April 11-17 is National Library Week – This year’s theme: Communities Thrive @ Your Library…
According to the ALA website, National Library Week was first celebrated in 1957 stemming from research that indicated that during the, “in the mid-1950s, … Americans were spending less on books and more on radios, televisions and musical instruments.” Here we are in 2010 and the concern about use of the libraries and the amount the people are reading are maybe even more of a concern than they were in the 1950s. National Library Week was created, “based on the idea that once people were motivated to read, they would support and use libraries.”
At that time libraries were equated with (almost solely I would guess) books and reading. Think of the thriving library communities today where (in the public library at least) patrons are spending time surfing the internet, gaming, collaborating, researching, and many other tasks possibly unheard of in the mid-1950s. So many things have changed and yet so many things remain the same.
I thought it would provide an interesting view into the life of libraries to look at libraries in the news this week. A search of the news this week indicates many articles about the celebration of National Library Week, but there are a few other interesting headlines:
- Whatcom County libraries get grant to help job seekers (would this have been in the news in 1957?)
- Passport applications being taken at Cuyahoga County Libraries
- LSU libraries digitize La. newspapers for Library of Congress
- Shenandoah library sees spike in usage
- Take advantage of Shred Days at your library
- Libraries becoming makeshift employment centers
- COMPUTER CLASSES AT THE JACKSONVILLE PUBLIC LIBRARY
- And assorted/numerous articles about economic issues faced by any number of libraries and library systems
So congratulations libraries for everything that we contribute to our communities.
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).
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 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.
A couple of items from the Wired Campus in the Chronicle of Higher Education caught my eye this week (and its only Tuesday)…
“Columbia and Cornell Libraries Announce ‘Radical’ Partnership” (Howard, J. Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/28/2009)
This radical partnership relates to plans by the libraries of these two institutions to, “jointly transform their operations.” The project called 2CUL (pronounced too cool) will focus on 3 areas: “managing electronic resources and other nuts-and-bolts library work, building global-collecting capabilities, and creating a digital-preservation infrastructure.” They are planning on creating a shared library information management system to accomplish their goals.
What I find interesting isn’t that there is a collaboration like this happening, but that it has taken this long for this type of collaboration to emerge. I also find it interesting that this type of collaboration is being characterized as “radical”. To me it seems more logical. Then again this is the type of thing our AHEC libraries have been working on for the past several years. We have been moving to managing electronic resources centrally. This model just seems to make sense especially for smaller (compared to academics at any rate) hospital libraries. It will be interesting to see how the details of working with licensing and access and all the other publisher based specifics will play out. There is, of course, the difference between management and ownership. Even if publishers won’t work out joint purchases it could still be possible to centrally manage the collections.
“The Latest File-Sharing Piracy: Academic Journals” (Terris, B. Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/30/2009).
A recent study published in the Journal of Medical Informatics examines a file sharing site used by medical students and professionals to obtain non-open access journals for free. According to the Chronicle there was an 83% success rate in finding articles. The ethical implications of this aren’t covered in the article but the article does hint at the ethical questions saying, ““In the field of medicine, ethics plays a pivotal role, and yet the site displays activities by medical students, teachers, and practicing professionals that are ethically dubious.”
I wish I could say I’m surprised by this, but given what I know about medical residents sharing subscriptions to some licensed resources, I’ve had inklings of these types of behaviors for quite a while. What will be interesting to watch is to see how publishers uncover the original source of the articles from personal subscriptions or from institutional subscriptions. Since most medical students have a good network of access to articles, I’m wondering why they would feel the need to resort to free sharing. Is it the time (they can’t wait for access from an article not owned by their institution) or is it the money (they can’t afford the what 8$ ILL fee??). As we seem to be noting of late there have been some ethical oddities in the relationship between medicine and publishing, so again this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. I guess the next logical question should be, what role can librarians play in shaping responsible behavior in our consitutents in regards to resource access?
I love lists. I always have. The New York Times best seller list… People’s Magazine most popular list… the 100 Greatest Thinkers of All time…. If there’s a list; I like to read it. I find them fascinating. When I came across a list of 100 Best Blogs for Librarians of the Future, I was hooked.
There is a website, Bachelors Degree Online which recently posted a list of 100 Best Blogs for Librarians of the Future. Bearing in mind that this site is a bit commercial and of uncertain authority, it did seem like an interesting list to give a quick look-see. Some of the blogs would make most lists of the heavy hitters in the librarian blogging universe.
There are a lot of good library blogs out there. What amazed me was that someone would put out a list of top 100 library Blogs with Blogs that aren’t current on it. This list contains the following blogs that I would consider to be not current. Although I am linking to them, I’m not advocating reading them, merely listing them as examples of out of date blogs that still roam the ether… There may be more on the list, I just found these on a random romp through the list.
Librarians Rant (most recent post, December 2008) (there is a note on the site that there is a new home coming soon, but still nothing, shouldn’t be on a list of 100 best blogs)
I’d have to say at the end of the day; I would question whether the list is really the Best Blogs. That seems a bit hyperbolic to me. Overall, however, I would say that a list posted in August 2009 should at least contain blogs that are being currently updated. Granted I only have a readership of like 6, but at least my blog is currently updated. Not to mention Michelle Kraft’s excellent Krafty Librarian Blog and Nicole Dettmar’s Eagle Dawg Blog. Now those are blogs worth including on a Best of the Blogs.
I’ve recently been reading posts by Scott Plutchak, Marcus Banks, and Roy Tennant that all more or else touched on the themes of values. Scott Plutchak kicked things off in his posting, The Future is a Playground when he discussed making decisions in difficult budget times. I was happy to see that I too find the Peter Drucker quote, “Planning is an exercise in predicting the future. The odds are you’re going to be wrong more than half the time.” (the paraphrase taken from the T.Scott Blog) … comforting. I like the notion that often times no matter how well prepared that we might make a wrong decision. It seems to take the pressure off. Maybe there often is no one right or one perfect answer.
Marcus Banks posted a reply to this in his blog posting, “Values are More Important than Data or Evidence“(Marcus’ World Blog, July 25, 2009). Marcus Banks says that there is a risk of decision making paralysis when there is not enough good data to support a decision. His solution is to rely on the core values of librarianship. He characterizes these values as, “Partnership; collaboration; innovation; service; respect for privacy; “no information problem is too big to be solved.” At the end of the day it is these values that should guide our decision making process. (not that we shouldn’t strive to gather as much data, evidence, information that we can to aid our decision making process).
Together I find these 2 posts to be comforting. We are at the point in our year when our big licenses are up for renewal. We are trying to figure out how to negotiate our licenses. What should we keep? What can we drop? Which vendor should we favor (if its a choice of leaning towards one offer over another one)? Do we favor the vendor that has been consistently fair and upright? We don’t have good data to steer us one way or another in our decisions, but we do have our values.
So here is where I tie in Roy Tennant’s posting in his Library Journal blog, “Fighting the Losing Battle“. He lays out several questions to ask ourselves when we are facing “losing battles”. (I do have to wonder about the back story on this one). His questions are:
Are you fighting alone? …
Is the issue something that strikes at the very core of your beliefs? …
Is there something more important you could be doing? A fight that you may wish to leave behind is one that takes your time and attention away from something more important. What might this be? Only you can decide. There are times when you get distracted — the only error is to not correct this distraction in a timely fashion.
I don’t know that I’m fighting any battles right now. I do like these questions. They seem to me to apply to other situations at the very least I like the notion of creating a framework or questions that help us tease out or core values or beliefs.
In an odd twist I’m currently watching a re-run of West Wing, where the question of personal values underlies much of the story line. I feel like the universe is sending me a message about being guided by values and using that as my North Star.