Friday, August 27, 2010

Article Note: On When ERIC is useful, with some follow-up

Citation for the article:

Corby, Kate, "When is ERIC Useful? A Background and Current Overview of the Education Resources Information Center." The Reference Librarian 50.2 (2009): 137-149.  

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

This article updates and supplements the previous article I read on the topic, which discussed alternatives to ERIC. I still teach EBSCO's Education Research Complete as the primary database for education research, but I do mention ERIC mostly as a supplement and for its thesaurus. Let me mention another small update note after I wrote the note for the other article: We finally acquired Web of Science for the library. It's amazing what the threat of losing or not getting accreditation (or reaffirmation, which is the new term) does for money to suddenly appear for library development and enhancement. I am being perfectly honest and blunt in this case: were it not for that, we would not have been able to purchase WoS. Now my job is promoting more use of WoS for the education faculty as well and discovering all it can do for us in terms of education research. I like having options, but I digress. In the other article, I do discuss some tips for teaching research in education that are very applicable and relevant, so those of you who do instruction may want to go and look at the other link.

Getting back to Corby's article, we get an overview of ERIC and its current condition. The article starts by providing an overview of ERIC's development history and design. ERIC was created to bring education research, which was being done all over the nation, under one roof. This is where the clearinghouses structure came in at first. ERIC also developed the Document Reproduction Service (EDRS), which served to provide those microfiche sets that some libraries still have (we still have our set, but I am not sure for how long since there is some pressure to weed it out. Please see the Strayer article, for some notes on why I have doubts about totally weeding out the fiche set). The other big decision ERIC made was using a commercial service. In 2004, the clearinghouses were closed, and ERIC moved to just being a database. From there, the author goes on to discuss how good and relevant ERIC may be in this day and age.

According to Corby, of the major education indexes, "ERIC claims the last number of journals covered" (142). Corby compares ERIC with products from Wilson, Gale, and EBSCO. However, she notes that ERIC is moving to greater coverage. She agrees that right now EBSCO emulates the gold standard when it comes to coverage (143). We do have to note that ERIC not only covers journals; it also covers conference papers, government reports, monographs, and other grey literature. This additional coverage gives ERIC an advantage. Another advantage is the thesaurus. As I have noted before, you can use the thesaurus not only in ERIC but also use its terms for suggestions of terms to type in other databases.

Overall, Corby concludes that ERIC is still a vital service, even if it has a lower profile. Sure, there are other resources that are more visible (at least if you are on a college campus with an EBSCO subscription), but ERIC is still a good resource. Corby explains why we would miss it if it was gone: "The library community would miss ERIC because it provides generally excellent specific indexing of articles. For in-depth searching on elusive education topics, it is a lifesaver. None of the competing products is as good" (147). So you see that ERIC still has some strong advantages. In addition, "many teachers and principals rely on ERIC as their major source of education information. Without it, they would lack access to the professional literature" (147). Many of these educators are probably using the government web version of the database, which would not have links to full-text as EBSCO's version would (but that is mostly because EBSCO links full-text you may have via other databases you also subscribe to). Corby makes a note that librarians should be reaching out more to those teachers and principals. She writes that "those are the people that librarians should be reaching out to, making sure they know how to use our library catalogs and interlibrary loan to access the items not available from ERIC servers" (147).

Link provided in the article to the ERIC Users' Committee, a unit of ACRL. I have used the link that seems more current (given ALA's recent Web page revamp).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Article Note: On liaison activities for academic librarians

Citation for the article:

Kozel-Gains, Melissa A. and Richard A. Stoddart, "Experiments and Experiences in Liaison Activities: Lessons from New Librarians in Integrating Technology, Face-to-Face, and Follow-Up." Collection Management 34.2 (April 2009) :130-142.

Read via Interlibrary Loan. 

The article reviews some librarian liaison activities. It specifically looks at blogs, customized research pages, and the use of Library Thing for collection development. The article is mostly for new librarians who find themselves with liaison duties in academia, but librarians who are already working in academia will find benefit from the article as well. The authors cite RUSA's definition of liaison work as "the process by which librarians involve the library's clientele in the assessment and satisfaction of collection needs" (131). Let me put it in plain English. If you are an academic librarian, and your role includes working with faculty in a specific department, and if said role includes work in collection development for said department/subject area, and you also provide instruction specifically to meet those department's needs, you are a library liaison. In a university setting, odds are pretty good that if you are a reference and/or instruction librarian, that you will have some level of liaison duties. Let me use myself as an example. I am the subject librarian here for the School of Education, the Department of Psychology, and the Department of Social Sciences (specifically for areas in anthropology, criminal justice, public administration, geography, and political science). This means that I promote library services to those areas. I provide more specialized library instruction to their students (we are assuming instruction past the basic session they get the freshman year), and I gather faculty requests for materials as well as suggest and purchase materials on my own initiative for their areas (in the instances where we have money to do so). I also will do some instruction for faculty on specific resources at their request.

To be honest, liaison work is not something that is taught, or taught very well, in library school.
If I had to make a list of things that library schools should be teaching to potential academic librarians, how to do liaison work and build relationships with faculty and students would be an item on that list. By the way, it is an observation of mine that the smaller the campus, the more of a generalist you have to be. Large research universities usually have a liaison for one area, say psychology. In the smaller setting, you have to be able to wear multiple hats, and at times, you may end up doing liaison work in a subject area you feel you are not best qualified. I happen to be fortunate because my degree was a teaching degree, so it gives me background and knowledge for my subject areas. However, let me reassure my two readers that, at least in smaller settings, you can still thrive as the liaison to, say the School of Nursing, even if you don't have a nursing or science degree. You are a librarian. You know how find information, and more importantly, you know how to learn things. Over time, as you learn the resources in your area, you will develop the necessary familiarity and subject knowledge to do the work. In addition, do not be afraid to ask questions from your faculty. They are the subject experts. These subjects are their passion, what they have studied, and many of them will be happy to share their knowledge.

Let's make some notes then:

The authors reinforce that a good liaison has to be able to wear multiple hats, not only in terms of subject but also in terms of skills:

"A good liaison is a jack-of-all-trades incorporating people skills, designing Web pages, aiding faculty research, writing department or course-specific resource guides, providing face-to-face consultation, and informing and facilitating faculty in learning about new and emerging information technologies, such as those associated with Library/Web 2.0" (131).

We do need to have a good customer service ethic. However, in terms of the above, we may aide faculty with their research, but we do not do their research for them. That's what their research assistants are for (or what the faculty members themselves should be doing since they are the ones doing the writing). The point is that as the liaison you provide some support, show them how to use particular resources, and empower them to do their work. But we also do many other things, some of which are described in the quote above.

The authors first look at blogs directed at faculty. This means blogs created by the librarian specifically for faculty in a department. I would extrapolate to try to make the blog a broader resource for students in that subject area as well, but this is not really considered in the article. The focus, as described in the article, is that the blogs worked more as static Web sites listing resources and items of interest to the faculty. I would go with the more traditional vision of the blog as a tool that you update with some regularity. The overall blog design rational for the blogs the authors describe:

"These faculty blogs were designed to both promote resources and library information to faculty and allow feedback from faculty without overwhelming them with content. The blogs offered a place that faculty could visit at their convenience to catch up on library and collection-related information specific to their departments, as well as providing an online communications hub for faculty feedback" (132).

 A blog does have the advantage that it is something easy to set up. For a new librarian who has a  lot of things on his plate, the ability to set a blog up with ease is helpful. You can easily add some widgets, and you are ready to go.

The authors noted that the blogs were not getting much traffic from the faculty. To increase traffic, the authors consider that better promotion of the resource may be needed. They saw the blogs as experimental, so they did not link them on their library pages. I would link any blog I created in our library website and certainly in our LibGuides. The issue seems to be striking a balance between between having a general resource and one that is very specific to narrow research areas. I say that for a blog, any blog, it takes time to build a following. If the feedback from faculty who do see it is positive, I say that is a good thing and a reason to continue.

Second, the authors go on to discuss personalized web page development for faculty. I will not go much into this because here we use LibGuides to meet those needs. The authors mention using an RSS widget from Spring Widgets (note: link in article seems to be a dead link. Looks like there is a new link). Assessment is a challenge: how to keep track of who is using it, so on. LibGuides, which is a fee-based service, does provide some analytics in that area. Promotion at this point is important as well. Not only for some faculty, but if we can get faculty to promote the site to their students, graduate assistants, so on, then we will be doing better.

The authors then discuss use of a wiki to create/establish a liaison manual. The idea sounds nice in theory. The problem I usually have with wikis is that they are not terribly intuitive or user friendly. Now before some wiki fan out there jumps on me, take a moment and think of what you take for granted. Compared to using the interface here on Blogger (or Wordpress or Vox even, which I have used as well), a wiki editing interface is not very intuitive unless you have had time to practice in order to learn it. Our attempt in using a wiki during our usability testing work for the library website redesign was of mixed results at best. In the end, sharing a collaborative word document was a lot easier. However, I do want to note that the theory in using a wiki (or some other collaborative online tool) is pretty good. Two things from that section:

  • "Migrating the liaison manual to a wiki would allow content to be more dynamic and timely, therefore proving more directly useful to liaisons in their day-to-day activities" (136). 
  • "In essence, a wiki has the potential to tap into the collective institutional intelligence and expertise of multiple library staff to produce a more vibrant and timely document" (136). This deals with the idea of institutional memory, a topic I have pondered once or twice, and one that I do not think gets enough attention in our profession. 
The authors then go on to describe how they use Library Thing, which you can read in the article. It does require purchasing an institutional account and then giving access to various parties to make the collection development work. I am not too sure on the logistics, but I think people who use it already personally may find it more useful for their liaison duties.

At the end of the day though, and this is what I really liked about the article, is that face time is still crucial. You have to leave the office and meet people as well as follow up using tools like e-mail and blogs. Some notes on lessons to learn and consider:

  • "Technology may provide new tolls for outreach, but the quality of a face-to-face encounter with faculty often provides a lasting impression from which a liaison can draw feedback and build on for future encounters. Creating these opportunities is one of the primary responsibilities of a library liaison" (139). This is a very good reminder. 
  • "Follow-up is an essential component of liaison activities. Librarians must continually educate and periodically remind faculty of specialized library services and resources" (139). This also includes asking for feedback and assessing the tools regularly to make sure they meet faculty needs, to make sure they are useful as well as  usable.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Short article note: On Web 2.0 tools for library instruction

Citation for the article:

Deitering, Anne-Marie,, "Library Instruction 2.0." Public Services Quarterly 5.2 (April 2009): 114-124.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

This piece is mostly a list of some Web 2.0 tools with some suggestions and tips on how they can be used for library instruction. If you are a pretty savvy librarian who knows how to use the major 2.0 tools, you can probably safely skim the article. There are some basic tips that can be useful, which include:

  • Using Delicious ( and tagging to highlight issues with the concept of tagging versus a controlled vocabulary. (116).
  • Using Google Reader ( to organize and track information. I use Google Reader quite a bit for my current awareness needs.
  • Using Creative Commons, both for finding content that may be used freely and for your own material. My blogs are licensed with Creative Commons, by the way. 
There are a couple other items included. This article is one to keep handy when you need some ideas to enhance or supplement your library instruction. The only catch is that it came out in 2009, which means most of it was likely written up in 2008 or earlier, and the Web has changed a bit since then. Some of these tools are pretty much common, and there are many other new ones. On the other hand, I do get a good amount of students (and some faculty) who have no idea what a feed reader is. However, the tools listed here seem to have stood the test of time (if we can understand that time moves quite swiftly in the Web). I am keeping the article in my files for future reference, plus it would be interesting to consider what other tools librarians would add to this list by now.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On Librarians Who May Or Not Read, and some extra thoughts on RA

This post is sort of a response to the post by Liz B. from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Cozy entitled "Readers' Advisory?"  The post made me think again of a few things I have been pondering lately about RA and librarians who may or not read.

 * * * *

When it comes to reading and readers' advisory work, there are two things that can make me cringe.

One is the tendency of a lot of librarians in academia to not read or denigrate those who do. I have been in enough job interviews, on both sides of the table, to see this consistent reaction. It usually goes something like this: a candidate expresses that a reason she went into librarianship is because she likes to read. Those interviewing see the answer as less than substantial. I will grant that, unlike public librarians, academics tend to seek more specific traits in academic librarian candidates (collegiality, specific subject area knowledge for liaison work, teaching ability, ability and/or desire to publish, especially applicable to tenure lines), but somehow, to me at least, looking down on someone because they like to read is not right. The response I usually hear is that anyone saying they like to read is like someone saying they like puppies. I mean, you can't be against puppies, so same idea. The enjoyment of reading is either seen as a simplistic answer or as a stock answer, i.e. the answer you give when you don't have anything more original or substantial to say. I have found that you get a more positive experience if you get a candidate talking about some of the things they like to read, even if you do it during a lunch break or other more informal moment during the interview process (a note for any non-academic readers: interview process for an academic librarian, much like for faculty, can be an all day affair. Having a meal at some point is very common and  often used as an informal way to measure a candidate and viceversa).

The second thing that makes me cringe is librarians who do not read. I cringe even more when they openly admit it, and really shudder if they take pride in it. The excuses for this pretty much run the gamut: I read plenty of stuff online (usually means they can skim a lot, often work-related); I deal with enough books already, so I don't want to read anymore; I am not really a reader, etc. Reading articles is reading; I am not denying that. However, librarians should also be reading books both in and out of their subject or interest areas. You do this to stay informed. You do this to have a sense of what is out there. You do it to be prepared for the moment a patron asks "can  you recommend something good to read?" so you can suggest something other than what you can scrape up via Amazon. You read because it makes you a better librarian. It makes you more well-rounded as a librarian and a person. I will admit here: I think less of any librarian who, when asked what are you reading, say nothing or that they don't have time to read. I am not looking for any specific type of reading. You enjoy fluffy regency romances? Cool. You like reading books on your favorite e-reader? Wonderful. Just read. For a librarian, I don't think there is a valid excuse not to be reading something. If you are a librarian, you should be reading.

Now in academia, we librarians do not do as much RA as our public library brethren. Yet we do get students now and then asking for things to read that are fun. They are looking for something recreational. We should be prepared for this possibility given that academia is not only to get a degree but to nurture lifelong learning and well-rounded individuals. That includes the enjoyment of reading. The literature is addressing the need of RA in academic libraries (see also here). Here at my library we now have a Bestseller Collection (a browsing collection of popular books) available on the main floor to nurture and encourage recreational reading for the academic community. So far, it is getting some use.

To end, I will address some of the questions that Liz B asks at the end of her post:

  • "If you’re a librarian, what type of formal training did you have?" I took two courses in readers' advisory in library school. One for Adult RA and the other in Children and YA. I did that to prepare for a possible career path in public librarianship. Hey, the market back then was tight too, so I was hedging my bets. But I also took the classes because I was interested in the RA work, and I saw them as a chance to read some books I would not read otherwise during library school. Library school is not exactly a place that encourages much recreational reading unless you are either a reader, or you take an RA class. 
  •  "What resources have you used to learn about RA and work on your skills?" In addition to my coursework, I read a lot related to RA, and I try to keep up. Some books on the topic I have read after library school include this one, this other one, and this one over here. Also, since The Gypsy Librarian reads a lot of the LIS literature so you don't have to, that includes articles on RA such as this one on RA in small public libraries, one on interactive RA, and this one on RA and going beyond bestsellers. In addition, I do scan various RA related and book related sites, and I read various book blogs via my feed reader. Plus I read a lot of books. Areas of interest include, but are not limited to, science fiction, education and pedagogy, graphic novels, microhistories (you know, those books that do a really good history of just one thing, like this one), and some current affairs/events.
  • "Is it something you think is important?" Yes. I think it is important both professionally and personally. 
  • "And if you use libraries, what has been your experience in asking staff about what to read next?" Interesting question. I have never really had to ask a library staff member at a library I use (I am referring here to my local public library) for reading suggestions. I think this is mostly because I keep so many personal book lists and use so many other resources that I do not see a need. It is not a negative reflection on the staff. As a side note, however, I do ask and share suggestions with some of the paraprofessional staff at my library. They tend to be readers. At least one of them is a friend of mine over on GoodReads, the social site I use to keep track of my books. They ask me for ideas, and I often ask them as well. It has been an observation of mine that often the paraprofessionals tend to be more avid readers than many librarians. With a bit more training, many of them could likely be good readers' advisors. Liz B. writes that RA is "a skill set, it’s a knowledge base, and it takes work and dedication." Librarians should definitely be cultivating, building upon, and expanding said skill set and knowledge base. However, I think we can also take advantage of staff who read and are knowledgeable, especially in genres (and certainly in cases where the librarians are dropping the ball).
  • "Are the displays and booklists helpful?" Yes. Depending on the display, I often get an idea or two of what to read. If it is an open display, and the books can be checked out, I do pick something if it interests me. 
  • "Do you know if these things are done by librarians, staff, or volunteers?" In my library, I do all the book displays; it is part of my work in outreach. At the local public library, I am not sure who does it. Other libraries I have visited, it is usually someone who volunteers. 

Friday, August 06, 2010

Some thoughts on the concept of a social media librarian

The following set of semi-random musings are inspired or prompted by Professor Bell's recent piece in ACRLog entitled "Is There a Social Media Librarian In Your Library's Future?" Go read the piece first if you have not read it, then stay if interested for the meanderings.

* * * *

I never really saw myself as a social media librarian, but over time I would have to say that title describes a lot of what I do in a fairly accurate way. Here in my library, we are currently working to leverage social networks to better serve our academic community. I am a believer of being where the users are, but I am also a  user of online social media for personal needs. I think that this gives me a bit more credibility when I use social media for professional or work-related issues. But it is not all about just being a user of social media. My work here involves public relations and marketing for the library, so I find myself reading, investigating and assessing how to use those social media tools for our library's needs. From articles about better content creation to items about analytics, I read as much as I can to keep up and learn more. In terms of assessment, for instance, I am in the process of developing a faculty survey on library services, and one or two questions will go to social media usage. In the end, it is not so much about the tools as what you do with those tools; the goal for me is to learn how to make the social media work for us as a proactive engagement tool, then make it happen.

To answer one of the questions Professor Bell poses: Yes, at this time, we have one librarian responsible for oversight of social media accounts and activities. It falls under the umbrella of Outreach, which is my job title and description. Some of the duties are shared. For instance, other librarians have posting privileges to the library's blog. I will grant that at this time they do not take much advantage of it, but they do have the access and the opportunity. They have been empowered, but they have not chosen to use it (and this can be for various reasons from not feeling they have something to contribute to just simple time constraints). However, they do post to the internal reference blog as needed; we use that one for small reports, incident documentation, and other assorted notes. Adding to the answer for Professor Bell,  I can also say that yes, I am the librarian who oversees the marketing and PR for the library. I am the primary blogger for the library, and I maintain our other social presences like Facebook. When our users wonder if someone is out there to respond and engage, I am that person.

My position is not called Social Media Librarian. I am not sure I would want such a title even though it is what I do to a large extent, and my colleagues pretty much identify me as the social media librarian. For the record, my official title-- at least the one printed on my business card-- is Reference/Outreach Librarian. In the scheme of things, it means "the reference librarian who happens to do outreach." I have to clarify that the only librarians not labeled as "reference librarians" are those who work in some technical service (systems, cataloguing, circulation, and archivist). To further illustrate, our instruction librarian has a similar meaning; she is the Reference/Instruction Librarian, i.e. "the reference librarian who happens to do instruction." In a more perfect world, she would be something like Coordinator of Information Literacy (or at least Lead Instruction Librarian or such, which would reflect what she really does). Personally, when people ask me what I do, I just say, "I am the Outreach Librarian." It sounds simple enough., though once in a while I get asked "what does that mean?" At that point, I usually make light of it and say that I am the library evangelist and add that I spread or carry forth the good work of the library. It works at times. I should say that I am not big on titles, or at least on serious titles. In the LSW, my claimed title is "Disinformation Outbreak Response Agent." Too bad I can't put that on my business card. My two readers have no idea how often I have to respond to disinformation outbreaks, but I digress.

As for the question of training to do PR and marketing work, a lot of it I've learned on the job by reading, some online webinars, and by doing it. Like Professor Bell, I don't think we need whole courses in library school on social media and tools. We should be teaching more about marketing, PR, writing press releases, so on. The fact I was an English major in a previous life did help with some of that. The lessons should be integrated into the curriculum already in place. To supplement or enhance, make the students take a marketing or PR course outside of library school.

Then again, would a title like Social Media Librarian add cachet to what I do? Maybe. I kind of see it as that other title that was floating around a while back and a few libraries put in place: Emerging Technologies Librarian. It seems to me that, to an extent, Emerging Technologies Librarian is what we are labeling now as Social Media Librarian; a lot of the social media we take for granted now was emerging at one point. A good number of celebrity librarians made their reputations riding that wave; I don't say this in any negative sense, but I think when this chapter of librarianship is written, whoever writes it will say something like that. So some of those librarians would probably be called Social Media Librarian by now.

In the end, based on my job description, which may have to get rewritten at some point, and what I do, I could easily tell the boss to relabel the position as Social Media Librarian. The question is: would it stick? Or would it just be a trendy label until the technology and social media world evolves into something new? Maybe down the road the next title might Metaverse Jockey Librarian or something like that (I am thinking something from Snow Crash). For me, maybe if the reclassification came with a raise, but I know that is not going to happen here. Besides, I happen to think Library Evangelist is somewhat cool. Maybe I can get that on my business card instead.

Additional Note: Here is a partial listing of some social media use items I have been looking over either for personal application or for library application.