Alchemical Thoughts

Archive for June 2010

I saw this post out of the Programming Librarian blog, and it was something I wanted to jot down. It's basically some brief notes on some ALA Conference session on library programming. To be honest, if I had gone to ALA, this may have been a good program for me, mostly to hear what other librarians are doing. When I think about it, there are not that many blogs and librarians writing about the programs that they do. If there, I have not found them, and it is not for lack of trying. Sure, there are library blogs that announce programs, mostly public libraries, but something a bit more reflective seems to be lacking.

At any rate, since I am in the middle of writing a marketing plan for our library (an ongoing project of mine that gets constantly interrupted), I thought the list of things to consider was a good one. I do keep one or two of these in mind, but the reminder is good. The list:

The panelists discussed five things programming librarians needed to consider:

  1. your audience (i.e., book groups);
  2. community hooks (i.e., firefighters);
  3. national tie-ins (i.e., National Novel Writing Month);
  4. current events (i.e., energy conservation); and
  5. thinking outside the box and the library (i.e., community festivals or farmers markets).

We have done some pretty good things here at my library, but I know we could be doing a lot more. I am specially thinking in terms of thinking outside the box, so to speak.

(Update note, 7/2/2010): Another post from Programming Librarian, this one with hints and advice for us who do outreach

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It seems that these small compilations could become a semi-regular feature of this small blog. As the old saying goes, so many books, so little time. But I am trying to keep track of things I would like to read. I hope that my three readers out there might find some of these links useful. If you do, and if you do read one of the books on these lists I keep compiling, drop me a comment or a line (e-mail is on the right hand side links). I would love to hear if you read one of the books and what you thought of it. The other thing I often add to these posts are links to bibliographies and book lists I find elsewhere. I may not want to read every item on a given list, but such lists may have a book or two I do want to read. Plus the lists make a good reference resource for readers' advisory.

In the meantime, here are my selections for this week:

Bibliographies and book lists:

  • The website WorldHum has a list of "The 100 Most Celebrated Travel Books of All Time." I am not too big on reading travel books, but one or two on this list does sound interesting. I am going to highlight this link on my library's Facebook page for our patrons. This list has a lot of good stuff that would make good summer reading. That is something that I always find interesting about being a librarian and our role in finding books for others. As reader advisors, we often become knowledgeable in reading genres we ourselves may not favor as much. It is all in the interest of bringing together readers and books. I think that is a beautiful thing. A hat tip to The Millions.
  • The Arabic Literature (in English) blog is presenting an Arabic Summer Reading Challenge. They are offering prizes, which is nice. For me, the incentive would be just to read in a genre that I am not very familiar with. Plus, the post does offer a list of selections to choose from. I may try the challenge depending on my time. Also, I may need to look over their blog a bit more, see if I want to add it to my list of book blogs or not. 
  • From Library Journal, and very timely for June, which is LGBT Pride Month, we get a list of LGBT themed graphic novels.

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I picked this up pretty much because our boss made us read it in preparation for a webinar that Maureen Sullivan was going to present. For good or ill, I got stuck covering the reference desk at the time,  but if the interview in this article is anything to go by, then I don't think I missed a whole lot. Overall, the article is like others dealing with the topic of leadership in libraries. This type of article usually boils down platitudes, positive thinking, and theoretical stuff that more often than not will not work in the trenches of the real world. I debated whether to blog about it or not, since more often than not, when you disagree with the establishment, someone from that establishment may well get offended or testy. I don't have enough in here to make a full blown essay I could include in The Gypsy Librarian, but I have enough to jot down, so it's in this scratch pad.

Anyhow, here are some quick ideas from the article, with my responses.

  • We get the spiel about the need to establish trust in an organization. This is necessary so people can be open and frank in the organization without worrying about retribution. The thing is that retribution often will follow if you are too frank, and I did find Ms. Sullivan's attitude about the idea of retribution a little dismissive. She refers to "the myth of retribution, because most people who talk about it really can't cite specific examples of where it's actually happened" (12). I wonder if it has occurred to her that maybe some people might not want to cite specific examples for fear of said retribution. However, the deal is that often retribution is nothing blunt or extreme. You may not get fired for something you do or say, but there are hundreds of little ways that your superiors can make your life impossible if you get uppity. And those are not so easy to document or prove, so I would not be so dismissive as to call it a myth. Many of us often remain quiet just to make sure we can keep working another day.
  • Sullivan brings up the idea that leaders need to tell their stories. This is something that interests me as I wonder what is our library's story. If we were asked, what would we say?
  • She brings up the constant complaint of the younger (and I use that label with some caution) professionals who just want to jump in, change what they think needs to be changed, and how they find life difficult because their organization may not be ready or willing to go along. I always find this a reason to be skeptical because the organization usually ends up painted as the bad guy, as the place that will be stale and antiquated unless the new hot shot's ideas are implemented right away regardless of consequences. The reality of this is that often the new folks are a little impatient. They are often unwilling to learn their organization's full history, wanting to simply do what sounds hip and neat without thinking of the consequences. The mantra of "we've always done it this way" is pretty much the smokescreen. More often than not, X or Y may not have been done already for a reason that, had the new guys actually bothered to ask around, is likely practical or makes sense. Or something was tried already, and it failed already. What is that saying about beating dead horses? You know, at the end of the day, those who have a little more experience and have been around the block once or twice once in a while actually know what they are talking about. So, new guys, save the aggravation, learn the ropes, think a little, then and only then, go argue for your changes and ideas. Will it take time? Yes, it will, but things well done usually do.
  • Sullivan mentions the Emerging Leaders of ALA. I have had a couple of thoughts on the subject (here and here), so I am not going to expound more than necessary on the topic. Only thing I will say on this and on the whole "you need to be involved in the profession" mantra is that it works nicely if both your library and your campus (for academic librarians) actually support such participation and are committed to helping you grow as a professional. You can't seize opportunities (or some opportunities at least) unless you can actually afford to do so. No funding, no travel. It's pure and simple, and it is something that the higher ups and the professional organizations' elites consistently and constantly miss (or more likely choose to ignore since if they did not, they would have to then at least discuss it). In addition, Sullivan herself has to concede this when she writes, "and sometimes, there isn't the kind of support that a lot of these folks need from their managerial leaders" (15). Certain people can say all they want that librarians need to be gung ho and take their professional development in their hands. Well, again, if I lack access to certain opportunities, is that really a fair playing field?
  • A question that is never answered by the article, but it was the one that stuck with me the most was that of power. The interviewer argued that librarians, as a whole, want power (as part of the ability to make decisions affecting their organizations and destinies). But what happens when you DO NOT want power? For one, leadership and power are two very different things. Two, some of us just do not care for management in any way, shape or form. I am an instruction and reference librarian. It's what I do, and it is what I do very well. More importantly, I am sure the powers that be would not want me as a manager. Unlike most library directors, I am NOT conflict-averse. If I have to tell someone off, I have no problem doing it. If I have to make a decision, I stick by it (unlike a good number of managers I have known who have more waffles than a Waffle House). My problem as a manager would likely be that I would be too honest and blunt, traits not welcome in library management. Leadership? That is a whole other question. I tend to prefer the leading by example and by stewardship style, which means having some discretion. And it involves simply asking what can I do to help, then actually doing it.

There are a couple other things I could say, but these notes are getting long already. Maybe some things are  better left unsaid. Or maybe I still need to think a couple more things over. Or maybe, I just want to move on. Anyhow, there it is, for what it may be worth.

The article's citation (in case anyone wishes to read it):

"An Interview with Maureen Sullivan: Leadership in Academic Libraries." Texas Library Journal (Spring 2010): 12-16.


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I came across the TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson on changing education, and it seemed very appropriate to me. I just finished reading Nancy Folbre's Saving State U.: Why We Must Fix Public Higher Education, and some of the things in the lecture seemed to go along with what I read. He does mention that not everyone should be going to college, or maybe they should go, but not at that time but later. I have thought about that at times, how the United States has a compulsive obsession that everyone should go to college. Listen to Robinson speak about the young person who wanted to be a fireman.

Some ideas from the talk:

  • Human communities depend on a diversity of talent, not on a singular conception of ability.
  • A 3-year-old is not half of a 6-year-old. College DOES NOT start at kindergarten. Kindergarten starts at kindergarten.
  • The problem: education built on a fast food model, and we as a society have come to accept it and the soul crushing that goes with it. Personally this is something that makes me despair about the education endeavor. I have a daughter who is gifted as an artist, and I know the current education system will pretty much do its best effort to crush that. It won't happen as long as we keep encouraging and supporting her at home as well as supplementing what happens in school, but it is a battle. And not all children have supportive parents.
  • Often people are really good at things that they do not care for. That is a deep concept there even as it sounds simple. It is one that forces some reflection.
  • Why do so many opt out of education? It is because education does not feed their spirit, their energy, and/or their passion.
  • We need to go from an industrial model (what we have now) to a more agricultural model. Agricultural in the sense that it is organic. A farmer lays out the soil and conditions for plants to flourish, and this is how education should work. Human flourishing is organic. 

A hat tip to Libraries and Transliteracy blog.

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Once again, here we go with another compilation of posts and links about books I want to read (or are considering to read). I do this as a way to keep track of lists and specific books in the hopes I will pick some of them up.

Lists and bibliographies:

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The ITHAKA Report (full title: "Faculty Survey 2009: Key Strategic Insights for Libraries, Publishers, and Societies") has been discussed in Librarian Blogsville ad nauseam, so by the time I got around to reading it (and yes, I actually read it), I did not feel a need to write about in my professional blog. Like many things in librarianship, once the big shots have pretty much beaten to it a pulp, I don't see much of a point covering it. However, since the tagline at The Gypsy Librarian (my professional blog) is "I read a lot of the library literature so you don't have to," and I did read this, I would be remiss if I did not at least make some notes. The bottom line for the report is pretty much doom and gloom as faculty are moving more to using and preferring electronic research sources; it is becoming an issue of "if it is not online and full-text, it probably does not exist." In a way, faculty are not that much different than the students they teach, which I personally find a little disturbing.

The report is done every three years, and it has been done since 2000. It is limited to "colleges and universities in the United States that grant bachelor's degrees or higher" (2). It is a longitudinal study that tracks faculty attitudes and practices. I assume faculty means traditional disciplines; in other words, I don't think it includes academic librarians who have tenure or are on a tenure line, thus designated as faculty. The study does not make that distinction. When you consider the study, the sample may seem pretty small:

  • 35,184 faculty were mailed the survey.
  • Only 3,025 complete responses were received (that is about 10% as I am "eyeballing it." The actual math according to the document boils it down to 8.6% response rate).

I do wonder how come they have such a low response rate. Are faculty really that lazy or just have that "I can't be bothered attitude" that they could bring themselves to complete a survey on a topic that is certainly very relevant to them? Then again, this is not inconsistent with other library and information science studies where results are based on very low numbers. So take it as it comes.

Some findings and observations. I am sticking mostly with the ones related to libraries, since that is my area of interest and expertise, but the rest of the document may be worth a look:

  • "Since the first Faculty Survey in 2000, w have seen faculty members steadily shifting towards reliance on network-level electronic resources, and a corresponding decline in using locally provided tools for discovery" (4). This is not surprising. It has been happening, and it will continue to happen that if faculty can get their research materials from the comfort of their offices (or their homes), that they will not set foot in the library. This does raise the issue that they often are not fully aware of the costs of providing said resources (subscription, infrastructure, etc.).
  • "The survey found that scholars tend to prefer electronic resources specific to their own discipline over those that cover multiple disciplines" (6). This is where we get faculty that complain their subject area is not represented even though we do provide plenty of content in their area, often including all the major journals in their field, through a multi-discipline database. I am recalling a specific professor who wanted some obscure film database that was not full-text, nor provided as much coverage as some of the larger databases we did have at the time (and that included a list of journals she had provided). She wanted it because the database had "film" in the title (I kid you not) even though that product was inferior and had no full-text coverage. It took quite a bit of convincing on our part to show her we were meeting her needs. I mention this because very often such preferences seem a little idiosyncratic.
  • However, faculty still mention that they follow citations from journal articles and that they search full-text databases for their research needs (7).
  • I am pretty skeptical on this: "As scholars have grown better to able to reach needed materials directly online, the library has been increasingly disintermediated from research processes. . . " (8). In some places, faculty are NOT exactly better able to find anything online. This is the sort of reality that will give me job security because someone has to show them how to use the resources and find the information they need. That someone is usually an academic librarian.
  • The change in libraries as envisioned by the faculty: ". . .envision the transformation of the library from an institution focused on acquiring, maintaining, and providing services centered on a local print collection into a more electronic hub offering a variety of services to support campus needs for research, teaching, and learning" (9). Personally, I don't think the books and print will totally go away contrary to what the naysayers and twopointopians (to borrow the Annoyed Librarian's term). There may be less, but they won't be totally gone due to reasons ranging from certain things are just better or more efficient in print to students who come across an e-book wanting "a real book" (I get that one often) to "what happens when the power goes out? Oh yea, you reach for that book." Libraries will change, become more dynamic, what have you, but the books are not going anywhere towards extinction. However, we do need to have the conversations about change and about how libraries and librarians can provide new and better services to our patrons. One possibility is emphasizing how we add value via education and information literacy instruction. That would be one thing I would focus on if I ran things.
  • How faculty see us (and probably why I tend to be more comfortable in universities that see themselves as "teaching institutions."). "Significantly more faculty members who consider themselves as 'more of a teacher' rather than 'more of a researcher' rate both the library's teaching (67% vs. 45%) and research (62% vs. 51%) support roles as valuable. And faculty members at the very largest research universities are less likely to appreciate the library's research and teaching support roles" (10; emphasis in original). At least there is something positive out of all this for those of us who work as subject liaisons assigned to academic departments: "Taken together, these patterns suggest that the relationships built through engaging faculty in supporting their own teaching activities (which have been historically proven harder to scale at the largest institutions) may be an especially beneficial way to build relationships with faculty members more broadly" (10). 
  • A problem for us: "The declining visibility and importance of traditional roles for the library and the librarian may lead to faculty primarily perceiving the library as a budget line, rather than as an active intellectual partner" (13). You know things are not going well when the administration thinks you can put everything in a server room and just rely on the Internet (which may or not include subscriptions, and yes, I have actually heard at least one administrator say something along those lines, that all we need is a server room for the website, a guy to watch over it, and done) for research needs. 
  • Where the future may lie for us, which goes back to the idea of adding value I suggested above: "The two new roles in our most recent survey, teaching support and research support, suggest unique opportunities for libraries to further develop campus relationships" (14). 

Update note (6/11/10): Some of the dwellers of Librarian Blogsville that discussed the ITHAKA report, in case anyone is interested:

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June 2010
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