Monthly Archives: January 2008

Sudden Thoughts and Second Thoughts

At Least This Professor Is Trying To Improve Student Research

The general reaction to this story is that the faculty member is making a big mistake by banning Google and Wikipedia from student research (at least in the freshman year). I admit that such a strategy is likely to turn out to be a losing proposition, but what I find refreshing is a faculty member who at least cares enough about the quality of student research to take a stand on the matter. Too many faculty simply pay too little attention to the need for students to develop effective research skills. So while we may not agree with some of this instructor’s approaches or practices, I think we should give some credit to this person for having the right intentions. That said, based on article I’m wondering if this faculty member has considered collaborating or working with librarians to enlist them in the effort. I guessing the answer is no.

Your Books Are Out And Anything That’s Electronic Is In

While reading this month’s issue of University Business I came across one IT person’s “What Out, What’s In” list for 2008. Under “What’s Out” I find “Library Stacks” and what’s replacing the stacks under the “What’s In” column? Just a few things such as collaboratories, eJournals, Wikipedia and Google. Well, that settles it. Out with all the books. Go use Wikipedia and Google everyone. Sheesh! This list is courtesy of John Bielec, the CIO at Drexel University. That institution has been moving towards a heavily e-based library for years. Looks like the VP for IT is hoping that 2008 is the year that most, if not all, of the books will finally be gone from the library.

I’m Just Passing This On – Come To Your Own Conclusion

Since I’ve been accused previously of being biased when presenting information about librarians and social networks, here’s an advance warning. This is the ONLY data I’ve seen recently related to librarians and social space integration. (A) I’m not surpressing other study data with different conclusions and (B) I’m not adding any comments to it – it means whatever you want it to mean. This comes from a study of student use of the library web site and other information resources produced at the University of Michigan:

A total of 23% of respondents stated that ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ they would be interested in contacting a librarian via these two social networking sites (MySpace and Facebook). Undergrads had a slightly higher than average percentage of 34%. Nearly half of the total respondents stated they would not be interested, but for various reasons – the biggest reason being that they feel the current methods (in-person, email, IM) are more than sufficient. 14% said no because they felt it was inappropriate or that Facebook is a social tool, not a research tool. Though this latter category does not represent a majority, these responses were the most emphatic

Well, I can’t resist one observation – 23% is better than I would have guessed, and is even potentially encouraging. You can read another summary of this data provided by Gerry. This might also be the first study I’ve seen where the students report using the library’s databases for starting their research as much as they do Google.

Here’s A Crazy Suggestion

Wouldn’t you agree that the librarian community played a significant role in Google’s rise to the top. After all, librarians were among the first to recognize Google’s uniqueness when it first appeared. We used it ourselves. We told our users and friends about it. We provided the word-of-mouth promotion that made Google what it is today. So my modest proposal is simply that we repeat history. Let’s pick another engine and make it even bigger than Google. I suggest we choose Search Wikia as our next great search engine. Why bother? Well, Search Wikia seems to have a nice community feel to it, and the search algorithm, if it works, could be quite effective. And, quite frankly, we need something else to talk about. How do we start the revolution? Tell someone about it today…and they’ll tell two people…and…

Top Ten Assumptions Morphs Into ACRL Environmental Scan 2007

If you happened to look over the just released ACRL Environmental Scan 2007 it may have looked familiar. That’s because it is a beefier version of the previously released “Top Ten Assumptions About the Future” which came out around the end of March (there was a session about the assumptions at ACRL in Baltimore). And if you are a regular ACRLog reader you saw a post about the top ten assumptions back in April of 2007.

Actually, once you get into the report you’ll still come across the top ten list, but each of the assumptions is somehwhat enhanced so that the descriptions are more robust. As I said the first time these ten items came up for discussion, it isn’t exactly an “Oh wow” kind of moment. But in the new report the additional content helps to build a better case for why we need to pay attention to these issues. I think the environmental scan will provide a good source of conversation among academic librarians about the issues. They may not seem earth shattering, but they clearly offer some fundamental issues that matter in all our libraries and will impact our user communities. I’m also planning to make it an early semester reading for my academic library services course students. It will help to bring them up to speed quickly on some of the significant challenges facing the profession. It will also provide them with lots of good additional readings (check out the references the report provides).

Interestingly enough, the whole scanning process is entering a new cycle. If you are interested in sharing your thoughts about what we as librarians need to pay attention to – as well as what ACRL needs to focus on as an organization – in our next top ten assumptions and environmental scan, take this new Annual Assumptions survey. I just completed the survey and it took about 15 minutes. This is an easy way you can have a say in identifying the next set of top ten assumptions.

ts;db

I’ve noticed that several of my favorite writers have resolved to post more frequently in 2008. Dear favorite writers: at the risk of sounding ungrateful, would you be terribly offended if I begged you not to follow through on this resolution? The odds are, I like your writing because:

  • You publish relatively infrequently. I think you’re great, which is why I read your writing, but I don’t want to know everything that’s on your mind. Generally, somewhere between once a week to once a month is fine by me.
  • Your pieces tend to take me at least five minutes to read, though ideally you’ll allow me the privilege of spending 15-50 minutes on ideas that have taken you several hours to put into words.
  • You publish almost nothing that’s off-topic, in particular almost nothing that’s both off-topic and solely about you. Once or twice a year, at most, going off-topic or writing about yourself is actually endearing. And it can be useful in our post-postmodern world if you acknowledge personal reasons for your opinions. But I’m reading your writing in order to learn about the topic of your blog. Abandon that topic too often and I’ll mostly likely unsubscribe from your feed.

The above criteria were the “ah ha” I got from Steve Yegge’s “Blogging Theory 201: Size Does Matter,” in which he suggests that his website, Stevey’s Blog Rants, is popular not in spite of the fact that he posts long pieces more or less monthly, but because he does.

Let’s start with the obvious. People expect blogs to be short – at least, shorter than mine. They expect that because it’s pretty much how everyone does it. Short entries, and frequent. Here’s my cat today. Doesn’t he look sooo different from yesterday? No wonder so many people hate bloggers.

When I write my long blogs, I’m bucking established social convention, so it’s natural that some people will whine that they’re too long.

Well, how far off cultural expectations am I? Doing a quick print preview in my browser shows that my last entry, formatted at about 14 words per line (typical for a printed book) weighs in at about ten pages. So it’s roughly essay-sized. I’m not talking about those toy five-paragraph essays they made you write in high school. I’m talking about real-life essays by real-life essayists. Real essays can range from three pages to 30 or more, but ten pages is not an unusual length.

If I were attempting to publish these entries as books, publishers would laugh at me. They’re way too short to be books. Sure, I could bundle them, but that’s beside the point. The fact is, two different real-world audiences have entirely incompatible views on what the proper length for my writing should be.

Yegge’s interpretation of online publishing convention is how the notion of length in particular (and essays in general) relates to academic librarians. Steven Bell has written recently on ACRLog and (with David Murray) in College & Research Library News about faculty members who publish online and the importance of our reading their work. As a new academic librarian, this is the sort of idea that is both challenging (Where will I find the time?) and welcome (Cool! More great stuff to read!). He’s also written recently about the idea of tenure for librarians, which, naturally, leads back to what tenure is really all about, on what basis it should be awarded, and whether anyone should have it. Of course, this is interesting on a theoretical level for librarians who have cleared the tenure hurdle or amassed a body of work that would allow them to do so relatively easily if they end up working at an institution where librarians have faculty standing. For those of us new to the profession, discussions about tenure elicit somewhat more practical concerns.

My reading of these discussions is that it comes down to publishing: are we giving back to the profession, and to society, by publishing valuable new ideas and discoveries? Does the protection afforded by tenure foster more valuable writing? For some, peer review is the starting point in determining value, especially for tenure committees, which are often made up of faculty from many departments. Reading standard tenure candidate portfolios is arduous enough; expecting committee members to read the contents of a web-based archive could be interpreted as asking for trouble. After all, how much value could there be in something that was posted online, for free, without the benefit of a formal review process? It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to to notice the difference between the sort of entires you’re likely to find in someone’s LiveJournal and the investigations published in Nature.

Of course, if all non-peer-reviewed online writing were the academic equivalent of I Can Has Cheezburger or Alan Sokal’s parody, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” then Steven’s posts probably would not have elicited the responses that they did. But we know better.

WordPress, MoveableType, and other software packages, by making it easy for people to publish their ideas, have helped create an Internet awash with mundane posts. But widespread use of these software packages by highly esteemed writers has also helped create not only an expectation that the best writers will make their ideas available online, but also an expectation that, with a little legwork, we’ll be able to find their work online for free.

That last part—the notion that non-digital or firewalled writing doesn’t exist—is beyond the scope of this piece. By way of extricating myself from that briar patch, I’ll invite you to imagine a world in which we could download podcasts of the “A Room of One’s Own” lectures Virginia Woolf gave at Cambridge in 1928, or subscribe to feeds of Dorothy Parker’s “Constant Reader” articles or Pauline Kael’s essays on cinema. Once you’re finished imagining that, I suggest that you subscribe to book reviews by Salon’s Laura Miller, Judith Martin’s Miss Manners column, and to join me in counting the minutes until someone offers an Alice Munro feed. Certainly, given the present state of copyright and OCR technology, we may be farther from a fully Googleable world than some of our constituents would like to believe. But we’re also a lot closer than some of our colleagues seem willing to acknowledge (e.g. Laura Miller, Judith Martin, and hundreds or thousands of other brilliant writers making some of all of their best work available not only for free, but via feeds). I think it would be great if we as academic librarians committed to doing our part to bringing a freer, more searchable online world closer and to making it better. One way to do it would be to sacrifice quantity in order to increase quality, at least in the work we’re sharing with peers.

Here’s the first point I’m trying to make: good, thoughtful prose is valuable no matter where or how it’s published. Grigor Perelman posted his groundbreaking work on the Poincaré Conjecture on the free, web-based arXiv.org in November 2002, March 2003, and July 2003, a repository that at the time was considerably easier to post to than ACRLog is now. Even though it has since introduced an endorsement system, arXiv.org remains close to barrier free—and full of indisputably valuable work. Committee members making tenure decisions, just like scientists making arXiv.org endorsements or mathematicians awarding the Fields Medal, are cheating everyone when they take shortcuts in deciding whether someone’s work has value. Peer review plays an important role in numerous situations, but there are times it is neither necessary, as with Perelman, nor sufficient, as with Sokal’s “Transgressing the Boundaries.” At the same time, you may be cheating yourself and your readers if you reserve your best work for peer-reviewed, subscription-only journals. Eventually, people will be rewarded for publishing good work online, and not just with popularity badges.

Here’s the second point I’m trying to make: good, thoughtful prose generally takes more than a few minutes a day to write and more than a couple of hundred words to express. I don’t think it’s a bad thing when people dismiss longer pieces with tl;dr (too long, didn’t read). Certainly, when we’re writing for undergraduates or Pierre Bayard, we need to take that wholly defensible sensibility into account. But if you’re writing for me, and for many other academic librarians, please understand that we’re likely to dismiss light, quick, frequent posts with ts;db: “Too short, didn’t bother.”

Welcome To Our Fellow ACRL Blog – ACRL Insider

Maybe you thought that one ACRL blog could say it all. Well it turns out that one blog is not enough for ACRL – now there are two. We ACRLog bloggers welcome ACRL Insider to the blogging scene. We think it will help our readers to keep up with ACRL news and developments that we often pass on here at ACRLog. Here are some more details from a press announcement released yesterday:

The mission of ACRL Insider is to keep ACRL members and other interested parties current and informed on the activities, services and programs of the association. ACRL Insider features information on publications, events, conferences and eLearning opportunities, along with podcasts and other media. With the launch of this new communication tool, ACRL hopes to foster openness and transparency by providing an outlet for connection between members and staff. In order to encourage a collaborative environment, all ACRL Insider posts allow for reader comments and suggestions.

So what is the relationship between ACRLog and ACRL Insider? That was mentioned in the press release too:

ACRL Insider focuses on communicating information about the association to members and the wider academic library community, while the existing ACRLog weblog (http://www.acrlblog.org/) continues to address the issues of the day in the field of academic and research librarianship. The blogs work in tandem to provide a big picture view of the association and academic librarianship.

We look forward to joining with ACRL Insider to form a powerhouse library blogging combo dedicated to the needs of academic librarians.