Monthly Archives: May 2007

Habits Worth Developing

In his essay in this week’s Chronicle, Todd Gilman shares his “Four Habits of Highly Effective Librarians“. Having followed some of Stephen Covey’s work the title immediately captured my attention. Gilman’s take on Covey’s advice suggests that by adopting four behaviors we can be more effective in the workplace. Those behaviors are openess, responsiveness, collaboration and communication. Much of this boils down to being a good colleague.

One who is open to new ideas and is open to sharing them and listening to those of others – and as Gilman suggests – is open to accepting change. One who is responsive to new ideas and is willing to give them a try – and who responds to co-workers when asked for input and participation. One who is willing to collaborate internally and externally with co-workers and fellow educators and academic support professionals to accomplish shared objectives. One who pays attention to the need to share information and communicate it to fellow librarians. I think most of us would like our colleagues to internalize these behaviors, and we should try to do so ourselves.

I also like that Gilman makes mention of the Columbia reference debate, and uses this as an example to reinforce the need to be open to new ideas and models for the delivery of services. I would point out that from my perspective the debate did not focus solely on the value proposition of the desk, but did in fact present – in additon to philosophical arguments – some concrete reasons why the reference desk was likely to become obsolete. But Gilman’s assessment of the proceedings is spot on in stating that despite the evidence presented at and beyond the debate, the majority of those in attendance expressed their commitment to maintaining reference service in its current model.

Learning From The Work-Practice Study

This past Friday I attended the LACUNY (Librarians Association of the City University of New York) Institute 2007. On hand were two speakers from the University of Rochester Library, Nancy Foster and David Lindahl. ACRLog has previously posted about projects in which both Foster and Lindahl are involved. Foster, as Lead Anthropologist at the River City Campus Library, is a leader in the ethnographic studies being conducted by the Library. Lindahl, as Director of Digital Library Initiatives, participates in these projects with Foster and also heads up the XC Catalog research project.

Their presentation was titled “Studying Students: Identification of Student Work Practices and Applications to Technology Design”. Foster and Lindahl described the process by which they conduct what are referred to as “Work-Practice Studies”. The studies are designed to allow the library staff to better understand the practices and behaviors of students as they conduct their school work. Foster and Lindahl showed how they explore the world of students by visiting their dorm rooms to examine how they use technology and do their research. Students are given single-use cameras and asked to take photos of specific things. The students also participate in Co-Design Workshops in which they are asked to draw or build models of their preferred library workspace. They shared videos of students in their dorms and at work to provide a better idea of how the Work-Practice Studies are conducted. The real work takes place when librarians and anthropologists analyze transcripts of interviews, review hours of video looking for clues, and brainstorm ways to use what they learn to improve library services.

While it helps to have a team of professionals to lead a project of this nature, Foster told the audience that it is better to do some level of work-practice study than to do none at all. It can be as basic as having a librarian work with some students to observe their work practices more closely. I learned some valuable techniques for conducting these studies. I also learned that Foster and her colleagues will have a book published later this summer that will provide more details and photos on work-practice studies. I will look forward to reading it.

Till Death Do Us Part – And Then Some

Mark Helprin has a truly odd commentary in the Times today – complaining that his copyrights will be stripped from his heirs seventy years after he trips the light fantastic. Other property can’t be stolen like this. He faults the framers for mistakenly believing ideas will be served if rights are held for a limited time (though he gives them credit for allowing Congress to extend them indefinitely). He likens the public domain to “nationalization” and unfair seizure of property.Shouldn’t his right to own his words persist lo unto to ages?

Just be sure to leave a forwarding address, Mark. Otherwise it’s gonna be hard to keep your deathless prose available to readers.

For contrast, see Jonathan Lethem’s approach, previously discussed here.

Or just for kicks, check out this pastiche on copyright that uses clips from a company that has exploited our shared cultural heritage, then slapped our hands for wanting it back.

Reading in the Vulgate

Julie Elliott has an interesting article in the most recent issue of RUSQ on academic libraries and reading promotion. (Yes, I’m quoted in it, but don’t let that put you off.)

Indulging in a fondness for books has become a contested territory. People think of books as our “brand” even though libraries offer much more. If we reinforce that outdated view of libraries by celebrating books, are we selling our libraries short – or are we honoring something people actually love about libraries? The Librarian in Black is irritated that public libraries have summer reading clubs; it suggests that reading is better than other activities and that people who don’t read aren’t welcome at the library. But is being irritated by popular forms of reading another kind of elitism?

Beyond the “we’re more than just books” argument is the fact that academic forms of reading differ from popular literacy practices. Oprah’s endorsement of reading as something that will expand your horizons draws on personal identification with characters and situations rather than the analytical, critical approach taught in college. Public libraries have long honored diverse reading tastes, but academic libraries are likely to be accused of wasting money if they purchase genre fiction or popular history (even if it’s of high quality). Academic libraries that try to satisfy students’ interest in reading outside the syllabus risk being tarred with the scarlet letter “O,” encouraging reading for pleasure at the expense of reading seriously.

Common reading programs
on college campuses are growing in popularity. They give first year students an opportunity to to talk about something they have in common that has academic credentials. But they are modeled on community reading programs (started with Seattle Reads) and so are smack dab in the middle of that contest over how we should read.

Academic libraries may be the perfect place to explore those contested notions of reading. Maybe we can help our students take pleasure in the reading they do for courses – and take their pleasure reading seriously.

The Beginning of Summer Projects

Now that most of our students have left for the summer, it is time to start tackling summer projects. One summer project will be to redo the student staff training sessions that workers receive in the fall. Developing training modules is something that I wish would have been given more opportunity to develop in library school, along with ideas for group and team building activities. Perhaps this falls outside the realm of traditional classroom activities, but I think that coursework or reading in this area would help, not only for student staff training, but for developing the library staff as a whole. So far I have likened the project to developing one shot interactive instruction sessions which last for several hours. I have started reading on best practices and other librarian’s suggestions for training student staff. Our summer student workers have already agreed to be our test audience. With this in place by August, we will be ready to welcome our returning students with a refresher and make new student assistants comfortable in their new work environment. Your words of wisdom are welcome!