Monthly Archives: September 2007

It’s Easier to Preach Than Practice

Reading Current Cites this morning I had to laugh (in a rueful way). It includes a summary of the now well-known survey done by the University of California’s Office of Scholarly Communication that found faculty may be on board when it comes to accessing information but their behavior doesn’t match. They don’t want to be forced to engage in open access practices and rarely bother to do it voluntarily. Oh, for shame!

The next item, from the Journal of Academic Librarianship sounded interesting – about linking practice and research in academic libraries. The DOI took me here.

Nice to have such a handy shopping cart, but if we’re expecting other faculty to take action, why won’t we do it ourselves? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into this. Even Elsevier allows authors to post preprint versions of articles on the Web (albeit with some weird and inconvenient rules). We know the stakes. Why do so few librarians bother to put our words into action?

Maybe because it’s work? Maybe because nobody says you have to? Maybe because we’re hypocrites?

Build It and They Will Build Another One

Heads up, everyone: Scott McLemee has discovered Zotero and is spreading the word. You might get some questions about this at your reference desk, and you might start having some conversations about the library’s role in supporting pricey subscription-based citation management systems that can be tricky to teach – though chances are, you have already.

We are certainly living in interesting times. As we take a stride forward (often paying a lot to do so, and putting in plenty of sweat equity), we sit back to wipe our heated brows, then get busy designing instruction, trying some marketing, dealing with the technical glitches that surface. Then take a break to for a refreshing moment of banging-head-on-wall therapy before returning to the job at hand. Meanwhile, someone says “hey, why don’t we create some way for people to do this?” And before long there’s a solution that doesn’t require the library.

This is not a bad thing – solutions are good, and free is great. But it makes for a somewhat chaotic world, where we raise funds to build a bridge to get somewhere – and then people start inviting others to hop on the free ferry service they just organized. Passengers get excited. The bridge took them too far out of their way, or seemed designed for other people – or maybe they didn’t even know it was there.

This occurred to me yesterday as I looked for an article on the New Sanctuary Movement in the current issue of Sojourner. It’s in our library, but I was at home, on my living room couch. I knew it was in our library because our nifty SFX system told me so, and it also told me the article I wanted wasn’t full text in any of our databases. On a whim I checked to see if the magazine offers free access on the web – and sure enough, they do – though the article that looked interesting was not on the first page of a Google search for “new sanctuary movement;” I only found it because I searched a database. Then had to leave the library’s website to find it online. The route I took to actually read the article reminded me of how confusing this emerging mesh of free and subscription resources is for novice researchers, and how frustrating it can be for us to teach students how to become resourceful and critical about information.

This clever YouTube clip showing the flight of the harried database user makes the same point – humorously – but I have a feeling the old “here’s how” instruction will get harder and harder to provide simply because the map of where it is and how to get there is constantly being redrawn.

Welcome To The Contact Zone

You know how when you read something that is really new and provocative, you just want to immediately share it with colleagues. That’s the way I felt when I first read a draft of an editorial written by Bill Miller for The Reference Librarian. The editorial is titled “Reference, Cultural Values, and the Contact Zone,” and it appears in Vol. 47, No. 2 for 2007. If your library has access to the online version of Haworth Journals you can find it there. At that time I did ask Miller, a co-editor of the journal, if I could write about it in ACRLog. Unfortunately, I learned that I would need to wait until the issue was published. Now I finally can tell you about this editorial.

Like me, you may have never heard of a seminal conference address by Mary Louise Pratt on the topic of “Arts of the Contact Zone.” Miller points out that this essay has “received next to no attention within librarianship”. The Contact Zone is where people from different cultures come together, and is what happens when they interact in the Zone. Miller indicates that this has profound implications for reference librarians, for the desk is a contact zone. But the cultural clash with which reference librarians contend is not one with students from a foreign country, but many of our native students who represent a very different culture, especially when it comes to academic expectations. Miller writes:

Reference librarians dealing with a diverse student body need to be very aware that they are operating in a contact zone in which many library users have fundamentally different assumptions from our own about what is valuable and important…our imagined community in which every student is assumed to be a fledgling scholar who would naturally want to practice research…is truly more imagined than real. If one views young people as coming from an entirely different culture, things start to make more sense.

So the next time you are at the reference desk or in an instruction session it may be helpful to develop a mental image of yourself talking with or assisting a stranger in a strange land. Given how radically different the culture of today’s students is, they may as well be from a very different place. As Miller advises the reader, new strategies are needed for the nature of work in which we now engage in the contact zone.

Introducing Our New First-Year Academic Librarian Bloggers

We should have known better than to think we’d find just one person to be our new first-year academic librarian blogger. We got more than a few applicants, and it became obvious that we wouldn’t be able to choose just one because the submissions were that good. So we decided to invite four of our new professional colleagues to join us here at ACRLog as first-year academic librarian bloggers. We hope you will enjoy sharing their experiences and their views of and perspectives on the issues that impact our profession and higher education. Our new bloggers are:

Brett Bonfield is a recent grad who currently holds a part-time business librarian position at the University of Pennsylvania and also works part-time in the library systems office at Temple University. We previously published a guest post by Brett that was well received.

Kim Leeder just started a position as a reference librarian at Boise State University. Kim has previously served as an ACRLog conference reporter who provided posts from ALA.

Melissa Mallon began her position as the library instruction coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown in August.

Josh Petrusa was recently hired as the electronic resources librarian at Norwich University.

So we welcome our four new blogging colleagues. You’ll soon be seeing a first posting from each of them in which they’ll write a bit more about themselves and their initial impressions from the field.

The ACRLog blogging team extends its thanks to all the new academic librarians who submitted sample posts. We regret that we could not accept them all, but we wish all of you much success in your careers.

Anthropological Association Selects Closed

The NY Times may have grasped the new economics of open publishing, but the American Anthropological Association has recently announced a new partnership with Wiley-Blackwell to distribute the Association’s 23 journals, newsletters, and research portal AnthroSource.

Peter Suber has predicted that the open news trend will not spill over into scholarly journal publishing, arguing that scholarly journals cannot raise as much money from advertising even though they have lower costs. Suber also notes, however, that user expectations for free online access and heightened impact may eventually have an indirect effect on scholarly journals.

The AAA has acted in accord with their vested interests, but not necessarily in the interests of their profession or the general public. A comment on the Chronicle notes:

Let’s be clear about what is going on here: the AAA is using a private publisher to extract income from universities through their libraries. The bad news though is that university libraries will not be able to afford these increases. In the end fewer subscriptions will be sold and fewer people will have access to this scholarship. If the AAA really cared about scholarship in anthropology they would be pursuing an open access strategy.