Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Have a safe and happy holiday season 2009

I will be heading out to celebrate Christmas and the holiday season. This is a quick note to let my three readers know that blogging here will pretty much pause until next year. It is also a chance to wish all of you out there a merry and safe holiday season, whatever the holiday you choose to celebrate. Please, I beg of you folks, if you drink, do not drive. If you drive, please put the cellphone down and pay attention to the road. We do not need unnecessary tragedies this season or just a bad situation on the road. In fact, two days ago, we had an 8 car or so pile-up in South Broadway Avenue (the area I live in), and it was basically due to a combination of tailgating and impatience. Please, be careful out there. Have a good time. Peace to all.

In the meantime, I have done my traditional holiday posting. You can find my holiday posts over at The Itinerant Librarian. So go on, stop by, and be amused for a while.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Article Note: On a history of reference assessment

Citation for the article:

Logan, Firouzeh F., "A Brief History of Reference Assessment: No Easy Solutions." The Reference Librarian 50.3 (July 2009): 225-233.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

I am doing readings on assessment of reference services lately since our director wants me to look into the topic. A big reason for it is connection to accreditation, namely the accreditation agency wants stuff on assessment of services, so the hot potato eventually makes it to me. As I am doing all this reading and evaluation of what we do now, one of the questions in my mind is what exactly do we want to assess. I am still pondering that one. In the meantime, Logan's article was one of the items I read.

This article basically provides a historical look at assessment methods for reference. You get a sense of what has been tried over time, how the concept of assessment has changed and evolved, and a bit on pros and cons. If you want to get a sense of assessment methods out there that have been tried out, this is a good place to start.

Some notes:

  • "The dilemma is what to actually count and how to count it? Does a hash mark really reflect the reference transaction? And does a statistic adequately represent the quality and value of reference?" (225). This is one of the questions I am struggling with at the moment. We do have a basic hash mark tally sheet at the desk; we started keeping daily statistics this year after I did some advocating for it. I am aware the method is not perfect, but we needed something better than just doing a sampling one week during the school year, usually close to the end of the semester.
  • Logan discusses Samuel Green's 1876 piece in Library Journal where Green defines reference standards. Some of the things Green proposed are still with us today. I particularly like the line of "a librarian should be as unwilling to allow an inquirer to leave the library with his questions unanswered as a shop keeper is to have a customer go out of his store without making a purchase. . . ." (qtd. in 226). Basically this is a reminder to do our best and accept nothing less. And yet there are times when some staff do need to be reminded of something as simple as this. However, I would be wary of the comparison of a librarian to a shopkeeper. A library is not a retail establishment, no matter how often certain people wish to establish the image of libraries as businesses.
  • The article also discusses the work done in obtrusive and unobtrusive observations, such as the 55% rule and Weech and Goldhor's. From the later, "it was also recognized that patrons seemed to care less about the accuracy of the help they received than the friendliness and helpfulness of the librarian" (228). For me, that confirms my experience where we may not always have the answer (we may have to refer someone elsewhere; we may not have a particular material or item available in our library, so on), but as long as you take care of the patron with friendly and professional service, the patron will be satisfied (or at least appeased). This type of study marks a shift in reference assessment from accuracy of the service to patron satisfaction. Patron satisfaction seems to be the dominant form of assessment now. Even though Logan claims that by the decade of 2000, we have moved to outcomes for assessment, I think a lot of libraries are still more focused on the satisfaction aspect. The surveys (for the library as well as campus services) we have done here mostly deal with satisfaction of patrons. For instance, reliance on tools like LibQual+, which mostly measure perceptions and satisfaction. I think a lot of lip service is paid to the idea of evaluating outcomes, but a lot still goes back to patron satisfaction and perceptions.
  • "In the 2000s, a new vocabulary emerged. The emphasis in the literature was no longer on the numbers or even the quality of reference so much as it was on the role reference plays in instilling 'lifelong learning' skills and how reference contributes to 'information literacy'" (230). There is a move to the teaching or educational role of reference services. The question then becomes how do you measure that. Personally, this would be the kind of thing I would like to measure. Philosophically, I have always believed in the link between reference and instruction when it comes to helping our students.
  • Here is the catch on patron satisfaction surveying: "Although patron satisfaction is an essential component of successful reference service and assessing satisfaction is useful, it has historically been proven that patrons are not good evaluators of quality" (230). This is probably the same reason why one should take student end of year evaluations of classes and professors with a big grain of salt. A lot of variables can be involved in these kinds of surveys including mood of the patron at the time. Logan goes on, "many people want a reference librarian to alleviate or confirm their uncertainties. Satisfaction surveys can measure whether the service was quick and whether the librarian was courteous and professional, but they do not seem to be able to measure the accuracy of the answer or the quality of the sources offered" (230). Yes, I think it is important to measure if your librarian or staff member is courteous and professional. However, one still has to look at the quality and accuracy of that service as well. I wonder if we, as a profession, actually put any stock in quality and accuracy, or if it is just all about satisfaction. It's the mentality of keeping patrons happy so they will keep coming no matter the cost. I am pondering standards of service at this point, measuring the quality of the service in terms of resources offered to patrons as well as professionalism in service.
  • "Individual departments should develop their own list of qualities associated with good reference service. This list should include behavioral characteristics (i.e. attitude, ability to communicate, and approachability), basic knowledge of resources and collections, subject knowledge, and reference skills (the ability to discern appropriate level of help, when to refer, use of resources, time limitations, interviewing technique, relevance, accuracy, perspective, and bias)" (231). Note that it is crucial to tailor this to your specific library.
  • "There is no ideal measurement tool, but every reference department must nonetheless examine its service, not because of danger of extinction, but to set proper departmental priorities and define and articulate its level of commitment to meeting people's information needs" (231).
In the end, I have to concur with Logan: there are no easy solutions. But if we are to learn, grow, and provide good service, we have to keep looking for those solutions.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Article Note: On Off-Campus Students Using E-Books

Citation for the article:

Grudzien, Pamela and Anne Marie Casey, "Do Off-Campus Students Use E-Books?" Journal of Library Administration 48.3/4 (2008): 455-466.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

In brief, the author's study did find that rates for e-book usage had gone up. However, the article does raise various questions that, given current conditions, make me say we should not be jumping on the e-book bandwagon just to get rid of the print collection. Some brief notes:

  • The definition of e-book: "Electronic books (e-books) are those that are the equivalent of a print book in a digital format. They are read on a computer or other digital reader" (455).
  • Yes, some challenges might disappear: "If a library can provide a comprehensive e-book collection to off-campus users, the challenges associated with shipping, costs, delays, and customs regulations when sending to other countries should disappear" (456). I don't think we send books overseas, so the customs issue would not be applicable to us. However, e-books do not come with challenges of their own, which at least the authors do mention.
  • Some findings from the article's literature review about trends of use: "In a further analysis of the same data, they determined that faculty and students in the humanities tend to use e-books only if there is no print available, and they prefer print books (Levine-Clark, 2007). In a study at Simmons College in 2006, the investigators discovered through survey and observation that students browse or scan e-books for specific information but do not intend to read them in their entirety (Hernon, Hopper, Leach, Saunders, & Zhang, 2007)" (qtd in 457). The issue of scanning would seem to match our own observations here. That is if the students do open the e-book. We still have some degree of resistance to e-book use. However, when they do open the book, they are just scanning for specific pieces of information. Overall, from reading this part of the literature review I got the impression that usage trends vary by subject and by local and very specific needs at times. No major generalizations can be made.
  • The one thing we do not have here, which makes a significant difference to collection development: "The university library has an annual acquisitions budget allocated by the university" (458).
  • E-books as cumbersome to off-campus students: "Off-campus students, who were interested in the e-books for ease of accessibility, found the process to access them very cumbersome" (459). I think this is probably the main reason e-books are not taking off as well as a lot of administrators would like. Here, at this time, we get at least 2-4 calls a month, give or take, for off-campus access issues related to e-books. We have a few e-book collections, but the usual "culprit" tends to be NetLibrary. From authentication issues to the PDF reader just not opening to a plethora of other complications (some out of our control, such as the student trying to access the e-book while at work, and their workplace has a firewall), we get the brunt of bad karma, so to speak, when the e-books do not work as they should. And then there are the students who just get frustrated and choose not to call us at all about the issue, giving up instead. As long as the process is not seamless, e-books are just not going to take off, let alone, replace the print collections. At this time, I don't see this getting solved any time soon.
  • Another question I had as well from the study: "In addition, there is no way to determine what constitutes a use. Did the student read the book, a chapter, or a page? Did the user search for just the section needed or access the book and decide not to use it all?" (465; emphasis in the original).
  • "Some ideas for further study in this area would be to survey students for their patterns of use, their satisfaction with e-book platforms, and their suggestions for new titles" (465). These are things I would like to know as well.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Article Note: On Faculty Library Use and Tenure Impact

Citation for the article:

Ovadia, Steven. "How Does Tenure Status Impact Library Usage: A Study of LaGuardia Community College." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 35.4 (July 2009): 332-340.

Read via ScienceDirect.

The bottom line is that this article is a look a library usage patterns for faculty, in this case the faculty of a community college-- LaGuardia CC, which is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system. In addition to my usual interest in reading the LIS literature, I wanted to look at this because we are looking at assessment yet again in my workplace. I asked myself if we could or should do a similar survey here for the faculty. After all, we seem to be consistently surveying students (and not just us. The campus is notorious for survey overkill, but that would be another post). So, I wondered if for a change we could investigate the faculty and learn a thing or two. The electronic version of the article has the survey instrument, but not if you get it in print.

Ovadia begins with the customary literature review after the introduction where we get a brief survey of other faculty library usage studies. When compared to student library usage, there are not that many studies done about the faculty and their library usage patterns. An issue that comes out in surveys like this, and whic I would have to consider as well if we were to do a similar survey, is the issue of privacy and how much faculty may want or feel comfortable revealing about things such as publication history or their educational backgrounds. It seems that the more anonymous faculty feel they can be, the more candid they are. And for our purposes that would probably work at an initial stage.

Ovadia used a SurveyMonkey web-based survey, but he also sent it via campus e-mail. Apparently, response might improve if sent to the departments and asking department chairs to encourage faculty to complete it. This may be another thing for us to consider. I hate to say this, but faculty in general tend to be notorious for not replying to e-mail (not just here, but at least in the campuses I have worked). Oviada does report that low response rate was a problem.

In the end, what Ovadia found was that faculty seem to use library resources based on comfort levels. For instance, those who are tenured represent a higher percentage using the library for their personal research (339). This would be because they are familiar with the library given they have been working for the campus for a longer term than those who are not tenured yet. However, the survey also revealed that another possible reason for non-usage may be lack of materials in the library that the faculty need. This could be something we may find out ourselves if we were to conduct a similar survey. Anecdotal evidence indicates some faculty here have expressed that concern. Given budgetary constraints here, I am not sure how far we could go in addressing some of the issue, and for print, you have to add space restraints. Yet, I would like to conduct the study anyways as way not only to assess our services but our collections.

One of the solutions that can be implemented right away identified by Ovadia is implementing more outreach. Ovadia writes that "more faculty outreach, especially to new faculty, could make newer faculty more more comfortable using the LaGuardia library as well as more familiar with the resources available" (339). Here, we do an open house for new faculty at the beginning of the Fall semester where they can meet their subject liaisons and learn about resources available to them in their areas. Getting a good turnout is a bit of an issue, but it is still a worthy idea. I am exploring additional ways of outreach as well.

Ovadia also admits that some of his results may be influenced by the fact that other larger academic libraries are within easy reach of the faculty. That would not be an issue here since there are no large libraries nearby (unless you want to take the two hour drive to DFW, or the much longer one to Austin for instance). So, we would look more at ILL services as part of the survey. Overall, the article is worth a look as a model on how to survey your faculty to see if your library meets their needs and what to look for.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Facing World AIDS Day 2009

I do this because someone has to help fight ignorance and educate others. I do it because I am a librarian, and as such it is my mission to provide accurate, reliable information to my patrons and readers. I do it because it is the right thing to do. I did not realize it, but the last time I did this was back in 2005. Time flies, and a lot has changed since then. I am glad that, in spite of my busy days, I am able to take some time to blog about this. This December 1 marks the 21st anniversary of World AIDS Day. Did you know that a total of 33 million people now live with HIV/AIDS, and more than one million of them live in the U.S. ? Here is another fact:

Every 9½ minutes someone in the US is infected with HIV. I got the facts. Act Against AIDS:

The badge above comes for the Nine And a Half Minutes website, created by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). I found that and other links with a little bit of searching and digging. This is not an exhaustive list. It is meant to give folks a place to start in terms of gathering information and getting educated. It is also meant to provide a small sample of what is available out there. As always, if you have questions, you can visit your local reference librarian. My professional friends and I will be happy to help out.

You can start learning more by visiting the U.S. Government's site: AIDS.GOV: Access to U.S. Government HIV / AIDS information
Visit Access to U.S. Government HIV/AIDS information.

This site is an information portal with a lot of information and resources from how to find a testing site to educational materials. From the site, "provides access to Federal HIV/AIDS information through a variety of new media channels, and supports the use of new media tools by Federal and community partners to improve domestic HIV programs serving minority and other communities most at-risk for, or living with, HIV." They also have a blog, which you might consider looking over and adding to your feed reader here.

Medline Plus has a topic page on AIDS that may be of interest. It includes interactive tutorials, news, medical information, and even materials for our Spanish-speaking friends.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also has an AIDS/HIV Awareness page here. It includes a nice overview of the history of World AIDS Day here, with facts and resources. For example, did you know that "the World Health Organization established World AIDS Day in 1988."

If you have a spiritual bent, the Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church has a page of "Worship Resources for World AIDS Day." It is a small collection of poems, prayers, and inspirational stories. They also have a resource page. I am putting this as an example that there are some religious groups who actually care.

Here you can find UNAIDS (The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS). You can find links to various publications, art, blogs, and resources. You can find statements about World AIDS Day from various UN officials here. Some are videos, others are text.

And here is the site of the World AIDS Campaign.

Over here is the British National AIDS Trust's site for World AIDS Day.

Over here is the site for the Light For Rights Campaign. From the site, "Light For Rights events are happening in cities and towns all over the world and will bring thousands of people together on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2009, to honor those we have lost to AIDS and to highlight the fundamental rights we all share. "

If you want to learn more about the legal angle and rights, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) has a World AIDS Day page discussing their advocacy work to prevent discrimination against those with HIV and AIDS as well as other resources.

And I just found this website for the National Latino AIDS Awareness Day. The NLAAD actually takes place on October 15th (I did not know this. Just learned it now). However, I am adding it to this list because it provides much needed information and perspective for the Latino community. You can find a variety of resources here as well. The video they feature on the front page is worth watching.

In the state, I could not find as much. The press release that UT San Antonio is hosting some events came up. You can read about it here. "Activities will include a poetry slam, free HIV testing, awareness expo, candlelight vigil, music and a photo booth where students will get the chance to personalize a statement on how they will "face" HIV/AIDS." This should be the type of thing that more campuses here in Texas, and in the United States should be doing (and yes, I am looking at my own campus, which shines by its absence).

However, you can get some additional information on AIDS/HIV via the Texas Department of State Health Services. This was not as easy to find, so I am happy to dig it out for any locals out there.

And after some very deep digging, I managed to find the site for Tyler AIDS Services. This "is a full-service HIV/AIDS facility serving Tyler/Longview and many of the 32 North East Texas communities. " I am glad to see there is a local resource. I always try to include local things on posts like these when I find them.

(Crossposted to The Itinerant Librarian and Alchemical Thoughts).

Monday, November 30, 2009

Article Note: On local research guides and academic business librarians

Citation for the article:

Lyons, Charles. "Are We Covering Our Own Backyards?: An Analysis of Local Research Guides Created by Academic Business Librarians." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 35.5 (September 2009): 421-430.

Read via ScienceDirect.

The simple answer to the article's title question is "no." There is much work still to be done. The article by Lyons looks at local research guides created by business librarians in academia. These are guides usually created to assist patrons with researching their local communities. For example, my workplace has one here. The article explains that these guides "list resources that provide information about the community, such as news publications, business directories, government Web sites, demographic data sources, and more" (421). Like many of these LIS articles, the sample is pretty small. The author looked at 70 academic library websites, and he only identified 29 local guides. The guides were then analyzed in order to identify trends and common elements.

The literature review helps to provide a justification for academic librarians to create these types of guides. You can justify it in economic terms given that many universities now are using local economic development as part of their strategic goals (as well as to justify their existence). According to Lyons, "local benefits attributed to universities include their catalytic roles as major employers of local residents, as prodigious developers of local land and real estate, and as providers of cultural and entertainment activities" (422). Lyons adds that the literature provides examples of how academic libraries help local businesses. He notes that much of the work in this area is done by public libraries, but academic libraries are catching up, and these guides are one way to see how academic libraries are engaging with their local communities.

The research found that "23 out of 70 libraries surveyed (33%) included guides to local research on their Web sites" (423). Also, the study found that the majority of guides focused on state information rather than very local (city, town, county) information. Yet, the author found a broad range of topics in these guides. He notes that "one noteworthy type of specialized local guide covered local job and career opportunities" (424). I have a feeling that as the economy continues to be on a low level, that more libraries will have to work on providing local job and career information as well as access to resources like computers. Lyons does note that "compared to other subjects, local guides seem to have fewer links per guide on average" (424). However, do not think that this means the guides' quality may be lower. As Lyons indicated, there is a lot of variety in the scope of the guides.

So, what do these guides include? According to the article (pages 424-425):
  • The largest category was "government." Data and links from the Census Bureau were popular and prominent, seemingly the most popular. However, there were other government agency links.
  • "Local organizations" was the next. This is things like the local Chamber of Commerce.
  • Then we have "news media." This refers to local newspapers, news channels, so on.
  • Directories refers to things like business directories, often from large publishers like Dun & Bradstreet.
  • Finally, there was an "Other" category identified. A lot of these were usually free websites for local information. One example is use of Yahoo! Local.
Lyons argues that the best guides incorporate a variety of information sources. He goes on to say that "no single source adequately provides comprehensive local information, and a multiplicity of local resources is necessary for researching almost any place" (425).

There was no mention of using or linking to local bloggers in any of the guides. I do not know if that means there was a lack of such, or if the author did not investigate or ask the question. I am just posing this as a possible avenue of further investigation. However, I will note that finding good local bloggers outside of large metropolitan areas is not easy. While I could find any number of local bloggers covering a broad range of local topics when I was in Houston, I am not aware of any substantial local bloggers here in Tyler. Anyone reading this who is local is welcome to leave me a comment and let me know if they are either a local blogger themselves or know of one. I have given a little thought to local blogging and provision of local information by libraries before; this article reminded me of what I had written before, and it gives me a bit more to think about.

Some final notes from the article:

  • "All that said, there is compelling evidence that the provision of local community information is a largely under tapped area for academic libraries and an area which may warrant greater attention" (425).
  • I wonder what this implies for outreach: "The 'engaged university' is a term that describes academic institutions that strive to make their neighboring communities a higher priority by creating campus-community partnerships and by promoting civic engagement, community service, service learning, and volunteerism among its students, faculty and staff" (425). As I read that, I wonder how many universities do more than just give it lip service in their mission statements, if they do at all.
  • The conclusion: "As more people search for local information online, the importance of guides that identify reliable, credible, informative sources for local information will only increase" (427).

Monday, November 16, 2009

A reply to my offended colleague.

I debated with myself for a while whether I wanted to write about this or not. My three readers are reading it here, so they know what I decided. I agree with the idea of a librarian having something in the library to offend everyone equally. I don't believe it out of spite or meanness but rather because I think libraries should be places where as many views as possible are represented and expressed. Some days we do better than others, and there are days when even I struggle with that idea. The title of this post is probably not the best one, but it is one that reflects what I would like to say to that colleague if I felt it might make a difference. If nothing else, for me, this is a learning experience.

Let me start with a little history. My library is running a book display in honor of Veterans Day. The display will be up until the end of November. In addition to the display, I have placed some slides with facts and data about veterans on our electronic display at the library, and I did the blog post about the display, which includes some additional links for information and the full list of the books on the display. A big reason for creating the display is that one of our paraprofessionals actually asked me if we were featuring a display for Veterans Day. I said we would make one, and I made it. One of the books featured is a large photo book, The Wall: Images and Offerings from the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. The book is a collection of photos from The Wall Memorial, including many moving images of veterans and their families visiting the place. I have set the book so it is open on a photo, and I am basically turning the page every couple of days so people can see highlights. As I was putting the display, I found myself having to take a pause and deep breath for some of the photos are very powerful images. Once the person making the request saw it, he later gave us a compliment on the display.

Now, when I make a thematic display, be it for Darwin Day or any monthly celebration, I try to provide as broad a range of materials as possible. I don't always have all the books and resources I wish I had (there are some collection development limitations that we can leave out for now), but overall, I try to be respectful, mindful, and open, and I try to provide something educational as well. So, there is the context. Now on to the rest of the story.

Shortly after the display went up, I get an e-mail note stating the following:

"In my opinion, the Veteran's display is an absolute insult to any veteran. Veteran's day is not about the gay agenda."

We can leave names out, but I will certainly mention this came from one of our librarians, which is why I have been pondering it. The issue at hand was the inclusion of another book in the display. The book in question is Steve Estes's Ask & Tell: Gay and Lesbian Veterans Speak Out. One book out of 12 books (and one DVD) caused this librarian to feel a bit alienated to the point she also went to my director and expressed her concerns. That is certainly within her right. I would not deny her that, but from having a disagreement to claiming flat out that I am being intentionally offensive or following an agenda, I think we should clear the air. So,

Dear Colleague:

I am sad to hear that you feel the way you do. The book in question was included as part of a larger display to honor and recognize veterans. The display features books about various wars as well as various groups who have fought in those wars such as Latinos, African Americans, women, and yes, gays and lesbians. Those folks and others have answered the call of their country, and whether drafted or volunteered, they served honorably. They deserve to be honored and recognized, and they deserve the thanks of a grateful nation.

Have you even looked at the book in question? Estes's book has nothing to with any agenda or attempt at indoctrination. What it does is give voice to people who have served honorably but have been forced to remain silent about their service due to intolerance, ignorance, and fear. The book is a collection of oral histories of veterans who happen to be gay and lesbian. The book also puts into focus the consequences of the 1993 directive from President Clinton to "don't ask, don't tell." These are stories of folks who chose to put on the uniform of this nation and to serve, often under fire, even when their nation refused to acknowledge them or their service. Consider my inclusion of the book in the display a way to help others learn about another side of the veterans' histories.

I understand you have family members who are veterans. Guess what? So do I. My family members have been, as far as they are willing to talk about it, to Korea, Vietnam, Panama, and the Gulf. What I saying is that the "I happen to know how veterans think because I have family who serve(d)" is just not good enough. I could make that claim (and we could have a very serious discussion about the proportion of Latinos who have fought in wars for the U.S.), but I choose not to because I think it is disrespectful to just assume. It is because I try not to assume that I tried to make the book display as diverse as possible in terms of the voices represented. I chose to include the book in the display because it is relevant. I chose to include it because it adds to the dialogue, even now as you disagree and pretty much refuse to even look me in the eye at work. I chose to include it because it is a pretty good book on a timely topic, and it is a book about veterans, which is the topic of the display.

At the end of the day, I would like to think that our veterans have fought around the world so we can express our views freely. They have fought around the world so we can present, consider, and discuss various viewpoints. They have fought around the world so we can be inclusive, so we can be free to learn from each other, and so everyone can have equality and fairness in this nation.

The book is staying in the case, and you are just going to have to deal with it. Maybe you should consider checking the book out for yourself (all books in our displays are available to be checked out. You just have to ask), and reading it. At the end of the day, I happen to place value on simple concepts like equality, fairness, and understanding. The only thing I am sorry about is that you do not seem to recognize similar values and would prefer to keep certain people oppressed or deny them rights you take for granted.

And maybe, if my words are not good enough, why don't we listen to a veteran who has something to say? I leave you with the words of World War II veteran Philip Spooner:

P.S.We did get at least one positive comment about the display on the library's blog, so if nothing else, at least I know people are looking at the display (or reading about it on the blog). Getting people to look at the issues and considering them is part of why we do it. Sure, some may get offended, but we hope after the offense that they will keep talking as well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Article Note: On New Library Professionals and Leadership

Citation for the article:

DeLong, Kathleen, "The Engagement of New Library Professionals in Leadership." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 35.5 (September 2009): 445-456

Read via ScienceDirect.

I was not particularly impressed with this article, and at times it seemed a bit too optimistic for me. For me, this probably goes along with some of the postings about lack of leadership in librarianship I have seen floating around the celebrity librarian blogs decrying the bad attitude if we don't have an interest in management (yes, there is a very clear difference between management and leadership). Jenica Rogers's post on "An attitude problem" is an example of the kind of post I have in mind, but not the only one. Anyhow, I have made some notes here and there on the leadership and management topic, mostly thinking out loud. But for me the bottom line is that I should be labeled as having a bad attitude because I have no interest in becoming a library manager. But that is another post for another time. At the end of the day, I just want to note this article to go with other things on the topic.

The article opens with the by now ubiquitous reference that massive retirements are going to occur in the profession (445). Since the evidence by now is pretty clear that such is not happening, that already lowers the credibility bar for me in terms of this article. Why do members of my profession insist on propagating that canard is beyond me.

The article draws on a small sampling of Canadian librarians (by that I mean, librarians practicing in Canadian libraries). Data was collected based on an Internet survey to a sample of 183 individuals members of the Canadian Library Association (CLA). That seems like a very small and self-selected sample. The authors do admit to this limitation and recognize that not all new professionals may be CLA members (449). The article proposes to look at how new librarians are engaged in leadership, how they define the concept of leadership, and how they perceive leadership practices in their workplaces (446). The author goes on then with the literature review, the method and research questions, findings and discussion.

There were some things that jumped at me from the article, so let me take a moment to make some notes:

  • A statement of the obvious: "It is important that the new professionals who are interested and willing to take up leadership opportunities be developed and nurtured in these roles, and that they are engaged in strategic thinking and planning necessary for organizations to thrive in a continuously changing work environment" (446). You don't say. And we accomplish this exactly how? Paying lip service and making new folks go and sit on committees that very often have little power or meaning in what they do is like your dad telling you that walking 20 miles in the snow back and forth is good for you because "it builds character."
  • DeLong points out that it can be difficult to replace lost leadership skills when someone retires (446). What I want to know is how about when you have significant turnover? What do you do when you have minimal institutional memory because people keep coming and going? And I will go on a limb and say it, but in some cases, that person retiring could actually be beneficial to the organization in terms of getting new and better leadership. Just because a person has been in a job for a long time, it does not automatically follow they are a leader. You can find a lot of deadwood in academia to name an example.
  • An unhealthy organization can often hinder any interest in leadership. Let's be honest: if a lot of what I have seen in terms of the managers above me is unhealthy and dysfunctional, I am not going to want to follow on those footsteps. DeLong in the literature review looks at the work of Nancy Cunningham in regards to healthy and unhealthy libraries. Cunningham's work is certainly worth reading if for no other reason than to do some reflection and self-assessment in relation to the workplace and your place in it.
  • And DeLong does bring up the question of leadership interest I state above: "The question that arises is why newer professionals should be willing to move into managerial or leadership positions given the examples of poor management and leadership they claim to see day to day" (447). I just don't make the claims. I have seen such bad examples. I just do not see this really addressed in the library literature (journals or blogs). Much of the attitude by celebrity bloggers and more reputable writers in the profession seems to be one of reminding the rest of us that it is our professional duty, that we should do it for the good of the organization, that it needs to be done, and that you have a bad attitude if you show no interest. Personally, I happen to be a very good reference and instruction librarian. I enjoy my work very much and want to keep on doing it. Someone else wants to run the place, I say let them. If they are any good, the place will likely thrive. If they are bad, with any luck, they will weed themselves out (yes, I am aware this is a bit of wishful thinking; bad leaders have a way of getting entrenched once they get to the top). The point is a pep talk is not going to motivate me. I want actions; words and another workshop are cheap (well, the idea of attending a workshop to inspire someone is cheap; actually attending the workshop can be quite pricey).
  • DeLong mentions that participating in task forces or committees as a way of decision-making is an engagement factor (447). To that, I will simply say that for it to work the decision-making process has to be meaningful, substantial and significant. Sitting on a committee or task force to simply compile another report with a bunch of materials that will end up on a binder or a CD someplace is not leadership. It's just something you do to pad your CV, or in the case of some of us, something your administrators make you do. If no action or change actually comes from said committee or task force all you did was engage in a time-wasting exercise.
  • This was pretty good summary of the obstacles potential leaders often face: "The strongest workplace barriers were perceived as lack of strategy for developing and training potential leaders, lack of resources for ideas and projects, an organizational structure (dispersal of authority, layers of management and supervisions) that discouraged the development of leaders, lack of a compensation and reward system that recognizes and rewards leadership; lack of a strategy for identifying potential leaders and lack of encouragement of those acting as leaders tied in last place for top five strongest barriers" (453). I have had a thought or two before about the idea of financial rewards and their glaring non-existence in our profession.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Article Note: On Academic Library 2.0 and conceptual model

Citation for the article:

Xu, Chen, Fenfei Ouyang, and Heting Chu, "The Academic Library Meets Web 2.0: Applications and Implications." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 35.4 (July 2009): 324-331.

Read via Science Direct.

The article looks at a sampling of 81 academic libraries in New York State to see what Web 2.0 applications they have chosen to use and how they have applied them. On the basis, the authors then propose their conceptual model that revolves around the concepts of Librarian 2.0, User 2.0, and Information 2.0. I did not find this to be a ground-breaking article, but it does confirm some of what I have seen already or read out there in other librarian blogs.

Some small notes from the article I found interesting:

  • "Although Habib's Academic Library 2.0 model goes beyond the boundary of a library by including the social dimension of students' campus life, it does not cover research activities academic libraries strive to support" (325). The reference goes to Michael Habib's thesis from UNC-Chapel Hill, which you can find here. I may have to go and read the work itself, but this quote made me ponder a bit because I am indeed not seeing much on use of 2.0 in relation to an academic library's research activities, or, to better say it, the research activities an academic library is supposed to support. There is some work out there being done, but a lot of the coverage seems to be around the fun and games.
  • The survey revealed that the libraries sampled implemented 2.0 tools in a limited scale. I think this is fairly consistent with how most libraries probably do it. Contrary to what we see a lot in the librarian blogger sphere, which tends to be celebratory every time some library jumps on another 2.0 application, I tend to wonder about the ones that are doing things but are not writing about it. Or the ones who try things out, find out they do not work for them, but again, do not write about them. To be honest, those are the ones I would like to read about more. Also, the survey found that, in 34 of the sampled libraries, "there seems to be a great deal of variation among individual institutions with regard to actual utilization" (328). It seems to me that the libraries worked to adapt the tools to their needs.
  • The most adopted application in the sample was Instant Messenger (IM). This was followed by blogs. IM was usually used as part of reference services. Blogs were mostly used as news or announcement tools.
  • The authors mention that "one outstanding feature of the Web is its ability in handling multimedia" (328). When someone says that, I always wonder about the technological gap. My current residence is a good example where a significant number of the rural population have dial-up for their Internet access. Those folks are not going to be able to enjoy or use that "outstanding feature" of the Web any time soon. There is always the undercurrent in a lot of the LIS literature and information technology literature that people will simply move to the Web to do all they need to do. As long as access continues to be a serious issue and concern, that is not going to happen. Personally, I wish our profession would maybe advocate a bit more in favor of those facing a technological gap who are being left behind instead of focusing so much on the "technology haves" who pretty much will go to the Web no matter what.
  • Traits of the Librarian 2.0 in the conceptual model. Qualifications: creative, user-oriented, and active participation; roles: contributor, organizer, facilitator, coordinator (329).
Readers can go find the rest of the article for more details. This for me was mostly a summary of things I have seen before, but it could serve as discussion material in some library schools.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Article Note: On collaboration between library and marketing students

Citation for the article:

Duke, Lynda M., Jean B. MacDonald, and Carrie S. Trimble. "Collaboration Between Marketing Students and the Library: An Experiential Learning Project to Promote Reference Services." College and Research Libraries 70.2 (March 2009): 109-121.

Read via WilsonWeb.

One of my long term goals, assuming I can find the time between the various small interruptions, is to develop a marketing plan for our library here. I have been doing some reading on the topic here and there, and I came across this article. One of the ideas I had suggested early on was trying to get some of our business or marketing students involved to help us with our marketing efforts. So this article came at a very good moment for me. It made for some good reading, and it gave me some good ideas.

The authors provide an account of their collaboration with a marketing class on their campus. The idea was to get student input for the library's marketing efforts, specifically to market the library's reference services. The project started on the Spring of 2007. The benefit for the marketing students was gaining real world experience where they could apply the marketing principles they were learning in their class. The students were allowed to develop survey questions for marketing studies as part of their tasks; the advantage of this is that students have intimate knowledge of their peers and their habits.

Note that the surveys implemented were convenience surveys. Participants were drawn mostly from peers and acquaintances of the marketing students. However, the survey does confirm much of what the library literature says about the decline of desk reference services; also note the authors do review some of this literature in their literature review.

Among the findings, the survey found that campus students had a lack of knowledge of the services available, which is something we struggle with as well here. The library responded to the survey by implementing better signage, putting in place a new IM reference service using Meebo, and using some promotional techniques. I personally liked the idea of the whiteboards, but I know that I would not be able to afford a much larger number of the items (they bought about 2,000 boards; I don't think I could get away with that high a number, though it could make a very good premium promotional item here). Some of the things the authors did are similar to what we do now with our Welcome Tents every year. The authors also mention walk-in workshops, but they chose not to implement them. From experience, I have to say these types of workshops are not very efficient use of our time. I want to believe in the value of these, but we just do not get enough people to show up to make them worth it. I am still pondering this in the context of other articles on reference services I have read (here and here are two that came to mind, but there are others).

The authors also mention the importance of cultivating relationships with other campus organizations, something I have worked on, and that I have read about in other articles as well. For outreach, doing that is crucial. I also like the idea of chalking for library marketing. I would have to investigate if I could do that here (this is a very conservative campus. What works in other places does not always go well here due to image issues). But I think it could be a fun and quirky idea to get attention for the library, and right now, we can use a little extra attention and publicity.

In the end, the article is not only about a project, but also about learning to involve students in the conversations about our library services. The students need to know not just what we do, but what we can do for them (120). There are definitely some elements in here that I would like to replicate at some point.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Article Note: Short one on changing librarian career

Citation for the article:

Fontenot, Mitchell J., "The Ambidextrous Librarian, or 'You Can Teach a Middle-Aged Dog Some New Tricks!'" Reference and User Services Quarterly 48.1 (Fall 2008): 26-28.

Read via EBSCO.

This is a short article with tips and advice for "older" (read middle age) librarians who may want to change their career. The career path in question is from a specialized field in librarianship, law librarian, to more general academic reference and instruction. Only problem I had with the article is the promulgation of the eternal line that there are massive retirements coming and thus tons of new job openings. We have not seen that happen, and given current economic conditions, it will not be happening anytime soon. I wish people would stop doing a disservice and finally face some reality. The author was fortunate to turn a temporary position into a permanent one, but that is more the exception than the rule.

So, putting aside my minor objections, the author does provide some good tips. Since his new position is tenure-line, he discusses the responsibility of writing for publication, which I was happy he did so since this is not often discussed in the literature. He talks about how his first efforts were rejected, but he persevered until he got published. At the end of the day, the message for us readers is to keep an open mind, be flexible, and remember to keep on learning. These are things all librarians are (or should be) capable of doing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Learning from mistakes in business blogging: a short series of thoughts for library blogs, part three

I conclude my look at what libraries that blog can learn from the mistakes business blogs make. As I said before, this was inspired by Josh Catone's post in Mashable entitled "Top 5 Business Blogging Mistakes and How to Avoid Them." Here are part one and part two.

"Making new content hard to discover" is the fourth item on Mr. Catone's list. I don't think that this is as a big a problem for libraries that blog. From what I have seen out there, and again I clarify that my observations are far from scientific, many libraries already link their blogs on their websites. Some do it more prominently than others. If your library is not linking to your library blog from your website, you need to do this. Odds are good that a lot of your readers will find your blog via your website rather than going directly to your blog's site. As Mr. Catone suggests, we use full feed for the library's blog at my library. I also have a subscription to the feed on a couple of readers so I can see how the blog looks on a feed reader. I am aware of the full versus partial feed debate (here is one take on it), much of it driven by a desire to get folks to your site so they see your ads as well. This should not be a concern for most libraries, or at least for nonprofit ones, so use the full feed and let people read your blog in the way they prefer. After all, you do want them to read your blog. Additionally, use tools like Facebook or Twitter to your advantage. For instance, our library's Facebook page is set up so it picks up our library's blog feed. Very often we get a response to a blog via Facebook rather than via the blog itself, and that's cool. This is a simple way of being where your patrons are.

Catone's last list item is "expecting too much, too soon." That's a mistake bosses in business and administrators in libraries commonly make. A new library blog is not going to suddenly become an Internet destination. You have to build readership with good, consistent content delivered regularly. You have to invite and nurture conversations. This process takes time, and even then, readership may be low according to raw metrics. However, your library should not be blogging just for the sake of the numbers. Let me blunt: if your director says to you, "let's set up a blog so more people visit our website" or a similar statement, just say no. A library blog is a tool and resource that should meet your library's needs, serve your patrons, and fall in place with your institutional mission and goals. If you choose to implement a library blog, work at it, and give it time. Success will not come overnight, but with some work and effort, it will come.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Learning from mistakes in business blogging: a short series of thoughts for library blogs, part two

We continue looking at what libraries that blog can learn from the mistakes business blogs make. This was prompted by Josh Catone's post in Mashable entitled "Top 5 Business Blogging Mistakes and How to Avoid Them." You can find part one of my musings here.

Catone tells us that the second big mistake business bloggers make is "not blogging regularly." This is something I struggle with personally. Life, as the popular liblogger saying goes, trumps blogging. When it comes to the library blog, there is always something else, and I have written about the importance of making the time for your library blogging or the other online efforts your library may have. Others have likely said it better as well. You need to create good content, and you need to do so consistently. You need to find the time to write your own posts, and you need to treat your library blog seriously. It is not something the geeky librarian does on the side after all the other stuff is done, and let's be honest, the other stuff is never really done. The library blog is an extension of your library services and a tool for your educational mission. For it to be successful, you have to nurture it. This means posting regularly and consistently. Create good content. Plan writing ideas ahead of time. You don't have to post on a daily basis, but once a month or less is probably too little. Personally, I aim for one post per week on the library's blog. It has not always worked that way, so here is the next piece of advice: don't beat yourself over it. Missed a couple of weeks? Start blogging anew, just take off with it, and work your way up again. I know life happens and that administrators have a tendency to drop nonessential stuff on your lap that suddenly becomes urgent. It's the nature of our work, so if you missed some time, recommit and blog on, working to get your groove again to keep the blog alive.

Next, Catone tells us that "not enabling conversation" is a top mistake business blogs make. I think not enabling conversation is a mistake a lot of blogs make overall. I think less of a blogger if they do the following:
  • Does not enable comments at all. In rare cases, people may have a reason not to enable comments. Leaving those rare instances aside, I think that if you blog, you should have the guts to deal with any responses you may get. Otherwise, you just have a static web page where you are just dictating to people, not a blog.
  • Makes users register to comment. This is probably my number one pet peeve (or at least in the top three) for bloggers. If you do this, you are adding another obstacle to interaction and conversation. If you feel a need to deal with trolls, use comment moderation. Don't penalize me by making me register for yet another log-in that I may or not use later. Odds are good that if you ask me to register to comment, that I won't. And if I feel the need to reply, I'll take my piece of the conversation elsewhere, say writing it out in one of my blogs. And don't try to give me a guilt trip along the lines of "he is taking his ball away." You are the one who is closing off the playground.
A library blog meant for the public really should not have a reason to disable or close down conversations. Whether academic or public, you should enable and encourage comments from your community. You should be responsive as well. If someone comments constructively, you should respond thoughtfully. This is how you build a sense of community.

We'll wrap this short series in our next post.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I was at the Candlelight Vigil last night

I bet my four readers at The Gypsy Librarian were expecting the next installment in my small series on blogging mistakes and library blogs (first installment here). I am taking a break today to highlight a very important issue as well as let my four readers know about some of the good work going on in my campus. Ok, this is kind of to let people know where I was last night too. The series will resume next Friday.

* * * * * * * * *

October has a few observances associated with it. One of those observances is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (link to President Obama's proclamation). Last night I attended a candlelight vigil held on our campus to recognize the issue of domestic violence and to educate people. The event took place at 7:00pm last night in the fourth floor meeting room of the library. They were going to do it outdoors, but the weather did not cooperate. Nevertheless the event was successful, and from a quick glance, I think we had about 50 people or so. We did get some representatives from our campus police, a very strong Greek presence (ladies and gents), and some students. I was the only representative of the library present. The room's lights were down, and the room was lit with candles. At the entrance, there was a display with educational materials.

The event started with an opening statement by Ms. Samantha Dwight, who among her many hats has done work for the Campus Assault Response Effort (CARE) and is an educator/facilitator/presenter extraordinaire on this and other gender issues. She does a bit of everything, so if she reads this I apologize in advance if I can't quite "put her in a slot." At any rate, she read a statement, including a recognition of the important role that law enforcement officers have in domestic violence prevention. Those men and women in uniform when they get a call never know what they may be walking into. So our thanks go to them.

Next, the ladies of Alpha Chi Omega took the stage and did a dramatic reading. Members of the sorority took turns reading statistics and facts related to domestic violence in the nation. This had a moving effect on the crowd, and we learned a thing or two in the process. The last member on stage sang a song.

The activity would come to an end as a prayer was said for the victims as well as those involved in caring for them as well as for us all. And silently the event closed.

Whenever possible, I think it is important for me to attend events like this. In my role as outreach librarian, this is another way for me to reach out to our campus community, another way for the library to say present and that we support the cause. Personally, I just think this is important and needs to be supported. We have a long way to go in educating people, and events like this are a way to do it.

I would like to wrap this up by offering some links and resources that I hope people will find useful. Please, if you happen to be a victim, or you know someone who is, know that there is help out there. Some of the links will include phone numbers and contacts. On our campus here, the folks at C.A.R.E. are one such resource. Need more information, and you are local, you can contact them, or you can contact me, and I will refer you to the right place or find you the information you may need.

The resources then:

  • The Domestic Violence Awareness Project. These are the folks who promote and maintain activities for the observance, which started as an awareness "Day of Unity" back in October of 1981. The Project is coordinated by the National Center on Domestic Violence. You can learn about campaigns, find educational materials, and get links, and phone numbers if you need help. Of course, if you are in imminent danger, dial 911.
  • The National Coalition on Against Domestic Violence. Among the things this organization does, "the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), in conjunction with Ms. Magazine, started the Remember My Name project in 1994 to create a national registry of names of those who have lost their lives to domestic violence. Since then, NCADV has continued to collect information on incidents of people who have been killed by an intimate partner and produces a poster each year for Domestic Violence Awareness Month listing the names of those submitted to the project. To date, over 7,753 people have been memorialized through the project." Names are added daily to the list, which you can view on the website.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice has an Office on Violence Against Women. In addition to listing national hotlines, the site contains a lot of good information, including statistics.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a handbook on domestic violence awareness. This seems geared to employers so they can be supportive in the workplace. Provides some good information.
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The number is 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224. Their contact form can also be used to get assistance if you prefer, though they encourage calling more. You can also find some information on the site.
  • The National Youth Violence Prevention Center also has resources related to the observance here. Yes, it is not just spouses or significant others; children and youths in families where an abusive situation exists suffer too.
  • The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) is also a good resource.
  • In Texas, the Attorney General has some resources here. A bit more geared to sexual assault, but still good information.
  • There is also a Texas Council on Family Violence.
  • Locally, you have the good folks of the East Texas Crisis Center. If you need help locally, this is a place to go.
This small list is certainly not comprehensive. I have tried to put out some resources that I have looked over and seem to provide good information. Readers are invited to comment, respond, and if they have other suggestions for links, add in the comments as well.

And yes, I tagged the post under "celebrations and holidays." It is not because I think domestic violence is to be celebrated; it is not. But this is also about a monthly observance, which is what I use the tag for. Just to be clear.

This post will be crossposted at The Itinerant Librarian and at Alchemical Thoughts.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Learning from mistakes in business blogging: a short series of thoughts for library blogs, part one

Blogging is a learning experience for me. Blogging for the library even more so given it has some challenges and issues I don't have to deal with in my own blogging. For instance, the issue of image or appearance is more important in an official library blog. Actually, that could be a post topic in the future, but I have something else in mind today.

Even though I am not advocate of running a library like a business, when it comes to blogging, businesses and libraries both worry about the image they convey to the world at large. In my case, I know that I can blog about a topic. I can say certain things about that topic in my blog that I could never say in the library blog. Same exact topic, two different takes. In the end, I may not be a fan of the "run libraries like businesses" crowd, but I know I can learn a thing or two from the business world. This brings me to this blog post by Josh Catone, writing for Mashable, on "Top 5 Business Blogging Mistakes and How to Avoid Them." When I read it, I knew there were some lessons for libraries here. In some ways, you could replace the word "business" for "library," and a lot of the advice would be applicable. That's kind of what I did, and I would like to share it with my three readers.

The first mistake that Mr. Catone points out is "treating your blog like a press center." I am not sure how libraries can get away from this. A lot of library blogs I have seen, and I admit that my experience is not a scientific measure, are dedicated to library announcements. In fact, a lot of what I do fir my library's blog is event announcements. I do try to use a more casual voice in writing those posts, but you can only be so informal before your administrators, or worse, your campus information office, notices and decide to have a word with you. In other words, you have to find a balance for your voice and tone: not too casual, but casual enough to attract and keep readers. Catone also suggests that you "share your thoughts on your industry, share insights into the the day-to-day work life and processes at your company, and provide tips and tricks you have learned during your time in business." These are all really good ideas once you modify them slightly for libraries. For example:

  • Thoughts on your industry can be writing about librarianship, what we do, dispelling some of the stereotypes, so on.
  • Tips and tricks is good advice. In an academic library, providing students with research tips and ideas is always good. Another thing I have tried to do is highlight specific resources. For example, we have a semi-regular feature on my library's blog called the Reference Book of the Week.
  • Another idea is to seize on current events. I personally think that the library should serve as a resource to educate. For instance, we have done posts about Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the Honduran coup. Those posts are examples of topics of interest that we can, via our library blogs, provide good basic information about. I do enjoy doing those kind of posts, but sometimes they can take a bit of time to compile items for links, evaluate them, and write the post.
Time for me remains the common challenge when it comes to blogging, both personally and for work. This leads us to the next point, which we will discuss in the next post.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Article Note: On student preferences of librarian use of social software

Citation for the article:

Epperson, Annie and Jennifer L. Leffler, "Social Software Programs: Student Preferences of Librarian Use." New Library World 110.7/8 (2009): 466-372.

Read via Emerald.

I don't think that this article reveals anything terribly new. A lot of what is presented in this article is stuff that I have discussed on this blog and that others better than me have mentioned as well. We are talking about the idea that while academic librarians rush to embrace every nook and cranny of online social software most students either do not care about what the librarians do in that regard or do not like librarians doing it. I have pondered the topic in and out on this blog in places like here, here, and over here just to give some examples. What the Epperson and Leffler article does is validate some of the things I have been saying or restating things that have been said. The conclusion has been presented in other venues: students just do not want or have interest in using social software programs for library help (371). This is something that I find to be in sharp contrast with much of what the celebrity librarian blogger literature advocates. I am not saying that there are not success stories here and there of librarians who can make social software work for library service. I am saying that the hype is not justified given the low return on investment and overall audience interest. I say that on the basis of my own experiences as well as on what I have taken the time to read out there.

The literature review opens with the all too common statement: "the library literature suggests that librarians should be available to students via Instant Messaging, create accounts in Facebook and MySpace, and build avatars to populate Second Life" (366). I think librarians should do some exploring, but it should not be at the expense of other services in their libraries. They should not be doing it without thought because it is the cool and hip thing to do. The article's study sought to see if college students actually used the programs mentioned; the answer is they do, except for Second Life. And then to see is the students would like to interact with librarians in those programs; the answer was pretty much no, or the students were mostly indifferent. Part of this is because the programs mentioned are social programs, and the students want to keep them social. The article authors speculate why Second Life may not have widespread appeal to students; not a single respondent to their study mentioned using the virtual reality world. They speculate that it could be due to their small dataset, a cultural reflection, so on (370). I will suggest that it may be that they simply do not care about it or find it that appealing. Contrary to what some celebrity bloggers proclaim, Second Life is not ubiquitous and widely available. It is a heavy download. It requires a very good computer that can handle the program, and it can be time intensive. Libraries and librarians may be writing their theses on Second Life, and universities may be rushing to build virtual campuses and libraries, but most students pretty much could not care less. And while Second Life may be touting their horn that they are ahead of the pack (from PC World), in reality the numbers they are showing are questionable at best. This is one reason why I tend to take anything my brethren in the profession say about Second Life with a grain of salt. Overall, what the article authors find from looking at the literature is that college students use social software more than the general population, and that said students are not likely to use it for library services (367). The first part of that statement I can easily confirm from experience. At any given time here in our computer lab, students are visiting Facebook or MySpace. This is not surprising. Students' tuition and fees does include access to relatively well maintained computers with unfiltered Internet access, so checking on your Facebook or other social site is just natural. And yet we librarians persevere. I personally think there is some value in us learning how to use social networking, and I think to an extent, if you use it well, it can add a human element in our steps to reaching patrons. But it is not the panacea that the literature makes it out to be. As the authors write, "what works for some libraries will not work for others" (368). Again, it is something I have said before after learning it along the way.

The article's results come from a survey where the authors received 65 responses, with 60 viable responses. This does seem like a small sample, which the authors do admit is small, giving the usual statement about not being able to generalize results (370). As mentioned, the study found that no one uses Second Life. Well, no one in the sample, that is. The study concluded that the majority of respondents "would not care if a librarian participated in social software programs" (369). However, there is a little bit of positive news for librarians: "more participants would seek library help in IM as compared to Facebook and MySpace users" (370). However, as the authors state, one has to keep in mind that IM is more of a tool than an actual social networking site (as in the sense of online community), so the comparison may or not be fair.

The authors conclude by reminding librarians who want to create a presence on these sites to think about their goals for participation; this is if they are doing it in connection to their work like I do with some of my online activity. "Goals should be identified so that the success of the endeavor can be measured" (371). We probably should consider discussing specific measures for success as well, and we probably need to be flexible in those measures as well. Setting up a Facebook page for the library does not mean that all of a sudden every kid on campus will become a fan. Fan count may not be the best measure for success in this case. Maybe this is where the discussions need to be going next. Look at what we are learning and then reflect.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Article Note: On demands in librarianship and their impact

Citation for the article:

Knibbe-Haanstra, Marcella. "Reference Desk Dilemmas: The Impact of New Demands on Librarianship." Reference and User Services Quarterly 48.1 (Fall 2008): 20-25.

Read WilsonWeb.

This short article looks at stress factors in reference librarianship. The title uses the label "new demands," but a lot of the article presents these demands as stress factors. The article starts with a pretty generic overview of how librarianship has changed. It's the usual statement of dichotomy: how we see ourselves and how the public sees us. We know that librarianship is dynamic, and it continually changes and evolves. The public either sees the elderly matron with a bun or sees the naughty librarian stereotypes. Apparently, for the public, there are only female librarians. Then the literature review continues with the image of library work as minimally stressful. Les Kranz, who Knibbe-Haanstra cites, apparently never observed a real library in action. The reality is different. Knibbe-Haanstra writes that "the modern librarian is expected to be up-to-date on the latest technological developments, information sources, and service management" (20). I've written a couple of time on issues of keeping up and service (for example here, over here, and way over here), so a lot of the article's opening is not really new to me. The issue with Knibbe-Haanstra's statement is that as technology and information developments arise, expectations arise as well. Add a very demanding public, often known for its lack of gratitude, and you get a formula for stress and burnout in our profession. This is the gist of the article. The rest is just a discussion of the stress issues.

As I usually do when making notes, here are some article highlights with my comments:

"Clients in these professions do not often communicate gratitude to professionals who are trying to help them and will sometimes communicate quite the opposite attitude, creating a hostile and unappreciative environment" (22).

  • There is a reason why blogs such as The Society for Librarians Who Say Mofo are thriving. A good number of librarians like to put down that blog, say that they are unprofessional, and overall portray themselves as if they are above venting about rude patrons or just deny such exist. The sad reality is that a lot of library patrons lack basic manners and social behavior skills. Librarians, and front line library staff, bear the brunt of this. Of course, talking about this is a taboo subject. After all, a lot of the celebrity librarian bloggers and upbeat wide-eyed librarians would have you believe that patrons can do no wrong. The truth is that our profession often excuses patron bad behavior for the sake of the "nice helpful librarian" image, but this only continues to encourage hostile work environments. Thus, with no place to vent, places like the mofo blog attract those seeking to vent and maybe find someone who will listen and understand. The fact blogs like that exist makes a serious comment on our profession and how it often mistreats its own.
  • Personally, I could tell plenty of stories about ungrateful and hostile students and their parents from my school teaching days. But those would be told after the newer ones I can tell from my current librarian days. Overall, some days are better than others.
Knibbe-Haanstra mentions some of the stress factors mental health workers and experienced teachers face. Yes, I can count myself as an experienced teacher, and I can attest to having being victim of these at one time or another. I don't mean to sound extreme, but we need to call a spade a spade. I am just jotting down the list because if I start commenting on each item on the list, this post will get a lot longer. From page 22 in the article:
  • Poor leadership.
  • Lack of staff autonomy.
  • Incongruent vision of job objectives.
  • Growing workloads and duties.
  • Lack of support from administrators and the community.
Then, there are the new challenges and demands in reference services:

"For the most part, this includes the construction and maintenance of a library's website, blogs, and wikis, as well as advanced knowledge in online communication such as e-mail, chat reference, and even virtual worlds such as Second Life" (22).

  • I don't maintain websites (yet), and I am familiar with Second Life, though not a user of it. Otherwise, I've done or currently do everything else on the list. And I enjoy that part of the job quite a bit. Things would be a tad easier without some of the stress factors I listed previously above. By now, these skills and activities are just part of my professional life.

Citing Placzek, Knibbe-Haanstra writes that:

". . .the learning curve expectations are very high and many reference librarians are often required to teach patrons how to use a resource not long after being first introduced to it" (22).
  • The issue is that often there is not enough time to reflect on what we learn let alone absorb it prior to teaching it to someone else.
The article's author further adds:

"Although the Internet offers a wealth of training information online, Ennis points out that the opportunity to improve technological skills is hardly useful if a librarian has no time to complete them" (qtd. in 22; emphasis added).
  • In many cases, technology just adds to our already bloated workloads, and it increases stress levels.
Now for a statement of the obvious. I don't want to sound snarky, but as someone who reads a lot of library literature, I usually find at least one statement of the obvious in every LIS article. Here is one for Knibbe-Haanstra's article:

"It could be argued that the main cause of stress for reference librarians is the ever-increasing number of responsibilities alongside a declining period of time for personal and professional development" (23).

  • This is a point I've made before. We need thinking time, something that is very rare in our profession and workplaces. This is specially true if you work in a library's front lines.
Knibbe-Haanstra concludes with some suggestions for stress management. I won't go into them here since they go from somewhat condescending (better time management by librarians) to nice in theory but nonexistent in practice (upper management support, if you can get it). At the end of the day, much of the advice boils to "shut up and deal with it." After all, the only certain thing is change, even if not all change is positive.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Some lessons I have learned about social networking sites, some the hard way

This is the third in a series of posts prompted by Steiner's article (see previous here and here). This time I will go over some lessons I have learned over time when it comes to using social networking sites (SNS). Some I have learned the hard way; others are common sense. I am not trying to be prescriptive. These are just some things I have learned over time.

  1. You use what works for you. The service solves a problem and/or meets a need. It fits in with what you do already. If it is something new, then it integrates easily into your routines. It's not a chore or just another service to mind.
  2. You need to discard anything that does not work for you. If you are no using it, if it is not relevant to you, if it just does not work for you, delete or deactivate the account. Personally, I think that unless it is something that has some value if left online, say a project's blog, then it is time to take it down. Back it up if you need to, but then delete. I think leaving debris in the Internet, such as a blog you started for a class assignment, then wrote three posts (likely because someone made you do it), then never used it again, leaves a bad impression. Clean your tracks.
  3. Don't feel like you have to open yet another account. Just because the "cool kids" are doing it, it does not follow you have to do it. The old adage your mom probably used on you of "if everyone else jumps off a cliff. . ." probably applies here. As I have said before, feel free to experiment but do so judiciously.
  4. Take it seriously. This is specially applicable to libraries. If you decide to make the jump and set up a blog or a presence on an SNS like Facebook, take it seriously. It is not the thing that the geeky librarian on your staff does on the side when he or she has time (as if he or she has spare time given that he or she is already likely overworked). SNS for libraries are extensions of their services in addition to being an impression you make on your patrons online. Why would you treat it less than seriously? This means commitment not only from the staff working with the SNS, but it also means clear and unequivocal support from the administrators. It also means you give some thought to what you are doing and make sure it fits with your service goals and strategic plans. The worse thing an administrator can do is treat it as just something the librarian working on SNS does on the side, or worse, think he or she is goofing off.
I don't pretend to have all the lessons. These are just lessons I have learned over time that stick out right away. I am still learning and discovering.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A further look at the utility of social networking sites for libraries

Looking back at the Steiner article, I made some notes on the specific sites mentioned in the article. So, here we go.


Facebook (FB) has become a constant use tool for me. I have been using it personally for a while, and it has forced me to reflect on the idea of boundaries between my professional and my personal profiles online. My three readers know that I have a professional blog (this one) and a personal blog (see here). The basic goal was, and still is, to keep my professional writing and reflections separate from my personal musings and opinions. FB blurs that boundary quite easily. When I started using FB, FB was still a closed system just for college folks with a .edu e-mail address. FB back then was something I started so I would maintain a semi-professional profile and so I could do some outreach and reference work. I say semi-professional because I did include some small personal details in the profile. After all, you still want to come across as a human being. Once FB opened the gates, the borderline blurred a bit more as old friends and family joined the site and could find me. I found that I really had to learn how to tighten the privacy settings. I had to be extremely selective on what third party apps. I installed or even displayed. Some of my friends and family members love those little apps., whether it's some quiz or passing a virtual drink. That is fine for them, but in a setting where not only do students see me, but also colleagues, some administrators, and potential future employers, one has to be careful and somewhat restrictive on some things. Some degree of self-censorship has to be exercised; it's the price of having an online presence. I could go on, but we have other things to cover at this time.

Recently, I created an FB page for my library (I don't have enough fans yet to get the vanity URL, another peeve. Anyhow, just use Google to find it if you wish to see it; MPOW itself is linked on the right hand column of the blog). The purpose is to use it as an outreach tool. We make announcements. We post our events. We put photos of the library and what we do. I also linked the library's blog to the FB page so the blog's posts show up on the FB page newsfeed, a feature I like. We did a soft launch during the spring, and we are formally announcing it when the fall begins. So far, it is working out pretty well.


I was never too keen on MySpace for starters. However, in the interest of experimenting, I set up a MySpace profile (it is linked on the right side column of this blog). After some time, I can say that I am not impressed. MySpace is extremely cluttered and clunky. It's value to me personally is minimal and questionable. With my presence in FB, MySpace seems redundant. Given its poor features, I am seriously thinking about deleting the MySpace profile. One thing that might make use MySpace more is if it was more present in sharing options. As many folks out in the Internet know, many sites and blogs offer a form of "share this link" for social networking sites. FB tends to be pretty prominent, and it allows me to do a bit of microblogging where I share a link and make a brief comment on it. MySpace shines by its absence in this regard, and even in the very few instances where MySpace has a share option on a site, it is clunky to use, assuming it even works. So I rarely bother for MySpace. Bluntly, FB pretty much ate MySpace for lunch in this regard.

As for library use, unless my director gives me a direct order of making a MySpace profile for the library, I am not even considering it. While we do have some patrons who are MySpace users, there are not enough of them to justify the effort plus the overall lower quality of the site itself means it is not worth the effort at this time.


I have a Ning account, and I joined a couple of librarian-related networks. However, the networks were not active enough to hold my attention or interest. I don't miss them. I do see value in Ning as a tool itself, useful to build a social network for a group. This is something that could be explored further, but there is no urgency at the moment.


I have not used Twitter, and at this point in time, I am not interested in setting up an account. I don't say "never" because I know the only certain thing is change. However, I have no use for it at this moment, and I just don't have enough stuff to post in order to justify having it. For following things, my feed reader works fine for now. Besides, you really don't want to know what I had for breakfast, do you? What little microblogging I do gets posted on my FB feed. In essence, at this point in time, Twitter does not solve any problem or provide for any particular need for me. I have noticed a good number of the librarian celebrity bloggers use it, but that is not an incentive for me either.

In terms of work, my director did ask about Twitter and whether we should set up an account for the library or not. The university at large has one here. I can see how it can work for our Campus News and Information folks. At this point in time, I just don't see a need for the library to do it. We are still learning our way in Facebook, and keeping up the library blog is substantial work. As I've stated before, things could change, but I am not recommending implementation at this time.

In the next post, I will go on and discuss some of the lessons I have learned so far.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Article Note: On the utility of social networking sites for libraries, and some additional thoughts

Citation for the article:

Steiner, Heidi, "Reference Utility of Social Networking Sites: Options and Functionality." Library Hi Tech News Number 5/6 (2009): 4-6.

Read via Emerald.

This started out as one of the usual article notes I write for the blog, but it kept getting longer and longer as I kept thinking about the topic. So, I have decided to turn it into a series of posts. This is the first part, which mostly looks at the article, with two other parts in the next few days with my observations and comments.

I have been using social networking sites (SNS) for a while now. I have had a thought or two on the topic like this post. I have pondered use of SNS, even if I am not as vocal as some of the librarian celebrity bloggers. I have used them both for personal and professional use. The article I am discussing in this note deals with the use of SNS for reference use.

My three readers know that I rarely discuss my workplace, except when I can draw a general reflection or lesson, or when something goes really well, and I want to highlight it. This other article via MarketWatch I recently read provides some of the reasons for my approach; I may not agree with all of the article, but I know the reality of our profession. I also know that it is a very tight marketplace. Whether we like it or not, we do some amount of self-censoring for the sake of professional appearance. Reflecting on that is a separate topic. I am leading to a point, so bear with me a bit. As of this writing, we have one open reference librarian position. We are currently in the process of phone interviews. One of the questions we are asking the potential candidates is the following:

"What software/Web 2.0 technologies are you familiar with? How would you use them in this position?"

The question is pretty good; maybe it could be slightly better phrased. For now, I want to look at the question itself in the context of Steiner's article.

Steiner basically looks at four SNS applications--Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Ning-- and looks at their potential for reference work at a library. I would like for some of the candidates as well as library school students in general to read the Steiner article. While Steiner's article is pretty basic in its overview, I think it can spark some substantial conversations. The article could also make good reading for libraries that are considering a jump into Facebook or Twitter. Innovative libraries are continually looking for ways to make Web 2.0 work for them. With so many services available, and many more emerging, the challenge is knowing what to choose and asking does it work for your particular situation. Steiner puts the question very well:

"As the number of social networks grow, it becomes harder for libraries to determine which services are appropriate for their users and doable given the library's mission and goals" (4).

The last part of that statement is crucial. What can you do given your specific and unique mission and goals. A lot of libraries rush to create SNS profiles or pages, often due to the cool image concern, without thoughtful regard to mission and goals. If you add a lack of commitment to this equation, you end up with a dead site once the initial interest is lost. The resulting debris leaves an impression that is worse than not setting up that profile in the first place. The point is to experiment but do so judiciously.

Steiner looks at the advantages and disadvantages of each service, and she does compare between services. In her conclusion, she some good points. First, the key to successful use of SNS is promotion. Second, you have to make your SNS use known on your library website. Third, use signage at the desk to let users know about your SNS presence. And finally, updating is important (6). I would add the following: once you choose an SNS application, you are making a commitment. I am not saying it is permanent, but you are making the commitment of time and personnel. The library use of the applications should be treated seriously. I am not saying you can't have some fun with it or be playful. What I am saying, and this goes specially to administrators, is that use of SNS is not an afterthought, just something your geeky librarian does on the side, or simply slacking or goofing off. By the way, those are statements I have personally heard at one time or another. Use of the SNS should be part of the library's strategic plans for service and outreach and treated accordingly. After all, you are using those tools to better reach and serve your patrons. So you should put in the time, effort, and a positive constructive attitude when it comes to implementation.

This is now getting a bit long, and I still have more to say. I also want to add some personal notes on specific SNS use and lessons learned. I will do that in my next two posts. So my three readers, and everyone else out there, is invited to come back later in the week.