Friday, March 28, 2008

Article Note: On Library Web Pages for Faculty

Citation for the article:

Gardner, Susan J., John Eric Juricek, and F. Grace Xu. "An Analysis of Academic Library Web Pages for Faculty." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 34.1 (January 2008): 16-24.

Read via ScienceDirect.

This article gave me a couple of things to think about as we move on with our website redesign, the unveiling of which is coming up this summer. Anyhow, some of the items missing on the sampling are things that I think we should consider as we make our own progress. Keep in mind this article is mostly geared to large, research institutions. This is reflected in their sample.

The article reports on a study of web pages from libraries dedicated to faculty. The study also looked at what technologies, if any, the pages integrated (podcasts, blogs, etc.), and where these pages were listed in relation to the main library page. For that last one, in other words, were you able to find the page right away or did you have to click a level or two from the main page to find it? For purposes of the study, "faculty in this case was defined as the traditional nonlibrarian, 'teaching' faculty of the university" (17). The sample was based on 69 academic libraries. The article does provide various full tables listing the libraries as well as features from the survey.

So, what did they find? Here are some highlights, with any comments I may have:

  • Of the initial 69, 54 actually had pages dedicated to faculty.
  • The authors devised various checklists for their study. For content, the three most common categories were items related to lending services (i.e. things like ILL), teaching support, and research support. The least common? collection development, current awareness issues, and acquisitions (20).
  • Size does not matter (it's what you do with what you got). "One might assume that larger libraries would have more developed Web pages for faculty, but we found no statistical connection between the size of a collection and the content or features of Web pages for faculty or whether they even had a dedicated Web page for faculty" (22).
  • The authors found the lack of linking to things like new acquisitions surprising. ". . .but it is somewhat surprising that information about new acquisitions, special collections, and archives did not receive more emphasis since academic libraries devote considerable resources to building and maintaining their collections" (22). In other words, you'd think that with all the money some places are plunking in for collections and archival resources they would be promoting them better. Here, as part of our web redesign, our archivist is making sure her department's presence is known and accessible on the website.
  • A transparency issue: not enough explanation about how collections are developed. Having said that, I am not too keen on the idea of posting the library's collection development budget for all faculty to see. Maybe I am not as optimistic. But certainly how items are chosen and the policies should be more visible.
  • How the library has a role in scholarly communication received very little attention on the sampling of library websites. Why is this important? The authors state that "this limited participation diminishes the visibility of the library as a partner who makes a contribution to the teaching and research mission of the university" (22).
The authors also identified some "cool" things. I am just going to pick out a few (see page 23):
  • A welcome message from the library dean "emphasizing the role and importance of the library." (Notice that it is "dean," which usually means the person has a doctorate. However, a director's welcome would work as well).
  • a section to explain librarians and their professional culture: you know, our credentials and tenure process (no, this is not applicable if you do not have tenure for your librarians).
  • guides to integrating library resources into the campus course management system (CMS).
  • information about faculty publications.
  • guides to good library assignments. Actually, when I was reworking some of the instruction space on the web page of my previous workplace, that was a feature I wanted to include. I even had a list of some sample websites I was using as good practices examples. Oh well. Maybe my instruction librarian here will get a moment of inspiration and put something like that on our pages.
  • library seminars on topics like Google searching, the libraries' databases and online resources, e-reserves, and other topics.
  • By the way, the authors identify Johns Hopkins U. (list of their libraries here. Not exactly intuitive to find the faculty stuff. I am guessing they looked at the Sheridan Libraries page? Still takes a bit of work. Finally, click on the left menu bar under "Info for" and there is the faculty page. Takes some digging, so that is a best practice? That was about three or four jumps before I found it.) and UT-Austin (slightly better. One level down under "Resources for you," which does sound like a more friendly term. Their faculty stuff is here.) as the two best models of practice.
Finally, the authors suggest following up their research now with a comparative analysis of the same sites in five years for an update. Sounds nice. However, what I would want to know is how libraries of my size and scale (i.e. my peers) actually compare in this kind of study. For me, that could be more useful, but I did learn some things from this study.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Article Note: On nature and future of academic libraries

Citation for the article:

Gayton, Jeffrey T., "Academic Libraries: 'Social' or 'Communal?' The Nature and Future of Academic Libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 34.1 (January 2008): 60-66.

Read via ScienceDirect.

This short article should give some food for thought to those zealous enthusiasts who want to turn academic libraries into social rec centers without a second thought. The key to the article is the author's distinction between communal and social spaces. While patrons do value the fact you can get a lot of resources online without coming to the library, Gayton suggests that they also value the library for providing a place where serious study, which is a communal activity. Unfortunately, in their rush to "modernize," or become more "relevant," planners are leaving the communal element behind. That's the line of thinking in a nutshell. For me, this makes sense. When I was out in the job market, one of the places I was interviewing at asked me a question along the lines of what were my thoughts on all the L2 trend. As I recall, I said something along the lines of you have to use the parts that meet your needs, and you have to give it some thought. You can't just implement stuff to make yourself look cool. The fellow who asked the question actually felt the same, concerned that it seemed a lot of the experts online seemed to simply be rushing instead of thinking before implementing. I would have liked to have this article handy back then, as it would have added to that discussion.

Some highlights:

  • "The problem is that the social model undermines something that is highly valued in academic libraries: the communal nature of quiet, serious study. Communal activity in academic libraries is a solitary activity: it is studious, contemplative, and quiet. Social activity is a group activity: it is sometimes studious, not always contemplative, and certainly not quiet" (60). This is always one of the questions I will ask in any library planning: where are the spaces for those people who actually want to study quietly. My concern is how often and how willing some places are willing to disregard the quiet space in pursuit of their social library (or commons).
  • And the thing is, all this social rush might not be even adding the value the planners expect: "Rather, the problem is that these services and facilities are being promoted without sufficient regard to the ways in which social activities undermine communal activities. In addition, it is not clear that social activities add value to academic libraries, either in terms of the broader goal of supporting the research mission of universities or the narrower goal of increasing library use" (61). To support this, Gayton draws on the work of Sam Demas and Emily Ranseen and some others (see note below).
  • "The trick for academic libraries is to create inviting communal spaces for study and research without falling into the trap of making the library a social gathering place" (62). Of course, to many L2 people, that is not a trap at all; it is the main goal. And the thing is that all this says is that there should be some balance.
  • "In a small study of users of the Leavey Library at the University of California, Susan Gardner and Susanna Eng found that 80.6 percent of users visit the library because they wanted to study alone. They also report that study facilities received the second lowest service rating in the survey" (qtd. in 62). I actually read that article (see my note here).
  • Now, for those who may be a bit too enthusiastic when it comes to social spaces and are about to protest: "There is nothing inherently wrong with bringing new functions and services, even social functions and services, into the academic library. But it is vital that the new be reconciled with the old; that new functions serve the needs of academic library users and that new services do not detract from existing, and valued ones" (64).
  • And a reminder: "Intellectual conversation with library resources and conversation in the library are not necessarily the same thing" (64).

Note: Citations in format as provided in article.

Sam Demas, "From the Ashes of Alexandria: What's Happening in the College Library?," Library as Place: Rethinking Roles, Rethinking Space , Council on Library and Information Sources, Washington, DC, 2005.

Emily Ranseen, "The Library as Place: Changing Perspectives," Library Administration and Management 16 (2002, Fall).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Article Note: On Libraries and a Future without Petroleum

Citation for the article:

Hecker, Thomas E. "The Post-Petroleum Future of Academic Libraries." Journal of Scholarly Publishing 38.4 (July 2007): 183-199.

Read via Project Muse.

This article seemed a bit of a departure in terms of the types of article one would expect in the LIS field. The reason I say that is because this article is basically a speculative piece that at times is more reminiscent of something like A Canticle for Leibowitz than an actual scholarly article. However, the author does provide some serious scholarship, and it was overall an interesting read.

The article speculates on the future of academic libraries in the context of a world where petroleum is scarce and/or gone. The author goes on to suggest that based on the fact that our information infrastructure does require energy, when that energy becomes depleted, the infrastructure will collapse. So in brief, there goes your nice digital academic library. It will be pretty much useless. Hecker writes, "that our electronic utopia is founded on limited and unreliable energy supplies is little appreciated in the profession. Future libraries will likely be much simpler technologically and much more local in scope" (183-184). Given that gasoline prices continue their rise, somehow this seems a bit ominous. Sure, Hecker's vision is not about to happen anytime soon, but the fact that it can happen sure makes one think. By the way, when I read that statement, I wrote on the margin that the statement assumes librarians still exist. Given the constant cuts and library closures, often due to short sighted attempts at savings, I did wonder if we would have libraries at all. Hecker is a bit more optimistic.

Hecker goes on to review the literature of peak oil and oil depletion. One of the documents he draws upon is the Hirsch Report (note PDF, about 91 pages. If you don't want to read it, Hecker seems to give a pretty good sense of the report). He reviews how the oil depletion will lead to various environmental and social changes. This is not new. There are a few books out there on the topic, some of which Hecker includes in his sources.

Some highlights from the article:

  • The big picture: "Without cheap and plentiful supplies of oil, ground, air, and water transport; agricultural production; chemicals used in myriad products from fertilizers to plastics to clothing to paints to cleaners; pharmaceuticals; construction; and much of our physical infrastructure would be sharply curtailed or would cease to exist. Electronic components for computers and other devices would no longer be manufactured. Information technology and our taken-for-granted electronic infrastructure would collapse and disappear" (184-185). It does not get any more extreme than that.
  • And if you think those alternative energy sources are going to save the day: "But the energy deficit caused by the worldwide depletion of oil and natural gas cannot be surmounted by coal, nuclear, and the soft alternatives people clutch at as their saving straws" (187). Hecker, in a brief section of his paper, goes over the soft alternatives such as ethanol and hydrogen cells to show why they will not work. He is drawing on sources such as Beriault's Peak Oil and the Fate of Humanity as well as some other sources like an article in Scientific American for this section. Overall, I think an interested reader would be able to read most of the sources from Hecker's article with ease as they are accessible.
  • Something to ponder: "At one time, the progressive betterment of the character of individual human beings was considered the worthiest goal, but now the betterment of industrial products and technological gadgets is the fashion. Although a comfortable measure of material wealth is necessary for human welfare, and although technological progress has made amazing and disruptive changes possible, economic growth and technical tools should be means, not ends in themselves" (189-190).
So, where does academia come into all this? Read on.

  • Based on the above, the author observes that we have an economy that is more geared to little niches. He uses Catton's image of a detritus ecosystem. In brief, this is the type of ecosystem where, for example, algae in a pond initially flourish only to die off as soon as the algae depletes the pond's nutrients and resources. Catton sees the current industrial society like the algae in that pond.
Allow me a brief digression, but this reminded me of the lines from Agent Smith from the film The Matrix:

"I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure."

OK, maybe not so much the part of Agent Smith trying to eliminate humanity, but the part of moving into ecosystems and consistently depleting them without any thought. Some may have to admit, the guy does have a point. So, back to academia then, this is where higher education fits in.

  • "Higher education is currently geared to producing graduates to fill niches in our detritus-dependent industrial ecosystem, but when oil depletion causes this unsustainable and artificially complex system to collapse and simplify, many, if not, most occupational niches will cease to exist" (191). In plain English, if you don't have some practical skills, you will likely not get very far in that future.
  • Hecker cites James Howard Kunstler's book The Long Emergency. Kunstler "suggests that, for a time, higher education may cease to exist completely and that, if it does recover, it may then be at the service of a small elite" (qtd. in 191).
  • And here is more: "Our university system, as presently constituted, may soon be irrelevant--or, at least, significantly less relevant as social complexity winds down to simplicity and the plethora of occupational niches contracts to a handful" (192).
We finally get to the libraries.

  • "Libraries that resisted the temptation to throw away or incinerate their paper resources and microforms in favor of the deceptive promise of digital resources will be filled with the intellectual and artistic treasures of ages of human striving, worth every effort to maintain and preserve" (193). I don't think this is something certain segments of the library profession or higher education, who are embracing everything and anything electronic, want to hear.
  • "Since few fresh publications will appear, and since digitized resources will disappear, the future emphasis on library management may be on the conservation of physical resources. . ." (193).
  • "With petroleum-powered land and air transportation curtailed or eliminated, academic libraries may become localized archives of precious resources, serving only those in a circumscribed area of counties or perhaps an entire state or region, for those who can make a longer and more arduous journey" (193). I could make a couple of snarky cracks here, but I will refrain. In essence, this would be a form of monasticism.
  • As for librarians, we are looking at "informed generalists who understand and can interpret the texts they protect--this along with the ability to grow their own food and to clothe and shelter themselves" (194). And yes, you better hone your skills in defense and arms too. When they say the librarians will have to protect the library, it may be quite literally. Hecker is drawing on Roberto Vacca's book The Coming Dark Age to illustrate this point.
  • "Academic libraries may indeed survive and form the core of Vacca's envisioned monastic communities, with librarians evolving into the secular monastic order that protects and interprets the collection" (195).
  • As for the graduate students, they "could become the monastic novitiates who would be gradually initiated into the recondite contents of the collection" (195).
  • If you do collection development, there is still some work: "Collection development may remain an extremely important activity, but efforts will be put into determining which texts to maintain and reproduce and which to abandon to decay" (196). Some things will not change as it seems librarians will be using their professional judgment to determine what goes or not into their collections.
  • Oh, and for those of us who do instruction, there will still be some BI: "Bibliographic instruction may still take place, and specialties may still be cultivated, as suitable apprentices are taught how to interpret the collection so they may carry tradition and heritage forward" (196). I always knew this type of work would have some degree of job security.
Anyhow, the article makes for an interesting piece of reading. A bit different than what you usually find in the LIS literature, but still worth a look.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Article Note: On blogs in LIS courses as reflective tools

Citation for the article:

Hall, Hazel and Brian Davison. "Social Software as Support in Hybrid Learning Environments: The Value of the Blog as a Tool for Reflective Learning and Peer Support." Library and Information Science Research 29 (2007): 163-187.

Read via ScienceDirect.

Over time, I have discovered the value of writing as a reflection tool. Very often I use writing in my journal or one of my blogs as a way to clarify my thinking. Thus, I often find interest in articles that look a blogging as a reflective learning tool. This is that kind of article.

The authors begin by looking at the literature. They look at the claims that students who blog improve their skills in writing and debating and that blogs can support learning communities in the classroom. However, they point out that there is little empirical work to substantially prove these claims. In other words, it seems most of the claims are based on anecdotal evidence. That is what the authors are trying to find. The context is an LIS class requirement where the students have to keep a blog with entries related to the class.

The authors then take a look at blogging and LIS. They point out that there has been interest in blogging for knowledge management (166), which is something that the corporate world has picked up on. The KM element is something that has intrigued me given the potential to use a blog as a way to preserve stories and institutional memory. From keeping track of reference answers and transactions to changes in policies to common questions, a blog can be a good KM tool. Then again, for some of those things, a wiki may be useful as well, though a blog may have the advantage of simplicity in set-up. Also, as seen in the blogosphere, many libraries use blogs to provide information to their communities. We do this with our library blog, which we just implemented in the past year. As most blogs, including mine, it is still a work in progress. Also, a good number of librarians use their blogs as information management tools as well, especially the ones that put out aggregates of news and developments in the profession.

Anyways, the authors move on to look at reflective learning and how blogs and journals contribute to that. From experience, I know my journal has allowed me to look at my thinking over time. Actually I have been rereading some of my older journals, and I find it fascinating how some of my thinking and ideas have evolved over time (that's another post). Citing an article by C. Park, the authors see the blog as a successor of learning journal. I can see that to an extent, but I still keep and use my written private journal. Overall, here is why learning journals are important:

"Traditional learning journals provide learners with a mechanism for documenting their own understanding and behavior as it develops. This activity captures qualitative information about the developmental process that might otherwise be lost, which the learner can use to compare past and current behavior" (167).

Goes along with what I said. Of course, an open blog does invite more scrutiny than a private journal. In fact, that was part of the value of a closed journal in a class, that the student would feel free to write and share more since only the instructor would read it. A blog throws that in the open, but it does add the element of a community looking in and participating through responses and dialogue. So, here is the possible benefits of the community interaction:

"Giving learners access to each to each others' work exposes them to a ranged of different perspectives on the same subject matter, thus providing additional opportunities to challenge their own understanding. Allowing learners opportunities to give one another comments and feedback further enhances the possibilities around a subject area; it opens the further possibility of peer learning and peer support" (168).

Though the article looks at an LIS class, this is certainly applicable to any class that can benefit from writing and reflection as part of the learning process.

The authors looked at a total of 79 blogs written over 15 weeks. You can read the article to look at the specific assignment requirements. The authors used then content analysis to extract the data, focusing on the content of comments responding to entries; they used a coding system to determine types of responses (reflective, non-reflective, and content-free). The rationale for this is to focus on the interactive nature of the activity in order to judge reflectiveness.

Some highlights from the discussion of findings:

  • "It can be seen that the deployment of blogs in this particular module created a very supportive environment for communication among the students: the largest single category of first-level comments served no other purpose than to encourage other participants" (183).
  • "As far as reflective learning is concerned, this study has not generated evidence to match the levels of enthusiasm of previous publications which champion the value of blogs as mechanisms to boost levels of reflective learning" (184). However, the authors do point out their limitation to the comments rather than the blog posts. Yet, this lack of evidence for reflective element in the blogs could be interpreted by those who give this a casual look as a motive to question the idea of blog use in classrooms. What they did find was that a social/community element was present. I still think that blogging in the classroom setting has its value, as long as it is done in a thoughtful way and not because it is part of some 2.0 fad. Clearly the next study has to look at the blog content itself.
From their conclusion then:
  • "From the broader perspective of LIS education, this study has demonstrated that integrating blogging into the curriculum can be evaluated and found to have a beneficial impact on students' learning, most significantly by providing a supportive environment for learning through online discussion. LIS educators may draw on this to extend blogging in the classroom beyond the current dominant practice of demonstrating the phenomenon as novel software for the dissemination of information. They may incorporate it into the curricula as a tool for enhancing the learning capabilities of students" (185).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Economist on Spanish Book Market, and some thoughts

The article, dated January 17th, 2008 and entitled "Lost in Translation No More," had a couple of interesting things that caught my attention. I read literature in Spanish when I get a chance. In that regard, I mostly enjoy contemporary fiction, some classics, and a few miscellaneous things. Buying Spanish books when I was at the previous job was one of the highlights of my library career so far, and one that I sorely miss where I am at now. Anyhow, some of the highlights:

  • "The market for books in Spanish is thought to be the second-largest in the world. It is the biggest for books in translation, which account for about a fifth of the 120,000 Spanish titles published each year."
  • "And the enthusiasm at Guadalajara notwithstanding, the industry frets that readers are scarce or, sniffily, that they prefer self-help books to more elevated fiction." I have to make a remark here at the risk of coming off as a snob, but this is partially true. All one has to do is look at any Criticas catalog or the latest list on their website to see that a very large number of their selections falls in the dreaded (to some. Hey, if that's your reading taste go for it) self-help category. Now, I would not harp on Criticas if it were not for the fact that it is emerging as the place to go for librarians when it comes to guidance about Spanish book selections, especially since they pride themselves on reviewing the books in English, making it easier for librarians with no Spanish knowledge to make selections. In its defense, I will say the publication is more geared to public libraries, which have the type of demographic that would find self-help and similar more appealing. As an academic librarian, I did pick out some things out of Criticas (when they pick out literary selections, they do pick very good ones), but I knew to look into other sources as well. That I am a native Spanish speaker certainly helped; I could and often did just go directly to publisher websites for information and selections. All I am saying is that, to an extent, the article's observation is a valid one. Take it as it is presented. And by the way, this is not unique to Spanish books. English publishing I am sure decries the fall of Western Civilization every time the latest James Frey wannabe publishes yet another fake memoir.
  • "Novelists and poets in Latin America are often prominent public intellectuals. In Mexico writers can still benefit from generous tax breaks, stipends and government appointments. 'The idea is that culture generates the nation,' says Álvaro Enrigue, a novelist." Now there is an idea, that culture generates the nation. And one that is seriously lacking in this nation.
The article gives a nice little overview of the book publishing industry in Spanish with a little history, just enough to give you a context. And why would you want to read this? Well, maybe you should consider the fact that a very large segment of the U.S. population reads in Spanish and probably make a pretty good market for those books as well. There is a reason after all why more libraries are expanding their Spanish books collections.

Monday, March 17, 2008

boyd on why open access is the way of the future

I wrote this before I took my short break.

danah boyd, who blogs at Apophenia, explains why she is boycotting locked-down academic journals and provides a nice list of solutions to implement open access. This is a nice simple look at the issue, when compared to a few discussions in librarianship that tend to get too technical. Only issue for me with Ms. boyd's remarks: It's going to take a lot of will on the part of scholars to make it work. Until people find the guts to actually boycott the companies that exploit the free labor of scholars for profit and until scholars have the will to actually recognize open access publications, Ms. boyd's ideas may remain nothing but a dream. So, find some willpower and make it happen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What I've Been Up To

In terms of the blog here, I did shorten the tagline under the title. Trying a bit of a new look in that regard. I also went ahead and took the time to add labels to the posts here (tagging). It was not perfect, but every post has at least one label. From here on, I can simply label them better. Doing that did give me a bit of time to look over some of my past posts, and it has given me some things to think about and revisit. I might write about that here at some point.

I have read a few articles, and I even got another LIS book read, which I reviewed over in my GoodReads profile (you can see that profile via the widget on the sidebar). One of the things I often come across with a good number of LIS books, especially ones dealing with L2 stuff, is that I already knew most of the stuff from following the librarian blogosphere. I think any librarian who does at least a minimum of keeping up will feel about the same. I suppose you still need books for those folks who need to learn and discover what many of us already take for granted. Yet at times I wonder why publish such books which will likely start going out of date as soon as they are published. At any rate, often I do get at least an idea or two I want to explore or remember, so it is not a total loss. As long as I am learning something new or get a chance to think a bit, I am ok.

Even though we are on Spring Break, the library is still open. It is a chance for me to get some work done, catch up on some things. Not quite sure if I am totally ready, but it feels like time to get back. Anyhow, we should be back in business shortly.