Friday, May 25, 2007

Gypsy Librarian Takes Show on the Road: Blinn College

I had the good fortune to be invited to give a teaching demonstration at Blinn College. One of the librarians there, Julie Menard, is one of my classmates from Immersion (Texas Regional Immersion, 2006). Her colleagues and her have been doing some wonderful things in the way of promoting information literacy and service to their students. So, when my classmate called asking me to come over and give a small talk on teaching, active learning, and a few other things, I knew I had to go. The talk took place last week on Thursday (May 24, 2007), but as things got a bit hectic upon my return, took me a while to blog about it.

Julie asked me to do a teaching demo for what would be a typical ENG 1301, that is the English I (Freshman Composition, first semester) class. The prompt was minimal, and I was given a description of one of the assignments they do over there. For my demonstration, I chose one of my lesson plans for the ENG 1301 classes. For a brief outline of what I might cover in one of those classes, here is a sample. Here is part of what Julie wrote in her e-mail when she invited me to come over (I have taken a liberty to quote from an e-mail, which I hope is ok):

"We are always looking for ways to better engage our students, to add spark to our sessions, to incorporate active learning, and to assess student learning. Since Immersion, we've developed some learning outcomes, worked with a group of English instructors on a preassignment for English 1301, and tried a few different approaches for engaging our students."

I have to admit that for a moment, maybe I was the one who was going to get a lesson. That is a wonderful approach. Here I am always looking for ways to spark up my sessions as well, and incorporating active learning is something I have been working on, more actively so since Immersion.

We kept it informal for the talk. I did my teaching demo, and then I answered some questions. The Q&A was a great moment as not only did they ask me questions about techniques and engaging students, but I was also able to ask them questions. Learning is a two-way process, and I have always believed the teacher can learn from the students, or the professional colleagues in this case. We talked about the use of humor, which is something I use quite a bit in teaching, and we talked a little about risk taking as well. We also got to talking about my uses for blogging. Recently, I started a student resource blog, a small tool that for me answers the question of "how do I get this really cool bit of information or resource to students after they have left?" I also keep this blog, which is the one I label as my professional blog (this goes along with the notion of reflective practice in teaching). We even talked a little about Sesame Street (those who have seen my instructional sessions will know what I mean, but it's that I throw a reference to Sesame Street in my contact information). It's a small detail, but it is another small way to get students engaged.

We did address the questions that Julie sent me, which I am now going to jot down here as a reminder:

  • Do you incorporate group activities?
  • How do you assess student learning?
  • How do you engage the students?
  • Do you give students assignments during the sessions?
  • What are your learning outcomes?
  • Do you ask faculty for learning outcomes regarding the library session?
  • Do you ask faculty and/or students to assess your teaching?
I am willing to bet a few instruction librarians out there will recognize such questions, and they may probably be thinking about how they would answer them. Here are my answers then:
  • Yes, I incorporate group activities, though not as often as I would like. This is due to the dreaded time factor.
  • In the past, I have used pre- and post- tests after sessions. However, and this is something that intrigues me, I do a lot of observation and assessment when students come in for consultation (I am referring to students who had a class with me then came to see me). I am thinking if I can get students to express themselves more about the steps they take in research, for example, as we work together, that one can assess their learning in a significant way.
  • I engage them with humor, with a little bravado, and with the understanding that one has to embrace the chaos. I use active questioning techniques. I will have students demonstrate things to others. No trick in an educator's bag of tricks is off limits for me.
  • My learning outcomes are outlined on my lesson plans. At the most simple level, I want to see that they will be able to do things like: identify an appropriate resource based on their research question or need, and to be able to create a search strategy that will yield a narrow and relevant set of results.
  • Yes, I do ask faculty for outcomes. Whether they provide them is another story (again, something I am sure librarians who teach everywhere can relate to). On the positive, the few that do provide outcomes tend to be very specific and focused.
  • On assessing my teaching, I need to work on that one. While I always ask teachers if I have covered what they needed, a more formal evaluation tool should be developed. I have used such before, but not here at this point in time.
As I wrap up, I wish to thank Julie for inviting me over. I want to thank her director and her colleagues for their hospitality and the opportunity to share my experience as well as learn from their experiences and collective wisdom. Thank you.

Best, and keep on blogging.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Article Note: On Collaboration of Libraries and Student Affairs

Citation for the article:

Swartz, Pauline S., Brian A Carlisle, and E. Chisato Uyeki. "Libraries and Student Affairs: Partners for Student Success." Reference Services Review 35.1 (2007): 109-122.

Read via Emerald.

The article describes a partnership at UCLA between the College Library and the Office of the Dean of Students. The purpose was for student education about academic integrity, campus policies, and ethical as well as legal issues related to information use and access (110). The pairing seems a logical one since those two campus organizations come in constant contact with students. Also, there are campus organizations with a strong interest in student success. The catalyst for the two groups to come together was the issue of plagiarism and academic dishonesty. The resources they created include an online tutorial and a workshop for students. The article also presents various small ideas that I think might work here such as the teaching on how to do citations. Overall, the article provides a pretty good model, and I think some elements could be replicated in my setting.

Some things I want to highlight:

  • The part on teaching about citations. I think this stance could be reassuring to some folks here. "The librarian does not format the citations for the student, but teaches the student how to identify the type of source he or she is citing, how to effectively utilize style manuals, and how to interpret the guidelines in the style manual and the information about the source in order to write his or her citations" (117).
  • "Before venturing out to build partnerships, it is helpful to have secured support of library administrators who have the authority to commit time and resources" (118). Herein lies the catch: until administrators figure out things like this are important, we won't be getting far. Administrators are in the position to have the awareness of larger campus priorities and initiatives.
  • Remember that "a great deal can be learned about potential partners from what they have to say about themselves, by reading what they are writing, how they promote their services, and how they talk about their priorities and work" (118).
  • Librarians have to prove themselves and deliver when they say they will do something. This is part of building a reputation. "To be acknowledged as viable partners, individual librarians, library projects, and library resources must be visible on campus. This is accomplished through the marketing of library successes and accomplishments (Shane, 2004), as well as through the marketing of librarians as knowledgeable information professionals with valuable expertise" (118). Additionally, in terms of marketing, I am thinking using the newsletter, the library blog, word of mouth, flyers, and maybe the occasional write-up or press release to the local campus newspaper.
Note: The Shane reference above is the following (the article authors use APA. Readers may note I tend to prefer MLA):

Shane, J.M.Y. (2004), "Formal and informal structures for collaboration on a campus-wide information literacy program", Resource Sharing & Information Networks, Vol. 17, pp. 85-110.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Short Booknotes on Graphic Novels 12

Morales, Robert et. al. Captain America Vol. 5: Homeland. New York: Marvel Comics, 2004. ISBN: 0-7851-1396-7

Part of the Marvel Knights series. I finished this while I was traveling for TLA for my evening reading. Captain America gets drafted to serve in a trial for an alleged terrorist. The prisoner in question was an American citizen who happens to be Muslim, and he is suspected of aiding the enemy. When a prominent former Congressmember chooses to defend him, things get interesting. However, not all is as simple as it seems as Cap travels to GITMO. When some prisoners escape from the prison facility, it is up to our hero to get them back and foil their plans without causing an international incident in Cuba. This compilation features an appearance by Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. Overall, this was a very entertaining reading. Also included is a story about Bucky and there is some alternate universes time travel as well.

Various authors. The Best of Wolverine, Vol.1. New York: Marvel Comics, 2004. ISBN: 0-7851-1370-3.

This is a compilation of various issues featuring Wolverine. It starts with Wolverine's first appearance in an issue of The Incredible Hulk. The volume also features the Weapon X series that presents Wolverine's origin as a government experiment and shows how he got his adamantium skeleton. Other stories include a four part Wolverine mini-series where he travels to Japan to find the woman he loves, a confrontation with Captain America, and a meeting with Lady Deathstrike, another woman from his past. This is a nice hardcover edition, and it features a good introduction by Chris Claremont that provides some historical context for the character's evolution. Personally, I always find interesting reading those introductions in anthologies when they are available. The issues covered in this volume span from the 1970s to the 1990s. Personally, I tend to enjoy the older issues because of the humorous narrative voice they feature, something that seems to be missing in later volumes. However, the volume makes for great entertainment and fast paced reading. The four part miniseries was one of my favorites as it showed depth of character in Wolverine as well as good plot. I definitely recommend this one for fans of Wolverine as well as comics readers.

Morrison, Grant. New X-Men, Vol. 2: Imperial. New York: Marvel Comics, 2002. ISBN: 0785108874.

I recently discovered this series. So far, it seems pretty good. In this volume, a wealthy entrepreneur is targeting the X-Men and mutants for genetic harvesting. His idea is to steal their genetics to create what in essence is a new master race. As if this was not enough, Professor Xavier is dying, and his evil twin sister is plotting to eliminate him and the X-Men. Her plan? Take over the mind of Professor Xavier and take over the Shiar empress to launch an invasion of Earth. By the way, this series features excellent art, with a nice dark style that I think enhances as well as gives a nice contemporary look for the characters and setting.

Jeph Loeb, et. al. Superman: Our Worlds at War, Book One. New York: DC Comics, 2002. ISBN: 1-56389-915-9.

A powerful enemy known as Imperiex arrives, destroying everything in his path. Superman now is forced make alliances with both heroes and enemies including President Luthor in order to defeat Imperiex. This volume is part of a two-book series. The action is very fast-paced. Superman will suffer many losses as he has to decide how much he is willing to sacrifice in order to win.

Jeph Loeb, Superman: Our Worlds at War, Book Two. New York: DC Comics, 2002. ISBN: 1563899167.

The war continues, and it is going badly. Imperiex is destroyed, but a new enemy that had been lurking unseen in the shadows now moves forward to take over Imperiex's power. Villains and heroes come together; alliances are broken, and lives are lost. The fast-paced action continues as the war draws to an end, leaving many wondering about the many lost lives. An interesting technique in this series is the writers' use of various historical speeches (Lincoln's Gettysburg Address for instance) as part of the textual narrative of some stories. At times, such technique seemed right on target, but at other times it did not quite match the mood as well. Overall, I recommend this series. Very engaging and a quick read for volumes with about 250 pages each.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Booknote: 10 Años con Mafalda

Quino. 10 AƱos con Mafalda. Mexico, D.F.: Tusquets Editores, 1998. ISBN: 9687723521.

Genre: Comic strips
Subgenre: Humor, Spanish language

The book is a ten year retrospective of Mafalda, the comic strip drawn in the 60s by Argentinian cartoonist Quino. To this day, it is still very popular. Even though some of the humor is based on historical references of the time, actually, the cartoon has universal appeal. This particular collection organizes strips by topic, then by characters. One of my favorite strips has Mafalda opening the door to a door-to-door salesman (keep in mind, this was before e-mail and spam). When the man asks, "can I speak to the head of the house." She replies, "there are no heads of family here. We are a co-op." She then closes the door, leaving the man wondering how come they did not have all the answers in that sales training. Fans will definitely enjoy this one. New readers will be delighted as well. Personally, Mafalda is one of my favorite comic strips, and her books are ones that I can always read over and over. Unfortunately, English translations have been a bit limited.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The State of American Libraries 2007, yea, yea

I did not see much in the library sector of the blogosphere in terms of comments or remarks about the 2007 State of American Libraries report put out by ALA; maybe it should be the state of ALA and what they did/did not do for libraries, but that is another story. It just seems a bit too self-congratulatory at times. Jessamyn provides a nice summary and set of highlights. If you read that, you can save yourself from reading the 19 pages or so. Anyways, I was not terribly impressed. Still, a couple of things did catch my eye.

On public libraries and the vital Internet access they provide.

"The FSU study also indicates that more people are relying on library computers to find government services that are becoming less available locally and more available on line. In Florida, for example, regional offices where families can apply for food stamps have been phased out, so people must use the Internet to complete the application. Local libraries usually provide the needed Internet access, plus instruction in computer skills and completing forms."

The fact of the matter is that a library may provide the computer access, but it does not follow the librarians are qualified or trained to help people actually fill the various forms for things like food stamps. Just to go local, here, we got rid of the tax forms. We print them out on request and show people how to get to the site. However, the example I have in mind is at admissions time filling out the Texas Common College Application. Admissions usually sends them to the library, since we have computers, to fill out the form, but certainly without the students knowing the librarians can't help them with the form. That is my point. The government assumes putting the form online means the people can do it all on their own. No one is there to answer their specific questions, and librarians, helpful people that they can be, are not necessarily qualified as social workers, advisers, etc.

I agree with Jessamyn that the report says way too little about academic libraries as well as public expanding use of virtual services. I fall under the skeptic category, so this report certainly does not do anything to convince me to think something other than a lot of the stuff is the flavor of the month. You need some specific examples of how libraries are making use of the technologies, and there are plenty of examples out there. Just go ask the 2.0 experts. Get some numbers too while you are it.

On the school media centers being shut down in order to use the remaining funds for the NCLB requirements, that falls under my theory of how we are ruining a generation. Basically, teaching kids to perform on a standardized, mostly multiple choice exam is not the way to teach kids the critical thinking skills and literacy concepts they will need later in life. The school library is crucial to a well-rounded education, and yet schools and their communities pretty much ax them without much further thought. I get the feeling we are going to be paying for that short sightedness down the road.

There is mention of the shortage of librarians. I am staying away from that one since I am one of those who thinks it is mostly a myth, and it has been hashed in other places much better than I could say now.

Librarian salaries rising? I wonder where they checked. My salary sure as hell has not gone up. Neither has the salary of my colleagues here or those I have met in conferences. Then again, you do have to pay to see the ALA-APA Salary Survey to confirm anything. Here, we did cough up some dough for the non-MLS Survey. Our "big sister" campus does have the librarian one, but holdings are not complete. Oh well.

As for how ALA is doing, I am not even going over Ms. Burger's platitudes list of her vision. "All libraries should have the funding they need." Really? I better stop here while I am still ahead. Remember what mama used to say, if you can't say anything nice. . . .

And we still have our work cut out for us in terms of educating people about social networks. That we have a bunch of hysteria mongers trying to legislate something they don't understand is simply disgraceful. Then again, in my case, I always wonder after a while about the people who keep electing the same ignorant and ill-informed people to the legislatures every time and then complain when those ignorant and ill-informed legislators do less than intelligent things like DOPA. Glad ALA stood up for it, but we clearly, as a profession, should be doing more to educate others.

So, go read the report, or read Jessamyn's highlights and save yourself the time.

Update note (5/15/2007): Woody Evans has posted on the topic as well. I left a comment there, but I quit while ahead as they say before it became a post. There are days when I just have to wonder about our profession.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Article Note: On the benefits of buy-in

Citation for the article:

Harrison, J. and Rourke, L. (2006), "The benefits of buy-in: integrating information literacy int each year of an academic program," Reference Services Review, Vol. 34 No. 4, pp. 599-606.

I found this article to be a bit on the idealistic side. It assumes a good relationship with faculty and administration, which in many places can be lukewarm at best. However, the article does provide some good advice and ideas. So here go some of my notes and thoughts.

  • On the formal relationship between librarians and first-year students. I personally find this intriguing and exciting. The authors write, "this mentoring relationship includes one-on-one consultations and guidance for the students in their graduating year; this student-librarian collaboration enables to the students to define and refine their major research areas and sources of information" (599).
  • I found this a bit surprising in relation to the LIS literature. According to the authors, "there is very little in the literature on librarian-to-student mentoring of research skills, which is one of the most noteworthy aspects of our integration program" (600). My hunch is that a good amount of the mentoring described happens informally, so it does not get written up in the journal literature. You may find some of it the librarian sector of the blogosphere, but at least my limited observations have not seen any.

The article moves on to describe the program and how their instruction librarians got involved. The mentoring and assessment, to be honest, is not that much different from what I do. The only difference is that I lack a formal support structure. The authors state that students in their last semester are paired with a librarian and,

"The librarian provides the student with research assistance and guidance as the student prepares and writes a major (20 pages) interdisciplinary research paper. Librarian and student are paired based on the student's research topic and librarian's interest and expertise. They are required to meet at least twice each semester, although in many cases there were several additional meetings. Librarians were able to address areas of concern, help clarify topics, introduce resources, and refer to services" (603).

A lot of this is my job description. A difference is that I do not get the "luxury" of being paired based on interest and experience. Very often I help students with topics way out of my specialization areas, and I do just fine. After all, part of being a good librarian is the ability to be open to continuous learning. It's called reference work. I don't point this out to disparage the authors' work. It simply goes back to my remark that a lot of this work is already getting done, often informally, frequently with minimal support, and it is not getting written up in the journals.
  • Another example to illustrate scalability. "For example, in the first-year course, we know that most of the students were 17 years old and likely to be very new researchers. Therefore, we introduced library and research concepts and created an assignment that involved the use of basic library reference tools such as online and print encyclopaedias. As the students' level of IL competence improved, we moved on to more sophisticated assignments and research tools. We helped them tackle sources such as journal articles and websites, and later with creating a sophisticated annotated bibliography in their final semester. We were able to provide two 1.5-hour IL sessions to classes in each of the four years of the program" (602).
  • As always, there are challenges. "Another potential challenge is the increase in librarian workload that will result from a greater number of mentored students" (604).
  • You need to share the load to make it work. "Three of us have overseen this project- two liaison librarians and the manager of IL. In a practical sense, it would be very difficult for one person to manage the workload associated with this endeavour. Spreading the duties over three people's schedules allowed for more quality time to be spent on the project. In addition, working as part of the librarian team, each with a different learning, work, and teaching style, has provided the opportunity to learn from each other" (605).
  • And you need administrative buy-in and support. "Also, it would work best if a project charter were adopted by library administration to formalize the structure of such a project, in order to ensure institution-wide acceptance and enthusiasm, rather than starting with an idea and hoping for the best. Aligning and rooting a project such as IL/curriculum integration or librarian-student mentoring within the context of an organization's strategic priorities will also increase the chances of effective long-term delivery and success. With buy-in by librarians, students, and faculty, you may find yourself reaping the benefits of program integration" (605). For me, a lot of things like the Gypsy Librarian on Vox blog are ideas that started out of a need that I implemented hoping for the best. I saw a need, and I tried to do something about it without waiting for anyone else to catch up. However, the thing I wish at times that my superiors would understand is that many more things could be accomplished with a bit more institutional support (I think my immediate superior understands it, but sadly, the ones above are indifferent, to put it mildly).

Some items related to this article I want to look at later:

  1. Mancuso's white paper. It can be read at the site, but it also provides options for PDF.
  2. The Seven Pillars of Information Literacy.
  3. U of Guelph Integrated Library Plan 2005-2010. This is a PDF document.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Article Note: On floating away from reference desk

Citation for the article:

Ott, Katherine and Sueling Chhiu. "The First Wave: Floating in the Florida State University Strozier Library, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida." New Library World 108.3/4 (2007): 165-176.

Read the article via Emerald.

This article overall was not bad, but I had some concerns after reading it. I was concerned about enforcement of rules, which seemed to rise with the floating, and the notion that roamers could be serving a function as "cheap security." In our setting, security is a bit of an issue; we are still fighting to get a security guard or two. So the last thing I would want is the idea of library rovers doing a security role spreading around. However, I do think the idea of roving reference does have some merit. The program's design as stated in the article:

"The floating program was designed to provide quick answers to directional, informational, and easy research questions from patrons at the point-of-need" (166).

In the literature review, we get yet another description and listing of millenial traits. Any librarian who has done even a minimal job of professional awareness knows these traits by now.

Keep in mind that the floating program described in the article also has an enforcement element:

"This program is also designed to enforce all library policies, to assist with the maintenance of the stacks, to walk six floors of the library on a daily basis, and to assist desk personnel with patrons by having staff who are walking floors check in at the information and reference desk every fifteen minutes" (169).

Now, I am one of those librarians who don't go "ga ga" over every liberal and permissive trend. For example, if cellphones are disruptive, I want them out, and so do a lot of my patrons contrary to what certain 2.0 maniacs proclaim. However, this does not mean I want to be in the position of being the cellphone or drinks police. The concept as presented in the article creates a conundrum for me. I would like to aim for a reasonable middle ground.

The Strozier Library used student assistants for much of the floating, followed up with staff members. The students did receive relevant training. Interesting to note that it was the students who more often identified unacceptable behavior from patrons. The authors conclude that the project was worthwhile and beneficial to patrons. Article appendixes include the floating statistics sheet and the FSU Libraries Food and Drink Policy.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Booknote: Centers for Learning

Elmborg, James K. and Sheril Hook eds. Centers for Learning: Writing Centers and Libraries in Collaboration. Chicago: ALA, 2005. ISBN: 0838983359

Genre: Nonfiction
Genre: Library science, librarianship, pedagogy

In brief, the book is a collection of essays advocating collaboration between writing centers and libraries. Given that I was a composition teacher in a previous life, I can certainly see common elements between the two services. The fact that at times I actually do look over parts of papers puts me somewhere in the fence. The editors open the book with an essay that provides the theory and context for the collaboration. The rest of the book then has various essays with examples of collaboration for readers to learn from. This topic is something I have been thinking about in and out since I became a librarian due to my background as a teacher. I think we could be doing a lot more in this regard. Anyways, this book makes good reading for anyone interested in the topic as well as the larger topics of information literacy and student success on campus.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Article Note: On stopping IAKT Syndrome

Citation for the article:

Bell, Steven J. "Stop IAKT Syndrome with Student Live Search Demos." Reference Services Review 35.1 (2007): 98-108.

Read via Emerald.

This article describes active learning techniques useful to counter the dreaded "I already know this" syndrome. To go with the theme, I will say that I know some of this already. However, the article provides good advice for any academic librarian that does teaching. Some notes and ideas from the article then:

  • Defining IAKT. "From the students' perspective all instruction may appear to be the same. Exposure to a variety of information literacy sessions as freshmen can lead students to assume that any librarian providing instruction in their sophomore and upper level courses is simply there to rehash an earlier presentation" (99).
  • One challenge for librarians. "The burden is on the librarian instructor to employ pedagogical methods that will enable students to distinguish between multiple sessions to recognize their distinctive and differentiated features" (99).
I would add that some collaboration and diligence from faculty can help with the syndrome as well. Having an actual purpose for coming to the library would be helpful. Asking for more than "just whatever library talk you have made" (yes, I have heard this a few times). Making sure students are prepared to do research specific and relevant to the class would be nice. All these are things a faculty member can and should do when bringing a class to the library. Sure, the librarian is responsible for using the best active learning techniques and for providing a good session. But some proactive collaboration from faculty would help as well. I did not see this addressed in the article.

Additionally in my case, IAKT can be a danger given the bottleneck nature of our freshman composition classes. The retention and success rate for those classes is on the dismal side. Seeing students from one year to the next repeating the class and coming to library instruction again is not uncommon. For me, this means I really have to be on my toes.

  • If the student says they know it already, then challenge them to prove it. Sure, it is risky, but it can be rewarding as well. "Involving students in the instruction session is a dynamic way to activate student learning. Because it requires the instructor to in essence 'hand over' the session to a student, sometimes in a completely spontaneous way, it can be subject to a number of challenges" (100).
Bell goes on to provide reasons for involving the students in the learning experience. For one, it not only engages students, but it also engages the librarian as well. Bell goes on to describe how to involve students in demonstrating searches. This is not an approach for the faint of heart. I've tried it, and indeed, anything can and does happen. You have to be willing to embrace the chaos. Bell also provides helpful tables listing advantages and disadvantages of the approach.

  • "Being in a smaller university or college allows librarians to know students on a personal level, facilitating good classroom interaction" (103). This is part of the reason that I often say that I have the best job in the world: I have regular opportunities to interact with students and know them on a personal level given our smaller size. However, I don't think this is exclusive of a smaller campus. A good instruction librarian will work on building good personal relations with students no matter the size of the school.
  • "As the session leader the instructor's responsibility is to step back, guide the session and be able to relinquish control. Avoid the urge to tell students what to do and how to navigate in every situation. It can be healthy for students to see that they have classmates who lack expertise in using library resources. It will also demonstrate that a student need not be as skilled as a librarian to accomplish a reasonably good database search" (105).
  • "Search demonstrations by students need not be perfect. In fact, expect some rough spots and the occasional flop, especially the first few times trying it. Even if the students get a less thorough instruction session than they would if a librarian did all the demonstrations, it is this author's observation that they ultimately have a more powerful learning experience when their peers search the library databases" (107).

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

On library discourse?

I hate to say this, but I have to wonder after reading Mr. Bell's column for Inside Higher Ed on "Good at Reviewing Books But Not Each Other," just what corner of the library sector of the blogosphere was Mr. Bell hanging out at. "In the world of library blogging the sky is always sunny, and nary is a dissenting or argumentative thought expressed," he writes. Initially my reaction was, "oh really?"

  • We have the reactions to what has become known as Gormangate.
  • We have the semi-regular musings over the value of a membership in ALA. This often boils down the organization just does not do enough for its members given the high fees it extracts, and then some ALA defends the value of ALA and tells those questioning that if they don't like it, they can go someplace else.
  • The "should conference speakers be compensated" semi-seasonal meme and debate.
  • The whole 2.0 thing. This is usually manifested by someone going "ga ga" over the latest little toy. Someone else questions the value of said little toy. The evangelist then says "you either get it or you don't." Some more fussing ensues, and then it dies down until the next widget comes around. Personally, this is a big reason why I avoid touching any L2 or 2.0 topic altogether.
Now, the library literature, which Mr. Bell also brings up in his column, is a separate issue. We don't really talk about it in our profession, and maybe there Mr. Bell has a good point. The fact is you can tell pretty much right away that a lot of LIS articles are just librarians writing something for their tenure dossiers. Substance is not always present in the LIS literature. The profession does not like to talk about that because, after all, some of our academic brethren do have to play the "publish or perish" game, and in that situation, you do whatever you need to do to get tenure. Now, I am not saying that there are no battles to fight, so to speak, in our profession. But the battles certainly are not getting fought in the library literature. The library literature is, for the most part, a depiction of libraries where they always have the resources they need, full buy-in and support from the administration (or, there may be some drama as they get the buy-in, but they always get it), and faculty that just love their library and think the library can do no wrong. I read enough articles in the literature to know this by now. I make notes on the few I find useful or that contain something I can learn. However, readers here are fortunate I don't make notes on the many bad ones I simply glance and then toss out. How some people get published in LIS is beyond me. Because when I was in my Literature program, there was a lot more rigor back then about what one would write for publication or presented at a conference. But I am digressing.

The point is that if any controversy does happen in our field, you see it in the blogs. It's the nature of the beast. Blogs are swift and easy to publish. You can get the ball rolling on the controversy du jour fast. And once the A-listers of our profession cover the issue or gripe du jour, it goes down the list like an avalanche, ACRLog included. Sometimes it's polite; sometimes it is not so polite. Academic journals simply do not lend themselves to fast and controversial discussions. If the topic has already visited the library sector of the blogosphere, by the time it gets on a journal, it's pretty much old news.

Now, to talk a bit about the chill in the library sector of the blogosphere. Who knows? For me, it's more along the lines of who cares? Mr. Bell writes, discussing the 2.0 groupthink phenomenon, "and in the end then nice thing to do is just go along with the crowd." I'll say nay. The nice thing for me is to stay away from the crowd. Sure, keep an eye on it, but otherwise, let it run its course. Between my work locally, which keeps me very busy most of the year, and just other things I would rather explore and write about, I don't care a whole lot about where the rest of the herd goes. In that, to some extent, I may share more agreement with Mr. Bell that I think. Again, who knows? I am pretty much figuring this out myself as I am writing it.

In my case, I also value civility. I grew up with the maxim of "if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say it." It does not mean I can't be blunt if necessary. But why bother stirring a nest of hornets here and alienating people there with a lack of civility? By the way, discussion listservs seem to be the place these days where a lot of civility gets tossed out the window. Not to mention their annoying repetitiveness where a topic gets beaten to death and then dragged from the pit to be beaten some more after death over and over (and I get the digest versions). That is why I am seriously thinking about dropping the few listservs I still get. By the way, here is a piece of blunt advice for those of you who post on the listservs: learn to fucking (you see, I can be blunt) prune your posts. Last thing I need is to see the same thread 20 times in the digest version and have to dig for whatever "me too" or "atta boy" you added to the discussion because you are too lazy to highlight and delete the extra stuff from the text when you press the reply button on your e-mail to type your two lines of herd affirmation. Of course, if I said something like that on a list, the flame wars would begin because it is a no-no to point out any perceived faux pas on a list.

As for the self-esteem issue in the library profession, that would be a whole separate post, and it looks like one I can leave the stars of the library sector of the blogosphere. My self-esteem as a professional is just fine.

Here are a couple other people who have a take on Mr. Bell's column: