Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reading and Book Buying Habits of Americans

A while back I came across this survey of "The Reading and Book Buying Habits of Americans (note link is to a PDF of the complete report). The report is 13 pages, but it is mostly short questions with answers in terms of numbers, so rather easy to read. Some of the questions seemed amusing to me. So, allow me to look at the survey, put some snark into it, and while at it, take a chance to look at myself as a reader and book buyer. OK, those were fancy words for "I am commenting on the survey in a somewhat random fashion."

First, there was the whole question about "American Dream Materialists" versus the "American Dream Spiritualists." I actually had to keep reading to find the definitions, but basically these are people who believe that material goods lead to the American Dream versus those who see it in more spiritual terms. They both believe it is possible to attain the dream. Given the current state of the nation, I initially reacted with a "what are those people smoking?" remark. Maybe I am a pessimist, or more likely a cynic, but unless some serious radical changes happen soon, that dream is nothing but a pipedream. However, I am digressing. The survey points out that American Dream Materialists are more likely to buy their books in hardcover. Me? I buy hardcover when it is on sale or remaindered. Otherwise, it's paperback because I need to save some money for one, plus my apartment is small, and it is easier to stack paperbacks than big hardcovers. Having said that, there are rare authors I like enough to pay the full 28 bucks or more for their books, but those are very rare. Plus I borrow as much as I can for books I want to read but not keep. But the survey has more on that, so let's move on.

80% of the respondents said they do not plan on buying any special e-book reader. Only reason that factoid caught my eye is because my boss has a Kindle, and she pretty much swears by it. I am sure this number is not encouraging for people like her. Me? I am one of the 80%. Not planning on spending the money on a device any time soon. I like my books in print just fine. But that is what works for me. I have tried reading e-books, and I just find the way they work does not go with how I read.

And then the survey also covers politics. For example, did you know that Democrats (50%) are more likely than Republicans or Independents to visit and linger in one of those bookstores with a "community center" feel to it (their terms). In other words, think of a nice Barnes & Noble or Borders. I did notice Republicans do not seem to "fare as well" in questions like these. For example, Republicans (26%) are also less likely to shop at independent bookstores. And Republicans are more likely (32%) to agree that hearing about a book on talk radio makes them want to buy it. So, if we want to take this very literal: if Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity tell them to read a book, the Republicans are very likely to go out and buy it on their say so. Actually, the question is about buying a book. Whether they read the book once they buy it is a separate question the survey does not address; the survey does ask about books that you buy but do not get around to reading. However, it does not break down that question by political party. I wonder why. I could go on with the joking, but I will stop while I am ahead. I did find amusing the survey took the time to find this out.

And talking about buying books, they do ask how many do people buy in a year that they never get around to reading. 53% of respondents admitted 1 to 5 books purchased that they never got around to read. I was a bit surprised people are actually willing to admit that. Personally, I never keep track, but I know I probably fall in the 6 to 11 mark, give or take. Oh, I get to them eventually, but it may take me a while. That is part of the reason I buy books on the cheap. I am not a fast reader, so buying bestsellers and new books right away does not work for me. I read at my own pace, when I feel like it. I do like having some choices at home, so when I go to buy books I often stock up. This is specially applicable here in Tyler where selections can be very limited. So, when I go out of town to a decent bookstore, I stock up for the lean times in town. In the end, I have a big "to be read" pile, and I am at peace with that fact.

The survey asks how often do you typically read a book. Most respondents (68%) say once. That is probably about right. Most people probably read something once unless it is something very good. For me, there are so many books and so little time, that I don't reread unless the book is very good, a favorite, and I am in the mood for something familiar. There are some titles I do reread now and then, but overall, I am probably like that 68%. And when I am done with them, it depends. If the book was really good, I keep it (and I keep the hope I may reread it). If it was bad (and I bought it), I will likely resell it when I get a chance. I used to do Bookcrossing, but after a while, it did not seem efficient, and I can at least get a few bucks when I resell something (these days you have to count your pennies). This is why I borrow a lot of books from the library when I can: there are too many books that only deserve a single reading. Those I try to borrow. Often, if I borrow one that turns out to be really good, I will try to buy it for myself. However, these days, I am trying to limit my purchases. Not just the economy (I am a librarian after all), but also the space issue at home.

Now, how about what makes you buy a book? Well, for me it depends. It could be a review. It could be I heard of it from a friend or colleague, or John Stewart highlighted it on The Daily Show or Colbert from The Colbert Report. Those were options in the survey (except for Colbert), and most people said they follow suggestions from friends and family. For me, book reviews are good depending on where the review comes from. I am more likely to consider a review from a librarian blogger or other blogger that I know has a decent reputation, or is an avid reader with good sense. Yes, those things may be exclusive: a blogger may have a good reputation (say a librarian that blogs about librarianship and is prominent), but be a lousy book recommender. On the other hand, some avid readers are nowhere near the librarian blogger A-list, but they read cool stuff.

In terms of finding ideas for reading, I have found Stewart and Colbert often feature some interesting writers. True, a lot of their choices are political authors, but once in a while they pick some unique books. For example, Jack Cafferty's book that I recently read, It's Getting Ugly Out There, was a Daily Show pick. I will be blunt now: I don't care for Oprah's picks. If it works for you, good, but self-help and improvement themes are not my thing. Morning shows? Well, I am usually at work by the time those come around, and they seem pretty similar to what Oprah might pick. As for TV news, when was the last time you saw a book discussed on TV news? Overall, I look at a lot of sources to get reading ideas, and a lot of those are online sources. We are talking here about my personal reading. I don't really do collection development anymore, but I still look at the professional journals in my liaison areas just to see what is out there; I am just not doing it as much since there is no real need.

Oh, and how many of you go to the bookstore knowing exactly what you want? The survey asked that, and found that only 38% fit that criterion. Oh, and 77% of respondents admitted making additional book purchases besides the one they planned. Does that sound familiar? To me it does. I have been known to go in and come out with an extra book or two. It's part of the experience. Go in to get your new Paulo Coehlo book, and you come out with the Coehlo along with a couple of mangas, a nice steampunk anthology, and a graphic novel. Just saying.

Moving along, this was a question that really made me think: "when thinking about most of the books you read, do you borrow books from the library, or do you own them?" 78% of respondents said they owned them. Right away, the question made me wonder what does that say about our libraries. Well, in my case, it would probably say that the selection in the town library are pretty much poor. I do borrow a lot of my books, but lately, I do so via my library's interlibrary loan service. They are often items I know our public library would not be caught dead having (say that Hellraiser comic anthology I just finished for example. WorldCat record. By the way, I got that via ILL.) and my own library would probably not buy (see the previous example). But putting my own example aside, the question I had was this: do people really prefer owning the books, or is it a matter that owning the book is more convenient? Going back to my experience, I often get students at the reference desk looking for a particular book. If we don't have it, I suggest ILL, but to many of them, if they think they can get it via B&N or Amazon in a quicker way (and cheap, at least in their eyes), that is what they will do. Sure, ILL is usually free, but you have to fill the form and wait for the book to arrive. If it's a common book, driving to B&N is simply easier to them. So I wonder about that. Personally, when it comes to things like graphic novels and manga (especially manga), I know I often have to buy them. So, since it is my money on the line, I am very selective on what I buy. I will note on the positive that I can get an awful lot on ILL, if I am willing to wait. The wait may be a bit longer given some books often come from out of state (and I am not commenting on why that might be). Since I never feel a need to rush in reading, I can usually order something on ILL and wait for it. But overall, the survey question is one I think libraries should really consider. If most people are willing to own the book, regardless of reason, why is that? And how can libraries address that? Sounds like a question to ponder later.

The final question I am going to write snark about is the one about what first draws you to a book when browsing a bookstore? My answer was the bargain bin, which for some reason was not a choice in the survey apparently. Actually, joking aside, I usually read the jacket, then a few pages of the book to see if it draws me in or not. I may look at the cover, but I also look at authors, editors and publishers. For example, if it is a good anthology of science fiction edited by someone I know is a good editor, you can be assured I will likely buy it on that basis. What draws me to a book varies, and it really depends on the subject or book type. I don't think they caught that very well in the survey. Plus, for me, serendipity often works too in finding new things I may want to read. In other words, I often use different criteria in selecting. Imagine that.

So, there you have it folks. Go take a look, see if you learn a thing or two about your own reading habits while you are it.

A hat tip to Stephen's Lighthouse.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Article Note: On "keeping up" and reference/instruction services

Citation for the article:

Mitchell, Eleanor and Sarah Barbara Watstein. "The Dimensions of Reference and Instructional Services and the Challenge of 'Keeping Up.'" Reference Services Review 36.2:117-118.

Read via Emerald.

This is basically the brief editorial that opens issue 36.2 of Reference Services Review. It had some questions that made me think a bit, and that I would likely want to explore later, thus the note now. The article raises the common concern about "keeping up" with the profession. It's something I have thought about here and there. Some of the questions from this small article may help me revisit some of what I have written and thought.

  • Some of the things that affect reference and instruction, and they are just 2.0 things either: "Economic, social and political developments and trends also affect our learning-focused organizations and specifically teaching, learning, and creative expression" (117). I don't think we ask this often enough, if at all, let alone discuss it. Part of it probably has to do with the notion of library neutrality that we aim to maintain. Yet when politics affect libraries and our work, should we not talk about it, discuss relevant issues and developments? And how such things affect our students? Well, I am thinking in an academic context being that is my experience.
  • "How do you 'keep up'? What do you read? What do you watch? Who do you listen to? What methods have you developed for keeping up? Do you scan?" (118). Questions like these could be an opportunity for me to revisit some of my previous posts on keeping up. I am sure things have changed since my old musings. For instance, I scan more online now it seems. This is due to convenience in part, but in my case now, it is also due to a severe lack of print sources. In my previous job, I used to have access to things like Atlantic Monthly in print. Here, we pretty much don't have much in the way of current popular periodicals; the assumption is they are on a database someplace for one, and two, our students and faculty don't read them anyways (or if they do, they are not doing it at our library), plus they take up space.
  • "Do you have any evidence that keeping up activity makes your departments, units, or your organization better?" (118). Personally, I think it does, and I could probably think of a few anecdotal examples. In terms of departments, I am not so sure. I have no idea to what degree others keep up here. Then again, that was a problem in the previous job too, and we actually routed professional journals there (not in a very timely fashion, but they got routed). Now I am not saying these things to "rag" on my workplaces past and present, but one has to wonder when no one talks about what they read professionally. Currently, other than the director now and then forwarding something she finds interesting, I could not honestly tell you what my other colleagues read to keep up, assuming they do.
  • "Truth or dare--in your institution, to your peers or colleagues, to your users, does it really matter if you 'keep up'?" Now this is a good question. I would have to say that, to them, it probably does not. I get funny looks once in a while when I am at the reference desk with an academic article. And yet, I think it helps me be a better librarian to keep up.
  • "Are you equally interested in current, established technologies as you are in, say, emerging technologies?" (118). I have to say I am not as interested in emerging as I am in established. This is because I tend to prefer letting other early adopters (i.e. the eager beavers) mess with them and iron some of the kinks. That, and given some of the atmosphere in the librarian sector of the blogosphere, I am not interested in being associated with over-eager librarians who jump on every shiny toy because it is a shiny new toy. I prefer to look at things, reflect, and then see if they solve a problem or meet a need before I jump in. Does not mean I do not keep up with emerging stuff; simply means I actually stop and think before I act.
  • "We believe that fundamental to our success, and to our users' satisfaction is our knowledge of not only the information seeking behavior of our students, but also our knowledge of an ever increasing array of information sources, in an ever increasing variety of formats" (118). Need I say more?
  • The article mentions listservs as one of the many resources for keeping up. Personally, I hate listservs. Not because I don't find them useful, but for a simple peeve: morons who can't trim posts. There, I said it. If you post on a listserv, and you are not smart enough to trim the post when you hit the reply button so all the previous content does not get reposted with your reply, you probably should not be using a listserv. Personally, there are few things I find annoying, but having to sort out through repetitive repostings to find the thread and replies of a discussion because some people can't be bothered to trim and keep things neat happens to be one of them. It's a big reason I keep listserv subscriptions to an absolute minimum, and I unsubscribe swiftly if I see a listserv is not serving its purpose (NewLib I am looking at you as an example).
Anyhow, some very good food for thought in this small piece that I may use to write some other posts later.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Article Note: Another one on reaching students with Facebook

Citation for the article:

Mack, Daniel, et. al. "Reaching Students with Facebook: Data and Best Practices." Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship 8.2 (Summer 2007).

Available online here.

This small piece did not tell me a whole lot that I did not know already. Although it is a year old (2007), some of the information on it is already out of date. For example, Facebook now allows organizations to create "pages," which serve to address what you had to do before in making a "profile" for a library. From the looks of it, a good number of libraries have created pages in Facebook; in fact, I am in the middle of investigating and tinkering with making one for our library. In addition, some of the information on the article can be a bit misleading. Facebook does not make it as easy as the authors claim to promote the profile. I have a link on my blog (see the right column) to my FB profile, but unless you are actually registered in FB, you will not see much more than my name. I did explore efforts to see if the public listing (what FB provides for you to create the link) could be enhanced, and so far nothing has come out of it as I can't add much other information. The options are not there. So, you can let people know you are listed, but that is about it. The badge options are fairly limited as well. To make sure, I went back and checked my FB as I was reading the article, and I can attest to my observations.

Other than that, the article is pretty light on the "data." Other than providing a chart of reference transactions for one of the librarians (one of the authors one could assume, since the librarian is never named), there is no other data on FB usage. Most of the article actually consists of a long literature review that mostly cites celebratory and praise types of items to get librarians to use FB. The bottom line is that this article by now is mostly superseded. For example, their optimistic assumptions may be questioned by things like the University of Michigan survey by now, and it is not as substantial as the title leads us to believe. Also, just because students may not value privacy as much, as this article claims, does not follow that is a good thing. Plus, there are articles that may show students do place some value on their online privacy, like this one. So, the article may be ok to look at in order to review any literature available, but for librarians investigating use of Facebook professionally, they need to be reading other things as well.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Article Note: On incorporating nonfiction into readers' advisory

Citation for the article:

Alpert, Abby. "Incorporating Nonfiction into Readers' Advisory Services." Reference and User Services Quarterly 46.1 (Fall 2006): 25-32.

Read via WilsonWeb.

As an academic librarian, I don't do as much readers's advisory as my brethren in the public libraries. However, I do get the occasional question of "I need a good book to read" or "do you have something similar to X or Y?" As an avid reader myself, I also have an interest in reading and promoting it, plus I do read a good share of genre literature. And on a final reason to keep up with this type of information, I like to keep my options open in case I have to hit the job market, and I end up in a public library. One never knows. Anyhow, I additionally read a lot of nonfiction; I happen to enjoy the books often labeled as microhistories. Thus here is my interest in reading this article. The article is an overview of narrative nonfiction and how it can be incorporated into readers' advisory, which historically has focused in fiction. The article is two years old, and by now much of what it describes in terms of bringing nonfiction into RA has come to pass or is happening now. Still, the article makes for good reading to gain some solid background.

  • What the article does: "This article will provide an overview of current practices in nonfiction readers advisory, focusing primarily on narrative nonfiction, a style of nonfiction writing that adheres to the facts, but employs the literary techniques of fiction to tell a vibrant story about real events, phenomenon, people, and places" (25).
  • The challenge of finding similar nonfiction books for a patron is that they may not want books on the same topic, but with the same appeal factors. For example, if they read The Perfect Storm, they may not want another book about disasters at sea. They may want a book about overcoming challenges for instance. The example they use in the article for a book to recommend in this case would be Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage.
  • What are some traits of narrative nonfiction? "Narrative nonfiction must have: Documentable Subject Matter, Exhaustive Research, the Scene, and Fine Writing. Two additional characteristics are Style, which includes Fine Writing and Theme" (29). These are fully defined in the article.
  • What are some of the common themes: "Common themes include examinations and revelations about our society today, lessons from the events of the past, showing how an event or item impacted history or society, or illustrating how people overcame challenges or succeeded in huge undertakings" (29).
  • On promoting nonfiction: "Booklists and bookmarks are effective ways to increase circulation of titles. Displays are also popular and the opportunities for nonfiction displays are many; seasonal themes, local exhibit and event tie-ins, and staff recommendations tend to be popular" (31). We here at a disadvantage, since we remove book covers, so that makes use of books (hardcovers at least) for displays more difficult. That our book funding is next to abysmal does not make it easy either since it means we won't have current titles that would be appealing. And e-books do not count; you can't display those for one, and contrary to what many gurus in favor say, a lot of students still prefer a print book. But one goes on with the resources one is given.
  • The article also features a list of websites for further resources and information on nonfiction RA, a nice element in the article adding to the usefulness.
Additional note: Here's my note on a nonfiction RA book I read, and another post on nonfiction RA resources I did a while back. For the second post, since ALA has changed their website (and apparently redirecting is not within their scheme), I have to find where they put the list I had linked to before. I will add an update if and when I find it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Article Note: On dealing with those not so well made library assignments

Citation for the article:

McHale, Nina, "Eradicating the Rogue Assignment: Intervention and Prevention." C&RL News 69.5 (May 2008): 254-257.

Read via WilsonWeb.

This little article may be useful for librarians in academia who have to deal with the occasional less than well made library assignment sent by some professor who, while well intentioned, likely did not do the assignment himself or check with the library prior to sending his horde of students to the library. Now, if some reader out there wants to call me on my less than charitable view of some professors, I will say that I was a teacher and an adjunct professor at one point. Also I took a lot of time to prep for my classes, and I always did check my assignments before handing them to students. Therefore, I have little sympathy for professors who display poor class preparation and planning with scavenger hunts that the students see as busywork. Now that we got that out of the way, I will say the article is a little bit too optimistic in assuming most professors will be responsive when a bad assignment is pointed out by the librarians. The reality is that often the professors are unresponsive. In fact, I can attest to that since this week we were bombarded with a science assignment from some adjunct who did not make his guidelines clear enough. The students were in a panic, and teacher was nowhere to be found. It took a phone call to his department head before we got some action. In that case, the tips offered in this article probably would not have gotten us very far. I would like to think that situations like that one are rare, but I have been in education long enough to know better. Again, having said that too, I think the article is still worth looking over. Better yet, this is one article that students in library school planning to go into academic librarianship need to read.

As I often do, here are some brief notes from the article:

  • McHale defines these not so good assignment as "rogue assignments." We all know what they are, and you don't have to be an academic librarian. Odds are good public librarians see some of these from public school teachers too. Anyhow, here is the actual definition:
“A rogue library assignment is a faculty-created, library-related assignment that, having been developed with the best possible intentions, is in some ways out of sync with a library’s resources or does not provide students with a thorough introduction to them. Rogue assignments can be recycled from a different time and place, referencing research tools that were discontinued years ago, or worse, were never in the library to begin with" (254).

  • Now I am not as charitable as Hale when it comes to teachers who make poor assignments. Maybe it is because I am a trained teacher, and one of the things they drilled into me was preparation and having a good lesson plan. Also, as a veteran of National Writing Project, it was also drilled into me not to give an assignment that I could not do myself. Therefore, I have a low tolerance for professors who do not take the time to check with the library to see if we have the resources for their assignment. All it takes is a phone call or a short visit. I am all for customer service, but I am not for shoddy teaching.
  • McHale advocates for us librarians to be proactive in dealing with the rogue assignments. That is something I certainly agree with, and it something I have done in terms of calling up professors or meeting with them. You do this after you help the student. At the end, it is the student who is right there in front of you who should take priority. McHale gives three basic steps to being proactive:
"To take a proactive approach to a rogue assignment, first and foremost, help the student. Second, report the assignment to other library staff that will be affected by it, and third, contact the instructor to correct the problem" (254).

  • Those are steps I am sure most librarians in academic settings already do (or I would like to think they do). Helping the student first is just common sense and part of my philosophy of being an academic librarian. It's advice like that which prompts me to say this is a good article for library school students.
  • And here is the remark from the article that caused me to say that this article is a bit too optimistic:
"Faculty will almost always be delighted that library staff are willing to take on teaching a session of their class" (255).
  • Nope, that is not happening. I would give 50-50 odds on that, and that would be generous. Faculty are notorious for being very territorial. And the library literature is full of instruction librarians who write about how much they have to fight to gain inroads when it comes to promoting information literacy and integrating it into the curriculum due to faculty resistance. So I am a bit skeptic in that regard.
There are two pieces of advice which I think are important and should be kept in mind:
  1. "Market librarians as assignment consultants and co-teachers, identify 'offending' groups of instructors, and provide sample assignments for instructors to use" (256). Librarians are an integral part of the educational mission of a university or college. We are trained masters of information science, and we are experts in research and finding resources. Very often, we are also trained educators. I don't think we tell this story enough, and we need to do so. Also creating sample assignments can serve to build goodwill as well as promote the services we can provide.
  2. "Reach out to adjuncts: What orientation activities are offered to them each semester? When and where do they meet? How do they communicate? Make yourself or a member of your teaching staff a permanent part of these activities" (256). This is something I can confirm. In my previous job, a lot of my work involved working with adjunct faculty. I took the time to get to know those adjuncts, and eventually worked my way up the chain so I could be involved in part of their orientation when new semesters started. I think adjuncts are often an overlooked segment when it comes to library services, and yet, they do so much on a campus. What I have learned is they can be good advocates for the library once you become friends, and they do network with each other, which means, if you provide good service, they will tell the others. So, do strive to create services for adjuncts as well as for the tenure line faculty.
Overall, the piece contains some good advice, but I think a lot of it are things that practicing librarians know already (or they learned the hard way in the field). However, for library school students, this would be a good piece for a class in academic librarianship. I am not sure doing everything the article presents will eradicate the rogue assignments, but it should help in lowering the number of rogues and do so with some tact and diplomacy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Article Note: On undergrads and library privacy issues

Citation for the article:

Johns, Steven and Karen Lawson, "University undergraduate students and library-related privacy issues." Library and Information Science Research 27 (2005): 485-495.

Read via ScienceDirect.

I have been reading about privacy and libraries recently; at least, it feels that way. This short piece provides an overview of things to consider in terms of protecting students' privacy in the academic library setting. For librarians, this can be challenging because students don't always think about their privacy issues and rights when it comes to the library. The article is a report on a survey conducted at Iowa State University between 2003 and 2004. The survey sought to learn how university students see issues and concerns about online privacy. The survey drew on students enrolled in a library orientation for-credit course. Some notes from the article:

  • Why a study like this may be significant? "There is little available literature about undergraduate students' knowledge and perceptions of online privacy issues, their opinions regarding who should collect and retain information about them, for what purposes, and under what circumstances" (488).
  • A quick finding: "having a good grasp of computer skills did not correspond to having detailed knowledge about privacy-related information" (490). This is not really surprising. Just because they can use a computer does not mean they know how to protect their online privacy. It does not mean they are information literate either in spite of assumptions some people may make.
  • I found it interesting that the authors in the study considered the use and distribution of their campuses "Computer Code of Ethics." They mention that "it is not widely distributed to incoming students in any way" (490). I have been trying to find out here if there is some form or degree of distribution to the students of our computer ethics document, but the answers have not been forthcoming. This is certainly a concern since it is an important document that students, and people on campus using our computers, should be at least aware of. There is a Student IT Policy posted online in the university website. However it is buried somewhere in the Student Affairs VP part of the campus website and not readily evident. Only reason I found it is because the library links to it, but I do have to note we link to it from a policies' page which is under the section about the library. The library also has its own Computer Use Policy. In other words, you have to dig a bit. However, my real question is if students get to see this in print or some other way. When they get their log-in information for the first time, do they get a copy of it? I know in other campuses I have been in, that was the case. Just wondering since we do expect our students to know the policies, how accessible or widespread are the policies? By the way, the university does have a privacy statement regarding its website and information gathered on it. The link is at the bottom of the main page, in small print. So, it does exist, even if not easy to see.
  • It seems that the students at Iowa State do place some value on their online privacy: "ISU students do no view enhancing the Library's collection and services as sufficient cause for using private information about them" (493). This is just one of the findings of the study. However, they may value their privacy, but they are not well informed. The authors write, "ISU students overwhelmingly value their online privacy and feel issues involving online privacy are important. ISU students are not well informed, however, about those issues or about the legislation and university regulations that might affect those issues" (494). And I get the feeling a lot of our students here are not that well informed about such issues either.
  • What libraries need to do: "Libraries need a clearly defined policy for data collection, accompanied by information readily accessible to library users on how they can obtain, confirm, and challenge data that are collected about them. Users should also have the right to opt out of being included in data collection" (494). See my link above for the university's privacy statement. Our library, from what I can ascertain, does not have such a privacy statement for the library itself.
  • In addition, "what is important is that privacy-related information maintained by the university or the library be readily accessible and proactively distributed to students" (494). Sure, having the information linked on the website makes it available and accessible. However, it is not too proactive in making it available if the links are small and not prominent. That's just enough for the administration to say, "yes, we make it available" in order to be covered.
The article's list of reference does provide a couple of works on information technology and ethics that may be of interest. I may end up looking one or two up myself at some point.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Article Note: Overview of Academic Freedom and Academic Librarians

Citation for the article:

Danner, Richard A. and Barbara Bintliff, "Academic Freedom Issues for Academic Librarian." Legal Reference Services Quarterly 25.4 (2006): 13-35.

Read via Interlibrary Loan request. However, it turns out that it is available online from Duke's Law Faculty Scholarship Repository. Article link here.

This article provides a pretty good overview of academic freedom and how it applies to academic librarians. I will say that it does have a bit of an embellished view of tenure in academia (i.e. the article is very favorable, probably reflective of the fact the authors are tenured folks). Otherwise, the article does raise some very good points, and I think it should be read by academic librarians everywhere, regardless of whether they themselves have tenure or not. Personally, when it comes to academic freedom, I kind of walk a thin line. For starters, I am not tenured or find myself on a tenure line. I am considered professional staff. And as I am constantly reminded, I "serve at the pleasure of the president." In theory, I have some freedom of expression, but academic freedom per se is not defined for folks like me. Faculty here have it clearly defined in Chapter 3 of the university's Handbook of Operating Procedures. There is no similar definition for staff, let alone librarians, even though, in the case of librarians, we certainly teach and serve the educational mission of the university. The closest would be the mention of freedom of expression in university's Manual of Policies and Procedures for Student Affairs, where, in Chapter 6 there is a mention of the staff along with the students and faculty.

Like many libraries and librarians, we usually worry more about intellectual freedom in our collection development policies. In our particular case, we simply say the following:

"The Library promotes intellectual freedom, cultural diversity, and avoids any form of censorship in accordance with the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights:" (from our Collection Development Policy).

Danner and Bintliff address some of this in their article. They write that "in librarianship, statements on intellectual freedom often focus more exclusively on rights of access to information than freedom of expression" (20). They argue that regardless of your status as a librarian, you still should be aware of the definitions that apply to the faculty and how those definitions have an impact on their work. Now why did I bother to look at my campus and my condition? Because as I was reading the article, I found myself wondering where do I fit in? And the answer is that I am barely hanging by a thread so to speak. There is nothing in writing as far as I can ascertain that guarantees me academic freedom (at least as defined by the AAUP, which is the definition that Danner and Bintliff draw upon). Now, some would argue that I would have no need for academic freedom since I do not do research, and I do not teach classes for credit. However, I do a pretty good amount of teaching as do my colleagues. Anyhow, the more I think about, the less comfortable I feel. And given that Tyler is pretty much a small town (in what is often labeled the most conservative part of Texas; even the rest of Texas complains about East Texas in that regard), with all the idiosyncrasies and prejudices small towns usually have, I have to pretty much watch what I say. I might not displease the president, but if I displease someone who knows someone, my boss will eventually hear about it. This is Texas: land of at will employment. I think readers get the idea. Now, when I am blogging I don't care too much. This is certainly not connected to my employment, but at work, yes, I do watch my back. This article kind of made me a bit more aware of that, and I think it might make some librarians (especially those not tenured) a bit more aware as well.

Danner and Brintliff provide the necessary definitions for concepts like academic freedom and freedom of speech. Do note that while those two concepts are related, they are not the same thing. The first is a privilege granted by your campus. Contrary to what many may think, it is not granted automatically. Plus, if you work for a private or religiously affiliated campus, the rules can vary as well. The second is your constitutional right. The authors then move on to show how academic freedom applies to various situations. This is what makes the article useful as you can see it is more than just tenure. Some issues to consider:

  • What happens when there are attacks on academic freedom on campus? For example, when an organization like Students for Academic Freedom shows up on your campus (or state legislature) pushing their "Academic Bill of Rights," which in theory sounds very good, but in reality it is a tool to suppress academic freedom.
  • Issues of privacy and confidentiality. This should be a given for librarians, but many libraries still lack documents with policies for patron privacy and confidentiality of their records. The authors write, "confidentiality of library records is a matter of concern to academic freedom, as well as to intellectual freedom" (23). This is not just about the PATRIOT Act and the men in dark glasses with badges. This can be of concern for something as simple as creating social spaces or applications on a library's website that could draw on patron records to do something like recommend new books of interest to a patron based on what they may have checked out before.
  • Impacts on research such as when foreign scholars are denied entry to the United States to work and do research.
  • The corporatization of academia.
This is one of those articles that every academic librarian should look at. I will even go so far as saying that it should be read by library school students, especially those who want to go work in academic libraries. One of the flaws of library schools is that they do not make all of the possible requirements and expectations of academia clear to students who may end up working on campus. The only reason I knew of academia is because I had prior experience, which served me well in library school and in the workplace. So, if you are interested in issues of academic freedom, and you are a librarian, read this article. It does not matter if you are tenured or not; read it. And by the way, given that we just celebrated Banned Books Week, reading this was very timely for me.

P.S. By the way, as I was reading this, I was also reminded of a piece from Inside Higher Ed entitled "Tolerant Faculty, Intolerant Students." Groups like Students for Academic Freedom often wish to portray faculty as intolerant and as indoctrinating. Well, according to a survey done by the University of Georgia System, "the results suggest that there may well be a problem with lack of tolerance of political views of others. But according to students (the supposed victims of intolerant professors, according to those who say there is no intellectual diversity), the problem isn’t professors, but fellow students." In other words, it could be that the professors may have to worry more about having intolerant students in their classes. A bit more food for thought, and another reason to show why academic freedom remains important.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Article Note: On discontinued reference chat services

Citation for the article:

Radford, Marie L. and M. Kathleen Kern, "A Multiple-case Study Investigation of the Discontinuation of Nine Chat Reference Services." Library and Information Science Research 28 (2006): 521-547

Read via ScienceDirect.

I read this article with some interest. My library is currently working on joining the system's consortial reference chat. This has met with lukewarm results from the reference staff, but it is part of the director's vision, so my task, as head of reference, is to make it happen. Part of the reason I am personally skeptical is because I have personal experience using online chat for reference; I did so in library school at Indiana University. Issues such as the low volume were pretty common at the time; in addition, Docutek, the software choice at the time, was not exactly the most reliable software. At any rate, this is some of the background I bring to this article. By the way, I highly recommend this article for any library who may be considering starting a chat reference service.

Some notes from the article then:

  • The article is based on a study of nine institutions (five academic, one public, and three consortia).
  • Why you should read this article: "The results of this exploratory study will be of value to library managers needing to make informed decisions about starting new chat reference services or judging the viability of existing ones" (522).
  • The literature review points out that, while there are plenty of articles discussing successful programs, articles like this one which look at services that were discontinued are rare. The authors make the following observation about a lot of those success articles: "however, authors writing about their chat services seem to define success post-facto after the collection of data rather than measured against any predetermined objectives" (523).
  • A major reason for discontinuations was very basic. It was low volume. To be honest, I could have told a few people this for free, so to speak. The authors cite S. Weismann who observes, "burnout is nothing compared to boredom. Reference librarians want to be engaged, busy" (qtd. in 523). Further into the article, the authors add that "these findings highlight the importance of maintaining enough volume for staff to stay primed and interested. Sufficient volume is critical to staff satisfaction" (531). The bottom line is a chat service will not work or last if it is not used. After a while, librarians will simply move on and put their efforts in things that actually yield results or at least keep them engaged. It may not be the most PC way of saying it, but that is just a bit of common sense. Overall, in spite of other reasons for discontinuation presented, overall the article makes pretty clear low volume is a big issue.
  • Additionally, this may be worthy of a note: "extensive marketing efforts were undertaken by services that had low volume" (528). In other words, and this is something that administrators may need to hear more often, just because you publicize, it does not always follow you will have a rush to a particular service. Building the brand does take time, but marketing is not the cure-all.
  • What were the reasons for discontinuation overall? According to the authors, "there were six major reasons for discontinuation: funding problems, low volume, low volume from target population, staffing problems, technical problems, and institutional culture issues" (527).
  • More assessment needs to be done: "Cross-case analysis revealed that there was little or no evaluation of impact on users when the services were discontinued" (530).
  • Also, things may work better if you recruit volunteers rather than imposing it on all the reference staff: "Some cases reported that it may be better to recruit volunteers, rather than forcing all reference librarians to participate, as this may result in less technology proficient librarians feeling pressured and 'hating' the service" (531). This seems to me like common sense. It becomes problematic in smaller settings, like mine, where you may not have enough staff or staff time as a whole. In other words, everyone pretty much has to pitch in to make it work or else. In my case, I would love to have certain librarians not work the reference desk, but in reality, we need every warm body we can get. Same principle would apply to virtual reference here.
  • Another important idea to note: "there may be a conflict or disconnect between what librarians and users want from the software that additional evaluation could investigate" (532). I think we can go further and say that there is often a disconnect between what the patrons may want and/or are willing to use and what the librarians think those patrons want.
The article makes a series of recommendations based on the findings at the end. The list is definitely a "must read." I do disagree with their 2 year window of opportunity. The average time that the services profiled in the article had for the service was about 19 months. I think given the realities of libraries, a little more than a year and a half is more than enough time for the service to either catch on, or just cut the loses and move to something else. A lot of things can happen in two years from funding cuts to staff turnover that could make a VR service vulnerable if it has not caught in within a a year and a half or so. Just my humble opinion. Additionally, the authors pose further questions for research, and they do include the basic profiles of the nine institutions studied without identifiers, which does make me wonder a bit because I think there would be value in seeing who actually chose to shut down their service. Also, do keep in mind this article came out in 2006, which means a lot of the work happened before 2006. In a virtual, 2.0 kind of world, that is quite a bit of time. However, that does not take away from the overall value of the article. It is still very applicable today.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Article Note: On BI in a small campus

Citation for the article:

Brothers, Mark and Dianne Richardson, "Bibliographic Instruction: A Cooperative Approach." The Southeastern Librarian 54.1 (Spring 2006): 12-19.

Read via WilsonWeb.

This is probably the best LIS article I have read in terms of a practical article for instruction librarians as well as simply librarians who have instruction duties in a small campus. As someone who taught for a while in a small campus, though not as small as University of West Alabama (the authors' place of work), I certainly found a lot of validation for some of the techniques I tried during my time back then. And I will admit that I do miss those days for a number of reasons, some which are described in the article. But the best thing this article does is provide reassurance to other librarians in small campuses that they are not alone and that they too can make the best of their conditions in order to serve their students first. If you work in a small campus, and you have an active teaching role, then you should be reading this article. As the authors point out, and I can certainly attest to it given the many articles I read, a lot of the literature concentrates on the big campuses. We need more articles like this.

So, some notes from the piece I found interesting or useful:

  • Regarding the authors' campus: "The traditional strength of the university lies in teaching, and the motto 'the student comes first" captures the spirit of the school" (12). From my experience, small campuses usually have a teaching mission, and the good ones take pride in that fact and thrive based on that. It's when they start having delusions of grandeur that they will somehow become research centers when troubles start. If teaching is your strength, embrace it.
  • The authors were fortunate indeed in that their library constructed a nice instructional lab for them. Not many small places can make the same claim. And yet having a facility for on-hands library instruction is such an important element of providing training in research skills and information literacy. That in some cases administrators are too short sighted to see this basic fact and neglect their libraries is simply sad.
  • "However, based upon evaluations conducted with the faculty and students, human-powered library instruction when carried out according to sound principles of teaching appeared to be the most appropriate to the goals of a small, student-centered college like UWA" (13). This makes sense. It probably would make sense here as well, but I am facing (or my instruction librarian is) a major push for online tutorials which are seen as desirable and chic. While tutorials can have a place in a solid instructional program, they cannot take the place of the human element.
  • "When asked, 'What aspect of our library instruction did you find most beneficial?' most people responded that having a knowledgeable librarian with good communication skills who cares about students and walks them through searches was most beneficial" (13). I think this statement speaks volumes. That was certainly my role at my previous job, and one of the great rewards of that work was precisely working with students closely. It took time to build that reputation and get students to see that there was a librarian or two that cared about the students and would be happy to work with them anytime, anywhere, on almost anything. Again, this is validation for the need to nurture the human element, and it definitely fits with my own philosophy of librarianship.
The authors provide suggestions for other librarians in similar settings. The list of ideas is very good, and it should be considered by other librarians in similar settings. They also advocate for collaborating with faculty, especially in education, as needed. That the librarian author had teaching experience clearly helped, and I find myself relating to that since I came to librarianship with teaching experience as well. Also important is to take time to know people on campus in other units. One statement from the suggestions stuck with me, maybe because it is something I do not have any more due to my change in duties:
  • "Many students like a traditional classroom setting as opposed to the anonymity of a web tutorial or a workbook. They appreciate the opportunity to meet a friendly librarian and feel comfortable asking for further help. The chance to build rapport with a librarian proved to be the greatest benefit of UWA's library instruction program. You will want to get to know students so they will feel more comfortable approaching you later!" (14).
It is very rewarding when you get to that point. And the students will thank you for it, but more importantly, they will come to see you as their librarian, as a resource and part of the elements that will make their educational experience a success. Herein lies the strength of a good small campus library: in the personal experience combined with knowledge and caring.