Monthly Archives: August 2006

Room of their Own

Interesting piece in the Chron about how “Library Renovation Leads to Soul Searching at Cal Poly.” A lot of libraries are looking for ways to add more space for students to do the multiple things they want to do in libraries – study, socialize, write papers, do homework, daydream, and even occasionally use library materials. One way to do that is to build a bigger library. Another, more practical way is to renovate the space you have and pare down the print collections. And until an addition is built, that’s what the director at Cal Poly is doing.

The project, now under way, will add an attractive glass entrance and space for computer rooms, study areas, classrooms, and socializing to a dull 1960s box.

But the renovation and addition — which is smaller than originally planned — may leave less space for books, journals, and other printed materials. That has some campus librarians and professors wondering if the library has forgotten its core mission.

Because this change has led “the library to hastily discard tens of thousands of little-used items and to send hundreds of thousands of books to a storage facility at which they will be inaccessible to library patrons” – people are debating the purpose of the library. Is it a collection or is it a place for things to happen?

It’s too bad the faculty and library staff weren’t involved in the decision, or at least well informed of the tradeoffs, so that they bought into this in advance. Any “weeding” project can become a PR nightmare without a lot of advance process work with all the stakeholders.

But to my mind, we can’t all save everything. Storing print runs of JSTOR titles just in case seems to me to be a poor use of expensive space if your students have nowhere to study in the library. Decisions about how little-used but unique materials should be retained need to be wider than any one institution. In Minnesota, we have a shared storage facility open to all libraries in the state, the Minnesota Library Access Center. It’s an amazing place if you ever have a chance to tour it. It’s easy and quick to get things delivered from the “cave” – and though you can’t just bump into them by browsing, most undergraduates will have a better browsing experience with a more select and well-tempered collection than a huge one full of unique and little-used items. MLAC gives us enlightened Minnesotans (aren’t you jealous?) the option of jointly retaining materials that have value – but that at the moment have less value to our students than a library where there’s room for them, too.

Reasons To Like Team Blogging

There’s a good read in the Wall Street Journal today (free access – yeah!) that will catch the attention of any blogger – and I know we’ve got a fair number of bloggers among our readers. It’s about the vacation dilemma. What do you do when it’s time to get away for a week or two? Do you just tell the readers to forget about your blog for a while? Do you get a guest blogger?

I faced this dilemma back in July with my other blog that is a solo effort. I definitely did not want to post while I was going to be away for the week (my decision had absolutely nothing to do with my spouse’s threats to do bodily harm if a laptop was spotted hidden away in my luggage), but I did have some worries about how that might affect readership. When I vacationed for a longer period in 2005 I enlisted fellow ACRLog blogger Marc Meola to fill in for me, which I think helped during that longer absence. So I decided just to post an announcement that I was taking off from posting for the week. Readership was certainly low that week, but it did bounce back after two weeks or so. I guess the lesson is that none of us library bloggers is so crucial to anyone’s reading regimen that we’ll be missed (but that’s not necessarily the case with some bloggers according to the WSJ article), and that when we do take off we’ll eventually get the readers back – or we’ll gain some new ones to replace any that are lost.

All that aside, being part of a blogging team such as ACRLog is really nice because any of the bloggers can take some time off and the rest of the team can keep the posts coming. That’s not the only reason to like it – it also gives the reader a better mix and variety of perspectives, subject coverage, opinions, and writing styles. It’s also rewarding to share the development of the blog with great colleagues. While ACRLog is still a few months away from completing our first year of blogging, we will be giving thought to some sort of survey to learn more about how we are doing and to get your thoughts on how we can improve this blog (more posts, fewer posts, shorter posts, more guest blogging, more special features, more visuals, better conference blogging, don’t change a thing, etc.). If you would like to share any thoughts at this time though – leave a comment – they are always appreciated.

News That We Can Use

The Internet is full of time-wasters, and repeated studies have pointed to the Internet’s negative impact on workplace efficiency. If employees want to do their online shopping during work hours or wile away the hours on YouTube or game playing, that’s not of much concern to our profession. But when I read that professionals are wasting vast numbers of hours searching for information I think “this is a job for academic librarians”. I came across this news at the Intranet Blog.

The Center for Media Research reports that professional workers are spending more and more time searching for information. The survey, HotTopics: 2001 vs. 2005: Research Study Reveals Dramatic Changes Among Information Consumers, commissioned by Outsell, reveals that professionals on average spend 11 hours per week gathering information – up from 8 hours per week in 2001. The study further reports that today’s professionals spend 53 percent of their time seeking out information. Collectively, the time spent gathering and looking for information translates to an estimated 5.4 billion lost hours per year for US corporations. I just love this sentence by Toby Ward, author of the post:

The trend underscores a long held and regularly repeated belief that our ability to create information has outstripped our ability to accurately find and effectively use this information.

Ward goes on to point out that one of the reasons for the increase in lost time searching is that Internet search engines provide “inaccurate and irrelevant search results [that] continually defeat users performing search queries”. As someone who watches college students using search engines I’d have to add that searchers defeat themselves by relying on poorly conceived searches, failing to use more than one engine, and ignoring advanced features that could eliminate inaccurate results. In other words, isn’t this a problem that could be addressed or relieved with some good old user education. Of course, in the Age of User Experience people do not have time or refuse to bother to learn something that might help them actually save time. That’s why the study also found that “when seeking information fewer now prefer to get it themselves (51% down from 68%)”. Interesting, but probably too soon to conclude that the self-service trend is about to end.

So what can academic librarians do with this sort of data? For one thing we could use it to develop support within our institutions for better equipping our students with research skills that will enhance their workplace productivity – which in turn makes our graduates look better to their employers. We could also bring this information to the attention of students who are wondering why they should bother to learn anything about improving the quality of their search skills. Can you say “competitive workplace advantage”? One new piece of data or one more study alone won’t create earth shattering change within our user education programs. But it behooves academic librarians to find and leverage new studies that support the case we make for information literacy as a valued part of a college education. It’s not just about being a better student or more engaged in one’s own learning, but there may also be tangible benefits for our graduates if we send them into the job market with highly productive research skills.

A Case For Better Library Domain Names

I have often been puzzled by conference or workshops speakers who recommend techniques for optimizing the academic library web site so as to increase the likelihood that search engine users would find the library home page. Why would a student or faculty member use a search engine to find my library’s web site? Shouldn’t they just know what our URL is? (Folks, if I’m missing something here on this search optimization thing, please enlighten me). Actually, I always suspected that they didn’t know our library’s URL – which is the familiar “my university’s URL/library”. That’s why, quite a few years ago, I obtained a simple to remember domain name. Now we just tell everyone – go to gutman.info – it works with a redirect to the actual URL. Some new information seems to support the value of a really simple, one word domain name.

It seems we may have overestimated how many Internet searchers use search engines to find a desired web site. New findings suggest that many people skip engines altogether and instead use what is known as “direct navigation.” That’s a fancy way of saying the users just type your exact URL into the browser’s address bar. According to data from WebSideStory, “more than two-thirds of daily global Internet users arrive at a web site via direct navigation, compared with just 14 percent from search engines” (quote from Matt Bentley of MarketingProfs.com). With so many individuals using direct navigation it makes sense to go with a library domain name that is super simple to remember. That’s what many businesses are doing. For example, Barnes & Noble uses Books.com (that could have been a good one for a library), RentalCar.com (Enterprise Rental), and Baby.com (Johnson & Johnson). If your library has come up with a good, easy-to-remember, one word domain name please share it with our ACRLog readers.

Digital Dilemmas

I keep noting interesting things to read, and all of them appear to be about one of two things: this intriguing new digital world of ours holds all kinds of exciting potential – or digitization is fraught with moral, economic, legal, and cultural risk.

On the positive side, there’s Richard Ekman’s editorial in the Washington Post, “The Books Google Could Open.” He points out that, for higher education, having even snippets of books available will help students expand their horizons beyond the local library collection and avoid the problem of ordering a book through interlibrary loan, only to find it isn’t really useful.

Colleges and universities have conflicting interests in this dispute. Some operate their own publishing houses and hope to sell books. Some faculty members are authors and hope to earn royalties from sales. But the major interest of colleges and universities is as users of information — helping thousands of students and teachers find what they need and making these materials available. In this regard, the advantages of Google’s service are enormous, especially for smaller colleges without huge budgets for library purchases.

But hang on, says Ben Vershbow at if:book. Librarians who jump ont his bandwagon are selling culture and society short and should hold Google accountable. By letting Google dictate the terms, and keep them secret (until enterprising reporters use the law to open them up) major libraries are letting a corporate entity rummage through their collections, digitize what they want without limiting future potential use, and reap the rewards.

Google, a private company, is in the process of annexing a major province of public knowledge, and we are allowing it to do so unchallenged. To call the publishers’ legal challenge a real challenge, is to misidentify what really is at stake. Years from now, when Google, or something like it, exerts unimaginable influence over every aspect of our informated lives, we might look back on these skirmishes as the fatal turning point. So that’s why I turn to the librarians. Raise a ruckus.

The Atlantic has an article (a nice bookend to the recent one in the New Yorker) on Wikipedia that is largely positive. Marshall Poe calls it “history’s biggest experiment in collaborative knowledge.”

For all intents and purposes, the project is laying claim to a vast region of the Internet, a territory we might call “common knowledge.” It is the place where all nominal information about objects of widely shared experience will be negotiated, stored, and renegotiated. When you want to find out what something is, you will go to Wikipedia, for that is where common knowledge will, by convention, be archived and updated and made freely available. And while you are there, you may just add or change a little something, and thereby feel the pride of authorship shared by the tens of thousands of Wikipedians.

So isn’t this Web 2.0 great? Not so fast, says Tom Scocca in an article on YouTube in the New York Observer, which seems to require grumpiness in its house style. Once the Web was “a text-based panopticon,” embarrassing writers whose words lived on, however stale or ill-considered. Now every embarrassing moment ever captured on television lives on . . . and on, and on.

Print could aim to be stolid and enduring, piling up in libraries or, at worst, on microfiche. TV made its getaway. If you weren’t right there and watching with everyone else when something happened, you didn’t see it. Reruns or syndication could give you another chance, but you still had to catch the moment . . . YouTube dispels the mystical air around witnessing things. The TV audience doesn’t have to stick around.

There you have it, our “brave new world” – according to either Miranda in Shakespeare’s The Tempest or Aldous Huxley. Take your pick.