Monday, June 30, 2008

Guybrarians are not freaks of nature

I recently saw this article from The Ledger in Florida about Guybrarians. So am I kind of a freak? If one goes by the headline in the article, one would say I am sort some sort of creature from the endangered species list. Sasquatch has better odds of being sighted than a male librarian. To put things in perspective, I will say that I am one of two male librarians in my library out seven librarians total. Not too shabby, if you ask my director who is simply thrilled at the diversity we males bring to her library. I understand the article is trying to make the point that librarianship can be a good career for men, but in doing so, we end up looking like rare birds anyways.

I can't say that librarianship was the path that I always knew I would follow. It was not part of some master plan. But I have often said that if someone had told me about this sooner, I would have simply gone to library school right after my first masters without the extra hassle of trying for a doctorate that I dropped, in large part because of the dismal market humanities doctoral graduates face. I call myself the gypsy librarian, but it is not because I want to work five academic jobs without benefits and with exploitative conditions. That I was not happy with certain departmental politics in my major (and a couple of professors more interested in their image and in pruning students than actually helping them), plus the fact I was working as an instructional assistant at the library sort of led me down the path I am following now. I was also fortunate. I had a librarian who said to me that I would make a good librarian, and for some reason, I actually bought it. I transfered to library school, and the rest, as they say, is history. I am about to finish my fourth year as a professional librarian, and overall, I am pretty happy. I do agree with Randall McDonald's description of a librarian "as being a sort of jack-of-all-trades, a perfect job for a person who likes reading, technology, history and has a general interest in knowledge." I would add it is a pretty good line of work for a generalist, for someone not bound by disciplines, for someone with a curious mind, and very importantly for someone who likes working with people. In my case, I have found my previous teaching experience to be an asset. Unfortunately, I am in a position now where those skills are not in high demand, but that is another story. Overall, for me at least, what brought me to librarianship is the opportunity to work with students and hopefully make some difference in their academic success. Anyhow, I am just another librarian in the trenches.

P.S. As I was about to publish this, I came across the story from LISNews about the Black male librarian as endangered species (NPR story here). So, is the Latino male librarian close to extinction as well? How about the Asian American male librarian? Are we now moving to some kind of journalistic meme where we ask if males of any ethnicity in librarianship are in danger of extinction now? And while I do think we can use more representation from different groups in our profession, somehow the tone of these stories does not seem right. Just a thought.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Article Note: On reference services and digital environments

Citation for the article:

Buckland, Michael K. "Reference Library Service in the Digital Environment." Library and Information Science Research 30 (2008): 81-85.

Read via ScienceDirect.

This small article is an attempt to look at reference services along with a digital environment in a holistic way. In other words, it is looking not only at the librarians providing the reference service, but the reference collection itself. I have to agree with the author that the library literature rarely if ever considers the reference collection as part of the services. More often than not the administrators are more busy finding ways to dismantle reference collections than attempting to empower users and integrating those collections into the larger picture of reference services. The article is a short piece, and it is mostly a look at the literature with a call to what needs to be considered further for research in our profession. Here are then some highlights with some humble observations:

  • "Two related characteristics stand out in research literature on the reference library service: There is little about the reference library as a whole, about the coherent combination of space, reference works, amenities (e.g. space, tables, and copy services), and library staff; and the research is primarily about the empowerment of librarians, not about the empowerment of library users" (82; italics in the original).
This is one of the things that I have been thinking about more now that I head a reference unit. Unfortunately, like every other library, the interest seems to be in dismantling the collection in favor of space and amenities. Somehow sense of balance is lost. Now, I am not foolish enough to fail seeing that more resources have gone online. That is not the point. The point is that a well-selected and lean reference collection along with a trained librarian and empowered users can provide a better service. When I was reading this, here is what I wondered: in other words, should we explore how to better integrate reference services and a collection instead of overseeing a reference collection's demise? I would think the basic answer to that is yes. How to go about it is what has me thinking at the moment.

A lot of the L2 arguments center around the idea of empowering users, to help them help themselves. Well, that is when the L2 people take a break from simply promoting the latest gadgets or more gaming. However, the idea of helping the patrons help themselves in the library is not a new one. It has been around for quite a while. Buckland quotes Martin Schrenttinger and James Wyer in the article, and this serves to illustrate my small observation:
  • "Back in 1930 James Wyer's Reference work: A textbook for students of library work and librarians, published by the American Library Association, had this to say: 'With all this must go the utmost efforts at training in self-help. No theory of reference work is complete which fails to recognize the library's obligation to train its public in the use of its collections. This is at bottom only altruistic selfishness, because a trained public that helps itself will make for easier and more satisfying library service, and will enable more people to be served.' (Wyer, 1930, p.9)" (qtd. in 82; italics in original).
  • "Direct assistance to library users is, of course, very valuable, but that should not lead us to forget that the core professional task of librarians since the phrase 'library science' was coined two hundred years ago by Martin Schrenttinger (1808) has not been direct service to patrons but the design and deployment of systems and services that enable patrons to serve themselves" (82).
What was that thing some fellow said about those who do not read their history? Reading things like this makes me wonder if some of the L2 apologists simply do not look at where we have been prior to making their pronouncements. Anyways, I pretty much promised myself I would stay out of the L2 terrain, so let us move along.

  • "The most basic level of service in a reference library is the provision of a judicious selection of reference resources in which users can look, with the librarian providing some direction as and when needed" (82). Yes, this does include online resources as well as print.
  • "Selection for inclusion in a reference library is a significant endorsement" (84). Here is part of the reason we hire librarians: to make those professional judgments.
  • The parting thought: "The theme underlying this paper is the need to develop structures appropriate to digital technology, to the users' needs, and to the users' work environment" (84).

Monday, June 23, 2008

Article Note: On BI Drive-by sessions

Citation for the article:

Arant-Kaspar, Wendi and Candace Benefiel. "Drive-by BI: Tailored in-class mini-instruction sessions for graduate and upper-level undergraduate courses." Reference Services Review 36.1 (2008): 39-47.

Read via Emerald.

This was one of the neat little articles I have read so far this year. It has a few practical ideas, and it provides enough practical information for an instruction librarian to implement the ideas in his/her setting. In a nutshell, the article outlines how to conduct a quick session, about 15 minutes, of relevant BI to classes at their location. You basically show up with a very well planned session, made relevant to the class, and implement the lesson in a short period of time while emphasizing your services and availability to provide assistance. It is a nice example of mobile instruction, which is something I always believed in, and that back in the day when I was in instruction I used to do quite a bit. I do admit that I would have loved to try out the 15 minute session idea with some professors. The possible concern would be that some professors would assume the short presentation would take the place of a more substantial session, but I think with proper planning and promotion, this could actually lead to additional library instruction time. My bet is we just have to take a chance and work at it. Do note this service is meant for upper-level courses and graduate courses, which are the ones most in need for specialized resources. However, I am sure it could work for a more basic class with some modification, but overall, the idea is to reach a lot of the kids who many assume already know the stuff, so to speak.

Some highlights from the article:

  • The authors give the three keys to the success of their program:
    • "building a collegial relationship with teaching faculty;
    • providing useful and specifically targeted bibliographies for each class; and
    • the willingness of the liaison librarian to follow-up and function as a resource person for later in-depth research assistance for students" (39-40).
The last point on that list is very important. The librarians have to be willing to put themselves on the line and to be accessible. That was one of my crucial roles in my previous work: to be accessible to the students. If you are doing your job correctly, students will come to see you for further assistance. Being accessible to them is crucial, and it is something I cannot emphasize enough.

  • Some of the things they have done (from page 40):
    • general tours
    • research brown bags
    • web-based tutorials
    • one-on-one consultation sessions (I did a lot of those in my day. They were probably one of the best parts of my job. To be honest, it is something I miss.)
    • class instruction sessions
    • training instructors in basic writing and literature classes on library resources and tools, to empower them to do tours themselves (I am sure if I made this suggestion here, I would probably get insulted since the concern would be they would not need the library anymore. I think there can be some room for this. Back then, one of the ideas I was interested in was in training the Supplemental Instruction tutors in some library resources so they could do some triage with students, knowing when to send them to the library. It was one of the things I did not quite get to.)
    • individualized instruction for faculty (I think we should try to exploit this some more.)
    • broader work with departments on things like research methods courses and course requirements (we are still a long way on that one, but I have faith we can get there.)
  • "Easy access to the internet and the basic familiarity of most students with popular search engines such as Google or Yahoo! may contribute to a false sense of ease in regard to academic research methods" (40). We have seen recent articles on Google making people dumber and even the GPS making us dumber. I think we must be in the middle of another meme about technology making us less smart or less efficient readers; that is something I would like to explore in a later post, but there is the underlying point that people often get a false sense of security because they can use Google or a GPS. I have a few thoughts on student skills here and here, and a few other times.
  • One of the challenges we constantly face in library instruction: "Instructors may assume that their students already know how to do library research, that they received instruction in their lower-level courses, or that they do not need to have these skills" (40). I heard that line in one form or another quite often, and overcoming that perception does take work. But it is possible, in large measure, if you are accessible and provide a good product. And the authors agree with me on that: "as with most services, delivery of a quality 'product' will encourage repeat business and good word-of-mouth for expansion of the service" (45).
  • Description of the activity from the article: ". . . the brief 'drive-by,' a scheduled in-class public service announcement (PSA)-like session to give students a sneak peak at resources and show them a friendly face from the library. The drive-by BI session offers an alternative, one which helps students overcome their trepidation about coming to the library, gives them a personal contact, and introduces the specialized resources they require" (41). Note that for this to be most effective it has to happen at point of need.
  • Note that the article includes sample e-mail and flyers to help advertise this kind of activity on page 42.
  • Again, the librarian has to be flexible: "A large part of the success of such a program lies in the flexibility of the librarian, both to visit classes when it is most convenient for the instructor, and to travel to the classroom building" (43).
  • Page 44 features a sample presentation outline.
  • The authors remind us that it is important to assess the activity as well. For the most part, they used forms they already had available for library instruction, so no need to reinvent the wheel.
  • Benefits of the service: "This solution has a number of benefits, the most significant of which is that the librarian can bring library instruction to an audience that would otherwise have no exposure, providing an introduction to library resources and research methods to the students, while aptly demonstrating the necessity and advantages of library instruction to the instructor. In addition, it counters the stereotype of the passive librarian behind the desk, waiting for somebody to come ask a question" (46).
  • And to address concerns: "This new service has not cut into the regular library instruction sessions, only augmented them and drawn new groups to the library both physically and virtually" (46).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Article Note: On Rock Music Monographs

Citation for the article:

Berger, Monica. "Scholarly Monographs on Rock Music: A Bibliographic Essay." Collection Building 27/1 (2008): 4-13.

Read via Emerald.

This may be useful for academic librarians who do some collection development in music as part of their other collection development duties. In other words, not for the music librarian per se. More for the guy who does music along with other areas in humanities. For example, when I was doing Arts and Humanities work, this would be the type of work I would be looking for. This is basically a bibliographic essay that gives a look at monographs (i.e. books for our non-librarian friends) on the topic of rock music. It is mostly American focused. The article then is organized by themes such as historical overviews, the new musicology, and feminist and gender theory. The article shows that "academic writing on rock and popular music is approached using a very wide variety of methodologies and disciplines" (11). Use this as a collection building tool or as an evaluation tool to see how your collection fares in this regard. I know I am keeping a copy of it in my folders.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Article Note: On peer review for teaching

Citation for the article:

Samson, Sue and Donna E. McCrea. "Using Peer Review to Foster Good Teaching." Reference Services Review 36.1 (2008): 61-70.

Read via Emerald.

The only flaw with this article is that it may or not work with the colleagues who are resistant or the ones who say flat out, "I refuse to be told how to teach." And yes, I have had colleagues say that to me in very direct terms. Of course, the irony is that the person in question is probably not that good, but let us not digress further. The article discusses how PROT (Peer Review of Teaching) was implemented at Mansfield Library in the University of Montana. The authors emphasize that this was a formative form of evaluation, not summative. The Wikipedia link to summative evaluation gives a sense, but not as helpful. In essence, the difference is that formative evaluation is meant for learning while summative is the one you do at the end of the experience, usually for evaluation purposes (like annual reviews and other HR decisions). Here is how the authors define the experience:

"Summative evaluations are frequently comparative, open to public review, and can be used to make personnel decisions such as hiring or the award of tenure. PROT at the Mansfield library is a formative process designed to provide librarians with information they can use to improve their teaching (Chism 1999). It is based on the premise that we can all learn, that we are mentors, and that our willingness to learn inspires others to do so (Weimer, 1990). The program is entirely voluntary, and feedback is given in a confidential, non-threatening environment" (62).

Keep in mind their library is a little bigger than the types of places I have worked at. They have 13 librarians participating in instruction. The smaller the group of librarians, the more intimacy, if that word can be used, you get. If you are in a position as instructional leader, and you suggest something like this to the other two librarians or three who may teach the occasional class, you may end up getting the type of reaction I described earlier. A touch of diplomacy and gentleness may be in order. The article then provides the steps to the process; this is very practical and makes it easy to follow along if you are interested in trying out this system. I also noticed the authors drew on other tools from other universities. They did not reinvent the wheel, which is reassuring as well. Sources are well documented for further reading. If you want to have another way to asses an instruction program, and more importantly, to improve the teaching skill and ability of your librarians, this is definitely something to consider.

Some other notes from the article:

  • I liked the brief mission statement of their instruction program: "The central mission of the Library Instruction Program (LIP) at the Mansfield Library is 'to create information literate students who know how to find, evaluate, and use information effectively'" (62). To compare, here is what we have for our instruction program at UT Tyler. It was written by our instruction librarian. I like the idea of building a framework for learning how to learn.
  • On assessment tools. You can never have enough assessment tools, and this is what they have over there: "Librarians have access to a range of assessment tools, including student feedback forms, faculty feedback forms, aggregation of feedback data, programmatic statistics, teaching portfolios and, most recently, peer review" (62). I find the teaching portfolio idea particularly intriguing. I may have to go back in the literature and see if that is being used someplace else. I have seen having students in information literacy classes use portfolios, and I am familiar with the concept from my days as a school teacher, but for the librarians it may be something worth looking into.
  • I just thought this quote was neat: "Matthew O. Richardson (2000, p.13) writes: 'When an observer assumes the stance of a student of teaching, rather than an evaluator of teaching, great discoveries are possible.' He goes on to state that the peer observation process fosters career-long learning and promotes discussion of good teaching" (66).

Friday, June 06, 2008

Article Note: On Chick Lit in Academic Libraries

Citation for the article:

Davis-Kahl, Stephanie. "The Case for Chick Lit in Academic Libraries." Collection Building 27/1 (2008): 18-21.

Read via Emerald.

In the interest of disclosure, I will say that I am not the demographic for chick lit, nor have I any academic (or otherwise) interest in it. With that out of the way, I will say that it makes sense for academic libraries to do some collection development in this area, especially if the campus has a healthy popular culture program and/or women's studies program. What this short article does is lay out the case for such collection development. Useful if your administrators are a bit unsure whether to pursue this area of collection development or not.

Some notes:

  • The scope of chick lit has expanded. This discussion is in the context of looking at how chick lit differs from romance fiction; yes, there are differences. Read the article to get a sense of the issue: "'We've expanded our list to include chick lit, meaning mother-daughter relationships, anything that's centered [on] women' (James-Enger 2003). The expansion of the genre into 'mom lit' and 'work lit' also sets it apart from the romance novel, and the growing number of voices and perspectives through books written by African-American, Latina and Asian authors is another significant difference" (19). As I look at that, I wonder if the definition of chick lit has expanded to include a few authors and works that one might not usually think as chick lit. I am thinking some of the works by writers like Julia Alvarez or Cristina Garcia (both of whom I have read) that deal with relationships, often between mothers and daughters or the daughters and the family.
  • For academia, in part, the significance is that this is becoming an area worthy of scholarly attention. "In short, chick lit can be a starting point for discussions of why women's writing matters, the evolution of women's writing, and the importance of women's perspectives in fiction, whether it is popular or literary. Developing a collection of chick lit would connect students to those discussions and may help spark their intellectual explorations into the genre by lending credibility to the works and their authors" (20).
  • Further significance: "Chick lit firmly belongs in the history and evolution of fiction--fiction in general and fiction by women--because of its popularity, its accessibility to the reader, and because it represents issues that modern women face. A collection of chick lit is especially key for those libraries that support popular culture studies, a field that has undergone much growth and is accepted as a legitimate field of study. The study of popular culture and chick lit is well-matched, as the former explores how our pastimes and entertainment define and shape our society, and chick lit is both a product of and influence on our society. Women's studies is another area that may be interested in chick lit, as the genre is one of expression of how women see each other, themselves, their relationships, work, and family life" (20).
Only thing missing would be a bibliography or list of works. But I am sure that would be a separate article. The article is a quick read, and for collection developers and bibliographers in humanities areas, worth a look.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Article Note: On Outreach and Partnering with Honors Programs

Citation for the article:

Riehle, Catherine Fraser. "Partnering and Programming for Undergraduate Honors Students." Reference Services Review 36.1 (2008): 48-60.

Read via Emerald.

While we are nowhere near the scale that Purdue University is, the article did contain a few things that I think would be useful to try out in my setting. The author describes her work in forming partnerships with her campus's honors programs to provide their students with library services. So, let me go ahead and make some notes for myself.

  • "Librarians must proactively determine the needs of various user groups and respond by developing tailored services to serve them more effectively and widely" (48). This is something I am working on as I continue to learn more about the campus and how it works. Though I have been here almost a year now, and I have been hustling to learn, there is still a lot to learn. One thing they do not tell you in library school is how much time, for an academic librarian, it takes to learn the ins and outs of a campus. If you are going to be doing outreach, even more so. Not only do you have to know the basics, you have to spend time knowing people, making friends, establishing relationships. This all requires a certain learning curve. In some ways, it can be more challenging than a straight instruction librarian job because you have to be able to deal with a broader variety of campus constituencies. And I am in a place where people are fairly hospitable and friendly. I can only imagine the challenge in some other place where people could be more aloof.
  • "One way academic libraries are responding to meet diverse user needs is by creating specialized positions that work broadly across multiple disciplines" (49). That is my job in a nutshell. Just one problem. It is combined with the task of being the head of reference, so in essence, though I have a job that is supposed to be out and about on the campus, the job also keeps me in the library an awful lot. Piece of advice to any library considering hiring an outreach librarian: you have to give the person a lot of leeway to move around, circulate, explore, ask questions, and experiment. While doing reference work is fine (I happen to enjoy doing it), doing administrative stuff hinders the function of the outreach librarian. These are vanguard positions basically. At any rate, my current situation is not likely to change anytime soon, so I just cope and make it work.
  • The Boff article that the author cites is one that I read a while back. See here. For some topics, one of the things I have noticed is that I can recognize other things I have read when I see them in an article I am currently reading. Also, I am finding that I can make more reflective connections at times. Or, I can sort of argue with an author, "but did you not look at so and so. I did, and I think that. . . ." You get the idea I hope. This is specially true when it comes to instruction and information literacy (my areas of expertise) and to some extent outreach (in which I am becoming an expert it seems). I guess what I am trying to say is that I am starting to see some big pictures. Unfortunately, the reality is I don't always have the time to fully ponder what I am seeing in that big picture.
  • The author notes that people often assume that honors students are just better students. After all, they are more motivated and have had more success in the past. So, the assumption goes, they should be able to do research easily. Well, according to the author, "studies show, however, that honors students fare no better than mainstream students when it comes to experiencing 'library anxiety' and lacking information literacy and research skills (Snavely and Wright 2003)" (qtd. in 49).
  • Significance: "Additionally, honors students are often involved in research projects early in their academic careers. More extensive library orientation and research preparation may be needed to bolster early academic success and ready them for the more advanced and subject-specialized library instruction and services they will require later in their academic careers" (49). I think this is fairly evident.
  • An idea mentioned in the article from Oakland University I happen to like: ". . .the liaison offered tailored services for honor students, including a flyer for highlighting library services, a display case for student projects, and individual research consultations (Kraemer, 2004)" (qtd. in 50). We do have a flyer highlighting library services, but we can probably use a new one (or a different one). I like the idea of the display case, and we should be marketing the fact we can offer individual research consultations.
  • On arriving, or shortly after, the new outreach librarian should be doing informal needs assessments. This is something I need to work on some more. While I have done some, it has not been enough. A challenge has been time. And it is not bad time management. It is the fact that I have a few extra burdens that don't necessarily go with the work I do, but I have to do them anyways. Such is life. On the positive, this week I did manage to get some things done off the "to do list."
  • Their challenges: "The immense number of incoming students and the university's lack of a core curriculum are two challenges the Libraries' faculty and staff face in meeting their learning and instruction goals" (51). My challenges, besides what I have noted already, are an overstretched staff and a somewhat significant lack of resources. What I could accomplish if I had a part of what the West Lafayette folks probably put into a program like theirs. The lack of resources I can work with; the overstretched staff is a bit more difficult. As I look at it, the article does not look as much at how the other librarians contributed to the effort, which I am sure they did. I do not think the author did all of it herself (though I am sure she did do the bulk of it. These type of positions, by their very nature, mean the librarian does a lot him/herself. I know I do). This was not totally clear, and I would be interested because to expand, I do need to gain cooperation from some of my colleagues, which may or not be cooperative. And that is another issue I had with the article: everyone seems to be very cooperative. I always wonder how long it took to get some of the more reticent people aboard, if they ever did. In fact, that is something often missing in articles like this. It sounds easy when everyone gets along. Not so easy when not everyone wants to cooperate for various reasons.
  • "Offering consistent, timely, and effective library orientation and instruction for incoming undergraduate students is a challenging goal. Without a core curriculum or information literacy requirement, this will continue to be a challenge at Purdue. Therefore, many librarians target particular user groups to help ensure undergraduates receive the information needed for academic success at Purdue and ultimately for lifelong learning. Strategic partnerships are essential for the effectiveness of these library services and programs" (52). Replace "Purdue" with any other campus, and this sounds very familiar.
  • The list of approaches and techniques is very specific. Definitely useful. A sample list of the questions used when going to meet with program directors would have made this article more practical. For new librarians, what do you ask when you meet a program director for the first time? Sure, you make some questions as part of the research prior to the meeting, but some examples would have helped.
  • Other things an outreach librarian does: "The Instructional Outreach Librarian [that is the actual title at Purdue] contacted faculty teaching honors seminars next fall, introducing herself as an ally in student learning and offering tailored library services, including handouts, assignments, and workshops. The librarian also requested information from faculty about research assignments that will be required of the students, including potential due dates. This information will be helpful in planning content and examples for workshops and for scheduling research consultations, drop-ins, and sessions at opportune times" (58).
    • A digression on the job title: I think it is very reflective of what they want to accomplish when you compare it to just having an "outreach librarian." See the vagueness in that? I am not one for titles, but one wonders. I guess when it comes to this type of position, those in the hiring have to ask: what are we hiring for and what do we wish to accomplish? Do we want a public relations specialist? an evangelist? an event coordinator? or something different?
    • This was Purdue's rationale for the position: ". . .to partner with groups on and off campus, and to develop, implement, and promote library services for previously under-represented user groups. The new position was created to support the Libraries' goals of learning and engagement, two of the three main principles in the Purdue Libraries' Strategic Plan: 2006-2011 (see" (50). Pretty neat, huh?
Do keep in mind the article's subject is targeting honors students. Some of the techniques presented here are applicable, but other sources from the literature may be useful as well. In my case, I would also be looking at the other end of the spectrum, the at-risk students. I don't say this as a shortcoming of the article; it is simply me thinking to practical applications for me. Overall, this is one worth reading.