Monthly Archives: April 2007

Getting Value Out Of The ACRL Virtual Conference Community

If you attended the ACRL Conference in Baltimore you may be under the impression that the conference ended for you on April 1. If that’s the case you might be missing some valuable conference content. Even though I did go to the physical conference I still registered to join the virtual conference community. The two conferences operated simultaneously between March 29 and April 1, but while the physical conference ended the virtual conference persists as a community for the dissemination and sharing of conference information. If you are not currently receiving occasional email from the conference community you may missing a valuable part of the overall ACRL conference experience.

On a recent Saturday I received an email from the conference online community that contained links to perhaps two dozen papers from contributed sessions. I found many more papers there than I had time available for reading. So I spent some time scanning the papers and decided to print out a few to read more closely. One in particular was about connecting library services to student academic success. Authored by Ying Zhong and Johanna Alexander, the paper “Academic Success: How Library Services Make a Difference” is a good review of the literature on measures of student academic success, and reports on a suvey at their institution to identify the factors that students report as most and least critical to accomplish their academic work more effectively and successfully. According to their survey the most important factors are the facility and electronic resources. The least important factor is research assistance at the reference desk (maybe that tells us something about the value of the reference desk from the student perspective). I could have used some of this information when I was writing this post.

Sure, you could probably get these same papers with the conference proceedings, should you choose to purchase – but why wait. And the virtual conference site offers more than the papers. It offers handouts provided at the sessions, and the presentation slides for different sessions. Remember that anyone who registered for the ACRL Conference in Baltimore – or just the virtual conference – has access to the virtual conference community for one year beyond the conference. So it’s likely there is still time to get connected in to the virtual conference. You should definitely check it out.

Chill Out

Shelly Batts, a PhD candidate in neuroscience, was taken aback when she wrote about a science article she had read and reproduced an image from it – then got a scary take-down order. The blogosphere reacted, the publisher retracted, and things have calmed down. The fair use issue is not resolved (the publisher said they would grant permission, not that it was okay to post an image to a blog without their permission) but at least Batts won’t be sued.

The storm that erupted is interesting, though. When a science publisher acts like the RIAA, people get angry. A lot of people. They argue the publisher is stifling criticism of ideas, and that this is one more reason to support open access. That last bit is a bit tricky: open access doesn’t mean no copyright, so the same laws apply. I guess the argument is that, without the financial incentive to protect your exclusivity, nobody would sic their lawyers on other people for reproducing the information.

But one thing is clear. Chilling effects are harder to pull off when people share information and generate some heat.

Top Ten Assumptions About Future

The ACRL Research Committee has released a list of what they are calling ten assumptions about the future that would impact academic libraries and librarians. The Committee has already solicited a lot of input, and they are seeking further comment by Monday April 30. Here is the list in brief format, for more see the ACRL News article and the podcast .

Although the Committee has said they didn’t want to produce a list of predictions, it seems that this is what they have in fact done, regardless of what they call them. I would have called them Ten Sundry Issues That Need More Discussion and Fleshing Out, which is why I’m not on the Committee.

I appreciate how hard it must be to produce a list like this, but some of the brief statements are so vague and general as to not really do much work, so it’s hard to respond to them. What is this list really for?

The two that have generated the most discussion on the listservs have been 6 and 7, which deal with applying a business model to higher education and viewing students as customers or consumers. As this makes many academic librarians retch, I think the committee needs to spell out more exactly what this means, why they think it will come to pass, and why they seem to think we are powerless to do anything about it.

In general I think we need to be both more humble about our attitude toward the future (face it, we have no idea what’s going to happen) and be more rigorous when we do think about the future. Assumptions or predictions can sometimes seem as if they are being offered by those whose true aim is to turn assumptions in to self-fulfilling prophecy (look at #5 for example). Or perhaps there is no hidden agenda but assumptions turn into self-fulfilling prophecy anyway (this is the way things are going so we better go along with it.) I’d like to see more clarity and transparency about who thinks what may be happening and to clearly distinguish that from what it is that we want to have happen. When thinking about the future, let’s not give in to determinism or give up our agency. I thank the Committee for their work, and hope this list leads to an ongoing discussion about what the future may hold and what we want to do about it.

1. There will be an increased emphasis on digitizing collections, preserving digital archives, and improving methods of data storage and retrieval.

2. The skill set for librarians will continue to evolve in response to the needs and expectations of the changing populations (student and faculty) that they serve.

3. Students and faculty will increasingly demand faster and greater access to services.

4. Debates about intellectual property will become increasingly common in higher education.

5. The demand for technology related services will grow and require additional funding.

6. Higher education will increasingly view the institution as a business.

7. Students will increasingly view themselves as customers and consumers, expecting high quality facilities and services.

8. Distance learning will be an increasingly common option in higher education and will co-exist
but not threaten the traditional bricks-and-mortar model.

9. Free, public access to information stemming from publicly funded research will continue to grow.

10. Privacy will continue to be an important issue in librarianship.

Help Wanted: Book Review Rescue

Scott McLemee brings to academia an issue that has been burning in publishing. The amount of space given to book reviews is endangered in newspapers. Many papers rely on a smallish number of canned wire service reviews that don’t reflect the local community’s interests, and with change at the LA Times, shrinkage at the SF Chronicle, and disappearance from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution extinction is a possibility.

Perhaps online media will take up the slack? Let’s hope so. But the destruction of the remaining “reviewing infrastructure” at American newspapers is a bad thing for authors, for readers, for booksellers, and for publishers.

So I am addressing academic librarians and university-press folks, now, because they – because you, rather – seem well-situated to grasp an important point.

We have something in common: It is very easy for others to take what we do for granted. As far as most civilians are concerned, printed matter is generated by parthenogenesis, then distributed across the land like the spores of a ripe dandelion, transmitted by the wind.

We know better. We do what we can with our shrinking budgets – secure in the knowledge that the work itself is worthwhile, if not always secure in much else.

He urges us – naming especially academic librarians – to act, and points us to the National Book Critics Circle blog on the crisis. Find more at the NBCC’s site on the crisis.

Library as Place-With-Books

A member of the ILI-L discussion list pointed out an interesting article in the May issue of Harper’s that I finally got around to reading. It profiles the Prelinger Library, an idiosyncratic personal collection made public that provides its own classification system and allows for unexpected discoveries. (Here’s the non-digital link: “A World in Three Aisles: Browsing the Post-Digital Library” by Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Harper’s [May 2007]: 47-57.)

In passing, the author criticizes librarians’ devotion to all things technical, especially slamming the “roomy and bookless” SFPL in which “reference librarians, reconciled to their new roles as customer-service technicians in the guise of advanced-degreed ‘information scientists,’ stand behind high oak-paneled counters and field questions about how to use these Internet resources, or more often how to get the printers to work.” Hey, they haven’t ditched the reference desk – that sounds positively old fashioned.

Anyway, the conclusion of the piece raises an issue I’d like to see discussed more by academic librarians.

The executive director of the digital-library initiative at Rice University is quoted as saying that “the library is not so much a space where books are held as where ideas are shared.” This is odd. Most people might suppose, to the contrary, that a library is exactly a space where books are held. There are many, many places on a college campus where ideas are shared: lecture halls, seminar rooms, computer clusters, dorm lounges. The library happens to be the only where ideas are shared precisely because books are held.

So here’s my question: as we pay attention to the “library as place” and try to demolish the “warehouse for books” stereotype of libraries, do we have any evidence that what’s in the library is contributing to the conversations we hope to foster? That is, as the library becomes a better place for students to do a variety of things, are they making better use of the collection itself? How well do collection development, information literacy, and “library as place” work together? What assessments have been made that can establish some causality – a better place means better learning using what libraries have to offer?

Apart, of course, from computers, comfy chairs, and good coffee.