Deepening the Conversation

thinking about questions of authority, technology, learning, and 2.0 in academic libraries


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raindrops on roses and weeding the stacks

note: when I started writing this, I had no idea where it was going. I now think I may be able to tease a rational and supportable plan out of this. But it is still a bit rambly, and I think there are several posts here.

I just spent 25 minutes or so in the stacks, weeding in one of my subject areas. Let’s call it subject O, a subject that is heavily monographic as well as data intensive. A subject that is global and historical and looks into the future. A subject that should be using books, really, I can’t imagine it without books.

Generally speaking, I enjoy weeding, even if I find it to frequently be an emotionally complicated experience, professionally speaking. I like that I actually lay hands on the collection (something I rarely get to do). I like that I can see gaps here that I can’t always ‘see’ in the catalog. I like that weeding completes a circle that also includes reference interactions , materials selection, and library instruction sessions. I think it is interesting that so few of our books circulate much — and how much they used to circulate (this is the first major weed in 40 years, so I don’t think that only the good have been left on the shelves; no one has removed any!) and I think about the nature of a small college library supporting the needs of its undergraduate students (as in, is it even possible?)

The weeding provoked thoughts that I enjoy most are those around how weeding makes me think about the nature of libraries and their role in the educational institution. This often leads to the frustrating conclusion that if librarians were given more respect and status (and if their jobs were better understood) in the academy, everyone would be better off. Because looking at books — individually and in collection — is a very telling view.

Today, oh, today, I weeded in ‘O’. And went through shelf after shelf (in O, OA, OB) handling book after book that had not circulated since the early 1970s, and suddenly realized that even the brand spanking new books– the books I was checking for pullcards but wouldn’t weed — hadn’t circulated. And I started to realize that the last five shelving units had not circulated this century. Maybe a handful had circulated in the past 10 years.

Are we wasting our money? Should we stop buying books for this subject? I am struggling to reject the notion that we should drastically reduce O’s monographic budget line until they begin working with instruction librarians to build better assignments, assignments better able to meet their pedagogical and content goals, and which force students to use library resources.

But maybe I shouldn’t fight it? Maybe I should actually suggest it.

Eighty percent of this department does not request books. The departmental library liaison—a hesitatingly friendly colleague — fights me tooth & claw about removing books, all the while sighing that she can’t get her students to use them, but they’re important and we can’t just pull them because no one has touched them in 40 years. O doesn’t use library instruction (but I do hear that O’s students won’t/can’t/don’t use the library and that their work ain’t what it ought to be). O won’t describe their program to me (or the website) or their areas of specialization, so all I have to go on are book requests. From less than 25% of the department.

So, would it be outside our mission –library and campus — to decide that we are wasting money buying books for this department right now, and stop wasting the money? And support our importance to the handcrafted education we’re always going on and on about by saying the department can have library money back when they are willing to put the effort into getting their students (who are the only ones we support) to use the discipline specific and apparently very important library resources effectively? (which would have the added benefit of leading towards buying “the right books” as opposed to the “who knows what” we’re currently buying)

Would it? really? would it be so bad?

I’m really wishing I could rationalize this into a place that isn’t just wishful thinking. I don’t want to punish the department, or the students, but right now, they aren’t using what we have. And we can keep throwing money into books on the shelves which aren’t going to be used because the department doesn’t seem to know how to make their students use the resources they say they want their students to use.

And we can help them with that. So, since they don’t use us in area IL when they really really need it, are we doing right by them (or their students!) to continue to buy the materials they want when they go entirely unused, and it is within our domain to change all of that?


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Blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind

I have been a little buried in mundanities at work this week — repetitive but necessary tasks — and continuing bits started before, and have been bad about posting.

Which might be better described as being bad about thinking, but I’m going to blame the (lack of a) humidifier for the pillow in my head and let that monkey go!

So, what’s been scrolling through my head this week?

  • gender issues in BSG: R@zor. While stunning in terms of the ‘verse, R@zor may have lost me forever. May have completely undermined all previous complex and marvelous BSG gender stuff in 2 short hours.
  • assessment issues – how to assess my teaching, and how to determine if the time we put into our freshman library fair is worth it (and how to do more with no more resources). Is assessment worth the effort if we are only doing it to appease TPTB?
  • soup. yum!
  • snow tires. May the Goddess bless and keep them
  • Settlers of Catan. I’m starting to hold my own, even have some ability to discern strategy and remember what resources folks have in their hands. Soon, I will get The Longest Road AND the Largest Army!
  • Christine Bruce’s Seven Faces of Information Literacy (summary article) and phenomographic approaches to learning. More will follow, I promise. But, how did I get through 4 years of instruction and info lit work and research and not encounter this 1997 gem?
  • snow.
  • sleep


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Friends

This has nothing to do with libraries (except that most of the folks are librarians…)

A good friend from library school made a video out of photos taken while we were in school (posted on her blog) and it just made me realize how much I miss this amazing group of people! And our potlucks and picnics and parties and live music gatherings…. We could do food like nobody’s business –check it for yourself!


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finding the knots: confidentiality, 2.0, library responsibility

We had a brown bag debrief on Internet Librarian from our colleagues who attended, and the thing spun off in many directions, one of which (at least!) was my fault and led into something I keep forgetting I really want to write about. This is meant mainly to remind me of that fact, but I fear it will digress into more.

Something I think about whenever I see a list of Cool 2.0 Free Tools You Can Implement At Your Library is privacy (or more accurately, confidentiality). Why are they free? Who’s getting what? Does the user retain ownership of their information? Is the library facilitating the sale or use of users’ information when offering this tool?

I *only* think about this when I see others’ implementations or lists of tools. I almost never think about it when I myself am doing something where I ought to think about it. Like, perhaps, when adding applications to my facebook….

I used to think about it as regards GMail, but I forget to worry about that now that I use it a lot — and that’s the poison pill, right? Gateway drug, whatever. Google knows my searches. Knows my email (work and personal and retail) . Has access to some of my work (docs and spreadsheets). Knows what some friends and I talk about (GTalk). It wants to make a cell phone, which will give it all my friends cell phone numbers and email addresses, and has built in 911 GPS location markers. And now, it wants to marry DoubleClick and sell what it knows for lots and lots of money which will primarily annoy me and not make me any money at all! And I worry about it less than I ought to because they made my life easier in some ways.

Users ought to worry about this stuff but the information world has gone completely mad and out of control and is being monetized and ramified in all sorts of ways they can’t even begin to understand when they take their first gateway drug (which might be a DisneyPhone designed to allow their parents to track their every movement and thus desensitize them further!)

So, librarians used to have this bill of rights to guide library services which states

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

Which I read to mean that libraries and librarians work to support the statement that all individuals are free to read whatever they choose and that such reading is nobody’s business but their own. Essentially, that libraries and librarians are (or should be) committed to protecting patron privacy and confidentiality (two similar but not identical goals).

So, questions to ponder for later parsing:

  1. Are libraries still committed to this?
  2. Should we care that our patrons (especially academic library patrons, since that’s my ball of string) don’t care about their own privacy or confidentiality? Should their naiveté trump our responsibilities?
  3. Does our desire to do more for our patrons hold hands with their naiveté to further sexy goals, or is it OK to not let them know what we’re doing (or that we don’t know!)?
  4. Does anyone know how much info we’re giving away though Facebook? or other username/password identity sites?
  5. Is it still within our power to prevent Minority Report from becoming reality?

Obviously, still is still a big knotty thing in my head. Hopefully, by the end of break I can work this into some articulate positions and statements.

Until then, what are your thoughts? Do user wants for customized interfaces and mashable bits trump library responsibility for protecting privacy and freedom to read? Is that an outdated responsibility? Other thoughts?


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First Thoughts on Federated Search

We are at early days of discussing federated search at MPOW and I am very leery of the approach we are taking, which seems to be aimed at the predetermined end that we will get a federated product, we just have to decide which features we want.

As is my nature, I want us to discuss whether or not we actually want federated search, and my colleagues have addressed that by asking me to compile a list of my concerns. Federated is something I followed very closely before coming here, but I am admittedly behind the curve on new innovations and improvements in the technology. I have a stack of articles to read up on, and I am sure they will change my concerns. But, to track my own thinking process (publicly) I thought I’d put my initial concerns up here. All feedback is welcome!

  1. Subject databases don’t index their primary subject. A sloppy search in a federated context (and let’s admit up front that there will be lots and lots of sloppy searches) will leave out the most relevant hits – those un-indexed as primary subject
  2. Information literacy requires an ability to select the right tool for the job. Federating assumes the opposite to be true. Format matters (because content is frequently format driven), and if the federated product includes OPAC, newspaper searches, statistical sources and article databases in the search, we are putting the librarian stamp of approval on the assertion that format doesn’t matter.
  3. A single Google box will inspire Google-like searching, which patently does not work with paid, indexed, library resources
  4. The intricacies of library search are not just there for decoration; the indexing and special limiters in each database are there because they serve the purpose of allowing searchers to get better results. Federated search removes many (if not most) of the special features that (a) improve precision and recall in search processes and (b) often drive collection development decisions
  5. I am cautious about how federated effects precision and recall. More better results is the goal, not just more.
  6. My final initial concern is one I have been told is no longer valid: federated search used to pull results in in whatever default order the source databases sorted. For example, and OPAC search would come back with most recent first, and and EBSCO search would come back with relevancy ranking, and some other database would come back with oldest first, and these results would get all mixed up together in a hodge-podge. Is fixed now? In all federated tools?

I’m off to read my articles and refine my thoughts. While I’m doing that, please contribute: what do you like or hate about federated/ What would you look for if you were looking for one? And, if you’re brave, what’s the decision making process like at your POW?


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research agenda, or potsherds?

This week, although short, is almost completely devoted to research time. I have a meeting and 6 hours on the reference desk, but other than that i have set aside this time to work out a plan for research over winter break, and see if there’s anything I can get done in the next few days.

The biggest challenge? Work has been a whirlwind of tasks for so long that I’m not entirely sure what I wanted to research any more…

There’s the presentation I did in May that could be turned into an article, about moving web evaluation from BI (where it lives but was born after) into IL (where is was born but also never lived).

And then there’s the big project — about pedagogy and cognitive levels and the appropriateness of scholarly journals for lower division undergraduates and librarian’s roles in faculty uses of scholarly journals in their classes (which also rubs against the question of what an undergraduate collection looks like and what a library “Is”)– and one of my hopes is to see if I can break that giant squid of a project out into smaller agendas that have publishable parts. (this project may be my great white whale. I am certain there is something here, valuable and important and should change they way we think about undergraduate libraries and their place in the educational institution. but short of a sabbatical, or a return to school for a PhD, I’m afraid I will never get to dive in)

But over the past year I have made research and inspiration notes in at least two wikis and a GoogleDoc, an annual report or two and possibly a word file and maybe also in one of my two idea notebooks… sigh.

So today, I am a textual archaeologist, sorting through the potsherds of my life to gather together the thoughts and ideas I have had into a manageable, maintainable and centralized list.


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A North Country moment

There are moments when I realize that even though I reject a strictly urban life, I remain a city girl at heart.

Yesterday I attended a SUNY-wide meeting 3 hours away (and on the other side of the lake-effect snow belt, which kept the drive down interesting!). I spent close to two hours grocery shopping after the meeting (oh Wegmans, how I <3 you!) and got back on the road at full dark. Two hours into the drive, clipping along at 60 on this rural highway, I see a shape on the side of the road, and tap the brakes. I get closer, and slam on them — it’s a cow! A huge cow! Cow. Just standing in my lane. It looked at me for a second and wandered across the road, causing a car in the oncoming lane to slam it’s brakes as well.

I pull over, decide to call 911 and when I report there’s a cow in the road, Route X, just south of town Y, the sheriff asks two questions: (1) was it a light or dark cow? (2) Am I in front of drugstore C, or Pub S? I have no idea what color the cow was, and drive with the sheriff on the bluetooth until I can answer the second question. She acted like the loose cow on the road was no big deal, and I was just laughing at how insanely local the whole thing was!

Five minutes later, I passed a possel of Amish carriages, which must have left someplace later than expected because they didn’t have their lanterns lit.

Moments like these bemuse me endlessly, and remind me that I live in a place like no where else on earth.

I’m off to put together my costume for a theme party — theme is Prohibition. I’m going metaphorical, representing free speech.


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Give ‘em what they want? Why on earth??

One of the issues that makes my head go ‘splody is the issue of how academic libraries should respond to student desires. Which is an entirely different question than how academic librarians should respond to the changing nature of technology, and is also different than understanding “these kids today” and providing services in ways that they can make sense of. And it is most certainly not the same conversation as fixing broken vendor tools and inserting more interactivity and interoperability into library software. Which are all good and useful conversations. But are not the same as the one where librarians say “but students want X”, and Rudy’s head explodes.

What I see as the issue is that students are kids. They’re 18, maybe 21. They want fast quick easy sloppy immediate, and they have absolutely no regard for the nature of scholarship or the complexities of organized information, or for how conducting research on, say, how the perception of Dreamtime in Aboriginal thinking helped or hindered their survival in the face of colonial interlopers in the 19th century might need to be done differently than finding out if Britn@y got custody or if the car they want got good consumer reviews.

That’s where educators — professors, librarians, university professionals of all stripes — come in.

We’re adults. We’re librarians. We have advanced degrees. Some of us have done advanced research. We have domains of expertise, in librarianship, in information organization, in user behavior, in information literacy, in other specialties. We (or I, but we all should) pay attention to how students use the tools we want them to use, and we pay attention to how they use the tools they want to use. And we understand why the ones we (may hate but) have built over decades are the right tools — of those available — for academic research. Specifically as librarians, we understand the complexities of organized information and the tools that have been constructed over time to assist in complex research queries — both the positives and the negatives.

So why on earth do librarians stand up and say “the students want it” and expect that to be a persuasive argument??? The students may also want beer to flow in the water fountains, and to buy their papers on the internet, and to not have to work very hard, and get the degree certification that allows them to get a job after school. And while some of those may be laudable goals, this is COLLEGE. And in college students will learn to be college-educated people, able to tell the difference between good information and bad information (not to mention how to stitch information together into knowledge!), why drinking until 3am before a 9am class is a bad idea, and that Google really doesn’t work for their course research.

Which is all to say that I will never be persuaded by the argument that “it’s what the students want” when it comes to research and research tools in the domain of the library. Not only do they not have degrees in the organization and access of information, but they are in the process of learning the very nature of such things. How can our profession be so eager to allow neophytes in the world of complex research and thinking to determine the structure of getting them to the information they do not yet know how to think about??


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Hello world!

When I first moved to the North Country, I was bit by a bat. I felt the need to tell everyone I knew the funny and horrifying story of how I was bit, and so I started a blog. It was known only to my friends and family, and for a while I posted regularly. And after 101 posts, I basically stopped.

Today, I begin again.

In the narcissistic age of Facebook, I feel the urge to define myself to my peers, colleagues, and unknown lurkers and virtual stalkers, many of whom only know me through twitter posts. They don’t know when I agree with them, and when I disagree. And I don’t always know where I fall along the tangled continuum of Library Conservative and 2.0 Evangelist. In this blog, we’ll find out if my dancing along that beam might make a coherent dance, or is just a recipe to fall.

If I haven’t mixed enough metaphors, I apologize. Come back soon, perhaps I’ll mutilate more.

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