Monthly Archives: August 2007

Year Two Begins Soon

As my first year comes to an end, I would like to thank everyone for the opportunity to chronicle my experiences as an academic librarian. I look forward to my second year beginning and welcoming the students back to campus. In the meantime, here are the highlights of what I have learned so far:

  • When in doubt, ask questions – especially at the beginning.
  • Find a mentor – a librarian with more experience can provide a lot of guidance.
  • Take time to talk to the students and you’ll be surprised how much you learn.
  • Keep up with the rest of the library community: read professional publications, blogs, attend conferences, and more.
  • Make friends with faculty members who can act as mentors and support for your library programs.
  • Be open to trying new technologies and listening to new ideas.
  • Library school did not teach me everything, and learning on the job is a continuation of the learning process.

Culture Clash

Inside Higher Ed has a good recap of the controversy kicked up by Anthrosource going to Wiley/Blackwell from U of C. The title of the piece says it all: it’s all about values. But which values? On the one hand, the value of a publication is that it generates the revenue to sustain a scholarly society. On the other, the value of the research and the values of the profession are all about making knowledge more widely available. Technology has made the second value easier and the first more complicated.

(The absurdity of trying to lock up “intellectual property” in a digital age reminds me that we just saw the first conviction of a criminal who was caught in the act of filming Transformers in a movie theatre. A girl who happened to have a camera with her took a twenty second clip to show her little brother. In spite of all the scare tactics, it just didn’t occur to her she was engaging in piracy. She was just doing what comes naturally in an age of digital gadgetry. And now has a criminal record for it.)

One irony mentioned in the IHE article: as libraries make online bundles more conveniently accessible, scholars are dropping their memberships, presumably because the benefit it once gave them – access to journals right on their desktop – is being provided by libraries now, whereas you used to have to hike over to the building to get your hands on your membership journal. Societies and their members need to find new ways to support the dissemination of their work and to fund their own professional organizations. Honestly, shouldn’t professional communication itself be not only easier but less expensive in a digital age? We need to figure out what our values are – and then figure out how to carry them out in an affordable manner.

ACRL itself could practice what we preach. We could use our own society as a sandbox to create some innovative models for sustaining an organization and fostering its values using new technologies – and then show other societies how to follow our lead.

So Sue Me, Round Two

Library Journal’s Academic Newswire updates the Alms for Jihad debacle addressed here earlier.

The authors of the book Alms for Jihad, pulled from the market by publisher Cambridge University Press (CUP) in the face of a controversial libel suit in a British Court, said this week they are in the process of regaining their publishing rights and will seek to republish the book with a U.S. publisher. University of California Santa Barbara Professor Robert O. Collins, a co-author, told the LJ Academic Newswire he is currently negotiating with CUP for a rights reversion and has been assured that “there will be no problem, just several weeks to draft proper legal papers.” Collins also said the authors have had several offers from U.S. publishers, but will make no firm plans until they officially secure their publishing rights.

Meanwhile ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom urges libraries to resist efforts to remove the book from the shelves. Ironically, some libraries are moving them to special collections, since the book has become instantly rare.

And When There’s A 3-D Web We’ll Do What…

You may recall that at some point in the past few years this profession questioned its complacency over not taking the lead in developing a new generation of discovery tools. Put another way, we were kicking ourselves in the behind because we failed to capitalize on our search expertise to give the world a great search engine – maybe something like Google only better. Well there was that group of librarians who believed they could create official catalog records for every site on the web – all 8 billion of them and counting. That idea never went too far. Will the Internet give us another chance to show the world how we can provide a better way to find information on the Internet? It just might.

In the August 13, 2007 issue of BusinessWeek there is an article that gives a preview of a future iteration of the World Wide Web – and they don’t even give it a number. The web is predicted to, in the next five years (or fewer) become a three-dimensional web. It would be, as described in this article, a “galaxy of connected virtual worlds”. Sitting at your computer your digital replica would go from stores to events to geographic locations – all of them in 3D virtual reality.

So imagine if you will a web in which individuals could go walking through a virtual bookstore or library and possibly look into virtual books on virtual shelves. But where is the opportunity for librarians to develop the next great search engine. Well what if we could promote the idea of librarian avatars who roam the web waiting to be asked for guidance in finding information? It’s quite possible that the future virtual web will offer an information environment that is even more difficult to navigate then what we have today. Perhaps this service could have a name that would allow users to type in the name or verbalize it in order to call on a virtual librarian.

Does it seem outlandish or too outside the realm of what we do? I just noticed that Indiana University’s library has signed a deal to partner with Cha-Cha to provide human-supported web research service. That strikes me as the right type of entrepreneurial advance this profession needs. Let’s partner with the search companies to explore the possibilities of a new service. Our most likely barrier is not creativity and innovation, but finding the financial backing that propels such ideas. We need to pay attention to the development of this three-dimensional virtual web, and start early to propose a new way of connecting searchers to the information they seek. It would be a shame to find ourselves saying five or ten years from now, “If only we had…”

Smatterings and Chatterings

In an interview Brewster Kahle tells LJ why scanning books in an open way is so important.

Paul Duguid explores what happens to a cultural heritage when a book is digitized – and what is lost at First Monday. In his brilliant article he examines copies of Tristram Shandy and concludes, among other things, “Google Book’s Library Project reminds us that the newer form is always in danger of a kind of patricide, destroying in the process the resources it hope to inherit.” Once again, someone forgot to wind the clock. Read this article, and send it to friends in the English Department.

Reports are coming in that Cambridge UP is sending letters to libraries that have Alms of Jihad, offering them an errata sheet that is part identified factual errors and part legal apologia of the “I do not recall” variety, as predicted. Libraries that don’t want to insert the sheet are invited to remove the book from the shelves entirely. (Q: How many lawyers does it take to remove a book from a library? A: None. You don’t have to do what this letter suggests.)

Meanwhile, Yale took a different stance on a different suit. When the publisher was sued by a charity named in Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, Yale fought back with an anti-SLAPP suit designed to fight off attempts to litigate a non-profit into silence. Score one for intellectual freedom.

Finally – what about the children? We’ve heard about the Anthropologist on Mars at Rochester who has done an ethnographic study of college students in their own habitat. Interesting results from the field can be found in Scott Carlson’s Chronicle article. Apparently, kinship patterns are woven very tightly into library usage in this culture. We must honor the ancestors – or at least find ways to turn “lifelong learning” goals into “information literacy for parents’ programs. And maybe have a conversation about the fine cultural differences between “workshopping drafts with other readers” and “what might appear to someone in this culture as a strong taboo called academic fraud.”