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SLA Day 5: Field Trip!

June 15, 2013

When I was signing up for the tour of Qualcomm’s library and the UC San Diego library and campus, I laughed at myself: It’s a bit of a busman’s holiday. I’m very glad I took the tour, after SLA had wound down, though. Gave me a chance to spend one last day with librarian buddies, and a chance to see a huge, tech-savvy corporate library, configured as a really interesting information sharing space, community, social hub. All the good things that a cutting edge library is supposed to be.

And yes, there are even bookshelves.

Qualcomm is a company that makes the chips that power phones and mobile devices. They have a big presence in San Diego- the baseball stadium renamed the Qualcomm Stadium, a science facility at the UC San Diego Campus called the Qualcomm Center. Our first stop on the day’s tour is the Qualcomm corporate campus itself. It’s impressive, high ceilings, decorated in a lot of white and shiny and chrome. We assemble in the Qualcomm library, which has an information desk, tables, chairs, librarian offices ranged around the periphery. There are spaces with couches where people can have meetings, or tables, plenty of whiteboards, either on the walls, or ones  that can be wheeled around as needed for meetings. I covet the meeting rooms with whiteboard walls, very, very much.

The library is the central information hub for the company. 70% of employees use the library, so about 20,000 of the company’s 30K, onsite and remotely, including 33% who are accessing remotely from international locations. 65% of the collection is digital. And yes, there are still bookshelves.

The main things the library covers are: research resources, licensing, and a technical division working on digitizing their holdings. They have technical, business-related and market-research related holdings. The technical division acknowledges that keeping up with and organizing document creation can be a challenge.

The library runs trainings, both as part of employee onboarding, and on an ongoing basis. They also host hackathon events, getting employees together working on a problem over a weekend. This seems like an ideal corporate library, really active, engaging with the community, presenting itself as a workspace as well as a resource, and doing outreach to make people aware of the collection. Qualcomm employees who are published authors get highlighted in the collection, which speaks well of the company culture. Talking about the resources the library provides, the refrain “we don’t do work employees are too busy to do.” Librarians won’t go find and provide reports, fill information requests. Rather, the emphasis is on teaching, and coaching employees to use the tools the library provides, to do smart, self-directed searching on their own. They own, rather than license their e-book content, or license in perpetuity, and work with publishers to get larger collections of e-book resources.

Idly wondering which company would be the New York equivalent in terms of its library. Because there are a lot of things I really like about this corporate set up. Also noting- it’s really nice to see a library visibly not hurting for resources. 14 librarians on staff, and one paraprofessional, in a well-used library.

After that, we take a look around the Qualcomm Museum, an on-site collection that presents the company’s history and culture in a series of exhibits, combining glass cases with touch screen-activated text and video displays. It’s a bit like walking around in a company brochure, but interesting to see some early mobile phones (giant consoles hauled around in a van, much more for testing than consumer purposes) and visual reminders of the awkward shapes of earlier cell phones. Also, a few amusing nods to the company culture, including a display of T-shirts for product launches, and beers brewed to mark company milestones, by local brewery Karl Strauss.

image of Geisel Library exteriorFrom there, we went on to the UC San Diego Campus, where our first stop was the very strangely shaped Geisel Library. (Named in honor of Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.) Inside, it looks much more like a normal library, split into different academic divisions like arts, sciences, history, geography, with topic-based reference desks available. We tiptoe around on tour, mindful of the fact that students are in their finals week. There are study rooms students can use solo or for group projects, and whiteboards they can bring to open tables. Similar to Qualcomm in this, which pleases me.

There are rotating exhibits from their special collections on display throughout the year.

Their special collection topics include:

  • Theodore Geisel
  • The Spanish Civil War
  • Children’s Books
  • Books for Cooks
  • Books celebrating the culture of readers
  • Popular fiction with a message (like Uncle Tom’s Cabin)
  • Books by the Founding Fathers, and books that would have influenced them
  • A North Korean film collection
  • A toy piano collection- based on one professor’s hobby of collecting them, and including music composed for toy piano. It does not surprise me to learn that John Cage was the first to compose sheet music for the toy piano.

In addition to traditional academic student services, the library hosts programs like Maker Mondays, encouraging invention and crafting, origami classes and demos, and a race of student-built go-carts, made from salvaged materials.

After the Geisel library and some lunch, we head to the Qualcomm Center, formerly known as Cali T2, a research and project space for faculty, where we got to see a really interesting array of virtual reality demos, and data visualizations projected on bogglingly big screens. There was a 3-D panoramic visualization of the Pyramids with amazingly clear images, and a virtual reality setup with swirly colors, where pointing a sort of 1950s ray gun let you carve swirls into the streams of colors whooshing by.

There was also an archly funny exhibit crafted as a comment on modern pharma, including an advertisement for a drug called “Havitall,” mocking the “ask your doctor about…” ads.

After taking the bus back from our field trip to the hotel, my trip shifted from librarian-learning-tourism to getting a lovely chance to hang out with good friends, Cheryl and Ben and their daughter Sami  in Kensington, a residential neighborhood (I spent a week in San Diego and have very little sense of how the geography works). I spent the late afternoon and evening catching up with Cheryl, a college buddy, her daughter Sami, who is 6 years old and great fun, and later, Ben joined us. The evening’s entertainments include doing absolutely nothing in particular, lounging on the couch and chatting,  excellent gourmet pizza at a place round the corner from them, Sami showing me her room and her books (“You could stay here and be our librarian?” Sami suggests. Talk about a dream job!) and geeking out about beer with Ben, also attempting to explain how taxonomy would work in a business venture, and pondering the possibilities of beer taxonomy and yeast librarianship. (Having heard a presentation by a wine librarian days earlier, this idea is not completely farfetched.)

We stay up wonderfully late, and then arrange to meet for lunch the next day, at a location to be determined, as Ben, especially, wants to show off a local spot with good beer.

Excellent last real day in librarian land, and a good re-entry into the world of the non-librarian people.

One Comment leave one →
  1. DonaldPeebles permalink
    June 27, 2013 9:26 pm

    Qualcomm sounds like the ultimate library. I would love to visit there if I ever go to San Diego.

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