the University of Michigan's implementation of Summon as its article discovery tool. (The last of 4 pieces in this longer article.)
Keeping Discovery in the Library (SlideShare)
Presented at the 2011 Charleston Conference on 2 November 2011 as part of a panel discussion with Roger Schonfeld (Ithaka S+R), Ross Housewright (Ithaka S+R), Sebastian Hammer (Index Data), Cody Hanson (University of Minnesota), and David Walker (California State University).
Abstract: Libraries are increasingly faced with the challenge of developing an appropriate strategy for supporting their users’ information discovery needs. This preconference, facilitated by Ithaka S+R, will explore the growing range of approaches users may take to information discovery in a digital environment and help attendees consider the strategic implications of potential roles that their library could play in supporting their users’ discovery needs.
Making the Case for CMS! (SlideShare)
Presented at Internet Librarian 2011 on 19 October 2011 with Nina McHale.
Abstract: Making a convincing case to change from non- or lightly-managed web sites to a content management system (CMS) can seem daunting. However, you can build a strong case that will help convince administration of the benefits of CMSs. In this talk, two librarians who manage large public and internal websites at the University of Michigan and the University of Colorado Denver give you all of the ammo you need! Gain insight on why having a CMS is better than not having one and why an open source CMS tool (such as Drupal and MediaWiki) are viable, functional, and efficient solutions. Audience participation in the form of group therapy will be encouraged!
Drupal & Summon: Keeping Article Discovery in the Library (SlideShare)
Presented at LITA National Forum 2011 on 30 September 2011.
Abstract: How building a Drupal module to bring Summon's article discovery system into our web site increased article searching, decreased direct database use, and maintained context for the library's patrons.
"Keeping Your Feet on the Ground when Putting your (Lib)Guides in the Cloud" with Karen Reiman-Sendi and Albert A. Bertram.
A chapter in Getting Started with Cloud Computing: A LITA Guide. Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc. Edited by Heather Moulaison and Edward Corrado. 2011.
Complete list of papers and presentations...
Links
Ken's weblog about innovative ways libraries use RSS
Get an RSS bumper sticker for your car!
Grinnell news and a directory of Grinnell alumni e-mail addresses and web pages.

Thanks to the magic of Google, I found my very first Usenet message -- posted on December 8, 1983, when I was a strapping young geek.
Travelogs
8/2003 -- Two weeks in Arches, Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon National Parks
2/2002 -- Our trip to the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games
8/2001 -- Two weeks in Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland
11/1999 -- Ken's trip to eastern Australia with buddies Andy and Ira