Daily Archives: April 23, 2007

How To Be A Giveback Generation Librarian

When I entered the profession a good number of years ago we were all just librarians. No one thought of themselves as members of any particular generation. I got into some local associations early on and got to know some of the seasoned members of the profession, but I just thought of myself as a newbie, and the folks who’d been librarians for a number of years were just that. Now it seems more trendy to identify with a particular generation of librarians. The most common example is the “Next-Gen Librarian“.

While I get it, I have always been puzzled by the term because, well, isn’t everyone a member of the next generation as they enter the profession. I see the students in my academic library class as the next generation of librarians, although technically they might not fit into the “next-gen” category. But I understand that the term was coined to signify that the generation of librarians coming into the profession over the past few years is experiencing something unique from previous generations, and that this is a reflection of the changing workplace, the influence of technology and a rather different perspective on career goals and relations with administrators.

Having popularized the next-gen concept, Rachel Singer Gordon later referred to the Bridge Generation, librarians described as GenX who found themselves between younger Next-Gen and older “traditional” librarians (is that another way to say “boomer” librarians). We all know there are, to some extent generalizations. You may know a younger librarian who is more traditional than a boomer librarian.

I often refer to members of my own generation as “boomer librarians”, but we are perhaps far more diverse than even the Next-Gen or Bridge Generation librarians, and it really says little about my generation other than our age and long service in the profession. So I’ve been thinking lately about in what ways my generation might be characterized other than by just age or time spent as a professional. For lack of a better definition, I’m thinking about academic librarians with at least 25 years of professional service (the 30th anniversary of my own first professional full-time position is coming up next year). So I’m going to suggest a name for this generation – the “Giveback Generation.” To giveback means to return something. As my generation reaches a certain point in our careers what will likely be most meaningful is having the abililty to giveback something to the newer members of the profession that could help futher their career success.

So what should you do to be a member of the Giveback Generation? Here are some suggestions:

1. Get to know the new library professionals at your library. Don’t ignore them. Don’t expect them to kowtow to you. Talk to them. Find out about their professional interests. Do what you can to support them.

2. Support new library professionals by inviting them to participate in a professional activity, such as a local or regional association meeting. Introduce them to other librarians you know.

3. Take an interest in their careers. Make yourself available to provide career advice. What about a second masters or a doctoral degree? What are good committees to get on? How does one get started publishing? If you don’t have good answers, refer a new librarian to a colleague who may.

4. Do more than view new librarians as cheap labor to exploit. They’re professional colleagues. Treat them as such.

5. Explore opportunities to talk with LIS students interested in academic librarianship. You don’t need to be a mentor (but be one if it suits you), but make yourself available to share your experience or provide career advice.

6. Invite a newer colleague to join in the writing of an article or developing a presentation. It’s great experience for that person and should be a learning experience for you as well.

7. Get a clue about the concerns of new librarians and the issues they want to discuss. It’s tough to giveback if you don’t have any sense of what you can return. Tune in to some of the blogs authored by the Next-Gens or X-Gens. That can be a good starting point.

8. Respect the opinions and suggestions of new academic librarians. How many stories must we hear about new librarians frustrated by their senior colleagues who fail to take seriously their thoughts and ideas for creating change in the academic library. Listen and you might even learn something. Even better, ask yourself what you can do to promote the visibility of new colleagues.

Being a Giveback Generation Librarian is actually pretty easy. It’s mostly about making yourself available, listening, and providing advice if needed. Of course, you can be more proactive by going out of the way to develop opportunities for cross-generation interaction. You might want to even offer yourself as a mentor to a new academic librarian if your local ACRL chapter has a program for that. Perhaps ACRL do more to create and facilitate opportunities for Giveback Generation Librarians to connect with newer academic library colleagues. But this isn’t something that requires intervention from a professional association. Share some ideas about what you are already doing or suggest ways in which Giveback Generation Librarians can do more.

Siva Vaidhyanathan Questions Google Book Search

Friday at the Drexel University Libraries’ Scholarly Communication Symposium, Siva Vaidhyanathan raised some serious questions about the partnership between libraries and Google in a powerful and provocative analysis of Google Book Search.

Siva is unique in that he combines an in-depth knowledge of copyright, a reasoned appreciation for new technology and a clear love and deep respect for libraries and librarians with a strong sense of social justice and the public good. He is a skilled presenter and powerful speaker. Others wear suits, he wears a black leather jacket. He tends to raise difficult questions. Either we should feel very lucky that he has chosen to cast his critical eye on our issues, or we should feel slightly nervous.

He began by dismissing both Kevin Kelly’s overenthusiastic embrace of the universal library and John Updike’s nostalgic defense of the traditional publishing world. He agreed with Kelly that digitization was a worthwhile goal but asked if Google Book Search was the right way to do it, if now was the right time, and if copyright was up to the task. He also disagreed with Kelly by countering that books are linear for a reason. He conceded that people of the book are racked with anxiety about the future, implying that this may have been a motivating factor pushing libraries into too hasty deals with Google.

Among Vaidhyanathan’s concerns about Google Book Search include some nitty gritty quality issues about the improper ranking and the inadequacy of some search results. He pointed to a search for “copyright” in which the first hit is a book from 1912, and a search for “Copyright Law” that does not pull up the most recent and relevant books. This suggests that despite Kelly’s claims, users would still be better off if they consulted with a librarian. He also searched for some famous literary quotes (“it was the best of times”) that did not turn up their sources, but he did admit that at least one search (“Karl Rove”) turned up two good books at the top of the list and that led Vaidyanathan to information that he previously did not know.

Vaidhyanathan then reeled off 5 questions each for Google and the Google Library Partners:

For Google:
1. What will be the guiding principles for inclusion, exclusion, and rank within the index?
2. What will be scanned first? What order?
3. What safeguards are you taking to ensure user confidentiality and privacy?
4. What will be your metadata standards? Why would one book outrank another?
5. Will you omit certain titles from the index if a government demands it? Or will you merely present snippets to indicate the book’s existence?

For Libraries:
1. Did you insist on assurances that Google would protect user confidentiality and privacy?
2. Did you insist that Google’s index include input from your librarians about quality control, order of inclusion, order and metadata standards?
3. Did Google restrict your use of the digital files in any way? (no obvious restrictions in Michigan contract.)
4. Did you consider the harm to potential markets for publishers who have been selling and leasing digital files? What is the copyright justification for receiving an electronic copy as payment for a transaction?
5. What’s the hurry?

At one point, Vaidhyanathan compared Google Book Search to the Human Genome Project. Here, he claimed, a for-profit company named Celera demonstrated it could do the work better and faster, but governments declined, recognizing that this information should not be privatized. Now Vaidhyanathan became animated, stating that it should be the same for knowledge and asking, “since when is expediency one of the core values of librarianship?” (Ouch. I was taken aback when he said this.) He basically accused some of the world’s top research libraries of rushing into deals with Google in which they did not realize the true value of their holdings, failing to insist on quality control, failing to guarantee user privacy, and damaging their relationships with publishers.

These are serious charges, some of them have surfaced in a previous ACRLog post. As for the Google Library Partners side of the story, their public statements do point to the public good as a motivation for making their collections more widely accessible, and it’s hard to fault them for that. Vaidhyanathan’s comparison to the Human Genome Project seems unfair–no governments were willing to step up to digitize books on anything like the scale of Google Book Search as far as I know. According to the University of Michigan, it would have taken them more than a thousand years to digitize their collection on their previous pace of digitizing. New York Public Library strikes a cautious tone in their statement and hardly seems to be rushing into anything. As for quality control and metadata issues, I don’t know, but the FRBR Blog has reported that a Library of Congress working group on bibliographic control has recently met with Google. It’s an interesting point about library’s relationship with publishers–however there is an argument that GBS will help publishers to sell more books from their back catalogs.

But what about privacy? What were the discussions between the Library Partners and Google on privacy? Vaidhyanathan reminds us that Google is not just any company, but a humongous company with ambitious aims “to organize the world’s information.” Do we want all our information needs to be met and filtered through a lens that utimately has profit as its main aim?

In other interesting thoughts that Vaidhyanathan did not fully expand upon, he said he thought the issue of the libraries receiving an electronic copy as payment for the transaction could be the silver bullet that would lose a court case for Google. I think he also said that that if the project succeeds it will ultimately weaken fair use.

I don’t remember one session at ACRL Baltimore on Google Book Search. If Vaidhyanathan tells us one thing, it’s that as a profession, we need to know more.

UPDATE – A writer at the American Historical Association blog confirms some of Siva’s worries.