Friday, December 9, 2011

When the going gets tough...

With one exception, I never walked away from a fight when I was growing up. On the other hand, I never actually got into a fight, either. I didn't back down, I didn't escalate, I didn't try to make peace, I didn't bluff. I simply...stayed put. And the people who were trying to figure out if they wanted to fight decided I wasn't going to give them the kind of fight they wanted, after all.


I still don't have a permanent job. (I do have a temp job in the audit department of a mortgage company, which I am enjoying a lot, and for which I had to do a lot of persuasion about actually really truly wanting it.) The most interesting feedback I've gotten from interviewers was some concern about my readiness to deal with negativity and conflict in the workplace. I can see where they are coming from, because I generally talk about transparency and compassion and humility and achieving effectiveness and efficiency through mutual respect. Plus, I default to enthusiasm and cheerfulness and geekiness. So, yeah, when people first get to know me, they meet a peace-lovin', easy-goin' kinda guy.

But peace is not the absence of conflict, and when I talk about compassion and humility and respect, I'm not talking about everybody agreeing with each other or even liking each other. In fact, these behaviors are the most important when there is negativity and conflict. I speak from long, painful experience. In no particular order, here are some things I have dealt with at one or more of the libraries I've managed:

--Furious neighbors who want to stop the library from expanding.
--Staff suing the funding agency.
--Disputes over who the actual governing body is.
--Budget cuts and hiring freezes.
--Intense mistrust over health insurance changes.
--Accusations of racism.
--Persistent staff complaints about each other.
--Conspiracy theories.
--Resentment over salary freezes.
--A general belief that Things Are Going To Hell In A Handbasket.

Often I inherited a mess when I arrived, since I started three out of four positions as an interim. Other crises hit on my watch. In each case, I found out that I am good at stabilizing volatile situations and quietly improving them. I got used to seeing a peculiar expression pass across people's faces as they surprised themselves by enjoying their work and their co-workers again, sort of a puzzled "oh wait, it's okay for me to do this?" look.

I can't claim that I did anything special to get these results. In fact, I think it was the lack of special response that was important. "Stuff happens," I modeled for my teams. "Good stuff, bad stuff, exciting stuff, boring stuff, the works. When it happens, we will acknowledge it, and then we will return to our focus on our mission, our goals, and our desired outcomes." We stayed put.

I don't know how to communicate that determination, that fierceness, in the setting of a job interview. The only adequate word I have for it is "love," a word that is neither professional nor precise. I love organizations and their inevitably imperfect structures, policies and procedures. I love my colleagues, whether I am officially responsible for all of them or not. Above all, I love communities, those intersecting networks of individuals and groups that libraries variously call customers, patrons, clients or service populations.

No, I don't go looking for professional fights, but I don't back down from them, either. As a consequence, I haven't had to have very many. The few that I have had, I haven't lost. I will not allow staff or the library to disrespect patrons; I will not allow staff or patrons to disrespect the library; I will not allow patrons or the library to disrespect staff. I stand in the middle with all of my enthusiasm, cheerfulness, geekiness, humility, compassion, transparency, respect, effectiveness and efficiency--and if anybody wants to cause problems, they have to go through me.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why do you want this job?

When I moved to Portland with my family in late August, I had to leave my former job as well. It wasn't a surprise for me or my employer, so I had already been job-hunting, but I really kicked up the pace when I was officially unemployed. Which I still am.

This post is not a complaint about the dire state of the economy or the fiercely competitive library job market. These things are real, but they are rarely the fault of the people making hiring decisions, and they are never the fault of the other folks out there in the candidate pools.

This post is an opinion about a specific dynamic that I have observed during interviews. I admit I am not the most objective observer here; I could easily be projecting my own insecurities and anxieties onto these interactions or exaggerating what is actually happening. Still, it seems worth discussing.

First, some basic data. Here is a breakdown of interviews I have had in the past two and a half months or have scheduled to happen in the near future:

Academic libraries10
Public libraries22
Higher ed - administrative11
Non-profit - administrative10
Temporary - miscellaneous12

It adds up to fourteen interviews for nine positions, five of which are still live possibilities. (Comparing anecdata with people, I have been very fortunate.) Almost every interview has included some variant on the question, "Why do you want this job?" or "What is your dream job?" The clear sense I have usually gotten is that I will be shooting myself in the foot if I don't present myself as treasuring the position at hand over all other possibilities. Just by the range of positions I am interviewing for, one can see how I would have difficulty doing so without a lot of contrivance.

Here is the thing: I do have a dream job. Two of them, actually. Neither requires an MLS, though an MLS is a great asset for either, in my opinion. Neither is feasible for me at this point in my life, because each requires yet more graduate school and some serious geographic flexibility. Am I therefore a reluctant or less-qualified candidate for the positions I am interviewing for? No, and, I don't think so, respectively.

My profession is connecting people with resources. I enjoy it immensely and find it personally fulfilling and professionally interesting. My career so far suggests that I am good at it. I just hope that being open to and excited by diverse opportunities within my profession will not, in the end, close off opportunities for me.

Monday, October 10, 2011

On talking crazy, taking initiative, and having a comprehensive vision

Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to attend Champions of Change, the Voice for Oregon Innovation & Sustainability's business soiree and leadership awards ceremony. It was much larger and more impressive than I had expected--a statement that is both a compliment and an apology to VOIS's all-volunteer organization and the event's many sponsors.

A number of businesspeople, community leaders and politicians spoke briefly. Their priorities and activities offer many possible connections to library programs, collections and services of all types. (The upside of currently being between positions is that I don't have "job blinders" on when attending these kinds of events. The downside is that it is much harder for me to actually act on any of those many possible connections.) What I want to talk about here, though, is three recurring themes that kept appearing in people's comments:

1. When they started out, everybody thought they were crazy. Now, it's just lots of people who think they are crazy.

2. The turning point for them came when they realized that nobody else--not government, not existing businesses, not large foundations--were going to do their work for them.

3. Common wisdom views sustainability and robust economies as competing goals that must be traded off against each other. They view sustainability as a necessary component of robust economies and robust economies as the only reliable guarantors of sustainability.

Anybody who keeps up with current trends in libraryland has to see parallels there. Open access vs. toll access, print vs. electronic, the de-skilling of previously professional positions, patron-driven acquisitions vs. professional selection, controlled vocabularies vs. folksonomies, and on and on. Do we think that we can be independent actors in the face of technological and economic changes? Crazy talk! Are we waiting for vendors, funders or other fields to develop the solutions we need? Bad idea. Do we believe that libraries can only thrive if taxes get raised or profit margins fall? Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't, but we set ourselves up for failure if we can only gain when others lose.

These thoughts have helped me clarify why I had such a visceral reaction to Colleen Harris' "On Learning, Library Evolution, Organizational Change, and the (Occasionally Ugly) Responsibilities of Library Management". (Her post is part of the ongoing discussion about library lay-offs at the University of San Diego, and it contains links to the essential background reading right at the start.) More accurately, I had a visceral reaction to the End Note of her post, which makes the flat claim that:

Libraries are not in the business of keeping people in jobs. We are in the business of meeting our mission of providing information to our users.

Up until then, I was completely, entirely, enthusiastically on board with her analysis of the problem and her recommended improvements to library management practices. And then I turned on her argument. Why? Well, imagine two slight variations:

Libraries are not in the business of recruiting and hiring staff who are members of under-represented groups. We are in the business of meeting our mission of providing information to our users.

Libraries are not in the business of choosing more environmentally sound products and practices. We are in the business of meeting our mission of providing information to our users.

All libraries, unless they are self-supporting through endowments and/or revenues, exist as a support function or vanity project for another institution. As such, our missions are fundamentally contingent upon and accountable to the missions of the institutions that support us. For the majority of these institutions, yes, library management has no warrant to make decisions based on the individual fates of individual employees who will be affected by restructuring or other layoffs. For some institutions, though, they might.

I have been the library director at two such institutions. One was a religious organization, and the other was a university with an official commitment to contemplative administration. The University of San Diego is a Roman Catholic institution with a mission and vision that require its administrators to look beyond mere effectiveness and efficiency when making decisions. Should they also consider individual livelihoods? I can't say, since I am not a member of that specific community or the Roman Catholic tradition more broadly. But it is a valid and important conversation for that community and tradition to have.

To put it another way, consider Verde, the Portland business founded by Alan HipĆ³lito, one of the award-winners at the Champions of Change event. Verde "has brought new environmental investments to Portland’s neighborhoods, involved community members in the planning and building of these investments, and ensured that low-income people and people of color directly benefited from the investments." Is this the model MBA students will learn? No. Could the model be directly transferred to a municipal department? Definitely not. Is it a bad model? No. It is a model that pursues multiple goals simultaneously in alignment with the organization's mission. Management is not only about industry best practices--it is about integrity. The same is as true of libraries as it is of a landscape, nursery and energy efficiency business.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ithaka Directors' Report, 5 months later

When I saw that this year's Johannah Sherrer Memorial Lecture would be Ithaka's Roger Schonfeld discussing implications of their 2010 "Insights From U.S. Academic Library Directors" report, I knew I needed to go. I had been part of the lively online discussion of the report when it came out, especially cheering to Jenica Rogers' able dissection of it; I wanted to hear what Schonfeld and the responding panel of Lewis & Clark and Reed faculty would have to say.

I did in fact go today, and I am very happy that I did. (Not only for the tasty reception food and meeting new-to-me librarians and library staff after, either.) You know the annoying person at talks who, during the Q&A at the end, uses their time to editorialize instead of actually ask a question? Well, I was all set to be that guy, but I didn't have to, because the panelists beat me to it in their responses.

Susan Glosser pointed out that a shift towards digital resources does not necessarily imply a change in research methodology. (She also observed that "databases are like mushrooms, they are always popping up" and recommended that librarians figure out effective ways of communicating with faculty about new resources.)

Karen Gross pointed out that just because a library function is a lower priority for faculty, it doesn't mean that it isn't important to them. She used the example of going to a discipline-specific online resource first before entering the library physically or virtually: yes, she goes there first, but the very next place she always goes is the library itself. Gross also argued that electronic journals are still print resources, because how do most people read the articles? After printing out a hardcopy. In other words, access is not the same thing as consumption, an especially important consideration when it comes to looking at longer-form texts like electronic books.

Ann Delehanty pointed out that faculty research is not the same thing as student research: not only do faculty not use the library in the same way as students, they don't want their undergraduate students in particular to use the library the same way they do. She gave the example of how she uses her online syllabi as gateways (of the "gateway, buyer, archive" classification of library functions that the Ithaka report used) for student research and how she needs and wants the assistance of librarians in creating these gateways.

Brian Detweiler-Bedell spoke along similar lines, arguing that the library doesn't exist to serve faculty research needs but rather serves "the life of the mind" in all its forms. He talked about how he uses a discipline-specific online resource as a "spigot" to get his research program's information needs from, and how an important part of the library's function is to teach students how to identify which spigots they need to "turn on" for their own research. He recommended using library research case studies as an instructional tool.

Schonfeld's talk itself was interesting, balanced, and highlighted some aspects of the report's findings that I hadn't fully grasped before. I was especially glad that he explicitly noted that while directors' stated priorities were not aligned with faculty's stated priorities, their budget priorities expressed as spending choices certainly were. I had wondered if this pattern is simply a reflection of the political reality that grumpy faculty can make the lives of Deans and Provosts far more unpleasant than grumpy librarians can, and since most academic library directors report to some sort of Dean or Provost type of person, they know what their organizational constraints are.

Which gives a new poignancy to the Ithaka report's finding that only 35% of academic library directors consider themselves to have a "well-developed plan" to deal with changing user attitudes and expectations. Having observed both the theatrical tendencies of library strategic planning and the futility of expecting any kind of unified faculty opinion on anything, I can understand why some directors figure, consciously or not, that it's a poor use of time and resources to develop initiatives that will inevitably run afoul of some constituency that will end up killing them or modifying them down into triviality. I don't approve of that kind of fatalism, but I have a new sympathy for a position that previously only baffled me.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On the other hand, I could be wrong...

...about the unlikelihood of open source at the enterprise level.

Inside Higher Ed reports that Cornell and a handful of other universities have committed "to fully adopt the Kuali Financial System, an open-source application." A sign of things to come? Maybe. I don't know about Cornell's peer adopters, but the fact that Cornell switched from "homegrown financial software" seems significant to me. It suggests a pre-existing organizational culture of owning one's own headaches. Also, financial management software is only one step towards an entire open-source ERP (enterprise resource planning) suite.

So: I'm intrigued, but not yet convinced that open source is a trend.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Open source is not a trend (Library technology thoughts, pt. 8 of 8)

Back when I started this series, I noted my surprise and disappointment with the fact that I couldn't, in good faith, include open source software as a trend. Surprise, because library-vendor economics are brutal, and more and more librarians are going to decide that if we are going to have headaches with our tools no matter what, they might as well really be our headaches. Disappointment, because I have tried to move our library [shouldn't link to back-end database] tools [just in case] to open source whenever possible.

However: remember the idea that the headaches would be our headaches? It turns out it only works if there is a consistent "we." People keep leaving. In the case of the archives, positions have been eliminated after incumbents moved on. IT officially doesn't support our fringe Linux set-ups, and turnover at IT has meant that our unofficial support has mostly evaporated too. That back-end database I'm not providing a URL for? We actually haven't been able to get into it for months, because a) nobody on staff can trouble-shoot it, b) it supports services the university has largely de-funded, and c) the position responsible for getting an outside contractor to fix it was vacant from February to June. (For that position, MySQL experience was a preferred qualification. Out of roughly 60 applicants, maybe one had it. In my corner of libraryland, at least, we can't pay for the skills we need.) Maybe larger institutions can pull it off. Maybe consortia can pull it off. I'm not sure. Before they can, though, there are all kinds of organizational culture changes that need to happen first, and the few signs I have seen of that have been sloooooow. (Now is an especially good time to point at the Library Loon's post on the exodus of tech-savvy librarians.)

I am not saying the situation is necessarily so much worse than when we were using proprietary software. But it isn't better, and libraries need to get better on the tech side. That is kind of the whole point of this series of blog posts. Given the brutal library-vendor economics referenced above, and the independent incentives to merge library systems with course management and enterprise systems, I don't see long-term institutional support for the creation and maintenance of library-specific open-source tools. (Not that short-term support is so strong either; we're about a year past the point where the promised reserves module for our hosted Koha ILS was supposed to come online, entirely because of funding cuts at supporting libraries.) While open source is happening in CMS, I can't see it happening at the enterprise level, like, ever--so, yeah, not a trend. It pains me to say it, greatly. Hopefully someone has a good counterargument?

Monday, June 20, 2011

The *really* integrated library system (Library technology thoughts, pt. 7 of 8)

I'm back from a nearly two-week vacation...just in time for everyone else to go to ALA in New Orleans! Looking back on this series of posts, I notice that my estimated timeline of "a week or so" has become "over a month." This kind of thing has a way of happening.

Moving on...

(I have a list of six predictions about what I expect to see happen in academic library technology over the next 5-10 years. This is prediction #6.)

Academic libraries will move to integrate their systems with course management and enterprise systems at their host institutions.

One part of this prediction is my frustration with library systems that don't play well with others. Students update their address information and name changes with the registrar; they and we both get annoyed that they have to do it over again with us. Our EZproxy server has a very dramatic on-again, off-again relationship with the student information database, resulting in students who can't get into our online databases. (We have at least one outbreak of such incidents each semester, made worse by the fact that the IT guy who knew how to work with EZproxy left over a year ago, and IT has not prioritized recreating that skill set, not that I blame them under the circumstances.) Our electronic reserves system? My views are unprintable.

Another (related) part of this prediction is the large number of usernames and passwords library users are expected to remember. I know there are tools that allow for single "master passwords," but these tools, as I understand them, are a) third-party solutions for b) problems that shouldn't exist in the first place. It's like needing one library card to check out books, another for DVDs, and yet another just to get through the front door. Ridiculous. Actually, no, it's more like having multiple entirely separate libraries that we make people trek around to. The end result is that a lot of resources get ignored.

The third part of this prediction is, once again, assessment and administrator influence. It is a blindingly painful headache to answer questions like, "How many books purchased from the Environmental Studies departmental allocation got checked out to ENV majors who got A's in their senior capstone seminars?" Greater systems integration could reduce that pain to a dull throbbing.

MPOW is consolidating around its Jenzabar CX enterprise software (and moving to a hosted service, no less). It also has Google Apps for Education for the students. IT feels better about the library taking the Jenzabar route over the Google Apps route for things like electronic reserves, so that is what I am looking into this summer. I am hoping there will be a nice clear solution. If there isn't now, I expect there will be in the next 5-10 years. I have difficulty imagining that I'm the only library director who is frustrated with the status quo--and even if I am, I have difficulty imagining that university administrators will continue to want to spend buckets of money on potentially redundant (-ish) and definitely inefficient library systems.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Library tech: too important to leave to the librarians? (Library technology thoughts, pt. 6 of 8)

(I have a list of six predictions about what I expect to see happen in academic library technology over the next 5-10 years. This is prediction #5.)

Administrators and accreditors will drive technological change in academic libraries more than faculty will.

When I was making my list of predictions, I thought this was more distinctive than it necessarily is. It is largely a restatement of the accountability regime I talked about with user satisfaction. But it is also a statement about shared governance, and that statement is: whatever power administrators do or don't share with faculty, it will be power that they choose to share, making a system of delegated rather than shared governance. If that delegation even happens. More likely is that faculty senates and committees will continue their slow descent into advisory status.

This descent is one of the reasons I have trouble understanding the perennial libraryland debate about tenure for academic librarians. Even if tenure put us on equal footing with teaching faculty--which I'm not convinced it does or can--I am not sure why we want to be pushing for a status with diminishing rights and responsibilities. We need to stand on our own professional profile of skills and principles.

The shifting balance of governance will be especially significant when it comes to technology. Technology is expensive. It is expensive all the time. You buy it, you tweak it, you babysit it, you perform CPR on it, you replace it. Or you let it go bad and deal with the time and energy expense of really angry users. Whatever you do or don't do with technology, it is going to cost you.

Which means that administrators will pay close attention to it. There has been a lot of talk about how faculty will react if the Georgia State e-reserves case goes badly, but I am more interested in how administrators will react if they decide the library is an area of legal exposure for their institutions. In a different area, accessibility and assistive technology, what I have seen motivate policies and budgets is concern about ADA lawsuits. Very broadly speaking, from my limited experience, faculty will want their electronic reserves and won't want to divert resources for accessibility away from, say, journal subscriptions (or inflated "permission fees" to the CCC). Administrators will want the legal risk to go away. Faculty may or may not get the results they want, but if they do, it will be because administrators made a choice about how grumpy a faculty (and student body) they can afford to have. Where librarians fall on that pecking order, I don't really like to think about too much.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

No smiles, no dollars (Library technology thoughts, pt. 5 of 8)

(I have a list of six predictions about what I expect to see happen in academic library technology over the next 5-10 years. This is prediction #4.)

Academic libraries' ability to use technology to mediate satisfying experiences for users will be the single most important factor in maintaining support from their host institutions.

Support for academic libraries can be financial; support can be political; support can be moral. All kinds of support, though, depend on the supporter continuing to believe that the library is doing its job--or, at the very least, that the library is capable of doing its job. And, increasingly, what is the job of the academic library?

To look good in assessment.

Looking good in assessment is not the mission or purpose or vocation or aspiration of the academic library. But it is becoming its job, the thing that pays the bills. In the corporate-influenced university, everything comes down to the bottom line, and the bottom line is reputation or money or both. Universities operate more and more under what Gaye Tuchman calls an accountability regime. (I recommend reading Tuchman's whole book on the topic.) Is your university or college accredited? It is moving in this direction. Does it hire deans and provosts and presidents from among the itinerant class of professional administrators? It is moving in this direction fast.

What administrators want in terms of library assessment results varies from institution to institution. Broadly speaking, though, they want libraries to demonstrably support the assessment goals of the institution as a whole. And the most important of these goals, in terms of money and reputation, usually are:

-1- Student satisfaction.

-2- External funding.

-3- Achievement of student learning outcomes.

Student learning outcomes are mostly a bottom-line concern for accreditation. In the aggregate, parents and students mostly want reassurance about two things: Will college be a personally rewarding experience? Will a decent job be waiting upon graduation? Student learning outcomes certainly can be a proxy for those concerns, but I do not see them becoming a major concern in and of themselves. In any case, my hunch and fear is that achievement of student learning outcomes will have no significant correlation with any library variable within a single institution.

Which leaves student satisfaction and external funding. Most of what I have seen that ties libraries to external funding is faculty singing the praises of their local library in enabling them to win grants and carry out grant-related activities. In other words: faculty satisfaction. Combine student satisfaction with faculty satisfaction, and we get the general category of user satisfaction.

Why do I see user satisfaction as a technology issue, though? Clearly, there are important non-technological aspects of a satisfactory library experience. There are skilled and friendly staff, welcoming and inspirational spaces, and useful print books and journals. However, these aspects are going to become less distinctively relevant to assessment over the next 5-10 years. Skilled and friendly staff who are facilitating, guiding, and teaching the use of networked resources--to say nothing of maintaining those resources--are a networked service. The most incredible academic library space in the world will see little use if it doesn't have wifi. And the biggest sources of external funding, the STEM fields, are moving much faster into electronic resources than the humanities and social sciences.

Further, the collection and analysis of user satisfaction data had better be a technological activity, and the more automated the better. In a zero-sum library job environment, every person-hour spent on assessment will be a person-hour taken away from some other activity. If academic libraries want to receive strong support from their host institutions, part of using technology to mediate satisfying experiences for users will need to be to capture their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with any given interaction, and to respond with positive changes in library systems and resources and services, in an iterative cycle of (sigh) continuous improvement.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Visual search (Library technology thoughts, pt. 4 of 8)

(I have a list of six predictions about what I expect to see happen in academic library technology over the next 5-10 years. This is prediction #3.)

Visual search will (at a minimum) reach parity with text-based search.

One reason I have this prediction is because of what I believe is going on with mobile devices. More stuff on mobile devices + more mobile devices with touch screens = greater questioning of why we should force people to tap-tap-tap their way through text-based interfaces. "Im in ur txt 2 say luv u 4ever" and its ilk evolved for a reason, and while a lolspeak subject thesaurus would be amusing, I'm not counting on it.

A second reason is the increasing sophistication of infographics. (Digression: in reading this post by Rob Paterson, I was struck by how one cites information from an infographic--by x and y coordinates?) Designs such as Anil Dash describes in "Pixels are the New Pies" lend themselves quite well to the size and shape of mobile device screens, too. It seems like EBSCO's visual search is working off of similar design principles. Good for them.

The third reason is things like bing's image search. This kind of technology is also on my June list to Learn What I Am Talking About. Not only because users will increasingly like these kinds of tools, but because content will more and more be born multimedia. The Journal of Visualized Experiments will have many, many fellow publications in all fields before too very long. Say, 5-10 years.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Going mobile (Library technology thoughts, pt. 3 of 8)

(I have a list of six predictions about what I expect to see happen in academic library technology over the next 5-10 years. This is prediction #2.)

Mobile devices will increase in importance for use of library collections and services.

Libraries know it.

Publishers know it.

Vendors know it.

(And, of course, Google knows it...)

I know that some of the mobile-designed tools, like QR codes, are faulted for introducing a new digital divide between people with smartphones and people with ordinary dumb mobile phones (like me). I think it's good that someone has been working on a smartphone workaround for QR codes. I think it would be even better if the library world in particular stopped conflating "mobile" and "cutting-edge," instead prioritizing tools that work on the least-reasonable-common-denominator devices. (Didn't we go through this with web browser neutrality in HTML code?) Cell phones in general are ubiquitous. iPods are a little less ubiquitous but still widespread. I know people who get along quite well without combining the functionality of the two.

And here is where the predicting-the-future part comes in: I know very little about how this technology really works--something at the top of my list of things to fix in June--and even I can see that all the necessary technological pieces are already in place on the user end. The only question is whether libraries will make working with those pieces a high priority when dealing with vendors or designing our own tools. I'm betting the answer is yes--user satisfaction is simply too dominating a performance measure for us to safely leave mobile content, tools and services on the back burner.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

To the cloud! (Library technology thoughts, pt. 2 of 8)

(I have a list of six predictions about what I expect to see happen in academic library technology over the next 5-10 years. This is prediction #1.)

Libraries, publishers and vendors will continue to push more content, tools and services onto the cloud.

I think the content part of this prediction is reasonably uncontroversial. (But I have been wrong before.) As more content goes digital, more content will go nonlocal, because really, who has the server space or wants to deal with the rights complications? If you're the Ontario Council of University Libraries, you might be able to negotiate for "local load" of monographs (see slide 4)--but for all but one of the member libraries, and maybe just plain all of them, that content is still going to be living on one or more external servers.

As the content goes nonlocal, the tools will follow even more than they already have. If I go to netLibrary through my library or Google Books on the open web, I don't have to download any software. I've given up on using e-books or e-audiobooks from my local public library precisely because there's software to download, and it is a royal pain. Online journal databases might require me to download the latest version of Adobe Reader, but that's such a common tool that I won't even hyperlink it. Meanwhile, my library's catalog is hosted remotely, as was its predecessor. I don't know much about WorldCat Local, but it seems to be trying to move the "get it" function onto the cloud along with the "find it" function. In general, it seems to me that "the thing" and "the way you find and use the thing" are going to increasingly live in the same place.

All that's left is services. Services will follow the tools. Services are part of finding and using "the thing." Technical services folks seem okay with this concept. Public services folks, less so, though I could be listening to the wrong conversations. I'm not even talking about in-person vs. online or SMS (text) reference, or staffed vs. automated circulation. I'm saying that if in-person reference involves two people sitting in front of a computer using networked resources, that's a networked service, and the in-person aspect will increasingly become a boutique experience, as with, say, travel agents. If circulation is fundamentally a series of barcodes or RFID tags interacting with a networked ILS, that's a networked service. Contactless smart cards + robot book fetchers + library RFID tags = probably nothing any time soon, but just the idea of it will inspire various smaller changes in various academic libraries.

I still remember the day I was meeting with our director of distance learning, and we were discussing our electronic reserves system and whether it had any advantages over how they were using the content management system, and I blurted out, "Of course, now that IT has moved all the students to gmail accounts, really we should just do all this with Google Docs and Google Groups." I still think we should try it. It's only a matter of time before patrons Google Chat with reference librarians who then "check out" identified materials to them by sending a "share document" notification. Maybe a "check this item out" link in the local catalog will automatically generate the same kind of notification, and "return this item" will delete their identification from the document sharing list. For all I know, this kind of thing is already happening.

Obviously, there are serious digital divide questions here. For this reason, I don't see this trend as either total or super-fast. But 5-10 years? I really think there will be a lot more of it. (For one look at the same trend in higher ed in general, see the Tenured Radical.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thoughts on (academic) library technology, pt. 1 of 8

Fresh back from an awesome experience at the Acquisitions Institute at Timberline Lodge, and preparing for the last CoALA workshop of the Spring this Friday, I have (academic) library technology on the brain. In the grand tradition of talking about library technology, I have a List Of Trends. Over the next week or so, I will have separate posts for each one. Which I haven't written yet. So if you have strong negative or positive feelings about any of these, let me know! I'd love to be able to incorporate your thoughts into my posts.

What I See Happening in the Next 5-10 Years

1. Libraries, publishers and vendors will continue to push more content, tools and services onto the cloud.

2. Mobile devices will increase in importance for use of library collections and services.

3. Visual search will (at a minimum) reach parity with text-based search.

4. Academic libraries' ability to use technology to mediate satisfying experiences for users will be the single most important factor in maintaining support from their host institutions.

5. Administrators and accreditors will drive technological change in academic libraries more than faculty will.

6. Academic libraries will move to integrate their systems with course management and enterprise systems at their host institutions.

I'm surprising and disappointing myself that I'm not listing open source on here as a trend. I think I will have to do a separate post just about that.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thoughts on power, privilege, and Steven Abram's latest

Today, unlike most weeks, I have to leave work early to pick my son up from school and take him to soccer practice. So this morning I approached my paraprofessional colleague who's in the library with me today and asked if she would be willing to stay an extra 30 minutes to close up. She said no problem; it was all very friendly and informal. But the reality of the situation is, I could have made her stay. It would have been unethical and inadvisable, and if I did it too many times I would likely get in trouble with HR, but I could have done it. Meanwhile, if she were the one who needed to leave early and I said no, she would be up the creek without a paddle.

That's power.

If I were talking to a group of other managers about my crazy schedule this week, and how I needed to leave early on Friday, and oh by the way one of my staff closed up for me, most likely nobody would blink. If I were talking to a group of paraprofessionals about it, most likely nobody would feel comfortable suggesting that it might have been inconsiderate of me, or that of course my colleague said yes, what, did I think she was stupid?

That's privilege.


The past day or so there have been several LSW friendfeed discussions sparked by Stephen Abram's call for professional civility. In these discussions, people have expressed frustration with how powerful and privileged individuals don't see how often they move from a discussion of why people are unhappy with what those individuals have said and done to a discussion of why the unhappy people can't express themselves more respectfully. Since saying things "the right way" is, in practice, very often an impossibility for people who don't already share the same power and privilege--e.g., women are either "too passive" or "too bitchy," African-Americans and Latino/as are either "keeping to themselves" or "trying to take over"--many of us are immediately distrustful when someone goes to the "Tone Argument" without providing specific examples of where they think someone else has crossed a line of acceptable behavior. (These kinds of things happen so often, people make bingo cards.)

Stephen Abram, to his credit, has been an active participant in these discussions. He clearly has a thick skin and a healthy sense of respect for differing opinions. Where he falls short in understanding people's objections, in my view, is that he believes that the opinions of himself or Jeff Trzeciak or other library luminaries are competing on a level playing field with everybody else's. In one LSW thread, he comments:

It's certainly not my right or position to tell anyone on this list or anywhere how to behave but I feels it my right to express an opinion or preference. Is it because I'm an old white guy that I am relegated to that limiting box of behaviour that I only get positioned as telling people how to behave? Are all old white males stereotyped thusly? Are we the last safe place to pre-judge our opinions and positions? We can't all be equal until everyone is equal.

Considering that he describes himself on his blog as "ably capable of providing tips and techniques for strategic thinking and innovation in libraries...uniquely positioned to spark ideas and insights," I find it difficult to take seriously his claim that his voice is just one among many equals. After all, he doesn't get paid to give keynotes and such because he's just another librarian. No: he is invited to speak because people pay attention to what he has to say. His reputation and professional track record give him both power and privilege.


Once upon a time, two people I admired and respected had a falling-out. One was, among other things, an editor at a small science-fiction publication. The other was, among other things, an author of published science-fiction short stories. The editor said something in a public space that could reasonably be interpreted as an indictment of the writer's ability to produce compelling stories. The writer objected, vigorously. The editor's defense was that they were not speaking from their position as an editor, who makes buying decisions and influences other editors and readers, but as a private individual. The writer called bullshit. Although I had a longer association with the editor, I agreed with the writer. When one takes on a professional role, one does not have the option of putting it on and taking it off at will. There is no such thing as speaking privately in public.

This lesson is one of the first I learned in my career, when I became director of a small public library less than a year out of grad school. When I was eating dinner in a local restaurant, I wasn't just me, I was the library director. When I was joking around with staff, I wasn't just me, I was the library director. When I wrote a letter to the editor in support of the mayor, I wasn't just me, I was the library director. People paid a lot more attention to me than I had really expected them to.

And they were right to. If I said that I hated romance novels, they could worry about what that would mean for library acquisitions. If I said my wife and I were choosing not to put our son in daycare because we were concerned about studies that suggested there could be negative long-term effects for him, they could worry about whether I would give a fair opportunity to job applicants who had small children in daycare. I had the power, however limited, to affect other people's lives. I like to think that I was (and am) a competent professional who only uses my powers for good. But I learned that I had to be constantly demonstrating my competence and responsibility. If I gave an opinion, I had to explicitly affirm differing opinions and openly acknowledge that I would not use my power against them. If I gave an opinion, I had to consciously remind myself and others that I knew my privilege might keep them from openly disagreeing with me.

It took longer for me to learn that the power and privilege that came from my role were directly related to the privilege I had from being white, male and married to someone of a different gender, because it greatly increased my chances of being selected for that role. But I learned that lesson too.


I suppose I could chafe at the constraints this reality puts on my words and actions. I could grumble that I have to respond constructively to complaints from staff and patrons that aren't always the most diplomatically phrased. But it is part of the package deal that comes with holding a position of responsibility, and I accept it. I wish other people would too--especially individuals who have a lot more influence, and therefore a lot more responsibility, than I do.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Barbara Fister basically defines the life skills model of IL

Just go read it. It's brilliant.

And then go read The Myth of Information Literacy again. It's also brilliant.

And I can't for the life of me see how a single approach to information literacy or composition could possibly contain both. If, as Barbara says, wanting students "to learn skills they can use after college" is in opposition to "providing a 'service' to other departments" so that students can "survive college"--or, more charitably, develop as apprentice scholars--then what is really going on with undergraduate curricula in general, let alone information literacy?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Information literacy: mixing models

There are few concepts in academic librarianship that vex me as much as information literacy. I avoid the phrase whenever I can, to the extent that I sometimes worry I will shoot myself in the foot if I someday have an interview for an instruction position.

A major part of the vexation is that there appear to be two competing (and possibly conflicting) models of what information literacy is for. One is a scholarly research model, excellently described in Wayne Bivens-Tatum's latest post on the subject, "The Myth of Information Literacy." The other is a life skills model, which gets invoked whenever librarians start talking about preparing students for lifelong learning (e.g., IFLA's "Guidelines on Information Literacy for Lifelong Learning").

Identifying these two models puts us on the fast track to getting derailed by the perennial (and false) distinction between "impractical" liberal arts education and "practical" professional training. I would like to avoid that. So I am going to simply make the claim that crafting a scholarly argument about a subject is a different task than making an informed decision about it. Both are useful tools and important abilities for educated, engaged citizens to have. The problem is when the teaching methods and learning outcomes appropriate for one model get mixed in with the methods and outcomes of the other.

This confusion is one of the reasons I am a pain about urging librarians to see setting information literacy goals as the proper responsibility of the teaching faculty. Different institutions have different priorities and different cultures.

And it is precisely on those differences that I go back to being vexed about information literacy, because I think when Wayne says

Ultimately, this means that I'm not concerned with information literacy in the broadest sense, with whether students or anyone else have all the skills necessary to find, evaluate, and incorporate information about any topic whatsoever. Almost nobody but excellent reference librarians will ever meet that goal anyway.

then I immediately think he is missing the question of the baseline. It is like talking about how nobody except excellent literary scholars will ever be able to competently analyze any text they come across, while ignoring the students who have difficulty even telling the difference between, say, a scientific study and newspaper reporting about that study and an op-ed that draws on that study to try to score political points. Does everyone need to be able to make sense of War and Peace? No. But everyone does need to be able to take a look at War and Peace and say, hmm, maybe not the best source for information on Russian military history.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Meme (?) : For the record

Following Jenica Rogers...

  • I will turn 38 in 3 months.
  • I've never been in a tenure-track position. I do have "faculty status for the purposes of governance and service," though. That happened when I was 33.
  • I’ve been in the profession since 1993 — 18 years. I’ve had jobs outside of libraries when I've had multiple jobs at one time, but working at Wendy's after my freshman year of college is the last time I was without a library job.
  • I’ve had my MLIS since 1998 — 13 years this August.
  • I started supervising library staff when I was 26, in my first MLS-required job. Some of them had their MLS too, even though none of their positions required it.
  • I started managing budgets when I was 26, in my first MLS-required job.
  • I had my first grant application approved when I was 26, in my first MLS-required job. Biggest grant to date: $1.2 million, approved when I was 29.
  • I presented at my first local conference when I was 31, and I will be 38 when I present at my first national (ish) one later this spring.
Jenica says, "Each and every one of those milestones was scary, and challenging, and I didn’t feel 'ready' for any of them." Can I relate! I went basically from grad school to being a public library director. Then I became a church library director and discovered that I was actually more of an associate pastor for adult education. Then I became an academic library director and had to learn everything about faculty culture and IL instruction and, well, everything. There are rewards to going from zero to 60 in a short period of time, but feeling like an expert is not one of them. Jenica is right: just get in there and start doing what matters to you. I promise you, it feels much better to struggle with something you care about than to breeze through something you're indifferent to.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Library day in the life, 1/28/11

8 AM -- Arrive at work to open the library for a staff member who had to take a sick day.

All day -- There's really no point in breaking it down by time. Today it's me and one workstudy until 11:30, then it's just me until around 2:30 or 3, when the staff member who is coming in late (not to be confused with the one out all day) should get here. Then it's just us until 5, when the library closes. There are sometimes days like this, when one is the director of a small library at a small university that has gone through a couple years of budget cuts and reorganization. Every day is kind of like this. One of the reasons I love meetings and presentations and one-on-one research appointments so much is because I know I won't be interrupted to check a book out or fix someone's electronic reserves password or whatever. I tell our patrons that they are most important, and they shouldn't feel apologetic about interrupting library staff, and that is completely true. But it affects my productivity to always know that I can't just sit down, put on my headphones, and *do* something. Even if nothing does come up, it's still on my mind. Small libraries are all kinds of awesome, especially mine. But there are trade-offs.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Library day in the life, 1/27/11

7:55 AM -- Arrive at work. Attempt to sign on for virtual reference shift. Discover that the desktop is still barfing on java. Pull out laptop that was at hand for just this eventuality. Sign in to virtual reference shift on time.

8 - 9 AM -- Virtual reference.

9 - 10:30 AM -- Breakfast, update official library blog, email, FriendFeed, administrivia.

10:30 - 11:45 AM -- Religious Studies class presentation.

11:45 AM - 2 PM -- Yeah, so. Some days lunch never happens. Not because the work is so quantitatively or qualitatively different, but just because things are weird. Bad vibes, dude. Sometimes, especially when one is working longer/unplanned hours on other days of the week, one decides to call it a day, grab the thick file of library research articles one needs to read through before getting much further into a pilot project, and head out for lunch and home. It is an amazing, unusual benefit of my job--not in the official HR sense of the word, just, a good thing--that I can do this. I have the flexibility, I have the trusted team. I do my best to offer them the same flexibility with their schedules.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day in the life, 1/26/11

8:25 AM -- Arrive at work. Start blog post. Administrivia.

9 - 11:30 AM -- Resource Analysis & Planning Group. This is a faculty committee responsible for the equitable distribution of university resources among academic programs and individual faculty members. We're an advisory group, so our responsibility only goes so far, but still. (We advise both the faculty executive committee and the provost.) It is a humbling and rewarding thing to do.

11:30 AM - 12 PM -- Administrivia.

12 - 12:45 PM -- President's State of the University address.

12:45 - 2 PM -- Lunch in office and administrivia.

2 - 2:30 PM -- Library staff meeting.

2:30 - 3:35 PM -- Draft document coming out of this morning's RAP Group meeting.

3:35 - 4:20 PM -- Break.

4:20 - 4:30 PM -- Finish the draft RAP document and email to fellow committee members.

4:30 - 4:50 PM -- Prep for Religious Studies BA senior capstone class presentation tomorrow morning.

4:50 - 5:25 PM -- FriendFeed and blogs.

5:25 - 6 PM -- Wade through email backlog.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Library Day in the Life, 1/25/11

So I'm coming to the Library Day in the Life thing a day late, apparently.

8:12 AM -- Depart for bus stop.

8:26 AM -- Get on bus. (At least, that's what the schedule says, I didn't check.)

9:06 AM -- Arrive at work. (Something very delayed happened with the bus somewhere. Since I read on the bus, I don't always keep track of landmark passings and traffic.)

9:10 AM -- Discover that the Java Runtime Environment on my desktop has shuffled off this mortal coil, making it impossible to log in to my first virtual reference shift of the day. I have three shifts today; I'm filling some schedule gaps left by the abrupt departure of one of the larger institutions in our collaborative.

9:26 AM -- Having re-installed the necessary software and rebooted my computer, I can finally start virtually referencing. I also start with FriendFeed and blogs and email.

11:03 AM -- Sign off from second virtual reference shift.

11-something AM -- Start this post!

11:34 AM -- Lunch. The banana chips I had for breakfast didn't have much sticking power.

11:46 AM -- Lunch over. Start prepping for this evening's class presentation at the main library of the big state university that neighbors my small private university. Once again bemoan the fact that Marketing controls our pretty website, so that I can't really add pages to the prettier library section.

12:13 PM -- Read through Jen Hoyer's "Information is Social: Literacy in Context" slides on a recommendation I saw on the ILI-L email list. Wonder if the reason I do the things she says academic librarians don't do, but should do, is because I started out in public and special libraries. Feel happy that my faculty colleagues value service learning and so value the "communication approach" to information literacy. Wonder if I will ever get over my dislike of "information literacy" as an organizing concept.

12:50 -- Search for library assessment presentations on SlideShare. Browse. Add to my blog bookmarks. Continue browsing.

1:35 PM -- Help a staff member with an unpleasant health insurance policy complication and related issues.

2:00 PM -- Third virtual reference shift.

3:00 PM -- Virtual reference shift ends. Move on to email conversation with tech services coordinator and ILS vendor about how to make the system report on what I want it to for assessing library collections and usage. We may need to pay for some scripts; we definitely will need to change our acquisitions workflow.

3:26 PM -- Print out list of fall graduates who have not yet been cleared by the library. Give to circ desk staff to see if anybody owes us money. Feel guilty about delegating.

3:35 PM -- Talk with student worker who spent last semester in Bali and put together a book of Balinese children's art. She is going to do a presentation in February in the library reading room.

3:40 PM -- Headache from flashes as the university president is photographed in the library for a magazine is getting really bad. Thinking of heading out for an early dinner break.

3:45 PM -- Yep.

4:30 PM -- Back. Administrivia.

5:45 PM -- Off to do the presentation, which will end at 7:30.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Is the library a customer service institution?

Some initial thoughts on Paul Ford's "The Web is a Customer Service Medium" (h/t Anil Dash)...

A medium has a niche. A sitcom works better on TV than in a newspaper, but a 10,000 word investigative piece about a civic issue works better in a newspaper. When it arrived the web seemed to fill all of those niches at once. The web was surprisingly good at emulating a TV, a newspaper, a book, or a radio. But the web is not just some kind of magic all-absorbing meta-medium. It's its own thing. And like other media it has a question that it answers better than any other. That question is: Why wasn't I consulted?...WWIC is the thing people talk about when they talk about nicer-sounding things like “the wisdom of crowds” or “cognitive surplus”...The web is not, despite the desires of so many, a publishing medium. The web is a customer service medium. “Intense moderation” in a customer service medium is what “editing” was for publishing...The days of the web as all-purpose media emulator are numbered. Apps on mobile are gaining traction; the web browser, despite great and ongoing effort, will not become the universal platform for everything ever. Apps provide niche experiences.

Okay, so. In comics, someone struck with a sudden idea gets a lightbulb drawn over their head. It usually works the opposite for me. Strike me with a big enough idea, and I get a wrapped present. I know it's there, I know it's something I'm going to really like, and the wrapping paper is so shiny. But what is it? I won't know until I unwrap it. Which can take...time. But here's what I've got right now from the metaphorical shaking of the package and listening for thumps or tinkles:

Historically, as an oversimplification, libraries as institutions developed for the purpose of preservation and access. People made Stuff. Eventually libraries ended up with some of that Stuff in order to serve their patron(s) or customer(s).

At some point, libraries in the United States moved from being an after-market customer service to being a market in and of itself.

This process seems to have speeded up in the second half of the 20th century, at the same time as broadcast media gained prominence. Coincidence?

Libraries, on the whole, have never successfully engaged the question of broadcast media. When recordings are made available by someone else, we may collect them. But if no recording of a particular broadcast is made, well, tough luck.

Broadcasters therefore have had no reason to look to libraries as a market.

In the online era, all media is increasingly broadcast media. A book downloaded to a mobile device or an online journal subscription has more in common with on-demand TV than their print ancestors.

If libraries continue to fail to engage the question of broadcast media, we will be left with very little to collect, and publishers will cease to look at us as a market.

In contemporary American society, only consumers (or capital owners) have power to influence production.

If libraries are not seen as consumers, we will be...what? Returning to our historical roots? Losing our ability to pursue our goals? Stuck in an identity crisis? Left with no choice but to become capital owners?