I have been grappling with Ithaka’s most recent faculty survey results. The section about, Discovery and the Evolving Role of the Library, seems of the greatest significance to my work. (Schonfeld, Roger; Housewright, RossI T H A K A S + R F A C U L T Y S U R V E Y 2 0 0 9 :K E Y S T R A T E G I C I N S I G H T S F O R L I B R A R I E S , P U B L I S H E R S , A N D S O C I E T I E S) One of the most provocative statements to emerge from this report came in a summary statement saying,
Basic scholarly information use practices have shifted rapidly in recent years and, as a result, the academic library is increasingly being disintermediated from the discovery process, presenting libraries with some key challenges but also the opportunity to reallocate resources to other priorities.
The findings made a bit of a buzz after they were reported upon in the Scholarly Kitchen Blog, “One Report, Two Findings: Library Roles Changing, Open Access Not Compelling“. The Scholarly Kitchen spins some of the results saying, “librarians and traditional library roles are slowly being disintermediated,” (please note my restraint in not harping on the use of the word disintermediated … I mean really that’s the best word they could find? but I digress).
The findings show an interesting increase in the perception of library’s as purchasing agents and a slight decrease in the value as members of the discovery process. How libraries are coping with this and what this means for the future of libraries is still playing out. The Scholarly Kitchen concludes that libraries are still holding their own.
What I find interesting and what I’m pondering is how this report findings fit in with the recent findings in the State of American Libraries 2010. There is a lot of interesting information in this report especially for lovers of their public libraries. The part I want to focus on is the section on academic libraries. According to the report
- “Academic libraries are experiencing increased use, both physical and virtual”
- Electronic reference sources and aggregation services also rose sharply
- Academic libraries’ expenditures for electronic serial subscriptions increased
Does this contradict the findings in the Ithaka report? Maybe not since the Ithaka report focused solely on faculty.
We know we are purchasing more, will this trend continue in light of the Ithaka findings about decreasing use of these types of resources?
At the end of the day, both reports are well worth reading and certainly in need of much more discussion. The implications for the future are still playing out, but the good news in both of these reports are that libraries are still valued and even putting a negative spin on the Ithaka report (which I’m not advocating or doing) the libraries are in the worst case scenario at the very least holding their own.
Sometimes I think as a profession that librarians are our own worst enemies.
- How many discussions do we need to keep having about what we should call ourselves (yes yes I know I’ve harped on this before).
- How many discussions do we need to have about whether we are being replaced by Google (or whether Google can replace us?)
- How many discussions do we need to have about whether a library is truly busy and relevant if all the users are just in our buildings to use the internet
- Let’s keep the name librarians and move on, free up our mental energy for more important conversations. Is the American Bar Association talking about renaming itself
- No, we can’t be replaced by Google, ‘nough said
- Yes we need to rethink the use of our physical space, yes providing an important service like internet access is an important thing we can (and should) do
At any rate, there is a new book entitled, “This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybratarians Can Save Us All” (Marilyn Johnson Harper), written about librarians. The author makes, “an unadulterated case for their [librarian's]indispensability at a time when library systems are losing an average of 50 librarians per year.” (Encore Online, 3/23/2010).
Why library systems are losing an average of 50 librarians per year is a whole other question and would lend itself to a whole other posting.
Johnson writes that, “There is the thought that libraries are finished in the age of Google…This couldn’t be more wrong. What about the rest of us? Most of us here are trying to figure out things on our own. About a fifth of us don’t own computers. Our public computers are in libraries, and if we make those computers go away—and the human beings who help us use them—we shoot our economy and our democracy in in the foot. The seeds of our recovery are in the library.”
Maybe the general public aren’t the only audience who need to hear this message; maybe we as librarians need to remember this for ourselves.
So I’ve been without my home computer for the past couple of weeks which pretty much drove me crazy, but I’m limping back along. As some of you may remember, my top library news story category for 2009 was the economy and libraries. At the time of that posting it was a purely theoretical; it is now hitting home. We discovered last week that our Health Sciences Library which has been an independent campus library is going to be combined with the main campus libraries (combined, merged) use whatever term you like. Its too soon to say how this is going to play out. Our campus paper, The Daily Tar Heel, ran the headline, “UNC’s Health Sciences Library to be consolidated, could see layoffs“. The gist of the story focused on the cost cutting nature of the decision to combine the 2 libraries. Since I typically don’t read our Daily Tar Heel I didn’t have the shock of reading the story until we had an all staff meeting to meet with the University Librarian where our current library director alluded to the story. There’s nothing like announcing a major change to induce rampant panic. (I’m not personally panicked but its certainly in the air). This same article discussed consolidations that are underway at the University of Illinois.
The recent JMLA had a series of articles about libraries that are losing space. This seems to be yet another trend prodded in part by changing economies. The space situation cuts across many types of health sciences libraries from hospital (as seen in our local area with the closing of the physical Wake AHEC/WakeMed Medical library and at the Duke Medical Library). I have been alluding to the space issues in this blog previously so I was quite interested to see this JMLA issue.
All of these changes are forcing us to grapple with change. Conceptually we all want to believe that change is ultimately good and positive, but personally most of us would probably prefer that things just stay the same. In the movie, You’ve Got Mail, the character of Kathleen Kelly writes, “People are always saying that change is a good thing. But all they’re really saying is that something you didn’t want to happen at all… has happened.” I found this quote to be a bit refreshing because most quotes about change seem to be more along the lines of, “if nothing ever changed there’d be no butteflies.” (huh??) Woodrow Wilson had an interesting but realistic on change when he said, “if you want to make enemies, try to change something.”
So here we are facing serious changes as a profession. How we adapt to these changes will define what libraries are in the years to come. (ok so its not the most original thought in the world but its been a weird couple of weeks).
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).
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.
I had been meaning to post about this topic for a while and once again Marcus Banks “beat me to the punch.” Maybe it would be more accurate to say that his posting, If Publishers Must Evolve, So Too Must Libraries, spurred me on to revisit my thinking on this topic. In this posting he muses about what libraries would look like if the Internet came first. He also poses some interesting comments/questions about the imperative that many libraries have about holding on to “their space.”
I have an interesting perspective seeing as though I manage an entirely digital library that exists outside of any specific physical space. We have member libraries that are fairly traditional physical hospital libraries, some member libraries support nursing programs but lack a physical space for the hospital, and we even have one library that has intentionally sacrificed its physical being to save itself. I actually believe that the harder we hold onto the library as place that we risk losing the other (arguably more important) aspects of libraries namely the intellectual capital (or more simply our services). Clearly we don’t need libraries to serve as warehouses for our resources any more.
The Duke University Medical Center library more so than most libraries is really grappling with library as place. They have been asked and have indeed given more and more space. As they have lost their space, they are also being confronted with subsequent loss of staff and I wonder if perhaps services that they can offer. I don’t believe that a loss of physical space needs to result in a loss of staff. A loss of space will result in changing staffing responsibilities. With no more circulation to manage and with fewer service points, the staffing needs clearly change. On the other hand, if additional library services are offered (that aren’t tied to a large physical space), then staffing needs to merely shift. The tale in the Duke story to me is that when we tie ourselves to closely to our space, when our space shrinks so do are service levels. Now things are a bit more complicated when the over all economic down turn are factored into the mix. If the loss of space are tied to needs to recoup monies, then the loss of space might merely be but one tool to support the ability to cut staff and do other money saving measures. (wow and do I ever feel like that doesn’t make any sense).
Here’s where my life gets somewhat interesting. Although I manage an entirely digital collection; my office is located in a physical library. Our physical space is constantly full and in use. Our study spaces, meeting, confernce and other rooms are in constant use. This past exam week was practically standing room only waiting to use some study room. Every chair on the first 2 floors was full. The debate, however, comes in when people question whether this is really a use of the LIBRARAY or just a use of any convenient space. That argument is not, thankfully mine. I merely make the observation that ours is one busy space.
I also think that librarians need to rethink what is an appropriate or library-like use of our space (our meaning libraries). I don’t know if I have all those answers, but I certainly do enjoy raising the questions.
Before I pick-up on the core competencies thread, I just want to ponder for a moment if the full moon was playing havoc on all things technical today. We were just filled with all sorts of gremlin types of oddities. Nothing horrible, more like a nuisance. I thought once I left work I could put my tech. woes behind me, but Word Press is even slow tonight. Gotta be the full moon….
So yesterday I was taking the position that the ALA Core Competencies are NOT merely supporting the traditional status quo, but are instead possibly flexible enough to ground the profession in our solid roots but allow for full and beautiful blooming (to keep up with my nature analogy). Overly romanticized notion; I know. Its also surprising because I often find myself taking a role in opposition to our professional association mandates and/or initiatves. My musings are mostly just a way of stimulating thought. Sort of like a debate where all sides need to be aired. I’m trying to just raise some questions about the 8 generic core competency topics.
Yesterday I covered my views on Foundations of the Profession and Information Resources.
– Organization of Recorded Knowledge & Information.
To tell you the truth I’m not sure what this means exactly. I’m assuming it means what we once referred to as organization of information. As we all know; I’m not a big fan of the whole information deal, but am a big fan of always moving towards knowledge so I can go with this. I find the use of the word “recorded” to be quite interesting. Given the growth in the areas of digitization and institutional respositories, I can’t help but think that this is one area that is quite forward thinking. As librarians we are nothing if not the experts in organization “information” so that it is easier to find and process. This organization could take the form ( I would imagine) of the metadata we add to improve search successes. It’s also the categories and labels we put on our web sites. (can I tell you how often we ponder whether the word databases is a good label for those things).
This category takes on even more important meanings in a world where we are trying to digitize our institutional paper trails. There are actually (from my casual observations of the jobs lists) jobs to be had in the arena of archives and digitization. Call it what you will, there is definatly a future in our organizational abilities. I probably spend the biggest chunk of my work life literally organization information.
– Technology Knowledge and Skills.
This certainly speaks for itself. I’m also quite pleased to see the word knowledge used. Adapting and becomine facile with technologies isn’t so much learning new programs as it is a mindset about the role of technology in our world. To me this is the epitome of Technology Knowledge.
– Reference and User Services
Ok, so this is a traditional category, but only if you lack vision. I can’t conceive of any circumstances under which librarians won’t be called upon to play a reference role. I also think the increasing important activity of user education could fall under this category. As the world moves at increasing rates of speed, the role of librarians in teaching about technology, evaluating resources, searching, etc…. This to me is the heart of being a library. This is the service component of what we do. Whether reference is provided in a traditional manner and/or provided through an emerging technology; its still a service that I think will be vital as we move forward as a profession.
Sigh… I’m just not up to pontificate about the whole research role. This category will get a whole posting devoted to it at a later time. Let me just say that this isn’t some left over relic from times gone by. There are so many areas ripe for good research.
–Continuing Education & Lifelong Learning
This pretty much speaks for itself as well. The important aspect of this isn’t the topics per se, but the mindset that this is something important for librarians to do. It seems like a no brainer to me — like so obvious I can’t believe they felt the need to declare this a core competency.
– Administration & Management
ok, I don’t get how anyone could possibly think this is an out of date idea. Even if we accept the premise that our future is equal to emerging technologies, there is still a need to manage people places and things. So I don’t see enough here to even discuss.
So where do I go from here? It seems to me there are sort of three main concepts at work as we look towards the future…
–Understanding our broad set of competencies;
and as I look over the ALA list; I think its as good as anything. Broad yet vague —
–Developing Underlying Skill Sets to carry forth our mission and that support our core competencies.
These skills would/could vary from job to job. These are the types of things that we learned in library school and most likely promptly forgot. To be honest I think I only took 2 classes where I learned anything that I didn’t already know from working in a library for 8 years. Skills are easy to pick-up and since they change the most rapidly they are the ones that we should probably put the least focus in library school.
Here is a list of “skills” that I use most frequently in my job. I’ll attempt to annotate to reflect those which I learned in school and those which I learned on the job or in a class outside the library school sphere.
– Negotiating Electronic Licenses (bearing in mind that I have been out of school for over 10 years)
This wasn’t even mentioned as something that existed. Now I spend a good portion of each year (although less now that I’ve conquered the indemnification clause) working on licensing our electronic resources.
–Usability Testing (web pages or other digital portals)
Again not even mentioned as something that exists.
– HTML coding
Voila something I did learn in school. Although I learned in the pre-style sheet era; the basic skill set did however easily allow me to pick up CSS or even XML.
–Statistical Analysis and Interpetation
We did learn some basic statistics and research skills in school, but nothing there prepared me for the scope of data that we have to draw upon.
Other than cataloging and learning how to search other products, I didn’t have a good skill foundation for how I organize information now. The cataloging foundation has, however, served me in good stead as it taught me a way of thinking about the world.
Do I regret or wish I had learned these skills in school? No it hasn’t negatively impeded my work (gosh that does sound arrogant yikes). I do wish we had spent more time discussing philosophical and ethical issues. You know big picture stuff rather than the time we did spend on specific skills.
Ok earlier I had said there were 3 main themes, so I’d best conclude with a 3rd…
– The third “concept” as we look towards the future is an ability to predict the future. David Ferreio used to quote Wayne Gretzky and there seem to be 2 variations on this.
“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be. “
“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been. “
Classic quotes that exemplify what I think should be our world view. Note that they emphasize a notion of thinking forwardly (ick grammar issues)…. There isn’t a mention here of HOW to skate or what tools should be used to skate.
Myself, my motto quote comes from Patton…
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
In other words (mine) put the future in perspective, its there looming but don’t get so lost in the details or what ifs about the looming future that you forget that no matter what we live and work in the today.
In the November/December MLA News, Ellen Detlfesen writes, “Are Library Schools Teaching What the Next Generation of Librarians Needs to Know?” This Medical Library Education brief discusses the ALA’s Core Competencies of Librarianship. She cites the critics of these competencies highlighting (although not necessarily advocating this view herself) the threads of criticism that, “the competences overly emphasize the status quo and promote a ‘traditional’ view of libraries.”
A criticism around which I particularly resonate revolves around the question about whether the competences are still, “oriented to the physical library of the twentieth century and not to the ‘library of the 21st century’ “
I am a particular advocate of the notion that a library is not a physical space, but rather a collection of services (and possibly resources that may or may not reside in the same location where they are utilized) provided by knowledge professionals. Note I intentionally do NOT use the term information professionals as I dislike being referred to as an information professional. If you follow my blog over time, you will note that I find the notion of being equated to the term “information” is not at all an adequate description of the work of being a librarian. I don’t look down upon information workers, but to me, that is more what computer programmers do. To me the heart and soul of being a librarian is helping our users turn information into knowledge.
This links (in my mind at least) to the next idea about which I feel rather passionately (which might seem counter intuitive to some given my last assertion about the library not being a physical place). Too often (far far far too often) we seem to equate the skills and the 21st century library as being analogous to “emerging technologies.” I’ll return to this idea in a moment.
Back to, “Are Library Schools Teaching What the Next Generation of Librarians Needs to Know?” (Detlefsen, Ellen G. MLA News, November/December 2009). Some of the pros of the ALA Competencies document include an emphasis on, “the necessity for practitioners to adopt a proactive approach to continuing education beyond that which is acquired in ‘library school.’ ” This is described as being driven by, “the perception that the world, especially in the arena of technology is changing more rapidly than programs of professional education can handle.” I applaud the idea about the critical importance of nurturing the, “habit of lifelong learning.”
I agree that it is important to identify emerging future trends. What I disagree with is the definition or limitation of emerging future trends with emerging technologies. The article does highlight some good sources for noting future trends and some excellent sources do include trends that dig deeper than the mere technologies that drive the trends. An example is pulled from Inside Higher Education that highlights outsourcing of many library services (I have also commented on this trend in this blog). Note that this trend is independent of any technology that might enable that outsourcing to happen.
I disagree, however, with MJ Tooey’s emphasis on identifying, “emerging technologies that will reach mainstream use in education organizations within the next 5 years.” First of all, look back 5 years and see how accurately any of those predicted the technologies that are so hot today. The specifics of the technologies might vary rapidly, and aren’t so very important. I’m also disconcerted that this column highlights the MLA’s Medical Informatics Section’s annual program on emerging technologies as an important educational component. Sure its an interesting session, but I personally have never felt it to have much impact on my work one way or another. And bear in mind that I work in an entirely digital world. My whole professional world revolves around all manner of technology. Maybe that’s why I don’t romanticize emerging technologies. To me they are tools nothing more nothing less. In order to make a provocative point, I am possibly overly highlighting the technological focus of the Library School Curriculum debate.
I wish I could better articulate why I think this is the wrong thing to emphasize. The technology itself isn’t so very important. Emerging technologies are just tools and often ephermeral. What is important is being able to look beyond the specific of any technological change and understand how that technology (or any technology) may radically change how we operate as librarians. We also need to look beyond the specifics of technologies to ask ourselves about what are our underlying fundamentals as a profession. One of the ALA Competencies as a matter of fact is, “Foundations of the Profession” — odd I don’t find that notion to overly tie us to the 20th century physical library. Wouldn’t we have some sort of “Foundations” no matter what vision of the future in which we live. The key question becomes what are our Professional Foundations (and that might become a topic for a future posting.
Other ALA Competencies….
– Information Resources
Hmmm ok, that might be an area that we need to at least question. What information resources are important in our current environment? Are information resources are still important in today’s environment? I would argue that information resources are vitally important in today’s environment. Our relationship as librarians to the vast ocean of information resources that our users encounter is vitally important. We may not be “purchasing” information resources and we may not be the sole gatekeepers of information resources, but look at Google — information resources still very much exist and our users still turn to them. The question then becomes, What role should the librarian play in relationship to information resources?
To be continued…. Tomorrow we pick up with Organization of Recorded Knowledge and Information….
Sometimes I worry that I perceive that I’m overly negative about the profession… to the contrary I’m personally optimistic about the future of librarianship. I just try to keep pushing my personal beliefs about how the future will become brighter.
Thursday’s Library Journal posted a news brief about Harvard’s Libraries futures, “Harvard Task Force Urges Centralization, Collaboration, and Access (vs. Acquisition)” (Norman Oder Library Journal, November 12, 2009 accessed November 16, 2009). A Harvard University task force on the future of libraries describes their vision of a 21st century library that includes, “knitting together the university’s robust and disparate library units, collaborating with peer libraries, and emphasizing access to materials rather than acquisition.”
Library Journal has summarized an except of their recommendations as follows:
1. Establish and implement a shared administrative infrastructure…
includ[ing] many information technology functions; most preservation functions; and certain significant technical services such as acquisitions and cataloging.
2. Rationalize and enhance our information technology systems.
3. Revamp the financial model for the Harvard libraries.
The current system of financing library materials and services impedes efforts to collaborate across the different parts of Harvard University, and often establishes incentives for actions that aid one part of the library at the expense of the whole…
4. Rationalize our system for acquiring, accessing, and developing materials for a “single university” collection.
The Harvard University Library system needs to rationalize the manner in which all parts of the University collect and provide access to materials, and orient its focus more clearly toward ensuring access, as opposed to the current default model of building collections by acquisition….
5. Collaborate more ambitiously with peer libraries and other institutions….
Although this report dealt with Harvard specifically, there are many elements of this that can be applied to variety of library institutions.
I think one of the most critical steps that all libraries need to take is figuring out how to break down traditional barriers to centralizing “administrative” infrastructure and/or tasks. It just doesn’t make sense within one system, consortium, or even geographic region to have many institutions conducting the same tasks at an individual site by site level. There are so many obvious efficiencies of scale to be gained. It seems like the only obstacles in the way of this (not just at Harvard but in any institution and/or institutions) are traditional and/or political.
For now I’ll skip over most of the other comments. The last point: collaborate more is another one that can’t be stressed enough. This report is discussing not only collaborating within one institution but also between institutions (like among peer institutions). This is another area where there could be great economies of scale and also synergistic innovations.
Oops I forgot another important part. This is quite the trendy concept these days, but it doesn’t make it any less valid. And drum roll please, this concept is the one of access vs. acquisition. This touches upon the age old question of just in time vs. just in case. Another variation of that theme would be access vs. ownership.
Everyone seems to be having task forces, committees… There is a lot of TALK about building and developing the library of the future… Now of course we’re ready for action. What I want to see is some major institution taking some really radical steps that truly break out of the old mold.
To be a bit trite (or is it cliche…) the future is now!!