Friday, April 28, 2006

TLA Conference Notes: Day 1, Session "Render Unto Caesar."

Day 1, April 26
Session: "Render Unto Caesar."
Presenter: Reverend Barry Lynn, Executive Director, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. If you click on the About link at the page, there is a small profile of Reverend Lynn if any readers want some more information. Any of my own comments I will try to put in parentheses; the rest is my notes.

This was my first session, and I have to say it was interesting as well as inspiring. I came out feeling a need to go bash a censor someplace. OK, so I don't really advocate violence, but I still think censorship is something we need to confront and counter. Rev. Lynn opened his remarks by observing that living in Washington D.C. is like living in an alternate universe from a bad science fiction novel. Thus, he finds it nice when he gets to travel.

On connecting intellectual freedom with the separation of church and state.
  • The idea of the separation of church and state is a great American contribution to thought. Such a policy actually strengthens both sides. Historically, it has not been a perfect process. Bigotry should have no sanction in America when it comes to faith and religion. (I think that last phrase he was referring to something George Washington may have said).
  • Religious fundamentalism assaults freedom and critical thinking. Fundamentalists would alter society to fit their narrow worldview. The government often turns to these people due to their power (real or perceived).
  • Not taking fundamentalists seriously is a mistake. The second mistake is to give up because we see them as too powerful. Censorship challenges intellectual freedom. A third mistake is the inclusion of bogus materials and the failure of following the evidence where it leads. (Reverend Lynn then expands these points).
Censorship in the form of challenges, book bans, etc. was discussed. Rev. Lynn discussed various examples. Religious objection cannot be the basis of censorship. Much censorship is not noticed because it occurs at the level of the decisionmaker. Groups that push for censorship can be frightening, but they are never satisfied, so giving in once will not make them go away. Therefore, don't give in.

Their tactics may vary, but the objective of the censors is always the same. Censors do not like the idea of others thinking critically. Critical thinking can undermine authority, and findamentalists hate that.

On the inclusion of bogus materials, the intelligent design issue is an example. Their concept begs the question as proponents of ID give vague answers when confronted. "Is God the intelligent designer?" "-Well, not really, but He could be." "Was it aliens then?" "Were they time travellers?" "And who then designed those folks?" Rev. Lynn also discussed the Dover case in Pennsylvania as an example. He noted that local citizens can make a different, but they have nto be informed citizens.

On academic freedom, it is to protect judgment and pedagogy of academic disciplines, not anti-intellectualism. He mentioned how President G.W. Bush has said, "I don't like to argue with myself" as a sign of anti-intellectualism. This moved to the idea of refusing to take evidence where it leads. Policy should be made on the basis of evidence. For instance, the religious right is opposing the cervical cancer vaccine, even though evidence has shown that it can be effective. Their reason for the opposition? To keep girls from being promiscuous (he added the remark that a dead girl certainly can't be promiscuous. I just linked to one article for reference. Readers could run a Google News Search or use other tools to find further information on the vaccine).

Rev. Lynn went on to observe that in the past the courts protected the people. However, the current government has been working on dismantling the judiciary and its independence. An example is seen in Judge Samuel Alito's recent letter of gratitude to Dr. James Dobson for his help in getting him to the Supreme Court (again, I include a link for reference). Another tactic that the government has used is removing certain issues from a court's jurisdiction. The idea is to avoid having the court confront certain issues, like same-sex marriage.

So, what can we do when the fundamentalist censors come? Citing Jerry Jeff Walker, "life is about attitude and timing." So, we should be acting before a challenge or issue has a chance to get controversial enough to make it to the national news. Be aggressive and fight back at the right time. And remember that we do have friends in various organizations: religious (other than the Right), legal, so on. These organizations are important resources, and we should feel free to use them.

Librarians are the ones who make sure that the truth is available to those who seek it. A bit of advice: on exhibits, err on the side of more (be inclusive), but one should be open to discussion. An example, what if Focus on the Family wants to have an exhibit at the library organization's conference? Now, such an organization is private, so they have a right to refuse, and Rev. Lynn mentioned the AU has at times been refused at some events by private organizations. However, such decisions should be at least food for thought.

If you are challenged, don't panic. Do your homework. Talk to your administrators, know your policies, and be informed. Inform the administrators too.

The best opportunity to make wise decisions is with the free flow of ideas.

Rev. Lynn suggested there should be monuments to the Bill of Rights, given that it is such an important document to the nation. It turns out there is an organization working on this.

TLA Conference Notes: Day 1, First Impressions

Over the next few days, I will be putting up some of my notes from the TLA Conference, mostly my session notes. As I came out on the last day, I feel that my brain is full, so some of what I will do here is emptying some of that into a nice container. So, let's start with day one (April 26).

I started my day by attending the first General Session. Dame Julie Andrews was the keynote speaker. However, before that, I had to get through the line at the registration to pick up my badge. I went over from the campus with our Circulation Librarian. Lines were a bit on the long side, and not terribly organized. You would think librarians of all people would know how to form a straight line. We did notice that the onsite registration booths actually had no lines. So, is the message here to skip preregistration and just do it when you get there? We did wonder there for a moment. However, the squiggly line did move along and we got our stuff. I attended two sessions (one and a half; the second turned out to be a bit disappointing, and I left. More on that later) and heard two papers. I also had some time to visit exhibits, but I will write a bit on that later.

  • General Session I: The Mayor of Houston gave the welcome. As many politicians, he has a library story. I don't mean this in a cynical way, but it is a given if you give a speech to librarians, you have to have a library story. His story started with his early experiences via a library bookmobile. Overall, he gave our colleagues out of town a warm welcome. The temperature outside was in the mid-60s and cloudy, but no rain, making it a perfect day to walk in downtown. Since my campus is in downtown Houston, I took the rail and walked part of the way; weather was good for that. After the mayor's welcome, I had a moment to ponder if I had learned another lesson. The lesson may be that you can arrive at least a half hour late, and you would not miss the actual speaker. That is because of all the announcements, kudos to the sponsors, awards, incoming and outgoing officers, and so on. Don't get me wrong: I think some recognition is important, but some of this was a bit on the long side. Then again, had I missed it, I would have missed a grown man actually shed a tear. The dean of SLIS at UNT received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the man was speechless. It is not very often that you see someone truly moved when his peers recognize him for a lifetime of serving the profession. Congratulations.
  • Julie Andrews: After a collage film highlighting her career, the dame gave her speech. She began by pointing out how she gets irritated when she is labeled as a "celebrity author" since she has been writing children's books for about 35 years. She says that she has been fortunate that her role and position have allowed her to be an advocate for reading. She once met Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who told her this: "Words matter. Books count." This is what brings us together: words. It is all about the words. Without words, there would be no songs. In 2003, she launched her own children's books imprint, The Julie Andrews Collection, under HarperCollins. The imprint publishes new works as well as seeks older works to reissue. The mission of the imprint "encompasses books for young readers of all ages that nurture the imagination and celebrate a sense of wonder."The idea is to provide wonder through words. And this will thrive when people use their power of advocacy. The joy of reading is that it asks us to use our imagination and thus be engaged. Overall, she is an interesting speaker, but her presentation did seem quite a bit on the short side. I don't think it even clocked in at 15 minutes, 20 tops (and I am basing this on average reading time for a paper of about 20 minutes). I thought it was just me who felt this way, but talking to some librarians from out of town, they felt the same way. I do wonder if that is kind of normal for events like this, that speakers just seem to whiz by.
One of the things that impressed me sitting there at the assembly room for the general session was just all the librarians present. There is something about seeing others in the profession gathered in one place: school, public, academic, and special. I think it can be reassuring that you do belong to this larger community of people interested and committed to serving their patrons and making sure they have access to the information (and other materials) they seek. I also liked that we seem more relaxed. I have been to professional conferences where it is all a suit and tie affair. Librarians go from well-dressed (mostly the presenters) to mostly very casual wear. I am a jeans and shirt guy, so it worked for me. Next, session notes.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"They are geeky and they are nerdy. . ."

With some apologies to fans of the Addams Family (so I guess I am apologizing to myself since I like the Addams Family too?). I was tempted to write a riff on the song, but I think I will refrain.

Mr. Rory Litwin's recent post on "Geeks and Nerds" made me wonder a bit. I am not quite sure where I am headed with this, other than to maybe wonder about a thing or two. I wondered why he decided to set up the dichotomy in the first place. I do agree that there is a strong sense of confrontation in our profession when it comes to the whole L2 and technology issue. Some of it may be generational, and some of it may be geeks versus non-geeks. But geeks and nerds seems a bit like nitpicking. I think it is nitpicky because these two groups would seem to overlap quite a bit. I would suggest they would overlap enough as to make the distinction somewhat unnecessary. This does not mean that the element of confrontation that Mr. Litwin describes does not exist. It is there, and it often does get ugly unfortunately.

I will briefly use myself as an illustration, not because I think I make some profound example. On the "typical traits of a nerd," I do read a lot, and I can be passionate about some intellectual matters. I did get straight A's in school (I was second in my high school class, back when you only had only one Valedictorian and one Salutatorian, not like the inflation today). However, that is about it for that side of the fence. On the "typical traits of a geek," I share a few more things. I am into science fiction and some fantasy, and I do like cyberpunk. I used to play D&D, but I don't know in part due to lack of time. I will let my readers wonder if I am into BDSM or not (*grins evilly*). I love graphic novels, and I like some manga. I have two blogs. I am interested in popular culture, but I don't go ga-ga over it, and I am not big on "appointment TV." I am technology savvy, but I don't program computers. I suppose I could learn how to do so, but I am just not interested. There are others who can do that much better than I could. As for the traits shared by both, yes, I am bad at sports. I was the kid who hated PE. However, I am a competent dancer. While I can't tango, I can do Latin music quite well and some ballroom. I even learned square dancing at one point. Overall, my skill won't get me on a primetime reality show, but I can do fine in social functions that require dancing, and it is something I do enjoy on the rare chances I get. As for dating, back in the day, I was not terribly interested, but it was not due to some social awkwardness. I just could care less about girls when I had other interesting things to pursue. I never had the stereotypical trouble dating, and that is what made me wonder about Mr. Litwin's post. It seems to perpetuate a bunch of stereotypes that I, for one, would prefer to have left behind in high school. I think the fact I have a combination of both sides is part of what makes me a well-rounded individual. Plus it helps to know who Inuyasha is when your daughter mentions it and that you can waltz with the better half. I also think such traits make me cooler than the "average" librarian, but hey, that's just me.

Unfortunately, I do have to agree with Mr. Litwin that much of the biblioblogosphere seems to have the aggressive geek gene in full force. Yet I think much of that is just unchecked technolust than geekiness. Now, if I have to play the speculation game of two sides at war, I don't think the geeks will win so easily. So, let's play.

By Mr. Litwin's outline, one would assume that the nerds have read things like Machiavelli (since they read a lot, including philosophy). Let's just say the nerds would know how to run things. Yes, geeks may be practical and make the weapons, but guess who puts the order in for the weapons to be produced. That's right, the nerds. It's not just being well funded. The conflict would also involve politics, and guess who would actually be well read in that area. In fact, there is a line that says, "Finance is a gun. Politics is knowing when to pull the trigger." It would be a nerd who would know that; the geek would be too much into his little machines and D&D to think that way. At any rate, just a moment of speculation. In seriousness, do I think there will be more technology down the road, and we will have to learn new things? Sure, and it is part of what makes our profession exciting. Do I think it will simply displace "traditional" librarianship? No, I don't think so. It shows a certain lack of confidence in what librarianship is to think one side will simply suppress the other. I don't see why people have to keep phrasing this as if it was the Battle of the Bulge.

So, where do I stand? It seems I stand where I often do, in the middle. In a way, it is a good thing. On the positive side, it means I can often help mediate, serve as a bridge. On the more cynical side of things, I can just divide and conquer, let both sides bleed each other and deal with whoever is left. The middle does not seem so bad overall. While I would rather things were done in a rational and calm way, I know that more often than not once people pick a side it is hard to get them to see anything else (just look at politics in this country). The important thing to me, at the end of the day, is how will I serve my patrons and continue growing in my professional career. I will let others deal with the squabbles.

For another response, see Ms. Gordon Singer's post here. She provides a response and some other links that may be of interest.

P.S. For fans, here's the actual theme song lyrics:

The Addams Family

They're creepy and they're kooky,
Mysterious and spooky,
They're all together ooky,
The Addams Family.

Their house is a museum
Where people come to see 'em
They really are a scream
The Addams Family.


So get a witch's shawl on
A broomstick you can crawl on
We're gonna pay a call on
The Addams Family.

Article Note: On Readers' Advisory and Going Past the Bestsellers

Citation for the article:

Kuzyk, Raya. "A Reader at Every Shelf." Library Journal 15 February 2006: 32-35.

I read the article via Academic Search Premier.

This is a small piece on Readers' Advisory, specifically on getting readers past the bestsellers using a little technology and some marketing ideas. Since I am all for getting more people to read, I decided to read this.

The article begins with a discussion of e-readers' advosory; in other words, using online tools to provide RA services. Kuzyk describes an advantage of this approach: "making the plunge to web-based RA can mean less work, faster distribution, saved paper costs--not to mention that the audience and potential new users, would be receptive" (32). The article describes how the Williamsburg Regional Library (VA) runs an RA program using online forms for patrons to complete. As I understand it, this seems like a type of reader profile. The patron completes the form, and an RA librarian replies. As I read about this, I wondered why couldn't we do something similar here. While RA is not a primary mission here for us, on a smaller scale, something like that could work for us to move more books. We order a diverse range of fiction and nonfiction that, in my humble opinion, deserves to circulate more. Some recommendations could be recreational, but why not book recommendations for academic topics as well? I am not quite sure where I am headed with this, but there's an idea in there someplace.

Kuzyk goes on to discuss some of the RA features found on various library websites including reviews, lists, and forums. While I was thinking, this caught my eye: "Imagine what an article like the one in the [Ossining Public Library (NY)] newsletter's latest issue, 'Five of My Favorite Books of Feminist Speculative Fiction,' could do for the Elisabeth Vonarburgs or even the Charlotte Perkins Gillmans in your stacks" (32). I am just thinking in terms of five favorite books in {insert your topic/theme here}. It could make an interesting newsletter article. Or if nothing else, it could work as a prompt for one of my blogs.

I also liked the idea of a "based on a book" list of books, novels, short fiction, and plays made into movies. I even had a request for something like this at one point. Maybe it's time I got a move on that.

The article also gives a brief summary of how libraries are using blogs for RA. Needless to say in our case, we should be using the official library blogs here for book reviews and reading features some more.

Some other quotes I want to note:
  • "How much work does it take to maintain a blog? The one at Marin County Free Library, San Rafael, CA, relies on five staff members to contribute content, one person for every week day. E-services librarian Sarah Houghton says the blog 'has helped us communicate to our patrons, in yet another medium, about what's new at the library.' She estimates that each post requires 5-15 minutes, 'depending on the length, hyperlinks, or images involved" (34).
I think the idea above works if you have a "well-oiled machine" for a staff. For a staff that may be discovering blogs or still learning, I would expect more time investment. I do wonder how much time her staff spends finding and prepping the content outside of the 5-15 minute estimate.
  • "Each underappreciated book that comes out of the stacks is advertisement for further exploration" (35).
  • [RA Services librarian Andrew] Smith highlights another integral strategy: continual staff development on the RA front" (35).

Monday, April 24, 2006

Gypsy Librarian will be attending the Texas Library Association (TLA) Conference. . .

. . .and he will be dragging his "unruly cousin," the Itinerant Librarian along.

Folks, I will be attending TLA this year, April 26-28. It is my first foray into a librarianship conference. I will note, however, it is not my first professional conference. I have a few literary studies conferences under my belt as presenter. Yet I understand librarians put on quite a different show, so we shall see. Besides, the fact that it is taking place practically in my own backyard makes it a good opportunity. I figured I would go, have some fun, learn some things, and judge for myself if the state library association is something worth my time and efforts. I did join the association to get the break on the conference fees, and I figured that if I liked it I would renew, if not, I could let it lapse at the end of the year. And no, I am not doing any of the preconference events. Those cost extra, and even though a colleague is presenting, I will just have to wait to hear about it later. I am sure he will do fine. Most of my colleagues are going this time around, even those that have not attended in a while. The proximity factor is a good incentive. By the way, this came out of my pocket. I am letting my workplace pick up something else later. At any rate, even if I wanted to do any preconference stuff, I am teaching a class (2 sections) tomorrow. Yes, it is a class late in the semester, but the instructor in question actually scheduled it back in February or so. I spent much of last Friday preparing for it. It should be fun.

Now, last Thursday afternoon, after most of my colleagues had left, I was here working a bit late. Our ever nurturing A.D. for Public Services came over to the Reference Office to offer her advice on how to cruise the exhibits. In retrospect, someone should write a brochure about that. I have read some tips about conference attending from other places, but I think they did not take these in mind. For instance, she demonstrated the waltz of grabbing freebies from the exhibit table without actually making eye contact. She reminded me one is not to be shy when grabbing for things. She also told me what she wanted me to bring her back, since she is one of the brave souls staying behind to hold the fort. I think she is headed to ALA in New Orleans later in the year. In seriousness, she has been very supportive of this little outing, reminding me that it is important to take the chance to meet new people, maybe find some people who do what I do. I recall the word "networking" bandied about once or twice. To be honest, it is something I need to work on. I can be very dynamic in a classroom teaching or working with students. Put me in some fancy room with an open bar, and I go hide. Adding to the advice, our ever intrepid ILL Librarian, who is also attending New Orleans, also chimed in on what she wants me to bring her back. I will be keeping an eye out for a particular poster, but if not, I am sure I can find something nice. I do not recall seeing this in any of my readings about attending library conferences, but maybe we should add a line about "make sure you remember those who stayed behind."

As if I did not feel awkward enough, we had our librarian's meeting last Friday morning. The librarians that are going to TLA were comparing notes on what luncheon invitations they had gotten from vendors and/or groups. They were trading stories about who gives the better lunch, who has the nicer food first thing in the morning, what they do to you if you do attend, and why a certain dinner function sponsored by a vendor, that shall remain nameless, is best avoided. I learned at that point that I am just a lowly peon with no power whatsoever since I got not a single invitation. The lesson here is that those invitations usually go to the acquisitions folks, who are the ones who actually make the decisions. Namely, they buy the stuff (I select stuff, but they "write the checks."). Some of them had four and five different invitations. That part of the meeting was a jolly little moment (no, I won't go into the rest of the meeting, which was, shall we say, not as jolly?). Oh, and by the way, be leery when you win some giveaway. In one case, another of my colleagues told the story of how they won some microfilm or microfiche collection. Nice, but she was stuck then having to deal with it (cataloguing it, putting it out, etc.). So the lesson here is beware what you sign up for? I guess. You see, I am already learning all sorts of things, and I have not even made it there yet. Imagine what I will actually learn when I do get there.

And for me, this will be a learning experience. I am now into my second year as a professional librarian. Attending something like this seems like a logical next step now that I have had some time to make my institution my home. ALA's conferences are pretty much out of reach for me, financially and practically; I can only ask so much of my spouse when I go away for professional development, and campus support only goes so far. I should note, in the interest of full disclosure, I do have some issues with ALA and how they do things (those have been well expressed elsewhere. Run a Technorati search under ALA and membership or similar terms if you are interested). Then again, I do have issues with most large organizations; I had them with the teacher associations as well back when I was in that field. At any rate, I have not totally given up on ALA. . .yet. If the day does come I can make one of their events, I will strive to give them a fair shake, but let's leave that aside now.

I am going to this event with open mind. I am hoping I will learn a few things, meet some new people, and bring back new ideas I can implement when I get back. Maybe this will be an organization I want to be involved with. While I am not a tenure track librarian, I do see myself doing something for the profession. If for no other reason, then I am doing it because I owe it to a certain librarian who for some reason thought I would make a good librarian. If you ever read this and recognize yourself, please know I am doing my best to justify your faith in me. On another level, I guess I am curious to meet other people who do what I do, and I want to meet people who do other things besides what I do. I was a bit worried when some people said this conference may not be "academic enough," in other words, more geared to public librarians. That may or not be the case, and I will get to see. In terms of the program, it does seem a bit more favorable to my brethren in public libraries, but I have managed to find a good set of sessions to attend that I think will be good for me. Maybe that seeming "tilt" to one side means people like me should try to present at some point? I don't know, but it is a possibility. Though, what could I possibly offer is beyond me. Maybe I'll find out.

I am not posting my schedule or anything like that. I have seen some people who do that before they go someplace, but they are usually the big people who need to be reachable. Us peons can afford to blend in, hehe. While I did outline some things I would like to see and do, I do believe in the power of serendipity. So, if we meet, and you have a better idea of where to go next, let me know. Oh, and no, I am not carrying a laptop or such. As this is learning time, I am leaving my e-mail and all that behind. However, I will blog about my experiences and put up my session notes shortly after so I have a record. Overall, if readers out there are locals (or not so local) attending, maybe we'll meet. But if we don't meet, may you have a good conference. And to readers who are not there now, maybe our paths will cross in the future. In the meantime, best, and keep on blogging.

When Getting Caught in the Middle Gets Interesting

Sometimes it gets interesting being caught in the middle. Readers may know that I was a public school teacher as well as adjunct faculty before I made the leap into librarianship. I thought about these experiences as I was reading a short article in The Chronicle of Higher Education for March 10, 2006 entitled "A Perception Gap Over Students' Preparation" and written by Alvin P. Sanoff. Not surprisingly, school teachers are much more optimistic than college faculty when it comes to how they see students' preparation for college. I can definitely see why: school teachers don't take lightly to being told they are not preparing students for college well. Back in my day, I may have had a similar reaction. However, since I crossed over to higher education, I can definitely say that a good share of students do come to college with poor preparation to deal with the experience. Yet, school teachers are not the easy scapegoat they seem to be. Parental involvement (or lack thereof), curriculum (i.e. tracks, which even though no one talks about them, do exist, and more recently the obsession with standardized testing at the expense of actual teaching), local conditions, income level, so on have to come into account as well. Maybe having been on both sides makes me a bit more sensitive to this.

In high school, I taught both college bound and vocationally tracked students. For the college bound, we taught writing as in college (in fact, in addition to the Advanced Composition, which I taught, there were sections that offered college credit, and those faculty were adjuncts of the local university campus as well. Had I stayed there, I likely would have gained that status as well): constant writing and reading with quantity as well as major papers. This did mean a lot of grading. I think a good number of professors have it easy with maybe a couple of sections capped at 25 students or so, if not less. Adjuncts are probably closer to high school teachers as they teach 4 to 5 sections of basic composition, often over the caps. They are the unsung workhorses of academia. The point is that some of this may account for the perception differences as well. The actual professors don't do much hand-holding as teachers and adjuncts do; they don't see it as part of their job, so they likely see things more negatively if a student is a bit more needy when he or she gets to college. I can attest to this because I have met enough professors who resent having to teach basic classes or skills. Just an observation. There are some wonderful professors who cherish teaching and go the extra mile for students, but it seems these are a bit rare.

Like the article pointed out, back in high school, we only learned of our successes or failures when students came back from college. Anecdotally, we did well overall as students often told us they felt well prepared, even if they grumbled about all the writing we had them do at the time. But that was then. These days, in my current position, I do see a good number of students with minimal preparation for college. I see it in some of the questions I get in consultations. I often have to do bits of what can be labeled as "rebuilding." Sometimes I do interpret things for students, and yes, I know that some reference experts frown on this. But when you have a teaching background, it comes naturally. In my setting, refusing to do such is just not an option. While I do send people back to their professor as needed, I often do call on my own teaching experience to help students. At times I get study skills questions or questions one would send to a writing center. If it is in my power to answer those, and more, I do. Overall, I don't mind any of this. I see it as part of my duties as the local Instruction Librarian. Yet at times I do wonder about some of their odds. That my campus needs to work more on retention is no secret. But for me, if I can be a friendly face, if I can be a person that students will see as "that guy from the library who can help me," then I hope I have made their odds of success just a little better.

Article Note: Brief Item on Wikipedia

Citation for the article:

Wallace, Danny P. and Connie Van Fleet. "The Democratization of Information? Wikipedia as a Reference Source." Reference and User Services Quarterly 45.2 (Winter 2005): 100-103.

This brief article looks at Wikipedia in terms of the evaluation criteria for reference sources proposed by Bill Katz in his book Introduction to Reference Work. The criteria, in brief, are purpose, authority, scope, audience, cost, and format. In terms of Wikipedia, I tend to raise questions when it comes to authority. That authors can be totally anoymous, and thus not open to be verified in terms of credentials and qualifications is a problem. When asked, I usually say Wikipedia is a nice source for an overview on a topic, but anything found on it should be verified. At times, I will link to a Wikipedia entry when I want to provide a quick reference to something in my posts, but I also try to for other sources if possible. Wikipedia does have convenience on its side.

Overall, Wallace and Van Fleet found that Wikipedia does not really fit Katz's criteria, or at least, that there are a lot of questions. Troublesome can be Wikipedia's policy "that views should be given weight equal to their popularity" (101). As Wallace and Van Fleet point out, this is troublesome because it is not really democratic; it leads to a tyranny of the majority. And who says the majority is right all the time? I sure as heck don't. Maybe there is something to the idea of protecting minorities and their views within a democracy. Wallace and Van Fleet also observed that though Wikipedia users often cite certain policies for disputes the policies themselves may not be easy to find.

Wallace and Van Fleet do admit that their review is superficial, but they get a sense that Wikipedia "by its very nature, does not stand up well to the kind of scrutiny typically applied in evaluation of reference sources" (102). Anyhow, just some food for thought.

Friday, April 21, 2006

OK, so burn the book, but wait, I have not read it?

Maybe we should file this under "someone with too much time on her hands." Oh, wait, she admits that she has not read the Harry Potter books because they are too long. Maybe we should file it under, "she knows better." But it turns out that 10 year old children know that Harry Potter books are fiction, and they will not turn them into little witches and wizards. This is what a ten year old said in support of the books:

Jessica Grimes, a 10-year-old student at Duncan Creek Elementary School, faxed a letter to the school system in support of the books series.
“The books never at any time turned me into a wizard or witch,” Grimes said. “I go to church every Sunday, go to Sunday school and never at any time did I think the books are true.”
Here is a little more insight from young readers:

Dacula High School student Jana Davis, 16, said she will probably attend the public hearing with some fellow Harry Potter fans. She said she didn’t see how the books were any worse than other children’s books like Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach” or Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” series.
“Maybe parents should be parents and read the book first,” Davis said. “If they find it fun, exciting and adventurous, like thousands of people across the world, then they should allow their children to read it, in school or out.”

Find the story at the Gwinnett (GA) Daily Post for April 21, 2006. I got the tip from the Accidental Blogger, who discusses it here.

So, what do you know? You can be a Harry Potter fan and go to church. One is not exclusive of the other (unless it is some "not so welcoming" church, but we won't go into that here). Apparently young Ms. Grimes is able to distinguish between fact and fiction. I know my daughter, who is almost ten, can do so as well. She reads all sorts of fantasy books, and she knows she is not about to go out casting spells.

Ruchira Paul, the Accidental Blogger, says that the lady arguing for the removal of the books in Georgia is making a spectacle of herself. I say let her. The more people like that make a spectacle of themselves, the easier it is for those of us who believe in the freedom to read to illustrate our point and counter them. Not only has the lady not read the book, but she is suggesting C.S. Lewis' Narnia books instead. Yes, those Narnia books that have magical creatures, blood sacrifices, and magic in them. I will admit to a little secret here: I have not read the Harry Potter series (*waits for collective gasp from readers* And yes, I pretty much know the plot, that's what the Internet is for). Not because I have some belief it will turn me into a warlock or goes against my values (I am as heathen as they come). I just like different fantasy literature, but I think that anyone should be free to read them and just about any other book. While I can respect someone standing up for their values, I cannot respect someone who would pretend to take my liberties and values away because they do not fit their narrow worldview. This is what Ms. Mallory is trying to do in depriving other readers of the books. As I always tell such people, if you do not want to read the book in question, it is your right to choose so. You do not have the right to deprive the rest of us of our reading.

Now some readers may say, "but you are a librarian, of course you think the book should stay." To which I will answer, "yes, I am." But it isn't just that. I always had books in my house, and my parents really did not restrict what I read. It did not mean they were unaware and just allowed anything in the house. They did what responsible parents do, and that is they supervised their children and were involved, and they made sure to cultivate values in their children. One of those values was the freedom to explore ideas, ask questions, read, and wonder. I have to say, if you deprive your child of opportunities to read and learn, and to sometimes just read for fun and escape a while, you are not doing your job as a parent. Am I saying you should allow your children to read anything and everything? No. I would not allow my child anywhere near adult material, for instance. There is such as thing as age appropriateness, and as the saying goes, there is a time and a place. Having said that, I do give her a good amount of latitude to explore. This is not easy, but then again, no one said parenting was easy. Well, at least, it is not easy when you are trying to keep an open mind and develop a sense that ideas need to be explored, and to do so, you should read (and watch) a wide range of books and ideas. The censor's way is the easy way because it is the narrow way that requires no confrontation. It is also the way that requires no thought. Maybe Ms. Mallory, contrary to her claim that she has "put a lot of work" into what she has read and studied, has not put that much work or thought. Like many censors, she is taking the easy way out. With luck and with some people standing up for the freedom to read, the books will remain on the shelves. But those people, like Jana Davis, do have to stand up, and they take the more challenging route. Challenging not only because they have to confront a censor, but because, in reading freely, they choose to be challenged by ideas. Now, that is food for thought. I did explore this idea of the censor as a coward last year during Banned Books Week. Any interested readers can take a look here.

I would like to point this other high school who has argued against censoring books. At the end of her column she wrote,

"Book banning shouldn't be an action to eliminate certain elements in reading, such as offensive language, racism, magic and/or wizardry. Besides violating our first amendment rights, it is impossible to ban everything that some believe. Every person is unique and this includes the choice of materials they like to read.

Let's respect diversity and stop banning books. Let us make our own choices about what we want to read. As long as we like what we're reading, we'll be readers. What's the problem?"

I could go on, but in this case, I think that young student says it better than I could. Best, and keep on reading.

Correction note (4/24/06): The Accidental Blogger is a collaborative blog. The byline for the story in question is by Joe. The detail was brought to my attention by blogger Ruchira Paul in the comments section. The Gypsy Librarian apologizes for any confusion.

A little on ethical leadership

"Real leaders concentrate on doing the right thing, not on doing things right."

The quote I use as an epigraph above comes from the document I am posting about here. I picked the item up from Michael Lorenzen's blog, where he links and briefly comments about an ERIC Digest document on Ethical Leadership. Though this is mostly for school principals, some of the ideas and principles presented apply to library leaders. I say leaders and not managers since one does not automatically equal the other. Leaders in our profession often do not run libraries, and there is a share of library managers who are often anything but leaders. At any rate, I think good leaders should have a good sense of ethics. So, I would like to jot down some ideas from the paper with some of my thoughts, mostly as a reminder to myself.
  • "Thus, the principal must not only behave responsibly as an individual, but must create an ethical institution."
I think we can replace "principal" with "library director" (or any other library unit chief), and the idea would still be valid. For starters, the leader leads by example. You can't expect others to be ethical if you are not ethical. In addition, the leader fosters and nurtures the work environment, so he or she must make sure ethical behavior is the norm and not the exception.
  • "Greenfield points out that much of a principal's authority is moral; that is, teachers must be convinced that the principal's point of view reflects values they support. Coercion through bureaucratic authority will seldom have a positive, lasting effect."
Again, replace the school professionals with the appropriate library professionals, and this is applicable as well. I am not a leadership expert (just learned some things here and there), but even I know that flexing the "bureaucratic muscle" is a fast way to alienate your workers. A library leader should embody the values of librarianship: service and professionalism. I would add intellectual freedom, respect, fairness, and dignity. The ALA's Code of Ethics may provide some guidance in this regard, but a good library leader goes beyond that as needed.
  • The article defines an ethical dilemma as a choice between two rights, not between right and wrong (a choice between right and wrong is a case that should be a "no brainer" to an ethical person, in my estimation). The article also states that dilemmas when cherished values come into conflict. Leadership is exemplified in facing and solving such conflicts.
  • The article provides some suggestions for resolving ethical dilemmas. One, the leader is willing to act on a solid and definite set of standards. Personally, I have a fairly narrow set of ethics: I know that at times I can be pretty inflexible in things others may see as more gray. As relativistic as I can be, I do believe there are certain ethical standards that are common to decent and ethical people. Getting back to the article, one of the sources cited suggests that some common themes in an ethical vision include caring, justice, and critique (being able to look at yourself and see where you may fall short). Two, be able to examine a dilemma from different perspectives. I will add that once the decision is made, it is made. Third is that leaders often reframe ethical issues. This is often done by finding a third path, avoiding an "either. . .or" situation. This is where some degree of compromise may come in.
  • "In simplest terms, stewardship asks leaders to acknowledge their own human faults and limitations rather than hiding behind their status and power." This boils down to accountability, and I would add a degree of humility as well.
  • "Ethical behavior is not something that can be held in reserve for momentous issues; it must be a constant companion." If you wait until something happens to ask if it is ethical or not, you are not behaving ethically. An informed set of ethics should be second nature, a given.
Now, we are not talking here about the world being black and white, or that there is no room for some flexibility. But we are talking about basic ethical standards, which not only inform leaders but should be part of every professional. And this does include library professionals and workers.

Welcome ISHUSH Readers

If you got here from ISHUSH's suggestion, welcome. Feel free to stop by, have a look around. Hope you like what you read and find something useful as well. My profile has a little about me, and the comments are always open. If you prefer, the e-mail is active. And my thanks go to Woody Evans for the tip. If you got here some other way (serendipity tends to work for me), welcome as well.

P.S. If you want to see my "not so professional" side, visit The Itinerant Librarian, my "unruly cousin" blog. However, do so at your peril, haha.

Best to all, and keep on reading, blogging and growing.

Booknote: Ultimate X-Men, vol. 1: The Tomorrow People

Title: Ultimate X-Men, vol. 1: The Tomorrow People
Author: Mark Millar
Publication Information: New York: Marvel Comics, 2001
ISBN: 0785107886
Genre: Graphic Novels and Comics
Subgenre: Science fiction, adventure

This is the first volume in the compilations of the Ultimate X-Men series. I previously read volume 5, and readers can find my booknote for it here. The volume collects series #1-6. This is the part of the series that starts it all with the story of how the American government launches the Sentinel program in order to eradicate anyone who has mutant DNA. The interesting thing about this series is that it presents the heroes as teenagers, except for characters like Professor X and Magneto, who are adults. The idea for Marvel, and this is explained in a note at the end of the volume, was to create something new with known characters that would appeal to teenagers without messing with the continuity lines that long time fans admire. Long time readers of comic series like this know that characters mature, grow, age, and so on, and they can be very vocal if something disrupts this. Continuity can mean that new readers may find some comics harder to access, since they would not know the previous storylines. So, Marvel created series like this to entice new readers by allowing to discover the characters without needing prior knowledge. I think they succeeded in creating something that both teens and adults like me can find appealing. I have read comics here and there, so I was familiar with the X-Men, but I do think people coming to this for the first time will enjoy the experience. In fact, for anyone looking for a reason to read comics like X-Men, this may be a good entry point. The art in this series is very good, and the storylines are very engaging and fast pace, making these volumes fast reads. Characterization is excellent as well. This is the one that sets up the other ones, which I will try to find as well. I highly recommend this series.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Another reason for learning those research skills

Morgan Wilson, in his blog explodedlibrary, gives a short post on why it is important to learn research skills. While he gives four reasons, the one he expands is bullshit detection. Just because you may be a decision maker, it does not mean you can just let your information underling do the research work. You still have to be able to select and filter information in order to make a decision. He explains it much better here, so take a look. Instruction librarians may want to mention this when if a student asks, "why am I learning this?"

Learning a bit about "preemptive" reference

When I first read Brian Matthews' post about ubiquitous reference, I was intrigued. I wanted to read the paper, but finding a bit of time to do it has not been easy as of late. I finally took a moment to read it. He links to a paper that reports his preliminary findings, and he also links to a screencast video demonstrating the technique. I read the paper, which at four pages was easy to read, and I watched the demo. As an aside, I am finding the use of screencast to be extremely cool. I definitely need to make some time and learn more about that since I see some good instructional potential.

Back to the reference idea. I found this interesting because of the setting I work in. I am in a small enough setting that I get to know my students very closely. I am also a blogger, so I am pretty comfortable with the tools that Mr. Matthews describes. So, the idea is appealing because it presents me with another way to get in touch with students, and one that means they don't have to come see me (or any librarian at the desk). I think it can work here with some small tinkering. Mr. Matthews used Xanga and LiveJournal as the tools to locate student blogs, and he searched on the basis of students listing his institution as an affiliation. For monitoring, he used Bloglines, but I am sure that any other reader librarians use will work ok as well. I use Bloglines (and I have a Newsgator account, but I use that mostly for some news services and as a backup for when the Bloglines plumber shows up), so I am used to that interface. He mentions using the keyword search option for feeds, which is something I have not explored, since I usually just use the feed reader to read blogs, but it seems like it would be useful. Here's another incentive to explore some more. Mr. Matthews created accounts in Xanga and LiveJournal for his study. He discovered that students react better to a librarian than to a generic username from an institution. I guess even online, the human touch is important. At this point, I don't have accounts in those services, but I may consider doing so now. What I did wonder is how this could apply to users of MySpace and Facebook. I know MySpace allows for some blogging. Can content from those social services be picked up as feeds as well? I will have to do a little investigating on that regard. The reason I wondered is that based on some observation, I gather that a lot of our students use services like MySpace and Facebook a lot more than they would use LiveJournal or Xanga. On the other hand, students are known to use various things. This would be the question I would want to ask.

There are a few quotes from Mr. Matthews paper that I want to make a note. Not only are they neat ideas, but some of them fit with my own service philosophy. As often happens when I make notes like these, these are just things I want to remember for later. These come from Mr. Matthews' paper:
  • "Instead of forcing patrons to interact with us, we can enter their domain and seek new ways of providing assistance. By monitoring blogs, librarians can step beyond their traditional role and serve as teachers, mentors, and counselors" (2).
  • "By submersing myself in this environment, I was able to detect and respond intuitively, before the patron considered contacting the library" (3).
  • This quote is in the context of Mr. Matthews responding to a blog post where a student was anxious about some classwork. "Additionally, I was able to address the noted anxiety and offer assistance with the assignment. Rather than waiting until it was too late, I was able to interact with the patron early in the semester and to suggest appropriate resources and research techniques" (3).
  • The context of this quote is on responding to criticism about the library on student blogs. "Reading student blogs enables librarians to better understand user expectations and provides a chance to correct misunderstandings or to sympathize with unfortunate encounters" (4).
  • "Blogs allow us to interact with students in their natural environment, and to provide timely, meaningful, and intuitive assistance. Reaching out to students creates a personal connection. It allows them to see us as allies, rather than as part of the academic bureaucracy" (4).
That last quote stuck with me because one of the things I try to do in my work is to have students see me as a face of the library. I do try to minimize the impression that I work for the university "machine" (Open disclosure: I should note that I have a significant hatred of bureaucrats, so anything I can do to minimize the impression I am part of some static, burdensome, and clunky system is valid as far as I am concerned). Given the amount of student consultations I do, I would like to think I am somewhat successful in that regard. So, overall, I am sold on the idea, now if I can find the time to tinker around a bit. It seems time is the one commodity in short supply. However, I am thinking this is important enough that time has to be made for it. At the end of his screencast, Mr. Matthews noted that the challenge is monitoring the blogs. I can see it is a challenge because it adds another little task to the overall reference work. And yet, it does seem like a fairly easy thing to try out. Definitely worth exploring, and as I learn more, I hope to post some of the progress here.

And by the way, Mr. Matthews has gotten a couple of comments on his blog, and he replies describing a bit more the process he follows, so definitely go over and read it.

Booknote: JLA: Terror Incognita

Title: JLA: Terror Incognita
Author: Mark Waid
Publication Information: New York: DC Comics, 2002
ISBN: 1563899361
Genre: Graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: Science fiction, adventure

This volume is the follow-up to the JLA: Divided We Fall volume I reviewed previously. In this series, Earth is threatened by the white martians, a race able to cloak themselves and stronger than the league in many ways. Given that the white martians have managed to capture the Martian Manhunter, they may just have the upper hand against the league. The volume also features the story about Polaris, who gets a hold of the joker toxin, and a special Christmas issue where Plastic Man tells a sceptical kid about how Santa became a member of the Justice League. For readers who keep track, this volume compiles the JLA series #55-60. As I understand it, this volume is the last of Mark Waid's work on the series. Based on what I have seen, I am definitely inclined to go look for the earlier works.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Booknote: JLA: Divided We Fall

Title: JLA: Divided We Fall
Author: Mark Waid
Publication Information: New York: DC Comics, 2001
ISBN: 1563897938
Genre: Graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: science fiction, adventure

When Batman betrays the trust of his colleagues in the Justice League, the League is threatened with disension. Batman is expelled from the league, yet he is not totally out. While the league is dealing with the consequences of this situation, the world is threatened by the Queen of Fables, who has escaped from a magical fairy tale book. This unleashes the fantasy world onto the real world, leaving the league to battle various mythical characters while the Queen seeks to vanquish Wonder Woman, whom she sees as Snow White (remember the Snow White story, the detail about the evil stepmother?). This storyline makes for an interesting take on fairy tales. The story continues as the heroes find themselves divided not only by mistrust but quite literally when their hero personas are split from their alter-egos (their secret personalities). Overall, this is a well developed storyline, very engaging to read. Good art as well. The book is a compilation of the JLA series 47-54 for those readers who keep track.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Trying out a wiki, baby steps

This probably could be filed under more proof that I am running behind in my posting, but life and work have that way of trumping blogging. At any rate, I finally got a bit brave to go and try out a wiki. Last month, our director declared a Collection Development Hour on a Friday (she does this every once in a while. I don't think there is a method to the madness, but it is a nice idea), which is usually defined as a time for us to take a "time out" to get to know our collection better in some way. This can go from reading a book to practicing on a database to checking out an A/V item or trying a new online tool (it is a fairly relaxed definition). So, I decided to try and see if I would learn a bit about using a wiki since I have been doing some reading on the topic and even heard Meredith Farkas' recent OPAL online presentation on this.

At any rate, I set up an account at LISWiki after I saw a promo for it at LISNews. So, I tried to learn a thing or two in practical terms. As I was browsing, one thing I wondered about were the various "stub" entries that also had links to counterparts in Wikipedia. If I can already read about a topic over there, what is the point of writing about it over here? Not trying to be cynical, but the writer in me wonders. I did a small edit on a small stub entry. While editing on the one hand is fairly easy, there are still some details, such as linking, that I hope to understand further with more practice. It is not as intuitive as some of the enthusiasts make it sound, but it is certainly nothing impossible to learn. It is nothing that a little practice cannot fix. I went on to write my addition, and for a moment, I just wanted to save it without making it public. It was mostly so I could fiddle with it more at a later time. And yet I knew that for this to work, I had to let it go, at least for now. Much of this first foray was very tentative, but that is often how first explorations work. I typed a bit, previewed it, added a bit more. I finally hit the "save page" button, and there it was. By the way, here is the entry I tried out. If nothing else, it was a baby step in learning how to use another resource. I'd say it was time well spent.

Article Note: On Librarians and Construction Work

Citation for the article:

Gruden, Vicki. "Role of the Teacher-Librarian Construction: A Metaphor and Graphic." School Libraries in Canada 21.2 (2001): 14-15.

Read the article through Academic Search Premier.

I found this little article while searching the database for some articles on school libraries in preparation for a possible post at a later date on the topic. The planned post is sort of a reply to the many short-sighted people that, when faced with budget issues, cut out school libraries (often while still funding the new football stadium, but let's not get started down that route now). This small piece is useful for answering the question: "what does a librarian do for you?" The article pays attention to school librarians, but I think it has a couple of things to say for all librarians as well. The article uses a construction work metaphor to help people understand what school librarians do. The construction roles represent the roles of the school librarian.

According to Gruden, "there are five human figures in the this picture [there is a graphic included with the article], and they serve dual purposes. First of all, they represent the five main facets of the teacher-librarian's job: (1) learning (industry, projects, evaluation), (2) leadership (builders, knowledge, roles), (3) cooperative planning and teaching (designers, tools), (4) enabling (cooperation, evaluation), (5) and managing (development, industry, evaluation). They also represent the major stakeholders (investors) in the education process: students, teachers, parents, administrators, and the public" (14).
Like in construction, education is a process that requires commitment in terms of resources, planning, and labor. In this scheme, "the teacher-librarian is the project manager of a learning program for the school that helps students, the builders, to 'construct' a better understanding of the world" (14). This is a very neat idea: to see students as the builders of their knowledge. This requires a teacher to show and manage rather than dictate. It makes learning into a truly collaborative effort.

Other ways in which librarians resemble construction professionals include:
  • in their vision of excellence.
  • in their advocacy for their projects, especially in communicating with investors.
  • in developing blueprints.
  • in their realization that keeping up is a must. On this, Gruden writes, "the teacher-librarian and the construction professional realize the importance of staying on top of new developments in the field. They read articles related to the profession, and develop strategies for ensuring further professional development" (14).
Her conclusion, I think, says it all. She states that "using a construction metaphor to explain the role of the teacher-librarian helps to explain the importance of learning, leadership, cooperative planning and teaching, enabling and managing in a school library program" (15).

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Thoughts on some words of wisdom (or knowing when not to post)

Before I go on, thanks to Walt Crawford of Cites and Insights who recently named this blog as one deserving of more attention in his Cites and Insights 6.5 (find the PDF here). If any readers made it this far as a result of that, welcome. I am still making my way through the issue, and it turns out there is another one.

At any rate, on to the subject of this post. In the C&I issue noted above, Walt brings back an earlier note from a post at his Walt at Random blog for April 19, 2005. It seemed very timely for me since my recent post on the blogger's pledge and some thinking I have been doing lately. Here is the paragraph:

"There's a lot to be said for responses not posted, and blog essays never blogged. Writing it down is great as a safety valve. Submitting it for anyone else to see is frequently pointless (and sometimes dangerous). Back before ubiquitous 'communications' paths, the safety valve was just writing down something and crumpling it up, and the danger of overcommunication was limited by the difficulty of reaching beyond your friends."

Indeed. For a few years now, I have kept a personal journal. One of the ways in which I use it is as a safety valve, for when there are things I would like to say, but I know I am better off not saying them. Sometimes whatever the issue is not worth it. Other times, it is a matter of keeping silent to avoid hurting someone. I should note I am not as worried about giving offense, but I do try to avoid offending when I can. Sometimes I will start a post, even typing it in here, only to hit delete, or printing it out (but not posting it) to then clip to the journal. Other times, I will just write over there. Very often I see some posts out there in the blogosphere that I wonder what moved people to take the risk. At any rate, there is a joy to things not posted or blogged. There is something to that little saying about silence being golden. Sometimes, I think, you can say a lot more by your silence than by actually saying anything. Anyhow, just a thought.

Booknote: Weblogs and Libraries

Title: Weblogs and Libraries
Author: Laurel A. Clyde
Publication Information: Rollingsford, NH: Chandos Publishing, 2004
ISBN: 1-84334-096-8
181 pages
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Library science, Internet, Weblogs and blogging, libraries

On a side note, I am listening to Pandora as I am typing this. Eurythmics came up, followed by Erasure. Now, on to the booknote.

On initial reading, this book is already showing its age. Though published in 2004, a significant portion of the information it provides and the details it describes are already dated. This is not the author's fault, but it is simply a reflection of the fact that the blogosphere has grown and changed dramatically since the book's publication. I think this is pretty much a risk for books about the Internet and cyberspace.

Having said this, the book does have some useful elements. First, readers can get a sense of history, where things come from. Second, it does provide some useful tips for beginners. The book looks at almost every aspect of blogging from rationales to tools to management. It then applies this to the library world. For libraries, and librarians, considering whether to have a blog or not, this book provides some guidance.

What I found most useful was in "Chapter 7: Managing the Library Weblog." The rest of the book I read quickly, scanning most of the way. A lot of the stuff I knew already, and it is probably material any experienced biblioblogger knows. However, chapter 7 made me pause and think.

I paused because the chapter provides questions to keep in mind when setting up and then maintaining a library blog. We are talking here about an official library blog, not the one a librarian like me would keep for personal reasons or professional development. However, I did find myself thinking about my own blogs, revisiting the question of purpose and thinking about maintanance, keeping the blogs interesting and up-to-date. I have learned that it is easy to set up a blog, but it takes work and commitment to keep a blog active.

I also paused because I thought about my library's blog (the main one is here. This one we use for news and announcments. Do note we have three other blogs, which you can find linked at the main blog). My library said yes to the question of whether it should have a blog or not. The book chapter suggests some things to consider about planning and implementing a blog. One suggestion is to identify potential users. For my own blogs, I have a somewhat reasonable idea of who reads them. It is not a perfect idea since now and then I may run the Technorati search (or other tool) and find a rare link that seems odd (ok, not odd, more like, hmm, how did that person find me?). However, for the library's blogs I wonder. They are linked on our website, so any user can get to them, but do they really? Also, in classes where I may mention casually that I have a blog, I get a good number of students asking what is a blog. Some of them probably don't know, but I think a good number of them have seen blogs. They are just not aware that what they saw is a blog. I am thinking, as one example, many of the users of MySpace. I use this example because I had a student ask me in relation to the blog reference, "is that like MySpace?" I replied that it was. Yes, we could get technical, but why would we in that case? At any rate I wonder how can my library's blogs reach the students if many do not know what a blog is. Education and marketing seem good answers, but they are only a start.

What about the faculty? I know many use our databases remotely, so they visit our website. Do they look at the blogs while they visit? Now this I would like to know. What I could do for starters is to ask the faculty in my subject area.

Then, there are decisions about content. When my library decided to implement blogs, certain content decisions were made based on what the blog was for, say news versus business subject area items. Clyde gives a list of possible content sources, which include:
  • "content created within the library, for example news items related to library activities, functions to be held in the library, news items in the library, new items in the library collection, media releases generated by the library, book reviews written by library staff. . ."
  • "content and links selected from among the material available on the Internet. . ."
  • "content provided by readers of the weblog, for example through comments on posts. Other content provided by readers might include book reviews, local news items, information about Internet resources or other information relevant to the topic or theme or readership of the weblog" (151).
Some of these we do already, yet there is so much more that could be done, in my estimation. Just one idea: I was recently talking to a colleague who mentioned how bad it is to get campus events information from the university's website. By the way, this is common knowledge in my library and much of the campus, so I am not saying anything disparaging. However, that is another story. Now, I mentioned that we could announce some of those campus events, like those for Women's Month, on our news blog. It would provide information in a place that is easy to find, serve as a public service announcement, and give us a bit more visibility. I think it may also help build some goodwill. We'll see.

In regards to ongoing maintenance and management of a library blog, Clyde gives some things to consider including:
  • "ongoing evaluation of the extent to which the weblog meets user needs. . ."
  • "regular updating of content. . ."
  • "training of library staff and users. . ."
  • "ongoing publicity and promotion of the weblog" (158-159).
In terms of budgeting, Clyde points out the usual considerations for money, equipment, and technology. However, there is also:
  • "staff time necessary for monitoring the weblog and responding to comments, e-mail messages and other queries. . ."
  • "staff time necessary for creating weblog content. . "
  • "staff time necessary for supporting any interactivity. . ."
  • "costs of continuing professional development activities for library staff (if necessary). . ." (160).
What do you mean "if necessary"? Continuing professional development is a necessity. Anyhow, I wanted to point out the time element, which I think many of those who jump into a blog, personal or institutional, may underestimate.

Clyde additionally gives ideas for promoting a library's weblog. She mentions that listing in directories and search engines is a good step (161). As someone who took the time to do some of this, I have mixed feelings. I don't think it makes that much of a difference since directories vary greatly in quality; search engines for blogs may be getting better, but even Technorati leaves a lot to be desired. However, it can't hurt to register in some appropriate places. Other ideas on promotion from Clyde's book:
  • "Ensure that all stationery used by the library or information agency, all business cards and all e-mail electronic signatures carry the URL of the library weblog" (161).
Which reminds me, maybe I need to put my blog and IM information on my next set of business cards.
  • "Create print materials that will advertise or promote the weblog--for example, small brochures, bookmarks, stickers, postcards" (162).
Which now reminds me that we ran out of that nice library bookmark I designed that we used to give out. This may be a good time to redesign it so as to add the library blog's URL. It also reminds me it may be a good time to design one of those librarian trading cards. With a good design, I could have all my contact information on a nice card for my students. It would certainly be cooler than the company issue business card I have now.

At the end of chapter 7, Clyde addresses evaluation of the weblog project. She says that for weblogs the evaluation will be mostly formative (ongoing, at stages). Two of the questions to ask when evaluating your weblog:
  • "Is the weblog fulfilling the aims that were established for it? Are those aims still appropriate?"
  • "Who is actually using the weblog and why? Are they the people for whom the weblog was originally designed?" (164).
Overall, my first impulse for advice to libraries considering a blog is to go online. Go find some examples of library blogs. Read some of the work that expert librarians in the blogosphere have written in this regard. Doing this will likely assure that more current information is found. However, if these are not viable options, this book can provide some initial guidance.

Booknote: Star Wars: Dark Empire I

Title: Star Wars: Dark Empire I
Story by Tom Veitch, Art by Cam Kennedy
Publication Information: Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2003
ISBN: 159307039X
Genre: Fiction/Graphic Novel
Subgenre: Fantasy/Adventure, Science Fiction

I picked this up from my local public library branch. This is the first of a trilogy that includes the volumes Dark Empire II and Empire's End. The story tells the tale of how Luke Skywalker falls to the dark side shortly after Darth Vader's death and the events presented in the film Return of the Jedi. Well, he falls, or seems to fall. The question is does he, or is it part of a larger plan? Fans of the series will definitely enjoy it. I found the story entertaining and engaging. The art itself was good, but it was not great. It seemed to vary in quality. Overall though, I still recommend this book, and I will probably seek out the other two volumes if I get the chance. As a note, while it is part of a trilogy, the first volume can certainly be read by itself.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Intellectual Amusement Parks? Where do I sign up for the rides?

This is the coolest line I have read in quite a while, and it was written by Mr. Brian Matthews for an article in Library Journal on Generation X. The iine is:

"Let's create intellectual amusement parks."

The context is a discussion of rethinking library spaces and what they do. Here is the paragraph:

"Let's create intellectual amusement parks. I am much more interested in what a person can do in a library than what we can put in one. This is the cultural shift for which we will be responsible. Let's expand the public's vision of libraries to create something meaningful for the modern patron. We must break down the image and practice of libraries as mausoleums of information. Libraries today should be vibrant and, yes, even noisy in some areas.

We've become a collaborative society and need to find better ways to accommodate groups and productivity. Let's look to form partnerships with external organizations, expand services to include things like tutoring, tech help, tax assistance, and translation services, as well as performance stages, pod/videocasting stations, and art studios. The potential is boundless."

Food for thought. I am still not sure about ALA and being active, which Mr. Matthews addresses in his article. Let's just say I am one of those with some questions who is not finding any answers (and don't even get me started on ALA and the job market myth). Actually, I think I will just sit that one out, but this is a cool idea. I want to ride. Better yet, I want to bring others along for the ride.

Campus Event: Forum on Child Care for the Campus

This forum happened on March 29, 2006. It was one of the events for Women's Month at my campus. In addition to the fact that it was a Women's Month event, we often get students in one of our English classes who pick this issue as a paper topic. The class has to write up a feasibility study to solve some kind of problem, and this topic often springs up. So I figured I would go and see what the official campus positions (administrative) were on the topic as well as just see what I could learn. It was well worth it.

The forum was moderated by one of our social science professors. It featured one of our students, speaking on behalf of students with children, one of our professors who specializes in child development, and two of our vice presidents (the VP of Student Services and the VP of Administration and Finance). I think about 25 or so attended.

The moderator provided a good introduction that gave us a context. He explained that we can look at this issue in terms of an investment. We should ask if students should have such a service in order to facilitate their education. We can also see this as an investment from the state and society where we all benefit. In other words, think of the common good. Would an investment in a child care center have larger benefits?

Our student panelist went on to give a well-reasoned argument in favor of a child care facility. She looked at getting an education in terms of economics (better opportunities) and social reasons. Child care is helpful given scheduling issues. If a student cannot take 12 cerdit hours (a full load), then the financial aid is reduced. Also, it is hard for students with children to be involved in college activities and the academic community. They are often not able to use the computer labs or even meet classmates for collaborative class projects. The student also cited data on poor pay for jobs that do not require a college degree to support her argument. She also pointed out that some community colleges do provide child care facilities; however, community colleges only provide 2-year degrees, and for many people, a 4-year degree is essential. Low income parents need access to education and affordable child care. Additionally, she cited data from research that shows that child care availability can lead to better enrollment and graduation rate figures, which by the way, are issues that concern the local administration (our enrollment has slowed down, and the graduation rate can use some serious work. By the way, I am not saying anything here that is not available as public information or is not common knowledge). Overall, a child care center would benefit the students as well as the campus.

Next came the professor. She provided a good explanation of what may be required and on the needs of children. From a child development perspective, children need stability and consistency. A child care center could be based on whether users work on campus (i.e. they need daily child care) or for students (i.e. are only on campus for classes, would need say half a day). Then, another question is to provide the service on nights and weekends given the campus offers classes at those times as well. On our campus, this would be highly desirable. I know from experience that we have a lot of students who work all day and then come to classes at night; some of them I am sure have to do magic to make sure their children are ok as they go from work to school. The professor also asked what model of child care center would be adopted. She argued, and I have to agree, that we need to avoid a warehouse model (where the kids just eat, sleep, and play). However, do we then want a curriculum-based model? A Montessori school even? The question is not only do we need it, but will we have the best situation for the children as well as the parents. Furthermore, there is need for the center workers to be certified. Could this mean the center could serve as an educational facility to train the lead teachers and care workers as well?

Our VP for Administration and Finance gave some reasons and obstacles to realizing the concept. The center could be tied to the education program (our campus has an Urban Education program), but the program does not currently include an early childhood component. He also pointed out the issue of demand. There are a lot of parents with children, and the demand would easily outstrip the supply, which could lead to waiting lists. Also, what if the students do all the work to set up the facility, only to see it "taken over" by mostly faculty and staff who take up spaces (whether by need or more likely by pressure). Then, there was the question of an operational schedule for the center. Space is another significant issue. Not just campus space, which is extremely limited, but the university does not own land in areas adjacent to the campus (we are in the middle of the city), so property that the campus can acquire or gain access to is limited. Also, note that the cost of a center is likely to be recovered by student fees. Finally, there are liability issues.

Our VP of Student Services added to the conversation. He did mention references to studies that show employees can be more productive if such facilities are provided to those who need it. The danger is that as costs go up, there may be less access who students given their lower incomes. This goes along with the notion of faculty taking up more spaces if they are better able to afford the service. However, there is agreement that space is a major obstacle. Also, the cost recoup coming from student fees may be resented by some students who have no children. It may be possible to seek some federal funding.

The audience had some questions and ideas, such as:
  • Is it possible to make this work with a partnership with a private provider? Maybe, for instance, a discount for students who participate from the private provider? The campus would more likely need to build or provide the space. Our professor suggested that some providers may be willing to build a facility. Or, maybe partnering with an organization. The campus could gain benefit and engage the community this way.
  • While a campus child care center is not a solution to everything, but it would meet student needs. For the slots in the center issue, maybe writing into the charter the percentages (say 60% of spaces have to be for student parents). The constituents in the end need to decide how important this issue is to them.
  • Even a small operation (say, 4 days a week for 4 hours a day) has significant costs in terms of licensing, space, equipment, and supplies. These are things needed before the center becomes operational, then you have staffing of the center. However, it would not be impossible to provide such a facility. The administration needs to hear loud and clear that this issue is priority for students. Clearly, it is not likely to happen soon, but in time, such a facility could be planned into any new campus buildings and construction. Overall, this needs to be planned in the long run.

What if bloggers vanished?

From Boing Boing, a tale of what would happen if bloggers actually disappeared. The story is "Plumage from Pegasus" written by Paul DiFilippo. I read the story with a blend of amusement and wonder, but I also found myself speculating what if the various obstacles of spam, excessive regulation, viruses, and terrorism did bring down the Internet. Sure, go ahead and excuse spam as a form of capitalism, a form to make a living, but to this blogger at least who tries to do a little writing and sharing with a community, a spammer is pretty much the lowest lifeform, to put it mildly. They are just people out there ruining things for a lot of decent people. And don't even get me started on the virus makers. At any rate, an interesting read. I wonder what would I do if the Internet disappeared, and I could not blog anymore. Well, on a quick take, I would probably go back to the old journal with pen and paper. I probably would publish a zine if I wanted to publish for others. In other words, I would adapt. Now, whether others would read it, that would remain to be seen.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Campus Event: Panel on Arts Administration Careers

The panel featured one of our students, who is in Interdisciplinary Studies with an eye to Arts Administration, and representatives from the Houston Film Commission, from DiverseWorks Art Space, and from the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County. About 25 or so people attended, the crowd had some students, but I saw a bit more faculty. The common theme of the panel is that experience is crucial in the field of Arts Administration, especially to get the jobs higher than entry level. For entry level, very often volunteering and internships are crucial. Actually, a specific degree in Arts Administration may or not be relevant. What is really needed are skills and some art background (be it visual arts, film, drama, dance, music, etc.). Most of this industry is a "learn on the job" industry, and it can be a small world where who you know really matters. One of the panelists advised the audience to never burn bridges behind you. He told the story of a worker of his who on the last work day "told him off." Later, when that man was auditioning, guess who was sitting in the first row seat? It is also a diverse field that ranges from theatres to music halls to museums, and from small organizations to large ones that operate like corporations. There were good questions from the audience. The panel was informal, and the panel members shared their experiences with the audience. They share in common some of the experiences I have described already: starting with volunteer work and working up the ranks, the need for flexibility, and the need to gain experience. They all have different backgrounds (degrees in journalism, design, theater for instance), yet they tell the audience that basic skills like writing are very important. It is a growing field, so there should be opportunities for students who may want to go into the field, but experience will be crucial. Overall, an interesting learning event for me.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Just a reminder that we are a bridge

My readers may know that I try to steer clear of the whole L2 meme and related topics. Not because I lack thoughts about such topics, just staying within the blogger pledge. One of my thougths is that I think the dwellers of Mount Ubertech can often forget about those who dwell at the foot of the mountain. Rather than go on, I will simply put these words from the Feel-good Librarian, who always has this way to remind us to remain humble and to remember what is really important in our profession. In this instance, the Feel-good librarian reminds us not to be the weakest link. Please do go over and read the complete post. This is the reminder I want to keep for myself. The librarian wrote:

"Technology should be a bridge to information, not a barrier. If your card files are gone, remember:

We are the bridge. Hold their hands and take them across. We are all links in a chain to information: us to the files, them to their families. Don’t be the weakest link."
There are times when we will have to hold the patron's hand (sometimes quite literally) in order to provide the service and/or information. At the end of the day, technology is a tool. It is up to us to help others make use of that tool. We can choose to do so by serving as a bridge, or we can alienate others by making it a barrier in the form of alienation or segregation. I am choosing the bridge. Won't you come across as well that we may walk the trail together? Just a thought.

Booknote: Conflict Management for Libraries

Title: Conflict Management for Libraries: Strategies for a Positive, Productive Workplace
Authors: Jack G. Montgomery and Eleanor I. Cook
Publication Information: Chicago: ALA, 2005
ISBN: 0-8389-0890-X
207 pages
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Library science, librarianship, workplace issues, management

This is a book that many library managers and supervisors should read, but I get the feeling they won't. I am not saying they should read it because it is a great book, but they should read it to get a clue. Or rather get the start of a clue. While positive in outlook, I found the book's content at times simplistic and a little too idealistic. The book is divided into three parts: types of library conflict, a series of seventeen case studies, and managing conflict.

I found parts one and three useful for an overview of issues that can spark conflict at work and for some ideas on how to handle conflict. The second part, the case studies, was only so-so. Though the authors draw on actual surveys and narratives from library workers, some of these cases seem ridiculous, and yes, I know that truth can be stranger than fiction, but some of these seem almost like caricatures. On a brief aside, the proliferation of anonymous librarian blogs dedicated to telling horror stories, however, may confirm that some of the stories in the case studies may not seem as outlandish as one may think. At any rate, the case studies are analyzed by an outside consultant and an HR person, who represents the library "insider." The authors also provide their assessment of the case studies. It was these assessments that I found particularly useless because more often than not the suggested solution was to provide more training and more workshops. Most of the case studies are illustrations of poor communication, serious lacks of civility and respect, and managers who are either too incompetent, weak, or entrenched to do the supervisory job that they are paid to do. The result is very often finding ways to defuse conflict, and I do see this as a good thing to pursue, but this result is often in the sense of training rather than actually dealing with the situation. It's a bit too much diplomacy.

This is one of those books that confirms for me that I should never be a manager. Why? Because at times you have to confront, pure and simple. Disrespect, and more importantly, rudeness should not be tolerated from anyone, be they patron or library worker. Situations need to be difused, surgically if need be, with decisive action. Getting everyone together for yet another round of sensitivity training just does not cut it. The case of the librarian who is a Wiccan harassed by the zealous Christian coworker is a perfect example. The supervisor moved the young Wiccan girl out of public services because of a small pentagram necklace she wears that the zealot accidentally saw her wearing. Were it me, lawyers would have been called and complaints for harassment made instead of the weak response from the manager. The suggestions the authors give for appeasement are simply not good enough. And thus, I would never be a supervisor because intolerance of any kind coupled with harassment is something that I simply would not tolerate. Heads would roll if I was in charge, and the cops would have been called, since the girl did get her tires slashed in the library parking lot. Now, granted, the place is a small conservative community (or so they portray it), but if I were a reader from such a community, I would be wondering if a lawsuit was nearby. Let's just say whimpy appeasement, especially to intolerant people, does not do it for me. Overall, one must confront at times, and this book fails to remind supervisors of this. A useful lesson, but one that I knew from my days as a public school teacher, is to remember to document everything, and to treat everyone equally, fairly, and consistently. I did not need to read this book to know this.

Overall, the book is a pretty light read. The case studies may be the type of thing that LIS professors could inflict on students. I say inflict because I had such a professor who would inflict on us those case studies published in Library Journal every time she needed to kill time in management class; they were mostly busywork. If readers are totally ignorant about conflict management, then this book may provide a start. Those with experience on the topic, who have had a good share of sensitivity training, emotional intelligences training, conflict resolution (I've had all three at one point or another) and such can safely skip it. If not totally skipping it, reading the last part may be somewhat useful. The last part does have some useful assessment questions and a discussion of organizational culture. For some readers, it may be interesting to see where their institution falls on the organization culture scheme. The last chapter is on the topic of leadership. In a shell, leaders are willing to take risks (and they are able to acknowledge the possibility of failure and are able to learn from it), are self-aware, are interconnected, embrace diversity, and have a vision while managing realistically. Do note that these traits do not equal to a manager, but the very rare species of manager who is a leader is nice indeed. As for me, when it comes to leadership, I am reading Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, with a couple other things thrown in. On conflict management, I think there are other things out there.

Educating librarians session, or false advertising at CIL?

Reading various library bloggers report on CIL sessions, as well as other conferences, gives me a good way to get some exposure to various ideas, a chance to learn a thing or two, and get a sense of what is being talked about out there. Some sessions seem good; others seem to leave a lot to be desired. I think this session reported by Meredith Farkas, of Information Wants To Be Free, may be an example of the later. She reported on a session about Educating Librarians, but it seems the title was misleading to say the least. I got the impression the session may not have been very relevant from the notes. I would have thought that a session on "educating librarians" would mean educating future librarians or possibly continuing education for practitioners. Both are important topics, but librarians of all people should be able to use the right label for the right job.

Ms. Farkas makes notes on the "keeping up" presentation by Jeanne Holba Puacz. Based on the list of suggestions to address the question--"how can we keep up with technology when time and money are at a premium?"-- I don't think that I missed much. The list, while it has one or two useful ideas, does raise some questions overall. Here is where I had questions (italics from Ms. Farkas' post):
  • "1. Go back to school. Take college and graduate-level classes in library science, computer science, management, etc. Lots of Many Universities and state library associations offer trainings that usually cost less money." This may not be too feasible if there are no solid graduate programs nearby to take those graduate-level classes. In my case, there is no library school anywhere near my location, so I can pretty much forget about taking other LIS graduate courses anytime soon. As for other topics at the graduate level, I'd have to go to another campus in our system for that. So, in terms of time, this is not practical, and I thought this was to make it easy for us. And yes, some people may say that there are online courses. However, distance education can often be prohibitive in terms of cost. Thus, I question how the presenter sees this as a good option when time and money are tight.
  • "2. See what life’s like on the other side. If you teach a topic to someone else, you will be forced to learn it well." I was not sure what this meant. I do agree that teaching others does help you learn something better yourself, but I can't teach something if I don't know it, inventive as I can get at times. So, what is this "other side" then?
  • "5. Howdy partner. If a patron is asking you about a new technology you don’t know much about, partner up and look up things together. Don’t just say, 'I don’t know.'" Hey, sometimes you do have to say "I don't know." It seems librarians have this horrible fear of having to maybe once admit this. I would rather admit I do not know than to take a patron on a three hour tour to try to learn something on the fly. It does not mean you can't look it up and do the best you can but don't pretend you know when you don't. Besides, the patron may not be willing or have the time to partner up. Sometimes the patron just wants the answer. At any rate, this seems well-intentioned but a bit questionable.
  • "6. Conference call. Go to conferences. The formal presentations are useful, but the networking is also great. Talk to conference speakers you admire and to vendors whose technology you’re interested in. If you can’t go, read the blogs that are covering the conference." This saves you on time and money? Conferences can be notoriously expensive, and the lack of institutional support for librarians to travel is often a given. Readers who may be sceptical on this point can run a search for posts on this topic in Technorati or their favorite blog search tool. Why did the presenter make this suggestion is beyond me. At least she mentioned blog coverage, but that suggestion could have gone with her other one about using RSS, etc. This stuck me as either a bit naive or a bit overly optimistic.
So it does seem that I did not miss much, at least as far as that session goes. On the upside, some of the ideas here, such as #7 (on playing with technology) and #9 (on filtering what you do find to keep up) may be prompts along with #8 (on using RSS and other alert services) for a decent in-house session for our faculty. I'll have to give that some thought. I do feel a bit sorry for Ms. Farkas who subjected herself to this, but I thank her for the coverage. Very often conference blogging seems to only cover the "good stuff." Now and then we need to see the "not so good" too. If nothing else, so as to see what can be improved.