Friday, March 31, 2006

Campus Events for Women's Month: A Roundup

I have had the good fortune that my schedule allowed me some moments to attend some of the campus events celebrating Women's Month. From scholars to artists, I have had a chance to broaden my horizons and learn a thing or two in the process. I always take notes so I can blog abou the events later, but this month has been too hectic to allow me to blog the events right away. So, here then, is a small roundup:

  • On March 7, 2006, I attended the presentation by Houston artist Angela Beloian. Ms. Beloian's presentation integrated slides with narrative. She began by telling her audience about why she paints. Some of the reasons include triumph and defeat, to understand why, and to find hope. She does a good amount of her work on wood. One technique she employs is to find images in the patterns of the wood. She discovers these patterns and then creates the painting. In this process, she says that serendipity often surprises the artist. The female figure is very important to her work. She asks in her work how does the environment influence us. She noted that in working with wood sometimes she has to choose from many images she may see in the wood, which one to show, which one to hide. A trick of a trade she revealed is that she turns her other works around when working on a project. This is so as not to look at her older works while working on a current project. Readers can find information and samples of her work here.
  • On March 8, 2006, I went to the presentation entitled "El Lamento de los Muros" ("The Wailing of the Walls") by Argentinian photographer Paula Luttringer. Her work is being exhibited as part of Houston's Fotofest, a biennial event of photography and photo-related art. Ms. Luttringer's work is based on interviews of women kidnapped during Argentina's Dirty War era. The photos were taken at various secret prison locations. The presentation integrated photos with narratives of the survivors. As I sat there looking at the photos and listening, I was reminded of reading the works of Griselda Gambaro, an Argentinian playwright whose works deal with this time period as well. I read Gambaro's work, and even wrote a research paper on her works, for a graduate drama course. So, back to this note. The darkness of the lecture hall added to the eerie and even slightly oppressive effect on the audience. One of the women in the narrative mentioned that this could happen in any society. The secret prisons were really hospitals, schools, and other common buildings which the torturers used for their purposes. Some of these places are now closed; others have been abandoned. The photographer, a survivor herself, is interested in the memory. The images in the photos are cryptic, and this is part of the memories. From the audience, I got the impression that many of them were not terribly well-read or informed given questions wondering why this happened. Yet, in asking the survivors, we are told they cannot give a reason why they were taken or why they survived. If asked, the photographer is not sure what her work is about. Also, the aftermath of the experience is a problem as well. Dealing with the aftermath interests Ms. Luttringer. It's not only what the experiences mean to the individual but what they mean to society. On a brief aside note, readers wanting to read something on Argentina's Dirty War may want to consider this book.
  • On March 20, 2006, I had the opportunity to hear some poetry and creative writing as I ventured to a Women's Reading session. Faculty and students read from their creative works. The event was very informal, and it provided a way for the community to hear the voices of the women on campus. These are women who may complicate things, make us outraged, or uncomfortable, or even warm. The works had a diverse range of themes. One poet read of her summer experiences, which she explored in a poetry sequence, often using the energy of her dreams. A second one gave us poems dedicated to women in her life, one of those women being her martial arts teacher. Another author gave us a monologue from a play she has been working on; the monologue's character is a wealthy woman reflecting on her philanthropy, blending humor and anger as she is displeased with her daughter. Another poet reflected on her experiences, blending humor and history, with references from George Orwell to Zora Neale Hurston, regaling the audience with a prose poem "About the White Dudes I Like to Date." And let us not forget the student readers. One who gave us observations on the human condition, about mothers and their limitless intuitions, of strong women who cannot be bound. The other a brief poem to her mother and her old van with such a sense of evocation and longing, blending English and Spanish in the verses.
  • And on March 23, 2006, I got to learn about Shakespeare and his friends from Professor Kate Pogue, author of the book Shakespeare's Friends. For this event, we met in the campus gallery surrounded by works of art. She began by answering some common questions, such as what inspired the book. A lecture on the topic of Shakespeare and friendship inspired it. Friendship is a theme present in many of the Bard's works. For instance, Othello and Iago show a failed friendship. But this is more a book about the playwright's friends. Researching some of this is possible through records, like his will. The idea of the book is to illuminate Shakespeare's life through his friends. The book gives an overview of Shakespeare's life, brief biographies, and then it goes on to show how his friends illustrated his life. We heard the story of the building of the Globe Theater, which was a bit confrontational, but I will leave that so readers may go seek the book. As soon as I read it, I may make a note in the blog.
There are still a couple of events left, but I will blog those later.

Article Note: On Crying Wolf about the LIS Education Crisis

Citation for the article:

Dillon, Andrew and April Norris. "Crying Wolf: An Examination and Reconsideration of the Perception of Crisis in LIS Education." Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 46 (4) (Fall 2005): 280-298.

I read it online here.

Mark Lindner, at . . .the thoughts are broken. . .wrote a critique of the article here, which is excellent in looking at many of the points the authors make, plus he adds value by linking to other commenters on the topic. Upon reading the article, there were a couple of points that stood out and that I think should be questioned.

In their literature review, the authors cite [Larry J.] Ostler, author of The Closing of American Library Schools (1995) in regards to placing the blame for the crisis on "the lack of suitable leadership within the field and the failure to market themselves adequately" (qtd. in 280). This moved me because one of the grievances that incoming librarians have is the significant lack of leadership opportunities. While there are leaders in the field of librarianship, it is important to note that in many cases the leadership is not being shared. More importantly, managers often have no succession plans and measures to train future leaders to take over their institutions when the time comes. I discussed some of that in another article note here, and I am sure a search in Technorati regarding generational issues in LIS will likely yield other writers on the topic. The lack in leadership is likely to continue as long as there is no significant training in place for those coming into the profession.

Dillon and Norris go on to perpetuate the myth of the expanding job market for LIS students. In here, I have to agree with Mark that there may be a conflict of interest with Professor Dillon being a Information School dean. I will admit that initially it seemed a bit mean to hold his position against the professor, but after reading this, I can see the conflict of interest potential. Of course a dean would promote this idea in order to bring students to the school. However, it is gradually becoming common knowledge that the so-called looming retirements are not happening, and the few that are happening may well be happening later. In addition, what no one who promotes this optimistic view seems to address is the fact that even if a retirement does occur, the position is often left unfilled, or it is eliminated altogether in the interests of saving some money.

Dillon and Norris also mention that crisis critics "cite curricular problems, lack of relevant research, gender inequity, and an obsession with technology at the expense of people as problems that educators fail to adequately address" (281). The lack of relevant research is certainly open to question. Mark points out the selectiveness of the sampling that Dillon and Norris did to prove that the relevant research is there. I suggest readers take a look at his post. My question comes down with a small twist. First, as someone who with some regularity looks over the LIS literature, how many more "how my library did it" articles can the professional journals take in? Apparently, quite a few. While I understand the need for some of my professional brethren to work towards tenure, I cannot help but wonder if that is all there is. But Dillon and Norris go further on this to actually dismiss practitioners, which, as a practitioner myself, was, shall we say, not nice? But I will get to that a bit further down. As to the issue of technological obsession, I hate to say this, but a lot of the biblioblogosphere has become a place that displays that trait. And if we look at the biblioblogosphere as a picture of where the experts of the profession are at, then this works. Even if we take the Gorman view and dismiss bloggers, the obsession with technology is not far off. By the way, for an interesting questioning of the technological obsession, see Mr. Rory Litwin's post here, which I will likely respond to at a later time. But, let me move this for the further down bit I am promising.

One of the themes that Dillon and Norris present is :

"1. Librarianship has been pushed out or otherwise negatively affected by the incursion of information studies or information science-oriented faculty into most LIS programs, and as a result there is a lack of research on library issues, since schools have given all their attention to technologically oriented research questions" (281).

This is where Mark raises the question about the research and the citations that Dillon and Norris use as examples. Now, in my case, I will use experience to question this. The lack of siginificant LS offerings in my own LI School was a major grievance point for most of my classmates. It was a major grievance point for me as well as we often had to make magic in order to get classes we needed. There was a significant lack of LS faculty, and the balance was clearly tilted to IS. Now, I am not one to say that Information Science is not important. Far from it, in this day and age, knowing how to make use of technological tools and how they apply to service is a given. Dillon and Norris do agree when they write:

"Technology has permeated all we do in this field; it is foundational for the discipline in the twenty-first century, not a component that can be ignored or taught separately, under the heading 'information science' in our schools" (294).

I don't think it as gone to all we do, but it does permeate a large part of what we do. There is still a very strong human factor. Technology is a tool; what we do with it is what makes us good librarians as well as compassionate and caring human beings to our fellow people. Now, in regards to the technological components, I had to do a lot of my learning about social software and what has become L2 after library school. Sure, I learned about web design and some other technological tools, but the toys of L2 were not there. So, clearly, that needed to be present. On the other hand, to make a good reference librarian, I needed courses in various specialized topics that were simply not there because practitioners were not hired. Sure, I got a good education, but it could have been a lot better. On a bit of a positive note, they have brought in some people to balance the scales, but work could be done further. This is just one example.

Now, to the part that got my blood boiling which I promised earlier. Dillon and Norris conveniently argue that lack of space does not allow them to examine the claim that faculty research is not practical for those of us in the field. In order to dismiss this, they just view the research as not too highly theoretical when compared to other humanities or social science fields. They write that "more importantly, it is doubtful that trial by practitioner is ever the best measure of any scholarly research" (287). Well, excuse me for not asking permission or your blessing before judging your scholarly output, not that I am asking now. In that short statement, the authors basically dismissed the value and perspectives of librarian practitioners. One needs to wonder where exactly this comes from considering that librarianship, even as they define it in their article, as "a commonly understood label for the work of credentialed practitioners involved in management and provision of services within a library or similar setting" (282), is a practical field. First and foremost, librarianship is defined by service to others. If anyone is qualified to question the research of those in the ivory tower, it is those in the field who actually put the theory into practice. In addition, many practitioners do conduct research and publish. Research and publication are not the exclusive venues of those in the ivory tower, and I would be willing to bet that a look at the literature would bear this out, at least one less cursory than the one Dillon and Norris did to illustrate their point about research relevancy. Apparently, the authors may not be fully aware of models like the teacher researcher, which is certainly applicable to librarians in their libraries and based on daily concerns as well as larger issues. Are these authors saying that unless one is a theorist that their research is not valid, nor their ability to evaluate material? It would seem so, and this practitioner who has had a good share of research experience begs to disagree. Our field of endeavor is a practical field, and while we do need a solid grounding in theory, most of it should be applicable to our practice in general. What we are seeing here is the favoring of the old ivory tower academic model of publication or else along with the notion that only certain scholars can engage in research. There is a lot more to research than the ivory tower. If nothing else, Dillon and Norris self-destruct when they make such assertion because they are making a divide. In making that divide, they seem to make the LI School faculty seem as indeed out of touch with the profession at large. I thought they were trying to refute this idea, but it seems more like lip service.

The article has some useful ideas, but it also brings forth some significant questions. The authors do note that "LIS programs have failed to grasp fully the opportunity to stake a stronger intellectual claim in this terrain [information science]" (294). I would not disagree with that, but I don't think such a claim has to come at the expense of the library side in Library and Information Science. Like most things in life, there has to be a balance. While technology is very present in our work, it does not mean that libraries and librarianship, in the more traditional sense if we care to use that label, will disappear, no matter what the dwellers of Mount Ubertech will have us believe. What I find questionable is that, while the authors refute there is a crisis, they go on to promote certain divisions. Are they then promoting another crisis, or a different one? In dismissing practitioners so readily, they seem to be doing that. We have to show that we have the knowledge and the authority for dealing with information issues, as Dillon and Norris conclude (296), but research does need to have some degree of relevancy. If not, there may well be a crisis in the horizon. There are many other questions to consider, but they have been addressed in other places, and I would recommend that readers visit those writers as well.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Taking the Blogger Pledge, well, sort of. . .

I had seen the reconstituted Library Juice Blog by Rory Litwin, but until I saw the reference to Mr. Litwin's "Blogging Pledge" in Mark Lindner's blog here, I had not really given the pledge any thought. So, in the interests of a little reflection and sort of keeping myself on my toes, here is where I would stand. By the way, I used to read Library Juice in its first incarnation, so I am glad he is back again. I am sure a lot of other readers are very happy he has returned. Mr. Litwin's pledge makes for an overall good set of principles for bloggers.

First, Mr. Litwin pledged not to refer to other bloggers by their first name. He gives good reasons for this. In my case, it is a bit more simple. Most other bloggers out there are people I have not met personally, so calling them by first name does not seem appropriate. Now, there are a couple of people who have told me it is ok to use their first name (and they know who they are). Otherwise, it's full name if provided or blog name (i.e. the blogger or author at so-and-so). I usually open references to other blogs by full blog name and blogger the first time I make the reference just to make sure people know where to go for the information.

Second, and this is where I may diverge with Mr. Litwin but only a little. I will not talk about my own life, much. For the more personal, I have a personal blog. However, don't expect details of my breakfast or my laundry. Unlike Mr. Litwin, I have no idea why readers come to my academic blog, but I am sure knick knacks is not it. So folks, it's simple: you want stuff about librarianship, instruction, some campus events, articles, books, my subject areas, reading and literacy, this is the place. If you want the more personal with a bit more rebelliousness or playfulness, go over there.

Third, I will not get ugly, tempted as I may be at times. I will admit there are days when I would love to rip someone who deserves it a new one. However, doing so only lowers the civility, so we can keep that out. By the same token, I don't tolerate ugliness, so comments with invective or other rudeness will be removed. Don't make me turn on the moderation.

Fourth is a bit trickier, but I will try not to get into what Mr. Litwin calls "rough-and-tumble." Sure, I have some political ideas, but I try to keep them close to my vest. Readers are free to speculate. In my case, I was raised with the doctrine of things to avoid in polite company. While I do discuss some of those in my personal blog, I try to keep it minimal and civil. As for the politics of the librarian profession, I try to stay out of those. However, if something needs to be said, I will say it, even if it means "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"

Tht fifth point is an important one to me. Mr. Litwin proposes to pay attention and be fair. Fairness to me is very important. I will strive to consistently treat people fairly. They deserve at least that much. I do strive to pay attention, and I often take my time replying to issues I see because I am reading, listening, and paying attention. In my book, fools do rush in. I also want any debate, if it comes to that, to be civil and rational. Sure, I am aware that in some debates, some people will never change their minds no matter how "wrong" they may be, but I will at least give them a fair chance. It does not mean I will keep dealing with someone irrational. Even Don Corleone knew that you could not negotiate with some people (you see, that movie does have the answer to everything). At any rate, how can one grow without exposure to differing and often opposing viewpoints and ideas? Actually, that is something I wish the overzealous censors would think about in their drive to deprive the rest of us of any materials they deem unfit. But I disgress. On this topic, also, if I make a mistake, I will own to it. It is only fair to do so. I will work on being accurate.

On the sixth point, I am not so sure. Mr. Litwin says he will not talk much. I can be talkative when engaged, but he says what I often think very well, so I will let him say it:

"I pledge to be silent on an issue where I have nothing of substance, or nothing that is new, to contribute. I will not say what I find obvious, what other people are already saying, what amounts to an emotional reaction that I have not reflected upon with at least an attempt at depth, or what doesn’t contain something that feels to me like an insight or that I think might be of some use."

In other words, for me at least, I am not adding to an echo chamber. This is probably why I stay out of certain librarianship topics. It is not because I am not interested or lack my own thoughts, but what is the point of adding an echo? Sure, I may post something with some emotion, but that may be rare since I often let drafts sit before I post them. Well, this goes for the long ones I like to ponder. I do the quick short stuff as well, but I have no aspirations to be anybody's timely source of information. There are other blogs out there that do the whole awareness thing very well. For me, this blog is a reflection tool. In the end, my professional blog is a learning tool, so I see no sense in retreading paths that are well worn by others.

So, there you go, a partial pledge. Partial because over at my personal blog I may break a rule or two with more ease. After all, rules are meant to be broken sometimes, but there is a place and a time for everything. At any rate, since this month is my first anniversary of blogging, this seemed like a good time to reflect a little on what principles I consider when blogging. I also wanted to make some nice and insightful "end of the first year" thing, but it seems work may trump that. Heck, seeing this is a busy time for me, it's a miracle I started blogging last year. So far, so good. We'll see how it works in the coming year.

Booknote: Essential Punisher, vol. 1

Title: Essential Punisher, vol. 1
Author: Gerry Conway, and various artists.
Publication Information: New York: Marvel Comics, 2004
ISBN: 0785113649
Genre: Fiction/Comics
Subgenre: Fantasy/Adventure
568 pages.

This is part of Marvel's Essential series, which collect a lot of comics in single volumes. For fans of comic books, the Essential series make an excellent gift as they are great compilations of comics that one may not be able to get otherwise. The series collects appearances of the character the particular book focuses on from its early beginnings to today. This volume focuses on the character of The Punisher, the former ex-marine who survives a mob hit that kills his family and becomes a one-man army against the mob. The interesting thing for me about this series is that The Punisher made appearances in other comics, such as Spider-Man, Daredevil, and even Captain America, so you get a taste of other heroes as well. Punisher does have his own comics as well. It is also interesting to see how the characters evolve over time. In addition, many of these comics from yesteryear have a certain flavor to them. For instance, Spider-Man is well known for being a smart-aleck when dealing with villains, and this humor plays very well in these comics. There is also a narrative voice (kind of like an announcer, who tells you "previously on our show. . .") that I find kind of neat, but this is pretty much gone from more modern renditions (for an example of a more modern rendition, readers can see my note on Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 4).

At 500-plus pages, I think you get very good value if you are buying it. I borrowed my copy from the public library, but I would definitely consider buying other series, probably the X-Men. Since it is a comics compilation, you do not have to read it all in one sitting, though you may find yourself engaged enough to attempt it. I definitely recommend this. I think older fans may find themselves going down memory lane, and newer readers may get to discover the roots of the many graphic novels today. By the way, this is not The Punisher from the recent films (1989 and more recently 2004). . So, it may be wise not to go into this series thinking that Frank Castle is just like the movies. He is not. He is way cooler, at least I think so.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Booknote: Michael Gorman's Books on Meditations for Librarians

Title: Our Singular Strengths: Meditations for Librarians
Author: Michael Gorman
Publication Information: Chicago: ALA, 1998
ISBN: 0-8389-0724-5
Pages: 196
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Inspirational, librarianship

Title: Our Own Selves: More Meditations for Librarians
Author: Michael Gorman
Publication Information: Chicago: ALA, 2005
ISBN: 0-8389-0896-9
Pages: 224
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Inspirational, librarianship

I should say that I read the books in reverse order. I saw a review for the latest one. The review was written by Donald G. Davis, Jr., and it was featured in Libraries and Culture 40.4 (2005) on pages 581-582. I accessed that review on Project Muse. The review intrigued me enough to make me want to pick up the book. My campus did not have it, but I placed a request for it and got it from another campus in our system. I also managed to get a hold of the first book a bit later. I will say that while I do not agree with a lot of what Mr. Gorman says and represents, at least when it comes to bloggers and some other issues, the books are actually pretty nice. For librarians looking for a bit of inspiration about their profession, these little essays will make a nice "pick me up." The books follow the formula many other inspirational books follow in terms of having some quote, then the essay or reflection, and ends each piece with a little conclusion or prayer. In this case, the conclusions are resolutions. The essays give a good blend of amusement, of interesting, of curious, of trivia, and inspiration. Unfortunately, some of the biases that he has been criticized for come through in these books as well. In the second book, he has a small essay on blogs where he writes about how he dislikes the word, "it sounds like something you might find in a drain. . ." (207). Ok, I will admit I had a chuckle over that because "blog" does rhyme with "clog," and I had visions of the Liquid Plumber ads. However, it was as if he just could not resist taking yet another potshot at bloggers who he sees as narcissistic and with limited appeal. He connects blogs to the tradition of personal diaries. I have to grant him that the tradition is there for many bloggers, but it still rang as another shot. However, as I said, he does have some very warm pieces as well. One example is his reflection on children's books. Overall, there is more positive than negative in the books, and I think librarians will enjoy reading them.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Article Note: On Collaborating with Faculty for Library Instruction

Citation for the article:

Sanborn, Lura. "Improving Library Instruction: Faculty Collaboration." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 31.5 (September 2005): 477-481.

I read the article via OmniFile.

This is another article discussing library instruction and collaboration with faculty. It goes more into how to gain collaboration as the librarian is preparing to teach. The article's study is set in a private co-ed boarding school, but it has some good ideas. I am admitting that I was a bit sceptical about such a setting because it seems so different from my academic library. The faculty in the place described by Sanborn are more likely to be more close-knit; at least, I think logic would indicate that. However, I was not sceptical enough to dismiss it, so, what did I learn this time?

From the literature review:
  • ". . .the writings surrounding collaboration are similar and center around: How to successfully create a collaborative environment, success stories, and concerns about teachers that undervalue the library and LI" (477).
  • ". . .the Hardesty and Wright study that found the greatest influence on student acquisition of library skills was library instruction" (478). If nothing else, I found this encouraging.
Sanborn met with faculty on separate lunch occasions to discuss past LI experiences, what did and did not work. This would not be as easy for me, but it would certainly not be impossible. Sanborn writes about these meetings that "by meeting with these faculty I was attempting not only to acquire helpful information, but also to promote that I was available to discuss LI and willing to incorporate faculty opinion/specifications into LI sessions" (478-479).

After the meetings, the author e-mailed the faculty members, and the author invited them to meet and talk about ways to collaborate towards an LI session. The emphasis, when discussions occured, was in reaching a common goal for the sessions.

Some of the author's conclusions:
  • "Collaboration with faculty improves the content quality and meaningfulness of a given library instruction session" (480).
  • "This type of collaboration allows librarians to build on the generic, stand-alone tutorial and create a unique lecture, suited especially for a specific class" (480).
While much of this is not new, the article presents a way to help foster collaboration. It is a brief piece that goes from planning to conclusion. The article is a basic activity outline. Its brevity makes it useful, and I am adding it to my working list of articles on the topic of faculty and librarian collaboration.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ah, the costs of learning technology

Through the Kept Up Librarian, an editorial piece out of the Pitt News on the costs of learning technology for students. The moment I read this piece I thought of our Systems Librarian, who is very conscious of the costs of paper and cartridges for our printers. I am as well, but I think he is a bit more aware as it is part of his job. Now if the higher ups would listen to him so we could implement a bit more cost effectiveness here and there, but that is another story. At any rate, the article discusses how professors find it very easy to put more materials online for students to find thanks to course management software (CMS) systems. In the olden days, the teachers had to make copies and make a packet, the dreaded packet students had to buy that was usually worthless by the end of the semester. Now, the professor can scan to his/her heart's content without real thought to what is being put online, and the students will have to print it out. Well, I hear a critic say, "they don't have to print it out; it's online." To the critic I say, "have you tried reading a couple hundred pages on the screen?" Now, in many institutions, there are print control mechanisms that give students an allowance of pages to print; however, someone still has to pay for the paper and ink, and eventually it goes to their tuition. There is a price for the convenience.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Turns out that Spring Break is not that quiet

Last week was Spring Break at campus. This means the students get to leave as well as the faculty. It also means staff has to stay here so the place can stay open. In other words, I was here. At any rate, it was supposed to be a quite week, but since laws like those of Murphy are in force, it could not really be quiet. So, a couple of events from last week.
  • On Monday, our intrepid ILL Librarian had a shift at the reference desk. Shortly after her shift was over, she comes into the reference office and says she had a very strange reference encounter. What could have possibly happened? It turns out that a patron came to the desk asking for some poems. He wanted to find some poetry, apparently for poetry slam event. Now, you may ask what is strange about such a request. Well, the librarian asked a few questions to ascertain the need, and then asked if the young man had tried using the catalog to find some authors he may like. The man said, in a very straight forward manner, "Oh, I don't use the Internet. You see, it's against my personal beliefs." Now, far from us to cause anyone to violate their beliefs, so our enterprising librarian gave him some call numbers and sent him to the appropriate area. The irony? The man had a cellphone with him and apparently he did some text-messaging while he was with the librarian. My guess? It must be a very narrow set of personal beliefs. As of this writing, none of the librarians have been able to find if there is any religion, cult, belief system, etc. that would forbid internet use yet allow text messaging on a cell phone.
  • Now, to wrap up the week, this comes at about 20 minutes before we close the library on Friday afternoon. This time, our resourceful Systems Librarian was on duty. He steps into the office, and he asks for some help. I am at my desk, so I come out to help. At the desk, is an older gentleman who has written down a line, apparently from a poem. He wanted to know who wrote it and what the rest of the poem was. I told the Systems Librarian that he could use a poetry index, and I went to the reference stacks to get it. It took me a moment to recall that I wanted the Columbia Granger Index to Poetry, which can find poems by first line. In the meantime, we did a little googling and some other searches to no avail. Once we got our hands on Granger, we found the line. Now, a Friday afternoon could not be as easy as that. While I was working with our senior patron, one of our faculty members walked in. The faculty member in question wanted a particular book, and he wanted it two days ago, which made him kind of testy. Dr. Testy wanted to look over Books In Print to get the ISBN. Our library stopped carrying BIP a while ago. Hey, that is what Amazon is for these days. However, Dr. Testy was insistent we show him BIP. This threw our Systems Librarian into having to deal with a professor who was in a rush, and to make things interesting, he did not want to log into the computer. You see, our librarian wanted to show him how to put in the ILL request for the material he wanted, but since Dr. Testy was in a rush, he did not feel like logging in. He simply figured he could come to any library computer and help himself. He forgot about a little something called security and its cousin "you have to have an account." He does have an account; he just did not want to use it, but we managed to talk him into it. He logged in, found what he wanted, put the ILL request in. Meanwhile, I was finding the poem for our senior patron, and I gave him the author (William Wordsworth. To add, he did say the author was British). Initially, he just asked me for the Norton Anthology of English Literature, so I got him the call number and sent him out. While he went out, I managed to find the poem in Bartleby. I thus printed it out and walked over to hand him the copy. The patron was very happy, since he had the line running on his head for a while now. In the meantime, our Systems Librarian had served Dr. Testy, and he now has a Dr. Testy story. Can we say trial by fire?
And here we thought it would be quiet and slow.

Article Note: On Readers' Advisory for Small Public Libraries

Citation for the article:

Stover, Kaite Mediatore. "Working Without a Net: Readers' Advisory in the Small Public Library." Reference and User Services Quarterly 45.2 (Winter 2005): 122-125.

I read the article in print.

This column provides a lot of low-tech ideas for readers' advisory. While it is geared to small public libraries, I found one or two ideas worth exploring for my setting. I am just going to make some notes:
  • "One possible solution to the lack of time for face-to-face readers' advisory interactions is to expand the library's passive readers' advisory services" (123). Now, we don't do a huge amount of RA in my library, but there are a couple of classes that need some degree of RA. These could benefit from some passive techniques such as lists, some promotional additions in our publications (the newsletter, the library blogs), and some additional displays.
  • "Make talking about books a part of staff meetings. One way to end meetings on a high note is to ask attendees what each has been reading and talk a little about the book. Ask one person at each meeting to keep a list of titles mentioned, then photocopy the list for all staff or post it in the shared staff common area" (123). A great idea overall. I think in an academic setting the temptation may be to talking about "shop" reading. I think avoiding that is preferable. While I think it is necessary at some point to share our professional reading, the end of a long staff meeting makes talk of light or recreational reading preferable. Just a thought.
  • "Leave multicolored index cards at the public service desk for patrons, and invite comments and suggestions about current reading. Staff members should be encouraged to contribute recent titles in the news, book club selections, or recent favorite authors. If time allows, have a staff member add the library's call number to the list. After a handful of cards have been collected, put them on a ring, and leave it at the public service desk for patrons to flip through" (123-124).
  • "Feature a 'Book of the Day' at the checkout point" (124). According to the author, one can then add a homemade bookmark with title, author, and a brief note about the book. Repeat the process as a book is taken. Simple and cool.
  • "Creat a Good-Book full of reading lists, award winners, local newspaper reviews of books, booklists from other libraries, Library Journal's Reader's Shelf columns, Booklist's Readalike features, bestseller lists, or anything suitable. Keep this homemade readers' advisory tool at the public service desk for reading suggestions or put out for patrons to browse" (124). This was my favorite suggestion. It is simple, very practical, and can be made accessible. I already collect various lists and reading suggestions, so those could be a start. For those with more of an L2 bent, I can see a wiki being used for this, but then it would be a staff tool, although making it open yields other possibilities. In this moment, the notebook idea seems excellent and easy to implement.
  • Of course, assuming you have access, don't forget the Internet, which is full of many free RA resources.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Generational Conflict? Says who? Oh, them. . .

This post is another one of those that started out as a comment and got too long. Mark Linder recently wrote a post entitled "More on generations and library literature." In his post, he addresses a short article that appeared in the March 2006 issue of C&RL News. The article citation is as follows:

McCaffrey and Martin Garnar. "Long-range planning across generational lines: Eight tips to bridge the differences." C&RL News 67.3 (March 2006).

Unlike Mark, as of this writing I have not received my copy even though I am a paid member. Readers can add another reason to my list of why I am not terribly happy about ALA. Expensive as heck, and it can't even get me my journals in a timely fashion. I read it out of the ALA website, which is another reason of my unhappiness, but let's leave that aside. We have more interesting things to consider. To save you time, here is the list of tips that the authors give:
  • Be respectful.
  • Encourage broad representation.
  • Have a timeline.
  • Mix it up.
  • Consult ACRL standards.
  • Plan for the future.
  • Gather data.
  • Get outside opinions.
It seems like a nice list on the surface, but there are certain questions I had as I was reading the article. To be fair, I did read the article first before reading Mark's reply to it. However, he anticipated a lot of what I had in mind, in some cases, much more eloquently than I could have, but here we go. The overall impression I got from the article is that an unknowing reader would think the generations are just fighting each other with hatchets and axes.

Let's start with that little generational overview pap at the article's opening, the one about the four generational categories. The authors write:

"Before we go any further, let’s take a quick look at the four major generational categories: Traditionalist, Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Millennial. Traditionalists are loyal employees, committed to the institutions for which they work. Baby Boomers are competitive and idealistic, a generation that has been able to focus on themselves. Generation Xers, by contrast, are skeptical and self-reliant. They have seen their parents divorce and institutions fail. Finally, Millennials are technologically savvy, diverse, and have been raised with a global media perspective."

Apparently, according to them, the traditionalists are the only ones who are loyal to their institutions. Based on that scheme, I am a self-reliant, skeptic with no loyalty and likely lack technological savvy since that trait belongs to the Millenials. This sounds like an example of an overgeneralization, something that in my days as a composition teacher I would warn my students to avoid in their writing. First, as far as I can tell, most librarians have a sense of loyalty to the place they work and a commitment to serve their constituents (clients, patrons, students, so on) well. Sure, we can make exceptions for some deadwood here and there, but those are exceptions rather than the rule.

Now, a little about myself in the hopes it may dispel some of this overgeneralization. If nothing else, just look at it as me being willing to serve as the guinea pig. As I hinted, I would fall in as a Generation X person. I have a fairly healthy commitment to my institution and am fairly loyal (as long as you deserve it. Loyalty, like respect, are things you earn). I am pretty idealistic; it comes with the territory of being an educator, but that idealism is tempered, for good or bad, by a realism that can border on cynicism and a very good dose of skepticism. You see, I do believe in questioning everything. I am even questioning the article in question now. Questioning and skepticism are healthy things. In terms of the divorce issue for Gen X'ers, I was fortunate my parents were married, and they still remain happily so. Having said that, I did see a lot of my classmates suffer in school because their parents divorced, some of them in quite ugly ways. In terms of technological savvy, I may not be someone who takes severs apart before breakfast. I may not be the coder extraordinaire that some of the ubertech L2 folks want every librarian to be, and I sure as heck don't dream in code, but overall, I do have some technological savvy. Hey, give me some credit, I am blogging for one. I also make use of some Web 2.0 tools, even if I am very selective about what I choose to use. You see, the skeptic in me does not believe that Web 2.o, and by extension L2, is the answer to everything (that answer happens to be 42). There are different questions, and each question needs a different answer. And in the times when my technological savvy only goes so far, I am not too proud to ask someone who knows more.

As for diverse, well, shall we go the ethnic route? (Puerto Rican, born and raised on the island) Or shall we go the foreign language fluency route? (Spanish language native fluency, plus some working knowledge of French). Or shall we go my current place of employment route? (I work at a campus defined by the federal government as a minority serving institution). Dear readers, when it comes to diversity, I live the experience on various levels. I may not be perfect, but I do make a good effort to be aware and open when it comes to diversity, but in reading the article, readers may believe that only Millenials are diverse. I work with a very diverse group of students and members of my academic community. As for the global perspective issue, I think Mark makes a good point, so I will let him say it:

"And for the global media perspective. Please, just give me a break! If we're talking about Americans here then please show me this vaunted global media perspective. Are you really claiming with any seriousness that our current media has a more global perspective than it did when I was raised? Hah! Get out a bit more. Like to another country on a different continent. Consume some of their media and then come back and tell me American media provides a 'global perspective.'"

Now, I am not as well travelled as Mark probably is, since he served in the Armed Forces for one, but I have had the fortune to travel a little myself. I am not even going to remark on surveys that often point out to Americans' serious lack of geographic awareness. OK, I will, find out about it here. We can also mention how the U.S. has a serious deficit when it comes to reading the literature of the world. And don't even get me started on the overall attitude that learning a foreign language could be a bother. Now, I will be a bit more blunt: I am guessing that the authors may have been referring to Millenials in some other part of the world when it comes to having a good global perspective. Now, the lack of a good global perspective is not just a Millenial issue, but you would believe they are the only ones with some global perspective from the article. I have to agree with Mark, the authors do need to get out more. If not, maybe reading some blogs from around the world may help. Here is one place to do that.

Now, another question, the one about the lack of young middle managers. The authors cite William Curran, who claims there is a "relative scarcity of younger middle managers" for leadership roles. I think at this point some readers may be asking, what scarcity? There are plenty of younger librarians and library workers who could be moving into leadership positions. Our library schools are producing librarians at a good clip, and those folks are coming to work in libraries, when they can find a job. You see, there is no shortage of librarians, and there is no real shortage of young leaders. What there is happens to be a serious shortage of planning succession and sharing the power. And I am not going into the retirement flood that everyone says is about to happen, in a decade according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook entry for librarians. You see, they are not necessarily retiring, which is consistent with other patterns in society where people retire later. In fact, I am not the one who says this; I just think it is fairly known, but readers can find out more about this later retirement trend from ALA (warning, PDF document). In our profession, the job outlook gets aggravated because if any do retire, their position does not get reopened for a new hire. Yes, I wil grant some of that may be funding, but a lot of it is just a lack of insight on the part of the institutions. The problem is not a lack of librarians; the problem is a lack of entry level jobs where institutions can groom those young middle managers they may be needing later on. Now, I look at that and wonder if that may also add fuel to the generational conflict the authors of the article refer to. Just a question to ask.

Now, looking over the list from the article. The one item I definitely agree with is respect. You can't have much occur if there is no respect. You do have to respect those who came before you, but by the same token, those that came before us have to respect those that are coming up. And I don't mean condescension. I mean a sincere respect that can lead to a sincere desire to truly communicate. Until all sides decide to have a little humility, this so-called conflict will just go on and on. Once we get some humility what we see is that the generations are not really all that different. Sure, they may have different perspectives, but under all that, there are human beings striving to grow and be better.

Mark covered the thing about the ACRL standards pretty well, so I think I will let him do the writing at this point:

"I really want to pick on one of their "tips:"

Consult ACRL standards. The standards represent what our profession values and may shine a light on areas that need improvement. If a Boomer is concerned about a proposed change, the standards can help bridge the gap.

We found that pointing to the standards made proposed changes more credible rather than being just another crazy idea the Generation Xers created over their morning café au laits.

OK. These are two of the most inane paragraphs that I have ever read. Are they saying that the standards aren't important to Gen Xers or Millenials but that they only need to be trotted out to calm the recalcitrant Boomers? I would certainly hope that if you are doing long-range planning for your university library you would pay close attention to the ACRL standards no matter your generation."

Apparently, if we do not use the standards, those old school veterans are going to get restless. It sounds like we can use the standards as a lion tamer would use a chair and a whip to keep the lions in place. And by the way, what is wrong with an idea a Gen X'er, or any other generational representative, creates over coffee? Heck, I get some great ideas in the shower, do I have to now make sure they match ACRL standards? I am not saying standards are not important. Standards provide guidance and some ground to work from in implementing ideas and making sure you have a solid program, but again, they are not the ultimate answer. They are a tool, a valuable tool, but a tool nonetheless.

The one tip I will pick on myself is the one about "plan for the future." I can certainly see the importance of this, and I definitely agree this is significant. The authors of the article state that "generational differences may affect employment and turnover." To that, I can only say, "duh." I am not being snarky here. Let's be honest, how many people actually would like to be stuck in the same rut for decades to come? I value learning opportunities and challenges, and those of my generation and coming up after me do as well. Also, many of those who came before me value learning and challenges as well. The worst thing that the powers that be can do is take a new librarian, no matter the generation, and stiffle their creativity and energy by refusing to provide him or her with learning, leadership, and growth opportunities. Managers and directors doing this will be faced with a lot of turnover. Loyalty to an organization only goes so far; managers who fail to plan and involve all their librarians and library workers are just asking for a bleak future to happen. This is not a generational issue. Just look at library schools. In them, you have students from all generations and walks of life. I went to school with people younger than me (Millenials) as well as older (Boomers) and those in my generation. What I found is that they all bring different experiences and ideas to the table. They will all be happy to offer such ideas and share their expertise; they will even lead if given the opportunity or if they find such an opportunity. What they will not do is tolerate closemindedness and lack of insight. It's not just one generation against another one. We are looking at the need for significant changes in libraries as institutions and as living organisms. The new librarians offer an infusion of energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, and dedication. It is now up to those in charge to take advantage of it.

I probably said more than I intended, but I think these are things that need to be said, and they need to be said plainly. The generations conflict more often than not is just a lure to confrontation. We don't need confrontation, and we don't need half-baked overgeneralizations that may sound nice on an LIS article, but then may not make as much sense when questioned. You see, what bothers me is when some people use this issue to write their articles, get their tenure if they are academics on the tenure line (some of us are academic not on tenure lines), or go to fame and glory in ALA's (or insert your favorite LIS big organization here) top tiers. It bothers me because articles like this seem to spread a certain stereotype. The image I see on reading stuff like this is that of white settlers worrying that they have to figure out how to speak to foreign natives (insert your favorite colonial historical setting here). "Ooh, those Millenials. We don't understand them, how can we make peace with them?" I don't know about the rest of the readers out there, but I find that condescending and even offensive. For now, I am going to end the post here, let readers out there think about it, or totally ignore it, or some can fume about it. Me? I have other questions to ask and ideas to explore.

Some facts for St. Patrick's Day

(Crossposted to The Itinerant Librarian)

A Happy St. Patrick's Day to readers everywhere. In the United States, there is a long tradition of celebrating the holiday of the Irish patron saint. It is not only a Catholic holiday, but it has become a day for people of Irish heritage to celebrate their heritage. The Census Bureau has a page of facts for the holiday here. One of the facts you will find at the Census Bureau's page:

  • 93.3 million: Number of people who reportedly planned to wear green last St. Patrick’s Day.
By the way, I am one of those who is wearing a little green today. Other resources of intest include:

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Article Note: On Electronic Academic Libraries and Student Behavior

Citation for the article:

Van Scoyoc, Anna M. and Caroline Cason. "The Electronic Academic Library: Undergraduate Research Behavior in a Library Without Books." portal: Libraries and the Academy 6.1 (2006): 47-58.

I read the article via Project Muse.

This study looked at undergraduate research habits in an electronic library. Though the setting is called a library, it is actually an Information Commons with the form of a learning center. All of the resources are electronic, and the place is located in a separate building. It does include a desk staffed by reference librarians and computer consultants.

In the literature review, the authors point out that the study consistently shows that most students use the Internet first for research needs. The authors write that "the online resource of choice for undergraduates is the commercial search engine rather than research sources provided by librarians" (49). The authors also briefly describe the concept of information commons. They note that, unlike most information commons, the one in the study is not housed in a library. Data collection for the study was based on a survey.

The study found that, of the respondents, "the most commonly used resource was other Web resources, selected by 75.7 percent of students, followed closely by WebCT/class Web sites at 71.3 percent" (51). This confirms findings in the literature, and it also confirms my intuition as a teacher; that students still go for convenience first. The WebCT/class Web sites I explain in a more cynical way: they have to use those for their classes. Convenient or not, they are required tools, and more likely a necessary evil to many students if some of the complaints I hear now and then from students hold truth to them. Another finding is that there was not much of a difference between undergraduate classes when it comes to how likely they were to use library funded resources.

Some of the researchers' hypotheses seem important to me, so let make a note:

"The researchers hypothesized that there would be less use of non-proprietary Internet sites among upper-level undergraduates as compared with first-year and second-year students. The researchers also expected that exposure to library instruction over the course of their academic career would increase students' use of the library's resources over time" (53).

I make a note of this because I think a lot of librarians would make these assumptions. They seem natural and logical; they do to me initially. However, I have experience on my side to dissuade me of those ideas. One experience is the senior who now and then shows up at the reference desk saying, "I have never used the library, can you help me?" Leaving aside that I have to ask what kind of teachers he or she had that allowed this to happen, it goes to illustrate the convenience principle. The authors do remark on this towards the end of the article when they write that "if instructors do not specifically require the use of scholarly sources, there is no academic impetus for students to look beyond the World Wide Web" (55-56). This is very true. Often at the reference desk, when a student comes asking for help finding articles for a paper, they follow their request with "my teacher wants me to use something scholarly," or "Dr. So-and-so said I am not allowed to use the Web." Clearly, we need more nurturing of good research habits to gradually make students feel less like using a database is a horrible chore. It won't happen overnight, but I think this is an area where faculty and librarians can collaborate.

This also shows that library instruction, at a minimal level, may not be making that much of a difference. This last is a gut feeling of mine; it is something that likely needs further investigation. My common sense tells me that if a student only had a very basic one-shot BI session on their freshman year, and they never had any reinforcement, then odds are they forget any learning about the library and its resources. This may open other areas of inquiry such as use of library courses for credit or more integration between librarians and faculty. These are areas I have been reading about lately. My guess is there are some aspects worth investigating later.

Another assumption from the study:

"Furthermore, at the point at which students reach their third or fourth academic year and begin taking classes in their specializations, one might assume that the level of scholarship required in these classes would become more rigorous, which would in turn lead to a greater need to use more research-oriented sources, including the OPAC and library funded databases. Most students designated other Web sources, however, as their primary choice for information while doing research" (53).

I found that last sentence above interesting. I found the whole quote fascinating for what it may reveal about those specialized classes: maybe they are not as rigorous as we think. My guess, and it is a guess, is that there may not be as many research requirements in some of the higher level classes. It would be interesting to see if this is the case or not, especially given recent reports revealing that a vast number of college graduates are lacking in literacy skills. However, I am sure that a lot of this still boils down to convenience. At this point, I can hear some of the gurus saying that "if we make our OPACS and databases like Google, they will come." The answer, as it is so often in life, is that it is not as simple as that. Sure, there is much work to be done to make a better OPAC and library interface (it's kind of like the "build a better mousetrap" for the 21st century library), but Google is not the end-all and be-all. But we can discuss Google later. What is significant is what the authors say about technologies that integrate Web searching and library funded resources for seamless searching. The authors write that this "creates a greater need to educate students about properly identifying the sources of their information" (53-54). This is one of the key areas I work with in library instruction, and it is something I will come back to over time.

Back to the article, the authors also discuss WebCT. They discuss how faculty can basically create "hidden libraries" through direct links to articles and very focused online resources. The authors point out a risk in this approach, which I think is worth considering. The authors state, "additionally, if instructors create miniature libraries via WebCT or class Web sites, which directly link students to the 'best' databases, students are removed from mastering information literacy standards, especially by not allowing students to critically select, use, and evaluate information resources on their own" (56).

I think there is a point to consider here, and I am not saying we should not use tools like WebCT to create forms of libraries. Maybe the idea is to spoon-feed the students a little less so they can flex those intellectual muscles a little more. In a way, librarians do a form of this when they create pathfinders and guides, but I think we still allow students to seek and judge what they find. In using WebCT and custom Web sites, we need a balance, lest we deprive students of important critical thinking skills.

To conclude, this is an article that confirms some of my experiences. It is also thought-provoking, and I would recommend that other academic librarians read it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sunshine Week: Because it is your right to know

(Crossposted at The Itinerant Librarian)

March 12-18 is Sunshine Week 2006. From the website,
"the first national Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know was launched March 13, 2005 and continued through the following Saturday. The spirit of Sunshine Week, however, lasts through the year, as newspapers, magazines, broadcasters, Web sites and others continue a dialogue about the importance of open government to the public."
During this week, the Web site for Sunshine Week will feature news, editorials and other resources to promote the importance of freedom of information and the need to keep the government accountable as well as keeping it open to all. This effort is sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. ALA is also doing its part here. Readers can find a bibliography of books and resources here. The site even features resources in Spanish.

A hat tip to Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine.

Update notes (3/14/106):

A little note on reading and keeping up

I started this post as a reply to Mark Lindner's post on "LIS Graduate Education and Reading" in his blog . . .the thoughts are broken. . . . As it often happens, what I intend to be a short comment becomes something a bit longer, so I figured I would develop the idea here. Readers may want to go over to Mark's blog and read that first to get the context. Go on, I can wait.

OK, if you made it back, what caught my attention where points #6 and #7 on the list he made in the post. It's the stuff about reading and keeping up that I found interesting. I will say that keeping up with the professional literature has been challenging. When I discovered the biblioblogosphere, I added that to my reading lists, or rather my reading regime. After that, I have various journals on TOC alerts through various database providers like EBSCO, Emerald, and some others. If any readers look over my article notes, they will see that after I give the citation, I specify where I read it from (print, Emerald, etc). However, setting those up has been done on my own. My library does not provide a TOC service for the campus. And don't even get me started on the routing issue. Were it not for some TOC alerts, there would be journals we receive I would never see thanks to some of my colleagues, that shall remain nameless, who let them sit at their desks for months on end. The point in this is that I have had to train myself, whether via alerts or lists I made, to make sure that I seek out the stuff that I am supposed to read for my professional growth. My library does not have access to an LIS database either, so this cuts a bit on what I can get as well. True, EBSCO just opened their LISTA database for free access, but still, it's not LISA or LLIS, but it's a start. We do subscribe to the LLIS in print, but it means I have to go find it every once in a while. What I am trying to say that keeping up takes work and commitment. For many librarians, whether newly minted or veterans, it could be easier to avoid a lot of this work. And I am just referring to the professional stuff. Any readers who looked over the links I put above about reading lists will get a sense of what else I dip into, so to speak.

As for spare time reading, it has lowered a bit when it comes to professional stuff. When I get home, I often read blogs, but they are all outside the biblioblogosphere. Over time, I have discovered that I can only take so much when it comes to the biblioblogosphere. Then again, reading a lot of that territory has gotten a bit easier become the biblioblogosphere has become pretty predictable: L2, Web 2.0, the latest gadget, ALA complaints and praise (in various memes. The current one is just the latest incarnation. The praise often seems to come from those inside who would like to keep a good share of others from leaving. I am not even saying anything now), and more technology. Except for a couple of non A-list bloggers, I pretty much scan and move on when it comes to the biblioblogosphere these days. And to think I was so thrilled there was such a thing. Oh well, I have other things to keep up with.

Mark mentions that he is a freak when it comes to professional reading. I will admit that I do feel freaky myself at times. In my case, maybe it's because I see it as a Catch-22. I would not be a good librarian if I did not keep up with diligence and effort with as much as possible in my profession. In fact, the teacher-practitioner model I live by demands this. On the other hand, I work in a very hands-on place where doing much of this keeping up could be seen as a luxury. At least, I've felt that way. I know I am not the only one. One of my colleagues recently said she had not read professional literature in a long time when she got a new issue of some journal routed to her. She has been busy, just like the rest of us, in a fairly intense environment where we are very active doing what we do, namely serve our students and academic community. So at times I get the feeling of "I could be finishing that new pathfinder" or any number of other tasks instead of reading professional stuff. You see, they don't tell you this in library school: that you have to figure out on your own how to find this balance. Overall, I think I do pretty well. I am fairly well informed (notice I say "fairly." I am sure there is some monster out there to whom I would be barely literate. Since I don't aspire to be the ubermensch of librarianship, I could care less what the celebrities think), and my work gets done. But once in a while, I wonder. Usually I wonder when I take the time to think about things like this. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a few other things to read.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Article Note: On Guerrilla Librarianship (oh, and there are some roaches too)

Citation for the article:

Macke, Barbara. "Roaches, Guerrillas, and 'Librarians on the Loose.'" The Journal of Academic Librarianship 31.6 (November 2005): 586-589.

I read the article via OmniFile.

This short piece is a reminder that librarians need to be swift and mobile in providing service. I think I wrote a draft longer than the article itself, but I have to say that this article inspired a lot of thought for me, so this post may get a bit long. If you just want my recommendation, it is that it is thought provoking and worth a read.

The article opens with a story about Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart was having trouble selling its Ant and Roach Killer spray in Minnesota. After a little research, Wal-Mart learned that women in Minnesota saw roaches as a sign of a poorly tended home. While in Southern states, a can in the pantry is no big deal, up there apparently it is seen as an admission of a problem. Wal-Mart then modified its marketing campaign by removing the pictures of roaches from the cans of bug spray. Sales increased. According to Macke, this story has a lesson for librarians in academia: "the Wal-Mart story teaches us that successful service in the retail world can sometimes depend upon 'taking the time to ask why'" (586).

I will be pointing out some quotes from the article that I found significant with some comments on my part.
  • "There is a difference between providing information and providing information in a palatable format, and this difference frequently involves the act of interpretation. In the undergraduate academic library, we may have the illusion that we are dealing with books, articles, and reference materials, all rich with information, but we are really dealing with the immediate and pressing needs of our students, and the accompanying need to tweak those information sources to make them understandable, more accessible, and in many cases, even appealing" (586-587).
The biblioblogosphere is full of writers who argue for the need to make libraries more like Google or like other online social services. Readers can run a Technorati search on Library 2.0 and similar concepts to confirm this. Much of those arguments are based on the need to appeal to patrons. All I will say is there are tools, but tools have to be wielded, and they have to be useful. What really interests me about Macke's idea above is that it really reminds us academic librarians about who we are really dealing with. We are dealing with students and their needs. Those tools are the weapons that we wield to meet those needs. They are the weapons we use to dispel their ignorance and satisfy their need. It falls to us to make those tools appealing and accessible. Some of the ideas behind the Library 2.0 movement fall within this. But it is more than tools and movements. It takes some marketing and selling on our parts. I like to see it as education. I like to see it in terms of helping students break through the clutter, to help them find what they want while leading them to it in the quickest way possible. This is one of my principles when I teach classes. I often work at making our resources more appealing than Google. I don't speak ill of Google; I simply show them how much more work they have to do in terms of research when using Google. It often works.

Macke goes on to discuss the concept of guerrilla marketing, a concept devised by marketing guru Jay Conrad Levinson. The key ideas are speed and multiple tools when it comes to marketing. This may seem strange in relation to librarianship, but Macke reassures the reader:
  • "While it may seem strange to apply such war-like terminology to library services, remember, guerrilla tactics tend to be most useful and effective when you have a small, somewhat invisible force confronting a large one" (587).
By the way, this also reminded me of ideas from Sun Tzu's The Art of War, which I read a while back. It sounds like I may want to revisit that book as well. The idea from Macke should sound familiar: it's the reference librarian at the reference desk confronting the many students and their multiple requests. The desk can be literal or virtual, but the principle applies. We are a small force, and we should be agile and mobile. This means we need to know our services and know them well. We should have familiarity with our reference collections, and we should be able to deploy our expertise across databases and the expansive field of the Internet. Multiple weapons, and the right weapon for the right target. And if you don't hit the target the first time, you move and try something else. This is unconventional, and I personally live for this. I think a lot of librarians and teachers do this as well.

Macke goes on to cite thirteen marketing secrets from Levinson's book Guerrilla Marketing. There are four secrets that I highlighted when I was reading the article. See page 587 of Macke's article for the complete list.
  • #6: "You must see that marketing is an assortment of weapons." This should be self-explanatory for librarians who know how to wield the weapons of their profession.
  • #8: "You must aim to run your firm in a way that makes it convenient for your customers." I think much of the Web 2.0 and L2 memes have this idea at heart (the attitudes often leave a lot to be desired in those memes, but that is not part of this post). However, this is something that libraries strive to work on, even if their paths diverge.
  • #9: "Put an element of amazement in your marketing." I just think that line is totally cool, maybe even if one replaces "marketing" for "librarianship." It is certainly I often try to do in my classes. Then again, I am also big on embracing chaos when necessary.
  • #13: "You must be skilled with the armament of guerrillas, which means technology." Now, keep in mind that Levinson's book came out in the 1980s, so technology has come a long way. Now, before the ubertech gurus begin frothing at the mouth and chanting "I told you so," we need to consider this: yes, librarians do need to keep up with current developments and thinking. They need to gain familiarity and comfort with various tools. They also need to be selective and somewhat judicious. Just because the latest 2.0 toy is hot, it does not automatically follow we have to implement it. In addition, I would suggest that technology ranges from 2.0 to computers and databases to books and periodicals. What do all these things have in common? They are all tools; some are more high tech than others, but they are just that, tools. The guerrilla librarian knows his/her tools, what they do best, and when to use them.
I will add that, like guerrillas, librarians travel light. They are not hampered by the heavy hardwared or equipment. Guerrillas select the best tools for their attacks, and so should we when it comes to serving our patrons.
  • "It is important to remember that most of the time we are not marketing the product, but our knowledge of the product, our ability to understand a patron's needs, and our willingness to participate in their research conversation" (588).
Librarians bring added value to reference and instruction work (as well as other services). This is the little detail that the "visionaries" predicting the demise of the library and its books always fail to see. Then again, to be fair, a lot of librarians who buy into the visions fail to see their own value as well. When a patron comes to us with a need, they want an answer or some information (or maybe something else. Just ask The Feel-Good Librarian about some of the other needs). Now, patrons come to us for our expertise, for our ability to cut through the chase, and very often they come because we will listen. Google may do a lot of things, but it can never replace a well armed, savvy and compassionate librarian willing to take the time to really ascertain a need and then fulfill it. Our strength is not so much in the tools. It's in what we know about those tools and how we use them. Additionally, our humanity is our strength as well.

On reaching students outside of the library, Macke writes,
  • "Library instruction need not always occur in the library in front of a computer. More pertinent locations may be an English Composition classroom, an online library chat session at 10 PM, a course management discussion board, or a library corner in the a campus coffee shop" (588).
I can proudly say I have done all of the above except for one, and that is the coffee shop idea. However, give me a wireless enabled laptop and some time, and I'd be there too. And if my director or colleagues happen to read this, I don't mean right this second. But it would definitely be something I would be interested in for a very near future.
  • "While technology has made our skills eminently transportable, librarians often seem reluctant to say, 'have information, will travel'"(588).
I wonder if some of this may be lack of resources. You can't be mobile (in a technological sense) if you don't have the resources to do it. But some of it is just fear of the unknown, fear of breaking tradition. In my case, I am willing to jump. After all, what's the worst that could happen? I take a bad fall? Just dust myself off and try again. I think my experience as a teacher works for me in this regard. I've had enough lesson plans misfire that I am comfortable dusting myself off and starting over if necessary. Now, if I could reassure others that risk taking is fine. As the saying goes, he (or she) who dares, wins.

The article has a few other good points. It is a short piece, but one that sparked a lot of good thoughts and ideas for me. There are some ideas I would like to develop in further writings, but those will come later. If nothing else, it inspired the inner guerrilla warrior in me.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Celebrate International Women's Day

(Crossposted at the Itinerant Librarian)

March 8 is International Women's Day. According to the website, "around the world, International Women's Day (IWD) marks a celebration of the economic, social, cultural and political achievements for women.

The first IWD was held on 19 March 1911 in Germany, Austria, Denmark and further European countries. German women selected this date because in 1848 the Prussian king had promised the vote for women. Subsequently over one million leaflets calling for action on the right to vote were distributed throughout Germany before IWD in 1911. Now IWD is always celebrated on 8 March and is an occasion marked by women's groups around the world. This date is also commemorated at the United Nations and is designated in many countries as a national holiday. Women in every country, often divided by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate this important date that represents equality, justice, peace and development."

I recently made a post in relation to National Women's Month, which has links for further resources on women's history and accomplishments. It may be of interest to some readers.

A hat tip to Emily's Musings for the information.

Lecture on Black and White Women in American History

This event ocurred on my campus last Thursday, March 2, 2006. Dr. Anne Firor Scott was the speaker. She is a Distinguished Lecturer from the Organization of American Historians and a Professor Emeritus from Duke University. She spoke on the topic of "One History or Two? Black and White Women in American History." In addition, her talk took the form of a discussion which was very interesting, even if limited by time. What follows are just some of my notes from the event.
  • What is perspective in history? This was the opening question. The answer goes with what determines what you see in the past. Different populations ask for different histories.
  • The historical concept of sisterhood: the common experiences of women. However, there have been and are Black and White women. They each have their perspectives. People see the world through their own experiences.
  • Finding evidence is a problem in shaping the narrative of women in American History. For instance, the Antebellum South is a concept that is hard to embrace, often known by works like Gone with the Wind, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and William Faulkner novels. But what about women of nonslaveholding families, assuming they were even literate? Our evidence comes from the ruling elite minority in the South.
    • The evidence shows many White plantation women had concerns with the Black women, whether antagonistic or not.
    • The White women saw themselves as generous, good, hard working mothers, whether this was true or not. However, interviewees of the Fisk University study, who were former slaves, revealed that White women were often cruel, obtuse, and not very Christian.
  • During the Civil Rights era, men like Martin Luther King, Jr. were in the forefront, but it was women who did the hard work, often behind the scenes and without any credit.
For me, the brilliance of the presenter was in involving the audience, asking them questions, and as possible, to get them to share some of their experiences. One question she asked: if people can't walk in other people's shoes, is there hope? A couple of audience members, young ones, see a lack of hope; they believe that the fighting will continue. Yet, one other young person saw that perspectives needed to change. Maybe the hope lies in the complexity of human beings.

Recommended reading by the lecturer: Jared Diamond's book Collapse on how societies collapse, as a way to gain a little perspective by looking at the past.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Some Questions to Ask About that Information on the Internet

Through Walt Crawford's latest edition of Cites and Insights (March 2006 edition PDF file), I got this tip for "Information Literacy: Food for Thought" written by Marylaine Block. Ms. Block writes the well regarded e-zine Ex Libris. Ms. Block provides some very interesting questions to ask students during an instruction session. These are questions related to information found on the Internet with tools like Google, and the questions are made to make students evaluate their own assumptions about the information they find and their search processes. A couple of sample questions from her article:

  • Who puts information onto the net? Who else? (See if they can come up with organizations, government agencies, publishers, commercial enterprises, etc., as well as individuals).
  • Go find out five things your library provide for you that is not available on the net at all.
Readers can find the rest of the questions at the link provided. This is definitely worthy reading for any librarian who participates in library instruction. And by the way, the current issue of Cites and Insights is a good read as well, so go on over.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Article Note: On R&D for Academic Libraries

Citation for the article:

Neal, James G. "The Research and Development Imperative in the Academic Library: Path to the Future." portal: Libraries and the Academy 6.1 (2006): 1-3.

I read the article via Project Muse.

"Librarianship is an 'information poor' information profession" (1). This quote opens this small but provocative article. The author's basic claim is that librarians make decisions without evidence and that they lack a commitment to research and development. Initially, I was a bit miffed by this. Academic librarians constantly publish in journals of librarianship as well as in other areas, so there is some research going on. Also, with the advent of tools like blogs, librarians are making their investigations more visible. One example is the work of Michael Stephens (see his blog at Tame the Web). An example like this shows that research is alive and well in librarianship. However, I know that people like Professor Stephens are not the rule.

Mr. Neal is looking more at institutional research centers; that is the experience he comes from at Johns Hopkins and Columbia. But he goes further to argue that academic librarians need to engage actively in research. He writes on this:

"Librarians have a fundamental responsibility to contribute to professional communication. It produces important benefits. The individual gains personal satisfaction, professional growth and esteem, and opportunities for career advancement. The library secures staff who are knowledgeable about the research and publishing process, better able to evaluate professional literature, provide service to researchers, and apply these talents and understanding to library needs. The profession develops an improved network of communication and growth in the understanding of library problems and solutions" (2).

Neal believes that librarians often resist research because they do not see it defined as applied or operational, the basis of R&D. He also suggests that a lot of what research librarians do engage in stays at a local level. While the article does have a good message of urging librarians to research, it has a flaw.

The flaw is in the various suggestions for subjects of research; these subjects are mostly technological in nature. Some examples include:
  • software for computer systems engineering and applications.
  • high-end computing technologies and architectures.
  • HCI, DRM.
  • next generation networks.
  • integration of technology in teaching and learning.
  • virtual universities & digital libraries.
The closest to something other than technology was the part about integrations with teaching and learning. Those agendas leave out significant elements of librarianship. User education and instruction, best practices for information literacy, reference work, collections management are all part of librarianship as well. The areas that Neal suggests are valid areas of research, but technology is certainly not the only area of investigation (though it can certainly be a most glamorous one). In a way, my thinking may reflect that I am not the audience for Neal's article.

As some readers may know, I am not a librarian with faculty status, so I have no incentive to research and publish other than my own interest. This does not mean that I don't do any form of research. I actually follow a teacher-researcher model, and there are some areas in literary studies I pursue, a remnant from my previous life. A lot of what interests me and that I investigate is based on my teaching and librarianship practice. Sure, at the moment it may remain localized, but that does not have to the case. And there are other things, but I suppose the point I am trying to make is that research and inquiry can take various forms. Not all of us have the luxury of a well funded institutional think tank. Some of us practice our trade and investigate as we can from the field, and we make our results known be it on articles, conferences, or virtually. So, overall, what Neal proposes is nice, if you can get it. I would rather go for the practical as I continue to work with my academic community. He does make a good point about the need of libraries to support the research of librarians. He writes:

"Libraries must support the research activities of librarians, and this includes some basic elements: inspiration, training, criticism, financial assistance, consultative services, equipment, a mentoring and professional network, time, rewards, recognition, and an R&D context and agenda" (3).

I think this is something a good share of library managers should be reading and considering. I personally don't need a full blown R&D agenda, but the other stuff he mentions, I can certainly use. Anyways, a little food for thought for my colleagues in the larger research settings.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

Many children learned to read with Dr. Seuss's books. I did not grow up with these books, but I have some very fond memories of reading the good doctor's books with my daughter. Amongst our favorites were Green Eggs and Ham and, writing as Theo Lesieg, Ten Apples Up On Top. Actually, she is nine, and once in a while she still asks for me to read that one with her. Many libraries today hold reading times with children of all ages to enjoy the beautiful books that he wrote. So, go out and find your favorite Dr. Seuss book or go discover a new one.

A hat tip to Loriene Roy at her blog Loriene's Campaign.

Celebrating Women's History Month

"Now this is a song to celebrate
The conscious liberation of the
female state!
Mothers - daughters and their
daughters too.
Woman to woman
We're singin' with you.
The "inferior sex" got a new exterior
We got doctors, lawyers, politicians
Everybody - take a look around.
Can you see - can you see - can you
There's a woman right next to you."

--From the song "Sisters are doing it for themselves"
by Eurythmics
Indeed, women are with us and around us. After all, they are half of the human race. And while women continue to achieve in so many fields, it is clear there is still work to be done to achieve equality and harmony. Until that day, we can celebrate women's achievements during Women's History Month, which opened yesterday.

The Census Bureau has released their feature of facts and figures for Women's History Month. Among the interesting facts,
  • Well, for one, they outnumber men: 149.1 million is "the number of females in the United States as of July 1, 2004. That exceeds the number of males (144.5 million). Males outnumbered females in every five-year-age group through the 35- to 39-age group. Starting with the 40- to 44-age group, women outnumbered men. At 85 and over, there were more than twice as many women as men."
  • They are business owners: 6.5 million is "the number of women-owned businesses in 2002, up 20 percent from 1997. (The increase among all businesses was 10 percent.) An estimated 916,768 such firms had paid employees, with receipts of $804 billion."
  • They serve in the Armed Forces: 212,000 is the "total number of active duty women in the military, as of Sept. 30, 2004. Of that total, 35,100 women were officers and 177,000 were enlisted."
And women contribute in so many ways from those that go out into the workplace to those who choose to stay home and raise children full-time. I was a lucky boy raised by a full-time mom. I dare anyone tell her she did not have a job.

Readers can also visit the National Women's History Project Site for information on activities and resources for Women's History Month.

You can test your knowledge of Women's History here. I got 14 out of 20 on the quiz. Some of those questions are little stumpers but interesting to learn the answers. This is part of Gale's free resources for the month. Find the resources page here.

You can also visit the Librarian's Internet Index and see their excellent listings of resources on this topic here. Personally, LII is a site I always recommend to my students when they need to find quality Web sites. The site also has a collection of Women's History resources. The quotes I chose below come from that site.

This History Channel also has some virtual exhibits on Women's History here.

And finally, some quotes by famous women:

  • "As long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold the person down, so it means you cannot soar as you otherwise might." --Marian Anderson
  • "Eroticism is one of the basic means of self-knowledge, as indispensible as poetry." --Anais Nin
  • "I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others." --Amelia Earhart
  • "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature." --Helen Keller
  • "It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving." --Mother Teresa
  • "Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war." -Maria Montessori