Friday, May 28, 2010

Article Note: On using Web 2.0 for reference staff work

Citation for the article:

Currie, Jane P., "Web 2.0 for Reference Services Staff Training and Communication." Reference Services Review 38.1 (2010): 152-157.

Read via Emerald.

The article is a short piece that looks at ways to apply Web 2.0 tools to reference work. What we are looking at here is the work of the staff, not using the tools to provide reference service to patrons. The latter is a separate topic, and one that has been addressed generously in Librarian Blogsville. Currie writes that "this essay focuses on applications of Web 2.0 that improve training and communication within the reference services department" (152). I think this essay is certainly worth a look, and if you are looking for ideas on how to improve training and communication in your reference unit, you might find some of the ideas presented to be useful. I have worked to implement some of the ideas presented in my library. I did, however, notice the essay leaves open some concerns, which I will address in a moment.

Currie argues that by using the Web 2.0 tools the reference workers will be empowered. She writes, "by applying Web 2.0 communication and information tools to the provision of reference services, employees are empowered in their role as providers of effective assistance to researchers" (152). I think that may be a little too lofty, but I do think there is some usefulness to the tools. Part of the big concern for me is getting the other employees into the habit of using the tools. If the others do not collaborate, create, content, or even check in, the tool will not work.

Currie starts out by discussing the use of blogs. This seems to be the easiest tool to implement for a reference department. We did implement a reference blog here. We did it using, and we have it set for private use (you have to log in to see it, and only certain people can see it based on a list). It seems to be working ok for basic things like incident reports, assignments, and some announcements, but I think there is still potential for more. A couple of staff members have used to provide reports on conferences or seminars they have attended. All reference staff are able to post to it, which is consistent with Currie's suggestion. I think more interaction is a possibility, but since people still cling to e-mail for some of the things that can be done (better in my opinion) with the blog, I think it is underutilized. Currie says that "since an effective blog is an active one, repeated reminders to read and contribute may be necessary initially" (153). Still, it's a good start. I will note that Currie does not make mention of any privacy concerns. This was a big concern of ours when we were setting up our reference department blog. We wanted something for the staff, and it could not be viewed freely on the Web. This was because we wanted the staff to be able to post freely and also in order to make sure no one's privacy was violated. I think this is something that reference departments who are looking into implementing a blog for their unit need to keep in mind. Currie also mentions that the blog can serve as an archive, a feature we liked as well. I think the next issue coming down the line is some assessment. We would need to review that archive, do some reflection, and look at what we can learn in terms of best practices.

Next, Currie looks at online calendars. We do some of this as well using Google Calendars. The problem I have observed with Google Calendar is that, to use it, you may have to be signed into Google. I already sign into Google for my personal stuff (this blog, the reader), so I do not want to sign out to have to sign into the library's Google account, not to mention I do not want my personal stuff mingling with the library's account (s0 sharing is out of the question for me). Still, I do remember to check in to the library account, but overall, this has not been as effective for me. From talking to the others, the results have been mixed. I think it may be more the choice of tool. Since we just moved to Outlook for our campus e-mail, we may end up using that calendar more for common planning, though for some other things, like some library room bookings, Google Calendar is still preferred. So, mixed result on this.

Currie then looks at wikis. I won't go much into this. I will say that our attempts at using wikis have been very cold. Success has been mixed, and this is in large part because wikis, contrary to what wiki enthusiasts say, are not terribly intuitive or easy to use. If you get the hang of how to use them, they can be a good collaborative tool, though there are other tools out there that can do similar things. But that learning curve has proven very hard to overcome for some people so wikis often end up neglected after initial attempts.

RSS feeds came next on the list. They are fine by me. We feed the feed of our library blog to our website for instance. The author does have some interesting ideas for using an online photo collection. Currie looks at 10 different tools, so odds are good you can find something that may fit your library's needs.

The article seems to lean more on the communication aspect. I am not sure how much the idea of training, aside from training your staff in how to use the tools, is considered. Things like reviewing a blog's entries for best practices and even using the blog for actual training material (conference notes, other materials) are not fully addressed. But this is a good start and worth a look. In the end, I would advice what I usually say: pick something based on what you actually need. Don't jump on the bandwagon because you feel the need to be cool and hip. If using one of these tools will actually provide an enhancement of your services, without neglecting your current patrons, and solve existing problems rather than creating new ones, go for it. If you are just doing it because you think your library has to be on Facebook or use a blog, then you are on the wrong path. Be mindful of what you do.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Article note: On extending media literacy

Citation for the article:

Nijboer, Jelke and Esther Hammelburg, "Extending Media Literacy: a New Direction for Libraries." New Library World 111. 1/2 (2010): 36-45.

Read via Emerald.

This article is mostly a call to arms in terms of teaching about media literacy and the role libraries need to take in this endeavor. This is a challenge given the common view that the Internet is replacing libraries. While I do think the Internet has had some impact, I do not believe it is totally replacing libraries. If anything, given the current economic climate, we may need libraries more than ever. Even if it is for people just using computers, those people still need some education on information and media literacy, and if they are doing job seeking, they need additional help as well. But I am briefly digressing.

The authors go on to argue that fast and easy seem to be the most important criteria when it comes to searching for information online. Reliability of that information is less of a concern to the average person. Consistent with other articles I have read (like this one, or this one, or better yet this one), the authors also note that users often are not aware of their own gaps in media literacy, or in information literacy for that matter. The authors also note that teaching faculty often do not have a clue in terms of evaluation criteria of search results or what students select to use in their assignments. Information literacy and instruction librarians are then not going away anytime soon. The authors do advocate for the library taking a more active role and collaborating with those in the field of education and media production. After all, the library is already a place involved in education, culture, reading, and social spaces.

My notes and comments:

  • Opening questions, which I think are questions we, in general, should be thinking about: "How can the library position itself within the field of media literacy? And is the library suitable for implementing policies concerning media literacy?" I need to think about the first one, but I would answer in the affirmative to the second one.
  • The definition of media literacy for purposes of the article: "Media literacy can be defined as the sum of knowledge, skills, and attitude which citizens need to act in a conscious, critical and active way within a complex, changing, and fundamentally medialised world (RvC, 2005)" (qtd. in 37). The citation goes to this website.
  • This note on the notion of citizenship caught my eye: "Citizenship is usually interpreted in the political sense of the electorate. Citizenship then means being informed and participating in debate within a public sphere. Within this traditional discourse of citizenship, media are predominantly appreciated for their function to inform and criticize" (37). The reason this caught my eye is because it seemed way too idealistic. The media, especially in the United States, has pretty much abdicated any pretense at a function to inform and criticize anything. See Pierce's book Idiot America for some examples of what I mean. Here is my book note on the book for anyone interested.
  • The authors cite H. Jenkins of MIT who "claims that the focus of literacy has shifted from individual expression to community involvement" (qtd. in 38). I am not sure how much of this is true. I think there is still plenty of room for individual expression, but yes, there has been a move to community involvement online. Jenkins writes on participatory culture. You can find one of Jenkins's papers here; the new media literacy project over here.
  • Link to the European Charter for Media Literacy cited in the article. The item of interest for our purposes is their list of media literacy competencies, which is here. See item #2 on their list regarding what a media literate person should be able to do. Not only does it overlap things we say in information literacy, but it also highlights how bad the media in the United States is failing in this area, let alone our educational institutions in teaching people about media literacy.
  • Nice UNESCO statement cited in the article, which I think is something we need to work on more: "Everyone should be able to analyse and critically reflect upon the media. People must be competent to interpret messages and values provided by the media. All citizens should have access to the variety of media available for both consumption and production. Citizens also need the skills to create media messages, and select appropriate media platforms for telling their stories and communicating with others" (39). We have a long way to go on this.
  • Another thing that is rarely taught. And this is definitely something that librarians teaching information literacy can (and should) be teaching more in their classes: "Addressing the issue of media ownership--who produces the content that we use--helps you to judge media content" (40). For example, when I worked as Instruction Librarian in Houston, I provided instruction on issues of media ownership and helped students do research as part of a unit some of the English Comp. professors did on Clear Channel using Project Censored as a starting point. This is the kind of stuff we need to be teaching more.
  • A good point, but not as applicable in the U.S. at least as long as we continue to have the big digital divide we have. The statement: "Broadband and the further development of the internet and the phenomenon of social networking means that an ever-growing number of passive media consumers turn into media producers, making use of interactive opportunities of the internet to create independent content" (41). And without some education, some of those "producers" will just be adding to the clutter and misinformation already out on the internet.
  • While I bristled a bit at the idea of "old fashioned" information skills (print is not going away anytime soon no matter what Steve Jobs or the Amazon guy say), this is a good point and one libraries need to embrace: "Social networking offers the library and others opportunities to create new media literacy programmes and to move away from their traditional role in teaching only 'old fashioned' information skills and textual literacy to a broader competence based training and coaching in the proper use of the various media available. This role has to be expanded" (42).

Friday, May 14, 2010

Article Note: On Work Autonomy And Librarians

Citation for the article:

Patillo, Ericka J.,, "The Job Itself: The Effects of Functional Units on Work Autonomy Among Public and Academic Librarians." Library Trends 58.2 (Fall 2009): 276-290.

Read via Project Muse.

"Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way." --Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.

"I am not asking for help, Mike, just take off the handcuffs." --- Pete Clemenza, in the film The Godfather.

Autonomy in work is something that a lot of people in this profession talk about, but it is something that is rarely found. Librarianship is notorious for being fairly rigid in terms of organizational structure. Hierarchies thrive, not always in a good way. And yet, this profession does attract some pretty bright individuals, folks who thrive on creativity and innovation, on breaking the rules once in a while. I happen to be one of those folks. I will make a small admission. I do not take very well to micro-managers. While I understand there are certain things I have to do as part of my work that are basically part of the hierarchy, there are moments when I need my autonomy in order to do what must be done. With some of that in mind, I came across this article.

The Patillo article looks at the concept of job autonomy. This is briefly defined as "the degree of freedom and discretion that an employee has over the work that has to be done" (276-277). On the basis of that definition, I did a little self-reflection. I realized that I do have some autonomy. However, there are many key decisions that I am not allowed to make even though I am nominally classified as a department head. In other words, it is an illusory form of autonomy. I wonder if this may be part of the challenge that middle managers face when they cannot make a key decision on behalf of their workers because they have to check in with the bosses above.

The authors limit their investigation to academic and public librarians. The authors' hypotheses asked about differences in terms of autonomy between public and academic librarians and whether autonomy varied between job functions. To find out, they drew from data in the WILIS (Workforce Issues in Library and Information Science) survey done at North Carolina. The sample size was 766 respondents. You can read about the breakdown of the sample in the article.

Some notes from the article then:

  • Once again, we find the claim about the incoming massive number of retirements in the library profession and how it will generate a large number of jobs. Let me blunt. This claim has been pretty much debunked. I cannot help but wonder if any of the editors in LIS journals actually pay attention to the economy or to current economic trends and conditions or to the librarian job market? Why does this come up? Because the authors are arguing that "library managers need to maintain am understanding of the needs of their staff to grow, independence, and challenging work. Job satisfaction is a primary factor in the retention of workers" (277). I certainly do not disagree with any of that. In fact, I think that more managers do need to pay attention to that issue, but then the authors follow that with the statement about how the majority of librarians are boomers on the way to retirement. People, please, it's time to pay some attention and face reality. Stop disseminating that false "jobs are coming" claim already. All it does is lower your credibility.
  • Another truth: ". . .new graduates increasingly have career options in nonlibrary settings" (278). And I think more library schools, given the current conditions, should be helping their graduates explore those options better.
  • A statement of the obvious, in my humble opinion: "Academic librarians experienced higher levels of autonomy in terms of work" (283). However, upon some consideration, I wonder if that varies by academic institution and on how specialized the librarian is, say, a generalist instruction librarian in a small university versus a subject bibliographer in a Research 1 university.
  • Definitely stating the obvious now: "The majority of public and academic librarians have responsibilities in multiple areas" (283). I am not trying to be mean or facetious, but this is the kind of statement that is common knowledge in our profession by now. However, the LIS literature consistently seems to serve to reaffirm these things.
  • Of interest to me, "public and academic librarians who chose the area Information services, education and research reported lower autonomy of terms of work than their counterparts who did not choose this area" (285; emphasis in original). Maybe this is why our cataloger seems very happy with her work at times. Take that as it is presented.
  • Some good news: "As was noted earlier, variety, creativity, and challenge are work attributes that are related to job satisfaction, and it appears that many librarians have variety, challenging work, and opportunities for growth as indicated by the range of tasks they perform. . ." (286). Overall, to use myself as an example, my work does have variety and creativity. It can be challenging at times, in good and bad ways. However, it does have some moments of drudgery when I have to do more administrivia than my actual work. But, as the old saying goes, "into each life a little rain must fall."
  • A little more on the autonomy of those of us in information services: these librarians "probably have more frequent interaction with library patrons due to the nature of reference, instruction, and research services. That they report less flexibility and control over their work schedules might have implications related to burnout and retention of these professionals" (287). If I was a manager who paid attention, I would probably be concerned about this and the retention issue. Unfortunately, it is also common knowledge in our profession that, much like teaching, if you want to advance (and maybe, just maybe, get a little more money), you have to become an administrator, something that takes you away from the job you actually like. Also it is something that probably lacks a lot of autonomy. From what I have learned from library managers I have worked for, they often have their hands tied by various administrative roles and mandates. I don't envy their jobs, and I sure as heck don't want to do such work. However, managers often make me feel like Pete Clemenza in the epigraph I used above.
  • "Since all librarians cannot be administrators (and many do not want to be), a further examination of the characteristics of these positions [librarians with some administrative duties, but who are not library managers] might lead to a better understanding of ways in which libraries can offer nonadministrative positions that are also autonomous and satisfying" (287).

Friday, May 07, 2010

Article Note: On shared leadership in libraries

Citation for the article:

Cawthorne, Jon E., "Leading from the Middle of the Organization: An Examination of Shared Leadership in Academic Libraries." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 36.2 (March 2010): 151-157.

Read via ScienceDirect.

I had some serious mixed feelings when I read this article because, to be honest, a lot of the ideas it presents fall under the "that's nice in theory" rubric. When it comes to the idea of shared leadership, the idea is a bit separate from reality. In simple terms, shared leadership is when the top manager involves the subordinates in the decision-making process. Given that more often than not, said manager already has a decision made when he/she pretends to involve the subordinates, I take the idea with a big grain of salt. In fact, the author of the article noted that at least one respondent commented that "even in the context of shared leadership, the top leader already made a decision" (155). So as you see, it is not just me who thinks this is often the case. In fact, the commenter goes on to say:

"'In general, there is little correlation between what we say we want to do and what we actually do. Also, when we meet to make decisions, sometimes the dean has already made one (the decision) and he sees our job as that of supporting his decision, no matter how much it diverges from our mission, stated goals, previous plans, or benefit to the patron'" (155).

I think that statement speaks volumes, and I don't think I can add much more to it other than to say I agree since I have been in such situations with a fairly high degree of frequency.

The article basically looks at middle managers. I am just going to make some brief notes to remind myself that I read it because if I write too much, it's probably going to come across as a bit too skeptical (to put it mildly).

  • "Clearly, it is critical that libraries meet the key individual developmental challenges such as recognizing that middle managers are in positions of leadership in academic libraries" (151). I don't think we can argue with that. Seems pretty self-evident, even if it does not always work that way.
  • "As academic libraries address change management through team building and strategic planning, there is a need to understand the extent to which middle managers believe they share decision making as leaders who implement the vision set by senior management" (151). Again, not much to argue with here. Sounds nice. I just ask if those middle managers are really positioned to influence decision making.
Cawthorne cites the work of Sandra Jackson in terms of components of shared leadership. The components are as follows (see page 152, italics in the original):

  1. "Accountability, which consists of owning the consequences that are inherent in one's role, internally defined, and cannot be delegated." This sounds simple enough.
  2. "Equity, which includes mutual recognition of the unique contributions of each individual." This sounds very good in theory, but I wonder how often we have cases of the left hand not knowing what the right hand does.
  3. "Partnership, which involves a mutually respectful and trusting relationship among individuals who share a common goal. Partnership is based on honest communication." I will say that honest communication should be the key concept in that idea.
  4. "Ownership, which centers on a personal commitment that an individual makes to work outcomes of their work and to the mission of the organization."
However, there are often obstacles and problems. Jackson "identifies a number of structural and political characteristics that may comprise barriers to shared leadership. These include team attitudes, turf battles, individual career goals, manager versus leader roles, corporate culture, change quotient, risk, current and future performance, and current and future external environment" (qtd. in 152). I could say quite a bit about some of these, but I will refrain in the interest of maintaining the professional tone in this blog. If you are really curious, let's meet at a bar for some drinks, and I will tell (maybe).

The method: 22 academic libraries in the study population with a final tally of 115 middle manager respondents. Of the 115, only 77 responded. Survey done via Survey Monkey. By the way, I am starting to notice Survey Monkey is becoming a tool of choice for a lot of LIS surveys as of late.

  • A bit of insight or a realization: ". . .senior leaders may not possess sufficient and relevant information to make highly effective decisions in a fast-changing and complex world. In reality, middle managers may be more highly informed and in far better position to provide leadership and influence the accomplishment of organizational goals" (155). This may be because middle managers still keep a foot in the trenches, so to speak. The problem happens when the top leaders refuse or neglect to listen to the ones who actually know what they are talking about because they actually experience the situations on the ground. Just a thought.
  • "This study reveals a perception among middle managers in academic libraries that not all ideas for change are treated equally" (156).
  • "If ideas that come from all levels of the organization are not considered equally, then to what extent are all decisions credible to bring about change in academic libraries?" (156).