Alchemical Thoughts

Posts Tagged ‘lis articles

When I was doing outreach for my previous library, one of my duties was editing the library’s newsletter. I believe that newsletter stopped being published after I left, in spite of having been around long before I had arrived there, but the administration sort of had been hinting it wanted to let it go. A pity, as I think it not only served as a publicity and marketing tool, but also served for documentation. Anyhow, not my problem anymore. Back then, I had pulled aside these articles to read up more on the topic of newsletters to help me improve ours and learn more. Eventually I moved on to my current position, and this post lingered in my drafts folder for quite a while. These days, my library has a blog I created for them, and it is a tool we are working on developing further; it also serves a bit as our newsletter. Writing about that may be a post for another day. In the meantime, here is the stuff to look over.

Some notes:

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Here we go again with another list of books I would like to read. I should note that I do get to read one or two from these lists once in a while. A post making such a list may be in order just for reassurance. In the meantime, here are a few more books I would like to read.

 

CuriousGeorgeReading

Items about books:

  • Infrastructure in the United States, especially transportation, is basically a clusterfuck of neglect. As much as people like to whine about the bad roads or getting stuck in airports, it’s not like they get their butts up to vote for politicians who may make moves to fix it. Nor are politicians in any rush to fix the crumbling mess even as bridges fall left and right. In a new book, the author seeks some answers. The book is Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead, and it was featured in HBS Working Knowledge blog.
  • I recently read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, a memoir of a crematorium worker that also gives an inside look at the mortuary industry. It has sparked an interest for me in the topic. One of the things I learned in that book is that embalming is really bad for a variety of environmental issues. So, when I saw this article on AlterNet about embalming and seeking out other more green burial options, it caught my eye. The article highlights the book Grave Matters by Mark Harris. The book is older (2008) than the memoir, so I will be interested to compare.
  • I am sure many folks watch dog shows, probably the Westminster Kennel one that USA Network broadcasts every year. What not many think about are some of the extremes going on in breeding those dogs. In fact, many high end dog breeds are bred and created in ways that basically are detrimental to the canine’s health all for the sake of aesthetics. This article from In These Times says that “We’re Breeding Dogs to Death.” The article is worth a look, and it may even move you to go adopt a nice mutt from a shelter instead of doling out thousands of dollars on some fancy breed dog. The article also mentions the book A Matter of Breeding by Michael Brandow.
  • The police incident (to put it charitably) in McKinney, Texas has been all over the news as I type this. In the end, racism in public pools is not really new. In fact, a big element of white flight is for those folks to be able to set up their own private club pools to keep “the undesirables” out. This article in The Atlantic discusses the incident, talks about that history, and it highlights a book I want to add to my reading list. The book is Contested Waters: a Social History of Swimming Pools in America. Actually, as a side note, WorldCat reveals my library, Hutchins Library at Berea College, has it, so I may be able to read this one a bit sooner. If I do, my four readers can expect a review.
  • And now a little erotica. As the reviewer in San Francisco Book Review writes, “a happy marriage is an underappreciated, often overlooked thing.” When I look around, you have to be selective to find good erotica that deals with happy marriages where the focus is on the couple itself. The book Bedded Bliss sounds interesting in that it combines some self-help and advice for married couples to keep the fires alive combined with some erotica.
  • Another erotica selection. Alison Tyler is an erotic editor who, like Rachel Kramer Bussel,  does not steer me wrong. So I usually seek out her works. Also via San Francisco Book Review, the book is Down and Dirty: 69 Super Sexy Short-Shorts. I have enjoyed other books of erotic short-shorts, such as The Big Book of Orgasms, so I am hoping Tyler’s anthology will be similar in appeal factors and overall just good reading.
  • And speaking of Rachel Kramer Bussel, she has an erotica anthology with a theme of encounters in hotel rooms. I have no idea if any of the stories involve librarians hooking up at conferences (which was a big fuss in thread in that librarian forum I try to avoid). I will go on the limb and admit that is a small fantasy of mine, but for now, it will stay in the fantasy realm (unless some day I decide to try my hand out at writing it into a story). Anyhow, in the meantime, I will settle for reading the book Do Not Disturb, which was reviewed in BDSM Book Reviews.
  • On a bit of a different kink track, BDSM Book Reviews also reviewed Safe Word a while back. This is a sequel to Carrie’s Story, and as I read in the review, the novels are reminiscent of classic erotic tale The Story of O. I will certainly pick up the first novel before the second, and when I do, I will review them.
  • If you are a fan of femdom in your erotica, then Her Wish is Your Command by D.L. King may be for you. The book was reviewed at BDSM Book Reviews. (No WorldCat record found as of this post. The review has Amazon link if so inclined. Probably due to it being an e-book).
  • Moving along, let’s have some booze. I certainly do like a woman who can have a good drink with me. I also enjoy books about the history of alcoholic spirits, so here is a book about how women helped save spirits like bourbon and whiskey. The book is Whiskey Women, and it was reviewed at Drinkhacker.
  • One of my reading challenges for 2015 is to read more horror fiction, so this may fit the bill. The book, which according to the review has been marketed as a “psycho thriller,” is In the Miso Soup. And by the way, checking WorldCat tells me this is another one we have, so I may be able to read it sooner.
  • It may have been started as utopian endeavor in the late 19th century and went on to become an artist commune, but the Chelsea Hotel in New York City has clearly seen better days, assuming it ever had better days, which seems debatable. At any rate, there is new book telling the history of that city’s landmark. The book is Inside the Dream Palace, and it was reviewed in The Guardian.
  • I do not read as much in the alternate history genre as I used to. And to be honest, when I hear of yet another alternate history where the South wins the U.S. Civil War, I just yawn. But this graphic novel featuring just such a scenario caught my eye because it seems a bit better thought out than most items produced in the South wins scenario. The book is CSA: Southern Cross, Annuit Coeptis, and it was reviewed in BlogCritics. It is volume 1, so I may take a chance, then decide if I want to read the rest.
  • The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray that promises to show us his real escapades, you know, the ones you do not get in the original classic. This book has been in and out of my radar for a while, but seeing as it is written by Mitzi Szereto, an author I have enjoyed before, and I have seen the book reviewed in a couple of places, it may be time to add it to my list. The book was reviewed by BlogCritics here, and by San Francisco City Book Review over here.
  • As I may have mentioned before, I always find books about books and reading to be a big interest of mine. This one may be a bit esoteric, but it still sounds interesting. The book is The Book Collecting Practices of Black Magazine Editors, and it was published by Litwin Books. The book “focuses on the collecting habits and personal libraries of three black magazine editors.”
  • While we are at it, here are some more LIS and/or reference books from Library Juice Press and Litwin Books that I find of interest.

 

Lists and bibliographies:

  • A while back, Bending the Bookshelf had a guest post with highlights of erotic genre fiction selections from Storm Moon Press.
  • Something that may be useful down the road. The Bisexual Books blog has put together a “Master Review List” for books they have reviewed, and they even arrange it by books they liked and recommend and books you probably should avoid. Very thoughtful of them if you ask me. The list also identifies books by things like genre, how they fall in the LGBTQI spectrum, age range, and other themes.
  • This is a work-related item. Bobbi Newman, of Librarian By Day, has put together a “Reading List–Patron Privacy in the Digital Age.” It includes articles and books. As an update, she is now adding and curating stuff on a Tumblr here.
  • A little PSA for readers. Free Technology for Teachers highlights the website Forgotten Books, where you can find a variety of e-books, mainly public domain stuff, free online.
  • If you are like me and trying to diversify your reading a bit, the folks at Book Riot have put together a very nice “African Reading List.” Organized by nations, it has more than the usual writers you hear about like Chinua Achebe (yet, he is still listed).

(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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(Note: This is moved over from Blogger, which is being a pain in the ass and unresponsive again. Apparently, it did not want to handle a somewhat long post. Anyhow, you can read it here, and I just linked this over there, which it seems Blogger can  handle. If you want to comment, you can do so here, or back on the Blogger page, where the comments are a bit more open).

Citation for the article:

O'Gorman, Jack and Barry Trott, "What Will Become of Reference in Academic and Public Libraries?" Journal of Library Administration 49 (2009): 327-339.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

This is basically a speculative piece; it looks at some current trends, and then authors try to tell us what the future holds for academic and public libraries in terms of their reference services. I found a lot here that made me think, and I found myself making a lot of notes on the margins. Some things I agree with, and others I have reasons to disagree. Either way, the article is worth reading, and it may provoke some conversations in libraries, especially at a time when the value of libraries is constantly questioned by those who either do not really use the library or those just looking to save a few bucks.

The article looks begins with an introduction discussing the contrast between the number of people who visit libraries and the number of people who consider the library as a source of assistance with questions. On a positive note, it seems that people are still coming to the library for their information needs once they have tried the Internet and failed. The authors argue that libraries will continue to have a role in working with patrons, even if those roles will evolve and/or change. We may need to have a serious look at our core values as well.

As usual for me, I am just going to make some notes of items that caught my interest with some comments.

  • "Students would not pick up a printed reference book to save themselves hours of time" (327). One thing these students need to learn is not so much "don't use Wikipedia" as when to use Wikipedia and when to go beyond it. Another thing: in many of my library instruction classes I do teach about printed reference books. As I always tell my students, a good reference book will do three things for you: it will give you a good overview of your topic; it will give you suggestions and ideas of keywords and terms you can then type into an article database to expand your research, and it will give you a small list of items for further reading. A good reference book can save students research time as well as expand their research. But this is something that we librarians need to point out to them.
  • The authors are citing the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which "notes that while 53% of all Americans visited a library in the previous year, only 13% considered the library as a source for assistance in dealing with a specific question" (328). I thought of this as I had a little bit of a tiff over at Digg. Yes, I do use and read items from Digg. I rarely if ever comment because I do have the account linked to my Facebook, so it shows my real name. Should I have considered setting it up with a pseudonym? Probably, but that is another post. Anyhow, what happened was someone dugg a story about Matthew Lesko. I made the comment that much, if not all, the information that Lesko puts in the books he peddles are things that anyone could find for free. The nameless person who replied said that who cared because Lesko was making it convenient (actually, he or she, probably he, was less polite than that, but this is an online forum not known for civility). I replied that, if a person did not want to do their own research, that any good librarian would be happy to help them do it, for free, and without trying to sell them anything. In the end, the pseudonymous commenter still preferred the sub-par "convenience" of paying Lesko money for a book of dubious value than asking for help from an expert. I learned a couple of things from the encounter. One, people who do not put their name on a profile rarely are reasonable or willing to listen to alternatives even when the alternatives may be favorable (ok, I sort of knew that one, but this was a reminder). Two, I thought of incident as I was reading the article and found the statistic from Pew. Most people do not think about going to the library (or calling the library or even contacting it online somehow) to answer basic questions. And let's not even go into the issue of verifying any information there is out there for things like accuracy, so on. Again, as long as there are people who prefer "convenience" over accuracy, I will have a job.
  • "Librarians have an important role to play in teaching patrons how to use online resources and in helping users sort through the vast amount of information that is available in electronic format" (328). It is not just pointing them to the databases and hoping for the best. We will need to teach them how to use the database, but more importantly how to focus and create a search strategy, how to come up with keywords, etc. In other words, we will teach them not only how to use a database but the skills they need to go from one electronic resource to the next. The authors also argue that librarians will have a role in the mediation of information, that is, someone who can sort through all the chaff in order to get the good, relevant stuff.
  • "Reference work has always been about helping the user find the best information, and the skills librarians have developed in this area will prove useful in the coming years–that is, if librarians are willing to take on this role" (328). The key operative words in that sentence are "if librarians are willing to take on this role." If they are willing and able to take the role seriously instead of just keeping an illusion of strict neutrality. If they are willing and able to take the role seriously instead of just falling back into the role of technolusty 2.0 toy peddlers.
  • Another reason why I expect to remain employed: "If anything, in this complex information environment, students and public library users require even more assistance. Finding and critically evaluating information are skills that are necessary, yet are not necessarily being taught" (329). Guess who should be doing that teaching and educating. 
  • The authors go on to mention common suggestions about librarians need to rove, for academic librarians to have office hours in academic departments, and to do a better job in promoting what they do. This is not new; it has been mentioned in the literature, but it is still a good reminder. The part about roving is especially important. You have to get up from the reference desk and at least walk around your library once in a while to engage your patrons. The attitude of "if they need anything, they can come ask" (which I have heard from other librarians) is not going to cut it.
  • Some questions I commonly ask: ". . .what happens to electronic collections when the library decides it can no longer afford a particular database. For many users, there will be issues relating to access to these resources, particularly remote access for users without Internet connections or using dial-up connections" (330-331). Issues with remote access are pretty common at my library, especially with folks in more rural areas who may still be on dial-up (if they are lucky). I always get the vibe that a lot of the profession works on the assumption that everyone has a fast Internet connection no matter where they are, so therefore no need to worry about those who may not have access. The vibe seems to be to make services for those with the fast connections, often disregarding the rest. It's something that personally and professionally bothers me.
  • Then again, librarians have their bad habits too: "Nonetheless, the trend for many librarians is to start with electronic resources first. If librarians are going straight to the Web, then we certainly cannot fault our users for doing the same" (331). Give me a librarian who knows his/her reference collection well and knows how to use it. That seems to be a decreasing skill in the new and upcoming librarians. I try to balance things depending on the request. Articles? I do online to our databases. Ready reference? I will try for the reference book. In the end, it is about what the patron needs, so I use whatever resources I have on hand.
  • "The question is, do we have enough to serve the information needs of our clientele? If the answer is yes, then we need to ask if we are doing enough to encourage the use of the content we already have?" (332). We have to promote our resources as well as teach users how to use them. Buying another database is not always the solution, even if some faculty member thinks so (yes, another little experience I've had to deal with). If we have the resources to meet the information needs, we need to make sure promote and educate the patrons on how to use those resources and what needs such resources can meet.
  • "There are a lot of tools out there, but librarians do not always make the best use of these resources. Continued staff training on these databases and continued awareness of what these resources are useful for is essential for maintaining staff skills that will then translated into useful assistance for library patrons" (332). This points to the importance of good, substantive, and continuous professional development. This is a big reason also why I take time on my own to review resources in print and electronic formats. It is so I know what is available and how to use it in order to help my patrons. A good exercise in this regard has been posting to the library's blog on reference resources. When I implemented our library's blog, I put in a feature known as "The Reference Book of the Week." This type of post allows me to highlight a reference item from our collections for our patrons. In reviewing the item, I learn more about the item or, if it is an item I know already, I get to review its usefulness. I write those posts keeping the following question in mind: why would I want to use this? Here is a sample post. 
  • "Librarians have a strong professional commitment to finding information that is both accurate and has the backing of some authority. However, in the Wikipedia culture, there seems to be an increasing willingness to accept electronic information as accurate without critical analysis of the sources" (332). This reminded me of an article out of LOEX Quarterly I just read
  • "Librarians could simply respond to user disinterest in these areas by giving the user what they want without regard to accuracy or confidentiality concerns" (332). And a good number of librarians already do that; it's not something I agree with. The authors continue to write, "we would argue, however, that librarians have a responsibility to uphold an important foundation of the profession, a commitment to accuracy and the best information as well as to intellectual freedom and privacy. Only by doing so in a visible fashion will we ever be able to communicate the importance of these concerns to our users" (332). I think the part about the commitment to accuracy and best information and intellectual freedom and privacy should be engraved in plaques and placed in every reference desk as far as I am concerned. I think also we should make sure, both in library school and in the field, that the librarians we hire meet and embody those values. If they do not, fire them for they are not giving our patrons the best service possible. We have to lead by example, and we have to continue to educate our patrons and promote our services and values and show they best serve our patrons. It is those values that make us who we are as a professionals and what sets us apart from the Internet noise, misinformation peddling pundits, and other poor substitutes for good accurate information and resources.
  • The authors additionally discuss reader's advisory briefly, which is a topic of interest for me. Personally, I don't think academic libraries are paying enough attention to recreational reading needs of their students, but I think things may be getting better. I know that I do get the occasional question about "what can I read that is good?" or similar. I also try to post awards lists on the library's FB as a way to promote reading when I can. While I do post book reviews of items I read in my GoodReads page (the page is linked on the right side column of this blog, and some of those reviews make it to my blogs), I would like to do some reviews for the library blog. I do read one or two of the new books that arrive now and then. I think it could be a good promotional tool. However, that has not proven as easy. For one, the writing style would be a bit different (probably a bit more formal for the library blog), and it would be nice to get other librarians and library staff to contribute (a suggestion I made that met with some indifference at the time I suggested it). Anyhow, I still like the idea. The authors writes, "the role of extracurricular reading in academic institutions is also being more carefully examined (Elliot, 2007). Readers' advisory services offer academic librarians an opportunity to expand their role and to reach out to their users in new ways" (336). The Elliot citation is an article I have read. Here is the link to my note on it. And while we are on the RA topic, my two readers may also want to see this article by Smith and Young on the subject as it applies to academic libraries. 
  • Finally, the authors conclude that "coupled with a user-centered focus, reference librarians should also reaffirm their commitment to the essential foundations of our profession: service to users, intellectual freedom, and an openness to change" (338). I don't think we need to say much more. Let's get to work.

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That there is a lack of good manners going on these days is pretty much a given. From loud and rude pundits in the media to kids who basically think they are special because they got an award for showing up, there are days when I wonder about the future of our civilization. Lack of charity and empathy seem to be common threads for a lot of people. But I may be getting a little ahead of myself. I wanted to jot down that I read this article from a recent LOEX Quarterly issue. Since these are just some half-baked thoughts, ideas I have been pondering here and there, I am just tossing it here in the old scratch pad rather than making a larger post over at the professional blog. Who knows, I may revisit this sometime, or maybe use it as part of a larger post. 

The citation in full for the item is as follows:

LaBaugh, Ross.,"Ross' Rave: We Have Met the Enemy, and He Is Us." LOEX Quarterly 36.4 (Winter 2010): 11-12.

This short piece made me stop and think a moment because the author is looking at a young 20-something person (what is called a Millenial by the twopointopians these days, to borrow the term from the Annoyed Librarian) who is mostly hooked into her visual and electronic world. The author places her in contrast to the elderly patron with dementia who listens to old radio serials. Ross raises an interesting question about the young girl when she writes, "
she can mimic, but can she construct? . . . . She has little capacity to wonder, to create, to imagine, to see the story in her head. She's a skimmer" (11). It is this skimming ability, if you can call it that, that the twopointopians often celebrate when they keep advocating that libraries become social media centers and game arcades. Sure, many Millenials can mash up and remix samples of music and video, but can they go beyond that? Can they truly imagine and visualize? Can they go past the surface?

But Ross tells us that not all the fault lies in the kid. She writes,

"We drove her to play dates as she watched Elmo on her backseat DVD player. We gave her awards for just showing up, and bragged on our bumpers that she was an honor student. We scheduled homework time, between ballet and dance, and gave her Lunchables, a Mac, and a cell phone. We helicoptered when her teacher gave her a B, and screamed at the coach when she didn't get enough field time. In our misguided attempt to look after our children, we, instead, indulged and entitled them" (11).

Back in my days as a public school teacher, I used to say that all it took to know why a kid was messed up (whether discipline problem, excessive over-entitlement, etc.) was to look at the parents. Once I met the parents, a lot made sense. You can tell a lot about kids now by looking at their parents and their parenting skills, or the lack of said skills. I am a parent myself, so I tend to despair when I see how lax, and often just how neglectful, a lot of parents are. Really? Your parents did not teach you not to put your feet up on the furniture? Ross actually makes reference to one of these cases in her article, and yet, this type of behavior is in fact celebrated in the more "progressive libraries:" sure, let them move the furniture so they can get together in small groups. We can't tell them not to put their feet up; that would be harassment or, as I recently heard, if we tell such we are creating a "stale and antiquated environment" (yes, those were the exact words). I don't necessarily have the answer other than to ask those who celebrate such lack of common matters if I can come to their homes, eat my chicken wings on their couch while putting my feet up on their coffee table. I wonder what the reply would be then. Because if I have learned anything in librarianship, administrators and idealistic hip librarians tend to promulgate policies as long as it does not affect them personally. The thing is the library, as a space, is everyone's living room, so to speak.

Ross discusses a couple of other issues. Another line that stuck with me was this one: "Too often, I worry about a growing disrespect for the many, hard working professionals (like us!) who make libraries possible" (12). I worry about that now and then. And at times, I notice that some of the disrespect comes from our own colleagues and brethren who at times get some need or urge to denigrate or question our professional nature. Yes, as Ross stated, we are hard working professionals, and we should embrace that. Just a thought.

 

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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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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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