Lately I’ve become a bit cynical, disenchanted, and dismayed about the role of technology in our profession. If I wasn’t so hopelessly addicted to minor computer games and immediate access to weather reports I’d seriously consider becoming a Luddite. I have been having trouble conceptualizing my concerns; they just sort of linger in the back of my brain. Bear in mind that my entire job is based around all things digital and remote so its not that I’m unaware of technology and its potentialities. So I have to always add, don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-technology; I’m just weary of the hype.
Into this context I have found a book that I think I’m going to read, “You are Not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier. There was an intriguing review by Kent Anderson in the Scholarly Kitchen: You Are Not a Gadget” — Why Open Culture and Technocentric Philosophies Are Ruining Our Lives“. Even the review is worth a quick read. Some intriguing points in this blog (and probably pull from the book) include…
- “How we’ve ceded some of our brains to the digital “hive culture””
- While open access sound good, “what it’s actually created is an amoral world in which consequences aren’t considered, the victims are blamed, technical solutions are thought to be better than common sense, creativity has been stifled, commerce is abandoned, and gee-whiz wonderment conceals deeply cynical plays by scheming companies. “
- “how dismissive technologists are to the common sense of “security through obscurity” while also implicitly blaming the victims of social media services, yet contributing nothing creative to our culture.”
- “It’s very interesting to note how little originality open culture has generated for scholarly publishing. Instead of making ground-breaking information systems (those have emerged from closed systems and traditional economic models, by the way), the “open” initiatives have been technology-based recreations of existing forms, with little creativity, just echoes (or disjointed assemblages of echoes). “
- “Because we’ve been beguiled by “digital,” we’ve forgotten that humans, creativity, work, and good things should matter more than slick new distribution or presentation systems. “
If just this book review was able to articulate my recent digital dissatisfaction, how much more can the actual book do? The last bullet point above (beguiled by digital) pretty much encapsulates much of what I’ve been feeling lately.
How’s this for irony, I’m jumping online now and ordering this book from Amazon.com…
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.
I’ve been out of the office for 3 days conducting usability testing for our new/updated site. We went to 3 locations and worked with 9 users/testers. I’m not attempting to write our findings here … that would be a bit premature (to say the least).
Although I had been checking email while I was out of the office and although I was working on our site, our project with our typical user groups; its amazing how out of touch I feel with the library world. This is odd since I was spending all my time testing in libraries. I was reading tonight trying to find something to write about and it felt like it had been weeks since I had thought about macro issues.
Since I’m feeling a bit out of touch with the types of macro issues about which I usually post and since my mind is still caught up in all things usability, I think I’ll do a brief de-brief (ha ha) (or not…)
We tested a range of users running the spectrum of occupations and familiarity with our existing site. We were sort of following one Jacob Nielsen’s rule of thumbs about the number of users. He has stated that, “It takes only five users to uncover 80 percent of high-level usability problems” — Our testing uncovered overwhelming consistency across the spectrum of our users. Which was good news for us moving forward.
Here are my interesting observations about the testing… From my highly unscientific observations on this topic, the biggest variable that seemed to result in differing comments or concerns with our testing was one occupational factor: being a librarian. The librarians we showed the site to, seemed to have issues, concerns, or ideas that fell out of the spectrum of things that were being experienced by the other users we tested. This wasn’t hugely surprising, but it was interesting.
This next observation about which much has been written is that there did also seem to be some usage issues based on age. Since so much has been written in other places about this; I’ll just leave it to say that we (or rather I) did note it to a small extent.
I found a usability testing “tutorial” hosted at the University of Texas at Austin. (accessed 11/2/2009), this was the basic outline of how we conducted our tests. (although I found this tutorial after we had already planned and completed most of our testing).
Tomorrow… back to the salt mine. Maybe I’ll be feeling a bit more inspired tomorrow night…
As I have often mentioned, I work in an entirely virtual library. We are often confronted with issues about how to best gather user feedback. As I sit in meetings with other librarians discussing things like designing our websites or choosing a product from one vendor vs. another vendor based on the value of the interface alone (for example Embase through Ovid or Elsevier?), I am often struck by how often librarians pull their beliefs about user feedback from either their encounters with users at the service desk or from their own personal preferences. Even in libraries (academic in this case) with a physical presence, I believe that the encounters with users at a service desk are but a small percentage of our total user base. I wonder if those users who not only make their way to the library but who furthermore make their way to the service desk to request some sort of assistance, are really representative of our entire user universe.
I also have to wonder if our own searching, online experiences are a good measurement of what users would want. When Ovid released OvidSP, they offered a new Basic Search. This offering was based in large part on their testing with end users. Despite the fact that much of their research indicates that most users would prefer a most basic search, many librarians were still advocating for the default settings to be as close to old Ovid command line searching as possible. My own encounters with end users indicate that most users really are more comfortable with the notion of the basic search. Even when we have users who claim to prefer the advanced search, this is often the result of our own education and training sessions. I’m not saying that their aren’t good reasons for choosing design/default options that go against user preferences, but I am saying that we should at least known what those preferences are.
I think we need to strike a balance between making quick decisions and rapidly responding to new situations and gathering user feedback. I am really growing uncomfortable with saying anymore that we know what our users want based on our interactions with the users (especially on user interactions that take place in the library at a service desk). We definately can’t base design decisions on our own preferences and experiences.
We are planning on releasing a new version of our site in January. We started with a focus group of our member librarians, but during the month of October we will be travelling to several of our hospitals to conduct useability testing with end users. I hope that we’ll have the wisdom to listen and learn from our users rather than overiding their inputs with our own experiences.