Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Article Note: On staff motivation in tough times.

Citation for the article:

Topper, Elisa F. "Keeping Staff Motivated in Tough Times." New Library World 110.7/8 (2009): 385-387.

Read via Emerald.

This short essay is a reminder to managers to make sure they praise and keep their workers motivated. I would think this is common sense, but apparently managers need to be reminded every so often if the market for books on how to motivate workers is any indication; you can see the article's further reading list for a sampling of such books. Are we librarians nervous about the economy as Topper's article suggests? Sure we are, but most of us don't spend our waking hours worrying about it. We have work to do for starters. I was going to just note that I read this, but as I started writing the draft, I found myself expressing some additional ideas. These are things that I have learned, some via the School of Hard Knocks, about motivation in the workplace. Thus I wanted to jot those ideas down as well.

As a lot of the LIS articles are prone to do, this one has at least one glaring statement of the obvious. Here it goes: "You may be surprised that monetary rewards do not produce long-term performance and productivity results anyways" (385). Besides stating the obvious, I had to wonder if this small article qualified as an LIS article. The question came because I found myself asking the following: how many libraries do we know where librarians or library workers get monetary rewards for productivity or performance? Not too many, if there are any at all . Even in tenure line situations, the idea is tenuous at best when it comes to getting higher pay for performance. You may get a raise when you go from assistant professor to associate professor, for instance, but you don't get paid more if you publish more articles or teach more classes. I know. I have seen enough P&T plans to have a sense how things work. Let me give a different perspective.

My better half works for a company that actually gives monetary bonuses for performance and productivity. You sell so much product, you get a bonus. You meet certain service targets, you get something extra on your next paycheck. All targets, goals, and requirements are made perfectly clear, and you rise to the occasion. Do you see now how it works? You produce more and perform better, you get paid in real money. This concept is pretty much non-existent in libraries, academic or otherwise. My cataloger does not get a nice addition in her paycheck if she processes more books within a certain time frame. My instruction librarian does not get fifty to one hundred bucks extra on her next paycheck because she taught more classes. My point is that libraries do not operate on the monetary reward system in the first place. If you ask most librarians, monetary rewards are not the main reason they chose this profession. If that were the case, I would go work for my better half's company or other company that actually understood and implemented monetary rewards. So to be honest, why Topper brings that idea up is puzzling to me since it seems to be a non-issue. And with the tight economy, libraries are in fact cutting back on expenses, and that can include things like raises. And yes, the better half would concur that money bonuses could be the wrong motivation for some workers, but at least she is in a setting where such apply. Libraries are not businesses no matter how certain members of the librarian celebrity circuit want to argue otherwise.

So since libraries do not have the money carrot, managers need other forms of motivation. Topper gives some basic tips in her article, which can work or not depending on the workplace. The best piece of advice for managers, which is found in the article, is to ask your workers. Find out what does work, then do it. Allow me to take some liberty and tell you what works and does not work for me. I am doing this for illustration purposes, not because I am some ideal librarian that you can draw generalizations from.

Something that works for me is something that I rarely get: appreciation and gratitude. These can go a long way. I don't need the public thank-you at a staff meeting. In fact, I hate being put on the spot. For me, this may be a remnant of the school days when teachers had the bad habit of praising some kid in front of the class because they aced a quiz or something else (this was before the whole self-esteem nonsense took over schools). You knew that either a beating or getting shunned by your classmates during recess would be following afterward. So just keep the recognition private. You really want to reward me? Write up a nice letter that can go in my personnel file. Send me a copy of that letter so I can use it in my portfolio as testimonial later. It's simple, discreet, and practical. And if you do it right, it's personal and sincere.

Let me tell you what does not work or the quickest way to kill morale. Don't go questioning my work or the work of my team because of some perceived failure. The turn out at some event was not as big as you wanted? Learn from the experience. Look at what we can do better to have better promotion and marketing for next time. Don't go telling me right after we walk out of the event as we are tidying up that maybe we should not be doing X again, that it is too much effort, too much hassle, or some similar statement. That is extremely demoralizing to someone who, very often, took a good amount of risk to personal reputation, not to mention the library's reputation, to help make the library a better place and better promote it to the academic community. You going to bat for me is what I expect, and it goes a long way in terms of morale. Yes, I have had the negatives described above happen in one form or another not only in outreach work, but also as an instruction librarian. I could go on with this topic, but I will move on.

And I will even toss in a bonus of something that does not work: don't go taking the word of some second hand gossip monger who has little to none to do with the work of my team but feels the need to criticize anyways. Leadership means you lead by example. It also means you surround yourself with the best people for the tasks you need done. We are the experts; you should be listening to us first. Or you can listen to those other people anyways, since you are the manager after all, and just kill our morale faster. When it comes down to it, the good people simply leave because they know that good hard workers with a strong work ethic will always find work. It has nothing to do with the money or a bonus. At the end of the day, it is the simple human element. Traits like common courtesy, respect, recognition, gratitude, and appreciation will probably get you a lot further in motivating your workers, especially in tough times, than some trinket, treats, or some plush trophy you pass around. By the way, if you are too cheap to buy a small trophy/plushie/trinket for every individual you recognize and have to pass it around instead, you probably should not do the whole thing in the first place.

Just a thought.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Struggling with the idea of neutrality

The whole situation in Wisconsin over book challenges and threats of burning books is the kind of thing that I usually keep somewhat quiet. For one, the librarian blogs will cover down the road. And two, I will admit to being slightly gun shy even though I have some passionate opinions. So, when someone posted about the story in Facebook, and I replied making some small remark about it, I was not quite ready for some other commenter who came along. What got me riled up was that he seemed to me to be defending the people advocating the book burnings. But after a somewhat heated exchange, I had time to go back and do some thinking.

On the one hand, I am a believer that as an academic librarian I have an educational mission. I try to select information and sources that are accurate, balanced, vetted and reviewed. And while I do try to give room to diverse views, there are some things I probably would not include. Hate speech would be one of them. Creationist material would be another, and material in favor of "curing gays" may be another. Those are materials that are not accurate, certainly not balanced, and any review of them reveals them to be inappropriate to an academic setting. Of course, for people who buy into such things, I get the accusation of censoring. It is not censoring; it's called selection, and in that case, those are materials that as an educator and librarian I don't think college students, or the rest of the community should have.

And yet, in spite of my initial impulse to keep those things totally out, I had to admit to myself that, in practice, I would likely include some sampling of the materials I mention above. The key word in that sentence is "sampling." For instance, we do have copies of Hitler's Mein Kampf. We do have books with the writings and speeches of Osama Bin Laden. For our Darwin Day event, as part of acquiring materials, I did order at least one item that specifically presented the Creationist side. We don't keep such materials because we advocate their ideologies. We have them so people can learn about said ideologies. So they can study them, learn from them, and hopefully act for the better. You have to know your enemy, and to do so, you have study them and the materials they may produce.

What I struggle with as a librarian is where do you draw the line. I probably would not buy materials put out by Stormfront (white supremacist organization), to pick an example, but if a patron came asking me to point them to the website, I would likely do it. That is because we have that principle in our profession of providing the information. If I was feeling so inclined that day, I may ask what they want to see it for, clarifying that I am asking in case they need anything else, and hope I can make a teachable moment, so to speak. But otherwise, there is the Internet, have at it, so to speak. And then there was the lady I had to literally navigate Rush Limbaugh's website with her. That is the information she needs; my job is to guide her to it. Overall, as long as something is not illegal, nor violating school policies (this is what could cover us against a patron wanting to see adult material defined as pornographic), a patron is set to go.

At the end of the day, if you asked me, would you include books on "the gay cure" or "converting gays" or something similar, I would probably say, yes, I would include a book or two. But I would throw in the usual disclaimers such as the fact that such methods have no scientific credence or acceptance and try to provide the more accurate material. But I would not exclude them just to leave them out. I don't think I am ready for complete exclusion as other more passionate librarians might suggest. Again, I think you have to know your enemy, and simply hiding the stuff we may not agree with does not solve the problem. In the marketplace of ideas, the solution is to have more ideas, not less. When it comes to books, we need more books, not less. Those who wish to burn books are simply cowards who refuse to think critically or be confronted by other ideas they may not agree with.

And for those who wish to censor books or deprive others of books or other materials, my solution is simple. If you see it on a library shelf, just leave it there. It really is that simple. You don't like that particular book, don't pull it out of the shelf or look at it. Your rights end where mine begin. You have your beliefs; that is fine. I have mine. Your beliefs do not give you license to try to impose them on me. That book you want burned may well be the book I want to read, and you have no right to deprive me of it. A library is place where everyone, regardless of creed, orientation, race, color, so on, can come and learn about diverse ideas. And if you have children, do your job as a parent. Don't want your precious Susie to read about gay penguins? Don't let her read the book. Again, simple solution: do your job as a parent. But again, do your parenting with your kids, not mine. I have no problem with my daughter reading And Tango Makes Three. You don't want to read it? Leave it on the shelf. You have no right to deprive the rest of the community because of your close-mindedness.

So, the bottom line is I would favor openness as much as possible. I do say as much as possible because like every other library in the U.S. I do have a very restricted budget. But I do what I can with what I have. And as long as I have something, I will strive to be inclusive. It does not mean I leave my values at the door. It does mean if I see something wrong or inaccurate I will tell my patron. A while back, I read the book Questioning Library Neutrality. The essays in that book have helped shape some of my thinking, and when someone confronts me over not including books about "the gay cure" in my library, I recall this statement from the book:

"But creationism and Holocaust denial have been discredited by the vast majority of the scientists and historians, respectively. They don't hold equal weight in the marketplace of ideas, and they are not deserving of an equal share of limited library resources" (2).

Ideas like the ones mentioned above as well as others are discredited. They have no room in an academic institution other than as objects of study. It is in that context that I may include a sample of such to help promote education and better ideas. Anything else does not have room in the collections. And if that puts me at odds with the library establishment or certain people, then so be it. Again, to quote from the book:

"Both in my training and in my work I have often felt ambivalent about librarianship and been at odds with the 'library establishment'" (Iverson essay, 25).

I am a trained information professional as well as a trained educator (yes, I do also have a teaching degree), and I am not afraid to use my professional judgment. Maybe it is time more in my profession did the same instead of hiding behind the idea of strict neutrality. I have my days when I feel more ambivalent than others, but that is part of what we do. Thus why when yet another ill-informed, close-minded group of zealots comes over wanting to burn books, I will rise and say something. Because such cowardice and ignorance needs to be denounced and confronted. We educate and strive for dialogue, but we should not be afraid to confront and denounce as well.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Once more, just because the kids can get online it does not mean proficient

This is not totally new. It has been reported before that just because the "millenials" (or whatever the label of the day is) can use Facebook and surf the web, it does not follow that they are computer proficient. As reported by the Wired Campus blog, North Carolina State University released a study (link to PDF document) that finds "that most students overestimated their skill levels when they were asked how they perceived their ability to complete certain tasks and then tested on those tasks." In brief, the students in the sample were tested on their proficiency in productivity software (i.e. Word, Powerpoint, and Excel) after surveying them to see how they perceived their own proficiency with productivity software. The study basically found that the students were not as proficient as they thought they were.

This finding probably validates what a few educators have been saying for a while: just because students of the millennial generation can get online and use the Internet, it does not follow they are actually proficient in computer applications, at least in productivity applications. Now, why is this significant? If you want to look at it in economic terms, many workplaces depend on computers to carry out their business. They depend on programs like Word (word processing), Excel (spreadsheets), and PowerPoint (presentations) to run their business, and they expect their workers to be proficient in that type of program. The common assumption of these students being "digital natives" simply does not pan out when faced with something practical. I will go ahead and say it: the students may be proficient in "leisure" applications, but not so much when they need to make a spreadsheet or type a paper for a class. How do I know this? Here are some common reference desk questions I get:

  • How do I double space my paper? (Word)
  • How do I put in footnotes and/or headers? (Word)
  • A broad range of questions about Excel. A very common one is how do I use it.
  • How do I insert objects/pictures/videos onto my PowerPoint.
I find this interesting because learning how to use a word processing program is pretty much taken for granted. Most students in a school have to type papers for classes in high school, so one would think there is exposure there. What happens often is that colleges assume the kids learned it in the schools, so they fail to teach basic computer proficiency skills at their level. Or, if the college does teach it, it is some basic course that students can often "test out." The problem is once they test out, they may not get too much formal exposure to the programs until some professor asks them to use it, and they end up in places like their library hoping we know how to use them and can teach them how.

The study illustrates that there is a difference between perception and reality. This is not a new finding. In fact, I have read a bit about competency and perceptions once or twice, and this was some years ago. So these recent findings should not be surprising. The study does make a distinction between being computer literate (“an understanding of computer characteristics, capabilities, and applications, as well as an ability to implement this knowledge in the skillful, productive use of computer applications suitable to individual roles in society") and computer proficient ("the knowledge and ability to use specific computer applications (spreadsheet, word processors, etc") (142). I think this is an important distinction to make. I can be computer literate, but it does not automatically follow that I am computer proficient. For the record, I am fairly computer proficient in the computer applications studied, but I probably fall on the average range.

But moving along, the distinction is often missed by those who cheer millennials because they can use the latest shiny 2.0 toy. There is more to computer proficiency than being able to update your Facebook status or post a link to your MySpace, just to pick examples from applications I regularly observe students using in our computer lab. Now, in the interest of fairness, we should note that Microsoft productivity programs can be notorious for not being very intuitive, which I would guess could affect the study somehow. I am guessing this on the basis that when we upgraded to Office 2003, student questions about productivity programs increased, such as "where did Word put the button to change the spacing now?" For some, questions like that were followed by some colorful language. In addition, students continue to display difficulty with concepts like saving your work to a recognizable place, which is also a basic computer proficiency skill, and yet it is often missed.

Overall, the release of this study does a couple of things. One, it teaches us not to be complacent. Don't assume the kids know it all just because they can get on the computer. Two, it shows that there is a glaring need for education when it comes to teaching students how to use productivity software, and I would venture to say not just Microsoft products. I would go a step further and say they probably should get exposure and some training in things like Open Office. Sure, some people may say the students can just push the help button, but anyone who has tried the Help option (I have) can attest that it is not always very helpful. And in the end, the Help button does not take the place of some good training. So, don't assume and do educate your students.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Article Note: On Libraries Deciding to Use Facebook for Outreach or Not

Citation for the article:

Fernandez, Peter. "Balancing Outreach and Privacy in Facebook: Five Guiding Decision Points." Library Hi Tech News Number 3/4 (2009): 10-12.

Read via Emerald.

Since I recently set up and implemented a Facebook page for my workplace, this article caught my eye. The decision points that Fernandez presents are very relevant, and they were points that we had to consider here in one form or another during the set-up process. If your library is looking at setting up a page on Facebook, then this article is necessary reading. Personally, the article made me think about about my own use of Facebook. My personal experience with Facebook is something I have pondered a few times. For example, here, where there are links to some other posts as well. My use of Facebook is something I have to constantly monitor for balance in terms of issues like professional appearance and ethical behavior. There are certain things I keep out of my Facebook profile just to avoid certain questions and hassles from certain people. Then again, the same is applicable to my blogging as well, but we can ponder that some other time.

In addition, the article asks some useful questions for reflection and discussion. As usual, let me make some notes and comment. I will make some connections to my experience operating the library's Facebook page, in the hope, infinitesimal as it may be, that someone may find it useful for their situation. Plus it helps me do some assessment on what is happening now.

  • "Doing so in an ethical manner requires that libraries have a firm understanding of how Facebook works, and what kind of presence they want to have within the framework it creates" (10). I think at times libraries, in the rush to be where their patrons are, may jump in without fully thinking things through. This can also be exemplified by the many library blogs out there that are now defunct or at least moribund. You need to think about how Facebook works, and this takes some time and effort, and what exactly you want to accomplish. For instance, in our case, we mostly wanted to use it as a tool to keep our students and patrons up to date with what is going on at our library. Simple enough, but that does mean you have to think about the image you are putting out there. And as librarians, we also think about issues of privacy.
  • A consideration: "At the same time, interacting with Facebook sites involves putting library content on a third party website, which is run by companies who have historically demonstrated a different conception of privacy than librarians might prefer" (10). For a good discussion on the third party website reliance issue, once again I point my three readers to Ms. Farkas's recent post on 2.0. For example, here we do put some photos of library events on the Facebook page, but you can bet that we do have multiple copies of those photos. So if something goes kaput, we still have the content. The Notes application on Facebook for our library page is set to pull the feed from our library's blog. Granted, our blog is on a blog (i.e. a free online application). However, when things like budgets and technical power are in small supply, you do what you can with what you have. And you do back up everything. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world, and for various reasons many of us will continue to use third party applications for content, like me using Blogger here. Just keep such issues in mind. And then there is the issue of privacy in those third party sites and services. Facebook has had issues with privacy, in large measure because what they think is good practice is not what their users think it is or should be. From the recent debacles in rolling the newsfeed feature to their gradual move to be more like Twitter, we often see Facebook and users coming head to head over what is ok or not in terms of privacy. Let me put it in another way: you have to keep in mind that, at the end of the day, Facebook is a for profit company, and they will do what they think will bring them a profit. Whether that is totally ethical, or ethical in the eyes of their users, that is a separate question. And that is not just Facebook. Pretty much any online service will follow that routine. When it comes to these third party services, you get it "free" because advertising pays for it. That's their angle and interest. So letting you get too private is not in their interest. Think about that for a moment.
  • "Facebook does not give its users access to a neutral space, and its tools and the types of content it allows are designed to influence users to adopt an informal, revealing tone" (10). See my remark above about where Facebook's interests are at. This is something that I also struggle with when it comes to my personal Facebook profile. Between Facebook's structure and the applications, it can be very easy to reveal just about anything about my life. Since I do believe that some things are my business and private, I have to stay on my toes. However, for Facebook, the more you reveal, the more information they gather for their advertisers. For a casual user, being a little revealing is probably not a big deal. For someone like me who has to keep a certain image, it is a big deal. I know potential future employers, my current employers, and all sorts of people see some form of my Facebook profile. Although I have tightened my privacy dramatically, so pretty much mostly friends see most of the stuff, it is something I have to keep maintaining. For a library page, this very important as well since a library does have to project a certain image. And yet, to use ourselves as example, in an academic library, you do want to be professional but also accessible and humane. Same thing for a librarian's profile, which is why I do have a few things that are more on the playful side in my profile. I am a human being; I have a sense of humor, and I am a fairly normal dude, and I want my students, friends, and family to know that. Personally, the way I see, if some potential employer thinks that is a problem, I probably do not want to work for them in the first place. There are plenty of open-minded and progressive places out there.
  • This is a problem: "However, once a personal profile has been created and associated as the primary administrator of the institutional page, there is no way to undo this relationship" (10). I will say that I struggled a bit with that when I was creating the library's Facebook page. Do I want it attached to my profile? I took the risk anyways and did it. These days, you should be able to make a page without having to make a profile for yourself. As for the attachment, it is unclear how to do it, but I think I could add someone else as administrator, then remove myself, which would be what I would likely do if I were to change jobs in the future. Facebook's Help section is not very forthcoming on that issue; I know; I looked.
  • And what about the other librarians? "Should the library administration encourage librarians to link their profiles to the libraries Facebook site?" (10). My two cents? I say you can encourage, but you cannot require it. A personal Facebook page is exactly that, personal. That is a choice every individual librarian needs to be comfortable making.
  • And then there is the issue of how you will handle certain things. "Facebook interactions raises a host of questions for libraries from how to handle potentially hateful speech, to relatively simple things, like what to do if patrons post false, or otherwise problematic information to the site" (10-11). I spent a bit of time reassuring my boss and the powers that be that we would monitor the site. But I also told them that, yes, there is always the risk that someone will post something that we may not agree with. Now, disagreement is fine. Hateful speech is not. In essence, you have to give some thought to how much monitoring and moderation you will have to do. What I have found, so far, is that things are not as bad as we may think they could be initially. Don't get complacent though.
  • Just remember: ". . .most libraries using Facebook will want to keep their settings relatively open, or risk creating barriers for potential patrons who visit the site" (11). And while we are talking about barriers, let me say that the Facebook line of not allowing me to set up a vanity URL for the library page because my fan numbers are not high enough is a load of male bovine solid waste. Their excuses of preventing spam or squatters simply do not amount to a hill of beans, especially for small organizations like my library, or other campus organizations here with Facebook pages facing the same barrier.
Fernandez emphasizes, and I will concur, that having a maintenance plan is important. You do have to monitor the Facebook page as well as keep it up to date. You also have to add new content to it in order to keep it fresh and keep your fans coming back. In the end, I think most libraries can take the chance, but they have to go in informed and with some degree of planning.

Update note (same day): A few additional items I have seen on the topic. Jotted them down on the scratch pad.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Article Note: Options for reference texting

Citation for the article:

Stahr, Beth. "SMS Library Reference Service Options." Library Hi Tech News Number 3/4 (2009): 13-15.

Read via Emerald.

This is a short piece that outlines some of the advantages and disadvantages of using a short message service (SMS) to provide reference service. It is a pretty light piece, but it caught my eye in part because the decision was made to add Meebo chat widgets to our Research Guides (run by LibGuides; actually, we have struggled with the terminology, is it a LibGuide or a Research Guide or what? In other words, the branding. But that could be a separate post). I think the best way to put it is a quote from Stahr's article: "a possible disadvantage for the library is the requirement for yet another 'virtual service point' to monitor, unless the library already monitors IM" (13). We did not previously monitor IM, but we do participate in the statewide UT System live chat. I will be honest: it seemed the "cool thing" to do, so we moved with it. Could have used a bit more thought, but that is my opinion, and it is a done deal. The point is that it does create yet another thing to monitor. This is also something that I think is not considered in general out in libraries, so this article, by at least mentioning it, opens the way to some discussion and thinking. However, the Meebo thing is not terribly intrusive, at least at this point, when compared to some of the options the article presents.

As I often do, let me make some notes and a comment or two.

  • "Libraries that yearn to reach users should consider text reference service to be as vital and necessary as telephone or email reference service" (13). I know I will probably get named persona non grata by some Mount Ubertech dweller out there, but I am not convinced this kind of service is absolutely vital. I think this is dependent on demographic, size and ability of each individual institution to handle it, and all the costs that can go with it monetary as well as staff labor. And given that Stahr does suggest that an option may be getting a dedicated cellphone for the service, it seems less vital.
  • "Firstly, such a service demonstrates that the library is one the cutting edge of technology, and that it is meeting the needs of all its users, including younger patrons who prefer to communicate via text" (13). I always worry about the equation of being on the cutting edge with meeting patrons needs. As if somehow we are being neglectful if we do not get in the latest bandwagon. This is the kind of thing I have pondered in one form or another for a while (for example, here, here, and over here and over there).
  • The article describes some vendors who will be happy to help you set up some texting service if needed (like these folks or these guys). For some libraries, this may be worth a look. Given you can do a lot with something like a Meebo widget, maybe not. However, with 2.0 online tools, you always have the issue of relying on some third party for the service your library provides. I just came across this post by Meredith Farkas on just that topic, which is worth a look and certainly is food for thought. I have had to deal at least once with 2.0 tools that have proven somewhat unreliable.
  • "Some have questioned whether it is possible to realistically answer library reference questions using short messages. Does the inherent small size of the communication message reduces the efficacy of the text message reference service? While the experience is limited, libraries which have adopted these services all report satisfaction?" (14). I would like to see an actual list or some specific libraries named that are reporting such satisfaction. The author does not provide names in this part of the article to illustrate satisfaction levels. And while there is a references list, is the implication then I have to go look the references up to see who was satisfied? Outside of the brief discussion after this quote about Southeastern Louisiana University's experience with SMS, which by the way is the author's institution, there is little other mention of anyone else. I want testimonials, and I want more than one. I also want to see who was not satisfied and why. Because in the library literature, we often get the success stories, but we rarely get the failures or the accounts of why some service was dropped after not working or meeting expectations. I am sceptical, and I want more evidence. However, I do understand that more substance is likely outside of the purview of the original article.
  • "Regardless of how text message reference service is implemented, marketing is essential to the success of an SMS reference service" (14). This is applicable to just about any new service your library implements, especially for an online service. Whether it is a Facebook library page or the fact you are using some SMS service, you do have to market it, and you have to promote it on every possible venue.
  • "Table tents, posters, online entries and library instruction sessions have all been used to promote such services" (14-15). And I have used every single one of them and some more not listed in the quote in the process. And I have learned a thing or two about marketing in the process as well. Maybe that will be a separate post, some lessons on library marketing I have learned.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Article note: On alternative literature and collecting zines

Citation for the article:

Koh, Rowena. "Alternative Literature in Libraries: the Unseen Zine." Collection Building 27.2 (2008): 48-51.

Read via Emerald.

The first question I had when I started reading the article was what was the effect of the Internet in terms of zines. With blogs and wikis and similar tools, you can very easily put up a zine online. The author does address some of this towards the end of the article, so read on.

The article makes a case for the importance of collecting zines in libraries. This is especially important for public libraries which are local institutions by nature. What I am trying to say is that public libraries reflect their communities. Zines reflect their local communities as well, often in very unique ways, so it is important then for libraries to collect them as much as possible. The problem is that librarians often ignore or overlook these publications. Some of the reasons that librarians do not consider zines are due to the zines' nature: low budgets, low circulation, often controversial nature, and the fact that they are self-published. But, as Koh writes, "the unfiltered voices found in zines are probably the most accurate reflection of societal diversity" (48).

Zines are not easy to collect, and Koh discusses some of the challenges in this regard. For one, you have to look for zines. They are often found in independent book and record stores or other out of the way places. One place mentioned in the article, which I have not seen even in the few big cities I have been or lived, is the infoshop, which is an alternative reading room, a sort of "street library" run by volunteers where zinesters often have access to zines as well as some resources for production. Koh draws on some of the work by C. Dodge regarding zines, and she cites Dodge who says that "librarians who know about infoshops generally agree that their presence indicates some degree of failure on the part of urban libraries" (49). I think we can safely note that zines are mostly an urban phenomenon. Houston or Austin may have some; Tyler does not. The point is that zines often reflect alternative views, arguments, and opinions, and any library that values a diversity of information and opinion needs to make at least some effort in collecting them somehow. "If the role of libraries and librarians is to preserve and disseminate information reflecting as many diverse views as possible, then it is clear that zines have a rightful place in any library's collection" (49).

Challenges to collecting zines include:

  • Selection and acquisition. You are not going to find them in some vendor catalog. There are some formal review sources, but given the very ephemeral nature of zines, many sources can be outdated by the time they are published. As Dodge suggests, it may be better for a library to collect locally, or on a specific subject if trying to be comprehensive proves too difficult (qtd. in 49). Often donations will be the best way to acquire zines.
  • Storage and display. This is due to the various formats and sizes zines have. You need to decide the degree of access, i.e., do you just place them in some archive, or find some other way to let them circulate, facing issues of loss?
  • Cataloguing and access is a big challenge. There are no real good categories or subject headings. LC is somewhat limited since it lumps zines and fanzines under fanzines or distinguishes between zines and works about them. Koh provides a helpful illustration with some examples of how some libraries have catalogued their zines, and the variety is all over. This also includes cases where cataloguers simply misuse headings. "Clearly, classifiers are ill-informed about the world of zines and alternative literature; consistent cataloguing rules do not exist for them either" (50). I find that problematic, but not surprising, that a lot of librarians simply have little to no idea of what alternative literature is or what it entails. Personally, I make an effort to learn and read in the alternative literature to expand my knowledge, but also because I think a librarian needs to draw on as much information and knowledge as possible, plus he or she needs to be exposed to as many different sources and materials as possible. Obviously, you can't read everything, but you should have at least an awareness.
Koh ends by looking at e-zines and the Internet. She does mention that online tools and software like desktop publishing make publishing a zine online a lot easier. However, this does not mean one should be complacent and assume they are all online now. Far from it. A lot of zinesters still prefer to put out their work in print. Even if they have an online presence, they may not put their zine online, but they may put a preview of material, for instance, or do some things online they do not do in print and viceversa. On another positive development, the online world has facilitated the emergence of some selection tools as well. For libraries, they can link to e-zines and zine related sites. Do keep in mind those links do have to be maintained regularly.

Overall, a short little piece worth reading, especially for librarians wanting to learn more on this topic.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Happy 4th of July 2009

Americans will be out and about celebrating Independence Day, which falls on a Saturday this year. Most of them probably left already, but some of us still have to work for a living. Anyhow, I left a few links for the day over at the personal blog. Feel free to hop over. Have a safe and happy holiday.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Celebrating Canada Day 2009

A Happy Canada Day to our Canadian friends in Canada and around the world. I wrote a post with various links and information about the holiday over in my personal blog.

Here is the link. I hope you will consider hoping over. Best, and keep on blogging.