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.