Category Archives: academic libraries

People Who Can and Should Influence Change in Libraries

As library systems struggle with finding their relevance within the continuously and rapidly changing digital world, there are a number of things which we (library staff) all need to keep in mind.

The first point is probably the hardest thing to digest – to a certain extent it doesn’t matter what we think – what matters is what others think of us.  As libraries move to re-invent ourselves, which I would say we are doing at a relatively more rapid pace than we have in decades, stop any person walking on the street and ask them what they think of when they hear the word library.  I will put my money on one of the following three responses – books, fines or librarians shushing.

This provides us with what at times feels like an insurmountable set of issues to overcome.  Not only do libraries need to re-invent themselves, we also need to do it while conveying the message externally (in a way that addresses some of the traditional perceptions of libraries the community has come to know – an institution where people still experience barriers to accessing information or having social exchanges).

For this post – I want to write a few thoughts about how to influence change within libraries.  I think it is important to identify the types of attributes the ‘ideal’ staff member would have to possess in order to be able to work within an environment where change is occurring, to address and influence the above issues….

  • A person who sees the need for change and innovation, not only from the perspective of staff but through the lens of library users and non-users. Now it is important to acknowledge that there is a clear delineation between innovators and leaders verses managers.  Innovators and effective leaders who can drive a change process can come from anywhere within an organizations structure.  The issues is, do we allow that to occur – or do we limit it to the detriment of libraries?  Lets use private industry as a case study – if someone on staff within a large corporation has a great idea – would they stifle it because of the ‘level’ the person is within the organization?  For profit industries have a motivation (money and profit) which drives improvement.  Public service organizations also have a motivating factor – better customer experiences.
  • A person who is able to be humble and move beyond their role as ‘expert’.  Becoming an expert in engaging, finding the appropriate role for facilitating the link between people and information (or maybe even people and people), and linking and visualizing the role in which libraries can play in community, is a different kind of expertise that being a spokesperson who informs people of information or existing programs.
  • Someone who can move beyond the perceived barriers to community led work (resources, role of services, the unknown), and not allow these barriers to stop them from trying it.
  • A willingness to seriously accept trial and error – and report on the learnings that occurred when trying new and innovative approaches to working with community.  Anyone who says they ‘have got it’ to working with community – needs to re-evaluate.  When one person has always ‘got’ the answer for community – they need to review the concepts behind the engagement process.
  • A willingness to shift library based responses from ‘no’ it does not fit within our mandate – to how can we work with the community based information needs to make it (or them) fit within the libraries mandate.  If community members are expressing that they see a link between the library and their need, we should be encouraging staff to find the linkage – otherwise it is another lost opportunity for library service development.
  • An acknowledgement that the penalization of community and the concept of librarians as stewards (keepers and holders of information) is outdated.  Libraries once possessed warehouses of information – which community members can now find on the click of an iPad or laptop.  We are no longer entitled to creating barriers to large numbers of potential library users – especially when we should be trying to entice them to use library services, rather than limiting community use.
  • It is important for the ‘ideal’ community based library staff member who wants to be innovative to think about our role in the information exchange and how we engage with community outside the confines of the physical library branch.

This is only a starting point – and is internally focused…. Next we need to convince the really important people, community members, about the changing nature of libraries and our continuing relevance in their lives.

If they still only view libraries simply as a ware house of books, of late fines and fees or shushing when people talk in the library…….  then we have a 😦 future..

~Ken

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Filed under academic libraries, public libraries, The Profession

Shifting the Role of Academic Libraries and Librarians?

Much like public libraries, academic libraries have traditionally been viewed as warehouses of information.  As budgets continue to become more restrained within the current political environment, and technological ‘advances’ make community members feel that information is more publicly accessible, it is vital that librarians take some time to think about our approaches of working with our end-users [please note: Devons last posting on one users experience and the at times surprising responses from librarians, to basic end-user feedback].

Some public libraries (also here) are exploring the potential new roles public librarians can play in meeting the information needs of community members.  As discussed in a recent paper by Sandra Singh, the traditional role of academic libraries has primarily been focused on creating and supporting ‘internal diverse research and teaching collections, providing research support to students and faculty, and offering secondary research and information literacy instruction’ [p. 6].  However, unlike public libraries which have a mandate to serve the entire community, academic libraries have been primarily focused on those affiliated with the academic institution (although most are highly publically subsidized?).

So, as information specialists, we need to ask ourselves, will this continue to be the central role of academic librarians in the future?  Are the general public, funders, faculty, and students receiving the best service under this current library service delivery paradigm?

I STRONGLY urge you to read an article written by Sandra Singh, based on her experience at the University of British Columbia.  This article discusses and proposes different roles for academic librarians – shifting them to become:

  • That of a facilitator which connects the community, organizations, and university units… the librarian ‘looks at its clients and the entire university and all of its expertise, programs and services as its collection or resource base’ [p. 6]

It seems like a reasonable and rational discussion that progressive and innovative academic librarians should be having…

~ Ken

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Filed under academic libraries, community development, public libraries

How academic libraries annoy academics

Here’s a story I’m telling because I think libraries need more allies in the academy. As a librarian-slash-researcher-slash-professor I have these weird insider/outsider (or emic/etic) experiences with academic libraries from time to time. In these experiences (here’s one from last year) I can absolutely rationalise why libraries as institutions are behaving the way they are, yet I am also acutely aware of how these behaviours serve to irritate and even alienate academic faculty members based outside the library. The faculty members where I work my research-librarian job value librarianly expertise. They also pretty much never set foot in any of the libraries on campus, to my knowledge. I think this story exemplifies the reasons behind this behaviour.

A little while ago, I  got a revise & resubmit decision on a manuscript under review. As part of the revisions, I needed to find a couple of citations  for something I’d written. I knew what source I wanted to use, and checked the book’s availability in the OPAC. Its status was “available,” so I schlepped across campus in the rain (of course) to get it. However, the book was not on the shelf.

I logged into the nearby library computer terminal to verify that the book was still supposed to be available. This process took me 4 minutes of standing there waiting for the login to load, authenticate and update software. I checked the record. It still said “available.” I second-guessed myself and figured maybe I’d just missed it, so I decided to go back to the shelf and look again. In order to do this I had to log out of the computer to protect my private library account information that I’d had to input as part of the 4-minute process to check the book’s availability status. Back to shelf. Still not there. Checked all carrels and book trucks on the floor. Nowhere to be found.

So, in an attempt to be helpful, I logged back on to the computer terminal and eventually clicked the “report a problem” button on the record’s display. In the form provided, I explained that the book, while listed as available, was not on the shelf, and that given that I didn’t find it lying around anywhere on book truck/carrels or anything on the floor, it might merit placing a trace on the book so it could be found and/or be labelled lost/missing and replaced. I added that it’s was a fairly hot new volume, so I was sure I wouldn’t be the only one looking for it.

Then I logged out and left the library, of course getting caught by the gates on my way out because any public library books in my bag trip the academic library gates all the time and vice versa.

Got back across campus to my desk. Electronically, without leaving my seat, and using Google rather than a library database, I found an openly-accessible article or two that would suffice. Then I received an email from the library, thanking me for reporting the missing book and informing me that requests to have books traced have to be made in person at the circulation desk at the appropriate branch where the book should be located.

Are you kidding me?

I was feeling pretty patient, if disappointed, up until this point. But, first it’s raining (not the library’s fault!). Then, the book that’s supposed to be available isn’t there (these things happen…). Then the dinosaur computers suck 10 minutes of my time logging in and out to verify the status of the missing book and report it missing (okay, this is getting annoying and why does the library still use computers with floppy disk drives in them?). And now you want me to walk back across campus in the rain to go wait in line at the circulation desk to tell you the information I already reported to you? (This last bit is where I run out of rationales…um, perhaps someone frivolously made up and emailed fictitious trace reports once upon a time?)

I didn’t file the report. Sorry. Maybe the next person who fails to find this “available” book will do it. Not me. I have work to do. I’m on a schedule. I’ve already located two freely accessible substitute resources online and ordered a copy of the book I wanted from an online book retailer.

This is why people who have the means to do so avoid going into the library. Because the library is stuck in archaic systems that suck time. And those systems are presented as normal. When you’re grant-funded, or you’re racing the publications clock for tenure, time is money. Spending half an hour or more wandering back and forth around campus with nothing to show for it, all because electronic systems of communication aren’t yet in this century, is not normal to everyone. And it’s certainly not normal for the most productive faculty members on our campuses – those whose voices could be the most meaningful as allies.

I want my faculty colleagues to be advocates for our university library. So I do what I can to give them warm fuzzies about it, pointing out new acquisitions in their areas, noting that online access to the Journal of Important Stuff is brought to their desktop by the library, etc. But some days the library doesn’t make this easy for me. Some days I’m afraid to tell them too much about the library, in case they actually try to use it and have an experience like the one above.

I absolutely know there are budget constraints, time constraints, people-power constraints and bureaucratic time-suck constraints on academic libraries. I can explain why any given problem with the library systems might exist. But I can’t make archaic systems less frustrating and more worthwhile for people who have the option to avoid contact with the library most of the time. And those are the same people I really want out there speaking for the importance of the library. What a conundrum.

I’ve been sitting on this post, mulling it over for a while. I haven’t worked in a library in almost 5 years. Maybe I’m off-base here. Maybe academic libraries aren’t concerned with how the power faculty at their institutions perceive them. Maybe it’s all about the students and the have-nots of academia these days. Maybe it should be. I dunno. I do think libraries are missing out on opportunities to win powerful allies, but perhaps this is a deliberate move? Maybe you readers have insight to share?

-Greyson

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Filed under academic libraries, advocacy, funding, technology, The Profession

Toughening ourselves up as librarian-researchers: Follow up Post #1

I wasn’t aware that I posted my bit about disappointment with LIS conference research presentations smack dab in between the EBLIP6 conference and the launch of the UK-based Developing Research Excellence and Methods (DREaM) project. Serendipity at it’s finest! Thanks for the attention, and for helping me feel less like an isolated downer, folks.

A few interesting things that have come to my attention via links, twitter and the like

In the UK, there’s this Library and Information Science Research Coalition that’s been around for a couple of years now, although I hadn’t heard of it over here in Canada. It was started by the British Library, and CILIP and JISC and a few other partner organizations. The member orgs get together to influence the LIS research agenda. These folks are behind the new DREaM project I referred to above, which is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and looks cool:

A key goal of the project is to build capacity and capability in the development and implementation of innovative methods and techniques in undertaking LIS research.

Someone also pointed to an article in the journal Library & Information Science Research, which I was vaguely aware of as a journal of LIS research but wasn’t really on my radar as a publishing stuff about LIS research. The article was a commentary bt Ray Lyons on sloppy survey research (that I don’t see openly archived anywhere yet, but hopefully Lyons will do something about that soon), which included the following gem of a statement:

…we in the library and information profession sometimes prefer convenience and expedience over accuracy and thoroughness. Like the most impatient of information seekers, we ignore the fact that inadequate information gathering techniques will lead us quite expediently to the wrong answers.

So true! The same rushed sloppiness we bemoan in information seekers, we too often embody. I mean, I know I do – one of the things I love about being a librarian is that I can beat any of my coworkers in an information duel. I am Quick Draw McInformationist. My “google-fu” is strong and my prowess with controlled vocabularies is stronger. But that’s not the way I should conduct empirical research.

To be continued…Next post will have some thoughts on how we can improve things here/now

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Conference Season 2011: Librarianship Researchers, we need to toughen up

May/June are the epicentre of what I call “conference season.” For me that means looking longingly at my garden as I leave on weekends that should be dedicated to barbecues and street hockey with the kid. However, it also means lots of intensive time for rapid-fire thinking. As a research-embedded health librarian, I often go to non-LIS-type conferences that are aimed at health researchers. While I really like my librarian colleagues, this spring I’ve been thinking about the juxtoposition of how we present research in LIS fora versus health fora.

To my fellow Health Librarianship Researchers: We need to toughen up.

(Frankly, this should probably be addressed to all librarianship researchers, not just those in health, but health is my current niche and where my illustrative examples come from today)

1) Stand up for your methods!

When I am listening to a health librarian give a research presentation, it is all too common for me to end up cringing at what is either weak research methodology or weak defense of methods (or both).We need to deal with this.

I’ll give a specific example from a recent conference, because the speaker in this example is a very well-respected tenured LIS faculty member in an ALA-accredited institution, who has a long and established track record of important research and advocacy for libraries, and thus I think fair game for public critique of research presentations. Dr. Marshall gave a keynote talk at CHLA/ABSC on a study that will be very important to health libraries and librarians – especially in clinical settings such as hospitals. Yes, this is the much-needed and highly anticipated update to the Rochester Study! Very exciting stuff.

Now, obviously this talk was a conference presentation, and in that kind of setting there’s never enough time to fully describe methods. That’s part of why we have time for questions afterward – so audience members can ask about areas of particular interest that were not explained in the talk.

In the question period after the talk, when people asked about methods, however, I found that even this prominent LIS faculty member was a bit wishy-washy. For example, rather than defending the reliability of her research, or explaining why reliability was perhaps not the appropriate question to ask about the qualitative portion of her investigation, the speaker demurred, basically saying that well, nothing’s perfect and we all do our best.

WHAT? I mean, yes nothing’s perfect and I’m sure we all do try to do our best, but that is how you respond to someone questioning your methods? When I mentally place this faculty member at my workplace, presenting to the faculty in my home department, she gets torn apart. Sitting there in the audience, I had a vision of the dreaded librarian “niceness” working to discredit our field in the face of other disciplines.

To give this speaker the benefit of the doubt, she might present and defend completely differently in front of another audience – say, an audience of economists. Also, she could have been having an off-day, or any number of things. BUT, this isn’t the only example I’ve seen of this type of thing, and she’s not doing librarians any favours by being soft in front of members of our own discipline. As a leader in our field, she should be modelling rigourous research and the ability to explain and defend it for us.

2) Policy-based evidence: We need to recognize and avoid it

I saw a few examples of this during the current conference season, but I feel bad pointing specific fingers because I don’t want to be “mean” or discouraging to novice researchers. (Yes, I am aware that this is the dreaded librarian “niceness” manifesting in me, and I don’t have the distance to know if it’s good or bad.)  However, I don’t think my naming a particular presentation from a particular conference is that useful, as you can probably conjure up your own examples of library policy-based evidence without much effort.

Here’s what I see: Librarians do a lot of surveys. Especially Masters-level academic librarians, who are supposed to do some research and base policy decisions on some sort of evidence. User surveys are pretty common, and this is reinforced by our love of LIBQUAL+. We also have this idea that survey research is “simple” and thus a masters-level professional can do it just fine with no methodological problems. This I would dispute. Surveys *can* be simple, just as many other research methods can be simple. But surveys are also really easy to do badly. And we do a fair amount of bad, or at least biased, surveys.

At pretty much every library conference I attend, I see presentations of surveys with conclusions that do not follow from the actual results, and/or surveys that were clearly (albeit often not purposely) designed to justify a particular policy move. This is certainly not unique to libraries, or health libraries. Lots of fields generate policy-based evidence. The federal government does it at times. (*ahem* Long form census -> National Household Survey)

But when I see librarians doing things like:

  1. presenting surveys with extremely low response rates, and
  2. no demographic information to assume this small sample is representative of the whole population, then
  3. basing conclusions on the responses of the majority of a tiny minority of the whole, with no discussion of response bias,

I am frankly appalled. I know ML/IS research methods classes tend to be generic and weak, but that we in the profession continue to reward shoddy research methods with conference presentations and other support is horrible. And doing a huge disservice to our profession. Not only are we probably making poor decisions based on lousy research, but we are completely undermining our own efforts to position librarians as professionals with research expertise.

Yet, even I am reluctant to rake someone, especially a first-time presenter, over the coals in the open question period after a low-quality presentation. It’s “mean.” I feel peer pressure not to ask the same questions of my librarian peers that I would ask to my researcher peers back at home/work. I reassure myself that maybe I will talk to an individual privately afterward, if I can catch her. But honestly, this often doesn’t happen.

What do we do? How do we toughen up? How do we get others in our profession to toughen up?

I think one thing that would help would be for our visible and prominant leaders in the field to engage in more public methodological debate regarding LIS research, personally. If we’re going to do research and position ourselves as reseach experts (or even just research-competent), we need to sharpen our chops.

-Greyson

Follow-up post: here

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Filed under academic libraries, research, The Profession

Evaluation, assessment, research & impact

Around the same time I noticed that a number of academic libraries were posting for new (or newish) “assessment librarians,” I went to a cool lecture by Dr. Eliza Dresang about a project teaming LIS researchers with children’s librarians to investigate impact of early literacy programming.

After the lecture, a local children’s librarian extraordinaire and I began a conversation – still ongoing – about assessment & impact research in public libraries. I’m a firm believer that in order to a) provide the best possible service to the community, and b) justify funding, libraries ought to be doing assessment beyond mere program evaluation.

Unfortunately, library school “research methods” courses seem generally weak, and there is limited professional development on research methods for professional librarians. Even excellent library programs often result in needlessly-biased evaluation reports that could have provided more valid evidence if only the methods have been stronger. Even senior librarians in public libraries confuse evaluation with assessment with research (yes there is ample grey area in there, but the terms are not synonymous), and fall into the trap of trying to demonstrate impact & value by counting things/measuring productivity.*

Adding to the challenge, few public libraries are intimately connected with professional academic researchers, and few librarians have the time to learn how to conduct unbiased program evaluations, let alone develop high-quality impact assessment skills.

In my mind, large public library systems should consider taking a page out of academic libraries’ new book and hiring internal research staff to demonstrate value and investigate impact. What’s more, government bodies that oversee libraries (e.g., the BC Public Libraries Services Branch) should be hiring staff to a) support library-based assessment & research, and b) coordinate, liaise with & conduct research on the value and impact of public library services.

I know that asking more more staff seems expensive, and there have been a couple of years of belt-tightening in a row at this point, but some of the best things the library sector could do to improve our ability to advocate for funding are to

  1. provide evidence of impact and
  2. ensure that services are relevant to the community

-Greyson

*To those nodding along with my concerns but unsure of how to move beyond these common problems, I recommend Markless & Streatfield’s Evaluating the Impact of Your Library, published by CILIP’s Facet Press. It does a great job of walking one through that process of mid-level assessment between basic program eval/library stats and full-fledged long-term impact research.

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Filed under academic libraries, funding, government, inclusion/exclusion, LIS education, public libraries, The Profession

The metered Internet threat to innovation & access to information

Remember the early days of mass public access to the world wide web? Back when AOL was king, noisy dial-up modems were par for the course and having any graphics on a webpage was super-fancy? Remember in 1993 or so, when you’d connect to the Internet, download your email as quickly as possible, disconnect to read the text and write your responses, then connect and send your pre-written emails as quickly as possible? It’s the type of scenario today’s kids would find baffling and hilarious: clunky, unwieldy, expensive, and certainly not one that encouraged increased use of the technology.

Well, everything old is new again. The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission), Canada’s telecom regulator that brought us nearly-neutrality rules just a year ago, recently issued a decision on “usage based billing” or UBB (Telecom Decision CRTC 2011-44). And the meter on your Internet may well be back on – albeit measuring bytes rather than seconds this time around.

A lot of reaction to this decision is coming out, and more analysis will follow in the coming days, I’m sure. OpenMedia.ca has a petition up, Canadian news outlets are covering the decision (and reaction) widely, and online content providers are understandably furious.

I haven’t gotten a chance to comb through the decision in detail yet, and I have to take a couple of boys to the science museum shortly, but there are a few points I want to make right off the bat. I may be back later to comment further or clarify these quick notes.

1) UBB is not the same issue as net neutrality (unless #2 applies)

The reason usage-based billing sounds so appealing, so normal,  is that we do pay per item/metered amount for a lot of goods. We pay for utilities like hydro (hydro = electricity for you non-Canadians) on a metered basis, and many areas also meter water (although that is not without controversy). Frankly, the UBB idea is a brilliant example of big ISPs hearing the pro-neutrality argument that Internet should be treated like a utility and running with that concept, turning it to their advantage.

A lot of the same folk who were up in arms over net neutrality are upset about this UBB ruling. And they have good reason to be outraged. However, in strict sense, UBB is not in contradition with net neutrality (where net neutrality = slowing down of selected content en route to the consumer). My understanding of the CRTC UBB decision is that it is supposed to be content-agnostic, and only size-based. Now, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, policy-wise, anyway (as I will discuss below), but it’s not necessairly non-neutral.

However, metered use makes sense for goods for which we have  a finite supply, not for things like information, which do not require rationing. Economically speaking, information is a non-rivalrous good, meaning that my use of the good (say, a webpage, journal article or TV show) does not in any way prevent you from also using & enjoying the same good.

I know, I know, there’s that old argument about your pipes getting clogged because your neighbours are downloading too much big stuff all the time, but frankly Canadian ISPs have been given ample opportunity to show evidence of this overload, and none has materialised. In fact, the logs we did see during the net neutrality hearings showed the exact opposite of congestion, making it clear that this is just a cash grab. (I do want to make the point, however, that even if congestion were present – and eventually it may exist if ISPs fail to invest in their infrastructure – that does not mean that the correct response is to slow down Canada’s Internet in response. Other industries are required to upgrade their infrastructure over time as needs change or parts get old and fail.)

2) UBB is a potential neutrality workaround

While I think the intent of the CRTC  is allow metering of all Internet content equally within the same subscription plan, and to do otherwise is likely a violation of the still-untested CRTC net neutrality rules, there is a lot of scope here for ISPs to provide favourable conditions for content from which they benefit.

For example, an ISP may offer special promotional “exemptions” from UBB for content offered by their parent company – dinging, say, Netflix while exempting their own online TV/movie service. This isn’t throttling content in the “pipes” or charging a toll to content providers for content delivery, it’s charging a toll to users for content access. It’s throttling the consumer’s wallet.

3) UBB is a giant threat to access to information, and to innovation

Here’s where it gets really ugly. Imagine what it would (will?) be like when we are charged by the byte for information downloaded (and possibly also uploaded?) over our connections.

No one knows how much bandwidth they’re using so they minimize use, fearing fees. AJAX is no longer an asset; it is a liability and we disconnect from continuously refreshing websites to save bandwidth. The pressure is on for online content to be as compressed as possible, hitting the art community hard. Community wireless, such as building-wide wifi in co-op housing, becomes potentially pricey and hard to control.Schoolkids are no longer encouraged to post videos from the classroom to demonstrate and share learning. Employers start to police recreational Internet use more than ever. Coffee shops and other hotspots stop offering wifi all together, making life harder for freelancers, the self-employed, students and others without official workspaces.

Fearing the bandwidth limits on their personal subscriptions, the middle-class flock to libraries to do their downloading. Libraries cannot afford this. Libraries may not be able to afford current levels of bandwidth use, if metered, particularly academic libraries or those dealing with subject areas involving rich media (art, film, music…). I cannot over-emphasize the threat to public access to information via libraries here: libraries are currently THE places in society where anyone can access the Internet. If libraries have to limit this, ration it somehow, or lose this role, it will be a tragedy both for libraries and for the public who rely on library Internet. When public Internet access is limited or closed, public access to information, and therefore public participation in democracy, is seriously impinged. With the government increasingly moving to online-only forms, information, and dialogue with the public, how responsible is it to simultaneously move to meter Internet use?

We may move backwards in time, returning to network television for entertainment. Online course reserves could be pricier for the university than those old print custom course packages. We might actually revive the fax machine?!? Why would a country want to push its population back in time, when the rest of the world is jetting ahead with innovative multimedia content and new delivery systems? Hard to say. Just dumb policy-making? The cynic in my says it could be that those making the policy stand to benefit from old media technologies and fear the threat of the new. However we may drag our feet and try to slow things down within national borders, change and innovation are going to happen – if they need to happen elsewhere first, that will happen. Maybe the CRTC needs to attend Karen Schneider’s talk at MLA?

-Greyson

ETA – Well, that didn’t take long. The decision has already been appealed. Fasten your seatbelts!

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