Monthly Archives: December 2007

Where People Turn When They Need Information

The year 2008 may indeed turn out to be “The Year of Information Overload“, but most Americans may be too busy searching for information to notice. When faced with problems that require information to identify appropriate solutions the internet is the “go to” resource for Americans. According to a new survey, when faced with the need for information for a serious problem (health concerns, career or education decisions, starting a business, seeking government assistance, etc.), 58% of Americans go right to the internet. What does this mean for libraries? Do Americans still seek assistance from professional librarians when they need important information, or has the Internet marginalized us even more than we thought?

The answers to these questions may be found in a new Pew Internet & American Life Project survey study titled “Information Searches That Solve Problems.” This study was released just yesterday, and the report deserves attention from library professionals. According to the summary page “the focus of the survey was how Americans address common problems that might be linked to government.” As any librarian would likely expect the first thing the majority of the survey respondents did was to search the internet. Next, most respondents sought help from a professional, such as a doctor, lawyer or financial expert. Hmm, guess what they say about librarians not being viewed as professional experts may have some truth to it. Actually, libraries (public that is) came in dead last with only 13% of the respondents reporting that they went to a public library for their information.

But here’s an interesting twist on which academic librarians should dwell. The study reports that young adults in tech-loving Generation Y (age 18-30) lead the pack among the 53% of Americans who reported a visit to the library in the past year for any kind of information or visit. Compared to their elders, Gen Y members were the most likely to use libraries for problem-solving information and general patronage for any purpose. Now although the report mostly deals with public library use, I would bet that a good number of respondents in this age category have regular access to an academic library. There’s no indication that the survey asked respondents to identify the type of library used. While we should refrain from jumping to the conclusion that academic librarians can be credited with turning Gen Y into library users, I think this can be seen as an indicator that academic librarians and their faculty colleagues may indeed be having a positive impact on the search behavior of Generation Y.

But before we begin the celebration with some well-deserved back patting, perhaps we need to temper our enthusiasm with this report’s mixed conclusion:

Instead of the internet making libraries less relevant, internet use seems to create an information hunger that libraries help satisfy. But many more people consider going to libraries than actually do. This suggests that libraries should try to untangle the complex web of reasons why different groups of people – even those who might profit most from using the library – don’t in fact use the library, and in some cases, actually shun using it.

I think it would help if the library, especially on our campuses, was a place people wanted to go – a destination – rather than a place they have to go. That’s why more academic librarians are thinking about the library user experience. What can we do to create an environment that will encourage our user community to want to use the library? How do we make 2008 the year of the great library user experience? I intend to explore this Pew report in more detail to learn why people use libraries to search for information – and why they don’t. The complete version of the report is available online.

Reflections on Leadership

In 1979, Wayne A. Wiegand assembled an advisory board and asked them to identify the most prominent academic library leaders for the previous half-century. They eventually agreed on fifteen librarians, whose biographies were published in 1983 as a chapbook entitled Leaders in American Academic Librarianship: 1925-1975.

The book serves as a great reminder that issues we’re tempted to think of as unique to us and our time period are often echoes of longstanding debates: libraries have always been underfunded; there was never a time when undergraduates knew how to use libraries or were information literate; nor was there ever a time in which faculty members truly appreciated our role in educating students. However, the fifteen librarian leaders excelled at working through these and other obstacles.

Here’s the complete list of leaders, their birth and death years, the years of their ALA and ACRL presidencies, and the year in which they were made ALA Honorary Members.


In addition to providing a historical context, this book also gives us an opportunity to reconsider history. Thirty-five years have passed since its publication, meaning it may now be appropriate to ask:

  • If Wiegand assembled an advisory board now, and looked at the same time period, who would make the cut? How have our criteria changed?
  • Who were the fifteen most notable leaders for the half-century spanning 1950-2000? How do their accomplishments compare to those of the leaders from a generation earlier?
  • Which leaders are making a good case for the half-century from 1975-2025? And for 2000-2050?

Leadership has become a recurrent theme here on ACRLog, one Steven Bell addressed directly on November 7 and November 26, and acknowledged indirectly in his superb autobiographical post on December 5. That last post, in particular, had an encouraging message, but on another level it was terrifying, because it was inspired by a librarian with a few years more experience than I have, someone whose work I admire. If that person feels less than secure, how should I feel?

I experienced that same “professional terror” when I read Meredith Farkas’s recent post, Darn that Dream. She’s only three years removed from library school, but has already published a book, teaches at San Jose State, writes and gives presentations all over the place, etc. I realize that Meredith is just one NexGen librarian getting discouraged from applying for one job at one university, but it was hard not to react to that post with fear and trembling. It only seems natural to get a sinking feeling when Movers & Shakers are uncertain about their decisions and prospects.

Reading about the librarians profiled in Leaders in American Academic Librarianship has been a useful way to counter that sort of emotional reaction. These librarians made incremental moves early in their careers, often in ways that seemed orthogonal to directing a major academic library. Their fifteen stories have some similarities, but also strong differences, suggesting that there is no correct or obvious path to becoming a leader. What they had in common was an ability to inspire people to believe in them, and when given an opportunity, their actions justified that belief. As long as we can do that—as individuals and as a profession—we’re bound to succeed.

Smarts And Talent Are Good Starts But…Thoughts For 2008

You’re smart. You’ve got talent. But is that enough? Or is there more to getting where you want to go in this profession? What big things do you want to accomplish in 2008? If you’d like to explore these questions in more depth take a closer look at this post and discussion at a blog called Orgtheory.net. Fabio asks that perennial question – what does it takes to be successful? Looking at it from the perspective of problem solving, something frequently on our agenda these days, he comes up with an inventory of what it takes to succeed. The qualities on his list go beyond being smart, talented or both. How about: good judgment; creativity; luck; patience; strong work ethic; time management; persistence; stamina; street smarts; writing ability.

How would I sum it up. Two words. Hard work. Some talent and smarts will give you a good start. If you are lacking in either that needn’t be a barrier. I agree with Fabio that there are so many elements to achieving success, whether you are a faculty member, librarian or student. Any combination of abilities can factor into the success equation. But above all it’s hard work that can make the difference. But you can give yourself an edge. Fabio makes a good point when he says that each of us, if we are able to recognize our particular talents, can choose work or projects that play to our strengths and depend little on our weaknesses. So take it Fabio when he says: don’t obsess over smarts! Each of us has a lot more with which to work. We just need to discover and respect it.

So my advice for the new year is that each of us should spend some time thinking reflectively about our own strengths and weaknesses, and then develop a personal strategy for capitalizing on what we do best. Of course, some hard work should be part of the plan. And if you’ve got a great idea to share, have an issue that needs attention or simply would like an opportunity for your voice to be heard consider making one of your resolutions a commitment to write a guest post for ACRLog in 2008. Exercise your smarts, talent, creativity or whatever particular strengths you hold. See that ACRL Tip Page link on our page. Use it to contact us.

I now know why people say, “Where did the semester go?”

Are you serious? Is it over already? When did November sneak by? What about all the projects I wanted to finish before break?

As a student watching my librarian friends go through their days, I always thought “I’m too busy” was an exaggeration. A flimsy excuse, if you will, for not taking on some particular project. Maybe even a sign of weakness…?

My view on that one sure has changed. Somewhere in the past several months I got caught up in the library whirlwind and many of the things I had imagined I would have done by now are still sitting in their various locations — on my desk, in my files, in my email — unfinished. I am still in the state of new librarian enthusiasm that leads me to say “yes” to practically everything, but as I look back over the semester I am beginning to think that I may need to experiment with the alternative.

I am young, I am ambitious, I am enthusiastic, and boy am I tired! My new year’s resolution is to bone up on my time management skills. I hereby acknowledge that I cannot do everything I want to do in the time I am given. I will continue to take on the projects for which I am most enthusiastic, but every so often I will have to seriously consider whether I have time to do the others. I accept that I will need to say “no” sometimes.

And perhaps I may even need to try out the line, “Sorry, I’m just too busy.”