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I spent Friday at the LAUC-B Conference 2013, which UC opened up to the wider librarian community. Titled Making it count: Opportunities and challenges for library assessment, it was tightly focused on the evaluation of library services.
The opening keynote was delivered by Steve Hiller, the Director of Assessment and Planning at the University of Washington Libraries. This served as the lit review of library assessment practices, providing a chronology of how evaluation has changed in the past century+ of academic library services, with case studies and the best practices of today mixed in. The vital takeaway is that the traditional statistics of library work (circulation stats, reference desk interactions, etc.) look backwards instead of forwards. They emphasize prescriptive, numerical measures instead of looking at outcomes, such as whether our customers — the university’s students, faculty, and administration — are achieving success.
“What is easy to measure is not necessarily desirable to measure.” – Martha Kyrillidou, 1998.
That leaves us with an obvious question: how can we measure outcomes, rather than usage? Hiller recommended the book How to Measure Anything by Douglas Hubbard. Hubbard suggests the following:
- Our dilemmas are not unique. Others have struggled with the same issues.
- You need less data/information than you think.
- You have more data/information than you think.
- There are useful measures that are much simpler thank you think.
Hiller has noticed some trends in library assessment: a greater reliance on external (campus-wide) measures aligned with university planning, the demonstration of library impact on individuals and communities, and outcomes-based assessment that make use of multiple measurement tools. Institutions are more interested in student learning outcomes and how the library contributes to overall student learning than in the traditional metrics.
“‘Not how good is this library.’ Rather, ‘How much good does it do?’” – R.H. Orr, 1973.
It is up to our customers to determine the quality of our libraries and library services. Hiller left us with four assessment questions:
- What do we need to know about our communities and customers to make them successful?
- Who are our partners in collaborative assessment?
- How do we measure the effectiveness of our services, programs, and resources and how they contribute to user success?
- What do our stakeholders need to know in order to provide the resources needed for a successful library?
The speakers that followed Hiller did their best to answer these questions.
“What do we want? Incremental change. When do we want it? In due time” – Lyn Paleo.
The next segment featured a trio of speakers on different topics: Joanne Miller of the California Digital Library spoke on what information and data the University of California keeps, Lyn Paleo shared what librarians need to know about the assessment/evaluation process, and OCLC’s Merrilee Proffitt discussed assessing special collections.
Lyn Paleo’s presentation was particularly fascinating. Paleo is not a librarian: she is a program evaluator and member of UC Berkeley’s faculty. She outlined some of the steps involved in assessment:
- Problem or need;
- Intervention (program, policy, service, institution, etc.);
- Outcomes (from the perspective of the beneficiary);
So how does this relate to libraries? Paleo explained that the academic library is a social human-service intervention to solve a problem. The problem libraries are meant to solve?
- The student’s need for information.
- The faculty’s need for research materials.
- The college’s retention and graduation rates.
Paleo laid out how the library attempts to solve the problem. It provides access to information sources for academic work, in the form of books, journals, and online resources (in all their various permutations). It provides reference and instruction services, which teach students how to access and use those information resources. The library provides the space students need to complete both academic work and have downtime relaxation, with (hopefully), proper lighting, amenities, organization, comfortable seating, individual study areas, group study areas, and both noisy and quiet spaces.
All of those solutions are, in their own ways, measurable. Simple methods can be devised for tracking foot traffic in certain areas of the library, whether students are working in groups or alone, and then arranging the furniture in the appropriate ratios. Short surveys, presented in the moment, on a single iPad page, can determine what draws patrons to library events, and why they (sometimes) leave early. Reference services can be assessed through post-interview observations of student search replication skills. These small research projects can lead to incremental improvements of service, even in lean budget times.
Lyn Paleo also had a few tips for data collection and management. Avoid convenience samples, when you only gather information from the most conveniently accessible patrons. That will skew results. A small representative sample is more effective for research than a large sample of convenience. When using Excel to track data, remember that every record requires its own row, and you’re better off putting all of the data on one spreadsheet using multiple tabs than having an endless series of files. You should also include a tab titled “About this data” explaining the contents of the spreadsheet in case it is inherited by future staff.
Above all, Paleo insisted, that when you are surveying a population, always announce what the study is, and what its intended use will be, to the people you are surveying. If they understand a survey’s importance, the answers will be more comprehensive and informative.
“Practitioner research should be messy.” – April Cunningham, Palomar College.
In the afternoon, I attended a breakout session led by Stephanie Rosenblatt of Cerritos College and April Cunningham of Palomar College. They focused on action research, an evolving form of participatory, solution-oriented research that is practitioner-led. In action research, the subject material is informed by real-world concerns (such as the librarian’s professional observations), rather than being dictated by literature review. It moves in a cycle of planning, action, reflection, and sharing, and involves a group of critical participants who help analyze data, discuss related material, and provide feedback to the lead researcher. Many of the details of their presentation are available online, and are worth exploring.
I actually had the opportunity to be a part of a Participatory Action Research group on the campus where I work. The lead researcher brought together participants from across many campus departments, including both staff and faculty, and we discussed whiteness and white privilege in higher education, and the ways in which it can be deconstructed. Taking part was one of the most informative experiences I’ve had as a professional, and I derived many lessons I can apply to my work to make education more inclusive and meaningful.
Rosenblatt and Cunningham encouraged the audience to think of something — anything — that bothers them in their professional experience, any aspect of library work. It got me thinking about the challenge of getting first-year undergraduates to focus and participate in class. I don’t know any instructional librarians who haven’t dealt at some point with uninterested, disconnected students.
Why not work with the students themselves, away from the classroom, in an action research group? Why not ask them what would make a library workshop compelling to them — in a safe environment that would encourage them to talk? If we could pull together a representative sample of undergraduate students, action research could generate some solutions to a problem that is a thorn in the side of instructional librarians everywhere. And by asking them in a non-judgmental forum, we might actually get some good answers.
Rosenblatt and Cunningham also demonstrated some usable data analysis tools, from the simple and free, like Google Forms, to more specialized products like Tableau Public and LIWC. Their website has more comprehensive information on each.
The closing keynote was Stanford’s David Fetterman, discussing the work he does in empowerment evaluation. He also tipped the audience off on freemium infographics services like infogr.am and visual.ly to create powerful assessment reports. Something to explore further!
The ALA Annual Conference of 2013 was a tad different from the 1913 edition chronicled previously on this site. Instead of hundreds of participants, there were tens of thousands. We were in Chicago, since the Catskills can no longer hold us. But we still had a lot in common with our forebears – we discussed the public perception of libraries, how to broaden library appeal, and serve underserved communities just as they did one hundred years ago.
On Saturday morning I attended a session on gamification in libraries, emceed by Bohyun Kim, writer and editor at ACRL’s TechConnect blog and a librarian at Florida International University. It featured a mixed panel of academic and public librarians, each with a unique take on this emerging practice. “Gamifying” is the adoption of board or video game elements in outreach or instruction. Most of the examples incorporated digital badges, something Char Booth recently wrote about.
Different libraries are applying these concepts in radically different ways, from a children’s reading program in a Michigan public library to using it as an orientation and instruction tool at a California law school library.
One of the most fully developed examples is at the University of Huddersfield, in the UK. They have an interactive game that students can opt-in to called “Lemontree” (https://library.hud.ac.uk/lemontree/), which awards them digital badges and points based on their use of the library. Walking in after midnight earns them the “night owl” badge, while checking out ten or more books at once earns a “strongman” badge. Each of these badges are worth a certain amount of points, and as they climb a leaderboard, the more their eponymous tree grows from seed to sapling to mature lemontree. It’s fun and cute and even pits the different academic schools against each other.
Screenshots from Lemontree at the University of Huddersfield
Information Literacy Standards
Saturday featured a forum on revising the ACRL Information Literacy Standards. An ACRL committee has been formed and was reporting out to a very crowded (and opinionated) room of instructional librarians. The forum’s goals were two-fold: provide the attendees a timeline for the committee’s work, and get official feedback on two questions: 1) how libraries are currently using the existing ACRL standards in their work, and 2) what librarians feel is missing from the current standards.
There were various opinions offered on the latter: teaching guidelines for the different standards; detailing a picture of an information literate student; a request that we embody practices rather than “standards;” etc.
There was also discussion of the “-literacy” lexicon: pan-literacy, media-literacy, meta-literacy, and other terms that I am rather suspicious of (though I like and use the term “information literacy,” it sows enough confusion amongst non-academics, and I’m not sure we need to add more).
SpringShare’s New LibGuide Interface
I visited the SpringShare booth on the Exhibitor Floor to get a preview of the LibGuide design. I appreciate the ease of use when designing LibGuides, but their look is quite dated and design options are limited. Without completely changing the core concept, the new interface and design possibilities are a notable improvement: instead of set, fixed columns per page, box width can vary (e.g., you could place a horizontal box along the top of a page and place columns below it); boxes are no longer restricted to a single content type (e.g. you could mix images, mirrored database links, and highlighted books in a single box); new visually appealing tools such as lightboxes allow for more creative image use; and you can create tabbed boxes. The general look is improved, too: corners and edges are more rounded, and the default appearance is smoother and more pleasing to the eye.
There are also new administrative features. They have an automatically updating A-Z list (powered by SerialsSolutions), easier ways to reuse content (not just reusing links and boxes), and the ability to edit HTML templates.
SpringShare is not forcing an adoption date on client libraries. The new system will be available starting this fall and libraries can migrate when they elect to. Existing LibGuides should move seamlessly into the new system, gaining more appealing curves but otherwise remaining the same. The SpringShare representative also said they’d be willing to provide clients with a sandbox account to experiment with before migrating to the new system.
Overall I was pretty impressed, not only with the look of the new product but their method of roll-out and information sharing.
- SpringShare on the “next generation” of LibGuides: http://support.springshare.com/2013/06/26/libguides-the-next-generation/
MakerSpace at Chicago Public Library
“#makerspaces” in libraries seems to be the new “thing.” I took a tour of Chicago Public Library’s new Innovation Lab, which is currently hosting a MakerSpace. The tour was followed by a panel talk featuring representatives of several public library systems each with their own take on MakerSpace. Briefly, a MakerSpace features tools that help people create and craft; this can run the gamut between sewing supples to 3D printers, paper for zines to soldering equipment. Detroit Public Library’s MakerSpace is geared towards teens and has numerous workshops (e.g. bike maintenance, fashion design). Chicago’s is officially adults only and is heavy on the 3D printers and modeling software. It’ll be interesting watching this moving forward, and I wonder which academic libraries will find a way in on this trend.
Digital Public Library of America
Have you seen the Digital Public Library of America? Executive director Dan Cohen spoke at ALA to introduce the DPLA and how it operates to the attendees. It’s an online platform that brings together digital objects and collections from over a dozen partners (with more to come) searchable from a single interface. Contributors include the Smithsonian, the NYPL, the Internet Archive, and a number of universities. In addition to search functionality, content is curated into browsable exhibitions, and the DPLA makes its API available to creative app developers.
Librarians on tumblr: officially a thing. Four of my favorite people, Molly McArdle (formerly of LibraryJournal), Erin Shea (adult services librarian, Darien, CT), Kate Tkacik (corporate research librarian) and Rachel Fershleiser (Tumblr lit outreach guru) spoke about how and why libraries and librarians are using tumblr in increasing numbers (including me).
Tumblarians assemble! I joined up with Erin, Kate, and Molly for brunch.
Why tumbl? More characters than twitter. More social than Wordpress. More flexibility in posting, and the ease of reblogging. But best of all is the community, the vibrant, active, and positive librarian community that shares ideas, offers advice, and supports one another.
For those of you not already a part of that community, you can sign up in seconds. Tag your posts with “libraries” and “librarians” and we will find you!
Tumblr tags: metadata is your friend (photo courtesy @sophiebiblio)
I was asked to serve as a guest judge for the Librarian Wardrobe Walkoff, a fundraising party for EveryLibrary, the pro-library political action committee (PAC) founded by John Chrastka. Joining me on the judging panel were Courtney Young, Trevor Dawes, Celia Perez, and Patrick Sweeney (I felt like a minor leaguer called up to pitch in the majors). It was a fun gathering and helped spread the word about EveryLibrary, which already has three electoral victories under its belt and is turning towards California for a fall campaign. Chrastka’s mantra is that he wants to corner the market on “smart + fun” librarians, and channel their enthusiasm and energy into the ideas and momentum EveryLibrary needs to be an effective advocacy force. If this party was any indicator, there was smart + fun in spades.
Librarian Wardrobe Walkoff contenders strutting their stuff; myself with Sarah Houghton.
EveryLibrary is bringing the smart + fun to California with a fundraising brunch on August 18th – if you’re nearby, get your tickets and come out to support this great cause.
The ALA Annual Conference has a universality no other library conference can match. There is tremendous value in learning from our peers in different branches of the profession, something that doesn’t happen at specialized conferences. It’s important to see what else is happening outside of our individual niches: what issues are of concern in special libraries, or what new marketing ideas are working well for publics. If you get out of your own specialized silo, you come away with a lot of new and exciting ideas, and a better sense of what’s going on in the profession as a whole.
I enjoyed the positive kinetic energy. At both the sessions and at the social events there was a tremendous enthusiasm for what’s going right and what’s working well in the field. There is something very affirming about spending a weekend with colleagues and peers who love what they are doing. You go back to your day job full of energy and ideas, and the confidence that comes from connecting with the people you admire. I’m already looking forward to 2014 and what I’ll learn next.
The ALA Annual Conference of 2013 is bearing down on us. Tens of thousands of librarians – myself included – will descend on Chicago this Friday. The modern iteration of ALA Annual, for better and for worse, is the very model of a modern major conference, with an exhibitor floor, professional presentations, vendor parties, dubious swag, and, hopefully, learning and growth experiences for the assembled librarians.
I was inspired by a passing comment on Facebook last week to look up the 1913 Papers and Proceedings of the American Library Association Annual Conference, exactly one century ago. The older Proceedings are in the public domain and most are scanned in Google Books (though some wonky metadata can sometimes make specific ones hard to find).
In 1913, the librarians gathered in Kaaterskill, in upstate New York’s Hudson River Valley – a far cry from the recent history of Chicago, Anaheim, and New Orleans, and next year’s Las Vegas. The 1913 conference featured 892 participants, with the host state leading the way with 316 attendees, while my home state of California only sent four on the cross-country trek. One can only imagine the scene in the Catskill resort town. Did any flock of librarians choose to take a moonlit walk to the Kaaterskill Falls with a bottle of wine or two under their arms? The Proceedings close by chronicling a post-conference librarian trip by train, steamer, and automobile through the Adirondacks, including a group swim in a mountain lake.
“As Others See Us”
One of the most intriguing portions of the Proceedings is under the heading “As Others See Us.” The ALA President of the time, Henry Legler (chief librarian of the Chicago Public Library), sent a letter to the “eminent men and women in the United States and Great Britain” requesting “brief expressions touching our own work.” Accompanying the letter was a question relevant to the individual recipient, which included Andrew Carnegie, Winston Churchill, W.E.B. Du Bois, John F. Fitzgerald (JFK’s prominent maternal grandfather), and various other leaders in society, business, and the arts. Noteworthy answers were read aloud at the conference.
Most of the questions asked are as illuminating, if not more so, than the answers. The questions that librarians saw fit to ask society’s leaders tells us a lot of what they thought of their own profession at the time. Here are ten of the 22 original 1913 questions (language unaltered):
- Should our public expect the library to supply all the “best sellers” hot from the press?
- Is the negro being helped by our public libraries?
- Is cooperation between the public school and the public library developing in the right direction?
- Should the public library exercise censorship over the books it circulates?
- What rank should the library have in the scale of the community’s social assets?
- What is your conception of the ideal librarian?
- Is it wicked for our libraries to amuse people?
- Are our libraries helping to make better citizens of those from over-seas?
- Is the modern city library engaging in activities outside its proper sphere, e.g. lectures, story-telling, art exhibits, victrola concerts, loan of pianola rolls, etc.?
- Need librarians apologize for circulating a large percentage of contemporary fiction?
“The Color Line in Literature is Silly”
W.E.B. Du Bois, the civil rights activist and co-founder of the NAACP, answered the second question above pointedly. It is not a surprise that libraries operated under systematized racist policies in 1913 and were not welcoming to blacks and other cultural minorities. Du Bois stated clearly that while libraries could be a great benefit, those in the north often intentionally made blacks feel unwelcome and those in the south systematically barred blacks from entering (“rigorously excluded”). His closing comment was that “it would seem a statement from the American Library Association to the effect that the color line in literature is silly, is much needed at present.”
It seems as if Du Bois’ words largely went unheaded; in a report on services to black patrons that occurred on the second day of the conference, Rochester public library director William F. Yust condemned the dismal state of library services to blacks in the south, but insisted that blacks were universally welcome in northern public libraries, in direct conflict with Du Bois’ observation. Yust also advocated for segregated blacks-only libraries in the south (with white leadership). The ALA was not, unfortunately, ahead of its time.
The conference record is a little better when discussing immigrant services. Prominent author and immigrant-rights activist Mary Antin delivered a rousing speech (it still reads well today) on the value and importance of immigrants to the American economy, and the importance of library services to those communities. The Proceedings notes that her oratory was hailed with a standing ovation. After Antin spoke, librarian Adelaide Maltby, who was the director of the Tompkins Square Branch on New York’s Lower East Side, added nuts, bolts and statistics to strengthen Mary Antin’s argument, and specifically argued in favor of collecting library materials in the native languages of their immigrant patrons. For 1913, this strikes me as forward thinking. However, a third presentation on the subject of immigrant services was startling for its xenophobia and bias against immigrants. One can only hope that the speaker, St. Joseph public librarian Charles Rush, was not greeted with the same acclaim and ovation as Mary Antin.
“Yet to answer a single question”
After I posted the original “As They See Us” questions to Facebook, my friend Patrick Sweeney, a public librarian, wrote that he was discouraged – “it almost seems like we have yet to answer a single question after 100 years.” While I understand his point, I would argue the opposite. I see tremendous positives in some of the questions the 1913 ALA saw fit to ask. It’s true that we still grapple now with questions of censorship (although, fortunately, the ALA’s stance on the subject is quite clear), what types of materials and services we should supply to our patrons, and what our core mission is (as hinted at in the 1913 questions about the “ideal librarian” and “proper sphere”).
However, the fact that these questions were asked suggests that the librarians of 1913 were already looking to expand our services beyond book circulation. Some of the creative programs going on in modern libraries – Patrick’s guitar lending program, Chicago Public Library’s exciting new Maker Space – are echoes of these questions. Would the ALA have asked about hosting lectures and victrola concerts, lending player piano rolls, and exhibiting art, if some libraries weren’t already doing just that? Would the ALA asked about the partnerships between public schools and public libraries if such partnerships weren’t already forming? Would they have wondered at the propriety of lending immoral “modern fiction” if many libraries didn’t already do just that?
The 1913 Proceedings make it clear that libraries have been pushing against the limits of our “proper sphere” for over a century now. Innovative library programs are building on a century-old legacy. Our professional forebears were already looking to provide new services to their communities. When a critic derides libraries as obsolete in the Age of Google, it’s worth remembering that libraries are not only more than just books today, but that they’ve been more than just books for at least a hundred years. We are building on the innovations of the past, not tearing history down – it’s an evolution, not a revolution – and we would do well to remember that as we engage in the latest debates.
Unfortunately, there will be no train or steamer to take us to the Adirondacks when ALA 2013 wraps up, and I doubt Kaaterskill could handle 20,000 of us for a conference. But a look back at our past (warts and all) helps us as we move forward into the future.
Indianapolis, home of the legendary Indianapolis 500, recently hosted the 300 presentations,workshops, and poster sessions that made up ACRL 2013, the biennial conference of academic librarians. Here are just a few of those sessions worth highlighting.
Libraries in the Age of Wikipedia
Before the start of the official conference, I participated in a free pre-conference workshop entitled Libraries in the Age of Wikipedia hosted by the IUPUI Library. IUPUI is the joint Indianapolis campus for Indiana University and Purdue. Presenters included IUPUI archivist Brenda Burke, librarians Chanitra Bishop and Phoebe Ayers, and Lori Philips of the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. The morning covered many of the basic principles of Wikipedia: its mission statement, and history, and the various programs it has initiated, such as the fall event “Wikipedia loves libraries” and the ongoing Galleries-Libraries-Archives-Museums (GLAM) project, which seeks to elevate the visibility institutional collections as information sources on Wikipedia. They also discussed the “Wikipedian-in-residence” programs at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and elsewhere. The presentation also featured mentions of Wikimedia Commons, an open license, royalty-free image archive, and Wikidata, a new project to bring together sources of open-access research data.
Wikipedia is one of the top ten websites in the world, it is an important resource for librarians to understand and help students make the best use of. No matter what library-specific resources we promote, or services we offer, chances are most students will start their information search by browsing Wikipedia. It has strengths, and it has weaknesses, and we must have a clear understanding of it to be of use to our patrons.
ACRL Battledecks! Imagine, improvise, inflict: Get inspired or die trying.
The opening night social event was ACRL Battledecks, an improvisational competition featuring six librarians presenting six random slidedecks to an audience of nearly five hundred. I rolled up my cardigan sleeves and jumped into battle, and emerged victorious. You can check out the whole ACRL Battledecks competition on YouTube. My thanks to John Jackson for inviting me to participate and organizing the well attended event — nearly five hundred screaming, hooting, hollering, and laughing librarians. It made for a great, entertaining evening and conference kick-off. My victory prize? The Ice King’s crown, complete with beard.
Photo courtesy Kate K.
The One-shot Mixtape: Lessons for Planning, Delivering, and Integrating Instruction.
This presentation featured a large panel and was based on an article published in the LIS journal Communications in Information Literacy 6(1). Panelists included ACRL Immersion presenters Beth Woodard, Randey Hensley, Deb Gilchrist, and Michelle Millet, as well as Steven Hoover, Jennifer Corbin, Diana Wakimoto, Christopher Hollister, and Patty Iannuzzi. As the paper’s main author, Megan Oakleaf, was not available, Hollister acted as MC.
Panelists limited their comments to one point or two points each:
- limit your lesson-plan instead of trying to cover “everything;”
- vary your instructional approach in order to accommodate different learning styles (concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization; active experimentation);
- assessment doesn’t go last, assessment isn’t an afterthought, assessment = good teaching;
- don’t wing it in the classroom; work from a lesson plan;
- enthusiasm in a teach is authentic and humanizing, and shows that we care;
- at the beginning of a class, take evidence of what they already know (how many have used the library and in what ways, how many already use a major database, etc.) and adjust your lesson plan to fit the level of your students;
- incorporate case studies into your lesson plans; using a narrative to drive group work and debriefing encourages engagement;
- faculty are your friends; find ways to plan instruction around their syllabus;
- think product, not process; an active exercise could include annotated bibliographies where they not only explain why they used a source, but how they found it;
- it’s about the institution, not your classroom; think big-picture issues when crafting your lessons. Retention, completion, graduation rate – what is your library’s role in the students complete educational experience? Are we playing the role of a partner and a leader? Are we contributing to the collection of data and evidence so that we can show the value we play on campus?
Original article: Notes from the Field: 10 Short Lessons on One-Shot Instruction.
Making Information Literacy Relevant: Inspiring Student Engagement through Faculty-Librarian Collaboration
Two librarians, one faculty member, and one student from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania reported on a partnership they developed for a public health course taught for upperclassmen.
The librarians and faculty consulted before the start of the semester and planned three workshops timed to specific course assignments. Each workshop was built around the tools the students would need to accomplish the next assignment — evaluating quality sources, using internet-derived public health data, etc. This presentation contained a number of useful details: exact exercises, assessment strategies, what worked and didn’t work and how they’ll change it in future iterations. Some of the specific workshop activities could be easily adapted to any number of different courses. Each lesson plan was hosted and shared with students via libguide, with on-screen polling for immediate student feedback.
Riding the RAILS of Rubric Assessment to Keep Information Literacy Learning on Track
ACRL workshops are three hours and require advanced sign-up due to their limited capacity, and are one of the best aspects of the conference. They get hands-on and practical the way a shorter presentation with a larger audience cannot. I attended this one focused on rubric assessment, and specifically the RAILS methodology developed by Megan Oakleaf. The workshop was excellent – it was very practical, and gave me a perspective on rubrics and how we could use them to analyze many different facets of our information literacy instruction. While I have seen these concepts discussed before, this was the first time someone placed actual student work in my hands, gave me a rubric to judge it by, and then forced me to discuss and defend my scoring (in order to normalize the various personal biases each individual brought to what is supposed to be objective scoring). It made me realize how much work must go into standardizing evaluations, and the ways in which the ideas could be successfully implemented at my place of work — and which ways they might not.
Keynote Presentation: Henry Rollins, political activist and punk icon
What can I say about keynote presenter Henry Rollins? If you seen him speak, you have an idea of what happened: he came on stage, gripped the mic in his hand, and didn’t slow down or seemingly take a breath for over 80 minutes. His first line? “I have no librarian jokes.” Highlights included his personal experience touring the National Archives with the equally iconic Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), his articulation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and anecdotes about collecting and preserving band fliers, zines, and other punk-related ephemera.
His core message was simple but powerfully relayed: information organization, dissemination and access is the cornerstone of freedom, and as core principles, they must be retained and defended in order for this country to survive in the 21st century. There’s a snippet on YouTube; get a taste.
CARL-ACRL Ilene F. Rockman Scholarship Award Dinner
I had the privilege of organizing a dinner to honor the 2013 Rockman Scholarship recipient Brittany Austin. Ms. Austin is a current SJSU SLIS student and member of the FIDM-San Francisco library staff. We were joined by six California academic librarians at The Libertine, a restaurant and cocktail bar that, by the end of the night, was turning people away at the door because they were packed wall-to-wall by librarians. It was a good thing we had a table reservation. Librarians know where to find the best cocktails, it seems.
The Art of Problem Discovery
ACRL president Trevor Dawes introduced Virginia Tech’s Associate University Librarian Brian Mathews, author of the Chronicle of Higher Ed blog the Ubiquitous Librarian, to present his invited paper on the concept of problem-seeking in library management.
Mathews opened with a dictionary-derived definition of “problems:”
- unwelcome or harmful, to be dealt with and overcome.
- questions raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution.
He made the point that sometimes we jump too quickly into problem solving mode before fully exploring the wide range of possibilities. When dealing with library issues, we have to consider what the problem actually is; for example, patrons don’t want to use your catalog; they just want the book that will help them write their paper. Mathews referenced the quote from Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen: “Don’t sell products and services to customers, but rather try to help people address their jobs-to-be-done.” Libraries should invest in other people’s problems.
Things for libraries to consider:
- What three things do students struggle with the most? (and how can we help them overcome them?)
- What challenges do researchers face when applying for grants?
- What information would help academic deans make decisions?
As can be expected from a Brian Mathews presentations, there were quite a few quotable bon mots:
- a job ad should include “proficient listening skills;”
- librarians should be problem developers, not just problem solvers. You can only solve the problems you discover or identify;
- instead of “thinking outside the box,” let’s reach into other people’s boxes.
Through the art of problem discovery we can design and develop the capacities, service models, etc. of the future. We need to decide what business are we in. Is it the book business, the reference desk business, the catalog business, or none of the above? Rather, we should be in the problem solving business for our campus. How do we help you with your data needs? That’s our business.
Love Your Library: Building Goodwill from the Inside Out
Four librarians from different institutions (Char Booth, Adrienne Lai, Lia Friedman, and Alice Whiteside) shared their ideas for interesting, weird, and creative outreach programs to develop library love on campus in what was a fun, morale-boosting presentation. They threw out dozens of ideas in less than an hour. Here are just a few examples:
- “re:book: take a book. remake it. win,” remixing weeded books into book art as a student contest exhibited in the library;
- “exCITING FOOD,” a citation event in the library with food to eat and the recipes for that food displayed as citation examples. Students snack and mingle with librarians and discuss their citation challenges.
- “Library on Wheels” and “Pop Up Libraries” in different places on campus, with fun materials and costumed librarians, to generate conversation with students.
- “Wikipedia Edit-a-thon” organized by campus archivist at a women’s college in response to a report that 9 out of 10 Wikipedia editors are men.
- Student photo contests around the library.
The presenters made all the materials related to their outreach programs available, and the slideshow is online.
Altogether, ACRL 2013 was a worthwhile conference with many compelling presenters and actionable ideas. Over the length of the conference, I had conversations with dozens of librarians I admire, many of whom I connect with electronically during the year but only get the chance to meet at a conference like ACRL. In those social moments — whether it’s the downtime between presentations, at an event like Battledecks, or at an evening gathering, we’re talking about our jobs, our careers, our ideas for instruction, and what we think we can bring back to our libraries. There is tremendous value and inspiration derived from those conversations, and the ongoing conversation that will happen moving forward.
The final evening of the conference saw a couple dozen librarians out for a night at a neighborhood dive, killing it at karaoke (I must admit, I was an observer, not a singer). We had duets, we had disco, we had the Big Bopper. And, naturally, a librarian sang that one hit by the Cardigans. It was a good way to wrap it up.
Last week a tumblr user asked the following question:
Question from a soon-to-be-graduating MLIS student, if you don’t mind: did you have any publications under your belt before being hired as an academic reference librarian? Also, how active were you in professional associations/organizations? With graduation so soon and the market still so saturated, I am worried that I don’t have the on-paper qualifications to land an academic library job (can you tell?).
I replied on tumblr, but thought I would expand on my response here.
I’m in my third year as an academic librarian, and I still have never published. I’d certainly like to; I have a couple ideas bouncing around my head. The degree to which it matters depends on the institution you are applying to. An academic institution with tenure-track or faculty-status librarians will generally have higher expectations regarding professional publishing, but many academic libraries don’t expect their librarians to publish. Read the job ad closely and look at the librarians on staff. If they have extensive CVs, it’s a good bet that institution has publishing expectations. If you haven’t published and you are applying to an institution that expects librarian-led research, address your interest in participating in research and publishing in your cover letter.
But you can definitely get a job without having published. I’d recommend having another outlet for your writing — a professionally-focused blog, for example. The pressure of updating a blog can feel like a burden (see the frequency of posts here). However, it can be a venue to practice and improve your writing (an essential skill for both unemployed and employed librarians, from cover letters to grant applications), engage with the professional community, and think more deeply about pressing industry issues. It doesn’t necessarily matter how many people do or don’t read your blog. It’s the fact that it is there when you apply for a job; it is essentially the special extended edition of your résumé & cover letter — it shows the hiring manager just how connected you are to issues within the profession.
In terms of other professional activities, coming out of library school I was already active in my local professional organization (in my case, CARL). Through a mentor librarian, I was offered a position on a CARL committee around the time I was graduating from SJSU SLIS. I also attended the CARL Conference in that year, and the conference of another local organization, CCLI. Attending those conferences at the tail end of my education was transformative; I went from speaking the theoretical language of my graduate program to speaking the practical language of working professionals based on the quality content of their presentations.
Being able to show professional involvement by attending conferences and joining a committee did my otherwise limited résumé a world of good. It made it clear that I was committed to academic librarianship, and what I learned in the conference presentations and workshops gave me the language I used writing my cover letter and during interviews. Major national conferences like ALA and ACRL are incredibly expensive once you factor in conference registration, travel, and lodging. But those local conferences are often much more affordable, and you’ll be meeting local people — the same people who might be advertising a position in their library shortly thereafter (or at the conference itself).
The other thing I did before landing a permanent gig was co-found a meet-up group for local librarians. Right around the time we were graduating, a library school friend and I were lamenting the end of library-school organized activities, so we just decided to start organizing our own. We’ve since held a couple dozen gatherings and have nearly 200 members. People meet people at these kinds of events; it can lead to jobs, or just good conversations that keep you talking about libraries even when you’re not working in one. Above all, it’s fun, and there is always something to be said for that.
To sum up my recommendations:
- apply your writing skills to a professionally-focused blog;
- volunteer for local professional organizations;
- attend whatever local conferences you can afford to, and;
- seek out (or create!) a social group of librarians in your area.
That sounds like a lot, especially if you have other professional or family commitments. But you don’t have to update the blog every day, there are volunteer positions that don’t take too much time, conferences are infrequent, and a social group can start with just a few local friends. It’s doable, and it will make you a stronger candidate.
- Becoming a more thoughtful library job seeker: Look beyond the bullet points | Veronica Arellano Douglas, College & Research Libraries News (coincidentally posted the same day as my post above, with very thoughtful advice for job seekers; h/t to laura-in-libraryland).
In April of 2012 I attended the biennial conference of California Academic and Research Libraries, the state affiliate of ACRL. The conference theme was “Creativity & Sustainability: Fostering User-Centered Innovation in Difficult Times.” The focus of the keynote presentations was the promotion of innovative leadership (or, in the cases of some institutions, how to overcome a lack of innovative leadership). The conference proceedings have now been published online: http://www.carl-acrl.org/conference2012/2012ConferenceProceedings.html
The opening keynote presentation was from Jenica Rogers, a library director at a university in upstate New York and a blogger at Attempting Elegance. In her presentation, she quoted some disturbing figures about how few library directors felt they had an innovative plan for the future. If institutional directors don’t feel they have a plan for the future, how must their staff feel? What does that say about the future of their libraries on campus? Rogers emphasized the easiest thing a director can do to foster innovation is to say “yes.” If you’ve hired a staff of motivated, creative librarians, saying “yes” will be the ticket to innovation and change.
Another keynote was from co-presenters Char Booth, coordinator of instruction at Claremont Colleges, and Brian Mathews, an Assistant Dean of Library Services at Virgina Tech. There presentation focused on threshold concepts in education and using curriculum mapping to refine and improve campus-wide information literacy programs. Their invited paper is available online and I highly recommend reading it.
I highlighted the following extract on tumblr:
“How does threshold concept theory apply to academic librarians? It can be argued that incorporating knowledge of threshold concepts into our instructional strategy enables us to be more effective and empathic – anticipating the challenges our learners face and intervening with insight into their disciplinary experience. This can impact not only what and how we teach, but also when is the right time to cover particular topics and skills. In short, it enables us to survey the entire learning landscape within a discipline and optimize the libraryʼs interaction. By understanding the common stumbling blocks, knowledge gaps, and frustration points within a given subject domain, as well as with particular courses and assignments, we can better position the library to become a strong instructional partner.”
As a liaison to my university’s nursing program, I feel it is incumbent upon me — even if the depth of my nursing expertise is limited — to investigate the relevant threshold concepts are in nursing practice so that I can deepen my work with the nursing students. I feel inadvertently stumbled into a threshold when I made a recent presentation on evidence-based nursing, a highly specific, clinical practice that involves using research to provide answers to clinical questions. Presenting on that specific a subject pushed me beyond the usual approach of ‘access the database here, use these search terms and limiters’ type of workshop. I had to get knowledgeable on realms beyond my experience — things like PICO questions, meta-analysis and systematic reviews — and relay the importance of these concepts to students who are still sometimes new to scholarly research. I came away from that presentation feeling like the formal process of creating a PICO question — and using that question to derive strong keyword search terms — transformed the students’ approach to scholarly search in ways that will benefit them beyond evidence-based practice. If they can master a high-level concept like PICO, the rest of their information seeking-skills will come to them more easily.
A few other highlights from the conference:
Michael Germano, CSU Los Angeles.
CSU’s Michael Germano became a librarian after a career in tech entrepreneurship, and compared and contrasted elements of successful leadership with some of the bureaucratic elements he believes hinder libraries. One of his major points was that your internal culture affects your users. It has a significant impact, especially on existing, ongoing users and customer retention and loyalty.
He described innovative climates as possessing the following traits:
- Assessment/Evidence Based
- Change tolerant
- Reward Oriented
- Vision Driven
He asked how many of these traits are embodied by libraries?
He described the following as values that drive innovative environments:
- Risk tolerance
- Customer Focus
- Shared purpose
- Value/Empower people
- Results oriented
- Sense of urgency
- Low tolerance of repetition
In contrast, he used the following attributes to describe existing library culture:
- Organized and predictable
- Shared values
He emphasized how leadership qualities can create an innovative environment. He characterized leadership as the process of influencing others to engage in a shared task or purpose — leading is not managing.
Library instruction: information visualization and keyword searching
Matt Conner & Melissa Browne, University of California, Davis
This presentation was the culmination of a CARL-funded research study on the keyword searching techniques of college students and the effect of visual literacy tools on search success.
The basic idea is that vision and cognition are fundamentally related. Representations of data with visual designs assist comprehension and insight. A popular example is the red state/blue state map that makes political affiliation so much easier to grasp than a series of charts that conveys the same information. Their survey used information-seeking tools that emphasize visual elements to see how it affected user behavior and success. Some of the tools they used were the now-defunct Google Wonder Wheel and EBSCOhost’s Visual Search.
Known patterns in student search strategies are either single-word searches or long strings of natural language. Students tend to only skim search results. Students will give up quickly and assume there is nothing on their topic. These strategies don’t largely work using library resources. The researchers suggested that instructional librarians are not always giving students the best guidance for their topic searches. It’s really important to turn topic ideas into search keywords in a way that affects and strengthens search outcomes.
The question the researchers tried to answer was whether visualization would help students formulate more systematic searches. Could it improve efficiency and increase satisfaction? Results were inconclusive, though users did have some success improving their keywords after using EBSCOhost’s Visual Search.
The research provided one surprise outcome: student behavior isn’t exclusively about searching and terms. There was a strong tendency towards link-following. They may start with one search in Google, but ultimately follow a series of links until satisfied, which partially explains the popularity of the hyperlink-rich Wikipedia.
Transforming Research into Practice: Using Project Information Literacy Findings to Revitalize Instruction and Outreach
Michele Van Hoeck, CSU Maritime; Ann Roselle, Phoenix College; Catherine Palmer, UC Irvine
Each presenter gave a specific example of using Project Information Literacy (PIL) findings at their institutions. Each of the research reports referenced below can be found on the PIL Publications Page.
First, some of the basics of PIL; it is an ongoing research project guided by Dr. Alison Head and Dr. Michael Eisenberg at University of Washington’s iSchool. It has surveyed 11,000 college students from 52 campuses across five studies.
Michele Van Hoeck focused on incorporating ideas from 2010 PIL survey, “Truth be told: How college students evaluate and use information in the digital age.” The survey involved 8,353 students on asked about their course-related and everyday life research. It was an online survey with 22 questions.
The first major finding of the survey was that students reported the most difficulty with getting started (84%), finding a topic (66%), and narrowing a topic (61%) – described as “failure to launch.” PIL conducted follow-up interviews with certain students. Students said it wasn’t a lack of ideas that made it hard to start, it was a fear of their idea failing them, and an inability to vet their topic. They were desperate for context and background, hence using Wikipedia very heavily.
Based on these PIL findings, Van Hoeck developed new learning outcomes for her LIB100 course at CSU Maritime:
- Develop methods for exploring and vetting new topics.
- Gain awareness of sources for context & background.
She suggested a couple methods of addressing these learning outcomes in a one-shot instructional session.
- Infolit icebreaker: using Poll Everywhere to ask “What’s the worst thing about a research paper?”
- Creating a Getting Started tab on a LibGuide (or other model of institutional research guide or pathfinder.)
- Focus first session on getting started, devoted to sources for starting research.
- Only demonstrating electronic sources and explicitly comparing them to Wikipedia.
- Van Hoeck used libguide stats for assessment, looking at Fall 2010 vs. Fall 2011 usage. Paired with a new lesson plan, the LibGuide saw a tripling of link usage.
Ann Roselle of Phoenix College looked at the 3rd PIL report, “Assigning inquiry: How handouts for research assignments guide today’s college students.” The survey looked at 191 research assignment handouts from 28 different institutions across disciplines. 83% of the surveyed handouts could be described as a “standard research handout” — that is to say, unexceptional and including several common weaknesses.
The study compared the majority of research assignment handouts to city roadmaps with no street names included (because they did not specific which databases students should use.) Only 13% of handouts mentioned consulting librarians (or faculty). Only 18% mentioned plagiarism.
The PIL report described these assignments as paying “more attention on the mechanics of preparing a research assignment” rather than getting started, defining the topic, or evaluating the information.
As a response to these PIL findings, Ann Roselle hosted a workshop for faculty to give them a better idea of how to create a research assignment handout. She had faculty work in small groups. They worked through sources slowly and were given handouts to analyze. The selected handouts were a balanced mix good and bad to see how faculty would analyze them.
Time was given at the end of the workshop to provide faculty a chance to consider how their own handouts work. When asked to describe one common pitfall of research handouts, faculty identified that “librarian not included” comes up a lot. Faculty were also advised also include actual links to specific databases.
Feedback from faculty who have worked on improving their handouts includes, “I have noticed that students have less questions about how to do the assignment, and I am generally getting more college-approved sources.”
Catherine Palmer adapted a St. Olaf College Research Practice survey into a PIL-inspired pre- and post-test assessment model for UC Irvine. One advantage of the open-source St. Olaf assessment was the ability to include open-ended questions on research practices. UC Irvine replaced Project SAILS with this approach.
Sharon Radcliff & Elise Wong, Saint Mary’s College Library
This was an interesting presentation on a research project librarians at St. Mary’s conducted on the bibliographies of their freshmen composition papers. The pilot study included 25 papers in 2008. In 2010 they expanded the study to approximately 80 papers. 20 papers were not included in the 2010 study findings because they didn’t have bibliographies at all.
Some of their findings from the second survey were on the types of sources used:
- 44% websites
- 30% magazines and journals
- 22% books
Regarding the citations, 58% were direct quotes, 42% were paraphrased. The faculty would prefer to see a higher percentage of paraphrasing in order to synthesize ideas, which is considered a stronger form of writing than a heavy reliance on direct quotations. About half of the quotes were introduced and analyzed. 20% had an introduction but no analysis. 14% analyzed afterwards with no introduction. 13% of quotes had no introduction and no analysis.
As a outcome of this survey, faculty & librarians revisited their instructional design to account for shortcomings with the hope that composition faculty could consult with librarians in course design and embed library tutorials in class materials.
There were some limitations of study. It was not a random sampling — the papers volunteered by English faculty. There was no discussion on the quality of the sources, and no association between un-cited information in the papers and plagiarism.
For the future, the librarians would like to implement multiple instructional strategies, design a study to test these strategies, in order to compare their modified practices to a control group. They would like to add specialized instruction on citations to sections of first semester in English comp. They would also like to compare results with sections not receiving instruction at all, and determine means to track the progress of students over four years of education.
One element the St. Mary’s librarians are adding to their freshmen year instruction is having the students actually find an article and identify the parts of a citation. They make sure the students at least write out one citation in class — have them have the experience of doing it themselves.
I flew to Los Angeles a couple weeks ago to attend the second half of the Statewide California Electronic Libraries Consortium’s (SCELC) annual Colloquium & Vendor Day hosted at Loyola Marymount University (I was unable to attend the first day because I was leading a four-hour intensive information literacy workshop for Biology students; I should post about that someday, too).
The first night, my colleague N.G. and I got to meet up with some Southern California information all-stars: Young Lee, law librarian and bon vivant* from the University of La Verne; John Jackson, the dapper, bow-tie wearing ALA Emerging Leader and Grand Cataloger at USC; and Loyola Marymount’s librarian-in-residence Cynthia Orozco. Our conversation was exactly what you’d expect with a table full of librarians (bar the unexpected interloping business-traveling New Zealander who butted into our conversation to regale us with his personal philosophy — think: people are either sheep or wolves — he was the wolf, we were the sheep?): it was a mix of excellent professional observations and ideas, a wealth of outstanding verbal sorties and quips, and a healthy debate on the proper composition of a Manhattan.
Another perk of going to SCELC was I finally got to meet my long-time internet friend Sherry Youssef and her colleague Shawna, who are librarians at a specialized psychology graduate school. Since I recently became our liaison librarian to our Psychology Department, this was a useful chance to pick their brains about products, collections, and other things relating to a field I still need to learn about. Sometimes professional networking isn’t just about getting jobs; it’s about getting good ideas from smart people (and good dinner conversation is just the bonus).
Hanging out with Sherry
SCELC’s Vendor Day followed the next day. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the product demonstrations I saw and my first impressions**:
The first presentation I saw was from the publishing & electronic content arm of the American Psychology Association (APA; shhhh…I didn’t tell them that I’ll soon be staging a protest). They are debuting a few new products:
- PsycBOOKS, which can be purchased by title-by-title or leased as a 44,000-chapter full-text collection. This collection will grow with newly published materials (after a 1-yr embargo) and also contains various “classics” in the psychology field.
- PsycTHERAPY, apparently a competitor to Alexander Street Press’s existing Counseling & Therapy Video Collection. This contains 300 therapy demo videos featuring actual clients and practicing professionals.
- PsycTESTS, a database of testing instruments (including non-commercial permissions) as described and culled from various journal articles and other sources. Their long-term goal is to have 20,000 tests in the database. Currently 75% of content is full-text (remainder have either been published as commercial tests or authors have not provided permission – in those cases, only a citation and contact information is available).
Credo provides DRM-free reference eBooks; generally speaking, they are one of my favorite vendors both for the quality of their content and the ease of using their UX on both the user and administrator side. The depth of the Credo reference collection is what allowed my library to move almost entirely away from print reference collections (this is a ubiquitous trend in libraries and elsewhere; note the recently announced death of the print edition Encyclopædia Britannica). Our Credo collection contains over 500 different sets of encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference items running the gamut of arts, humanities, social science, health, education and science disciplines.
Credo was at Vendor Day to demonstrate their new product, Literati. Literati is a spiffed-up interface for content from Credo’s Reference Database that includes customized videos, a stylish navigation screen and built-in hyperlinks designed to make information-seeking more intuitive for millennial students. However, since the content beneath the splashy screens largely remains the same, I’m unsure how much of an upgrade over the simpler Credo experience this is. Is it just adding more clicks into the information retrieval process? That’s counter to what we want. Until I get a chance to try it myself and see what the benefits might be, the jury (ie, the jury of me) is out on Literati.
Copyright Clearance Center
The non-profit organization Copyright Clearance Center was at Vendor Day to demonstrate the usefulness of their Get It Now automated electronic article inter-library loan (ILL) sharing system, first designed and implemented by the CSU system but now spread to many institutions. The patron-driven, automatic delivery of electronic scholarly articles is absolutely the way ILL should work in the 21st century and it’s pretty cool to see it taking off — a la carte article publishing could save libraries a lot as opposed to big bundles of unused electronic journal subscriptions. The service bills libraries monthly for the number of articles acquired.
There is a fairly large group of contributing publishers including many of the major names. Currently, 120 colleges have adopted the service. Along with receiving a copy of the articles requested, libraries are also provided the copyright clearances they need for most academic uses (not surprisingly, since the Copyright Clearance Center is behind all this).
Gale Cengage was demonstrating two products – Business Insights: Global and the newest iteration of the Gale Virtual Reference Library. I was pretty pleased with what I saw from Business Insights: Global — clean, simple interface; you can use it to create quick, easy-to-design charts based on financial and statistical data; and it prominently features hyperlinks to promote the proximal curiosity effect that drives so much of Wikipedia usage. As for GVRL, it looked like a sharper interface; I believe many libraries are already using it. I’ll check it out more thoroughly before I implement it, however (interface changes mid-semester aren’t usually a good idea).
All in all, it was a good trip to SCELC — whatever you think of the world of library vendors and journal publishers (and there are issues with them all, to varying degrees), it’s useful to know what they are offering. It’s just too bad I had to miss the librarians vs. vendors bowling night.
My trip to SCELC marked the start of my travel season; I’ll be heading to the California Academic & Research Libraries (CARL) Conference in San Diego in April and I’ve been accepted into ACRL Immersion in Vermont in July (I know, I just buried the lede in the 12th paragraph). I’ll post more about both of those soon. I will not, however, make it to ALA this year; there will be no reprising my surprise Battledecks performance, at least not in 2012.
*My spellchecker wanted to correct this to ‘Bob Vivaldi.’ Perhaps I should have let it; that’s kind of awesome.
**I’d like to emphasize these are my initial judgments based on what I saw in demonstration; I have not gotten hands on with these products yet and my opinions — poorly developed as they are — are purely my own and do not reflect those of my employer (or anyone else for that matter).
I’ll be a participant in a panel during the Library 2.011 Worldwide Virtual Conference. Our program, Riding the “Long Tail”: Leveraging a Niche to Build a Network, focuses on the niche professional networks and interests enabled and encouraged by the use of social media tools. It will be moderated by USC’s John Jackson & the University of La Verne’s Young Lee and feature panelists Nicole Pagowsky of the entertaining Librarian Wardrobe and Micah Vandegrift of the HackLibSchool Blog. I am quite honored to be included in their company to discuss the Information Amateurs Social Club, the informal networking organization my friend Greg Borman and I created after graduating from library school in 2009.
Participation in the virtual conference is free — and highly encouraged! Our panel will speak at 10am Pacific Time on Thursday, November 3.
Jumping on board a presentation like this required me — for the first time — to write a professional bio, a decidedly odd thing to compose (particularly since custom dictates writing it in the third person). Here it is:
Daniel Ransom is the Librarian for Research and Electronic Resources at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. Daniel provides reference and research services and co-coordinates the university’s information literacy program. Daniel also serves on the committee for the California Academic and Research Libraries’ Ilene F. Rockman Scholarship, an annual award for library school students. He co-founded the Information Amateurs Social Club with Greg Borman after graduating from San José State University’s School of Library and Information Science in December of 2009. The goal was to create an informal online and in-person venue for early-career information professionals to stay in contact with their peers and share job-seeking skills and ideas.
I also had to submit a profile photo; I took this shot the morning of my very first day as a professional librarian 15 months ago and have used it as my professional profile ever since (that’s right, I like to rock the argyle sweater vest).
At some point soon I’m going to have to admit that I’m a grown-up.
This past week I got to attend my very first American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference, a dizzying gathering of over 20,000 librarians (a far cry from the 1876 inaugural event, with its paltry 103 attendees). I got to attend various professional presentations, meet online contacts and make friends in real life, explore New Orleans by foot, trolley, and ferry, and, much to my surprise, perform in the improvisational slideshow competition Battledecks.
I have organized sessions I attended and events I participated around a couple of the most recurring themes.
Cushing Library is currently implementing a new tool for our end users to use for search and retrieval of our items in our collection. This system, called WorldCat Local (WCL), finds and retrieves items be they print or online, and whether they are book, article, journal or other media. WCL and similar products are referred to as “Discovery” systems within the librarian profession.
I attended several programs relating to the implementation of Discovery systems. Two directly related to the implementation of OCLC’s WCL technology, tasks I am involved in right now, and another on the rate of return various libraries have seen since their implementation of Summon, a competing but similar product to WCL offered by ProQuest. There is strong evidence, from both libraries operating WCL and from libraries utilizing Summon, that full-text article retrievals are up, most notably from smaller, more specialized sources. At WCL libraries, print circulation tends to rise post-WCL implementation as well.
For example, the University of Idaho, which has implemented WorldCat Local, has seen usage over print materials rise 20%, interlibrary loan requests rise 34%, and a 78% increase in full text article downloads. Summon libraries, such as the University of Houston, saw a 50% rise in full text article retrieval. They have also found that the Summon search service is pushing users to finding underutilized resources, such as special collections and multimedia items, and that it favors direct journal services (such as Sage) over aggregators such as EBSCO.
Part of my continuing duties at Holy Names University is my role as an instruction librarian. I provide information literacy education to students via workshops and research help sessions.
One of the best instruction-related programs I attended was Making Information Literacy Instruction Meaningful through Creativity. The three speakers were current or former faculty for ACRL’s highly-regarded Immersion Program, a “boot camp” for instructional librarians, and the session reinforced many themes that are part of Immersion training — creative lesson planning; interactive, motivational presentation styles; and pedagogy grounded in research and assessment.
In addition to these presentations, I also had chances to sit and talk shop with a good mix of other instructional librarians, such as Michelle Millet, Tiffini Travis, Lea Engle, and Nicholas Schiller. In Schiller’s case, I’ve been reading his articles and stealing his classroom ideas for a year so it was great to get a chance to admit that to him. He didn’t seem to mind.
Out and About
New Orleans: what a city. While I admit I’m not such a fan of colorful drinks in plastic cups — I’d rather have one well-crafted cocktail than a half dozen cups of syrup-flavored alcohol — I have to admit that New Orleans knows how to have a good time, and a good time I had, passing from place to place with a gang of roving librarians I befriended. It’s hot in New Orleans in June (that’s not a newsflash, I realize), but the heat and humidity didn’t keep me from walking continuously from the Garden District, to the Warehouse District, along the river and into the French Quarter, and back again throughout the conference. Café Du Monde was naturally a regular destination, both late at night and after lunch, and I was shocked that a plate of three beignets was only two dollars and change — here in San Francisco, our tourist traps won’t sell anything for less than five dollars.
While I expected to meet hip, smart librarians from Brooklyn (and did) (stereotypes for the win!), there were smart, interesting people coming from all corners of the country — Indiana, Texas, Florida, and even Southern California. In between the beignets, coffee and occasional cocktails there was plenty of sharp chatter about information services, instructional technique, and emerging tech. All of it pointed to my original thesis in founding the Information Amateurs Social Club — that the best, most enlightening professional conversation happens in the informal air of casual conversation. Preferably with a drink in hand. Between the ALA Dance Party, the ALA Tweet-up, the ALA Facebook Afterparty, the Radical Reference Social, the HackLibSchool Social, and all of the more informal connecting in between (including a trip to the Voodoo Museum), I met many of my internet heroes and formed some genuine bonds of friendship I’m going to hang onto. And hopefully, someday, all of them will move to San Francisco. It’d be killer.
No report on the goings-on in New Orleans would be complete without mention of Battledecks, the competitive, improvisational battle of slideshow presentations that concluded the conference Monday night. My participation was not strictly speaking voluntary, but it was thrilling to speak right between Lisa Hinchliffe, President of ACRL, and widely known executive and public speaker Stephen Abram. However, I’m going to save my extended thoughts on that experience for a future post — once the videos have weaseled their way online and I can embed my performance right here on The Pinakes.
Recently I went to Philadelphia for a four day library conference. This one is about my first day in Philly, before the conference started. The city was not what I expected.
I arrived at the Philadelphia Airport Tuesday evening and hitched a ride into downtown Philly on their commuter rail. It took me directly into a subterranean stop that is now called Market East station, but is built under what had been the vast depot of the Reading Railroad (made famous by Monopoly). The massive pavilion above has now been converted into the Philadelphia Conference Center, where ACRL was to take place, and adjacent to and adjoining the hotel where I was staying. So I arrived at the station, walked up what seemed like two centuries of underground history, and directly into the hotel without feeling a hint of outside air. It was surreal, especially at night.
I struck out on foot that night in search of my first Philly cheesesteak sandwich, or as they simply call them locally, a steak. I’d been told by a former Philly local to head to a place called Jim’s Steaks on South Street. It was a good chance to explore the city on foot and see how it actually lives and breathes. Philly was nothing like I expected — all blue collar, Santa-booing meatheads. Instead I saw the quotient of hipsters on fixies I expect to see here at home, plus a community garden, and an anarchist bookstore. Swap the steak shops for taquerías, you’d be in San Francisco’s Mission District; swap them for vegan bakeries, you’d be in Portland, Oregon.
Jim’s Steaks was the antidote to this Hipsterdelphia. I walked up to the register to order, and the middle-aged local behind the counter (I’ll call him “Jim”) proceeded to ignore me while he finished a conversation with one of the other guys. Or, I thought I was just waiting until he finished what he was saying, but no. He just kept on talking, with me just a couple feet from him on the other side of the counter. Jim wouldn’t even turn his face my direction. He resolutely refused to acknowledge my existence. I should note that I’m the only customer in the store. This went on for more than one full, awkward minute. Now this is the Philly I had arrived expecting! Brusque assholes who wouldn’t give me the time of day. Here was authenticity. Thank you Jim.
Eventually the fry cook took pity on me, and summoned me over with a finger (not that one). I was supposed to order with him, and in their assembly line, I’d get passed down to the drink guy and then to Jim at the register. Didn’t matter that no one else was there — I still had to follow procedure. Once I had done that (note: I was not allowed to touch my beer until I had paid, even though they placed it on my tray), Jim was willing to acknowledge my existence. No mention of the prior awkwardness.
The steak, it should be said, was delish. I’d go back.
The next day I had to myself until the conference started in the late afternoon. Again I set out on foot, first finding a comfy coffeehouse (the negative Yelp reviews are amusing; accusations of hipsterdom abound, as if posting reviews on Yelp about the quality of their vegan goods isn’t an enormously hipster thing to do). It’s in a corner brick Victorian rowhouse in Philly’s gay district (Philly has a gay district? More things I did not know). Here the staff was actually friendly. Probably not natives. They made a solid cappuccino.
From there I was off to the ghastly but utterly fascinating Mütter Museum, a collection of human oddities (think strange skulls, deformed spines, babies in jars…) that was formed from the personal collection of 19th century physician Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter and has grown under the stewardship of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. I’d entertain you with a collection of gory photographs of leather made from human flesh, a modern mummy, 19th century medical tools and all manner of human parts except the museum strictly forbade photography (not that that has stopped others; there’s plenty on flickr).
My museum trawling was not yet done; after that I walked to the Rosenbach Museum, on an elegant street of handsome rowhouses in the Rittenhouse Square district. The Rosenbachs were brothers engaged in the rare book trade in the first half of the twentieth century; they were extravagant bachelors, who entertained lavishly, enjoyed bourbon, pipes, and books, and made the savvy purchase of James Joyce’s handwritten Ulysses manuscript before the book became the icon it is today (amongst many other great purchases, including Herman Melville’s own bookcase, now filled with 1st edition copies of Moby Dick, on their ground floor). Their shops — in Philly and New York — were the locus of the American rare book trade for decades, and the collection of the Folger Library in Washington, DC and many other great private libraries were built by their acquisitions. The museum hosts hourly tours of their mansion and library, with exhibits on news coverage of the Civil War and Joyce’s years in Paris.
My final Wednesday stop before the conference started was lunch with an internet friend, Molly from yon Falling Molly blog. She’s mutual friends with my pal Jenny and we met up so she could teach me about Philly’s other local sandwich, roast pork with broccoli rabe. Because of legacy Quaker liquor laws, most small shops can’t get a liquor license, so they just let you bring in your own beer. So Molly arrived six-pack in hand and we chowed down on these massive, greasy, vinegary sandwiches. It took a couple hours to polish those monsters off (and the six-pack). Molly is both smart and funny; if you’re looking for an entertaining internet friend, you couldn’t do better.
After that I headed back to the conference for the opening keynote!