Staff Spotlight on Sherry Lochhaas

Sherry Lochhaas, our Head Digital Librarian for the past five years, recently took a position with the Contra Costa County Library in the San Francisco Bay area.  Sherry was an invaluable member of the WiderNet team and will be missed!  We caught up with her to get some of her thoughts about The WiderNet Project:

How did you first hear about WiderNet?  What initially sparked your interest in working with WiderNet?

I was attending the University of Iowa School of Library & Information Science when I first met WiderNet's director, Cliff Missen, who was also a professor of library science. Because I'm interested in working with technology & digital libraries and I also care deeply about working with underserved communities, the WiderNet Project's focus on bridging the digital divide around the world by bringing resources to those in developing countries was a perfect fit for me.

What were some challenges you faced working for a nonprofit? 

Small nonprofits are often underfunded institutions, unfortunately -- but we do it because we love what we do! Challenges included figuring out how to deliver a great product to our users while being under-funded and under-staffed -- yet somehow we manage.

Because WiderNet works with an international user-base and specifically with those who do not have adequate Internet access, providing technical support can also be challenging. WiderNet's technicians & programmers are extremely dedicated and can fix anything!

As a nonprofit, WiderNet relies heavily on wonderful volunteers. As always, it's great to have volunteers that can commit to a longer duration because the amount of training can be intensive. And of course - volunteers that have professional experience working with digital libraries are ideal. 

What were your main duties at WiderNet? 

I was responsible for managing the content and catalog of the eGranary Digital Library. This involved seeking out new resources to add the collection, getting permissions to use them, cataloging, making usable offline copies of the content, and troubleshooting all sorts of issues. I also supervised the work of other librarians & content volunteers, worked with our internal documentation, and coordinated special projects.

What were some of the most exciting events during your years at WN?  What type of changes/growth have you seen with the organization?

WiderNet's move from Iowa to North Carolina in 2013 was probably one of the biggest challenges in WiderNet's history. It took a lot of dedication to the mission, loyalty to the project, and trust in WiderNet's leadership. After a few pitfalls, everything pulled through in the end and WiderNet is going strong at its new location. TWO locations, a successful indiegogo campaign, and lots of great partnerships illustrate WiderNet's ability to keep pushing forward and growing despite its challenges. 

Even as a nonprofit that works with users who have little technological experience or lack the infrastructure for adequate internet access, WiderNet strives to stay on top of technological innovations and bring its users the best resources available. From growing their collection of small CDs worth of content up to a large 4TB hard drive full of some of the best educational resources out there, WiderNet is continuing to adapt and is now working on ideas to bring users mini collections to share with their friends and use with their phones & tablets.

One of the exciting projects we worked on was the Global Disability Rights Library over several years. It was a good time for WiderNet, having secured a large grant from USAID. We partnered with USICD, which was halfway across the country from us at the time, to build these collections about disability rights and awareness and we had a large core group of staff, partners, & volunteers all dedicated to the project. It was exciting being able to give away a certain number of libraries to organizations around the world for free as part of the grant project and seeing how popular they became.

Another project that WiderNet worked on recently was the Ebola Pocket Library, a small collection of health & training materials for those afflicted with Ebola in Africa. This project really drove home the idea that getting information resources into the hands of users can literally be a life or death situation and those without access to information are the ones that suffer the most. It was rewarding knowing that we were doing our part to make a real difference in the lives of others around the world.

I'm very grateful to have worked with the WiderNet Project for as long as I did and I know they will continue to do great things in the future.