Alchemical Thoughts

Posts Tagged ‘library2.0

My two readers know that another reason I keep a commonplace blog on a different service is that Blogger is notorious for its bad moments. Well, today we seem to be having one of those moments since, for reason unknown, Blogger just refused to publish the post below I had scheduled for today. I pretty much checked under the hood, and I have no idea other than the service being a royal pain. Anyhow, below is the post I intended to publish, which I will then link to over there. Sorry to my two readers for making you skip a bit. You can leave any comments here or over there.

 

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If your library closed tomorrow, would anyone miss it? That’s the provocative question that Professor Steven Bell presented sometime last a couple of weeks ago in the blog Designing Better Libraries.This got me thinking. If my library closed tomorrow, would anyone miss it? Maybe that day was not the best day to ask me that question since I was not feeling particularly confident of getting a positive answer. Maybe it’s all those stories about libraries closing down making me depressed. Sure, our library here does consistently well in service and satisfaction surveys. However, Professor Bell points out that just because people are satisfied it does not follow that the community will miss us. Professor Bell goes on to discuss that our patrons are customers; our profession has certainly done quite a bit to encourage consumer behavior and expectations (whether that is good, bad, or in-between is another question for another day). The point to keep in mind is that consumers are fickle; they are not loyal, and they will jump ship from brand to brand based on needs, taste, suitability, availability, and so on. The availability angle is very important because it speaks about how easily a consumer can move on to another brand if their current brand becomes unavailable.

Which brings me back to the original question– if our library closed tomorrow, would anyone miss it? I decided to pose the question to our instruction librarian after our small library newsletter planning meeting. We work together to edit and put together the newsletter. She had plenty to say, as I knew she would, and I will say she did lift my spirits. The woman should get her own blog one of these days, but in the meantime, these are some arguments she made about why we would not be missed with my comments and observations.

Her bottom line was that many people might think that they would not miss the library initially. However, after they noticed all the things that the library provides that they take for granted, they would certainly miss it. So, what are some of those things we provide that our patrons and clients take for granted?

  • Study space. She mentioned this, and I countered that we have just built a brand new University Student Center, which has tons of spaces for students to study individually and in groups. She being the wily lady she is granted what I said but made an addition– those spaces are NOT quiet spaces. She had a point. Our library surveys from LibQual+ to in-house surveys consistently say that students value quiet space for study. This does not take away from those who need or like to study in groups. It does say though that a significant amount of students like quiet space, and in this university, we are pretty much the only place on campus that provides it. If you close the library down, that option would likely be gone.
  • Research and reference assistance. The students may not think of this until they actually need it, but research help for papers and other projects is crucial. If the library closed down, students pretty much would have nowhere else to go in this regard. Sure, they can use Google, but we all know how that works out. And you can forget about the professors. While there are exceptions, a large number of professors do not know how to do research themselves, or they have not kept up with changes in how research is done, or they are unwilling to set time aside in their classes to teach research skills to their students. This leads me to the next point.
  • Librarians are the ones on campus who pretty much make it their job to keep up with changes in research methods and technologies. Not only do we teach students on research methods and new technologies, we often teach the faculty as well. Some database Professor Doe uses changed the interface and now he can’t find the articles he needs? He has issues accessing the database from  home? Who do you think he calls first? He calls the library and its librarians; even if it is some issue that will be answered by campus IT, and we refer him there, the first line of defense so to speak is the library. He does not want to give up time from his class for a library session, so, if he remembers, he sends his students to the library.
  • And while we are on the subject of faculty and research, guess who organizes, maintains, provides access and support for databases and other resources. Yes, that would be the library. Now, some detractor might argue that we can close the library and let the academic departments handle their own journal and database subscriptions. That’s not likely to happen. For openers, the cost of those subscriptions comes out of the library’s own very limited budget. Except for some select items, departments do not pay for databases, and for the rare things they do chip in part of the cost, they do so reluctantly and under protest. Plus we do acquire those subscriptions and care for them on their behalf in packages, often more efficiently than if each individual department got a few bucks (from the theoretically closed down library’s now available budget). Database access is basically a crucial and essential thing we provide, mostly behind the scenes, that faculty and students pretty much take for granted. Close the library tomorrow, and all that would be gone as well. I don’t see who would pick up the slack. Sure, maybe the IT department would deal with some tech issues, but who will deal with vendors, make the resources accessible, findable, answer questions from users ranging from how to use it to why it’s not working at this moment in time? That’s the library and its staff.
  • We teach students both individually and in groups. If we are not there, who will provide for things like research consultations? Or who would teach information literacy? The debate on who should/does teach information literacy on a campus goes back and forth, but at the end of the day, the library tends to be the strongest and most knowledgeable advocated when it comes to information literacy.
  • And yes, we still have books in print and electronic formats. Even with the clamor to put everything online and that e-books will pretty much take over, many patrons still want “regular” books.But let us say for the sake of argument that most, if not all, of our books go electronic. Who ends up teaching patrons how to access and use them? The librarians who keep up with the technology so they can show others how to use them (see previous point). And what I said about databases applies here too.

Overall, I’d say the library would be missed if it closed tomorrow. I can probably add a few other reasons it would be missed, but that’s what I have at this time. Yes, it would be missed, but the customers/patrons/clients would probably not realize it until it’s too late.

 

Just my two cents.

This is in the context of the lack of academic rigor in library schools and the fact that the librarians who distinguish themselves in spite of said library schools often do so via online social media. I also noticed the quote as I was finishing a recent blog post about librarians who build their reputations online and look down on those who don’t.

These days librarians don’t even have the excuse of no travel funding. Reputations are made online. Look at me. I’ve earned the ire of half the profession, and I don’t even exist!” — from the Annoyed Librarian.

 

 

This is sort of a webliography or list of items I have recently seen on the topics of online social media, library marketing, outreach, and related concepts. This is mostly for personal reference. Some of the posts are from Librarian Blogsville, but a few others come from other places outside librarianship.

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(Once again, another case of Blogger not saving the content after I type it. So, I am posting here, and linking it over there. If you wish to comment, you can comment on either blog, or so I hope).

Citation for the article:

Houghton-Jan, Sarah, Amanda Etches-Johnson, and Aaron Schmidt, "The Read/Write Web and the Future of Library Research." Journal of Library Administration 49.4 (2009): 365-382.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

When I finished reading this article, I wrote on the top margin my impression: some good ideas, but this is a lot of "pie in the sky," including stuff that libraries do not have any control over such as vendors. At the end of the day, library online resources are not going to turn into some Google-like interface no matter how much we wish it to happen. Databases are provided by vendors who are the ones who create the interfaces and set the rules via the licensing for things like authentication to get into a subscription-based product. We can rail all we want about how inconvenient it is that the poor kids cannot just hop in to a database like they do on Google because they have to enter their student credentials to log-in. In the end, that is not going to change very much in large measure because EBSCO, Elsevier, etc. pretty much have a monopoly, and they know it. Libraries are not all going to massively stop providing databases for research out of some protest movement due to costs or convenience factors. It's the way of things. I don't like it, but I deal with it the best I can with the resources I do have. So making it sound like it is the library's fault that students feel so inconvenienced is not something I take to lightly since I do an awful lot of work to advertise the resources we do offer and to educate our students on how to find the best available information. Finding that information does take some work. Work is not always easy, and once in a while you do have to put in some elbow grease to make things work. And once in a while students may have to learn how to navigate a site to get good information if for no other reason than to get a good grade on a research paper (because they will likely fail otherwise if they just rely on Google to get their stuff done). In the end, yes, I am all for eliminating as many barriers as possible, but I think we should make clear not all of those barriers are our fault.

Some notes:

  • On the whole idea of authentication and the log-in barrier. When the authors suggest that students "simply go to a major search engine, enter search terms, and within one or two clicks you have what you want" (371), it makes me wonder. This statement works only on the assumption that you can do that and find material that is appropriate, relevant, accurate, reliable, and available to be used on a given assignment. As for e-books, yes, Project Gutenberg is wonderful for a lot of things, as long as you do not want anything current or that is still within copyright; otherwise, you have to pay for it. More often than not, I get students at the reference desk asking how to get X or Y article they found on Google but could not get because the site it was on wanted to charge them 25 bucks or more. Where did I end up taking them to? Yes, our online databases, where I emphasized they could get any serious scholarly research for free (well, their tuition pays for it, but you get the idea). That e-book from Amazon that they can only get a preview without buying it? Check our library catalog, and if not there, we have Interlibrary Loan. The lesson? Sometimes you have to do a bit more work to get the good stuff. Or you can settle for less. I don't think we should be pandering to those who settle for less.
  • Yes. Google is successful because it is so simple. It also yields millions of results on any given topic, most of them stuff that may not be relevant to a student, assuming they even evaluate it. Not to mention a lot of those links are trying to sell something. Just because the interface is so simple it does not mean it is the best possible thing. Would I like research interfaces like Google? Maybe. Do I think they will happen in our lifetimes given the complexity of research, given that "what we do and what we offer is a lot more complex than Google" (371)? Not likely given that complexity. And by the way, I don't think telling others that what we do is a bit more complex than the big G is a defensive answer; it's reality, and it is reflective of the fact that we add value to the research process. On Google, you are pretty much on your own. We actually teach you what to do with all that stuff Google spits out in one or two clicks.
  • "Never assume that a product is accessible just because it costs thousands of dollars" (373). Are we really making such an assumption? If anything, we spend a lot of time in library instruction and the reference desk showing our students how to navigate things precisely because we know the products are often not easy to access.
  • "Library research environments of the future need to be quite literally user centered" (375). No argument from me on that. It is why we do things like have our research guides on LibGuides, and it is why we do things like put Meebo chat boxes to be more accessible to the students. Are those things the cure-all? No, but they are a start.
  • The rest of the article is pretty much a wish list of things that library interfaces should have according to the authors: activity histories (EBSCO does some of this already), RSS, and citation tools. Those are pretty practical things. I am not so sure about why anyone would want things from social software like having your own picture, research space, and for it to be "fun" (in the Facebook sense of fun) given that students do make a distinction between fun things like Facebook and more practical resources. In the end, the authors do grant that "not every researcher will want to use the participatory bells and whistles of such a research environment, and that is okay" (379). That is nice to know that not everybody wants every single bell, whistle and gadget available or known.
  • The authors ask "if libraries will ever have access to anything like this" (380), and then they answer their own question, sort of. They point to the fact that "databases are largely closed and proprietary" (380) for one. And sure, librarians may have the talent to do all the programming work, but as of hiring said talent, in this economy, I would take that statement with a big grain of salt.

However, there is some hope. I did find a few good points amid the twopointopian wishful thinking. The authors argue that librarians need to be more tech-savvy. Again, no argument from me there since that is something I work on myself.

  •  "Start by modeling the behavior you would like to see in your staff. Tell them what you are doing to make yourself more tech-savvy. Tell them what you do and do not know, outlining what you want to learn more about. If you are willing to learn, they will too" (381). I like the leading by example part of those statements. The tell others part for me is a bit difficult. I am not one to go about sharing much of what I do to learn in my workplace, mostly because it may seem like I am bragging, which is something I dislike. I think that is just me. I blog. I do things to make myself savvy and keep up, and I try to share it in places like here. The blog is not hidden; anyone can get to it. I will admit though that more often than not I get more feedback on things I write about from strangers than I do from my own coworkers.
  • The authors argue that staff should "have some type of ongoing professional development plan" (381). The only thing I will add to that is that it should be a bit more than just the stuff you put on the annual performance review, which is mostly a formality anyways. Let's be honest, as long as you can tick off the items on the list of what you did the previous year, you are ok.
  • "The staff should also be given time to do this professional development; do not expect them to do this on their own time" (381). Furthermore, the authors state that "reading library and technology blogs on work time is work. Trying out new technology tools for possible use in the library is work. Treat it as such" (381). That is something I have mentioned once or twice. Maybe the fact that these authors with more prestige than me say it may get more attention. Keeping up is part of the job, and administrators need to realize that and support it.
  • "Create a simple blog where your staff can share new technology trends, tools, and resources that they have found with other staff" (381). We implement a private blog for reference services at my workplace, and that is one of the stated purposes: to share new things we find with other staff. What I have found, as the blog administrator, is that weaning people out of the e-mail forwarding habit is harder than it sounds. The blog should be able to also solve the problem of putting training information in one place as the authors suggest, but again, getting people to use it instead of hitting forward on an e-mail has not been easy.
  • "Increase your staff training budget" (381). I will admit that I laughed a little on that one. It is not happening here anytime soon. In fact, my training budget has been mostly slashed, or at the very least severely curtailed to the point where me having a significant professional development plan (as in more than cheap online webinars) is in jeopardy.

So overall, I had mixed feelings about this article. It has a lot of wishful thinking, but it also makes a good point or two. Read it and decide for yourself.

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I wrote a draft previously on this topic here, but as Zuckerberg (Facebook's head honcho) keeps baiting and switching his users, I find there is more to say and consider. This is mostly a small list of items I have been reading recently on the topic that I found interesting and/or relevant. I know this is something that, as a librarian, I need to be concerned about and that I should write about more if for not other reason than to clarify my thoughts and help educated my students. As before, I am not sure what direction to take for more substantial writing. There are a couple of angles or perspectives I want to explore that may be too big for one blog post, but I don't necessarily feel like doing a series. In the meantime, here is the list:

I have a few more clips saved, and I may add some of them here, but this certainly provides a good start.

And the updates start:

  • (Update note: Same day): T. Scott reminds us of the old adage that you don't put something online you do not want to see in the front page of the NYT.  Certainly some good, rational thinking here, but I still think along with a few others that FB is pulling a bait and switch. And while for many people, the option to disconnect is there, I would look back at boyd's piece on FB as utility, meaning it may not be as easy to leave. This is specially so for libraries and other institutions who have made their presences in FB and other social services. Yes, we can have the discussion of "well, maybe they should have not done that," but that train left the station long ago, helped along by a lot of librarians advocating libraries do just that. Still, T. Scott's post is a must-read for the discussion. 
  • (Update note: Same day): And the Krafty Librarian replies to T.Scott above. It may be early to predict, but it is looking like my professional brethren are going with the "it's convenient, so you have to give up your privacy" line of reasoning coupled with the "it's your responsibility in the end." Some of which is true, but then makes it easy to let the big corporate honchos who are abusing our sense of privacy and security off the hook.

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