I have recently read 2 posts based on the Stuart Brand quote, “Information Wants to be Free.” One was in the Scholarly Kitchen in the posting, “Information Subscriptions Continue to Evolve and Thrive — Why Are Publishers Slow to Adapt?”. This post deals with the value of information (and yes it is indeed valuable) and the models we use to pay for this. One of the underlying points of this posting is that subscription models do still work, but may be need some adjusting. It will be interesting to watch what happens when the NY Times moves from free content to a subscription model.
The other posting is on Nicholas Carr’s Rough Type blog. This posting, “Information Want to Be Free My Ass” ought to be required reading for any librarian struggling against the common refrain, “but I can get it for free on Google.” I loved this posting because it rely well decries the myth that information is free and more so even the myth that people expect information to be free. This posting raises another interesting point about valuing information based on unit. He uses the analogy of saying that food is less expensive now because we are paying less per calorie or per unit of fat. The other interesting point he raises is the different providers that we pay now. Whereas we used to pay the publishers directly for the end product (now we balk at paying the publishers) but we don’t balk at paying the access fees for the tools to access the information. Interesting paradigm shift there. I can’t begin to do his posting justice so I’m just advocating that you read it.
Meanwhile these 2 postings have caused me to ponder the conundrum that librarians have long found themselves in (oops dangling preposition oh well I understand that grammar is rapidly going the way of the print medium)… Librarians have long been in the position of paying for information (books, journals etc) so that our “community” members can have “free” access to that information. We have never kidded ourselves as a profession in the past that there wasn’t a cost to this information. It was just in a model that we understood. In the world of changing paradigms and where people are more or less willingly paying for the tools through which they access information but expecting the content to be free … what role do librarians play as brokers of information. (and don’t kid yourselves librarians have always been information brokers).
I feel like I should apologize for the bad grammar in the subject line, so I’ll just get that out of the way…
Ever since the multitasking posting, I have been thinking lately about how I spend my time at work. Ever since we launched our new site, I have been spending time updating our “marketing” materials. In addition to creating a handout about the new site, I have been updating our resource lists. I haven’t been brave enough yet to try our bookmarks or pamphlets. This is taking me far more time than I would have anticipated and is certainly something I didn’t learn about in library school. Although most librarians create handouts of all manner; I don’t recall learning much about design work in school. I guess there is an assumption that because there are program (like Microsoft Publisher) that anyone can plug & play their content. This doesn’t, however, prove at all true (at least in my case).
In a similar vein, a several times every few years I need to design a poster. Take all of the difficulties in designing hand outs and multiply them by (I don’t know) a magnitude of 100. Admittedly I have less aptitude in this area than the average bear, but I wonder if others don’t find themselves in the same boat.
I have a provocative question to post mostly just to be provocative. The Resource Shelf blog has a short posting about an ARL/IMLS project to study the value of academic libraries, “ARL Partners in Grant to Study Value of Academic Libraries.” This is going to be a 3 year study which will work to, “work to enrich, expand, test, and implement methodologies measuring the return on investment (ROI) in academic libraries.” Setting aside whether this is in and of itself going to be a good return on the investment going into the study, here’s my question, what if the study determines that academic libraries don’t have much value for their stakeholders. (inherently I believe that we do) but is it a value that can be measured in terms of ROI types of models. What if our value is so inherently qualitative that it falls out of the spectrum that can be measured by this type of study. Don’t get me wrong – I know nothing about this type of study and am really speaking about something about which I know nothing. I do, however, think that in terms of questions that would be important for a profession to have I think it would make an interesting starting point (like taking the opposing side in a debate) to imagine the possibility that such a study might come out with unexpected results. These kind of questions make us as a profession stronger by forcing us to describe why we believe we have value. They invite us to state what we believe our ROI would/could/should be. So at the end of the posting I don’t want people going away saying, “wow she believes libraries have no value” I’d rather people go away saying, “wow she believe libraries have so much value that she is willing to entertain the possibility that study might have unexpected results in order to further my belief that libraries do have value” No matter what the outcomes of this particular study, it won’t shake my passionate belief that libraries have intrinsic and high value. I also think art, music, parks, recreation, theater … all have great value.
I recently read Richard Bernier’s blog, “Do This, Do That, Do the Other Thing: The Many Hats of a Multitasking, Small College Librarian.” In this introductory posting he describes some of the multitasking issues that have arisen for him. One telling statement is when we writes about writing about multitasking saying, “I had to switch gears while writing a sentence on multitasking. How is that for irony?” Classic.
At any rate, after yesterday’s posting I really started thinking about what I do as a librarian. Today was a classic multitasking day and even more telling it was an example of not multitasking well. As an illustration and just for fun I’ll attempt to outline today’s frenetic multitasking attempts.
We launched our upgraded site on Monday, and there have been a few minor tweaks that have arisen. (I say that to set the stage for the way the day unfolded).
Today I planned to send Welcome Letters to new pharmacy preceptors, reminder letter to ongoing preceptors who haven’t accessed our site, and announements about the upgraded site to users who haven’t logged in since we started the announements about the new site. I was going to work on that throughout the day (its kinda boring so I work on that in short bursts) and alternate that with work on an article about the history of our project, updating our resource lists to reflect changes for 2010, and deal with typical daily email. Instead this is how the day unfolded…
- Sent 5 pharmacy preceptor Welcome Letters
- Oops incoming emails about questions about the new site … deal with those
- Deal with a request from a potential individual member for an updated resource list (don’t have time to redo the whole 2010 list so quickly find and edit the 2009 template list)
- Talk with a colleague about our library’s (HSL) proposal for a 2nd year NLM fellow
- Troubleshoot a plan for integrating the list of paid resources into our Guest profile (so they can see what would be available not so they can access the actual resources
- Implement the above plan
- Phone call with ANCHASL president about potential goals for next year
- Write a list of necessary enhancements for the Guest profile of the ADL
- Discover that the marketing material for the newly launched site needs to go out sooner rather than later …. create a flyer (which takes forever since graphic design is so NOT my thing) … update our email distribution list … send out announcement about new site … Whew!!
- Track undeliverable emails from preceptor letters sent earlier today
I don’t know what this says about my skill set as a librarian or even about my ability to multitask but it definately speaks to the need to be flexible. I look at today as a very typical and fairly successful day. Everything I did needed to get done and nothing got left undone that was vital.
A recent posting on the Eideard blog, “Chief spy wants more librarians and historians than hired guns” caught my attention. It sounded quite intriguing, the real quote that prompted that headline instead said, “Analysts must absorb information with the thoroughness of historians, organise it with the skill of librarians, and disseminate it with the zeal of journalists,” provides an even more interesting insight into the perceptions of what librarians do. Traditionally librarians did 2 things (primarily) they organized and found information.
As I reflect on how I spend the bulk of my time, I think its a fair assessment to say that I organize information (or at least I spend a fair amount of time doing activities that enable the organization of information). As I imagine the future, I can see a time when that activity will be far less prevalent. Personally I even “Google” most of the information I use in my non-work life. As searching becomes “better” (and that is a whole posting for another day) and even more prevalent I think organizing information in traditional manners will become less prevalent. The organizing role might come in the form of enabling better searching (meta-data, indexing, etc).
Where does that leave librarians? The role that I imagine will be growing in importance is the role of teaching people to evaluate information. With more and more information available and easily findable, there will be an increasing amount of unreliable, inaccurate, and just bad information around and about. In my ideal library world this will lead to an important role for librarians in teaching people to evaluate information and then on to (hopefully) learning how to make the leap from information to knowledge. This would be the ideal future for librarians.
In the meantime we continue to do many of the things (if not all of the things) that we have always done. We purchase resources, we create portals for accessing these resources, we answer reference questions, and countless other assorted tasks to keep our buildings, portals, and users going.
I had high hopes of doing this post before 2009 actually ended, but then I decided to actually take some time off over the holidays, so there you go.
In my estimation the top library news story is a no brainer. If I was trying to be clever or creative it might have been trickier, but for this I was just going on my very unscientific estimation of listserv topics and results of libraries in Google news. The top library news story in 2009 was the budget crisis hitting so many libraries. To me there were several factors contributing to this top status.
- The sheer number of news stories about libraries dealing with budget issues
- The fact that the budget situation hit all types of libraries: public, academic, medical, corporate
- The budget situation impacted ever aspect of a library’s operations (how we staff, what we buy, what services we provide, what space we use etc.)
Although the number of news stories about the budget issues facing libraries peaked early in the year and really tapered off towards the end of the year, I don’t think that was because the budget situations had stabilized but rather most of the decisions about how to deal with the budget situations were already made. If libraries were cutting hours, once those cuts were made, the stories seemed to die down. I know in our library the collections cuts were big news, but once the cuts were made and the new licenses were negotiated and signed the story even within our institution also died down.
Now the time comes to look towards 2010. If I were making predictions for 2010 I’d have to say that the changing economic realities will continue to impact what we do and how we do it for the coming year.
What I am finding to be an interesting exercise would be to try to predict major trends for 2010 that are NOT technology related.