Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Article Note: On Libraries, Retention and ROI

Citation for the article:

Mezick, Elizabeth M. "Return on Investment: Libraries and Student Retention." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 33.5 (September 2007): 561-566.

Read via E-journals from EBSCO.

The essence of this article is that the author looked at library expenses and staff hiring to measure the impact of those factors on student retention. I have been thinking about retention here and there and in some other places. The article reinforces the common argument that libraries cannot afford to be complacent, and that they need to be more accountable to their constituents.

Things that made me think:

  • "Retaining a student is fundamental to the ability of an academic institution to carry out its mission. A high rate of attrition is indicative of a failure on the part of an institution to achieve its purpose" (561). Basically, if you are losing a lot of students, especially half or more, there is definitely something going on that needs to be addressed.
  • "Libraries need to be able to demonstrate how expenditures for resources and services result in significant contributions to academic and social environments that positively impact institutional outcomes such as student persistence" (561). You not only need to build the facilities and staff, but you also need to document how exactly these things contribute to the mission of the campus and to student success.
  • On the importance of information literacy: "Attainment of information competency and related skills, such as the ability to research effectively using print, online, and electronic retrieval systems, is essential to the learning process" (562). Our instruction librarian and I are pretty much in agreement on this. She is very passionate about the idea that if students do not learn the necessary research and information literacy skills early on then they will not be able to succeed later when they will need to apply those skills in new ways.
  • More on the role of the librarian: "Librarians, acting as teachers and counselors, address student needs on a daily basis. Through their observation of and interaction with students, they are aware of deficiencies in student skills that may be indicative of high-risk students" (562). This is something that a lot of people on campus, including administrators, do not give us credit for. We do a lot of work with students, and as a result, we learn a lot about their needs and how to help them be successful. I am thinking that this is a conversation that we need to be having between librarians and the teaching faculty as well as some administrators. Librarians learn so much about student needs just in their daily work, and I can attest to that from my days as an instruction librarian. I am willing to bet that I knew more about a good number of those students than their professors.
The article provides a literature review on the topic of retention. It then moves on to the methodology, which I will admit was a bit heavy for me once it went into variables and coefficients. I do understand the concept of correlations though. So, what did the author find when it was all said and done?

  • "These findings appear to be consistent with earlier studies that found providing quality library resources to students insures better academic performance and, in turn, leads to student persistence" (564).
  • "Through use of measures of association and other performance indicators, library administrators can demonstrate the academic library's positive impact upon institutional outcomes. Such evaluative techniques may also be used to identify areas where use of limited economic resources may have the greatest impact" (565).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Article Note: On learning commons evolution

Citation for the article:

Roberts, Regina Lee. "The Evolving Landscape of the Learning Commons." Library Review 56.9 (2007): 803-810.

Read via Emerald.

This article looks at the evolution of the learning commons concept and its relation to libraries. The library's learning commons is a response to the users' changing needs. As pedagogy becomes more student-centered, spaces that nurture collaborative learning become important. This is what a learning commons does. The author writes that "academic institutions are supporting a learning commons model because the faculty and administration recognize that students learn in dynamic ways" (803).

The author goes on to suggest that the library is a natural place for this type of environment. This is because the library is more than just a collection of books and electronic resources. The library is a center of knowledge, a place where members of the academic community can come together. The learning commons can also add to the value that users find in their libraries. Roberts adds that "in this context, by providing the space and tools of a learning commons the library provides yet another excellent service to its users" (804).

The author does emphasize there is a difference between an information commons and a learning commons. In brief, an information commons is the laboratory structure that helps with seeking information. Think of the big computer lab with a variety of other features. The learning commons is the space where knowledge is created with the information tools available. Learners share a common learning interest, and they collaborate in their own learning process. The learning that occurs in the learning commons does not have to be class-related, i.e. formal. Basically, as I understand it, the learning commons can have the features of the information commons, the technology, but it also has the strong social and learning components. One is made for seeking information. The other is used to create it as well.

Other ideas:

  • This can get complicated: "Offering more services can become a complicated mandate because libraries will also want to maintain a commitment to the traditional library role of collecting, organizing, storing, and disseminating information" (806). It is a balancing act. Many administrators often think that once you set up an information commons, you can get rid of the books and other more "traditional" resources. They fail to realize that often knowledge is found and created by using the more "traditional" resources as well as the electronic ones. Plus, as the Roberts suggests, the learning commons has the potential then to increase the value of collection development (806). This will come into place as students find the need to seek out a variety of sources to meet their learning needs.
  • You need assessment, and you need to document benefits and value:
    • "Lakos and Phipps (2004) are strong proponents of assessments as a means of encouraging stakeholder support. Sustainable programs require measurable outcomes" (806). The Lakos and Phipps piece is from Portal 4.3, pgs. 345-361.
    • "Therefore, a library that includes a learning commons should also include a systematic plan to measure the outcomes and methods of the activities of the learning commons" (807).
  • The role of a librarian will change with a learning commons. There will be a need to be flexible and to engage in continual learning. These librarians need to keep up, and they have to be willing to experiment. "It also requires that the librarian participate in the learning process not just for information literacy but as a collaborative partner and possibly a project facilitator" (807).
After the part about librarians' roles, the author does go on into what seems a digression on digital projects and their preservation. While this could be an important activity of an information commons, the item in the article seems to take away from the rest of article, giving more the impression that the learning commons is to become some sort of digital repository. What happened to the rest of the mission? At any rate, the article does provide some food for thought.

Friday, October 26, 2007

On hitting the books, inspired by General Patton

One of my favorite books is Alex Axelrod's Patton on Leadership. I discovered it a while back (see my note here). There is a passage discussing how the general was an avid reader. Those who have seen the film with George C. Scott playing the general may recall the big tank battle where the general yells out about having read Rommel's book. Personally, I find that scene very inspiring as it highlights the importance of reading to know your rivals as well as to know your field and line of work.

The passage from the book is entitled "Hit the Books." Find it on page 78. You would think that for librarians this would be a piece of cake, but it does not cease to amaze me how some librarians can be poor readers. I don't mean their reading skill. I mean their breadth and scope of reading. But that would be another ranting post topic. Anyhow, here is the quote that Axelrod uses:

"The only right way of learning the science of war is to read and reread the campaigns of the great captains." --Napoleon, quoted by Patton in his reading notes.

I find so cool the idea of keeping reading notes. It is a big reason why I keep my blogs. Axelrod then expands on the quote:

"Patton added to this quotation, a comment of his own, 'And think about what you read.'"

That is a lot of what I try to do, to think about what I read as well as about my craft as a librarian. Here is more of what Axelrod wrote:

"It behooves any leader to know the history of his or her discipline and to read all the experts in the field, particularly experts whose knowledge is based on actual experience. The object is not to follow any example or method slavishly, but to develop a strategic and tactical vocabulary that will create solutions faster and more efficiently than having to reinvent the wheel with each problem that is encountered."

I will add that, in our case, we should be reading experts in our field as well as experts out of our field who are relevant to what we do. We should be reading in areas like information technology, education, communication, psychology, and a few others. We should also be looking to those with experience who write about those experiences well. Unfortunately, this may not be as easy given the nature of the literature of librarianship; you may need to work a little more at it to find something good. Notice also that Axelrod reminds us that we have to think. We are not just to follow any fad or trend. Are you listening out there, 2.0 cultists? You know who you are. Sure, there are some very good 2.0 tools that can provide a myriad of solutions. If they are examined and found to do the job, and they can be implemented, then go for it. Don't just do it to be cool or hip. Think as well as act. This keeps coming back to me because in one of my job interviews before I got my current job that point was one of the issues they were interested in. The question came up about my views on various 2.0 tools, and I said something along the lines that it was important to think about what a tool would be solving, if anything. We were in agreement at the end of the conversation about the need to examine and think, not simply act slavishly. An FYI for the curious readers out there, yes, I was offered that job. No, it was not this job. The point is that, in my humble estimation, one can easily get the impression from reading the many blogs kept by librarians out there that a substantial number of libraries and librarians are rushing to put in every 2.0 toy out there. Talking to front line people I know that is not the case. Thus, you read, you think, but in learning, you also seek out those with experience in order to learn from them as well.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A thought on the library literature

It seems that reading the library literature may be either a rarity or a joke. I read a post by Sarah Houghton-Jan a while back on this topic, and I left it in the aggregator to ponder about it at some point. She wonders if library literature is generally useless. It is the dirty little secret that a lot of the library literature is pretty much written by people who just need to write something to get their tenure. OK, maybe it is a dirty secret, but it certainly is not a little secret. It is pretty widely accepted by those who write the articles as well as by those who read them. Part of the reason that this got me thinking is because I read a good amount of the professional literature in our field. I also read in other areas, but I am digressing now. Getting back to the professional literature of librarianship, the few people who visit this blog know that I keep reading notes on articles that I read. When I read those articles, it is usually because some topic caught my eye, and I am hoping to learn something new. I read a lot. That is a given. Unfortunately, when it comes to some of the library literature, I have read some stuff that could only be politely described as "low quality." A good number of articles I read or scan will not be noted on the blog. I will admit, to an extent I make my notes available here on the blog in the hope, infinitesimal as it may be, that on some distant planet, someone somewhere may find the notes useful as well. So, on that basis, I try not to blog about some article that says nothing new, that rehashes stuff I have read in a few other places (and much better written), or just is a vanity piece, again, to be polite.

It is not that librarianship is not a profession and discipline that does not need research. The area of instruction alone is a field that can draw from the works in education as well as create its own research in order to apply ideas and create new knowledge. The model of the teacher-researcher would work well in library instruction. I wish more instruction librarians would follow such an approach. Instead, what we often get in the library journals are the articles detailing how X library did Y project and how cool it was. Or we get the article that starts, "we did a survey of 200 students, 50 filled it out, 35 filled it out correctly, and the results, which may not be generalized by the way (but we will generalize anyhow) are. . . ." We don't need any more of that. We need serious, reflective research and inquiry. Maybe that's why, in my case, I don't like the idea of librarians on a tenure line. I don't see myself having to churn out little pieces of "my library is so cool because. . ." in order to earn my living. I am librarian. My work is to provide service for my academic community. I am an educator, which means my work involves teaching and working with students. Yes, I seek to learn how to be a better teacher, but I prefer to do so at my own pace and in a reflective way that actually has meaning. So, I keep a blog. I write in a personal journal that is not online (hey, there is something to be said for writing the old fashioned way, and there are things that really should remain private). I read a lot, and I think about it, and in my own humble way, I try to apply what I learn.

I am not saying that all the library literature is bad. I would not be reading it and seeking it out if that were the case, but it is clear that some room for improvement is in order. These days, a lot of what I find relevant is available in blogs and other less formal venues. Very often, by the time I see something in a journal, I already saw it in a blog months ago. So, this is probably something that the profession should be discussing at some point. Just a thought.

Monday, October 22, 2007

On blogging about my library experience

Since I changed jobs last month, it has made for a chance to reflect on my blogging and where I may want to go. The question of blogging about my library experience is one I have thought about in and out since I started blogging. For the most part, here is how I handle things:

  • When it comes to my experience as a librarian, I am willing and able to write about it in my blogs. This is mostly in general terms. So I am looking more at lessons learned, reflections, ideas I want to try out, etc.
  • When it comes to my actual place of work, I try to keep the references to that to a minimum. I rarely mention people's names. Those who have read my blogs will usually notice I use titles ("my director," "our interlibrary loan librarian," etc.). If asked to explain it, I am not terribly sure why I do it other than it just seems to work for me. Maybe a part of me works on the assumption that it's my blog, and I should not be dragging others in it more than I have to. You could label it a little superstition of mine.
Those are the little basics. It is pretty much ingrained in me that you do not blog specifics about your workplace. Certainly you don't do it with your name in the blog someplace. I have been fortunate in both work instances that my bosses knew of my blogs. I believe this blog, in some small measure, helped me get the job I have now. But overall, you don't air the dirty laundry in public. It does not mean, however, that I will shy away when I want to say something that may or not be politically correct. Though for the more personal things, I do put them over at The Itinerant Librarian.

So, why am I thinking about this now? As I said, in part it is because I am in a new job. It is a new beginning, and new beginnings are always good points to stop and think a bit. I have recently posted a few things about work, mostly the fun stuff. Will I post about the "not-so-fun" stuff? The long meetings where I would rather commit seppuku than sit on them another minute? I honestly don't have the answer, but I will reassure my readers I won't be posting the details of those meetings here, tempting as it may be. It's not what this blog is about. At the end of the day, when it comes to answering the question, I just have to go back to the purpose of this blog. This is my professional blog. It is a tool of reflection. It is my workshop. It is where I keep a lot of my reading notes. It is where I think in writing about my profession, my work, what I read, what I learn, and what I need to learn and improve. The other stuff that does not fall into that purpose? I let the unruly cousin handle it. I will tell you this much. I am not going to worry over it much. After all, it is my personal space at the end of the day.

This rambling thought was prompted by Sarah Houghton-Jan's post on "Blogging your own library's experience." I will point out that we are currently planning to implement a library blog here at the library. It is not as easy as it sounds since we may have some administrators who may be a bit leery (the whole image thing) given that, apparently, no one here has tried it before. At any rate, while we were recently conversing in a meeting, my director suggested linking to my blog in the library blog, to which I told her, gently, no since it was a personal blog. The issue is addressed in Ms. Houghton-Jan's post, which is why I am mentioning it now. Way I see it, it's not a library resource. Sure, it is online, freely available, and so on. If you find it and want to add it to your favorite aggregator or just visit now and then, that is fine. I hope you enjoy your visit and tell a bunch of your friends about it. But not on the official site. Besides, we'll be linking to all sorts of good stuff on the library blog when it goes online, so no need to put in this old thing. At any rate, I think that it is up to each blogger to find their limits and boundaries. Be honest and be yourself. Take a risk now and then if that is your nature; I do. The rest will work itself out.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Article Note: On Expectancy Theory and Libraries

Citation for the article:

Lee, Seongsin. "Vroom's Expectancy Theory and the Public Library Customer Motivation Model." Library Review 56.9 (2007): 788-796.

Read via Emerald.

While this article is meant for public libraries, I think that it is very applicable to academic libraries as well. We need to understand what motivates our users to use our libraries in order to know what services to provide and how to best provide them. The bottom line of this article is that libraries need to demonstrate what makes them unique and valuable to those they serve. The patrons have to find value, and they also have to trust us. Remember that trust has to be earned.

  • "In other words, if public libraries cannot motivate customers to use their products and satisfy their needs, they may lose advantage over other information providers" (788). This is already happening to academic libraries as well. How often do we hear the moaning of how all students use is use Google? We need to be thinking how we can motivate our users so they will see us as their information provider. No, we are never going to compete toe to toe with Google. Our advantage is in the added value that we can provide when compared to Google or any other online search engine. The Effing Librarian made a good point on this when he said that "librarians understand that finding one million results might mean we found nothing related to the request. But the library customers (bless their little hearts), think that one million results are better, in every single way, than fifty results." You see, we bring the added value. We may not come up with the instant gratification, but we will often come up with quality results, and for a college student, that means the difference between quoting some cheap, less than reputable website and a good scholarly source on an academic paper. But we need to educate our students so they see the value in making the distinction.
  • A definition of marketing: "Workman (1999) defined marketing as 'the process of understanding what your customers want, and then designing and delivering products and services that fit those needs' (as cited in Woodward, 2005, p.130)" (789).
  • What we should be asking: "Therefore, the following question should be the primary question of marketing activities of an organization: how can we motivate customers to use our products?" (789)
  • Finding success in marketing: "In other words, successful service marketing rests on the ability of the service to deliver a solution to the customers' concern, or to deliver various benefits that the customers want" (792).
  • How customers evaluate: "Generally speaking, it is known that customers evaluate service quality based on five specific dimensions that can be applied to a variety of service contexts. These dimensions are 'reliability', 'responsiveness', 'assurance', 'empathy', and 'tangibles'" (793). I am also noting the definitions for further reference:
    • "Reliability is the ability of the organization to provide the promised service accurately" (793). Do you provide what you say you provide?
    • "Tangibles are physical elements of the services such as facilities, equipment, and personnel" (793). Now some libraries may not have the best facilities in the world. Funding is always a concern, and so is the issue of staffing. However, if you have only an average library in terms of facilities, but you still offer excellent service, I think you can make up for the shortfall on tangibles.
    • "Responsiveness is the willingness to help customers and provide prompt service" (793). Good library staff need to be responsive. However, this does not mean we simple bend over to provide every new trinket or some other unrealistic expectation. But it does mean we should be listening to patron needs and responding as needed within reason.
    • "Assurance is the employees' knowledge and courtesy and their ability to inspire trust and confidence" (793). In simple terms, we are professionals, and we need to behave and act accordingly. How can we expect others to take us seriously if we don't project the right image? And no, this does not have to do with your dress code (though in some cases, the image could be improved with better dress). We are to be knowledgeable, courteous and confident. This also goes along with being reliable.
    • "Empathy is the degree to which the organization treats customers as individuals" (793). I don't think this needs a whole lot of explanation. If you lack empathy, odds are you should be in some other line of work.
  • And this I just thought was a cool thing to remember: "The organization should recognize that every encounter with a customer is 'a moment of truth'" (794).
The article draws on Victor Vroom's expectancy theory. The theory is based on the ideas of valence, expectancy, and instrumentality. These are all consumer beliefs related to his/her perception of being able to get a result, to be able to act on the result once it is gotten, and whether it is worth it to pursue it or not in the first place. At least, that is my understanding. Overall, I am thinking that libraries need to make it as easy as possible (notice I throw in the "as possible." I am not expecting the impossible) to find what our patrons need and show that what is found is valuable. Here is an explanation from the article:

"In conclusion, if the customers confidently perceive that they can access library products through a virtual or physical visit of the library, if the products (book, e-book, online journal article, chat reference services, etc.) that they have found are the products that they were looking for, and if they think the library products have valence to satisfy their information needs, they will be motivated to use the library products frequently. However, if they perceive that there will be difficulties with access to products because they have not had any experience with library catalogs, or online searching, chat reference services, their motivational force to use library products will be very low" (791).

Notice that user perception is crucial here. The user does not have to experience any actual difficulty to access a product or service. They just have to perceive that the process is more difficult than it's worth for the system not to work. This is definitely something to think about, especially for those of us who are working to market our libraries to our academic communities. We need to help allay those fears. That is also part of where we add value to the products. Lee may be talking about public library users, but these are lessons to remember in an academic setting as well.

Notes for me:
  • Workman (1999) refers to:
    • Workman, J. (1999), "Marketing basics in a changing information age", Nebraska Library Association Quarterly, Vol. 30, Winter, pp.3-11.
  • Woodward, J. (2005) refers to:
    • Woodward, J. (2005), Creating the Customer-Driven Library, American Library Association, Chicago, IL. I actually read this book. See my note here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Food for thought: These are our students

Just take a look, and then go from there. It does make you think.

A hat tip to The Chronicles of Bean.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Article Note: On eliminating the reference desk

Citation for the article:

Bell, Steven J. "Who Needs a Reference Desk?" Library Issues 27.6 (July 2007).

Read via routing.

My director asked me to read this article as we are looking at new ways to provide reference and library services. In my humble view, I fall on the camp that feels the reference desk is not going to disappear. I am kind of a moderate, so to speak. Yes, we will have new ways of providing service, but we are also keeping the reference desk. I am guessing some hybridity will occur. Interestingly enough, I was asked about that very topic in one of the campus job interviews I was out on recently, which made me aware of the recent debate done in Midwinter. Maybe one of these days I will put up that presentation, or parts of it at least. Anyhow, the article I read here does make some good points and gives some food for thought. But I wondered about a couple of things.

One, the apparent dismissal of the fact that some campuses really can say "our students are different." While I am not saying that one cannot be open to mobile options, there are times and places when a reference desk does make a good contact point. When I was working at UHD, the reference desk was the central location for students to get their needs met. The students there expect to have that service. So do the students at my current place of work, though not as much (they are bit more used to finding an area liaison once they learn about that). Along with this is the idea of mobile technology use. UHD would be a perfect illustration. The article does promote the use of mobile devices and things like instant messaging and/or chat. I already know from my three-year experience that those students simply did not use mobile technologies as much. A lot of the things that many 2.0 preachers advocate simply did not work, and no, I am not saying it for a lack of trying. I have been a user of instant messaging and other tools, and stats simply were not there to support the notion of spreading out reference services. Professor Bell writes that "contemporary students register online, chat with their advisor by instant messenger, and keep friends in close contact with text messaging." Yes on the registering and friend messaging, but a big no on chatting with the advisors by instant messenger. They may use the phone and call advising while registering. At least that was the set-up I have seen. I am sure other campuses may offer the messaging option. Does it mean that will always be the case? No. Future always brings change, but one has to work in the moment as well.

The other thing that made me think is that the article did not have any acknowledgment of staffing issues. In some settings (there goes that uniqueness again), there simply is not enough staff. And I am not talking just librarians. I means staff as in all the library staff. Maintaining other forms of reference service, which is what the article advocates, does take resources and staffing as well. Chat and messenger services have to be staffed. And by the way, online chat services are often notorious for very low usage statistics (here is one article discussing the issue from Information Today..Here is another example, and I am just doing the most cursory of searches. I am sure I could come up with more.) So, would that really be efficient use of resources? Other points of service as well. Some campuses will be asking where will the staff come from. I did not really see an answer in the article.

I do think we should always be exploring new reference models. It is one of the things we are doing here at my current place of work. I have been observing the reference desk operations for a bit now. Part of it is to get a grasp on the local procedures and the kind of questions that come in. A couple of my colleagues are already offering suggestions for both the desk and the reference area. All this is feedback I need to hear. But overall, at least for now, it may be a while yet before the reference desk itself goes away.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Short Booknotes on Graphic Novels 15

These two I borrowed from my local branch of the public library back in Houston (HCPL for those who may wonder). I still buy a good amount of books, especially graphic novels since the library selection is limited. I have come to find that the selection here in Tyler is pretty abysmal when it comes to graphic novels, so I may be using ILL a bit more now and then to supplement the ones I do buy. At any rate, this draft had been sitting for a while, and I figure it was time to go ahead and post it. Overall, I think I may start making a small note on where I got the books from for my booknotes.

Hirano, Kohta. Hellsing Vol. 4. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Manga: 2001. ISBN: 1-59307-259-7.

The fourth volume in this manga horror series continues with fast paced action. When a group of Nazi exiles in South America has found a way to raise an army of vampires, it seems old enemies have to unite. England's Hellsing Organization and the Vatican's Section XIII, sworn enemies, may have to come together to fight an even greater threat as a new Nazi leader threatens to launch a new world war with an apparently unstoppable army. Like its predecessors, the action grips you from the first page and then goes on.

Sfar, Joann. Vampire Loves. New York: First Second, 2006. ISBN: 1-59643-093-1.

This is a compilation of stories featuring Ferdinand the vampire. He bites with one fang, so it looks like a mosquito bite. He also has a lot of trouble with his love relationships. Yet, for an undead, he is quite charming and kind at times. This book combines a blend of humor and warmth at times along with some mysticism and folk wisdom along the way. Very entertaining.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bring on the Chili, 2007

Last Saturday (October 6, 2007) we had our Annual Chili Cook-off here at UT-Tyler. It is part of the events for the week of Homecoming. Given I was the new guy, I was semi-drafted to be on the team. OK, I will admit I would have gone anyways. No way I was going to miss the fun and have some chili in the process. I should warn my two readers that, as a transplant to Texas, I may still be learning the finer points of chili (for example, for some reason, beans on a chili is an offense here). Part of the fun of coming together is doing a little trash talk with the other teams. But it is also a great opportunity for the campus community to come together, have some fun in the booths, and get excited about the soccer game later in the day. Plus visitors get to sample the various concoctions.

Our fearless leader was up and at 'em early in the morning. I think she got there by 7:00am. I did not get there until a little later. She had made sure that a lot of the prep work was done the night before, so that everything would be ready for our cook to start cooking. We also set up the tables, and we put up our decorations and giveaways. We made buttons to give out promoting the team and reading, and with the able assistance of our webmistress, I made some trading cards of Banned Books to give out as well. Reminds me I should probably add one or two of those images to the Flickr set I just made for the event.

When it comes to events like this, I always enjoy listening to people as well as watching the crowd. It is events like these that allow you to relax and have fun with the people you work with as well as meet other people on campus. Joanne, the webmistress, made it a point to introduce me to various people as they came by. I think I met a couple of VP's and other important folks. Just don't ask me if I remember all of them. Since we are a small campus, I know in time I will get to know those folks better. Our fearless leader, Jeanne, had promised that she would not interfere with the cook. As the saying goes, "promises, promises." It was clear that her penchant for stirring the pot as she saw fit would manifest itself anyhow, and sure enough it did. After all, as she said, "I am a bossy lady," and that was that. Eric, our cook (and Business Librarian, among other hats he wears) humbly cooked along. Eventually, the air was filled with the fine smell of chili that would be simmering in time. Jeanne did observe that we had more students in teams at the chili event, and that was a good thing, as it would help balance things from just mostly campus staff.

The morning also featured other activities, including the golf cart parade. I was wondering how could we get a cart so we could "pimp it up" next year. My director heard it, and what she wants is for us to make a bookcart drill team. I am sure those of you who are librarians have heard of bookcart drill teams (example here). Of course, guess who gets to plan that little detail. We'll see what I can come up with. I have a bit of time to plan now.

Overall, it was a pleasant day. A bit cloudy at first, but it was not too warm. I did take some photos, which I have placed on my Flickr for now. Here is the set for the event. I know our webmistress took a few more, so there may be some additions later.

And the chili? Well, we did not make it to the winner's circle this time around. But that's ok. We did get good feedback from those who visited our tent, and in the end, it was all about the fun.

I want to tell stories

As I settle down in the new job, I have a bit of time to think about the job itself and things I would like to do. I am now responsible for the library's newsletter. By the way, I have been informed that we need to be getting that publication out pretty soon, so it looks like my list of things to do got one more urgent item on it. Moving along, my director has expressed a strong interest in blogs and other online tools. I am planning a library blog for us among other things. I don't want it to be just a library news blog. I want the blog and other tools to tell a story, our story.

The idea of using stories to spread the library's good works is not new. For example, Michael Stephen's (who seems to need some help getting dressed) blog explores the theme of telling the stories of the library frequently. One example is his post on "Telling the Library's Story." Personally, I am more intrigued by the method, by the idea of finding and nurturing stories. The Anecdote blog, which deals with stories and work, had a small post by Shawm on "How to Make Your Workplace More Storyable." For the authors of the blog, stories facilitate knowledge flow. For me, it is not just the knowledge, though knowledge is important. It's the stories as well and how they can bring people together. I am the type of person who can go to social gatherings and simply let others talk. I like encouraging that when possible. This idea about stories makes sense in the library since the library is a place where people come together. Shawn gives some ideas on making the workplace more "storyable." I think I can learn a thing or two from this. As usual, the stuff not quoted is my humble thinking. Emphasis in the original.

  • "Do remarkable things." From the brief time I have been in my new job, I can see we come together to do some very remarkable things. I got here on time to help out with our Banned Books Week Readout. We participated in the campus chili cook-off, one of the Homecoming events (more on that later). Events like that are remarkable, and we should be telling those stories. We should also be telling stories about the remarkable service we offer our students and academic community on a regular basis. I am hoping to be the one telling some of those stories. I also hope to encourage others to share their stories as well.
  • "Know how to ask story eliciting questions. Don't just ask for the facts. Ask 'What happened?' 'Tell me about a time when ...' 'When was the last time ...'." In essence, get people talking. Use more open-ended questions. Shawn also offers a post on "Questions to Elicit Stories" that may provide some more food for thought in this regard.
  • "Eat together." This is self-explanatory. Shawn observes that in many workplaces people don't stop for lunch. I will make a different observation: if you do stop for lunch, do talk. Watching the soaps in the breakroom does not count. Maybe bringing food now and then to a meeting, or even agreeing to having a small lunch at a near campus location. A small meal can do wonderful things for small conversations.
  • "Tell stories. Someone has to start modelling the behaviour so why not start the trend yourself." Shawn admonishes against making a big deal. Just jump right into the recounting. I imagine that once the behavior is in place that telling stories would be second nature. You just do it.
I am setting out then to discover how "storyable" is my library. And then, I am going to explore ways of telling some of those stories.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Article Note: on Onsite Library Services

Citation for the article:

Wagner, A. Ben and Cynthia Tysick. "Onsite Reference and Instruction Services: Setting Up Shop Where Our Patrons Live." Reference and User Services Quarterly 46.4 (2007): 60-65.

Read it in print.

I am always interested in instructional services. I was an Instruction Librarian, and though my title has changed, I still do a good amount of instruction (once an Instruction Librarian, always an Instruction Librarian I guess). Anyhow, this article also seems relevant now because it discusses an outreach model of more personal service. My new role is outreach, so clearly this is of interest to me in that vein as well. The article discusses the model of outreach at the University of Buffalo where librarians have set up office hours in departments as part of their service. One must note that UB is a much bigger campus than we are, but some of the ideas could work here. I don't know if that would be something we could pursue here, but it is worth a look. Plus the article has some other interesting ideas. The significance is in addressing the need for more of a personal touch at a time when a lot of the services are going online.

First, a couple of basic reminders from the article. The authors looked at other outreach techniques as a review and for context:

  • "Contact opportunities included serving on departmental committees, instructional support, and attendance at social functions" (61). These are examples of opportunities to meet people and network.
  • "As a result of dedicating field librarians to specific departments, strong interpersonal ties and interactions between the departments and librarians occurred" (61). This is something I find intriguing and that I would like to try out. In my new setting, the staff is a bit on the small side, so I am not sure how a model of office hours on a different location might be taken. On the other hand, I am thinking there are some opportunities we could explore for this type of outreach. Once I talk to some people, I may have a better sense. If nothing else, I would be willing to use myself as the guinea pig for my liaison area, or some other onsite service.
  • "Most of the successful models report the use of multiple, targeted techniques including invitations to library workshops and other events, creative orientation activities, involvement in as many departmental academic and social events as possible, visits to faculty and administrators in their offices, and participation in curriculum committees" (63).
The authors also list other outreach techniques. I am listing them here mostly as a reminder for myself. I am sure more experienced folks already know this:
  • "attending seminars (especially given by one's own faculty) and other departmental events at least once a month;"
  • "maintaining a list of faculty teaching and research areas;"
  • "exceeding even exceptional customer service standards for the first few requests from any new patron (first impressions count);"
  • "keeping e-mail communications to a minimum, making them as brief and informative as possible;"
  • "targeting graduate student groups, since graduate students teach undergraduate core courses in the departments, conduct their own research, and let other graduate students know where they received good service" (63).

The article goes on to explain how the departments were chosen for the initial project. Librarians also identified their concerns:

"In initial planning, librarians identified visibility, time commitment, scheduling, Internet access, and marketing as key elements. Concerns included sustainability, the time away from the librarian's regular office, and the reliance solely on electronic resources" (62).

Now for me, the issue of being away from an office would not be an issue. I do outreach. I think I mentioned in my interview that if I am out of the office a lot doing the library's good work, then I am doing my job. Sustainability and time commitments could be a concern here for us. I would likely take care of the marketing. But like the authors, I think we won't know for sure until we try it.

The article also provides advice and tips on how to carry out the project. One good piece of advice is to keep the time commitment small at first. As the authors point out, it is always easier to add time later (62). While the authors admit that the project was not perfect, they did find that it was valuable and sustainable. Here is part of what they concluded:

  • "Above all, the pilot program demonstrated that face-to-face encounters have significant advantages over e-mail and virtual interactions" (64).
  • "Onsite departmental reference services are not the complete answer for patron outreach. It works best within the larger context of faculty and student outreach activities that intentionally build long-term relationships with the department, such as attendance at faculty seminars and departmental events. Nor does it replace e-mail, phone consultations, instant messaging, general exceptional customer service, and library-based reference services and appointments" (64).

Friday, October 05, 2007

Article Note: On Library Instruction and Student Term Papers

Citation for the article:

Hurst, Susan and Joseph Leonard. "Garbage In, Garbage Out: The Effect of Library Instruction on the Quality of Students' Term Papers." Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship 8.1 (Spring 2007).

Available online in the link above. A hat tip to the Information Literacy Land of Confusion.

While the article confirms that library instruction has a positive effect on students using more varied sources in their papers, the study does leave the question open of whether there is any effect on the actual grades the students get. The question of grades is one that may need further exploration, and according to the authors, provides an opportunity to look at actual course requirements to find more opportunities to emphasize and reward better research.

The article itself is a pretty easy read. The authors basically present their data in tables and provide brief discussion of the results. The study is a citation analysis of student bibliographies. The literature review provides a brief but good overview of previous work in this area, which lays a foundation for further work as well.

Some notes from the introduction. As usual, the stuff in quotation marks comes from the article. The rest is mine.

  • "Because today's undergraduates are skilled at surfing the web, it is often assumed that they will be equally proficient in locating data needed for their papers and assignments/ Despite their web-surfing skills and technological acumen, however, students may still not know how to effectively search and locate research articles on a topic." This is pretty much the mantra of every other article on this topic that I have read. I know it from experience as an instruction librarian, and I am sure my colleagues know it as well. Conveying this to the faculty is a different matter since a few do make this assumption.
  • "Another problem is that while it is assumed that students are taught how to use the library during an introductory English course or through a library orientation, this is frequently not the case." Again, see my remarks above. I would also add that even when the students do get such an orientation, if they lack opportunities to practice the skills they were shown in the orientation session, they will not remember them later on.
The hypotheses for this study were as follows:

  • #1: "Students in the sections that receive library instruction will be more likely to cite a larger number of sources overall, use a greater variety of resources, and cite resources located using library tool, (e.g. the catalog or databases), than the students in the sections that did not receive instruction." This hypothesis was proven by the study. It did find students who had a library session did use a more varied set of sources and got them from places like databases.
  • #2: "Students in the sections that received library instruction would earn higher grades on their term papers than the students not receiving the instruction." This was not proven. Though the students who got instruction scored about a point higher, that is not statistically significant.
The study was based on three International Business classes: two that got instruction and one that did not (the control). Note that "no specific requirements were given for the bibliographies for any of the sections. The students were encouraged to use a variety of resources, both print and electronic, but there were no required numbers or types or sources mandated." The bibliographies from the papers were collected and analyzed. You can read article for the specific methodology.

Some of the things the study found:

  • It found that students "can only use resources that they know about. While the library website is as user-friendly and accessible as possible, it still increases usability to have a demonstration, particularly one tailored to the specific resources that are more likely to be useful for a particular assignment." On the one hand, this may not be great news for those librarians who are all about 2.0 and putting everything online. Guess what? If the students don't know it is there, they won't use it. On the other hand, this is where good marketing comes in. Instruction is one way to do it. However, other ways of publicity on campus to promote a library's website and its resources would be useful as well. Maybe it is time to focus a bit more on raising awareness of the resources that are already available and little less on adding yet another bell or a whistle to a website.
  • "Those that had received library instruction utilized proportionally more journal articles and databases, and fewer Internet sites, with the differences being statistically significant."
  • "By demonstrating these resources to the students through library instruction, they became aware of them and subsequently used them to locate information for their research papers."
  • However, here is the not so good news: "Thus, although those in the group that received library instruction did indeed cite more scholarly sources and more types of sources, this did not result in an improved grade for either the paper itself or for the course overall." It is not good news because often we tell students that they may get a better grade if they use better sources. It turns out, at least from this study, that those who mostly used the Internet pretty much did as well as those who used library resources. Thus, the the cynical student would be able to say, "why do I need the library?" Given this study, it would not be easy to give a clear answer.
Yet I think the answer lies elsewhere. The authors hint at it when they suggest designing better assignments and emphasizing more research of higher quality in classes. The "out," so to speak, is that the class used in the study was a business class that did not require extensive use of scholarly sources. A lot of what was needed was material like company information, some of it easily available on the web. So, I wonder if this result would have been different for a different subject area where more scholarly research would actually be necessary (social and hard sciences, for example).

Do note also that the papers used in the study were not graded "explicitly according to the number or types of resources cited." So, there was no real reward for the student who used better sources. This brings me to question how much critical thinking skills were involved in the assignment. One would think, and the authors agree, that better sources would lead to a better analysis, and a better analysis, to a better grade. But the study does not bear that out. Therefore, as an educator, I wonder if the answer may not be someplace else. Maybe higher expectations from the professor and from the course? Maybe looking at a more critical pedagogy? But it is not just critical thinking. It is knowing what to do with what you learn. Here and here are some previous readings I have done that may shed some further light. The grade issue may be something to explore further. Then again, if we say that grades are not the most important thing, but the learning, then we still need to be asking these questions. Did the students really learn what they were supposed to learn, or did they just regurgitate whatever they were given in a class? Overall, a good study, but it still leaves open questions.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Banned Books Readout at UT-Tyler 2007

"All these people talk so eloquently about getting back to good old-fashioned values. Well, as an old poop I can remember back to when we had those old-fashioned values, and I say let's get back to the good old-fashioned First Amendment of the good old-fashioned Constitution of the United States -- and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge or give me death!"
-- Kurt Vonnegut, author

We had our Banned Books Readout here on campus. The event, sponsored by the library, is held annually as part of the events for Banned Books Week. For me, this was my first activity on campus as the new Outreach Librarian. Fortunately, I had the able assistance of our webmaster who has also been serving as Outreach Coordinator (I am gradually taking over the outreach role from her. However, it is more like we'll be working together, and that is a good thing).

The event went from 10:30a to 2:30p, and it took place in the nice open terrace we have facing the lake. We had readers representing various departments on campus. Readers chose their own selections for reading in 15 minute segments. The concept was for the reader to introduce the work and then read their selection.

Our equipment for the event included:

  • Letter sign on sidewalk to advertise the event for people as they walked by.
  • A nice sign on an easel next to the podium. The graphics were drawn by one of our circulation periodicals assistants (I am still learning who does what here).
  • Most of the books that people chose were items checked out from the library. This is definitely something to encourage in the future if possible. However, any book is welcome.
  • We had buttons to hand out that said "I read Banned Books." I think we should continue making them and providing them.
  • We had flyers with the list of readers.
The selection of books read this time around:

Our readers all brought in their style and skill to the texts. The books listed include books we commonly associate with challenges, such as Daddy's Roommate, to works that we don't usually think of as being challenged, such as The Analects. The history professor who chose Confucius gave us a small lesson on the history of the book, explaining how the work was banned in its own country by a more legalistic regime. We were moved at times; we laughed at other times. The audience came and went as the morning gave way to the afternoon. Overall, the audience was small, but we had a good showing overall.

My director asked me to ponder what things we could improve for future readouts. Here are a some things I am pondering:

  • The location. This is an object of debate already, and I am not sure I have the answer. I was told that when it was done in the library, that some students felt like they may be called upon to read, or they did not want to approach in fear they were interrupting something. I think with a little gentle encouragement and welcoming, that could be overcome. The outside location we used this time is nice. It is an open space; it is outdoors, and there is good traffic. However, there are restrictions on using a microphone there during certain hours. So, I have mixed feelings. At the moment, I would say for us to continue holding the event outside, weather permitting.
  • We need to have some extra books handy. That way, if someone approaches wanting to read on the spot, we can hand him or her something. Since we did have a couple of breaks in the reading, allowing for such breaks to be open mike moments would be a good idea.
  • We probably need additional publicity and promotion for the event. Getting more students to read would be nice. That is one of the things I will be working on throughout this year and in my time here: publicity for the library. There is a campus electronic bulletin board. We can use that. We have a list of people who participate, so calling on them is good, but getting others in addition would be great as well.
By the way, we took pictures as well. I have placed a good number of them on my Flickr account. Here is the link to the set. I will probably be using a few of them for an article in our library newsletter later in the term. And certainly using photos is a possibility for when we implement a blog for the library, which is another thing I am considering.

"We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."
-- John F. Kennedy. Remarks made on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America at H.E.W. Auditorium, February 26, 1962

Monday, October 01, 2007

It's Banned Books Week 2007

We have made it another year, and ALA, along with other organizations, is once again sponsoring Banned Books Week. There are already some cracks about how the abbreviation BBW means anything but Banned Books Week (go ahead, run the Google search and see what you find. I did.). There are also the usual detractors who say "no one bans books in the United States." True, overall, the United States government has not made a major move to ban books. However, the fact remains that a lot of people do challenge books, and that some books are removed from libraries (they may get put back on the shelves, but removal, or restricted access, does happen). These challenges usually take the form of some parent or "concerned citizen" who wants a book removed. Detractors usually fall back on parental rights, and when pushed, will argue back that "well, librarians censor all the time when they don't purchase everything." Actually, we call that Collection Development, and it is one of the things we are paid as professionals to do.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I have no problem with a parent deciding what their child should or should not read. That is their right and their duty. I am a parent. I make sure I know what my daughter is reading and checking out of the library. She does not go online without supervision. In other words, her mother and I put in the work that all parents should be putting in when it comes to parenting, which more often than not is not done by a lot of other parents. What I do have a problem with is other parents trying to decide what I read or not. Sure, detractors may argue, "but look, you can get the book on Amazon or other store." I sure can, but why should I be deprived of access to a book in my library, where I pay taxes as well, because one parent decides to challenge, and the library folds? Don't like the book? I have a simple solution for you: don't read it. Don't want your child to get a book? Don't let them have it. Do your duty as a parent and act accordingly. Don't come around trying to deprive others of access because you have a personal problem with a particular book. You have your right to make a choice. I have a right to make my choices as well. Your rights end where mine begin. It's as simple as that. I may not like Harry Potter (to pick an example of a commonly challenged book), but if that is your cup of tea, then go right ahead. And by the way, if you decide to challenge a book (or other material), at least have the decency to actually read it yourself before making your decision. Nothing will make me lose respect for you faster than you wanting to ban some book on hearsay and admitting you never read it. You read the book, and the book is not to your tastes or runs counter to your values? Cool with me. I understand not every book is for every reader. But at least make the attempt to be informed before you condemn a book.

And no, no one is making any claims here that things like porn should be accessible in libraries. Please use some common sense. This goes to those who say librarians are happy to let porn into their libraries. If porn is your thing, please do it somewhere private. Again, common sense.

Well, that is my two cents about Banned Books Week this year. My library will be hosting a read-out tomorrow. I am in the middle of deciding what to read for the event. I am looking forward to it.

In the meantime, don't take just my word for it on the issue. Here are some other people who are saying a thing or two about Banned Books Week:

  • I can always count on the Annoyed Librarian. Sure enough, she takes on ALA's celebration here.
  • From The Onion, get a bit of an amusing take on the issue. What's the big deal?, teens say.
  • The Heretical Librarian is doing a series for Banned Books Week on authors that have actually been banned, threatened, etc. due to their writings. Here is his post on Faraq Foda. Feel free to go visit the blog so you can read the other items in the series as they come out.
  • Amnesty International also has a page on Banned Books. From the site, "during Banned Books Week, Amnesty International directs attention to the plight of individuals who are persecuted because of the writings that they produce, circulate or read."
  • Jessamyn West, of, has a post on Banned Books Week and union issues.