Monthly Archives: October 2008

Who’s Counting Posts Anyway

Over the last few months at MPOW we searched far and wide for just the right book for an event to commemorate the addition of the 3 millionth book to our collection. You know how these things work. It isn’t really the 3 millionth book. It’s a ceremonial representation of the 3 millionth book. You’d hardly want to build a campus event around your actual 3 millionth book, especially if it was something from the “For Dummies” series or a graphic novel. So we obtained a rather distinguished rare book upon which to develop a nice campaign to publicize our great collection and all the hard work that goes into building a common intellectual resource for an academic community. I suspect that many academic librarians take a “who’s counting” attitude, and just focus on the work at hand without much routine thought about the size of the collection.

That’s how I’d describe my position on blog posts. Who’s counting? And until a few months ago I had no idea how many posts I’d written for ACRLog. But then one of our staff technical experts (ACRL spares no expense in supplying behind-the-scenes IT wizards to keep this blog operating at peak efficiency -right Kevin) said “Hey, we can add a side bar that gives the post count for each blogger.” I seem to recall it was there before I had a chance to chime in, but it certainly does offer a good way to quickly get to all the posts any one ACRLog blogger has written. If you should happen to have, oh, 20 or 30 hours where you have absolutely nothing to do and you want to read every post I’ve contributed to ACRLog, well, all I can say is here’s to better living through technology. But now that a running count of my posts was available I did take notice that I was closing in on number 400. Not that there’s anything particularly special about 400 posts. Now 500 posts might be special – some sort of landmark event – but like most bloggers if I get an idea for a post – well, why wait.

None of this is to suggest that quantity makes for a quality blog experience. I’d like to think that most of the posts have offered good quality – good ideas delivered with good writing – but a blogger will probably miss the mark more often than he or she hits it. I just try to keep writing, trying new or different things, and hoping they’ll work. So I thought this seemed like a reasonable time to take a look back at some old favorites – posts that I think did work. You may not agree:

Are You Where You Want To Be – some thoughts about career tracks; a rare post with a personal side to it

The Information Literacy Facade – maybe what we call it does make a difference

Debating the Future of the Reference Desk – this issue is still being discussed

Sense and Simplicity – the tension in our profession between simplicity and complexity – the “simplicity-complexity conundrum” is a topic I’ve returned to throughout the years

What It Really Means To Be A Faculty Member - what would a blog about academic librarianship be without posts about faculty status, tenure and academic freedom

What makes a post work? One good indicator would be comments – did readers care enough to share their thoughts with the blogger and other readers? We don’t get many comments at ACRLog, but those we do get are typically thoughtful and add to the conversation. Beyond that I’d like to think a post I write gets the reader thinking about things in a different way, perhaps seeing something that he or she didn’t see before. Most of all, I hope it’s something worth remembering. Of course no one is going to remember most of them – I sure don’t. But I know readers do because every now and then I’ll meet a librarian who will mention a post and tell me why it struck a chord with him or her – and chances are I’ll be asking myself if I actually wrote that post (or maybe it was Barbara and they think it was me – or it was some other blog all together). Of course it can help a blogger to say something challenging or controversial, but there’s no point in doing it just for the sake of playing the role of rebel or heretic.

Looking back, most of the posts seem to run together like a blur. Still I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to blog for ACRLog and share them all with you readers. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. I look forward to writing a few hundred more.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Clearinghouse Makes It Easy To Track All The Rankings

When I last wrote about rankings I mentioned the growing number of different higher education rankings, everything from the top green campus institutions to the best party schools. I actually had no idea how many different rankings there were, but now I can find out much more easily. The Institute for Higher Education Policy has created a new clearinghouse on higher education rankings. Not only does it include rankings for US higher education, but it is international as well. My scan of the US rankings suggests that the focus is on academic quality, rather than a truly comprehensive listing of every ranking list on all dimensions of the higher education experience (e.g., the party school ranking isn’t anywhere to be found here). So this is a good start but I’d urge the IHEP folks to broden their definition of higher education rankings to make this list a true one-stop shopping location for all things “ranked”.

Library Budget Blues

In my routine foraging for higher education news items for Kept-Up Academic Librarian it seems the number of articles about the impact of the global financial meltdown on higher education has skyrocketed. The pain is being felt across the board. Whether it’s endowments evaporating, donations drying up, inability to provide financial aid, building projects hitting the skids or students dropping out the news is all bad. I imagine we are all getting the bad news on our own campuses (Pennsylvania IHEs that receive state funds are losing 4.5% of their funding) and hearing it from our colleagues. Mark Herring, Dean of Library Services at Winthrop University shared the bad news that PASCAL, Partnerships Among South Carolina Academic Libraries is in dire jeopardy. It’s budget was cut 90% this year and the prospects of reinstating it are grim at best. I’ve heard from at least two colleagues that they expect there will be layoffs at their academic libraries. I used to be at a private institution. While the tuition-driven budget was lean the lack of state funding meant state budget cuts didn’t affect us. But with so many students likely to face difficulty getting tuition loans, even the tuition-driven institutions could be badly affected in this economic crisis. It’s likely to get worse, but those of us who have been around for a while know that these downturns are cyclical. Things will improve eventually. For now, we are all likely to feel some pain.

Open The Library Up Now!

Ever worry that students will be up in arms over your decision to shut the library early the day before a holiday or when you close the doors when the rest of the campus has the day off? Well at Whitman College the Library closed early, at 10 pm, the night before Fall Break. Two students who weren’t happy about that took direct action and went right to the President’s house. They knocked on his door at 10:45 pm to complain. Guess what happened? The library re-opened at 11:15 pm. What did the president have to say? “Amid the challenges of higher education these days, it gives me great pleasure to know that our students have their priorities straight.” Nobody asked the librarians at Whitman College what they thought of it. (Reported at Inside Higher Education on Oct. 13, 2008).

They Finally Took My Advice

By now you have probably read somewhere that the American Library Association has made several of its publications more freely available. Both the current issue and archives of American Libraries and the weekly newsletter AL Direct have been set free of their shackles. No longer must a librarian (or anyone for that matter) be an ALA member in order to view full text in these two publications. I bring this up primarily because of a post I wrote on January 11, 2006 titled “ALA – Set This Newsletter Free“. It took ALA a while but I’m glad they finally took my suggestion. I guess if I’m going to criticize ALA when I think they need to change, I should also applaud their efforts when they do.

Life, the Universe, and Everything

 I am looking forward to the coming months in many ways:  I finally have an Academic Library Job, I get to do a little bit of everything, and I am honored to be able to blog about my experiences here on the ACRLog.  On the flip side, I am also filled with deep concern and trepidation about the coming months: I am a one-person-library at a new branch campus of a regional community college, the library director AND his assistant have both just left for other positions, and I don’t want my posts to make ACRLog readers groan and ask, “who gave this nutcase a login here?”

Hopefully I’ll be able to bring a little bit of all these things to the table, and perhaps add a perspective that’s a bit unusual in the world of academic librarianship.  My greatest concern these days is not that I don’t currently have a boss down at the main campus – or even an administrative assistant who knows probably more than the boss did.  It’s not that I’m working in the brand new building of the brand new campus, struggling with the typical “start-up” issues that any new school facility might face.  No, my biggest worry is the fact that I’m *it* – I’m the lone librarian covering all the hours, handling all the responsibilities, answering all the questions, making all the collection development decisions… everything except the actual cataloging, which is handled elsewhere.  (But that’s a whole other post by this wanna-be cataloger!) 

I wonder how many one-person-libraries are out there these days?  I suppose I really can’t claim to be running the show solo – I do have colleagues at the other branches, and my books arrive already catalogued.  So I don’t actually do everything, just ALMOST everything.  But it’s still a struggle, even two months into the first semester.  I have to close the library to teach an instruction session.  I spend equal amounts of time showing students how to print from Word 2007 and teaching them how to do an effective database search.   I live in fear of the student who might come in with a complicated research problem, requiring all my time and concentration, only to be interrupted over and over to check out books, take money for printing, and to point the way to the copier.

So I hope that my posts will give encouragement to those in similar places, amusement to those who will laugh with me, and relief to those who are in better-staffed situations.  For me personally, I hope that these brief forays into my off-center mind will remind me continually that I really do love my job!  My current situation is overwhelming for someone fresh out of library school, but I will count enthusiasm (though not youth) in my favor, which makes it easy to get things done which really should be quite implausible.

Must Teaching and Learning Research Skills be Boring?

Olivia Nellums blogs about her first year experience as a Reference and Instruction Librarian at Camden County College in New Jersey.

Even though I’m a young librarian, I can’t remember not knowing how to use the library. I learned gradually, through a process of trial and error, and then by going to library school.

This leaves me in a curious spot as an instruction librarian: A class comes to the library to learn how to do research for a particular assignment, and basically I communicate what I’ve learned so far about how to effectively use a library. Then, unless they find me later at the reference desk, I don’t see them again. Broadly speaking, library instruction seems to be regarded as skills-based: The librarian demonstrates the skills, and the students are supposed to absorb them in that traditional way that equates their brains with sponges. The library is relevant to them only in the context of their course, and I can tell they’d like me to hurry up and get it over with so they can get back to the competing concerns of their class.

So, as many instruction librarians before me, I’ve turned to learning theories for guidance. Here’s what I’m gathering:
-I should leave students wanting to strike out independently to learn more about information and information-gathering, but without omitting essential points in my lecture.
-I should encourage students to be curious about how to solve an information problem. Also I should nurture them into reconsidering what they think they know about information.
-I should assist with the above in a patient, encouraging, and overall enthusiastic manner.

Now, before I started this job my biggest worries were that I talk too fast and might be mistaken for a student rather than a librarian. On the bright side, I’m glad to see I can set aside those trivialities. I’m also glad that the ideas above are really part of information literacy, which seems to be getting an increasing amount of attention from the academy at large.

As for other past concerns – mainly that I’m in charge of helping students learn every little thing about the library, and that it’s a personal failure if they don’t get it – maybe what I ought to be supporting is a framework of information and the basics of how to find it. So, here’s my summary of that earlier list (borrowing slightly from Ken Bain‘s What the Best College Teachers Do):
-I should promote a natural critical learning environment where students can confront beautiful and intriguing information problems, yet not make it so theoretical that they throw rotten tomatoes at me.

I’m on it.

Another Story About Ignorant Students

One thing that anonymous academic librarian bloggers are good for is sharing stories about their “ignorant” students. It would be hard to imagine any academic blogger who goes by his or her real name relating anecdotes about encounters with such students or even referring to them as ignorant or stupid. For one thing, the incident could be identifiable and possibly tracked back to the individual involved – which could all be quite embarrassing to the individual and library – not unlike the recent case of the public librarian who wrote a book with thinly veiled stories about her library’s awful patrons (BTW she was fired). I just happened to come across a blog called “The Singing Librarian” which had a post titled “Librarians vs. Student Ignorance”.

Long story short, some students came to the reference desk (this happened to a colleague of SL) and said they couldn’t find any books on nursing in the library catalog. Turns out, upon librarian investigation, the students were spelling it “nersing”. Singing Librarian finds this and other incidents of student ignorance quite shocking. While he doesn’t use the term stupid or ignorant to describe the students, I detect a slight degree of contempt for these students who lack basic knowledge we should expect of an undergraduate – especially a student in a nursing course who can’t spell nursing. I may be wrong. Singing Librarian may be genuinely worried and rightfully points out that our jobs now extend into the teaching of basic knowledge that was somehow never taught in the primary grades. When I read this it reminded me of an email I received that was critical of my use of “dumber students” in the title a recent Blended Librarians webcast. I apparently offended another academic librarian for disrespecting our students. I responded that the title wasn’t a reflection of my thinking but rather of the conversation about this topic in academia as evidenced by a half-dozen books on the topic.

Like Singing Librarian many of us academic librarians are deeply concerned about the students we encounter who exhibit a real lack of basic knowledge, poor spelling or just the simple yet complete inability to articulate what they need (were we so much smarter at 18?). Whatever we do about or think of this situation we must all remember to treat our students with respect and courtesy. We must never blame them for what they don’t know. We must never refer to them as dumb, lazy, stupid or ignorant – at our conferences, when talking to our friends and families, in conversations with our colleagues or in our blogs – even the anonymous ones. All we can do is to try our best to help them achieve academic success. To do anything less, it seems to me, is a sign that it is time to find a new career.

Of course, I don’t doubt a few of you – as I did when I read this post – asked why our OPACs don’t have spellchecking (some actually do). These students would have never had the same problem with a Google search. Then again maybe failed OPAC searches present us with a reliable way to force students to come to the reference desk for help.