Monthly Archives: March 2008

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

You’ve Never Been To A Library Like This

I recently made a visit to Cabelas, which is a store dedicated to those who partake in outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, hunting and fishing. The retail stores are huge. You could fit about five Wal-marts into the one I visited. You need that much room if you want to have an indoor fresh water aquarium and a deer museum (I’m not going to elaborate on that). But I never expected to find a library there as well. I guess I should mention that this was a gun library. Yes, the sign over the entrance said Gun Library. It was an extremely ornate room, as nice as any rare book library I’ve ever visited, but here, behind the fine glass cabinet doors you’d find no books, just seriously expensive rifles, shotguns and handguns. I’m talking guns that cost as much as new cars. Yeah, it was just like a real library. Oh, the only other difference is that this library has no circulating collection.

Just In – Libraries Officially Obsolete in 2017

Now we know the answer! No further navel gazing is required. Libraries will be obsolete in 2017. How do I know? Well, I consulted the Extinction Timeline. It shows everything that has become obsolete or will become obsolete between 1950 and 2050. I’m somewhat disappointed. I was going to retire in 2025, but now I see that retirement will be obselete in 2015. On the other hand I’m relieved now that the uncertainty about the future existence of libraries has been resolved. At least I’ll be able to keep blogging. That doesn’t become obsolete until 2023.

Do You Know A Perpetual Super-Novice

So what do you do with a library user who just keeps going to the same old database for every possible search and never seems to want to add to their knowledge base. Well, if nothing else, you can give them a name. Call them Perpertual Super-Novices. That’s a term coined by Paul Sherman. Sherman describes the perpetual super-novice (PSN)as “people who stop learning about a digital product – whether it’s an operating system, desktop application, web site or hardware device.” While we know we have PSNs among our user community, they can be harder to detect. Among Sherman’s strategies to overcome this problem, teachable moments can certainly help. I suspect that the real problem with PSN in academic libraries isn’t as much the users as it is the librarians. Ever tried to get a librarian who primarily uses one preferred database or system to try a new one or get a colleague to learn a batch of new features added to a familiar system. It’s like pulling teeth. Why does it happen? Most likely it’s a self-defense mechanism against information overload. Try to learn too many systems and too many features and you might just become lousy at using any of them. Take a look at Sherman’s suggestions for how we might do a better job of breaking the PSN habit.

The Hidden Benefits Of One-Shot Sessions

A long-time lament of many academic librarians who do classroom instruction is that they typically only get one shot to teach a class, perhaps in a 50 or 90 minute class. If only we could go back for a second or third session, we say, that might allow us to really help students to learn how to use library resources effectively. Based on some faculty blog posts I’ve been reading, being limited to a single class session may be a real benefit. Why? Well, if we encounter some incredibly obnoxious student behavior, we can escape and never have to face it again. Not so for the faculty who have to go back day in and day out. In this post an instructor wonders just how much control faculty have over students in the classroom when it comes to objectionable behavior. And since our instruction is the “one and done” type, we rarely have to deal with grading and some of the ridiculous nonsense with which faculty have to contend. On the other hand, library instructors trudge from class to class throughout the semester, which affords a wonderful opportunity to be subjected to many different forms of student indifference and rudeness, with absolutely no ability to exert control. Well, if that’s your situation, cheer yourself next time by running the hell out of that class as fast as you can and just keep repeating to yourself “you never have to go back there again” all the way back to the safety of your little cubicle in the library.

The Beauty Of A Practitioner’s Conference

When most librarians are asked what most motivates them to attend a library conference, I believe two responses rise to the top of the list: (1) the opportunity to meet with colleagues and (2) acquiring practical information that can be applied on the job. I tend to agree, although I’m not opposed to occasionally spending time in a session where a more theoretical paper or two is being delivered. Those sessions may challenge my assumptions or my ability to stay awake. I actually cannot recall too many library conferences I’ve attended that were primarily a series of research paper presentations. Based on a post by Dean Dad who authors the blog “Confessions of a Community College Dean” over at Inside Higher Education we may be fortunate for this.

Dean Dad, conference blogging from the League for Innovation, writes to share how pleased he is that this conference, like many of our library conferences, is eminently practical. He compares this to his own disciplinary conference, described as “a mechanism for the production and allocation of prestige.” As a community college administrator, this Dean shares his disdain for the elitist atmosphere that pervades the research conference. There he says, “The point of each paper wasn’t really to contribute to a discussion; it was primarily to carve out a niche for the author.”

While practice-oriented programs are great learning opportunities, there certainly is a place for the research conference as well. Academic librarians continue to put the “science” in library science, and there is a need for a forum where that information can be shared. Perhaps another dimension where we differ from our faculty colleagues is in the nature of our research and our conferences. While the faculty identify more strongly with their disciplines, the majority of academic librarians consider themselves members of a professional practice. Library science is not so much our discipline as it is something we learned about in an LIS program. Academic librarians, more so than public or corporate librarians, will identify with the discipline of their subject specialty though I suspect few actually deliver research papers at a disciplinary-focused conference.

There has been a conversation within ACRL about offering a new program track at ALA conferences that would provide an opportunity for the delivery of peer-review research presentations. I thought that’s what ACRL conferences were for, but apparently some academic librarians believe waiting every other year for that opportunity does a disservice to our profession. It depends on how one views the purpose and value of our national conference. Should we be putting more academic library research into the ALA conference to signify the value of our scholarly roots or are we just looking for ways to give tenure-track librarians more options for beefing up their resumes?

I think that if we put the question to Dean Dad he would advise us to preserve the beauty of our practitioner’s conference. There are plenty of existing outlets for the delivery of scholarly research papers and associated presentations. I like the idea of a conference where librarians from all the different sectors of this profession can get together to hear their professional colleagues and keynote speakers share ideas and strategies for improving our libraries. Every other year strikes me as sufficient for research papers to get their chance to be heard.

LibraryThing for (Academic) Libraries

I joined LibraryThing a while ago and find it a handy place for me to keep track of what I’ve been reading (yes, I’m a crime fiction junkie) and to share ideas about what to read next with like-minded readers. I’ve have been intrigued by LibraryThing for Libraries – without knowing entirely how academic libraries might use it. So I fired off some questions for the “technology triumvirate” of the Claremont Colleges, Candace Lebel, their Integrated Library Systems Manager, Alexandra Chappell, a Reference and Instruction Librarian, and Jezmynne Westcott, Science Librarian.


1) What is LibraryThing for Libraries and why did you all decide it would enhance your catalog?

Candace Lebel: LibraryThing is an online book cataloging resource for individuals to keep track of their personal book collections and share that information with others. Users can organize and search their collections by adding descriptive “tags” to each book. LibraryThing allows users to network socially by reviewing books, exploring similarly tagged books, sharing books, and participating in discussion boards. We’d felt that we weren’t moving quickly enough toward incorporating Web 2.0 tools into our online catalog and were impressed with the ease and speed of implementation of LibraryThing for Libraries.

Alexandra Chappell: As a LibraryThing for Libraries (LTFL) library, we do not have a conventional user account with LibraryThing. Rather, we send LibraryThing a list of our books with ISBNs and they send us back a piece of code that we paste into the footer of our OPAC code. When you do a search in our OPAC, LTFL matches the ISBNs for books in our OPAC
with ISBNs for books in LibraryThing and then inserts tags and similar books suggestions (from LibraryThing) into the display of the bibliographic record.

One of our goals is to improve our OPAC and to explore/implement next generation opac ideas. When we heard about LTFL, we thought it would be a great way for us to test out a Web 2.0 idea, without having to make a huge change to the catalog. LTFL was a quick and easy way for us to incorporate tags and book suggestions into our catalogs without having
to start from scratch by building it locally over time.

2) Does including LT tags confuse users? Is it easier or harder to teach students how catalogs work when LC headings are supplemented by user-generated tags? In general, how have students and faculty responded?

Alexandra Chappell: I don’t think that including LT tags is confusing–I think it provides another way for users to explore our catalog, and that the language of tags is generally less confusing than that of LCSH. However, I’m really not sure how much either gets used. To be honest, I believe that many of our users don’t even notice the LCSH when they search the catalog on their own (let alone the LT tags). My reason for thinking this is that every time I’m working with a student on the reference desk and I point out the LCSH and explain that they can tell us what the book is about, they are amazed and astounded by how useful this is.

I will say, however, that there are librarians on our staff who were concerned that our users would think that the LT tags are authoritative and created/added by our librarians. We tried to alleviate their concerns by changing the language of the label to read “LibraryThing tags.”

We do not currently have a formal way to collect feedback, but the little feedback we have received has been positive.

Jezmynne Westcott: I’d like to add that I don’t think our users will find the tags confusing. So many popular web applications have some element of tagging, like Flickr, Del.icio.us, Last.fm, and, of course, LibraryThing, that our users will recognize a tag cloud and understand its purpose and functionality.

3) I notice Blais has a “similar books” feature – is that generated by LT? (In any case, it rocks.)

Candace Lebel: Glad you like it. Yes, the “similar books” feature in Blais comes to us from LibraryThing.

Alexandra Chappell: Yeah, it is cool, isn’t it? Definitely gets a positive response from users.

Jezmynne Westcott: Delightful! I get lost in it, and I use it to find new novels to read.

4) Are there any privacy issues to consider when using a social networking system like LT?

Candace Lebel: I don’t think so. The tags themselves don’t give any indication of their creator; we’ve chosen to only show the ten most popular tags for any given title; and the tags used for LTFL are vetted by LT before we get them.


5) How hard is it to implement? Are there things about it that have been frustrating? Are there changes you’d like to see?

Candace Lebel: It is incredibly easy to implement LTFL. The most frustrating part is the lack of time I have to play with it. There are “look-and-feel” customizations I would make if I had the time. I do wish that it had a real-time link to our catalog. As it is now I must send a list of ISBNs of our holdings to LT and then remember to update it every so often as new material is added. If there was a real-time connection, that wouldn’t be necessary.

Alexandra Chappell: In general, I think LTFL is great. There are some changes that I would like to see.

–I’d like to be able to show tags for books in our collection that do not have ISBNs. We have a lot of books in our collection that were published before the existence of ISBNs but that are popular enough to exist in LT in a later edition. For example, a 1904 edition of Emma in our collection will not show any tags because it does not have an ISBN, but there are tags for the title Emma within LT. I would like to see a way for our older copies to have tags display as well. LT says they are working on a way to link books by LCCN and OCLC numbers, which could help fix this problem.

–I would like our local users to be able to add tags. I really like being able to take advantage of the huge user population of LT, but would like to be able to add local flavor to the tags as well.

–I’d like to be able to search the tags from our OPAC search box. Currently you can only search for a tag while in the Tag Browser, which is an intermediate page you get taken to when you click on a tag in our OPAC.

I’d like to be able search for more than one tag at once. Currently you can only search for one tag at a time–no Boolean searching in the Tag Browser.

Jezmynne Westcott: I’d like to include LCSH in the tag clouds!

6) In view of the recent LC report and the growing move toward open source software for catalogs, do you have any thoughts on how social cataloging might fit into the mix?

Jezmynne Westcott: I prefer something like “Catalog, 2.0″ over “social cataloging” as I think, with the exchange and sharing of MARC records across libraries for years now, we’ve already been “socially cataloging.” But getting back to your question, I think this will become more commonplace. 2.0 concepts like tagging, community reviews, and rating items involves the user and gives them a feeling of engagement and ownership with the content. Isn’t this what we want? Our users to feel engaged in our resources? Feel ownership of our community collections? I would love to see library catalogs with streams of discussions and comments about the materials, like you see with online forums. I would love to see the rating of books and tagging of items to pair natural language descriptors to the LCSH. As a web user, I’ve come to expect these things in the sites I use, and I feel our users should
expect them from us, as well. Additionally, with the movement towards defining “active” collections in a local setting and other collections in page-able repositories, the context the community provides will prove helpful for us and them in determining what is useful and valuable.

Thanks for indulging my curiosity! By the way, I love so many things about the way your catalog is laid out. It’s much more user friendly than the catalog at my own library, in spite of our efforts.

Candace Lebel: Thanks! It’s a work-in-progress so keep checking back.

Alexandra Chappell: Thanks for the compliment!

Jezmynne Westcott: I say, try some things out! Gather a few interested people at your place of employ, look at some options, and try on some wrappers like LTFL or others. There are some really cool things out there! Or, chuck it all and migrate! : )

Final comments: If you’re curious and want to keep up with all things LibraryThing, their blog can help (there are actually two, but you can use a combined blog feed to follow both). LT is always up to something. One of the newest innovations is LibraryThing Local, where you can see bookstores and libraries in a particular area and find out what events are on tap. Is your library there yet?

For Members Only – A Free ACRL Webcast Event

In survey after survey, ACRL members report that access to continuing professional development is the most highly valued benefit of belonging to this association. In response ACRL has moved aggresively into the e-learning environment, and now offers a regular series of programs that members can access from the desktop. About the only negative response ACRL members have had to these offerings is their cost, and ACRLog has previously contemplated the pros and cons of free webcasts.

It appears that ACRL has listened to their membership. Yesterday they announced their first free webcast event. They are calling it the ACRL Springboard Event and it will happen on Wednesday, April 2, from 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. CDT. The program features a discussion about the future of higher education with Henry Jenkins, the Co-Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities. Henry will also explore the skills and fluencies students will need for the 21st century and what the library can do to prepare for the future of higher education. I applaud ACRL for delivering a program to raise awareness about higher education rather than some of the same old talk about academic librarianship. Too many of us spend too little time to understand and contemplate this industry.

It’s free but there’s just one catch. You must be an ACRL member. I know some academic librarians will complain about this, but I won’t sympathize. ACRL members expect something of value in return for their membership dues. As ACRL said in the press release announcing the program, free webcasts like this one are part of the benefits of membership. That said, at some future point, after members have had exclusive access to the live event and the archive, perhaps 6-8 weeks after the event, I’d encourage ACRL to make the webcast a freely available resource to the academic community. I know some folks will say, “well, if everyone knows it will be free two months later, what incentive is there to join ACRL in order to get access to the programs?” This rationale sounds similar to the arguments that publishers have against the deposit of published journals in repositories. People who value the content will continue to pay to gain access. And the goodwill shown in making the webcast freely available may have the intangible benefit of encouraging more academic librarians to join in order to support more free programming (like your local public broadcasting stations).

Whatever the outcome, ACRL will continue to offer Springboard events if this first one receives a good response. So if you are a member show your interest by signing up for the program.

Why Our Colleagues Teach

As an academic librarian, it’s useful for me to be aware of what faculty in my liaison discipline are researching, publishing, and thinking about — that helps me provide them with better support, buy better resources (print & online) to support their work, and just generally be more collegial with them. I volunteered to monitor the faculty blogosphere for ACRLog because reading faculty blogs is another way to be collegial with my faculty, if not directly, at least indirectly because I can increase my awareness of their colleagues’ concerns and successes in the realm of teaching.

The “why I teach” meme went around the faculty blogosphere earlier this year, and both Barbara and I commented on it personally. But what do they think about teaching? Why do our colleagues teach, and do they even like it?

Dr. Crazy started this meme inadvertently, I think, with her Reassigned Time post Why Teach Literature in early January 2008. Her post begins with a bit of literature politics (always fun to observe from the outside) as she contemplated an MLA panel entitled “Why Teach Literature.” Most of the reasons panelists gave were “big picture,” but Dr. Crazy was concerned that “no one mentioned ‘pleasure’ in the discussion of why to teach literature.” Her post, then, talks about some of her personal reasons for teaching, such as “inspire curiosity,” wanting students to “… be more interested and more interesting” and “To give students a vocabulary for discussing things that are complex, which is ultimately about socializing them to talk, think, and feel in ways that allow them to be upwardly mobile.” Finally, and this goes to my reason for enjoying literature: “To offer students a break from the other demands on their lives.” There are 28 comments (to date) on this post, and those are interesting to read as well.

Free Exchange on Campus blogged about Dr. Crazy’s post and a meme was born.

New Kid on the Hallway teaches because she “…wanted to be a historian, to spend [her] life researching and writing about history, and teaching is one of the obligations attached to that career.” Of course, she has other reasons, too, like “to help students learn that there’s more than one way to view the world and that they themselves and their experiences are not the measure of all things.” And finally, she teaches and studies “… because I want to know what it was like to live in another time or place.”

Janet Stemwedel, philosopher of science and chemist, writes “I had a thing for teaching long before I had a clue what discipline I would end up pursuing.” On her Adventures in Science and Ethics blog, Stemwedel elaborates on why she teaches Philosophy of Science: “I have an opportunity to help people who think science is scary or boring understand something about how scientists build reliable knowledge” and “I also get to expose people to the idea that thinking like a scientist is fun.”

You can see a nice list of over 60!! posts on the theme over at Free Exchange on Campus. These posts are a fascinating look into why faculty choose or are chosen by their academic discipline, which often (but not always) relates to why they teach. Mostly, they “do” their discipline because they like it. Some say that teaching is a requirement for continuing to do research; often our blogging colleagues enjoy teaching because it enables them to share their passion with their students.