Monthly Archives: February 2010

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

The Mezzanine is Where?

I was really excited when the sign installers delivered a new directory totem for our library. It’s only about 46 years late. I am sure that most of your library buildings have some sort of quite obvious building directory near the entrance so that visitors can immediately get a sense of the layout to aid their wayfinding. For some reason our main library building never had a clear floor plan directory indicating all the major spaces. So better late than never. So I was really disappointed when the installers delivered the directory to our library and I observed that the mezzanine level was mounted at the very top of the totem – above the top third floor. It was that way in the draft design, and I clearly remember pointing out that it was in the wrong place. Well, anyone can make a mistake I figured, and the installers were really nice about it and they took the sign apart and re-ordered all the floors so the mezzanine was rightfully between the 1st and 2nd floors.

And then I thought, hey, wait a minute. While it’s not true that the mezzanine is always between floors one and two, a mezzanine is always located BETWEEN two main floors of any building (I checked a reliable source on such matters). So I’m picturing the guy/gal who is fabricating the directory and then putting the piece for the mezzanine at the top. Didn’t this person step back and ask “Hey, is there something wrong with this picture?”. It’s kind of sad when the professionals who make building directories don’t know where the mezzanine goes. Now what about our students who we constantly find on the mezzanine thinking they are on the second floor? We can only hope that if they become sign makers, they’ll have learned at least one useful thing in college.

World’s Tallest Library

I will usually take a look whenever the Chronicle has a story about a new library building (in the “Building & Grounds” section of the daily “Afternoon Update”). So this headline really caught my attention:

Ryerson U. Plans 21-Story Library in Downtown Toronto

What the…? A 21-story library building? Was that right? Have you ever seen, let alone heard of, a 21-story library building. I read the article twice but nothing about 21 stories. Further, the building, an addition to an existing structure, would be a 160,000 square foot facility. My current library is just slightly larger – at only 5 stories (one is the above mentioned mezzanine). Perhaps the building is on a very tiny piece of ground. The tallest library I’ve ever seen was 12 stories. Now when I read the story I noticed it mentioned how this would be a 21st-century library (Um, what century would it be? Maybe we should start going back to “state-of-the-art” library – or does “21st-century library” deliver a message we need to maintain?) Is it possible the writer meant “21st-century” and not “21-story”. I don’t know, but I did leave a comment asking about it. So far, no response. Maybe it’s right. Have you seen a 21-story library? BTW, a multi-room corporate library at the top of a skyscraper doesn’t count.

No Chip Off the Old Block

For my son’s birthday my spouse and I made the drive to Brooklyn for a visit and small celebration. Brooklyn is pretty great and we really like to walk through the different neighborhoods but given the cold weather that wasn’t possible. So we hung around his studio apartment (for which he pays a king’s ransom in rent). Now my son was never the neatest person but I always hoped my meticulous attention to book organization would rub off on him. As the photo below shows – apparently not.

This is how my son organizes his book collection - quite a system.
This is how my son organizes his book collection - quite a system.

So maybe the organization isn’t all that great, but at least he likes to read books – and he’s got good taste.

We’re Gonna Make It After All

Librarianship may be the only profession where we can have simultaneous conversations about how bright our future is and how we have no future at all. So if you were looking for a reliable sign that we may actually still be around just a few years from now, then look no further than a recent post by Female Science Professor. In this post the FSP asked her readers “What tradition or other general characteristic of academia would you like to see eliminated completely?” I scrutinized the lengthy list of comments in which anything and everything we hold dear to us in academia appears to be up for total extinction, and I was relieved to find that not a single one mentioned eliminating the academic library. What more do you need to know about our secure place in higher education. However, fencing teams and students should be worried.

Paper Or Poster Session At ACRL: Making The Choice

Given a choice between preparing and submitting a proposal for a contributed paper or a poster session at ACRL’s 2011(15th) national conference, which do you think most academic librarians would choose. I need less than 2 seconds to think about this one. It’s the paper.

When it comes to ACRL’s national conference my take is that most academic librarians will prefer to submit a proposal for a contributed paper. This post is inspired by two things. First, like me, you’ve probably been thinking about the 2011 conference and potential ideas to turn into proposals. That means considering whether the idea works best as a paper or panel, or perhaps a Cyber Zed Shed presentation – or even a poster. Second, I enjoyed reading Female Science Professor’s Chronicle essay about the pros and cons of paper presentations and posters for scientists. I’m hardly familiar with scientific conferences, but I gather from the essay that papers and posters are thought of quite differently from the ACRL conference. For the scientist it seems that paper and poster are on near equal footing. For academic librarians, the posters are akin to a runner-up prize. I’d like to see that change.

Having had papers, panels and one poster accepted at ACRL here are some thoughts on the relative merits and challenges of each, using FSP’s framework for the comparison.

Stress Level:This one goes to the contributed paper. If you are fortunate enough to get it accepted (and more will this year because each session will now have three – not two – paper presentations – but each gets less time), then you need to write up a paper on a deadline. Presenting a poster is fairly informal; little preparation for the actual poster session is needed. The same cannot be said for a formal paper presentation.

Work Level: Once you have the basic idea for the poster worked out, and you know what’s going on it, the poster presents a reasonable amount of work – and let’s face it – you can put as much or as little effort into it as you like. We’ve all seen some pretty ratty posters. Then again, I’ve seen some posters where the reaction is “Damn, how did they do that?”. It’s that good. I took the middle road, and used PosterSession.com to create my poster. That made it even less work – and they shipped the thing right to my hotel. You don’t even have to schlep a poster through the airport anymore. You can’t really fake the paper. Not only do you have to write it, but if you haven’t put the work into it you’ll look like an ass at the presentation. No librarian wants to look like an ass. This round goes to the paper.

DIfficulty Level: Putting together a good poster is not easy. Compared to a paper the constraints are much greater. With limited space, what do you choose to include and omit. That’s the hard part – and getting it to fit and look good. Sure, the paper presents some of the same challenges, but we all know few folks are ever going to read the paper. If you slack a bit on it no ones going to raise a fuss. But a lot is riding on the poster’s organization and appearance. If it’s lousy you can pretty much forget anyone coming over to talk to you. I’m going with the poster on this one.

Prestige Level: Hands down – the paper. Just consider the acceptance rate as a factor. Most of the posters are the rejected papers being recycled as poster presentations. But you can be different. Make the poster session your first choice.

Fun Level: Hands down – the poster. At ACRL 15th each paper presenter will get all of 12 minutes to present – and then 8 minutes for Q & A. All the hard work will be over in a flash, but you will be able to add a nice notch to your CV. With a poster you get the hold the floor for nearly an hour. Paper sessions can be pretty stodgy and formal. Over in the poster session area it’s a good time with lots of informal conversation. People are walking around doing their people watching. Yes, you can add the poster session to your CV, but it just won’t carry the same weight. I’m not saying that’s right. It’s just the way it is.

Let me just throw out an idea here. What if ACRL offered a version of early admissions for the conference. That is, you could submit a poster session proposal that would be given priority consideration, and by doing so you would agree not to submit the same proposal as a contributed paper. That would probably reduce the number of paper proposals and perhaps increase the quality of what is contributed because only those who felt they had a very strong shot would be likely to submit while those less certain of their chances would go for the more sure thing – the poster session. But does that then relegate the poster to lower status. Well, I think it already is lower status at our conference because the general deal is that many rejected papers become the posters. The only way we could boost the status of the poster session would be to reduce the number accepted. If there were only 50 slots for posters instead of 150, the acceptance rate would be far lower and it would be considered more on par with getting a paper accepted. Without data I can’t say for sure, but perhaps that is the case with science conferences.

So what will it be? A contributed paper or a poster session? Personally, I prefer the panel session. I think it offer a nice balance between the paper and the poster in terms of prestige, pressure, difficulty (not so much if you choose the right people) and fun. Whichever option you choose, good luck with your proposal.

ACRLog Welcomes Its Emerging Leaders

Editor’s Note: ACRLog is pleased to announce that a group of ALA Emerging Leaders was assigned to work with the ACRLog blog team (and ACRL Insider too), and use our little blog to share ideas that will enhance ALA conference attendance for both first-timers and veterans alike. Over the next few months we’ll feature occasional posts from members of the Emerging Leaders team – pictured below. This first guest post is a group effort. We look forward to reading what our Emerging Leaders have to share.

You have likely heard about the ALA Emerging Leaders Program, which began in 2007 as part of past ALA president Leslie Burger’s six initiatives to expand opportunities for involvement and leadership in ALA to newer librarians. What you might not know is that ACRL sponsors a team of Emerging Leaders to support the ACRL 101 program, which is designed to enhance the ALA Annual Conference experience for first-time attendees.

This year, our Emerging Leaders team comes from universities ranging from Alaska to Georgia. We are all enthusiastic about our work in academic libraries and our involvement with ACRL. Through our project with ACRL 101 we will share our conference experiences and help new conference attendees make the most of their first ALA Annual experience. We will offer insight into the structure of ACRL and help extend the network of support that ACRL 101 currently offers to new members.

The ACRLog-ALA Emerging Leaders Team
The ACRLog-ALA Emerging Leaders Team

From left to right, our team of ACRL 101 Emerging Leaders include: Amanda Dinscore, Public Services Librarian at California State University, Fresno; Wendy Girven, Public Services Librarian at University of Alaska Southeast; Kimberley Bugg, Assistant Head, Information & Research Services, Atlanta University Center; Hui-Fen Chang, Social Sciences Librarian, Oklahoma State University; Rachel Slough, MLS Candidate, Indiana University; and Miriam Rigby, Social Sciences Librarian at the University of Oregon. Not pictured, Mary Jane Petrowski, Associate Director of ACRL, serves as the ACRL Staff Liaison. Susanna Boyston, Head of Library Instruction and Collection Development at the Davidson College Library, is the project mentor.

After an initial meeting at ALA Midwinter in Boston, our group is now working with representatives from ACRL to plan and implement a series of ACRLog and ACRL Insider blog posts. These posts will focus on areas of interest to new librarians such as conference tips, ACRL resources, highlights of selected ACRL sections, and advice on how to get involved. We will also be hosting OnPoint chats for first time conference attendees, to provide insight into conference structure and guidance to help you make the most of your time at ALA Annual in Washington, DC. Finally, we will be planning several ACRL mini-sessions at ALA Annual which will build upon the content covered in the ACRL 101 program.
Keep an eye out for future blog posts from members of our active group on ACRLog and ACRL Insider in the coming weeks, and please support the ACRL 101 Emerging Leaders – whatever your career stage – by giving us your feedback and comments. Last but not least, come visit us at the ALA Pavilion at the Annual Conference in Washington D.C.

Must Scheduling be Sisyphean?

I was planning to post last week about something interesting I’d read in the library or higher ed news and literature, but I haven’t kept up with my reading as much as usual recently. The task that’s been occupying my time? Scheduling our English Comp library instruction sessions. It’s not the most glamorous or fun part of my job, but it’s one of the most important. Every semester the scheduling process seems to drag on and on, and I find myself thinking that there has to be a better way. But once the schedule is set my grumpiness fades away, conveniently forgotten until the beginning of the next semester. I always intend to spend time between semesters researching scheduling alternatives, but there’s usually a project that’s so much more interesting that it elbows scheduling out of the way.

We use Google Calendar to keep track of the library’s schedule (not just instruction, but reference, meetings, etc.), and I’m reasonably satisfied with it. It’s the process of scheduling classes and librarian instructors that I think could use some tweaking. In the past I’ve waited until a few days into the semester to get the final list of classes from the English Department (sometimes sections are added or canceled at the last minute, depending on enrollment). Then I’ve taken the class list and our calendar and slotted all of the sections into our library classroom schedule. And then I’ve tentatively assigned instruction librarians to the schedule, trying to make sure that no one is responsible for too many early morning, evening or weekend sessions. Once the instruction librarians have approved their schedules, each of us has contacted the English instructors for the library sessions we’re teaching. Occasionally there’s a bit of horsetrading when an English instructor requests a date change, but usually not too much.

This semester we tried something a bit different and asked the English faculty when in the semester they’d like their library session to be scheduled, emphasizing that we’d like their students to come to the session with a research topic in hand that they can use to practice searching for library and internet resources. I got a preliminary list of classes from the English department and contacted faculty a few days before classes began, but there were still a handful that I wasn’t able to get in touch with until the second week of classes. About two-thirds of the instructors responded with their preferred dates, and I was able to give most of them their first choice (I’d asked for 3 possibilities). I put the remainder of classes in our schedule as before and contacted those instructors to let them know. We also decided we’d try asking the instruction librarians to pick the classes they’d like to teach, so each of us chose our sections once the schedule was set.

I do think that scheduling went a bit smoother this semester, but it’s hard to know exactly why. We have significantly fewer sections of English Comp this spring than we had in the fall (64 rather than 126), which definitely impacts scheduling. But in some ways I feel like the amount of time spent scheduling hasn’t changed, it’s just been spread out more evenly: I’m fielding emails from faculty and putting sessions into the calendar in dribs and drabs over the course of the two weeks rather than in a couple of big, multi-hour scheduling binges. We’ll see if this method can hold up in the fall.

How does your library schedule instruction sessions? Are there any tips or tricks for streamlining the process that you can share?

Give Me A Chat Box

If you haven’t been taking advantage of webcasts/webinars (whichever you like to call them), you probably will be soon enough. When John Shank and I started doing webcasts at the Blended Librarians Community back in 2005 there weren’t many opportunity for academic librarians to take advantage of webcasts for professional development. Now there are so many being offered you’d hardly have time to attend most of them – and the good news is that many are free. Who’s offering webcasts? Well, you can start with ACRL – they’ve got a whole e-learning series of online seminars and chats. Then you have offerings from organizations such as WebJunction, the Alliance Library System, SirsiDynix, Library Journal (caution – some are thinly veiled product promotions) and of course, ALA – and don’t overlook webcasts from EDUCAUSE and other higher education organizations. I added a good webcast from EDUCAUSE about two weeks ago on mobile platforms for library services.

Sometimes I like to attend webcasts just to experience the different delivery platforms being used, and to take in any new presenter techniques for delivering a webcast. As a veteran of multiple platforms and many presenters, I tend to have high standards and can be a harsh critic when the webcast falls short of my expectations. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it has to take shortcuts. The tools for delivering a robust webcast experience are out there, and they support all types of possibilities for dynamic, interactive online programming. Yesterday I attended an ALA-sponsored webcast (ALA Techsource and LITA) on the ALA Midwinter Tech Trends program. The idea was to replay some of the original content with a mostly new set of speakers. The speakers were all quite knowledgeable about the topics, they had good content, they were professional and the technology worked flawlessly for me. But overall I thought the webcast fell short in one very important – well make that two – areas.

First, there was no chat box for the participants. All you could do was submit a question with no certainty of it being answered. For me a chat box for the attendees is a must these days. When librarians attend a webcast they want to comment on the fly, talk to each other, and in the case of questions they are often answered by the attendees before the speakers can respond – the sharing of knowledge is a critical component of a great webcast. So what happened yesterday? Since there was no chat box the presenters told the attendees to take their conversation over to Twitter using the hashmark #TTwebinar. This, to me, is a lame solution to the lack of a chat box. For one thing, you have to keep jumping between the webcast and Twitter (Ok, you could have multiple windows going). What about someone who doesn’t have a Twitter account? He or she is immediately a non-participant, and having a Twitter account shouldn’t be a requirement for participation. The conversation also suffers. Many of the tweets are just repeats of what the presenters just said (e.g., Griffey just said Blio is cool). Well we all just heard him say that, so why are you repeating it back to everyone. Well, of course we know why. Folks want to share the proceedings with their tweeps – and hopefully get a RT I guess. Does anyone blog a conference presentation anymore? So the webcast participants get lots of echoes and the tweeps get content with little context (why does Griffey think Blio is cool?).

Second, and this ties in to the lack of a chat box, there just wasn’t enough interactivity for the participants – which may be why many of them headed off to Twitter rather than staying with the presenters. Part of this is owing to the presenters themselves. Did they think about building opportunities for interaction with the attendees into their presentation slides? Did they get any advice on this or help from an experienced webcast designer? But the fault doesn’t lie entirely with the presenters. The platform, with no chat box, no polling tools, no VoiP, leaves them with little opportunity to engage the attendees. Even if they wanted to ask us a question or have us take a poll (e.g., How many attendees are working on a mobile platform for their libraries?) they couldn’t have done so because they had no way to get a response from the attendees. We were like a a silent majority – lots of ideas and opinions but no way to express them – except for a totally disorganized Twitter feed.

Forgive me for griping about a free program. Don’t get me wrong. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn from the presenters, and I respect that they’ve given their time to try to enlighten me with their expertise. I also appreciate that ALA is making this program available. I’m a strong supporter of webcasts as both a professional development opportunity for librarians – and a great opportunity for them as presenters (you don’t have to travel, it saves your organization a bundle, you get professional exposure and best of all – you share your ideas). But as webcast attendees, given the state of the technology, we should no longer have to suffice for stripped down, we-talk-and-you-listen webcasts. That’s not a good formula for success – for the presenters or the attendees. And if no one gripes about it, why should any of the organizations offering webcasts make an effort to improve them. If the choice of webcast platform, GoToWebinar in this case, can’t support an internal chat or other interactive features, please take a look into elluminate or adobe connect. While it was certainly not a fail, with a better platform and planning, this webcast – and many others – could be a shining example of everything that makes webcasts a great virtual learning experience.