Monthly Archives: October 2006

Keeping Up Helps To Make The Point

Recently I received an e-mail from a fellow library director at a university somewhat similar to my own wanting to know if we could chat sometime about some issues she was confronting at her institution. She had developed some strategies, but wanted to bounce them off a colleague for some feedback. I was glad to help. She had read my Library Issues piece on the OCLC College Students Perception Report, and wanted to further pick my brain about the possibilities of using the Report strategically. When we spoke on the phone about a week later I learned more details about impending budget constraints at the institution, and concerns that it might involve staff reductions at the library. The conversation also covered challenges the librarians were confronting in their efforts to integrate information literacy into the curriculum at their university. You know the story – faculty resistance, lack of administrative support for a dedicated information literacy position in the library, too few librarians and too many classes. In other words, challenges common to many of our academic libraries.

Well, you know what they say about free advice, but I was glad to share what I could about my own library environment and any lessons learned that could help my fellow director and her staff (some of who joined in the conference call). I won’t attempt to share all the details here, but it was a stimulating conversation from which we all learned (I think) something about our libraries and how we might do a better job of achieving our outcomes – although their lack of stated outcomes for information literacy was something that needed more work, along with an implementation plan that included formal assessment methods. The library director needs to clearly communicate to the administration and faculty what can be achieved with information literacy, and how it will help the institution meet accreditation standards. Without an articulated plan that’s difficult to accomplish. We also brainstormed ways to use the information in the OCLC report to establish the need for students to make better use of the institution’s investment in library resources – and that faculty needed to collaborate with librarians in all areas of the curriculum to make that happen. I can only hope our hour-long conversation will help this dedicated director and her staff achieve their goals, and especially fend off efforts to cut the library’s resources.

The point I want to make though is about keeping up. It certainly takes some extra time each day, but the investment will be well worth it if you come up with information and resources that can be used to keep administrators and faculty aware of the value academic libraries add to the students’ education and their ability to achieve academic success – and possibly even to help them choose the institution and stay there until they graduate. But if you don’t have the ammunition you can’t do the job. As I speak at and attend different conferences I still find that too few library administrators and even fewer front-line academic librarians are reading the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed. Those two should be required reading for every academic librarian everyday. Doing so will allow you to come across an article like the recent one about initial results from the ETS ICT Assessment that indicated students at many test institutions lacked adequate information literacy skills. That’s the kind of ammunition about which I’m talking. We alerted our readers to the OCLC College Students Perception Report, yet I still find academic librarians who haven’t heard of the report. It’s chock full of good ammunition. I’m going to get off the soapbox now. There is no secret to or special skill required for developing good strategies for locating and using the best information possible when advocating on behalf of the library. It all comes back to having a sound and well-rounded keeping up regimen. Here at ACRLog we’ll continue to do our part by bringing to our readers’ attention new studies and reports that are required reading for academic librarians. The rest is up to you.

Paying Attention

Marilyn Pukkila, head of instruction services at Colby College, has often posted thoughtful issues on the ILI-L list. She has kindly contributed this guest post for ACRLog readers – on the blurring of boundaries for multitaskers and the difficulty of paying attention to those quiet voices inside.

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This snippet from a Business Week article got me thinking:

“In fact, the advertising [in MySpace] can be so subtle that kids don’t distinguish it from content. ‘It’s what our users want,’ says Anderson.”

Most users of this generation claim they can tell when someone wants to sell them something — and it puts them off. But this blurring of the lines makes me question just how much they really can tell, and how much they mind. In a similar way, TV stations which identify their programs as “news” are in fact offering documentary and even “infotainment”, while staunchly clinging to the “news” designator. This is, of course, one of the tasks of information fluency librarians: to alert folks to the ways the lines are blurred.

I think this blurring is an offshoot of “continuous partial attention” (from the Pew study on the Internet and the U.S.). While multitasking can be useful, there is still value in the ability to focus on one task, and educators have a role in conveying that message. A group of students told me that the one thing they’d find most challenging about the voluntary simplicity movement was not giving up things. It was spending time alone to think, relax, and get to know themselves and their values. I was startled, but it quickly made sense to me. If their lives are so hyperconnected, solitude could be very threatening. And what does this mean for those members of this generation who are solitary beings by inclination?

–Marilyn R. Pukkila

Topology Resignations

Although this was announced over the summer, the New York Sun and now the Chronicle are reporting on the resignations of the entire editorial board of the mathematics journal Topology, published by Elsevier, which charges United States institutions $1,665 per year for the journal.

The Chronicle article links to a math blog, Not Even Wrong with detailed discussion and comment on the resignation by mathematicians. Basically, it’s clear that mathematicians are fed up with Elsevier and the high journal prices. Some report refusing to submit their papers to Elsevier journals.

In the article “The Economics of Professional Journal Pricing” in the January 1996 issue of College and Research Libraries, the authors explain in economic terms why journals in science and engineering cost more than those in other fields:

It is a simple case of maximizing profit by charging higher prices in markets where demand is inelastic.

Which is to say, the publishers charge higher prices because they can. The authors also pointed toward the way out of the problem:

attempt to create and demonstrate high elasticity of demand for journals in any way possible.

Which is to say, librarians, cancel the high priced journals in favor of lesser priced journals any time you can. (For a list of journals in which the editorial board resigned and started a new journal, see Peter Suber’s List of Journal Declarations of Independence.) I have done this recently, cancelling Labor History in favor of Labor. (Anybody want to speak in favor of cancelling Journal of Academic Librarianship in favor of Portal?)

Much progress has been made on journal pricing due to the hard work and cooperation of many groups and people, such as SPARC and ACRL and Peter Suber. But we’ve got a long way to go and more needs to be done. Can we get the mathematicians to talk to the chemists, engineers, and doctors for example? In the meantime, let’s watch to see if a new, lower cost version of Topology appears, and we’ll know what to do.

Wikipedia And Academia

The Wikipedia discussion at the Chronicle yesterday failed to get me change my basic view of Wikipedia, which is that the errors are too random and the editing too chaotic. I understand that all sources have errors and that all sources need to be examined critically, but with Wikipedia you never know if some interesting tidbit you just read is true, totally off the mark, or somewhat true but distorted in some way. For the folks who say all sources have errors, that’s true but it’s impractical to ask people to be critical of and to fact check everything. I do agree that Wikipedia is ok for a first look and to help one find and delve into other sources.

When I talked about Wikipedia with first year students this semester, I told them my professor with scissors story and asked them what was wrong with Wikipedia. They quickly replied “anyone can edit it” so it seems at least some students on my campus know about the dangers of Wikipedia. (I hate when people overgeneralize and say stuff like, “today’s students all just use Wikipedia because it’s easy and they’re all idiots. Besides they’re the net generation and you can’t stop them and this is how everything’s going so get used to it.” Arrggh!)

Chronicle discussion participants noted that Citizendium is an academic spinoff of Wikipedia that will try to address some of these concerns by adding more oversight by experts. I’m not sure that will work but I guess it’s worth a try.

The idea that Wikipedia is more accurate with scientific information because scientists know how to collaborate more than humanists came up. Hmm, I find this idea curious and would like to learn more.

Ritchie Boyd noted that a recent study found students to be lacking in information literacy skills and asked this interesting question: “How do you think educators might reconcile the need to teach content and at the same time provide the literacy skills to sift thru the content?” The responder, Alexander M.C. Halavais, replied that professors should “stop teaching content.” He immediately backed off that statement as too strong, but still gave primacy to teaching process over content. I know a lot of people think that, but I disagree. I think that having a strong knowledge base of content helps immensely in detecting misinformation.

Shootouts at the Not-OK Corral

Over the weekend, The New York Times published a lengthy look at goliath Google as a lighting rod for lawsuits, complete with an in-your-face New Yawkerish slug – “We’re Google. So Sue Us.” Digital copyright law is a real frontier, complete with its own “not OK” corrals. And there seem to more and more shootouts lately.

Is it because Google has deep pockets? Partly. Is it because they’re big and arrogant and they make us mad? Well … sure. But it’s also a response to the shift in the way people look for information. Libraries have had to work through our “we’re better than Google” sulks, but the information and entertainment industries are just getting started. The Times story points out it’s not just about winning damages.

There are several cases, focusing on questions of intellectual property and trademark protection, that challenge Google’s whole way of doing business. These plaintiffs are suing Google to protect their well-established practices; their interest is not so much in remuneration as it is in getting Google to change its approach.

Is it working? The jury’s still out, but it doesn’t look good. Take Belgian news organizations. They sued Google over linking to their content in Google News. Now they’re doing the same with MSN. What have they gained so far? Their content is no longer indexed. Those who start a news search online won’t find the major Belgian news outlets in the mix. C’est la guerre.

All of which is making me scratch my head. Doesn’t a link from an online aggregator lead readers to the newspaper’s website and to their own online advertising? Won’t that advertising reach a wider audience? According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s excellent report on the State of the News Media 2006, that’s where advertising revenue growth is. And it’s the only place where there’s growth.

It’s sadly reminiscent of the Tasini decision. In that case, freelance writers sued news organizations and their aggregators, successfully, because they got no revenue from online repackaging of articles for which news organizations had not paid electronic rights. Rather than offer writers a share, newspapers stripped content from online databases and made sure electronic rights are now boilerplate in all their contracts.

Did anyone win? Nope.

It also reminds me of the excitement about e-books in the book world at the turn of the millenium. Trade publishers were so intent on figuring out the angles they forgot one thing: the reader. So any new market that might have been generated was largely neglected while contestants waved their knives over the pie. I get the biggest piece! No, me!!

Maybe there’s a lesson in this for libraries. Make your content available in whatever way works for the people who might benefit from what you do. Let them discover what you have in new ways, not just your way. If Google (or some other new kid on the block) installs a new door to your library, don’t call the police and report a break-in. Get another welcome mat and put on an extra pot of coffee, because you’re going to have company. And think about how many new doors you can open – so that the traffic isn’t all coming from one direction, exposed to one set of billboards as they make the trip.