Thursday, October 28, 2010

Making my stand

"We've made too many compromises already, too many retreats. They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no farther!" --Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, from the film Star Trek: First Contact.

I have been attentive to what has been going on with the recent suicides of gay youths due to bullying up to and including the incident of the bigoted school board member in Arkansas. I have written some things in response, but so far, I kept them in my personal journal. The more I listen and watch and ponder, the more difficult I find it to stay silent, to not stand up, to not say anything. So my three readers can consider this post the one where I draw the line because bullies and bigots come and think they can get away with their crimes and uncivilized behavior. Well, no more. Not if this librarian has anything to say about it, and I do have a thing or two to say. What follows are two small items I wrote earlier that I am ready to share.

* * * * 

From my personal journal, October 6, 2010:

I've been wanting to blog about the recent bullying and suicide stories, but I am not sure what approach to take. Jeff Jarvis, in discussing the tragedy at Rutgers University, summarized it well: "It is a story of human tragedy." What we have here is not just an individual failure. We have a community failure from the parents of those bullies who very likely failed to instill good values like common decency to a society that pretty much is willing to accept bullying. That we had more than one suicide due to bullies in less than a month was probably enough for the media to cover it. But if it had been just one suicide in some small town, no one else would have heard about it, and people in that small town, with the exception of the victim's relatives, would have likely chalked it up to "boys will be boys" or some similar line. A line such as "kids in school will always be kids" should never be an acceptable cover or excuse for bullying, hazing, harassment, or other kind of anti-social behavior. That adults consistently use that excuse reflects a serious lack of character and compassion.

But there is another reason I find it difficult to blog about it. It means making my views more public in a fairly hostile environment. But if I don't stand up and speak, then who will? For me, this is the right thing to do, and yet I have my fears. As a librarian, I struggle with the illusion many in the profession hold of neutrality against the belief that we should help educate, that we should not only provide information but use our best professional judgment in providing good, accurate, and reliable information. Taking a stand breaks that illusion. It raises a flag stating that this is what I stand for and what I will defend or oppose. Yet, if I remain silent, it would not be right. I don't think anyone said this profession would be without some risk. Then again, every time I blog, or even post a shared link online, there is the risk of offending somebody, somewhere, maybe even a future potential employer. A lot of librarianship is about image, and it is a pretty small profession where the wrong blog post can get you shunned. I try not to let it bother me. I try not to self-censor more than is necessary. But I am finding it harder and harder to stay silent. The truth needs to be spoken. We have to take a stand for what is right. In my case, writing and blogging are my ways to do so.

* * * * 

From my personal journal, October 11, 2010 (National Coming Out Day)

Today is National Coming Out Day. I think it has a special significance this year given the series of LGBT youth suicides due to bullying. As Jeff Jarvis said in a post I read a few days back, those deaths are a human tragedy. 

What I am thinking about today is the bravery of those LGBT folks who do choose to come out, whether today or any other day. Maybe that is just what moves me to be an ally. Maybe it's that I think everybody should be able to love whomever they like and not be discriminated against on that basis. That civil rights should be rights for all, not just for some. That if you choose to live in a committed relationship of marriage, the gender of those involved should not be an issue for receiving the rights and responsibilities of marriage. 

But what does it have to do with me? I am a straight male (at least I was last time I looked, haha!), so one would think I have nothing to gain or lose. In fact, I may have more to lose--from folks suddenly thinking I may be gay to workplace concerns; East Texas is not a particularly friendly place if you do not fall within its norms and parameters. I do it because it is the right thing to do. I do it because I look forward to the day where coming out won't matter because it will not be an issue. Just like I hope for a day when no one is judged by race, handicap, so on, I look to the day no one is judged by their sexual orientation. I don't think I will live to see that day given how much work and education this nation needs before it truly embraces diversity. But I hope that some day, maybe in the days of my daughter's grandchildren, they will look back at our society and say things like "what the fuck were they thinking?" or "discriminating because someone is gay? How quaint." Maybe some day, and I hope that day arrives sooner rather than later. 

In the meantime, coming out (as an ally) is the small part I can do to bring about better days. It is my small way of saying to those in the LGBT community and the rest of the allies that they are not alone. It is my way of saying that as a librarian my skills and knowledge are at the community's disposal, and if I can't find a resource, I know someone who does know. I am here for those who may need a supportive person. 

Do I want to be "that" librarian? I sure do. It's the decent thing to do, and I cannot do anything less. And if certain coworkers don't like it, then let them stew in their bigotry. They will either see the error of their ways and do the right thing, or history will simply pass them over. 

I thought I could remain silent, but I can't. Not anymore. I am coming out, and I am letting others know.

* * * *

Other readings I had in mind at the time I was writing: 

(Crossposted to The Itinerant Librarian and Alchemical Thoughts)

Update Note: (11/1/10): Wayne Bivens-Tatum, the Academic Librarian, picked up on this post, and he wrote a very detailed, thoughtful, and reasoned response on librarians and our neutral (or not) stances. It is worth reading it in its entirety. 

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    Booknote: Ensayo sobre la ceguera (12 Books, 12 Months Challenge, Book 1)

    My review as posted to my GoodReads profile:

    Ensayo Sobre la Ceguera (Spanish Edition)Ensayo Sobre la Ceguera by José Saramago

    My rating: 1 of 5 stars

    This is a book that people will either like or hate (or at least dislike). I don't hate it, but I do dislike it, which is why I gave it just one star in spite of the fairly smart premise. I am even willing to admit that I skimmed parts of it since this is one of those books that, once you get to a certain point, you can pretty much predict with accuracy what will happen in the end. For me, that detail came when it was revealed the doctor's wife had a pair of scissors shortly after the thugs in Room 3 take over the food. From that point, I knew a war would break out, and that she would end up killing at least one person (she kills more than one. I happen to think they more than deserved it, but more sensitive people can debate that elsewhere). That the asylum was burnt to the ground did not surprise me either. Given the poor and extreme conditions, it had to happen pretty much.

    This was not an easy book to read, and it may well be the hardest one in my list for the "12 Books, 12 Months" challenge I recently began. I am glad I got it out of the way early. This is by no means a "light" book. It is very depressing; it gives a view of society at its worst, and it shows how easily society can degrade and fall apart. All it takes is some catastrophe or apocalyptic event, and all hell will break loose. If you remember events like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, or just know some history of failed nations, you know that we are pretty much a step away from the hellish chaos. In the novel, compassion and kindness end on the losing end for most of the book as the doctor and his ward eventually have to use violence to get the food that was stolen from them by the Room 3 thugs. As much as it pains the doctor, it's either that or starve. While there is some credit, so to speak, given to good deeds and kindness at the end, overall, the message is you may well need to be ruthless even to do the right thing. If you already have a negative view of humanity, this book will only serve to affirm it.

    Saramago's novel is also difficult due to its style. There are no number chapters. It uses long sentences in long paragraphs and lots of commas. Conversation lines are often not separated. Chapters are separated by blank spaces. Thus the book goes on without allowing much pause. This might work better on other books. Other Latin American authors I like, for instance, use the same or close to the same style, but their works are better. This is specially so when it comes to pacing. Saramago's novel is extremely slow in its pace, especially in the parts taking place in the asylum. While the blindness plague strikes suddenly (and ends just as suddenly), much of the time in the novel and the narrative slows down after the outbreak. In addition, characters are not named; they are identified by some trait or profession such as the Doctor, the Doctor's Wife, and the Woman with Dark Glasses. Once you get used to it, the technique of not using names works, but it can be a bit disorienting at first. On doing a little bit of reading about the author after finishing the novel, I learned that this nameless technique is very common in his books.

    I've wanted to read a novel by Saramago for a while. For one, he is a Nobel literature laureate. However, now that my curiosity has been satisfied, I will probably not read another of his books any time soon. The book does have a smart premise, and it does raise some dark questions that may be uncomfortable to many, but it is not an easy nor flowing reading experience. Still, I am glad that I did try out one of his books. To paraphrase one of the library laws, this book is not really for this reader. But, and this is made clear by many positive reviews on GR, I am sure the book is for some other readers out there, and other readers are for this book.

    View all my reviews

    Monday, October 25, 2010

    If you don't like Facebook or other social media, go find another career

    "I am going to say a few things and I am going to say some bad words, and you're just going to have to deal with it." --Tony Soprano, from the series The Sopranos.

    I struggled for a while about putting this post on the blog after writing about it in my journal. I was hoping I could let it drop, but I find that I cannot because I am honestly getting a little sick and tired of the attitude some people have in our profession that, if you "don't get it" or "play with the latest shiny toy," then you have to be swept out of the way so someone more perky can come in. We can file this under things that bother me. To borrow the term from the Annoyed Librarian, this is about another example of twopointopians using the "us vs. them," the "we get it, you don't," and the "if you don't adapt and use it, you're not welcome here."

    Michael Stephens has a new column in Library Journal, the lightweight library news magazine. In his first column,  he wrote the following, which I did find somewhat arrogant and condescending not to mention alienating. The quote in question is:

    If the online world is not for you, then neither may be a career in librarianship. The most prevalent LIS jobs in the next few years will probably be ones where you’re not tied to your desk and you communicate well beyond the physical walls of the building.

    It’s not just students who should participate in this online world. Librarians must find their niche as well. Five years ago the conversation went on in blogs. Now it flows vibrantly across media platforms, enabling a stronger connection with library users through marketing, outreach, and the human touch. (emphasis in the original).

    Where do I even start? You have to be online but not tied down to a desk. It may sound a bit contradictory at first; that was what the colleague I showed the article to said. But on reading the column, we see that it refers to being constantly plugged in to the mobile device of your choice. Then there is the thing about the human touch. Being constantly online and connected  is not exactly conducive to the human touch. Sooner or later you may have to deal with a real person.

    As I mentioned, I showed a colleague the column, and she had a thing or two to say about it too. One thing she said that stuck with me is the following: in all the rush to teach new technologies and fads, library schools are not teaching how to deal with people like basics such as how to do a proper reference interview. I added during our conversation that no one really teaches how to do good liaison work to future academic librarians, a topic I have written about before in this blog.

    And then I thought about another colleague of mine who wins awards for her scholarship in history as well as provides excellent service to the library and its patrons. She's definitely found her niche, and it does not involve the twopointopian vision of the online world. No Facebook or Twitter for her. Should she give up her career in librarianship because the online world is not for her? If she was entering library school now, would she be told she does not fit in? And before some apologist chimes in, allow me to point out that my colleague is not a Luddite. She avails herself of electronic tools that meet her needs, keeps up as needed, and maintains an excellent local and civil war history website that has received state and national praise. By her admission though, she does not care about Twitter and really has no use for Facebook nor a lot of online social media. Should we have kept her out of librarianship because the online world, as narrowly defined by some people, is not for her?

    I write and raise these questions as someone who has found places in the online world. I also use social media (feel free to check the right side column in this blog for links to my various profiles). I use online social media tools in my work as well as for my professional development. I am still figuring out my niche, but that is part of the learning process for me. But I do know that my niche does not include the attitude of "you either get it or you don't, and if you don't, we don't want you here." That attitude has bothered me since the earliest days when the term Library 2.0 was emerging (some of my earlier thoughts on L2 here, here, here, and here).And it bothers me now. When people ask if I am sorry that I became a librarian or have any regrets, I can usually that I like what I do. But statements like the one by Stephens make me wonder because I do not want to be associated with such attitudes.

    "Oh, oh, Anthony. He's a big boy, he knows what he said." --Tommy DeVito, from the film Goodfellas.

    And no, I am not going to "try to look at it in a charitable light." That is a cop-out. He wrote it, with the backing of his reputation, and he clearly stands by it in making it public. Now, he can choose to dig in his heels, expand the statement or try to clarify it, but the statement is out there, and it seems pretty clear.

    Personally, for what little my opinion is worth, the statement seems divisive. I see plenty of excellent librarians who work hard, provide excellent service to their patrons, and the online world is not really for them. I don't think they should be deprived of a career because they are not interested in Facebook or lack a Flickr fetish.

    Is there dead weight in librarianship, including some coming out of library school even as we speak? Yes, ther is, and that needs to be weeded out. But exclusion on the basis of not being interested in doing reference via an iPad or laptop in some cafe should not be part of the exclusion criteria. Many talented librarians who do cataloging, reader's advisory, acquisitions and other technical services, and yes, even front line reference do great work and don't need nor have an interest in the online world.

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Or you can use your local library and save some more

    I was intrigued by Chris Guillebeau's post for the Powell's blog entitled "Skip Graduate School, Save $32,000, Do This Instead." Don't get me wrong. I do like a lot of the advice in it, and I understand he is working for a bookstore after all. But these are tight times, and for some of the book suggestions he gives you really are better off borrowing the items from your local public library (or academic library if you happen to already be in school).Your library will probably have a lot of the basics and classics Mr. Guillebeau suggests, and they won't cost you a thing (well, you already paid for them either with your taxes or tuition depending on your situation, so you may as well use them). So allow me to highlight some items from the post and tell you how to get them. By the way, another useful tool is WorldCat, the OCLC's world catalog, which now has a nice free version. Type in your book title, and it can locate a library nearby that has your book. Heck, I even have it loaded on my smartphone.

    And yes, this is a basic promo post for libraries. 

    So, here we go. I will present the author's suggestions, then my humble observations:

    • "Subscribe to The Economist and read every issue religiously. Cost: $97 + 60 minutes each week." Read it at your local public library, which is likely to subscribe to it already. Cost then would be free. And if you need additional information about something you read in the magazine, you can always ask the reference librarian. 
    • "Read the basic texts of the major world religions: the Torah, the New Testament, the Koran, and the teachings of Buddha. Visit a church, a mosque, a synagogue, and a temple. Cost: Materials can be obtained free online or in the mail — or for less than $50 + 20 hours." If you go to the library, these will pretty much be free. Libraries usually keep a copy of major world religion texts both for reference as well as for readers. He does make a good point: you can often get materials free from the religious organizations (this does vary from group to group). The idea of visiting places of worship I think is a good one, and it is one I think more people should do. It certainly is one I should try out some more; besides Catholic church, I've only been inside some Protestant churches, usually because someone I knew had some function I was invited to. In terms of reading the texts, I think I have a good track record, but there are still a few more out there to read. 
    • " Read at least 30 nonfiction books and 20 classic novels. Cost: approximately $750 (be sure to support Powell's!)" Again, go to your local library. However, I will say this with a bit of a grain of salt. If the books you want to read are things you will only read once, definitely borrow them. If you think you will reread them or need them later, then do buy them. For classics, you can read a lot of them online via things like Project Gutenberg, which also has option for downloading e-books of classics to your reading device. The cost is pretty much free, unless you sprung for a reading device. Also, I would try to be a bit selective about what books to read. There are a lot of "classics" which are, to be blunt, a waste of time (or to be charitable, may not be the best for you as a reader).As for nonfiction, if all you read is Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, or Keith Olbermann (what, you thought I was just going to only mention right wing people?), you won't get very far in your education. Need help deciding what to read? Many public libraries have librarians who specialize in reader's advisory. Ask them what may be good to read. And yes, I do reader's advisory too, so you can ask me as well.
    • "Instead of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, read The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs, a good summary. Cost: $10 or less." If Jacobs' other book is any indication, this one is one to borrow, not buy. The book is not bad, just not a keeper. 
    Do read the rest of the original post, since there are some good ideas there, but for a lot of the books, you can borrow them as needed.  However, if you decide to support your favorite bookstore, I am not stopping you.

      Friday, October 15, 2010

      Some idle thoughts on handwriting

      I was recently reading a story out of The Wall Street Journal entitled "How Handwriting Boosts the Brain." The author reports that researchers say there are good cognitive benefits to handwriting. It turns out that kids in general are losing those benefits because they are not learning how to write by hand in school or at home. You can thank the ubiquity of keyboards and texting devices for that. Even adults who may have learned handwriting and penmanship in school seem to be losing out on the benefits as they give up handwriting for keyboards. However, not all is lost. According to the article, "but in an interesting twist, new software for touch-screen devices, such as the iPad, is starting to reinvigorate the practice." It seems the old is new again. Plus, it also seems that adults learning to write by hand later in life can gain some benefit. In fact, according to P. Murali Doraiswamy, a neuroscientist at Duke University, "as more people lose writing skills and migrate to the computer, retraining people in handwriting skills could be a useful cognitive exercise."

      Reading the article took me back to 7th grade Catholic school. Yes, I am a Catholic school survivor (no, not that kind of survivor though, thank the deity of your choice). Back then, I had to practice penmanship in religion class. Penmanship was a big part of the grade. We kept a separate notebook where we took dictation from the Catechism-- questions and answers that had to be neatly and carefully written out. I had some very elegant script back then. Now some may view that as old fashioned rote memorization, but as I wrote the original draft for this post in my journal I could not help but think that the Brothers were on to something.

      Even though I am a heathen now, you can ask me any question today about Roman Catholic practice and doctrine, and odds are very good I will know the answer even if I have to pause for a moment to translate it into English if needed since the lessons were in Spanish. In addition, the practice of penmanship made me very comfortable with writing by hand. In addition to keeping a personal journal, which I have done for years now, I still write out a lot of my drafts by hand before I type them out. This post started out in my journal. I don't always move things out of my journal to the blog, but I have often explored ideas on paper before taking them online. And some things do remain in the privacy of my journal. Overall, I do feel that I can think better, more freely when I write by hand. Don't get me wrong; I can draft very well on a keyboard but given a choice I still prefer to write by hand. My handwriting is not as elegant as it was in 7th grade. This is mostly because I tend to write faster now, but it is still neat and legible (enough so that people who notice do praise it now and then). Cursive writing and penmanship overall have served me well for writing and expressing my ideas. I may have evolved into a blogger, but keeping a journal in paper is still my passion and outlet. And I would not be able to keep a journal without good handwriting. So, who knew? It turns out those lessons and drills were good for my brain too.

      Wednesday, October 06, 2010

      Article note: On methods of academic librarian liaisons

      Citation for the article:

      Thull, James and Mary Anne Hansen, "Academic Library Liaison Programs in US Libraries: Methods and Benefits." New Library World 110.11/12 (2009): 529-540.

      Read via Emerald.

      This is another article discussing academic librarians and liaison work. This one looks a bit more at some of the theoretical foundations rather than just giving tips on technology use by liaisons like the previous article I read. As I stated in that previous article, the topic of liaison work for academic librarians is not one that is taught well in library schools, so reading in this area should be of interest to academic librarians. The Thull and Hansen article I read for this post provides a definition of liaison work and looks at some activities and practices for liaisons. I found this article particularly valuable because it includes a survey instrument for faculty; the tool is something I can modify and add to the survey I am currently working on for my liaison activities here.

      The authors start with their literature review, where they look at the RUSA definitions for liaison work. They state that our clientele are faculty and students and that serving their needs is our primary goal. This is consistent with what we practice here, and I am sure other librarians will agree. The authors go on to mention that library users expect to find their information wherever they may be. Now, regardless of how unrealistic that expectation is or ill-informed like this guy who clearly does not understand how access to electronic scholarly sources really works. (and we could go into that topic some other time. And in the case of the guy, that he was a researcher and still does not get it is shameful), that expectation is there, and we have to address it. Folks think that everything is on Google and online. It does not matter that we know better. The fact is we have to educate others about the reality-- no, Google does not have everything. No, everything is not online. No, everything online is not free. In the end, we compete with Google and the Internet, and as the authors argue, our personal relationships with our departments may well be the best way to counter those unrealistic expectations while adding some value.

      Some more notes from the article:

      "Where libraries excel over Google is in providing reliable and authoritative sources of information" (531).
       Yes, we excel in providing added value, to borrow the business term. Anyone can run a Google search. Finding the good, reliable stuff is the real issue, and we are the ones who are masters at finding that good, reliable stuff (and we'll be happy to show you how to do it too).

      A lot of the basic message in the article is for liaisons to be proactive. This includes being a marketer for the libraries. However, I tend to have a small problem with the idea given that it seems to let faculty off the hook. You see, if they don't hear from us, or rather choose to ignore us, then it must be our fault. While I certainly do believe in marketing, after all I work in outreach, there does come a moment when the faculty have to choose to get off their collective behinds and go to the library, or at the very least use the online resources effectively. And another thing articles like this often fail to mention in the rush to be optimistic is that there can be such a thing as too much marketing. As anyone who hates spam can attest, after a while, people will tune the messages out. The authors argue for being a library ambassador, which I certainly agree with since I do it every single day both as a liaison as the outreach librarian. Yes, we can and should be involved in things like faculty meetings, accreditation events, and other departmental events.

      And sometimes you should go to some of those departmental events just for the fun of it. Our music librarian is a perfect example. The lady goes to every student concert and recital she can manage. It shows support for her students and faculty; it shows that the library, or at least some people in the library, have an interest in what the students do, and it shows that we can be interested in a way other than "pushing" what the library can do for you. I have always told her she should write a paper on some of her liaison work because she combines the actual marketing that many of these folks do with basic common sense. While a lot of these articles are big on using social software or technology, she still uses the personal touch, something I have advocated for before, and it works. She has strong departmental relationships with a combination of proactivity and genuine interest. Would that work for everybody? Maybe, maybe not, but I think that social angle is one to explore further. Or as she tells me when we get a small break to talk about what we do, "all that socializing we do is actually work. If only the powers that be would understand that."

      Yet, not all the techniques you try to market the library work. As I mentioned, at times, the faculty do have to choose to show up for things. For instance, we have attempted the open house approach for faculty at the beginning of the academic year. We put a lot of effort into the publicity of the event and making sure our librarians are present. Faculty just consistently chose to attend. They clearly conveyed their lack of interest by their absence, so we decided to discontinue the event in favor of seeing if we can catch faculty, especially the new ones, in their offices. I mention this because a lot of the literature on the topic of liaison work fails to state the obvious-- it is a two-way street (or at least it should be a two-way street). No one ever addresses when the faculty choose to ignore you outright on the basis of "as long as I can get my research done in my office online, what do I need the library for?" Yes, that does happen even if a lot of librarians do not talk about it. I am talking about the faculty that you only hear about when they call the reference desk furious because their favorite database suddenly went down (hey, technical hiccups happen). I am talking about the faculty who complain that their students cannot do research (uh, you did see the information I have sent you in various forms on library instruction? Did you get my e-mails or other marketing on research consultations? Oh, you say you don't read the library's e-mails--yes, I have actually gotten that reply once or twice). Like I often tell my students, the tools are there, you do have to choose to use them. The authors discuss the issue of not all patrons being swayed, or rather they sort of mention it in passing:

      "That being said, it should be acknowledged that some potential patrons will not swayed. Academic librarians should strive to educate all potential library users about the array of services and resources offered while recognizing that not everyone will be convinced to tap into library resources" (535).
      Was it really that hard to say that? This reminds me of the days when I was in teacher training to become a school teacher where I had to eventually learn the lesson that you teach as if you were reaching every student, but you have to know that you will not reach all of them; you will lose some of them; a good number of them will fail and drop. It is a given. This is not that much different. We can work with idealism but being aware of the reality.

      A couple of quotes from the article that are good and I want to jot down:
      • "Being a marketer for the library essentially means selling the libraries resources and services to patrons and demonstrating why the libraries (sic) resources are better, showing them how librarians can help them and their students become better researchers through the reference and instruction services libraries offer" (532). Yes, and we have our work cut out for us. We have to show where we add that value. 
      • "Libraries can have the greatest available services and resources but if their patrons are not using them then they are for naught" (532). 
      The authors also bring up the all-time faculty excuse for not having library instruction-- we can't give up class time for it. I will be blunt: that is male bovine excrement. If you as a faculty member think that your students learning information literacy and learning how to do good research for your class is important, then you can make the time to provide instruction for it. It's called good planning. I honestly don't think faculty should get a free pass on this one under the "I have no time" rubric. Make the time, or otherwise you have no standing to complain when your students turn "research" based on Wikipedia, especially if we offered you options for library instruction and/or research consultations. The authors do list some compromises in lieu of this situation, and I suppose that in the end some solution is better than no solution. But we all know what really should be done. In the meantime, we will continue as liaisons to be creative and try to get our students the services they need.

      Another quote that caught my attention: "Perseverance is necessary; it takes time, patience, and tenacity to cultivate effective liaison relationships" (535). That is something I have always said, and it is something I wish certain library directors who want quick results and stuff for "statistical reports" would understand. You have to cultivate those relationships. That process can and does take time, especially if you have a brand new liaison librarian trying to learn their way around an academic community (and if it is a small school with small town mentalities, the time factor may well take longer--that could well be someone's article too).

      The authors additionally offer some suggestions and tips for getting to know a liaison area better. This is specially useful for those who get an area they themselves may not know well. It should not be an issue for a good librarian to learn what it takes to serve a liaison area. After all, we are good generalists and more importantly, we know how to learn and how to find the information we need. A good librarian is always keeping up and seeking to increase their knowledge.

      I thought this was a statement of the obvious: "Institutional support that facilitates training opportunities in outreach and instruction for librarians is one key component of the liaison program" (536). Your library administration as well as your campus administration has to support your liaison work. Information and knowledge grow and change over time, and one has to keep up. Just because you got your MLS, it does not mean you stop learning or that you have no need for further training. For the institutions, I say this is a form of putting your money where you mouth is. You want good liaisons, provide support and continuing education for them. Otherwise, you reap what you sow, or rather fail to sow.

      The final part of the article discusses the survey the authors conducted, and there are some insights in that part of the article worth looking at. As I mentioned, the survey instrument itself is useful as well. In the end, you can't just go by anecdotal evidence. You have to investigate to find out what are the actual campus needs in relation to the library, then act accordingly.

      Monday, October 04, 2010

      Following up on the academic librarian bloggership survey

      Just for kicks, I decided to answer the list of questions provided in the Hendricks article I recently read. The survey was looking into whether academic libraries or their universities view blogging as an academic endeavor good enough for tenure and promotion.

      I will include the questions, then provide my answers (in italics) to the best of my ability. If nothing else, this is mostly a reflection exercise.

      • What is your title? My current title is Reference/Outreach Librarian
      • Is this a staff, faculty, or administrative position? This is a staff position. However, in my campus, librarians have this odd position. We are not seen as faculty (because we are staff), but we do have a voting seat in the faculty senate. I do not know all the history behind getting that concession (it happened before my time), but I do know the faculty gave it reluctantly. I am ready to admit asking me about this may not be the best idea. I personally do not think librarians should be faculty, but there are a couple of colleagues here who think differently, and one who at least views this as a way to springboard into getting a scale (Librarian I, II, III or similar) implemented. Not something I necessarily like, but it is what it is. On the other hand, the rest of the staff do not see us necessarily as one of them because we are academics. Officially, this is a staff position
      • If you are faculty or administrative, what is your rank? N/A.
      • Is this a tenure-track position? No
      • What is your age? Generation X. If this was the anonymous survey with the confidentiality, I'd give the age. But I don't think I need to give that out publicly
      • How many years have you held this position? Three years (entering my 4th year now)
      • How many years have you been at your current institution? The same three years as the previous question
      • Does your institution expect you to publish scholarly articles and/or engage in scholarly activities? No expectation to publish scholarly articles. To be honest, I don't think the administration cares one way or the other. As for scholarly activities, encouragement of that is lukewarm at best. It falls under "it is nice if you do it, but it is not required." Besides, given the pretty bad budget cuts we've had, which include hefty travel restrictions, the administration really cannot expect us to do much of anything in terms of things like conferences, and they pretty much know it. And while the administration says they would consider paying for something if it is directly relevant to your work (so, attending say a conference that is not LIS stuff to present, which I have done for my subject areas, would be totally out of the question), the guilt trip they put you through for asking may well not be worth the hassle of asking. So overall, no expectation in regards to publishing scholarly articles or engaging in scholarly activities. If it were not for my personal efforts to keep up, write and reflect as I do now, I probably would not do much of anything scholarly.
      • Please list which library or (library-related) blogs you regularly read. I have a big list of library and library-related blogs in my feed reader. Some I regularly read include the following: The Society for Librarians Who Say Mofo, Off the Mark, Shelf-Check, Zenformation Professional, Annoyed Librarian, Academic Librarian, Walt at Random (plus the "usual suspects" most academic librarians usually mention like Free Range Librarian, Information Wants to be Free, Tame the Web, Librarian in Black,, ACRLog, Kept-Up Librarian) and a bunch of others I am too tired to type out now.
      • Of those blogs, do you consider any of them to be scholarly? I would say Academic Librarian by

      Friday, October 01, 2010

      Article Note: Are blogs written by academic librarians scholarly?

      Citation for the article:

      Hendricks, Arthur, "Bloggership, or is Publishing a Blog Scholarship? A Survey of Academic Librarians." Library Hi Tech 28.3 (2010): 470-477.

      Read via Emerald.

      This short article reports on a survey that tries to answer the following question: should blogs written by academic librarians count as scholarly or creative activity at tenure time? The author sent a survey to various librarian e-mail lists to get some responses. He received 67 responses, which while he admits is a low number due to aiming the survey at tenure-line folks, it still seems awfully low to me. I wonder how the sample could have been enlarged.

      The author points out in the literature review that the question has not really been discussed. He cites an article by William Savage, Jr. where that author likens academic blogging to talk radio for intellectuals (qtd. in 470). Overall, the conclusion as we come out of the literature review is that blogs may have a place in academia in terms of making a contribution, but they are not academic sources in and of themselves.

      The rest of the article goes over the results of the survey; the survey questions are included in the article. From the survey, we get the impression folks see academic librarian blogs or rather library-related blogs as good for things like staying informed, but not necessarily as good as peer reviewed articles, which require longer research; the terms seem somewhat interchangeable. For instance, the Librarian in Black, Sarah Houghton-Jan works for a public library system. That blog is listed among the top "must-reads" for survey respondents. The only thing I am saying by pointing this detail out is that the designation of what is an academic librarian blog does not seem consistent, or at least it seems fluid.On an interesting note, well to me, of the folks who write blogs themselves, "57.1 percent indicated they find other's blogs to be scholarly" (475). So it seems bloggers may be a bit more open to a blog as a scholarly platform or text. At least in one case, a respondent said that "at our library, blogging is considered professional service, or, if it's a blog for one's library or subject area, librarianship" (476).

      In addition, at this point in time, it does not seem blogs would be considered as publishing for our academic librarians in terms of their dossiers. When the respondents were asked if a blog had the same weight as publishing an article in a peer-reviewed journal, "about 53.7 percent indicated no, while only 1.5 percent stated yes" (475). However, we do have to keep in mind that the concept of publication has come into question over the years as electronic publications gain prominence, so the question will likely be raised again and again.

      The article's conclusion: "it is clear from the survey responses that this point in time, most academic library promotion and tenure committees do not weigh publishing a blog the same as publishing a peer-reviewed article. Some recognize it as service toward the profession, especially if it is related to the scholar's library" (477). My two cents? I think there are a few, a very select few, academic librarian blogs that could qualify as scholarly. They are probably as good as some of the opinion or essay pieces you do see in some of the peer reviewed journals.