Monthly Archives: April 2009

Facebook or Facadebook?

From time to time a discussion on a list such as ILI-L generates a post so intriguing that I think it deserves a wider audience. (Not that ILI-L doesn’t have a wide audience; it has over 4,700 members!) I was so struck by Camilla Baker’s comments on Facebook – especially how her mayor uses it, as a real person, not an office – that I asked her to write a guest post for ACRLog. Thanks to Camilla for taking me up on it! –Barbara Fister

Facebook or Facadebook? My Ediface Complex
by Camilla Baker
Reese Library/Augusta State University

For the past three years or so, there has been on and off discussion of social networks on ili-l@ala.org. The thrust of these discussions has usually had to do with how academic libraries can exploit Facebook/MySpace/Whatever to connect with college students. It used to be that corporate entities couldn’t have presence on Facebook. You had to be a person. But, some of those restrictions now have workarounds of various types. A common thread with most of these discussions, including the one last week (4/20-4/24), was whether it is appropriate for ’authority figures’ to be on these social networks, and whether students welcome our presence in their playground.

I’d like to talk about the ‘authority figures not welcome’ part of the last Facebook thread. It’s not all authority figures, it’s just the ones that individual students don’t know. The friending issue is pretty literal. Students will want to friend people that — hold on to your hats — they’re already friends with. If the university library can’t get students in the door under their own steam, they’re not going to get them on Facebook, either.

Now, having said that, I have a couple of anecdotes to share.

1) I’ve been a librarian for 30 years, so I’m not a native member of the e-generation; to them, I’m old. All my e-knowledge has been learned as an adult. I have two sons, 18 and 20. Back in ’06 when they were both in high school, they were the ones who encouraged me to join Facebook, and they were my first friends. For the first several years, my Fb friend base was composed largely of my birth children, my virtual children, and their friends. And, yes, I know you aren’t supposed to be friends with your children, but in this particular environment, it mostly works. Just like cell phone use, which I resisted for years, it’s another amazingly easy way to stay in touch with them. Now, parents are authority figures, right? But it’s a different kind of authority. Our Facebook relationships are completely personal. They all know I work at a university where a number of them are enrolled, but I’m Mom or Mama Baker, not the Library Instruction Coordinator that some of them see in the classroom. It’s only been within the last year or so that adults of my acquaintance have starting joining up. Some are the parents of the young adults that I’ve had in my friends list for the past three years, and some of them are my colleagues. This segues into the next anecdote.

2) I’m a friend — on Facebook — of the mayor of Augusta, Ga. In governance-speak, that’s an authority figure, too. But this particular mayor is forward-thinking, and several months ago started a campaign to recruit as many people as he could to his friends list, sort of like 1,000,000 Strong for Stephen Colbert, but small, local, and not so snarky. He’s not up for re-election this year, either. I don’t think he’d know me if he passed me on the street, but he posts links to articles in local and national media about the city, websites of local businesses and non-profits, data about the economy, etc. Not a day goes by that I don’t get an update, usually more than one. And, when I got a copy of a report about the positive impact of the university system on the economy of the state, with some local economic data for color, I shared it with him, and he posted that, too. Here’s the thing: I’m not ‘friends’ with the Office of the Mayor, which is how I’d have to deal with him in a strictly analog world. I’m friends with the guy who holds the office. He’s not trying to be a corporate entity, he’s trying to connect with his constituents in a different way, as individuals. The argument could certainly be made that he’s only connecting with those who share his views already, but that could be said of just about any politician.

My point is, if you want Facebook to ‘work’ for you, at some point you have to give in and be a person first. I really do think that’s what’s it’s intended for, and how it’s best exploited. If you have students you are truly friendly with, let them know you’re a Facebooker, and see what happens. Hey, it beats getting friend requests from “mature single writer,” whose only interest in a library is as a market for his unsold work – don’t laugh, I’ve seen library friend lists on MySpace populated with just such as these. It’s difficult to imagine institutions having social lives, and in a social network environment, the social life is king. I realize that many public, and a few academic, libraries have Friends with a capital F, but those serve a different purpose than to notice that you changed your profile picture or relationship status, or that you posted the latest pictures of your baby/puppy/car to share with your friends, or that you think you did well on your final exam (I always respond to those). That’s not a role that libraries can share. Librarians can, but you have to be a friend first.

Action-Reflection Action-Reflection

The ACRL final keynote speech was my first opportunity to hear from Ira Glass, the host of the public radio program This American Life. Glass used his presentation to give us a feel for how he puts together both his radio show and the stories he features there. There were many fans in the audience, and it was a really great talk – and great way to bring the conference to a close.

The one aspect of the talk – I wouldn’t exactly call it a presentation – that most resonated with me was Glass’s discussion of telling stories. I’ve heard a number of good storytellers, and it’s fascinating when someone does it well. There’s not much storytelling at library conferences. I’d look forward to more of it because I imagine the presenters have interesting stories to share. Perhaps the reason it happens so rarely is evidenced in the comment of an audience member. She said that even though she can write just about any type document she couldn’t tell a story to save her life. Few librarians have opportunities to tell stories, and if you feel little confidence in your ability to tell a story it will fail. Glass used the book “One Thousand and One Nights” to provide an example of two things: how to tell a story and what a great story should accomplish.

Glass’ advice was to stick to a simple formula. Give an action. Then give a reflection. An action. Then a reflection. In other words, tell some story and then interject some meaning. But the action has to get the audience’s attention and keep them wondering what’s going to happen next. That’s the hook according to Glass. It’s not unlike a good joke. First you have some bait to get the listener hooked. Then there’s a series of facts that leads to a crescendo – the punchline. Other tips from Glass include using suspense to keep the listener wondering what happens next; aim for a point that relates to a universal human experience; avoid starting with a “here’s what I’m going to do” message because it eliminates the ability to build suspense. Probably the best instructor I ever had was a master at telling a story or sharing an anecdote from his many years of experience in higher education, but he’d quickly relate it to a theoretical point he wanted us to learn. Then he’d move from theory to another story. Waiting for the next story made it easy to get through those late night classes.

Few if any of us are naturally gifted story tellers. Becoming a better story teller, just like presenting well at any level, requires authentic practice. I’m trying to incorporate more storytelling in to my presentations – I wrote that in my post - just tell the story. Don’t worry so much about whether there are 10 or 11 words on a slide or if it has the right colors or images – well – if you’re going to use images they better fit what you are saying. Better yet, use images that help tell the story. We talk about how librarians can be better presenters. Perhaps focusing more on the story, and letting your images provide the backdrop is one way to do that.

Of course, it’s all going to depend on having good stories. Sometimes storytellers will depend on old folks tales. Sometimes it’s just something that happened to you. Good stories are all around us, but you have to keep your eyes and ears open for them. Perhaps something interesting happened at your reference desk or during an instruction session. For a presentation I’m preparing on the topic of entrepreneurship I found a nice little story to illustrate the importance of exploring new ideas that fall outside the boundaries of your official job duties. I came across it in a magazine that has nothing to do with librarianship. It can help to get outside our literature in search of potential stories. The catch is to find stories that lead into reflections that relate to the presentation topic – and that drive home the points without the “bullet points”.

Glass finished by reminding us that the Internet is full of stories – thousands of them. We are inundated with them. Some really inspire us. Others have a falseness to them. He said we know when we hear an authentic story because we can really empathize with it and it’s much more profound. A good story helps you sort out what’s real and what isn’t, and it makes you feel a bit saner. That’s why Glass likes to create stories for the radio – because it’s all about sharing a voice.

So I’m going to end this by pointing to a few videos – here, here and here – in which I share some stories. It’s an effort to get authentic practice. Keep in mind that I’m still learning how to do this, and working at improving my craft. I’m sure you can find other examples on the Internet of people – maybe even some librarians – telling stories. If you find a good one, share it with us.

Thinking Differently, Thinking the Same

Two interesting takes on the future of scholarly communications this morning:

In the New York Times, Columbia University’s Mark C. Taylor urges us to “end the university as we know it.” His suggestions include completely re-thinking our approach to the curriculum, the organization of the university into academic departments, and the place of tenure (spoiler alert: he is not a fan). Librarians may be especially interested in his comments on the doctoral dissertation, the traditional first step on a future faculty member’s road toward involvement in the scholarly communication cycle:

“Transform the traditional dissertation. In the arts and humanities, where looming cutbacks will be most devastating, there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text. As financial pressures on university presses continue to mount, publication of dissertations, and with it scholarly certification, is almost impossible. (The average university press print run of a dissertation that has been converted into a book is less than 500, and sales are usually considerably lower.) For many years, I have taught undergraduate courses in which students do not write traditional papers but develop analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games. Graduate students should likewise be encouraged to produce ‘theses’ in alternative formats.”

In one paragraph, Taylor enters into ongoing discussions of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs), the future of the university press, and the place of gaming and game collections in academic libraries! He is thinking outside the box!

Back inside the box (and with good reason) is “Laurie the Librarian,” who has come to conclusion that it is in her best interests as a young professional to “publish in the more established LIS journals out there.” Why? Because, unlike Taylor, who is already established as Chair of the Columbia University Religion Department, Laurie is still coming up:

“If we assume that the majority of the people on application review committees are long-standing faculty members, it could also be assumed that they are older members of the faculty and may prefer older journals that fit the traditional model of scholarly publishing. In other words, I’m not doing myself much good right now to publish in a web-only, new journal. I need to be more strategic in publishing, particularly because the peer review process is so lengthy and I need to start applying to programs in 6 months. I need to identify a set of criteria to determine those journals with the highest impact of what I assume an application review committee is looking for and work from that.”

Assuming she is correct (and perhaps she is not), Laurie tells us in one paragraph what’s wrong with academic library leadership of scholarly communications discussions. ACRL took a big step forward in 2005 when it provided open access to the archives of College & Research Libraries (which now also provides access to pre-prints), but Laurie suggests that we, as a field, are among those still tightly bound to traditional markers of scholarly communication. How many of us whose libraries provide tenure-track positions for librarians have taken the stand that Oregon State did in terms of open access? How many provide guidelines for tenure and promotion that reward non-traditional forms of publication (or other forms of scholarship beyond those reported in journals)? As my ACRLog colleague Barbara Fister asked just last month, “why can’t we walk the walk?”

We know that it will take academic leadership from people like Taylor and from scholarly associations to provide the structures that will allow future faculty to take full advantage of the positive changes now possible in the scholarly communication process. The same might be said of academic librarians; what more can ACRL do to provide support for our colleagues making decisions about appointment, promotion, and tenure for academic librarians wishing to make different choices about how and where they publish? “Right now,” Laurie writes, “I have to work within the system.”

It’s our system, and it’s high time we change it.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

If Ranganathan Was Around Today There Would Be No Five Laws

I imagine if Ranganathan was writing right now he’d probably be scared shitless to publish his Five Laws, worried that some anonymous blogger might ridicule it into oblivion or that other bloggers might just rip it to shreds to get their tribe riled up. Of course, it never helps if everyone is too polite and offers a cheerful echo chamber. Despite the occasional negativity there are signs the profession is making progress on improving its discourse, where we focus on the ideas and not the personalities. What do I mean? Consider back when Stanley Wilder wrote his controversial Chronicle essay on information literacy. A thoughtful and intelligent response was written by Esther Grassian. She wasn’t out to humilate Wilder or draw attention to herself. She just addressed the points, and helped everyone to better understand the issues. That’s the type of discourse I like to see. I recall when John Shank and I came out with our Blended Librarians concept. Was the idea criticized? Sure. Did some people find it unrealistic? Absolutely. Did the challenges to it help make it stronger? Definitely. Did it find an audience? In time, yes. That’s the point. We have give these new ideas time to mature. If they get attacked and ridiculed from day one they’ve got no chance.

Here’s my advice to the bright young folks in this profession. If you’ve got an idea that you think is worth sharing then write about it. If you want to call it your statement, manifesto, grand plan or whatever, go ahead and do it. Don’t be afraid that a blogger is going to take you down. Take some advice from Seth Godin on the matter of critics. Don’t pay too much attention to the librarians that love or hate you or what you have to say. Focus on the critics who are seriously questioning your ideas.

Raganathan? Yeah, he would need pretty thick skin to make it today.

It’s A Twitter World After All

I barely have enough time to update my Facebook status on a regular basis, and even then I’m wondering if anyone really cares that I just registered for a conference or that I saw a double rainbow (I shared the photo for evidence). For now I’m sticking with Friendfeed. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see potential in Twitter. We’re considering how we might use it at our library as a vehicle to better communicate with our user community, and keeping an eye on how this is going at other academic libraries. Some academic librarians tell us students aren’t using Twitter while others tell us they do – or that it depends on your community.

And I’m still not sure what to make of twittering at conferences. It looks like fun for the participants, and I can see how it might enhance the conference experience for them. They can find out what their friends are doing and where to meet people, it’s a fast way to let the other people using twitter know what’s happening right now somewhere at the conference, and they can instantly share thoughts about or comment on a presentation. It’s that last part that has me on the fence. I had my first experience with this at ACRL where attendees twittered during both of the panels in which I participated. It was interesting to read some of the tweets, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the twitter crowd was really paying attention or were more engaged in their own tweets and those of others to really pay attention to the presenters. This has triggered a whole discussion about how to present when people are twittering. I can see how it could be a bit unnerving to present when you are wondering what sort of conversation is taking place. Should you be working harder to please the twitter crowd? Personally, it’s fine with me, but do you really have a choice.

As far as experiencing the conference through the eyes and minds of others, I got much more from the ACRL conference bloggers. I appreciated the depth of their reporting, and their extended reflections. There’s a real difference between a spontaneous thought and a reflection that comes after the fact. Both have their place. I tried following some of the twittering at the CIL 2009 conference, but just too many useless tweets to make it of any real value . I suppose you have to be there. Maybe there’s not really much point in getting worked up about twittering during conference presentations because next year they’ll all be fluttering anyway.

This Just Seems So Unfair

If a donor has $25 million to give away just where exactly is it going to do the most good? By adding more millions to a multi-billion dollar endowment or by dividing it among many deserving institutions that are struggling to offer scholarships or improve their campuses? I raise that question when I read news stories like this one about Harvard, Yale, and UCLA getting $5 million each from the Arcadia Foundation. Great for those folks, but if the Arcadia Foundation really wanted to help some academic libraries to improve their collections or provide the ability to digitize some valuable rare material, I can think of a few thousand other academic libraries that could really benefit from one of 150 $100,000 donations. So why wouldn’t the folks at Arcadia give that possibility some thought? Yes, I understand the logic. The foundations want to give their hard-earned cash to the institutions with a winning track record. If the money goes to a small institution, once it’s gone it’s gone. And it’s hard to argue that those libraries don’t have some amazing collections in need of preservation and digitization – which creates benefits for the common good. Just the same, it would be really refreshing to read a news report of a major foundation giving out lots of grants to the academic libraries at many well-deserving, but less well endowed colleges and universities.

This Annoys Me

I’m hardly an annoyed librarian but I have to say I’m annoyed by librarian bloggers who submit their own stuff as stories over at LISNews. If I want to know what you have to say about something I’ll follow your blog on my own or I’ll wait until someone else thinks you wrote something of value and decides to share it with the LISNews community. Then I might take a look at your post. Otherwise, please keep it to yourself. And thanks to all the librarian bloggers who have enough sense not to do this.

Assessment is the New Black

I’m teaching a course this semester for the Graduate School of Library & Information Science at Illinois called, “Libraries, Information, and Society.” Like similar courses, it presents an introduction to a number of core concepts for future information professionals, as well as an introduction to professional skills, values, and employment environments. This week, we heard an excellent presentation from my colleague, Tina Chrzastowski, author of “Assessment 101 for Librarians,” an essay that appeared Science & Technology Libraries in 2008. The point of the presentation, and the message that I hope my students took from it, is that the ability to design an assessment program and to use its results in planning and decision making is a critical skill set for any information professional. Assessment is the new black – it goes with whatever job you have, and it is relevant to every library environment.

Assessment may also the new instruction, though – a critical skill set for academic librarians that is not clearly and appropriately addressed in LIS programs. It is no coincidence that instruction librarians have been among the early leaders in assessment activities (I’m looking at you, Deb Gilchrist!): this reflects their connection to broader campus efforts to identify student learning outcomes, but also their experience in having to learn critical skills on the job that were not a focus for their professional education. The list of studies showing that teaching skills are required for a wide variety of academic library positions is almost as long as the list of studies showing that few LIS programs have ever made this a focus for their coursework or their faculty hiring (a shout-out to those who break that mold, including the University of Washington and Syracuse University). I imagine that a similar list of studies will find their way into the literature regarding the importance of assessment and evidence-based library and information practice for librarians of all types, and the need for greater attention to those skills across the LIS curriculum. As we remain concerned about attention paid to instruction in LIS programs some 30 years after those first studies started to come out, though, it may take a while to see real change. Of course, it may be that assessment is really the new knowledge management, in which case the courses will be available much more quickly!

As Chrzastowski’s article points out, there are many resources available to librarians interested in continuing professional education in assessment. The Association of Research Libraries has held two successful conferences on this topic, and there is an international movement in support of evidence-based practice that supports a journal and conference programs. As with instruction, there are “lighthouse” LIS programs, too; in this case the University of North Carolina, which offers a course on “Evidence Based Practices in the Library and Information Sciences”.

What can ACRL do? If assessment is the new instruction, should we see more attention to looking at assessment across the association, and to fostering the development of a corps of academic librarians (beyond assessment coordinators) who see this as a critical area of personal expertise? Since assessment skills are critical not only to public services and collections librarians, but also to technical services and information technology specialists, is this an area of functional specialty that could broaden our appeal across the academic library enterprise, or be an initiative on which we can fruitfully collaborate across ALA divisions?

I don’t have the answers, but I know you all look good in black!