Monthly Archives: December 2007

Why Do I Feel Like I’m Still in School?

As my first semester as an academic librarian comes to a close, I can’t escape the feeling that there’s something I’m forgetting. This is just the way I always felt towards the end of a semester in college, when final assignments were due and tests were a commonality. Maybe I am just suffering from the misguided notion I had that the end of my first semester as a librarian would bring peace and quiet. Instead, I feel like the students who are in the midst of finals; I’m rushing around, trying to finish last minute projects and work in meetings before everyone leaves for the break. It’s as if the entire campus is in a mad rush to neatly tie up loose ends so we can all start fresh in January. I’m not sure what gave me the impression that these last few weeks of December would be easy. Sure, there is the occasional office party to attend or vacation plans to discuss, but most of my time has been spent meeting deadlines and making lists of things to work on when I come back to work after the break.

Part of what has kept me so busy is my appointment as co-chair of a sub-committee for my library system. We’re charged with assisting in the current information literacy initiative, and let me tell you, it’s a lot of work. I was excited to be asked to sit on the committee, and it’s actually been a great learning experience. I’ve learned more about information literacy programs, assessment, and learning outcomes in the last several months than I ever thought possible. Likewise, being co-chair of the sub-committee is an excellent opportunity to learn more about leadership. We’ve been very busy planning presentations, assessing our information literacy tools, and meeting several times a month to discuss it all. I’m extremely thankful for my co-chair, and the other committee members, who are all great at what they do and a perfect group to work with. But, did I mention it’s a lot of work?

Add all of that to the instruction requests I’m already receiving for next semester, the library workshops I’m coordinating and advertising, and the bulletin boards I’ve been feverishly working on, and you have one tired first-year librarian.

However busy I’ve been, though, I do believe I’ve had a great (and in my eyes, successful) first semester. I wrote a web site review for a peer-reviewed journal, I’ve “attended” some really great webcasts, I’m lucky enough to share my thoughts on this respected blog, and I think I’m even getting better at networking. And I know one thing that separates me from the students (well, besides the paycheck): being able to relax and enjoy my vacation without worrying about grade point averages or tuition for the upcoming semester. There are benefits to being a professional!

Out of Control, Into the Future

There are some interesting responses showing up to LC’s draft report on the future of bibliographic control. Karen Schneider, Roy Tennant, and (in great depth) Diane Hillmann have weighed in. So has Tim Spaulding of LibraryThing, who urges the Library of Congress – and libraries generally – to make bibliographic records open for reuse. He points to a petition that argues for the virtues of open records.

Bibliographic records are a key part of our shared cultural heritage. They too should therefore be made available to the public for access and re-use without restriction. Not only will this allow libraries to share records more efficiently and improve quality more rapidly through better, easier feedback, but will also make possible more advanced online sites for book-lovers, easier analysis by social scientists, interesting visualizations and summary statistics by journalists and others, as well as many other possibilities we cannot predict in advance.

Government agencies and public institutions are increasingly making data open. We strongly encourage the Library of Congress to join this movement by recommending that more bibliographic data is made available for access, re-use and re-distribution without restriction.

I’d love to hear what academic librarians say about all this. I’d especially love to hear from academic libraries that are using LibraryThing for Libraries. What have been the benefits? How have people responded?

A lot of us think the NIH is right to open up federally-funded research. Is open the way to go for LC, too?

Resist The Rankings

I suppose I should be elated. The folks over at a site called The Library Shelf just wrote to give me the good news:

Congrats, your blog The Kept-Up Academic Librarian has made it into the TOP 20 of the TheLibraryShelf blog community, powered by SocialRank!!!

Great, just what we need. Another effort to rank librarian blogs.

What I find amusing about this is that I routinely analyze the stats for both Kept-Up and ACRLog. By every measure possible ACRLog kicks Kept-Up’s ass when it comes to readership, comments to the posts, comments at other blogs, mentions in publications like the Chronicle and AL Direct, and any other indicator of popularity you can identify. Yet, ACRLog is no where to be found in the ranking. And yet the ranking includes blogs that you and I both know get little readership while there is no trace of blogs that have significant readership.

Am I complaining that ACRLog wasn’t ranked. Hell no. I’m writing this to tell you three things.

First, blog rankings suck. These rankings suck whether they are weekly, annual or of the “all-time favorite” variety. Second, blog rankings don’t work. I’ve yet to see a ranked list of librarian blogs that has any hint of rationality to it. Third, if your blog does get ranked somewhere please resist the urge to tell your readers about it, to inflate your ego about your role as a blogger and most of all to put the ranking site’s badge on your site – because that’s what this is really all about – getting more traffic to the ranker’s site. Isn’t it incredibly shallow to shil for some “let’s be the next YouTube” gang that really couldn’t care less about your blog? Going ga-ga over these rankings just encourages more efforts to rank blogs. If we just commit as a community to ignore them they will go away.

If you think your blog is accomplishing the goals that you set out to achieve when you started it, and if you are reaching an audience that cares about your blogging – even if it might be small – then consider it a success on your own terms. You don’t need a ranking to confirm your contributions to the library community.

Now I know other bloggers find these rankings amusing and harmless, and some even say they are a good way to discover new blogs (even though the rankings usually list the same blogs over and over again), but if this is one of the few ways this community can entertain itself and derive some sense of accomplishment, well, that’s a pretty sad commentary on the state of our self-esteem.

Here’s a suggestion. Let’s not pander to these meaningless rankings. I suggest that if we want to acknowlege our community’s bloggers who are doing really good work (high quality writing, regular postings, originality of ideas and topics, innovative suggestions, etc.) let’s all contribute to an annual listing – not numeric rankings – but a collection of ten blogs worthy of our praise. Let’s also include a collection of new blogs that came out that year that deserve more attention. And let’s do it ourselves. And let’s not just make it a popularity contest of “my favorite blogs”. Make it an accomplishment worth earning by way of recognized excellence in writing, originality and other criteria we can really respect – not just raw numbers. I think LISNews has done some sensible blog listings of this type in the past – which I commend – and I recommend that it be our sole source of liblogoverse acknowledgement for excellence in blogging. Personally, I can live without it. But if people like this sort of thing, well at least this is an approach I can support.

Oh, and don’t call them blogging awards. Don’t get me started on awards for blogging.

Pay Some Attention To The Research

Academic librarianship’s mainstream research journals are looking more like prizefighters in the twilights of their careers. They’ve gone through a long period of trying to stay on their feet while the world is passing them by and have taken a whole lot of hard knocks. As far as attracting readers, it seems like they’re about to go down for the count at any moment. If some blogger isn’t pissing all over the content of research journals by attacking it as boring drivel, then the research literature is being mocked as irrelevant, outdated before it’s printed and nothing more than an excuse for librarians on the tenure track to write about something for which no one cares and that no one will read. Well, if that’s what you think, that’s just a damn shame.

Is every article in every scholarly journal a masterpiece of writing and research? Of course not. Are some research articles repetitious, void of originality or suffering from a case of “you had to do research to tell us something that blatently obvious?” Absolutely. But there are probably dozens of forgettable and downright awful blog posts for every scholarly article that’s published. I say the scholarly literature is still a field of gems worth exploring. Every now and then an article will emerge from the pack that will grab your attention and have you kicking yourself for not coming up with that idea. In other words, you might actually learn something important. I came across two such articles recently.

The first is found in the October 2007 issue of portal: Libraries and the Academy (disclosure – I am on the editorial board) and it’s titled “Portals for Undergraduate Subject Searching: Are They Worth It?” If you are beginning to think that your Facebook profile isn’t really helping you to connect with students – especially in ways that truly matter – like helping them to achieve academic success – then you might need a new approach. Perhaps it’s time you considered strategies for connecting with students in their courses. That’s what students really want, and that’s what the research from this article tells us. The authors relate how they started to create discipline specific portals, which sounds like a good idea, but it didn’t turn out that way. Seems the students really wanted course specific resources. The findings from this well-written piece come just at the right time for my library as we’re exploring ways to better integrate the library resources into the curriculum. If the students prefer course-integrated and assignment specific library resources that’s where we’re headed.

The second is found in the November 2007 issue of College & Research Libraries and it’s titled “Undergraduate Use of Federated Searching: A Survey of Preferences and Perceptions of Value-Added Functionality.” While the title is hardly inviting, a closer look yields some interesting findings. Yes, students prefer federated search systems to individual native mode database systems because the search is easier and saves times – nothing too shocking there. But you might be saying “yeah, but the students are paying for convenience with worse results.” Well, it depends on who is judging the results. This study performed a detailed analysis of the search results, and when both librarians and faculty members analyzed the search results very little difference was found between the quality of the federated and non-federated searches. The faculty, more so than the librarians, found the federated search results to be of reasonably good quality. So if you’ve been putting off looking into federated search for your library because of concerns that it dumbs down searching and produces low quality results, think again. Based on student comments obtained during the study, while federated search was perceived as an improvement it appears that no students are deserting their favorite Internet search engines for federated search.

So if you’ve gotten away from keeping up with the scholarly literature of academic librarianship, keep in mind that your colleagues aren’t just making a bid for tenure (at least the ones on the tenure track) when they write these articles. They are also endeavoring to communicate new ideas and discoveries that serve to advance our knowledge of the resources we use and the communities we serve.

Are You Where You Want To Be Professionally

It’s a thought that probably comes to every librarian at some point in their career. Professionally, am I where I’m supposed to be at this point in my life? Should someone my age be further along? Should I be an administrator by now? Should I have a bigger reputation in the field? And the ultimate question, should I be making more money? And when we seek the answers to these questions we often have no choice but to compare ourselves to others, whether it be a colleague down the hall, that blogger being profiled in the Chronicle, or folks who graduated in your MLS class. We seem to have the tendency to judge ourselves against the A listers rather than the mass majority of library professionals who are in all likelihood doing about the same as we are. It’s a harsh mirror into which we gaze. It’s hardly unique to librarians.

Now, if you are completely satisfied in your current post as a reference librarian, cataloger, systems specialist or achivist, and you have no intentions of doing anything else other than what you do right now, this post may not be for you. But if you are experiencing anxiety about your status in the profession, and wondering where you are supposed to be in your career and how to get there, read on. I’ve been fortunate to achieve some nice accomplishments in my profession. There’s a balance of some scholarly publications, some notable opinion pieces, a few presentations each year that have enabled me to travel about, a secondary career as an adjunct faculty member, and more recently, some blogging and a few keynote speeches. Some academic librarians who are newer to the profession may think that’s the story of my library career. But it wasn’t always this way.

I went to library school as soon as I graduated from college, and was fortunate to obtain my first professional position soon (about 6 months) after I received the MLS. I was all of 23. But it wasn’t an academic library position and so for the next eight years I toiled in complete obscurity as a librarian. It wasn’t until my first academic library position, as a frontline reference librarian, in 1986 that I began to start writing and was able to get a few articles published – and some more conference presentations – but nothing spectacular. I finally published a book in 1992 – a resource guide – co-authored with my boss at the time. This helped me to gain more of a reputation, but only in business librarianship. Fourteen years into my career I had never belonged to ALA, ACRL, been on a national-level committee or any activity that gains you more national recognition. But I now had an administrative position in access services and would soon move into an assistant director position at the same library. I finally thought I might be library director material after all. To further my career I began a doctoral program in higher education administration – a program that would take me six years to complete. Are you beginning to get the idea that success doesn’t come over night for the vast majority of us – even those you may think have always had recognition.

I should mention that my first son was born when I was 26. Then the next when I was 29. While there are some folks who can accomplish everything all at once, that wasn’t me. When I started in academic librarianship in 1986 I had a 5-year old and a 3-year old. Between child care, t-ball, soccer games, helping with homework, meetings with teachers, and all the other responsibilities of parenthood it was difficult to even consider publishing and presenting, but I did my best to be active in associations on the local level. I’m not suggesting parenthood held back my career – those were great years – but it wasn’t until the kids became a bit more independent that I could attend night classes, write an article, travel to a conference or those other things some folks take for granted.

When I became a library director in 1997, with the doctoral studies behind me and teenagers helping out at home, it became easier to take on professional responsibilities, like becoming the president of my regional ACRL chapter. Another change that I made somewhat intentionally was to force myself to try writing articles with more opinions and viewpoints rather than the same technical or scholary pieces I’d been writing. I don’t know if the newer generation of librarians can appreciate it, but before blogging it was much more challenging to be heard. A piece like the one I’m writing now would be unthinkable. And to my way of thinking those opinion pieces, not unlike blog posts, are more likely to provoke thought, garner some attention and tend to result in requests for presentations.

The ten years since the start of that first library director position were certainly the most productive of my career. When I left the big ARL research library where I was I thought for sure my publishing and presenting would plummet owing to lack of inspiration. If anything it was the complete opposite. I’m not suggesting you need to be a director to achieve professional recognition. Many directors don’t do anything beyond directing their library, and more frontline folks are finding ways, mostly through blogging, to get the attention. But if earning more money is important to your success equation, moving to the rank of library director is one surefire way to increase your salary. But it comes only with sacrifice. That’s true of any of the colleagues you know who are, in your mind, an A or B list library professional. Those folks are doing more than just putting in the nine to five day. There are long nights of writing or preparing for a presentation; deadlines are waiting to be met. It may mean getting to work an hour or two early to have time for keeping up and quiet contemplation – those ideas and inspirations must come from somewhere. Less attention is being paid to family and friends. There is a price to be paid.

All of this may be a long winded way of saying that I urge you not to worry about where you are professionally. If you think your career needs to be progressing faster, I say think of it as a long run. You’ve got to pace yourself. And keep in mind that the road is a series of hills and valleys. Sometimes you will get things right at the right time and you’ll be on the hill. But then it will be someone else’s turn, and you’ll be in the valley. It’s much better to look at the long view, and focus not on one time recognition but developing the ability to acquire and nuture ideas and inspiration. I can’t tell you how many librarians I’ve seen gain instant recognition only to be relegated to the dustbin of forgotten personalities once change came and their great idea was bypassed by the next big thing. Then there are the librarians who seem timeless and are always in the forefront of our thought leadership because they are adaptable and always have something of value to say no matter what changes come and go.

One of the great things about the library profession is that it is something you can do for a long time if that’s your desire. It’s not physically demanding. I can do my job as well now as I did thirty years ago when I started. I’d like to think that I’m even better at it now than I was then. I should be because this is a profession where accumulated knowledge and experience is of great value to both those we work for and those to whom we provide services. My father was an auto mechanic, and by the time he was the age I am now it was pretty hard for him to physically even do his job. Eventually he had to find a second career with a desk job. So if it seems that things are not moving quickly enough for you professionally try to keep in mind that over the long haul things will happen for you – if you are willing to make certain sacrifices for your career. Since a number of other folks have preached about the need for life/career balance I won’t take that up. You should already know about that, and besides, I’m probably not one to preach about it to others.

Perhaps what I can preach about is for you to be strategic in thinking forward about your career. Where would you like to be in five or ten years? What would you like to be doing in your library or a different academic library? What will it take to get there? You may need to move to a position where you have more management responsibility. There may be workshops and continuing education programs where the right skills can be gained. Professional associations have their costs too, but a key benefit is a network of colleagues who can provide mentoring and opportunities – if you put yourself in the right place at the right time. Can you earn an additional or advanced degree at your current institution? It’s hard work and risky, but the return on your investment may be getting to the next level.

That summarizes my story up to this point in my career. I haven’t always been publishing and presenting. I haven’t always had professional recognition. It took time to develop my voice, and gain the ability to think and write about things in a way that communicates them well to others. It didn’t happen in a vacuum. I had plenty of support and encouragement from good colleagues and family. I’m still working to improve and accomplish new things, to share new ideas and to help those in the early stages of their careers to develop professionally. I’m still moving through the hills and valleys.