By Meredith Farkas | February 1, 2011
I’m one of those people who has a hard time waiting for people’s birthday to give them presents. Whenever I try to surprise my husband with something, I always end up telling him about it early. I can keep other people’s secrets, but I’m terrible at keeping my own. So I’ve felt like the cork in a bottle of champagne trying to wait until it was totally official to tell my friends and colleagues my good news.
The news is that I’m moving on to a new job in a new library in a new state on the other side of the country. EEK! Starting in late April, I will be the Head of Instructional Services at Portland State University in Oregon. I’ll be working with a terrific team of liaison librarians to provide instruction to a student population that is almost 10 times the size of Norwich! There are some unique instructional challenges at PSU that really attracted me to the position, and I got the sense during the interview that the time was right for creating meaningful change in instructional services there. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be working with such a change-oriented, user-focused and dedicated group of professionals and I’m looking forward to the new challenges this position will bring. Being on the tenure track should be… interesting… but I’ve had a lot of research and article ideas percolating in my head for years that I’ll finally have the impetus to pursue.
The moving part I am looking forward to far less. While the whole family is really excited about moving to Portland (ok, Adam and I are; Reed at 22 months, doesn’t have a clue what’s coming), it’s going to be difficult to leave Vermont and the logistics of moving across the country with a toddler are just miserable. I’m even letting my husband pick out our rental home in the middle of February since someone has to stay home with the little guy. For a control freak like me, this whole moving thing is a major exercise in letting go. I know living in Portland is going to afford my son so many opportunities he simply wouldn’t have had in Vermont and it’ll be fun to live in a place with a renowned restaurant scene, lots of parks, major cultural opportunities, and 15 Targets (the closest one to us now is over 100 miles away!). Vermont is a wonderful place, but the career opportunities here are extremely limited and I knew that if I didn’t leave Vermont now, I’d have to leave at some point in the future. Better to go when Reed’s not even two than when he gets into school and gets attached to friends and his life here. Portland seems like a good place for Reed to grow up. Having a child has had a huge impact on my career trajectory and choices — how could it not?
I was extremely lucky to start my career at Norwich (especially since my dream job was to be a distance learning librarian and who gets their dream job their first time out???). I’ve gotten experience in so many aspects of librarianship (public services, distance learning, curriculum development, budgeting, supervision, collection development, working closely with faculty, outreach, systems, emerging tech, committee work, statistics gathering and analysis, project management, etc.). It’s been great to have a Director across the hall whose door is open to me anytime. It’s been refreshing to work at a place where staff are so open to change and where the biggest barrier to getting things done is often your own energy and time. I think working in a small library is perfect for a first job, because you get to do a bit of everything and really figure out where you want your career to go in the long-run. I dreaded teaching when I got into the profession; now it’s my favorite part of my work. I never thought I’d want to be an administrator; now it’s my long-term goal. At a larger institution, the distance learning librarian my never get to teach face-to-face classes; I was thrown head-first into it. And thank goodness for that! Working at a small place made me more flexible, collegial and focused on what’s best for the library/patrons rather than on the cool projects I wanted to do. I wouldn’t be the person I am today professionally if it weren’t for my experiences at Norwich. For so many reasons, moving on will be bittersweet for me.
So Portland (and Oregon) librarians, I can’t wait to connect with you! I already know of some really cool librarians in Portland and in the Oregon State University system, so I couldn’t be more excited about contributing to the profession at a local level and making friends with some fantastic librarians. Adam and I never really thought we’d live on the West Coast, and we don’t have any family out there, so the idea of moving to an unfamiliar city far away from our previous life is quite daunting. I’ve had second thoughts about such a big move a hundred times over the past month, but I feel in my gut that this is going to be the right place for us.
I’m looking forward to heading out in early April toward the beautiful Willamette River Valley. Hopefully we won’t shoot any bison, break a wagon wheel, or get typhoid along the way.
By Meredith Farkas | January 18, 2011
I really like eBooks, which is something that surprised me when I won my Kindle last Spring in a raffle. In fact, just about every book I’ve read since then has been on my Kindle or occasionally on my husband’s iPad (I greatly prefer reading on the Kindle). When I first assumed I would hate reading ebooks, I’d based it on the experiences I’d had reading books on my computer through academic platforms like NetLibrary and eBrary. Reading on the Kindle is nothing like that – the absence of a glossy backlit screen is key for me. And the consumer ebook market seems to have exploded in just the past six months, even for those who are far from early adopters. When my dad got a Kindle in September I knew eBook readers had arrived. Even at Norwich I’m starting to get inquiries from patrons about whether they can read ebooks from the library on their mobile devices. There’s no doubt at this point: Ebooks do have a real place in the future of reading. Unfortunately, the way most people are using eBooks at this point completely bypasses the library, and this is what publishers and ebook manufacturers seem to want. Why wouldn’t they?
And the options that libraries now have for ebooks (in terms of content, interface, interoperability, etc.) are, by and large, piss-poor. I am deeply concerned about the fact that many libraries are increasing their collections of ebooks to the point where a huge chunk of their collection development purchases are ebooks. They provide a compelling model. In many cases, multiple students can read the same book at once. The books take less time and effort in terms of processing and take up no physical space at all. But the negatives, the uncertainties of where the ebook market is headed, and the current restrictions most ebook vendors have placed on their products often outweigh the benefits. That doesn’t mean we can bury our heads in the sand and ignore this huge trend, but I also agree strongly with Eli Neiburger at the Library Journal eBook Summit that libraries are screwed (watch his presentation from the Summit here and here).
This post is basically a stream of consciousness outline of some of the concerns that have been swirling around in my head regarding eBooks. I am far from an ebook expert. I don’t read contracts from vendors and I don’t know the ins and outs of the ebook market, DRM, first sale doctrine, etc. I’m just someone in charge of collection development for our largest School who realizes how little most librarians know about what we’re getting into with ebooks (me included) and who is really concerned about where things are going. If you want to hear about eBooks from people with deeper knowledge of the subject, here are a few people I can recommend: Sue Polanka, Jason Griffey, Eric Hellman and Tom Peters.
There are differences between eBooks for individuals and eBooks for libraries to lend
Buying a physical book versus checking it out from the library are not radically different processes. Both have very small barriers (leaving the house to get a library book or buy a book at a bookstore vs. waiting at least a day or more to get a book purchased online). Getting an eBook on my kindle is ridiculously simple. Click on the order button and it’s there. Heck, I can even preview part of the first chapter for fee to see if I want to buy it! And for the average person who just wants to read a book and be done with it, they don’t care about it working on other devices, any restrictions on lending, etc. Getting an eBook from a library is often a circuitous and confusing process; so confusing that libraries have to create tutorials on how to do it. This doesn’t even take into account the myriad interoperability issues when patrons want to actually read a library ebook on their mobile/ereader device. And the fact that libraries often can’t get eBook packages/options that provide the content our patrons want (especially in academic libraries). The worst part is that I can’t see this getting better in the future when it makes no financial sense for Amazon, B&N, Sony, etc. to make it easy for libraries to get and provide this content to their patrons. If the e-reader providers largely control the market for eBooks, libraries will be aced out.
What about ILL?
Interlibrary loan is an important part of what we do. Many consortia have cooperative collection development agreements where they will not duplicate collections and can borrow from each other. What does that mean when what they’re buying are ebooks? Only a small number of ebook vendors (actually, Springer is the only one I know of) allow for any sort of ILL, which means that the more our book collections go digital, the less we will be able to loan to other libraries or borrow from other libraries. That libraries are going in this direction without considering the impact on ILL are really shooting ourselves, our patrons, our profession, in the foot. Just try to imagine your library without interlibrary loan. I know I can’t.
Too many platforms, too little interoperability
In a perfect world, we’d have a collection of eBooks that were all accessible through a single easy-to-use, easy-to-search platform. Unfortunately, that doesn’t look like it’ll ever happen. The best we can do is to make our eBook collections findable via our library catalog, but that lacks the sophisticated search functionality of the individual platforms themselves. I teach our distance learners how to search for books in the catalog AND eBrary, even though our catalog contains the eBrary MARC records. Why? Because the search functionality of eBrary is better. eBrary can search the full-text of books and will often pull up a much better results list.
We get a lot of Gale’s literature reference works through Literature Resource Center. However, LRC doesn’t contain all of Gale’s literature reference works, and if you want to subscribe to those, you can’t get it on the same platform as the LRC. For example, we want to get Gale’s Children’s Literature Review since English majors seem to have increasing interest in research YA authors. Given the size of the collection (well over 100 volumes) and the direction that reference collections are going in, it made sense to look into getting it online. The problem is, we can’t get this collection through Literature Resource Center. Instead, we would need to catalog it and hope that users stumble upon it. We teach English students to search MLA International Bibliography and Literature Resource Center. We teach them about our print reference works. We teach students how to find books of criticism on specific works or authors in the catalog. Now, we need to somehow explain that while most of our reference collection lives on the first floor of the library, some of it is online and accessible through the catalog if you know the specific title of the work (since it’s not like you could do a search for Roald Dahl in the catalog and have the Children’s Literature Review pop up). This was difficult enough for me to explain in a blog post for librarians; just imagine me trying to explain all this to a bunch of Freshman in our EN 102 classes!
And how do you browse a shelf of eBooks?
Browsing is still an important part of the discovery experience. Every time I am helping a student find books on a specific topic, I will suggest that they look to the left and right of the books they are specifically looking for on the shelf to see if there’s something that didn’t come up in our search that would be a great fit for their research. There’s nothing like serendipity, and serendipitous browsing is still not replicated well online. And this becomes even more difficult to imagine replicating when you have a mix of ebook collections and print books. The collection becomes even more fragmented, even more difficult to browse.
DRM and crazy rules for “lending”
I always feel embarrassed when I have to explain to our distance learners that they can’t do any of the things they’d like to do with eBrary books. Our distance learners are often on the road for their work. Many are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and have Internet access for very limited periods of time. I even had a student on a submarine who had 1 hour per day to access the Internet and get all of the work that requires an Internet connection done. So when I tell them, no, you can’t download the books; no, you can’t print more than a small portion of any book; no, you can’t read them offline, I feel like a jerk. Why are we providing such a crappy product to our students that doesn’t meet their needs in any way, shape or form?
And of course eBrary says that their DRM is absolutely necessary to protect the copyright holders, but then you have a platform like EBook Library, where users can download books using Adobe Digital Editions where the document will simply expire after a predetermined amount of time. There are ways to protect copyright holders and still provide eBooks in a way that works for most users. From what I’ve seen (which isn’t a lot), eBook Library so far has come the closest to providing the sort of user experience my students need. But, of course, the more platforms you purchase or lease access to books on, the more different rules and restrictions they will have. And patrons won’t understand why you can download this eBook, but not this one, or why this one will let you print, but this other one will stop you at 5 pages.
Then you add in the nightmare that is ensuring that ebooks work on mobile devices and dedicated e-readers. There are different formats, different constraints. Then you bring in the issue of accessibility, which is a huge legal issue that too few librarians think about on a regular basis. And not knowing where the ebook market is going and what devices patrons will own in the future, makes it difficult to make any decisions now. But at the same time, can libraries afford to sit and wait until there’s greater clarity regarding the future of books?
What do we own and what does that mean?
When my library buys 20 physical books, we own those books. Those books don’t disappear unless a patron loses them (in which case we usually recoup our costs) or we choose to remove the book from the collection. We can ILL those books, we can put them on reserve, and there are no further costs for that book (unless it requires rebinding) beyond the initial purchase. But take a look at our eBrary collection. We pay lots of money each year for access to tens of thousands of books but we don’t own anything. We cancel our subscription and those books are gone. Books get added and disappear from our eBrary collection depending on their current deals with publishers, meaning that something a student used for their research two months ago may not actually be in our collection when they are looking to cite something from it.
Then there are eBook collections that libraries have perpetual access to. For those, we usually have to pay a platform fee each year to keep our access to that book. We can’t just mount it on our own servers. Some vendors, like EBook Library allow you to archive your own copy, but I’m not really sure what that means since it’s not like we can then email copies of it to students or just put it up on our server for anyone to download. If EBook Library fails, I’m not sure how we would make those books we “own” accessible. I know that some vendors belong to Portico and that Portico has now opened up a separate eBook preservation initiative, but the majority of eBook vendors we would want to work with are not currently members. I’m not an expert in this area by any stretch of the imagination and I’ve never read over every detail of the contracts we have with these vendors, but I am concerned that some librarians may not be thinking about the long-term preservation of the ebooks they are purchasing.
Patron driven acquisitions is not a magic bullet
I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read recently about patron-driven acquisitions and the vast majority have been entirely positive, raising no concerns whatsoever about the practice. I’m not saying I think it’s a bad idea, but I don’t think it’s the magic bullet that many are making it out to be.
Collection development is a tricky game. It’s not just about building a collection for the people who use it today, but anticipating what people might want in the future. For example, my library had a rather poor Chinese history collection. Then we got a Chinese major, a professor to teach Chinese history, and the possibility of a Chinese studies major starting next year. Suddenly, in one year, I had to put a tremendous amount of my social sciences collection budget towards filling in that area. Right now at Norwich, Latin American history is not a hot area of study, but I still make an effort to buy some of the best works in the area. There has to be a balance struck. Obviously, you are going to spend more on areas that people are studying now, but you have to keep an eye on creating a balance that recognizes that hot areas of study change over time.
We actually did patron-driven acquisitions for our distance learners for a few years. Instead of doing ILL for our students who live all over the world, we purchased whatever they wanted. After two years, I looked at the books that had been purchased in the first year and found that only two of them had circulated more than that first time. We now have large collections of books on Zulu warfare and the military history of Australia because two students were interested in those subjects, but will those ever get used again? It’s highly unlikely. Just because one student is interested in a specific book or topic doesn’t mean that others will be. I’m not saying that purchasing some books that students want makes sense, but having seen what a 100% patron-driven acquisitions model looks like, I don’t think it solves any problems.
Look, I get it. We’re in a tough spot. We’re trying to do more with less. We’re trying to justify continued funding in the face of the fact that such a small proportion of what we buy gets used NOW. But I’m not sure that moving a large portion of our acquisitions budget to patron-driven acquisitions is a responsible decision in the long-run. I do think putting some of a library’s collection budget towards patron-driven acquisitions is an excellent idea and that’s what we’re experimenting with this semester with Ebook Library. But I still feel in my bones that it would do a disservice to the long-term health of the collection to rely solely on the taste of today’s patrons. To me, cooperative collection development is a model for sustainable collection-building that makes much more sense.
I don’t know where ebooks, patron-driven acquisitions, or e-readers are going. When I read posts like Andy Bukhardt’s about the horseless carriage vs. the ebook, I wonder if reading online in the future will not resemble in any way what we do and use for it today. It seriously hurts my brain to even imagine what reading will look like 10-20 years from now. What I do know is that the more I read about ebooks and the future of publishing, the more concerned I get. And the more I talk to librarians about this the more I realize how little many of us think about any of the larger issues (beyond content and perhaps accessibility) when we think about getting eBook collections. I actually saw a forum post in response to my American Libraries column about the Terms of Service regarding Kindle books that they didn’t sign any agreement when they bought a Kindle for their library. Sigh… People with very little understanding of these issues (and I include myself in that group) are making big decisions for libraries. Ebooks can no longer be the realm of knowledge of just a few experts; we ALL need to understand the current issues, keep up with new writing on the subject (from librarians, educators, technologists and the publishing/e-reader/mobile device world), and scan the horizon to gain some sense of where things are going. Otherwise, how can we possibly make collection decisions about these materials? Whether we want to make those decisions or not, they are going to be continuously foisted on us over time. I had a faculty member last semester ask if we could get the Encyclopedia of Associations online instead of in print. Our patrons are going to increasingly come to us with e-readers that they got for the holidays or their birthday, wanting to see what the library is offering that they can read on their shiny new device. Whether we want to face it or not, we owe it to our patrons and the future of our libraries to learn as much as we can about this stuff so that we can make decisions that best serve the patrons and the institution.
Who are your go-to eBook experts? Who would you recommend that others read on the subject? I’ll add those recommendations to the Library Success Wiki.
By Meredith Farkas | January 12, 2011
Let me say this first. I am not an expert in ALA or LITA (or even ACRL) bylaws regarding participation, open meetings, etc. I’m sure a lot of very experienced and awesome people like Jason Griffey, Aaron Dobbs and Cindi Trainor could speak to these issues from the standpoint of someone who is immersed in this world. I am speaking to these issues as someone who does not have the funding nor the inclination to attend both Midwinter and Annual (since those would likely be the only things I’d do all year), but still wants to contribute to her membership organization and is willing to put in the time and effort. I’m also speaking as someone who has dedicated her professional development work over the years to improving access to professional development opportunities for librarians who cannot physically attend conferences. In fact, I even got an award from LITA for my work in this area.
I first heard about the LITA Board shutting down Jason Griffey’s live stream of their meeting through Michelle Boule’s excellent post on the subject (so nice to see a post like this from you Michelle! You’ve been missed). Jason is not just some rabble-rouser who is trying to subvert authority; he’s an elected member of the LITA Board who has dedicated his time in LITA to making the organization more transparent and responsive to the needs of its members. He has had a part in creating most of the best new things to come out of LITA in the past 4 years. I’ve been to and participated in a number of events and meetings that Jason has streamed to make them accessible to people who were unable to attend and I think it’s wonderful that it extended the reach of and conversation about events at ALA Annual/LITA/Midwinter beyond the physical room. I do agree that Jason should have broached the subject of streaming the meeting with the other members of the LITA Board prior to the meeting, but I’d bet that he’d have been turned down and we’d never have heard about it. Maybe it was important for him to do this and be turned down publicly so that we’d know how open our “open meetings” really are.
What I really couldn’t understand was the argument that “we paid a consultant to talk to a Board, not hundreds of people.” First of all, that consultant was paid with money that came from our dues. Why we are any less deserving of access to that report is beyond me. Second of all, the LITA Board meeting was not “closed doors.” It was an open meeting — open to anyone attending ALA Midwinter, so the report couldn’t have had any confidentiality tied to it. There legally could have been hundreds of people in the room who weren’t even LITA members, and they would have been allowed to hear the report bot not members of the organization who could not attend physically. This doesn’t make sense to me other than that it’s the way they’ve done business since before these collaborative technologies existed.
While I do think these meetings should be streamed, I don’t think it should happen in the way that Jason has been doing things. I think this speaks to a bigger issue — that all of the efforts to make these LITA meetings and events more open have spearheaded by individuals. That does not a sustainable project make. If Jason Griffey and other individuals like him suddenly couldn’t attend LITA, ALA and Midwinter, would we suddenly not have any more streaming? This sort of access should happen, but it should be a regular part of how LITA does business. But the way it is now is doomed to failure because it’s seen by most people as something extraneous, or even as “entertainment.” If LITA wants to be responsive to its membership, when fewer and fewer people can attend conferences but still have not lost their passion for contributing to the profession, then it needs to look at how it can accommodate participation and keeping-up from afar. Jason’s done a beautiful job of bringing these issues to the fore, but now it’s time to either make it a part of the way LITA does business or make it clear that this is not the way LITA does business.
Several years ago, I decided that I wanted to get more involved in ALA. I was asked to be on Jim Rettig’s Presidential Initiatives Committee and the ACRL Annual Conference Virtual Conference Committee, so I thought I’d do both. Working with the diverse and impressive group involved in making Jim’s presidency awesome was truly a pleasure, but it was the ACRL committee that really changed my view of participation in ALA (or at least in ACRL). I had always heard that virtual participants were never treated like full citizens on committees and it was one of the big reasons why I hadn’t previously wanted to get involved. With this committee, at least, that could not have been further from the truth. Around that time I was getting funded by ALA for my travel to Annual and Midwinter as I was covering the exhibit hall for American Libraries, so I was actually able to attend all of the meetings for my committee (until I got too pregnant to do so). However, there were other members of the committee who could only attend a few, one or none of the meetings. At every meeting I attended, we had webinar software set up and were able to have a hybrid virtual/physical meeting. This was more than just streaming what went on at the meeting — the people online were just as active participants as those physically in the room. We also met several times synchronously online to catch up, make decisions and conduct other business. It was nice to feel like I could still be helpful and involved when I was too pregnant to go anywhere. Heck, I was able to give a talk for the virtual conference when I was 9 months pregnant! That whole experience gave me new hope that I could make a real contribution to ACRL; that virtual participants didn’t have to be second class citizens.
I would have gotten more involved in ACRL immediately after my experience with the Virtual Conference Committee, but I had a baby a month after ACRL’s National Conference and have been just a tad bit busy with that bundle of energy and moxie since. Now that he’s nearly two, I’ve decided to volunteer with ACRL again and am eager to see what committees I end up on this time around. I hope that I’ll be able to participate through a mixture of virtual and physical participation, since I neither can afford to nor want to attend two ALA conferences each year. I hope that I’ll be given the opportunity to do good things for ACRL, because I’m certainly willing to put in the time and energy. And LITA? I decided to let my membership to LITA lapse. From what I’ve seen, I feel like that division is languishing and that those who want to innovate and make LITA more relevant and accessible are facing one brick wall after another. ACRL has responded in many ways to the needs of its membership (Cyber Zed Shed, OnPoint Chats, Virtual Institute, online classes, National Virtual Conference, etc.), making professional development experiences and participation more interesting and accessible to those who can’t physically attend conferences. I feel like I can find a home at ACRL, because I believe that the organization is moving in the right direction (they’re not there yet, but I believe they will be). I know there are a lot of really fantastic people working to make LITA better (take a look at the EParticipation Task Force Recommendations), but I get the sense that they are swimming against the tide.
ALA, LITA and ACRL are not organizations that embrace or are even structured for radical change, but I think the age that we are in (where people have less funding, more job stress, and more opportunities to participate in professional development, network and make professional contributions online) requires radical change to ensure the survival of the organizations. Enabling more people to participate virtually is not going to kill ALA. People do not just attend ALA and Midwinter because of committee responsibilities and to hear what a Board has to say. They also attend because there is still nothing that holds a candle to attending a conference, learning from someone standing in front of you, seeing old friends, and having long talks with like-minded librarians over sushi and beer. Offering more opportunities to benefit from and make contributions to the organization virtually will increase overall participation and will likely attract members who wouldn’t otherwise have joined because they didn’t feel like ALA/LITA/ACRL represented their needs.
But don’t just read my views on this. Here are some other interesting perspectives:
How Much Is Enough? at ACRLog
Disconnect of expectations between physical and virtual participants at Library Web Chic
New Technology, Open meetings? Not at LITA at Thoughts from a library administrator
Dear ALA, about Midwinter at The Sheck Spot
A Hybrid ALA For 2015 at ACRLog
Virtual Participation on a Shoestring – LITA Rocks the House! from ALA TechSource Blog
Why virtual participation in ALA must be legalized, not decriminalized at Free Range Librarian
By Meredith Farkas | December 30, 2010
Karen Schneider published an interesting post yesterday under the pithy title The Devil Needs No Advocate. Other than the title, it’s a post that I mostly agree with and it got me thinking about where it’s useful to play the role of critic or devil’s advocate and where it’s not. Because I do think the devil needs an advocate and the role of devil’s advocate is a critically important one at any institution.
Karen writes about the Hayward Public Library that introduced a Netflix-like system for their patrons. So far, it’s been unsuccessful. Does this mean it was a bad idea? Maybe, maybe not. It might not be the right idea for their population. It might just not be marketed well yet. It might be an idea ahead of its time. It might just require some tweaks. I completely agree with Karen when she writes “excellence also requires much behind-scenes sausagemaking and experimentation. This is particularly true for new ideas. It is extremely hard to distinguish good ideas from bad ideas early in the iterative design process.” Sometimes, no matter how well you know your patrons, no matter how much research you do, no matter how much you flog an idea, it can still fail.
When I was a distance learning librarian, I tried out a number of different services that didn’t work out. They seemed like great ideas for our population, they worked well at other institutions, but they just didn’t work out when we implemented them. Sometimes they just required some tweaking and sometimes we had to abandon the idea altogether. We’re dealing with that now with offering online live library instruction sessions for our distance learners. It sounds like a great idea and the students who attend are always blown away by how much they learn, but because it’s optional, we’re getting very low attendance. Does this mean that offering live library instruction for distance learners is a bad idea? No. We just need to figure out what will make students attend. This semester, we gave all online instructors a draft email to send out to their students to encourage them to take advantage of the instruction sessions. I’ve found in the past that it makes a huge difference when a recommendation comes from an instructor rather than from the librarian. So we’ll see next week (when our sessions start) if it worked. And if it didn’t, we’ll keep trying new things and improving the service. One idea I really like from the Web 2.0 world is perpetual beta. Service implementation should always be an iterative process. You can plan and test and plan, but until you put something out there for your patrons, you’ll never know 100% how it will be received. And based on the feedback you get from your patrons, you can make it better.
Karen also points to a snarky follow-up post about the Hayward Public Library from the Annoyed Librarian (who won’t get any link-love from me, so you can just go find the link on Karen’s post) and writes this about him/her:
But none of this bothers the Annoying Librarian, because she’s all about the turd in the punch bowl, the preemptive negativism, the soul-sucking, nasty worldview in which no good deed goes unpunished and They are always against Us. It’s a convenient, lazy perch, particularly when you do it behind the lack of accountability that anonymity provides. It’s good for page views and quick laughs at the expense of whatever idea she’s excoriating at the moment. But it doesn’t make the world a better place. It doesn’t make you a better person, either.
I struggle with this statement. I completely agree with Karen that the Annoyed Librarian’s negativity is in no way productive or helpful. That’s why I don’t read him/her anymore. I don’t like toxic personal attacks. But I do honestly think that people playing the role of devil’s advocate can make the world a better place; that sometimes ideas are not good and the people excited about them are too blinded by tunnel vision to see that. Or sometimes things need to be better thought out and tweaked before implementation. I know that the devil’s advocate is often seen as a kill-joy at libraries. I remember when I first came to Norwich, full of enthusiasm and tunnel vision in equal parts. It drove me crazy that one of my colleagues always questioned every idea I had. He was so negative! Now, I’ve come to find his questioning invaluable. He often sees the potential flaws in an idea I have and anticipates roadblocks I might encounter; things I did not see myself. And now, I’ve become a devil’s advocate in so many situations at work where I see that an idea has not been well-considered. I’m the one asking the annoying questions and bringing up potential issues. And maybe that makes me negative, but I figure I make up for it by spending even more time coming up with and championing ideas.
Yes, there are people who claim to play the role of devil’s advocate, but really they are playing the role of roadblock. Do you know how you can tell the difference? Those people never champion an idea of their own or even champion anyone else’s ideas. They bring nothing constructive to the table. All they ever do is tear down, tear down, tear down. That is being a roadblock, not a devil’s advocate. A devil’s advocate goes into conversations wanting to ensure success; the roadblock just wants to make objections and prove people wrong.
Here’s a great example from my own library of what can happen when you ignore the devil’s advocates. The university’s IT people wanted to move towards having thin clients all over campus. They’d employed a couple at little-used kiosk locations and they worked fine. Next, instead of employing them in one of their own computer labs, they wanted to replace the computers in the library’s reference area and instruction classroom with thin clients. I was strongly against this, not because I have anything against thin clients, but because I know our IT people do not have the experience and skills necessary to manage something like this well. We’d been burned too many times by them in the five years I’d been at the library. I had concerns about how this might impact instruction and really didn’t want the instruction space to be a test-case for this. A bunch of us in the library had questions and concerns and they were never addressed. We simply put our faith in IT that they would address any issues that might come up.
The thin clients were installed this past summer and worked fine at the time since very few people use the library during the summer. As soon as the students came back in August and more than just a couple were on the thin clients at once, things started to go haywire. People couldn’t log into computers, computers were freezing up, we were getting weird error messages, and there was nothing we could do. For the first two months of classes (when library instruction was at its busiest), IT couldn’t figure out how to diagnose or fix the problems we were having. It made it extremely difficult to teach a class of 24 students when sometimes only 7 out of our 12 computers were even working. It also made us look bad to new students — why would they want to study and do their work at a library run this badly? This was not the first impression I wanted to make on new students. We also discovered that students would not be able to stream video on the thin clients, which is awkward considering that we’re planning on purchasing a Films Media Group streaming video package and students won’t be able to use the videos in the library. Sigh…
Sometimes it’s fine to dive into things and tweak and improve as you go along. Offering a Netflix-style model and then changing it or abandoning it is no big deal. But there are certain decisions whose effects are more far-reaching and are less mutable. IT eventually was able to fix the thin clients, but there was really no way out other than waiting for IT to fix it. There was no “well we’ll just buy all new computers” or something. As the Head of Instruction, I felt painted into a corner. There are decisions you can’t back out of, decisions that require significant investments of time and money, decisions that can damage the library’s relationship with its patrons. These are decisions where having a devil’s advocate is critical. I have lots of ideas in an average year and I want my colleagues to beat these ideas to a pulp. I want them to stand up to scrutiny. I want to know what it is that I haven’t considered. I want to be able to defend them. Sure, it sucks to have one’s ideas beaten to a pulp, but it’s necessary, because I know from experience that it’s worse to get caught with your pants down, realizing after implementing a new idea that you hadn’t considered something critical.
So no, I don’t particularly want someone at my library (or in my life) who revels in tearing down ideas, but I’m happy to have devil’s advocates who criticize, question and dissect my ideas in order to create a better product in the end. Maybe Karen and I just define devil’s advocate differently, but I think they’re essential to creating great tools and services for our patrons.
By Meredith Farkas | December 21, 2010
A colleague of mine and I have been talking about transliteracy for some time and came to very similar conclusions as David Rothman did in his smart and respectful critique. I’d thought about writing about it myself for months but two things stopped me. The first was that I thought perhaps there was something I was missing, which is still certainly possible. The other is that I’ve tried to avoid discussions about buzz words ever since I got bruised and battered for criticizing Library 2.0. While I do agree with David that Library 2.0 and Transliteracy describe things that are not in any way new and are murky terms to say the least, I think there’s a key difference between the two. I feel like the rhetoric around transliteracy is far less hysterical; less “if you don’t do this your library will become irrelevant!” or “if you don’t do this you’re against change!” That makes me feel more confident that my own critique (as someone who actively promotes information literacy as part of her job and is the Chair of her University’s Information Literacy Committee) will not be seen as an attack.
I’ve been following the blog Libraries and Transliteracy since it started. I read Tom Ipri’s article in C&RL News. I’ve read a number of other pieces on the subject from non-librarians. All of them start from the same basic definition (“Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks”) but there seems to be no agreement on what that means and how it should be applied. I still don’t feel like I have a handle on what transliteracy means. Lane Wilkinson looks at transliteracy through the lens of library instruction and teaching students to navigate a complex information ecosystem. From her presentations, Bobbi Newman seems to focus more on transliteracy being about teaching digital literacy. Tom Ipri writes:
On one level, transliteracy is a descriptive concept, being a “new analytical perspective.” In its original iteration, transliteracy is more about understanding the ways various means of communication interact and understanding, not necessarily teaching, the skills necessary to move effortlessly from one medium to another. It is about the convergence of these media and acknowledges the multi-modal experience of engaging with the modern world.
The First Monday article I read defines transliteracy as being the convergence of other previously existing literacies like digital and media literacy (which I always felt like information literacy did too). I feel like I’m smarter than the average bear, but the more I read about this, the more stupid I feel. When I see sentences like “in fact, incommensurability is anathema to the transliteracy project because transliteracy is predicated on the ability to maneuver between competing ‘paradigms’ of literacy” my eyes glaze over. As someone who studied philosophy a great deal in college, I’ve always felt that the mark of a great theorist is the ability to explain something simply (thanks John Locke and Jeremy Bethman!). So I’m going to look at the way Lane Wilkinson distinguishes information literacy from transliteracy, since it seems like the most coherent and concrete description I’ve seen.
Lane Wilkinson describes the difference between information literacy and transliteracy as being that information literacy compartmentalizes academic research and tools vs. popular research and tools and transliteracy conceives of them as all being part of a big information ecosystem. That certainly sounds like a good idea; our instruction should be about teaching patrons to make sense of the information ecosystem that exists, and that does extend beyond the walled garden of the University. The issue is, that’s how I and my colleagues have always seen information literacy. That’s how information literacy was defined by pretty much everyone I attended ACRL Immersion with. Sure, there are some librarians that only see our role as teaching the library resources, but that’s more about them doing a disservice to their patrons than about information literacy being that limited. I believe that what I teach students in information literacy sessions should be just as useful for them when they work on a paper as when they are choosing their next laptop. It’s about enabling people to make good decisions by choosing the best sources of information (for their need). It’s not just about academic research, but about life-long decision-making support. Information literacy isn’t just for academic and K-12 libraries; it’s for all libraries. When you teach a patron how to find grant information online so they can start their small business, that’s information literacy. When you teach a patron how to avoid getting scammed online, that’s information literacy. When you teach them how to create their own blog in order to share information, that’s information literacy. Call it information literacy, call it transliteracy, call it Fred, but I just don’t see how the two terms are different. Were we not doing it all before? What is new?
The way librarians and other instructors teach information literacy instruction has grown and changed in response to the changing information ecosystem. We respond to the needs of our students and what is available to them. We didn’t stick our heads in the sand and pretend the Wikipedia doesn’t exist. We don’t spend 50 minutes now covering how to search a print index. I would be a negligent instructor if I didn’t teach students in my liaison area (the social sciences) about the primary historical, government and NGO/think-tank/etc. sources on the web. As the resources, technologies and students change, so do we. And while there are librarians who don’t change the way they teach, that’s just being a bad instructor. It has nothing to do with information literacy instruction somehow being insufficient.
What I find is that the biggest force for making information literacy just be about the library is faculty (not all though — I have plenty who are gung ho for me to teach students how to critically evaluate all sources, including those on the web). I sometimes get complaints when I cover web searching and evaluation in addition to searching tools like Academic Search Premier. I’ve received dirty looks when I tell students that the Wikipedia (as well as other reference works) is a great place for getting ideas for keywords to use in searching on their topic. And perhaps that’s where transliteracy can be useful. Perhaps librarians just need to see if this takes hold with K-12 teachers and college and teaching faculty and jump on the bandwagon if it does. That’s no different from my jumping on the fact that my University amended General Education Goal 1 to include the teaching and assessment of “the ability to find, analyze, synthesize and critically evaluate information” and getting a committee together to assess how that is (or isn’t) happening. It doesn’t really matter to me what faculty and administration are calling information literacy (independent/critical inquiry, research skills, Gen Ed Goal 1, etc.) as long as they’re talking about it. But I don’t see how us changing our own language about this is going to change anything regarding our ability to promote it.
Someone in the comments on David’s post felt that the term information literacy has too much baggage, because many think of it as being just about the library and library instruction. Forgive me if I’m wrong (I wasn’t a librarian then) but didn’t we get rid of the term bibliographic instruction and change it to information literacy because it had too much baggage and was thought of as being the librarian’s thing? To be honest, I feel like it’s our own fault that information literacy is thought of as being a library thing. We push information literacy from a library perspective. Librarians go to faculty meetings armed with the ACRL standards which have no meaning to non-librarians and talking about library instruction. We work to make sure that all students in certain classes get information literacy instruction from a librarian (as if other instructors are incapable of teaching it). In trying to communicate our unique qualifications to teach information literacy, we make information literacy about us. And we buy into it just being about us too. I remember when I first approached my director about asking the VPAA to create an information literacy committee made up of members of the faculty from each academic school, her first thought was “couldn’t the Faculty Library Committee do that?” And now that we have a committee, we are mapping out how information literacy is taught and assessed throughout the academic curricula; regardless of whether it’s done by a librarian or their professor. I think until we change our own marketing approach to being less about getting librarians into more classes and more about information literacy being taught (no matter who is doing it) it won’t really matter what term we use. It will always be associated with us.
In the end, I felt like the whole Library 2.0 thing was a distraction. So many libraries jumped on the bandwagon, creating “2.0 services” that were not carefully planned for, staffed or assessed. Now we see a vast 2.0 graveyard of abandoned blogs, wikis, Facebook pages and more. And, in the end, there was never really any agreement on what it all meant. I can’t really see anything good that came from that term or discussions about it. Now, instead of tons of articles, presentations and books about Library 2.0, we will see tons of articles, presentations and books about transliteracy. What real impact will it have on our patrons? How will it change the way we serve them? I feel like a cynical jerk sometimes, but I want to see results. I have no problems with theories as long as they can be applied to our work in some way. My own teaching has been influenced heavily by constructivist learning theory, but I’m not sure what transliterate library services or transliterate instruction looks like. And until someone can show me, I guess I’m going to be as cynical about that as I was about Library 2.0.
By Meredith Farkas | December 13, 2010
I’m not sure if I’ve become more cynical or just more observant, but lately I feel like I’ve been seeing things through new eyes. We make so many assumptions in this profession, often based on the idea that we know what students need and want. Time and again, research has shown that we’re usually wrong. Some of the things we think are great might actually be great… just not for the average college student. Some things create a whole different set of problems. I’ve been thinking a lot about how so many of our efforts to make things simpler for our students only seem to make it more difficult for them to find the best resources for their papers. Are we making things better or just more complicated?
An example we’re dealing with now at our library involves WorldCat Local. Our library is going to be moving over to OCLC Web-Scale Management for our ILS (which I am really excited about!). Now that we’re going in with Web-Scale Management, we are going to be upgraded to the full version of WorldCat Local (which is called a discovery tool, but doesn’t hold a candle to something like Summon). Through agreements with vendors it is indexing and in some cases federating a variety of database content. But I have to wonder if doing this is going to make it easier or more difficult for students to find what they’re looking for. I’d say at least 75% of students doing research at Norwich have to cite scholarly works in their papers. When they search in WorldCat Local, they can’t limit their search to scholarly sources, so students have to look at each source and determine whether it is scholarly or not. How is this any easier for them than just going into Academic Search Premier, and limiting their search to scholarly journals? It’s searching more stuff at once, but it’s not giving students the tools they need to narrow down their search to quality sources. And as much as I’d like to believe that our information literacy sessions are churning out keen-eyed critical thinkers, too many students still can’t distinguish a blog post from a scholarly journal (as I discovered this semester when I assessed EN 101 students after their library session).
It gets even more complicated when you think about teaching all this. How do you explain this buffet of options to students when the majority of college students don’t want a buffet; they just want some relevant, authoritative options. I’ve experienced this when teaching students about Google Scholar. On its face, it seems like an easy sell. It has scholarly stuff and it’s the Google interface. ‘Nuff said. But then you find books from Google Books in there… most of which are not available in full-text… even though it may look like they are when you find a long preview. Oh yeah, and some of the books aren’t scholarly by a long shot. Uh oh, and did you just find a website with someone’s unpublished articles? And you found an article from the New York Times? And you found some random crappy website? Ok, so yes, there is an awful lot of awesome scholarly stuff in here, but unfortunately, just like with regular Google, you still have to wade through a lot of stuff (some scholarly, some not) to find what you’re looking for. And if we use WorldCat Local as a discovery service, I fear our students will have similarly frustrating experiences.
Project Information Literacy’s most recent report indicates that “students think library sources require less evaluation than information posted by anyone on the open-source Web.” When you have library search engines that are throwing everything from Time-Life books and USA Today articles to the Journal of Military History and Oxford University Press books at students, it’s scary to think that students are assuming the resources they are finding through the library are always of sufficient quality to use in their paper. Then again, I’ve even heard faculty say that to their students that anything from the library is of good quality. One of Project Information Literacy’s other reports suggests that students are overwhelmed by the amount of information available to them and have difficulty making sense of the results they get. Does this seem like a group in need of more or in need of simplification and a sense of context?
Another thing I’m having a crisis of faith about is screencasting. I was one of the screencasting early adopters and promoted it in presentations and on my blog. But the more screencasts I created, and the more students I worked with, the more I realized the limitations of screencasting for providing assistance to students. I read an article about screencasting a few months ago (darned if I remember who wrote it), but it confirmed what I was beginning to suspect. The author(s) gave students an assignment for which online instruction would be helpful and then had some students use a screencast and some use an HTML tutorial. What s/he found was that while students found the screencast more engaging, they weren’t as easily able to use it to complete the assignment because they couldn’t easily switch back-and-forth between the database and the screencast. This begs the question, do most students want to watch a video of how to search a database or do they want to quickly pick out the piece(s) of information they need and move on? This, other articles and my own experience tells me that the majority of students are coming to online instruction with a specific information need and want to skip, skim and scan around until they find the answer. Satisfying an information need like that with a screencast is like students coming to the reference desk with a specific information need and us spending five minutes showing them various aspects of a database that they don’t care about. I can see screencasts being good for people who just want a basic orientation or as a required component of a class in place of face-to-face instruction (I can also see quick-and-dirty custom screencasts being useful for providing reference assistance to remote students), but the majority of people who could benefit from library instructional assistance probably have a very specific information need and would likely rather skip, skim, and scan their way to the answer.
And don’t get me started on ebooks or patron-driven acquisitions! I’ll save those for future posts. I’m not saying I have all the answers — or any of them for that matter — but I do think the answers for figuring out what our patrons need come from… wait for it… our patrons. We need to understand how they do research, how they use our current resources, why some of them don’t use the library, and what they want from the library that they’re not currently getting. So often, library surveys ask about their satisfaction with our current services, not what the ideal library would look like or how we can support their research needs. They may never even have thought about those things themselves. We need an in-depth understanding of our users, through focus groups, surveys, ethnographic studies and more. And while studies like those from Project Information Literacy are fantastic, they aren’t a substitute for studying your own unique population. Development of technologies in the library world is way too vendor and librarian-centric, when the focus should be on what it is our students really and truly need.
By Meredith Farkas | October 26, 2010
When I looked at the list of items I wanted to share with you and saw the number that were from one blog, I realized that I really should just say READ MUSINGS ABOUT LIBRARIANSHIP!!! Nearly every post Aaron Tay has written has been insanely useful for me either in sharing with my LIS students, developing presentations, or using his ideas in my daily work. I can say without a doubt that this blog has probably influenced my work in the past year more than any other. His posts provide fantastic practical advice and examples from libraries (many of which I’ve never seen highlighted elsewhere). Just in the past three weeks he has written a number of fabulous posts: 12 User points of need – where to place your services online, Adding your library catalogue results next to Google results using WebMynd, and Putting services at user’s point of need – my take. So instead of talking about everything he’s written that’s awesome I’ll just say, visit his blog. Subscribe. And check out the archives. I’ll bet that very few of my readers won’t get something out of his posts.
10 Ways Twitter Will Make You a Better Employee, Better at Your Job and Benefit Your Library by Bobbi Newman at Librarian by Day – I wish I could show this to all of the people I know who think that Twitter is just people writing about what they’re having for lunch and other minutiae of their lives. Bobbi describes some of the wonderful professional benefits one can get from Twitter.
And maybe the minutiae of Twitter and other social networks isn’t all bad. Iris Jastram’s post entitled Sunday: at Pegasus Librarian discusses how that minutiae connects online friends in a way that simply isn’t necessary with friends in the physical world:
It’s about the little stuff, for me. If I have to wait for big stuff I’ll usually have nothing to say. And if you wait until you’ve got big stuff to tell me, I no longer know how to read between the lines. There’s just so much to compensate for when you can’t actually see the person you’re talking to.
I’d recently thought how nice it would be if I could filter out all of the minutiae from Twitter and just get the meaty professional-related stuff. But Iris’ post helped me realize how those seemingly meaningless posts have great meaning, because in aggregate they anchor me to my online friends in a way that just wouldn’t be possible otherwise. It helps me to know them their lives, their hearts, what they value.
Olivia Nellums at Librarians Commute (another blog I’d strongly suggest you subscribe to if you’re interested in thoughtful posts on work in academic libraries) has written about a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about as well: Calculating the Value of Service. I’ve written in the past about the librarianly love of numbers and how our statistics aren’t always meaningful (to us, but especially to external entities). Olivia discusses the difficulties in determining the real impact of services like Reference. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot too and I’d really like to do more surveys of users to find our how helpful our answers to reference questions really are. Certainly the number of reference transactions only tells one very small part of the story.
I’ve been feeling a bit burnt out on library conferences lately and Michele Martin must have been reading my mind when she wrote her post Conference Homophily is a Problem–Maybe Conference Mashups are the Solution at The Bamboo Project blog. Michele talks about the fact that always being with people from similar areas with similar views means that you’ll rarely find truly creative “out of the box” solutions to problems. She suggests that instead of having conferences with people from one field we create mashup conferences with people from different fields who deal with similar issues:
We could start small–maybe combining people in similar occupations who work in different industries. I’m thinking, for example, of a conference for classroom teachers and corporate trainers/educators. We have a lot in common but there are enough differences in what we do and how we do it that we could definitely learn from each other.
I love this idea! I certainly try to read blogs in a variety of areas (which is why I even discovered this post) and am starting to feel like I’d get a lot more out of a conference that’s mainly for college faculty than I would from a library conference simply because they’re looking at teaching from a different perspective. It’s nice to get out of our boxes sometimes.
Finally, two fantastic posts about getting stuff done. The first, 10 tips for finding your groove and getting sh*t done, by Julie at the Strange Librarian, offers specific, down-to-earth tips (and not a complicated system) for developing a productivity routine that works for you. I like how she talks about not getting bogged down in productivity p0rn, because I’ve certainly been there!
The other post focuses in what I think is the scourge of productivity — multitasking. In Let’s try some monotasking instead, Jack Vinson, of Knowledge Jolt with Jack (a great KM blog, btw) writes about how difficult it is to get anything done when you’re focused on several tasks at once. He suggests choosing one task to focus on at a time and recommends the pomodoro technique. Jack also had an interesting follow-up on the subject entitled More evidence on task switching – timing is everything , which finds that task switching from one incomplete task to another can negatively impact the quality of work on the second task. Sometimes you just need to close the email, close the TweetDeck and really focus on just one thing.
I hope these link posts are helpful to you. They’ve been interesting for me in that they’re really showing me which blogs I read that consistently provide me with valuable food for thought or inform my work.
By Meredith Farkas | October 26, 2010
I mentioned in my most recent post that our VPAA (Vice President of Academic Affairs) recently gave me the green light to form an information literacy committee chaired by myself and made up of faculty representatives from each of the six academic Schools and a representative from Academic Computing. It took me a while to wrangle representatives from each of the academic schools, but we’re finally holding our first meeting next Monday. I’m extremely excited! I feel like we at the library have spent the past few years really laying the groundwork for developing a University-wide information literacy plan. We’ve built relationships with faculty, increased our instructional role in many Schools, and started doing more with outcomes-based assessment. We’re now at a good place to start working at at a more macro-level (rather than professor by professor) to really integrate information literacy instruction and assessment into the curriculum.
The first meeting is going to be focused on figuring out how we’re going to determine whether, how, and where information literacy is being taught and assessed in each major. This involves not only defining what we mean by “information literacy” (and remember that I’m the only librarian on this committee, so it’ll probably be based more on how our General Education Goal 1 defines information literacy than the ACRL definition) but also figuring out how to look at each class being taught in a major to determine whether information literacy is being taught and assessed. It’s easy for me to get with my library colleagues and determine which classes we are teaching, what we’re covering and whether or not we do an assessment in the class, but much more difficult to determine when the faculty are doing the information literacy instruction. And I know in some areas, a lot of information literacy instruction is happening outside of the library while in other areas, pretty much nothing at all is happening.
What I’m looking for are some suggestions for how we could go about doing this inventory of information literacy instruction and assessment in each major. Have you done something like this at your institution? How did you determine whether information literacy was being taught or assessed in a class? If you haven’t done anything like this, do you have any ideas for how it might be done? I really want to make sure we do this inventory in a systematic way so that we get good data that will inform the creation of an information literacy plan. I’m just not yet sure what the best way is to go about it.
Your feedback would be greatly appreciated, whether it’s based on experience or just a wild idea that popped out of your head while reading this post. Thanks!!!
By Meredith Farkas | October 19, 2010
I was really excited when I saw the title of In the Library With the Lead Pipe’s post “Rising through the Ranks: On Upward Mobility in Librarianship” from last month. They always provide a comprehensive and thoughtful treatment of the issues they choose to write about. And this is an issue I think about quite a bit. When I finally had time to read it almost two weeks later, I was disappointed to find that a number of the contributors had “a strong aversion to management.” One stated “I don’t feel that I know much about upward mobility, nor that I really want to. The term just conjures up images in my mind of pants suits and power lunches, both of which I have some aversion to!” I have a difficult time understanding this point of view, because I very much want to move up in the profession and I very much like being a manager. And while I’m generally a pretty casual dresser, I actually love wearing suits.
I see management in a different way, perhaps, than do people who hate the very idea of being a manager. I see being a manager as being an advocate. I love being an advocate. I love fighting for things. As a social worker, I advocated for my clients to get the services they needed from their public schools. As a distance learning librarian, I advocated for the distance students to receive the same services and consideration any other student at the University. As Head of Instruction, I advocate for information literacy to be integrated into the curriculum. As Social Sciences Liaison, I advocate for faculty and students to get the resources they need to do their academic work. And, as a manager, I advocate for my employee to get the experiences that will help her develop professionally and be successful in her work. Management isn’t about delegating, being the heavy, and telling people what to do (though those things are sometimes necessary as part of being a manager). It’s about providing vision, advocating for, and enabling your employees to do the things they need to do to be successful. And I think that’s fun.
I surprised even myself when I realized this year that I would actually like to be a library director in the future. I have found my own library director to be an inspiration in this area. I love how she is such a strong advocate for the library in her dealings with faculty, administrators and potential donors. She’s truly a diplomat, carrying the library’s flag to meetings on-campus and off. She’s also an inspirational leader for her staff — strong and self-assured. I strive to be like that; to handle troubling situations with her grace and resourcefulness. Sure, I don’t love the idea of schmoozing donors, but I didn’t love the idea of schmoozing faculty about information literacy either and found that, most of the time, it’s actually fun to build those relationships with faculty. It’s nice to get to know people who are focused on different areas of the academic endeavor and to get out of the “library bubble.” I’ve found in my career that forcing myself to do the things I’m most uncomfortable with (which included instruction and presenting 5 years ago) leads to the greatest personal and professional growth.
The thing I struggle with at this point in my career is how do I get from where I am to where I want to be? It’s not like I want to be a library Director tomorrow, when you know where you want to go in life, it’s natural to start thinking about what it might take to get there. If I want to be a Director one day, probably staying at the same small university library for 20 years is not going to get me there. At the same time, I don’t want to be the sort of person who moves to a new library every few years in order to climb the career ladder. I have a husband and a child and, while my husband is supportive of my career, his and Reed’s happiness is far more important to me than my career. And then there’s the fact that I happen to love my work here. I feel a strong sense of mission and purpose at Norwich. I’ve built strong relationships with the faculty here over the years and am now at a point where I am really creating important and lasting change. I believe in what I’m doing to integrate information literacy into the curriculum here and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far. Ths Fall, the VPAA even invited me to Chair a new information literacy committee, made up of faculty representatives from each of the Schools. This is what I’ve been working for!
I’m sure I can and will find that same passion at another academic library in the future, but I’m sure I’ll also feel the same pull at my next job to stay and see my mission through. In a job like mine where your goal (integrating information literacy into the curricula of all academic programs) is so large, you’re constantly just approaching and chipping away at the issue in different ways. You build and build and build upon success. It takes time to build the sort of relationships you need to have to build any forward momentum. People in this sort of position who leave their job after only a couple of years will probably never see the fruits of their labors.
So I wonder, am I the only person who struggles with this? Am I the only person who is ambitious careerwise, but doesn’t want to move from job to job to job every couple of years? I can’t imagine, and yet I hear so little about it. This subject should not be taboo. I’ve been influenced strongly on this as well by my Director. She told me from day one that she hopes we don’t stay here forever; that staying at the same library forever can limit one’s vision. She encourages us to explore other options when we’re ready and feels like she’s done her job when we move on to bigger and better things. I appreciate that I can be completely open with her about my ambitions when so many other people have to keep these things secret from their boss. She’s been an amazing mentor.
If you’re struggling with this issue yourself, leave a comment (it can be anonymous)! It would just be nice to know that I’m not the only one feeling these two opposite, but equally compelling impulses.
By Meredith Farkas | September 18, 2010
This afternoon, I read a post at the Wired Campus blog about libraries loaning out Netflix discs to students and faculty. They point to a guest post from a librarian on Tame the Web who discusses how she is doing this at her library. She touts it as a great way to offer more DVDs to patrons than her library could possibly afford to purchase. Then I see that there was a 2010 article in Library Trends, a scholarly publication, describing using Netflix to expand the library’s DVD offerings as well (I can’t read it because our databases have a 1 year pay wall for LT). At this point I am gobsmacked, not because this is a brilliant idea, but because I can’t believe librarians would actually publish and brag about how they are willfully violating a company’s terms of service.
So what’s the justification for this? In addition to the “this has saved us an enormous amount of money” justification Rebecca Fitzgerald at Concordia College, author of the Tame the Web post, makes 3 arguments in response: 1) “there have been no legal repurcussions involving our Netflix accounts”, 2) “No one from Netflix has questioned this”, and 3) “our library is not the first to use this program.” Well, clearly that makes it ok, right? This sounds like the same arguments people who violate copyright make. Well, you know, everyone is doing it. We need to do it because we couldn’t afford to provide all these things otherwise. No one has told me not to. Actually, they have. They told you not to in the Terms of Service, which you tacitly accepted when you signed up for the service.
It’s annoying enough when average people do things like this, but librarians should be smarter than that. We are supposed to be the ones helping faculty stay on the straight-and-narrow regarding copyright. What kind of an example are we setting when we show such flagrant disregard for a company’s Terms of Service? And this not only opens a library up to being sued by Netflix; it also opens the library up to being sued by the studios that own the movies libraries are saving money on by not purchasing and getting through Netflix. There are a number of video on demand services that are designed for use by educational institutions, so it’s not like Netflix is the only option for making a huge wealth of video material available for instructional use. What it is is the cheaper option. Are librarians really this clueless and/or irresponsible?
Now, let’s imagine that there’s a grad student who is really impressed with his library’s collection and thinks it sucks that average folks in his community do not have access to the same wealth of books and DVDs. So, because he’s a grad student, he gets a longer loan time and he decides that he is going to check out books and DVDs for people in the community who are not affiliated with his university. He creates his own policies and loan times and even charges late fees to “borrowers” which nets him a little income too. Now, essentially, the library is loaning books out to people who are not members of the university community without their knowledge and in violation of their policies. Now let’s say that this guy is so brazen that he actually sets up a website touting this service he offers and a librarian happens to see this website. What do you think will be the reaction of the library? This guy would be in a whole heck of a lot of trouble. At a minimum he’d lose his borrowing privileges, but I bet it would go further than that. And how is this any different from what libraries are doing to Netflix?
I have to say that I am still in a state of shock that so many libraries, including some major Universities, are doing this. I keep thinking that there is something I’m missing that somehow makes this ok. But I really can’t see it. Could someone enlighten me?
By Meredith Farkas | September 7, 2010
I was thinking about writing a post reflecting on recent posts about the myth of the graying of the profession (and the coming librarian shortage) and Peter Brantley’s post about involving young’uns in discussing the future of libraries, but Colleen Harris beat me to the punch. And because she really knows how to tell-it-like-it-is, I feel no need to comment further on this topic. Take a look at her post, On Great Myth of the Librarian Grays. While I do have a tremendous dislike for these AUL or UL-only-type organizations and meetings, I have equal dislike for the idea of meetings that purposely exclude library administrators. We should be able to come together as professionals, all equally passionate about creating a great future for libraries (whether we’ll be working in that future or not). We all bring something different, unique and useful to the table. Those who should be excluded are those who think that people below or above them in rank have no place in the conversation.
Probably the post that has inspired me most recently is Olivia Nellum’s Reserves, Newsletter, Instruction where she discusses how she created a textbook reserves collection with basically no money and a heaping helping of moxie. She also discusses some of the difficulties and unintended consequences of undertaking a project like this.
If you’re a new grad, LIS student, or are just thinking about becoming a librarian, you must check out Bobbi Newman’s post So You Want to be a Librarian? She has pulled together some of the best advice around the web on the profession and job searching into one easy resource. Also worth taking a look at is Andy Burkhardt’s Library School To Do List. In it, he lists some of the important things LIS students should be doing to make themselves marketable in the profession.
Isn’t it fun when you work hard to create something in social media and then the provider makes a change that forces you to redo everything? I’d created a nice Facebook page for my liaison area using StaticFBML and Boxes and then Facebook gets rid of boxes, changes their layout, and I had to totally rebuild the page. Grrr… And of course right after that, I find this great post from TechCrunch on the 12 Best Ways to Customize Your Facebook Page. Grrrr… But hopefully you can get something out of it!
In Evernote, Cloud Computing and Reality, Iris Jastram reminds us of the dangers of having complete faith in the cloud.
I have always felt strongly that librarians cannot come up with creative solutions to problems without having time to just reflect. And sadly, in most libraries, staff are stretched so thin that there’s barely time to get the basic work of libraries done. Learn More, Do Nothing by Peter Bromberg at the Learning Roundtable reminds us of the importance of taking that time to let things sink in and reflect.
While Sarah Houghton-Jan was writing about training in this post (also from the Learning Roundtable Blog, I think all library instructors struggle with The Tension between “Learn It Fast” and “Learn It Well”. We want to cover as much as we can in a single session, but we also want to make sure that the people we’re teaching actually absorb the material. I know that I, myself, have moved from one end of that spectrum to the other in my years of teaching information literacy and I’m getting much more comfortable with the notion of teaching less in order to ensure greater impact.
For those interested in eBooks and wanting an answer to the question “why can’t all eBooks work on all eBook readers???” check out Jason Griffey’s detailed explanation at Pattern Recognition.
I’m starting to see more and more posts from librarians looking at how they iPad could be used professionally. The Great iPad Experiment from Tiffini Travis provides some useful advice for those looking to use the iPad for teaching. At Not so Distant Future, Carolyn Foote talks about Piloting iPads in Library Settings, specifically at her school library.
Selling vs. solving and supporting. I read two posts that make it clear that the focus in marketing can’t actually be on selling. David Lee King looks at how to Support Your Community and provides some valuable advice for libraries. In Solving vs. Selling, David Armano reminds us that people don’t want to be sold to and that the focus of “selling” should be on solving problems that people have.
Lots of food for thought here. Hope you find it all as interesting as I have!
By Meredith Farkas | August 24, 2010
I’ve written some posts in the past about vendors that have done some pretty slimy things in the name of making a profit. At least that makes sense to me. That’s their model — they’re profit-driven. Then there’s JSTOR. JSTOR is not an EBSCO or an Elsevier. JSTOR is a non-profit. JSTOR is a “service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive of over one thousand academic journals and other scholarly content.” While JSTOR has always been a bear to search, I have never thought of JSTOR as a company that would make decisions that were bad for users in the name of making money. But this new development has me scratching my head.
I’m sure anyone working in an academic library has already heard that the JSTOR interface was changing this summer. Well, how nice that they wait to finally make the change live the week that students are coming back to most schools. One of our librarians attended a webinar on the new interface and reported about it to the rest of the staff so we were pretty prepared for what was coming in terms of the interface change. But the thing that’s a really big deal is that JSTOR is now going to display everything in their collection by default. That probably doesn’t matter to a large University that subscribes to every JSTOR collection known to man, but for libraries of small to medium size that only subscribe to maybe 4 or fewer collections, your students will suddenly be seeing a lot of results in JSTOR that they can’t access. I did a search on World War II and Poland and out of the first 10 results there were only 2 that were in the JSTOR collections we subscribe to. If a student clicked on one of the eight of ten results that did not have a green check mark to the right of it they would see this:
What’s interesting is that we actually have many of these articles available in full-text through other databases.
I know what you’re probably thinking — “every database displays things that aren’t available in full-text. You can just enable your link resolver and students will be able to link to the full-text.” That would be nice, but JSTOR has decided not to make that possible. The response we got from tech support was “OpenURL links are not currently available when your users arrive at articles in collections that you do not license.” So, we can link out from full-text articles in JSTOR to versions of the same full-text in other collections, but we can’t link out from articles we do not have the full-text of in JSTOR to full-text in other collections. Either a lot of smart people don’t understand the purpose of OpenURL or they really don’t want to make it easy for students to figure out that their library has access to these resources through another database.
The other response we got was this: “At this time it is also not possible to change the default search to just your licensed collections.” Students can check a box on the Advanced Search page only that will “Include only content I can access”, but how many students are going to 1) notice that check box and 2) know what it really means? Especially when the default option (the box already checked) says “Include links to external content” and the explanation next to it says “JSTOR displays citation information and an outside link to the full-text of some recently published articles on external sites.” It makes it sound like students can get more full-text content that way when the reality is that they’ll just get more results that ask them to pay $12 or $30 for the article.
The tech support person went on to state “I will make sure that your suggestion of setting default search limits, and expanding OpenURL links to cover all non-licensed content, is passed on to our development team for consideration.” I have to call BS here. I can’t believe that these were not conscious decisions on their part. Was this developed by one lone dude in a shack with no input from other designers and librarians? I have to believe that they can’t be surprised that libraries would want these features.
I refuse to believe that all of the smart people at JSTOR have no idea how OpenURL works and have no idea how pretty much every other database vendor in the known world operates these days. Even if they were clueless, JSTOR has advisory boards made up of librarians who could tell them how things work. So my first thought was clearly they want to confuse students into paying for access to articles they could get through another database or ILL. But then I remember that this is JSTOR. They’re a not-for-profit. Something is clearly going on behind the scenes that we’re missing the boat on. And the first thing that pops into my head is PUBLISHERS. Are the pressures of publishers pulling out of JSTOR to pursue lucrative deals with EBSCO become to much? Did you have to make concessions that benefit your publishing partners but hurt the end user? I do understand that this change will make it easier for people not affiliated with a library to search JSTOR (helping to increase their base of individuals purchasing articles), but there is no reason that they couldn’t at the same time give libraries the ability to customize the default at their institutions or to make OpenURL work across the board.
So which one is it, JSTOR? Are you really that clueless about how modern databases and OpenURL link resolvers work? Are you out to make a buck off confused Freshmen with credit cards? Or did your publishing partners force you into it? Either way, you’re putting the customer dead last in this equation and, IMHO, breaking a trust relationship you’ve had with librarians for many years. I know that my solution to this will be simple. I just won’t teach JSTOR to social science majors here and will encourage students to use WorldCat Local. JSTOR articles are indexed in WC Local, so students can find the articles there and use Serials Solutions 360 Linker to link out to whichever database holds the full-text. Problem solved. And I doubt I’ll be the only librarian looking for a way around teaching JSTOR in information literacy classes if JSTOR doesn’t make a change ASAP. Way to make yourself less visible to future scholars, JSTOR!
I’ll be really curious to see how this shakes out, because I can’t imagine we’re the only library that’s going to be very negatively impacted by JSTOR’s bad decisions. I hope they make a change, and soon, because my History and Political Science info lit classes are coming in just a couple of weeks.
Update: For those who think that this is already resolved or have mentioned that you’re seeing a link resolver link to some articles, let me explain what you’re looking at as I’ve done a bit more digging. There are three types of results you can get right now in JSTOR, and you’ll see each in this screenshot (sorry for the size, my computer is being wonky — just click on it to expand it):
The first (with the gray asterisk) is from a journal that is not in a JSTOR collection we subscribe to. There will be no link resolver link that lets patrons easily get to the article in another database to to our library’s ILL form. Frequently, there will be something that tells the user they need to pay to access the article. Otherwise, it’ll just be a dead end.
The second (with the green check mark) is an article that is in our JSTOR collection. Students can click on the title and get to the full-text.
The third (with the yellow arrow) is from a journal this is in our JSTOR collection, but it is not from the date range of full-text that is available through JSTOR (in this case, the article is from 2006 and JSTOR’s coverage goes to 2005). Clicking on the title of this type of result will provide a link resolver link so that the patron can check to see if the library has this in full-text elsewhere.
For those who are seeing link resolver links right now, what you are seeing is the third type of link. You may just have too many JSTOR collections to easily get a result in the second category which is very lucky for you.
By Meredith Farkas | August 13, 2010
Between work, my son and the class I’m teaching at SJSU (which is about to start), I rarely have time these days to blog. It’s certainly not that I’m uninspired to do so, as I’m constantly reading things that inspire me, provoke me, or just plain interest me. But anyone who has read my blog for a while knows that I put a lot of thought into my posts and have a difficult time keeping them short. So I thought that it might be worthwhile to periodically share the articles, posts, and other resources I find that get me thinking as they might get you thinking too. So here’s the first installment of “Inspiring stuff to read.”
Want to read all of the articles/sites/posts in one browser tab? Click here.
What Can We Stop Doing by Merilee Profit in Hanging Together – This is fairly old, but is something I’ve wanted to blog about for a long time and have realized that it’s never going to happen. Unless you have an influx of new money and people, in order to undertake new initiatives, you have to give up something. I really loved the quote in it from the President of the Getty Museum “‘If no programs are allowed to ever die, in the end you become captive to decisions from the past… Every now and then . . . you’ve got to step back and say, ‘Certain things have been very successful, but we should sunset them now.’” I think that the unwillingness to stop doing things is largely behind the failure of a lot of Web 2.0 initiatives, as people simply aren’t given dedicated time to make them successful.
Introduction to Online Pedagogy – This is a self-paced course designed by the WISE Consortium (a consortium of library schools that teach online and allow students to take classes at the other universities — SJSU is a member). It’s designed to prepare LIS faculty to design and teach effective online courses. Useful for anyone designing online instruction.
Customizable Library Portal Pages by Aaron Tay in Musings about Librarianship – Again, not a brand-new blog post, but Aaron showcases some libraries that are WAY ahead of the curve in developing customizable library home pages. I strongly feel that this is the future of the library website — users should be able to design their own library website experience based on what they actually need/want to use. After talking with our Systems Librarian about this idea, he started playing with Drupal to see how he could create a customizable library homepage. He’s still in the very early stages, but it’s already looking promising. Thanks for the nudge, Aaron!
So You Want to do Anthropology at Your Library? or A Practical Guide to Ethnographic Research in Academic Libraries by Andrew Asher and Susan Miller. Asher and Miller were the anthropologists involved in the ERIAL ethnographic study conducted jointly by five Illinois universities. They created this amazing PDF guide for libraries (like mine) that want to undertake similar research. Such great practical advice in here!!!
Patron Driven eBook Acquisition: Crab Legs vs. Spinach by Eric Hellman at Go To Hellman – A thoughtful post about patron-driven electronic acquisition, a topic near and dear to my heart these days as we prepare to go live with eBook Library in a few weeks. The post also contains some really useful links at the end if you’re interested in the topic. As we are a teaching university and our focus is on building a collection out students and faculty WILL USE, I am looking forward to seeing how we can make patron-driven acquisition a larger part of our overall book purchasing.
Making the case for a fully mobile library web site: from floor maps to the catalog by Laurie Bridges, Hannah Gascho Rempel, and Kimberly Griggs in Reference Services Review. This issue of Reference Services Review is all about mobile library services (with lots of awesome, awesome, awesome articles!), so if you are interested in the topic, I’d highly suggest reading the whole shebang. This article from librarians at Oregon State is a perfect read if you are looking to make the case to the powers-that-be that you absolutely should be mobilizing your library website.
Does Where You Work Define Who You Are As An Academic Librarian by Steven Bell at ACRLog – while I actually liked the title and the comments more than the post itself (not that the post was bad by any stretch!), it asks a very interesting question: Does where you work define who you are as a librarian? My answer? YES!!! To me, it’s less about prestige and more about the size and structure of the library. I think where you work early in your career can have a tremendous impact on your career path and on your work personality. I have gotten so accustomed to working in a small place with a very risk-tolerant and change-oriented director where we can move quickly on just about any project, that when I was offered a position at a pretigious ARL library, I turned it down because I knew I’d be miserable dealing with bureaucracy and moving SO SLOWLY on things (not that all ARLs are like that, but I knew this particular position would have sapped my passion and energy). After working at a small place, I really like to wear a lot of hats and work on a lot of different projects. This place really does suit my personality, but I often wonder how different I would be had I first worked at a large ARL with a lot of bureaucracy and a tenure track for librarians. I’ve had so much FREEDOM and CHOICE here and now I feel spoiled by it.
e-texts and (library) accessibility by Char Booth at info-mational – accessibility is a topic that I think most librarians and educators would rather not think about because it ‘s just another thing we have to assess when considering new technologies and services. But try to imagine the person who can’t watch your screencast, can’t use your Meebo widget, and can’t use the Kindle you’re lending out. I’d much rather make text transcripts of my video lectures than potentially marginalize one of my students. This thoughtful post provides great insight into accessible (an inaccessible) design in the digital world and I can’t wait to see the e-text usability/accessibility rubric for librarians that Lucy and Char are going to create. Char is truly a force of nature, churning out one useful article, book, guide (PDF), report, etc. at a dizzying pace. She totally inspires me!
By Meredith Farkas | August 3, 2010
Wow, what can I say about Immersion? First of all, you have to be there to really understand what a profound experience it is. My in-laws were visiting when I got back from Immersion and I found it very difficult to explain the experience. What I told them is that it was an intensive program (like a retreat) focused on building an information literacy program (well, it is in the program track, though the teacher track is more focused on developing an approach to teaching). But it was so much more than that. It was a time of intense reflection on where we’ve been, what we’ve been doing, where we want to go, and what we need to do to get there. It was about developing the persuasive skills to realize our goals. I recognized many missteps I’d made in the past and saw my future path so much more clearly at the end of Immersion that I now feel a renewed sense of purpose. It was like a vision quest minus the peyote.
Immersion was exhausting. You barely had time to stop and think since you were constantly engaged in activities or doing “homework.” But it was also exhilarating, because you were constantly hearing things that made fireworks go off in your brain. “Oh my gosh, we could totally do that at my library!” After being back at work for 3 hours, I’d already used an idea from Immersion for changing our student orientation program. This year we’re getting 26 groups of about 30 students each coming to the library for around 40 minutes each. My cohort leader (the fabulous Tiffini Travis) gave me the idea to break the students into groups and have each group find out about certain parts of the library and then share that information with the entire class. Brilliant! Not only does it prevent us from having to give a dry, boring lecture/tour, but it gets the students engaged in learning and acting as teachers rather than passive participants. While I loved the scavenger hunts we did for the past two years, they were a ton of work and stress for me and I always felt burnt out just as the fall semester was starting. This idea was embraced by all of my colleagues. Hot damn!
Immersion was also about breaking down one of our biggest barriers: ourselves. Never underestimate the power of denial and procrastination! I think my biggest epiphany came when we were discussing a case study we’d been assigned to read. It was about Dorothy, the first instruction coordinator at her institution, and the missteps she made in her first few years on the job. I realized when I was talking about the mistakes she’d made, I was getting really annoyed. And then I realized why. I’d made many of those same mistakes. I was Dorothy! It made me see my own role in a new light and helped me realize that I’d been avoiding some of the same things (being more involved in the University outside of the library, focusing on staff development). Those realizations really informed my action plan and will inform all of my work this year as instruction coordinator. After talking to many of my fellow program-track colleagues, I realized that I was not the only one who’d had that epiphany, so it was definitely a good experience to break down our own denial.
Another epiphany came when we took a survey to determine where we fell in our leadership orientation (structural, political, human resources or symbolic). I found that I scored very high on symbolic, which didn’t surprise me at all, because I tend to be a big picture/vision person. What it made me realize was that I wasn’t focused enough on the other areas. I wasn’t focused enough on building consensus and a sense of shared purpose amongst the members of the instruction team (while my colleagues have always gone along with my ideas, I don’t feel like I ever had the sort of buy-in that makes people feel truly committed to a project). I wasn’t focused enough on the world outside of the library and getting involved in committees and activities that could provide opportunities for promoting IL. And I wasn’t focused enough on gathering and using data to make the case for information literacy instruction. So these were the areas that I ended up focusing on in my action plan, which was the final project we did in the program track of Immersion.
By the end of Day 1 back at work, I’d implemented one of the items from my action plan. I wanted to develop a library staff development program centered around instruction. In addition to scheduling monthly instruction meetings (meetings had previously not been very regular and were combined reference/instruction meetings), I also scheduled monthly brown bag lunches to share ideas surrounding pedagogy, assessment and content related to IL. We’re going to have our first brown bag this Friday where I’ll be talking about developing learning outcomes (thanks Anne Zald for the great lessons on developing appropriate outcomes!). Given that my colleagues have varying levels of training and experience in teaching (from zero to a bit, pretty much), this should be really beneficial for all of us. I also hope it will create more of a sense of cohesiveness among members of the instruction team, since in the past we’d been very focused on our own liaison areas. We’re one of the few libraries out there that’s been suffering from too few meetings rather than too many, so I think this will be a positive change.
One of the most rewarding activities we did at Immersion was a brand new one that the Immersion faculty were trying out for the first time. They had each program track cohort plan and execute an instruction session for a teacher track cohort about planning and persuasion (basically what we’d been learning all week). It was great for us, because there’s nothing that makes learning stickier than when you have to teach what you’d just learned. It also brought our cohort together more. And it was great for the teacher track because they’d been planning out how they were going to change their teaching without considering how they were going to convince stakeholders that this was a change worth making. Also, it was just nice to come together with members of the teacher track like that and hear about what they were learning.
One of the things I loved best were the variety of group and individual experiences. Sometimes we were listening to a lecture in a big room. Sometimes we were participating in small group discussions/activities. Sometimes we were doing individual work. Sometimes we were molding stuff with clay and doing skits wearing snorkeling gear. Sometimes it was just the 30 program track participants sharing their experiences. I feel like I’ve built such a wonderful network of instructors and instruction coordinators whom I know I will learn much more from in the future. I absolutely loved working with my cohort; we are all dealing with diverse and complex situations and it was really nice to discuss this stuff with people who are equally passionate about user-centered info lit instruction. I really hope to keep in touch with these inspiring professionals.
If you do instruction at your library and have the opportunity to attend Immersion, I’d highly recommend doing it. I’ve been to plenty of conferences and have come out with great ideas, but I’ve never felt so changed by anything else. It was wonderful. Thanks to Randy, Anne, Beth, Craig, Tiffini and ACRL for creating such a memorable experience for us!
By Meredith Farkas | July 21, 2010
Forgive this less-than-well-thought-out post. I’ve been thinking a lot about assessment lately and the librarianly love of numbers in assessment, and I’m a troubled by the way that some academic libraries tend to measure how well they are supporting the academic mission of the institution.
Librarians keep a lot of statistics and measure a lot of things. Gate count, reference transactions, instruction sessions, website hits, visits to a specific tutorial or research guide, e-resource usage, etc. We are big on numbers. I have no problem whatsoever with measuring things like this and in many cases I think it’s essential. The thing I do have a problem with are the unsupported interpretations we often make based on these numbers and the direction they’re going in.
Reference desk transactions went down. This is a bad thing! We need to try and get them back up! Really? Why? Do you know why they went down? You probably have some theories, but do you know for sure? Is it because you’re less approachable or is it because there has been an increase in instruction sessions which helped students become more independent researchers? You need to look at the larger ecosystem beyond the reference desk to figure out why this happened and whether it’s a good or bad thing.
The tutorial I created has received more hits than any other one. It must be really useful! Oh yeah? Or is the tutorial for a class that has a lot of sections? Did an instructor require that students visit it? Are the people visiting it staying for a long time or just for a few seconds? Are they getting anything out of it? You can’t say that a web hit = someone getting something out of that page.
We’re teaching more library sessions than ever before. Students will be more information literate when they graduate! Maybe. But how do you know that? Teaching more doesn’t necessarily = learning more. If the instruction you’re providing is not course-integrated and emphasized at various subsequent points in their college career, it might be going in one ear and out the other. How can we determine that what we’re teaching is actually making our students information literate?
Sidenote: Years ago, a professional colleague complained that students in her information literacy sessions were not as engaged as they were years ago and reasoned that the caliber of students at her school had declined. The question I wanted to ask at the time, but didn’t, was have you considered that maybe the way you teach doesn’t work for the current crop of students? We come to unsupported conclusions all the time — not just when trying to analyze statistics. Don’t just assume it’s “them.” Maybe it’s you.
Statistics can tell us a lot of things, but they can also be manipulated to support just about any position. Without actually knowing why something increased or decreased, we should be hesitant about making any judgments.
We often take these assumptions right up to Administration, using these numbers as evidence that we are doing a great job, deserve more funding, etc. This reveals another flawed assumption; the idea that these numbers matter to administrators outside of the library. What do university administrators care about? Retention. Student success. Accreditation. Student satisfaction with the University. Etc. They don’t care about the number of information literacy sessions the library taught unless you can somehow show how those contributed to student success (i.e. student use of quality resources in their papers increased leading to better grades). They don’t care about the number of reference transactions unless you can show that reference support helped to improve retention. Sure, they may nod their head and say “great job!” but you’re not going to really get them excited and “on board” until you tie what the library does to the University’s goals and provide data that demonstrates how what you do contributes to those goals.
I don’t have all the answers on exactly how to measure how the library contributes to the larger goals of the University, but I do know that we’re doing our students a disservice when we make assumptions about how what we do is impacting them based solely on a bunch of numbers. And if we want to promote libraries to the people who hold the purse strings, we need to focus more on demonstrating how we contribute to their “bottom line” than to our own.
By Meredith Farkas | July 7, 2010
I think it’s fantastic that companies are using social media to promote their brands and communicate more directly with their customers. It’s wild when I write about my favorite wine and the New Zealand winemaker actually responds to me on Twitter. Great brand monitoring St. Clair (update: fixed incorrect URL)! There are so many inspiring examples of brands that are providing real support for customers via social media or are getting out in front of disasters/problems/recalls in a genuinely transparent way. Their involvement in social media is simply a natural extension of their corporate culture, which is transparent, human and customer-focused.
On the other hand, there are companies that are only paying lip service to social media. They think that if they have an account on Twitter or Facebook it makes up for their crappy products or service. Some will delete Facebook wall posts from critics or won’t allow wall posts from customers at all. Many will only selectively respond to customer complaints on Twitter or will only respond to positive customer responses (to make it look as if people on Twitter are only saying glowing things about them). When they do respond to criticism or problems, it’s not in any way that leads to satisfaction. For these companies, Facebook and Twitter are simply window dressing, thinly disguising the closed, soulless, profit-centered corporate culture within.
I’ve been having major problems with the screencasting software Adobe Captivate. When I converted some instructional screencasts from Captivate 3 to 4, they looked fine on preview, but when I published them as an .avi file, the audio became unsynched 2/3 of the way through and got way behind the video (to the point where the audio was cut off at the end of the video). This happened with multiple videos in the exact same way. So, as Adobe suggests, I posted to their forums. That was on June 11th. To date, I have not received a response from anyone regarding my issue. I also submitted a bug report, since I couldn’t find any other way to email my issue to anyone. Never received a response to that either.
After waiting almost two weeks for a response, I tried to contact Adobe Support. First, I spent a significant amount of time trying to figure out how to contact support and actually considered creating a Captivate screencast on how horribly designed Adobe’s support site is (I ultimately decided that drinking a glass of wine would be a better use of my time). Finally, I called the only number I could find and discovered that none of the options matched with what I needed, so I tried to get an operator. I got put through to four different people, each of whom needed me to repeat my phone number, email address, Captivate serial number and what my issue is. Do you people have any sort of tracking system???? Finally, I get a Captivate support guy and I tell him what my issue is. He looks up my serial number and says that he can’t work with me unless I purchase a support plan. My response was “I have to pay you to fix a bug in your software?” His response was that it probably wasn’t a bug because he hadn’t heard many reports of anything like this and it might just be user error. My response “so there’s no way for me to get help for my issue?” His response was “not unless you get a support plan.” I was beyond livid. Basically they’re saying that 1) it’s probably my fault that it’s not working and 2) they won’t stand behind their product.
By now I’d now wasted at least 3-day’s-worth of my time, which cost way more than if I just gave in and bought their competitor product, Camtasia. I’d vented on Twitter about my experiences with Adobe and someone suggested that I contact @Adobe_Care on Twitter. My husband’s response to that was that “Adobe only cares about turning you upside down and shaking the money out of your pockets.” That person apparently let @Adobe_Care know that I was having issues and the next day I got a tweet from them asking if I still needed help. I let them know that I was told I couldn’t get support without purchasing a support plan. They told me they’d get someone to contact me the next day. Huh?
After telling them that I was available until 3:30 pm ET, someone from support called me at 4:00 pm (right as I was about to leave to pick my son up from daycare). They co-browsed with me and saw the issue I was having with Captivate. They had me send them the file and told me they’d work on it and get back to me. The support person was still rather unfriendly and impatient with me, but at least she listened.
Do I think they’re going to find a solution? Doubtful. But what really bothers me is the idea that I got special treatment because I complained about the company on Twitter. I go through the recommended support channels and am not only told I can’t get help but am insulted. Then I use Twitter and get treated like a human being (or as well as anyone can hope for when dealing with Adobe). So basically what they’re saying is that Twitter is the best way to get help with Adobe issues and if you’re not on Twitter basically you’re screwed. This creates a situation where the digerati — who are likely more savvy with software already — are given better service than the people who don’t use social media and probably need support the most.
Social media can put a human face on a company and help them build more direct relationships with their customers. Look at companies like Zappos and Newegg. But, too often, social media only gives a soulless corporation that doesn’t give a damn about the customer the opportunity to put up window dressing that makes them look like they actually care. And, sadly, some people don’t look beyond the window dressing.
Just because a company is on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. doesn’t mean they’re 2.0. It doesn’t mean they care. The real test of a company is how they treat the average customer, not how they treat the loud, whiny geek with the Twitter account (and by that, I mean me).
By Meredith Farkas | June 23, 2010
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about finding a balance between honoring history and promoting change. Then I read a post by Kendra entitled “The tension between ‘memory’ and ‘complacency’” where she talks about the struggle to find “the balance between memory/history and change/innovation in my library community.” She says that while it’s important to remember why a decision was made and what was going on at the time, it’s not an excuse to avoid making changes that will provide value now.
A lot of times, providing detailed explanations for the past seems to not really provide excuses, but sort of muddy the waters. It’s hard, as somebody who wants to see change and innovation, to hear a long account of the past without thinking that the teller implicitly thinks it should still sort of be that way.
I agree that it’s valuable to know why a decision was made originally — sometimes there was a very good reason and knowing that offers a perspective that we may not have originally considered. More times than not, at my library, none of us know why the decision was originally made. I think that lack of institutional memory sometimes helps us up a great deal in our ability to push changes forward. Maybe we all need a bit of institutional amnesia at times.
Norwich University is steeped in history. When I graduated from Wesleyan, I knew next to nothing about its history. Students at Norwich know the history of Norwich. They are steeped in it from Day 1. There are classes on Norwich History and assignments where students have to research certain aspects of the history of Norwich in the archives and museum. Students here, especially in the Corps of Cadets, feel a part of a tradition. And that not only connects students to Norwich while they’re here, but it connects the alums to the University long after they’ve graduated. And many of those alums have taken very good care of the University, financially, over the years.
Our library is very change-oriented, but there is definitely a hesitance to change anything that feels like it might not be in keeping with the Norwich tradition or that involves getting rid of something that’s been around a long time.
Right now, we’re looking at making changes to our reference desk. It’s big, bulky and not at all conducive to having a true research consultation or allowing the student to “drive” our computer. We sit at the desk and the student has no choice but to stand. We want a space that feels collaborative. A space where students can be at eye-level with us and can sit if they’re working on something more in-depth. We want it to be less bunker-like and more inviting.
But then there’s that history thing. The desk has been in the library since it was built. It even has a plaque with the name of an alum on it. Our Head of Reference is very hesitant to get rid of the desk, because she doesn’t want to make anyone angry. So we’re looking at modifying it, but no modification to the existing desk will really give us what we’re looking for. It’ll be a bit better, but I have a hard time seeing the point of spending a lot of money on “a bit better” when we could probably spend a similar sum and get just what we want.
I completely understand that we need to be cognizant and respectful of things that represent Norwich’s history and things that the alums might be attached to. They are stakeholders too. But are they really attached to a reference desk? And wouldn’t most alums be happy to see a change that would improve services to current students? I honestly don’t have the answer to that. Nor do my colleagues.
I’m sure other libraries also struggle with making decisions that might anger older and loyal members of their population or that represent a major break with tradition. I think the key is to keep asking questions and take nothing for granted. What was the reason for doing it this way in the first place? Is there really a good reason to keep this the way it is? Do the people we think care about this really care? We always think we know our populations, and more often than not, we’re dead wrong. And that not only applies to the reasons to avoid change; it also applies to the reasons (and the way we want) to change. My colleagues and I don’t entirely agree on what this new reference desk should look like and each of us are so sure we’re right. My feeling is that we should ask the students. Do they want to stand at a 42″ desk? Sit at a 30″ desk? Have both options available? We each have our own biases.
Sometimes it’s not about change vs. history. Sometimes it’s all in our heads. Sometimes it’s just about figuring out what your stakeholders really want and care about. And, yes, sometimes the wants of stakeholders will conflict, but I think we spend a lot of time debating things that might just be non-issues if we actually asked our users.
By Meredith Farkas | June 7, 2010
Last year, Michelle Boule and I organized what ended up being a FANTASTIC first Unconference at ALA Annual. I was so impressed with the quality of the talks and discussions, and how everyone took on the roles of both teacher and learner. I think the best kind of conference is one where everyone can teach and learn from each other, rather than the usual “sage on the stage” model. We all have something useful to offer. Michelle is going to repeat the feat this year at ALA 2010 in D.C., this time with the Allen County Public Library’s Sean Robinson. They are adding some really cool activities to this year’s Unconference, like flash debates, Pecha Kecha presentations, and a fishbowl at the end of the day. Wifi, as well as awesome conversations, should be plentiful.
The Unconference will take place Friday, June 25, 2010 from 9am-4:30pm. So what are you waiting for? Go sign up! You’ll be guaranteed at least one day at ALA that is full of learning, great discussions and WIN!
By Meredith Farkas | June 6, 2010
I never in a million years thought I’d get an eBook reader from the current batch of options. They were so not on my radar. I didn’t get all excited and jealous when I saw people with them. I never even thought I’d want to read a book that way. Heck, I hate reading articles on my computer! I’ve printed out every article assigned for ACRL Immersion because there’s no way I’ll retain anything if I read it at my computer. And even if I did want to read eBooks, I’d never want to do it on a device that only does that — like I need another electronic thing to lug around.
And yet, here I am, the owner of a Kindle. No, I didn’t have a total change of heart and buy one for myself. I actually won it in a raffle at a conference I was speaking at. Even if you don’t necessarily want to buy a Kindle, it’s pretty exciting to win one! From my hotel that evening, I registered my Kindle and downloaded a couple of books. I read stories from Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness on the way home the next day and found it to be a pretty good reading experience. It’s nothing like reading on a computer screen — no glare, no backlight. To my surprise, I actually found it to be just as pleasant as reading a print book. A few weeks later I read a 320-page book, Orange is the New Black, on the Kindle (by the pool, in the bathtub, and in bed) and, other than having to plug it in at night, I never thought about the fact that I was reading on an electronic device. The reading experience was just as absorbing. I even fell asleep reading on it! I’ve been pleasantly surprised by it and am actually reading more now that I have it than in the entire year since my son was born.
Knowing what I know now, would I have bought it? Probably not. I don’t travel enough (or read enough, with a toddler in the house) to make it really worthwhile. But there are other reasons why I think the Kindle, and eBook readers like it, are not where it’s at. First of all, while you can annotate a book, it’s extremely cumbersome on a Kindle. When I was in college, I highlighted and underlined the hell out of my books and wrote notes in the margins. When I thought about transferring my Immersion readings to the Kindle, I rejected the idea because I knew I’d want to write notes in the margins and underline important passages and it seemed like a hassle to do that on the Kindle and then refer back to those annotations at Immersion.
Most also don’t take advantage of one of the most exciting things that’s happened in computing in the past decade — the growth of the social web. In addition to easily annotating the things I read, I might want to see what annotations others have added to what I’m reading, if they choose to make them public. If I’m working on a group project, I certainly want to share my annotations with my team members. I want to make it easy for friends to see what I’m reading and what I thought about it and to see what people I trust thought about the book I’m considering downloading. I know the upcoming update to the Kindle firmware will have some social features, but it’s still a long way from what could be possible in the future. I can’t even imagine what reading online is going to look like in the future!
I’ll wait to spend my money on a device that offers all this and is more than just an eBook reader (go convergence devices!). The iPad still isn’t exactly what I want, and at that price it’s just not worth it for me (though I must say that I’ve had fun playing with other people’s iPads). I know so little about the market for eBook readers, but I feel like everything is really in its infancy, is so proprietary, and is so tied only to recreating the print reading experience rather than reimagining the reading experience. I definitely enjoy reading on my Kindle, but I’m much more interested in seeing what comes out in the next several years. I have a feeling it’s going to put what’s available right now to shame.
By Meredith Farkas | June 2, 2010
Last semester, one of my students linked to this great conversation between Teresa Nielsen Hayden (community manager for Boing Boing) and John Scalzi about community-building through comments and moderation. It’s a fantastic read — check it out. Nielsen Hayden made a comment about the need for moderation to promote good behavior in a community and Scalzi responded with his thoughts on how old media has dealt with social media on their own websites:
That’s why I find that some of the worst places for comments tend to be old-line media sites. In my opinion, the old-line media is really still stuck on the idea that it’s asymmetrical and that when people respond, it’s in the old “letters to the editor” sense. For a long time, they didn’t get and they still don’t get that instantaneous communication, if left unchecked or unmoderated, will quickly go down to a lowest common denominator of people yelling at each other. If you go to a newspaper site and look at the comments on any kind of article there, it’s usually toxic spew followed by toxic spew.
My experience with newspaper comments totally jives with Scalzi’s, but I think worse than not moderating comments is deleting comments in an effort to silence discussion on a specific topic. We had a big fire downtown on Memorial Day in a 100-year-old building. When I heard that the Mayor (who is also a prominent businessman) had recently bought the building, I jokingly said “must be arson!” Turns out, I was right. My local paper, the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus reported the story (and here) and, as always, had comments open on it. Discussions in the comments section of Times Argus articles tend to be very polarized and full of vitriol. I honestly don’t know why most of the people bother to comment at all, since it’s not like they’re dealing with reasonable individuals. Not surprisingly, a few people commented on the story and suggested that the Mayor had the building burned down. Others defended him.
All of a sudden, the comments disappeared and there was no space where people could post comments anymore. You could see on the front page that it was one of the most discussed stories, with 19 comments (the other had 17), but those comments had disappeared, replaced by nothing. No note explaining why they did it. The comments were just gone.
I’ve seen some of the most horrible comments on this newspaper website. People blaming a mother whose three-year-old was hit by a car. People writing offensive things about gays and lesbians. People saying awful stuff about a teenager who’d just died in a car accident. None of those conversations were moderated in the least. In fact, I’ve never seen anything deleted from the comments. But now, instead of moderating a conversation about a fire that destroyed a local landmark, they simply make all of the comments (some completely innocuous) disappear. This is not how you treat your readers, especially your “super users” who probably visit the site many times each day. I can understand moderating comments that suggest that the mayor might have been involved in criminal dealings and lack any proof, but there were plenty of comments that suggested nothing of the kind. Also, if you get rid of any comments, you should be transparent about it — make it clear that you did it and (ideally) explain why. This isn’t moderation for the sake of creating a safe and welcoming community space (which should always be the primary purpose of moderation); this is censorship to stifle conversation about a topic they don’t want conversation on. I ends up looking like they have zero respect for their readers and that they’re simply paying lip service to social media. And I doubt that’s too far off from the reality.
This is a good lesson for anyone who runs an online community. Moderating comments is ok. In fact, it’s critical to moderate comments in order to create the sort of environment where everyone feels comfortable posting comments. But you want to be consistent. You don’t want to let offensive comments go on one post and then delete them from another. And you definitely want to keep comments open on everything, not just those things you’re comfortable having people discuss. When you do delete something, you want to explain why you did so — transparency is critical. While you might be the moderator, you’re not the boss. In fact, you exist to serve the community. You need to make participants feel like it’s their community; you need to show respect for them and keep the lines of communication open. Respect your users and they will respect the community. You might own the site and be paying for the server space, but if you treat it like it’s your community, you will never create the successful community you want.