Monthly Archives: August 2010

Taxonomy of Collaboration

Back to school means back to library instruction, and while gearing up for the busy fall season I’ve found myself mulling over a few instruction issues. Outreach to faculty is something I think about often, especially outreach to those who either don’t know about or don’t seem interested in library instruction. Most of these faculty we just don’t see in the library because they don’t bring their classes in. But many of our institutions have one or more courses that require library instruction, often the freshman seminar or introductory Composition course. While some faculty are eager to collaborate with librarians on research and library instruction for their classes, others, unfortunately, are not.

I’ve encountered a wide range of faculty attitudes towards the required library session:

Enthusiastic Partners: These faculty members sincerely appreciate research and library instruction, and definitely seem to enjoy collaborating with librarians. They discuss their assignments and student learning goals with us before the session, and actively work with us during the session. These sessions usually seem most successful — the importance of library research clearly resonates with students more when their professors reinforce what librarians teach.

Quiet but Satisfied: Faculty members in this category do find value in library instruction (at least I think they do). However, they often don’t discuss their course with librarians before the research session, and generally don’t participate in the session itself. Some of these faculty might think that they aren’t as familiar with the research resources as librarians are, and feel hesitant to add their voices to the session. Others are probably satisfied with the content and activities of the library session and see no need to discuss any changes.

Possibly Unconvinced: What about the faculty who sit at the back of the room during the library session, checking their email, grading papers, or searching the databases for their own research? They might be like the Quiet but Satisfied folks and feel that the library session already meets their course goals well. But maybe they don’t — maybe these faculty see library instruction as dull and uninspiring, a chore to be gotten through so they can move on to the more important work of their courses.

Missing Out: Then there’s the (thankfully, very small) group of faculty who simply skip out on library instruction altogether. Sometimes these faculty are receptive to rescheduling the session they’ve missed, though not always. Clearly they don’t think that research instruction is at all useful for their students.

Luckily most faculty who teach the course with required library instruction at my college fall into these first two categories, and my colleagues and I enjoy collaborating with them. But finding ways to reach the faculty who are Possibly Unconvinced or Missing Out is a continuous challenge. They may not respond to email or spend much time on campus. Some are adjuncts, with office arrangements that aren’t ideal. On our end, it can be difficult to find the time to contact each faculty member individually (and multiple times) in a course with many sections. And it’s easy to become discouraged when our overtures go unacknowledged.

How can we convince these faculty that required library instruction has value for their students, and that collaborating with librarians is worth their time? Or should we focus on the positives — the faculty who are enthusiastic and satisfied — while we continue to try to replicate successful strategies across the board, regardless of faculty attitude?

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Even Lightning Gets More Time

I like lightning talks. I have given four of them now. It’s a challenge to come up with a sensible presentation that still manages a good learning experience while hopefully entertaining the crowd. All have been in the 5 minute range. That’s precious little time to say anything of much substance – but I talk fast. To my way of thinking 5 minutes is the right amount of time for a sensible lightning talk. And it’s still challenging enough that many who try cannot complete in 5 minutes. Well I just saw a program announcement where they are offering the stupendously generous time of 3 minutes for a lightning talk. My reaction to that is “why bother?”. Is there really much of anything you can say or do of value in so short a time – and would you really want to be in the audience at this thing? Are we now having a competition to see who can come up with the shortest lightning talk program? What’s next? A 30-second lightning talk? Perhaps a lightning talk where you only get 140 characters. This is getting ridiculous.

Those Other L-School Grads Aren’t Getting Jobs and They Are Mad As Hell and Not Taking It

Have you been following what’s going on with those disgruntled law school graduates who are incredibly pissed off because no law firms are offering them high-paying jobs as soon as they are handed their diplomas? They made the choice to become lawyers, and they made the choice to go into deep debt ($100K or more is not uncommon). Now they are blaming their law schools and their career offices for misleading them about their job prospects. From a USA Today article:

A small but growing coalition of graduates, on blogs with names like “Scammed Hard” and “Shilling Me Softly,” blame their alma maters for luring them into expensive programs by overstating their employment prospects.

Then of course there is the law school graduate who calls herself Unemployed JD who is making an even bigger fuss by going on a hunger strike until law schools agree to divulge career data. That generated its own little controversy when it turned out the law school graduate behind the whole thing really did have a job. I’m not going to rehash all the details here – you can read the story if you care.

I’m not sure what to make of all this. I can understand the students getting upset if the law school recruiters and admissions advisers really did lead them to believe that 99.9% of law school grads get high-paying jobs within 6 months of graduation. But could the law schools have predicted three years ago when those students enrolled that the economy would tank and that law firms would lose lots of business. So it seems just a bit unrealistic for the students to turn around and blame the law schools.

Reading this, and knowing how the economic crisis has severely impacted libraries and their hiring practices in all sectors (both budget cuts and the slowing of retirements), it is difficult to feel any sympathy at all for law school students or lawyers. According to the USA Today article, among 2009 law school graduates, 88% are employed, and that’s down from 92% in 2007. I have no idea what percent of 2009 LIS students are employed, but I’m going to guess it’s no where near 88% – heck, I bet it’s not even 50%. So should we librarians really feel all that bad for the other L-School graduates? I don’t think so. And even if jobless LIS graduates were to go on hunger strikes, protest in the streets, run naked through the halls of Congress – do you think that even a single newspaper in this country would pay any attention (OK – maybe the running naked through the halls of Congress might attract some – after the arrests). Not a chance in hell. Did USA Today have anything to say about The Unemployed Librarian‘s blog? So sorry LIS grads. It looks like the lawyers will continue to get all the “Why Won’t Anyone Hire Me” attention.

BTW, I’m glad to report that Elizabeth, the unemployed librarian, is now the Employed Librarian. So there is some good news out there on the job front.

The Accidental Academic Library Janitor: Book Review

In this fascinating account of one librarian’s act of courage in taking on responsibilities at his library that no one else would dare accept, we learn the true meaning of professional passion. The Accidental Academic Library Janitor, authored by Jack Van Der Kammp, begins when Van Der Kammp is hired as the new Interlibrary Loan Librarian at Dippinger College. For two years Van Der Kammp labors at filling requests from students and faculty, all of which registers barely a nod of recognition from his co-workers or the administration. But like all librarians who achieve accidental greatness, Van Der Kammp passes through his crucible on a wintry day in February 2008.

Though not suitable for repetition in this highly respected journal, Van Der Kammp artfully recalls the worst poop incident in the history of the Susanna D. Drake Memorial Library. While his colleagues stand by in shock and disgust, Van Der Kammp goes looking for help only to realize the regular library janitor never made it to work that day. With no one else willing to go within 10 feet of the horrific scene, Van Der Kammp explains how he grabbed the pail, mop and Lysol, took matters into his own hands, and forged his destiny as The Accidental Academic Library Janitor.

Over eight insightfully written chapters, Van Der Kammp enlightens other academic librarians on how they too can become an Accidental Academic Library Janitor. Topics cover all the vital skills for would be library janitors such as best cleansers for greasy sink goo, keeping urinal cakes where they belong, how to remove pornographic graffiti from the men’s stalls, advanced techniques for fast cleanups after library raves, and most important of all, how to stay one step ahead of the real library janitor. Van Der Kammp’s book is a timely addition to the library literature because in this period of harsh budget cuts our academic libraries are constantly threatened with the loss of the janitorial staff. And when that happens, readers of The Accidental Academic Library Janitor will be poised to jump into action. Like Van Der Kammp, they too can become a prime candidate for the American Library Association’s Milton R. Grenich Library Housekeeper of the Year Prize, awarded annually by the LLAMA Interest Group on Sanitary Facility Management. Highly recommended for all academic library collections.

New and Improved – or Not?

One of the lovely surprises awaiting those who have been away from the reference desk for a while is the numerous spanking new database interfaces that have sprouted up. There seem to be more than usual this year, and while some are improvements, others, frankly, need a good spanking. One that has us particularly flummoxed is the new JSTOR interface that defaults to searching material your library doesn’t have and offers new layers of confusion. (“Is this article available at my library in another database?” “Sorry, we can’t tell you that, but we can provide a handy link through our publisher sales service to purchase articles.”)

As an aside, do publishers seriously expect people to purchase articles for $12, $25, or $35 a pop? Really? They have not met my patrons. But I digress.

I was coasting along in blissful ignorance until I got this guest post from our occasional correspondent from Bowling Green State University, Amy Fry. I have a feeling JSTOR will be getting a lot of feedback on their “improvements.” Here are some thoughts to start the conversation.

—-

What Were They Thinking?
Amy Fry
Electronic Resources Coordinator
Bowling Green State University

Today is the first day of the new semester at BGSU, and also the first school day of the new JSTOR interface.

What were they thinking?

JSTOR began life as a journal archive, but librarians have long treated it as an all-full-text, all-scholarly database for journal literature. While its search interface lagged, with limited options to weed out unwanted items or zero in on the most relevant results, its content was stellar, and librarians felt confident promoting it to students as a reliable place to find full-text scholarly sources. As a result, JSTOR has a strong brand not only with librarians, but with faculty and students at all kinds of institutions. Those days appear to be over, at least for now.

Last year, JSTOR embarked on a “current scholarship” endeavor, which allows libraries to use JSTOR as a portal for current subscriptions to some titles. The interface upgrade that went into effect this weekend was meant to support that program. But now that the upgraded interface is live, I can see what this means for JSTOR libraries.

JSTOR has added several confusing layers to its formerly reliable content archive that are guaranteed to confound the most experienced JSTOR user. The search screen contains two limiters – “include only content I can access” and “include links to external content.” The first is unchecked by default and the second is checked by default. This guarantees the broadest journal searching in the archive, but it also means that, after doing a search, users at many institutions will see three kinds of results – ones that are full text, ones that give citation and “access options,” and ones indicating there may be full text on an “external site.”

These last are the “current issues,” and have appeared in JSTOR search results (for titles in libraries’ subscribed JSTOR modules) since last year. Clicking on one of these in the results list shows its citation, abstract and references. Since we have enabled openURL on JSTOR, it also shows our openURL button (which will allow users to link to full text or interlibrary loan). Next to our openURL button, however, there is a box that says “you may not have access,” and to “select the ‘article on external site’ link to go to a site with the article’s full text.” Nowhere on this page do I see an “article on external site” link, but at least the openURL button is there.

The real problem is with the other articles – the ones that only offer “citations and access options.” These are articles from the modules of JSTOR to which my institution does not subscribe. Formerly, articles from non-subscribed JSTOR modules did not even appear in my institution’s JSTOR search results. This was certainly preferable to how these are handled now: now when users click on them, they see the first page of the pdf and have the option to show the citation information, but at the top of the screen is a yellow box containing the text, “You do not have access to this item. Login or check our access options.” Clicking on “login” takes users to the MyJSTOR login screen which asks for your MyJSTOR username and password or gives users the option to choose their institution from a list of Athens/Shibboleth libraries. Clicking on “access options” informs the user he or she must be a member of a participating institution, links to a list of participating institutions, then gives the user the option to purchase individual articles or subscriptions. Worse, newer articles display a price and direct link to purchase the article right next to the first page of the pdf.

Nowhere on this screen do users have the option to use openURL to link to full text or interlibrary loan. In effect, JSTOR has pre-empted library subscriptions to current content for links to purchase articles directly from publishers. For example, if I found an article from The Reading Teacher in JSTOR, I will see the option to purchase it, but be offered no other way to access the full text. If the openURL button for my library appeared there, I would know that my library has access to this article in half a dozen other databases and I would never have the need to purchase it.

Academic librarians at institutions like mine – non-Athens/Shibboleth, non-full-JSTOR-archive subscribers, can expect to get a ton of questions now from students. Expecting JSTOR to be (at least mostly) full text as it has always been, these students will log in upon accessing the database (if they are off campus). When they find one of these “access options” articles in JSTOR, they will try logging in again, then, when that doesn’t work, they will look for our institution in the list of Athens/Shibboleth institutions. Then, if it’s an article they really want, they will call or IM the library and explain that JSTOR is asking them for a login, which will be a troubleshooting struggle as this usually only happens when students try to access JSTOR from Google or Google Scholar. In the worst-case scenario, they will waste their money on content we already purchase elsewhere. In an even worse worst-case scenario, they will abandon JSTOR as another confusing and misleading library website and turn to other sources. Students are not terribly likely to purchase individual articles – they are more likely to move on and try to find something that is full text, even if it is less relevant. This may turn out to be a boon to EBSCO, but it’s going to frustrating as hell for libraries, and could turn sour for JSTOR.

JSTOR apologists will no doubt point out that individual users can change their limiter options on the initial search screen and search only content that will give them full-text results in JSTOR. But they will only do this if they understand what “include only content I can access” and “include links to external content” mean and, despite the explanatory text linked to the latter, I am not even entirely sure what these mean. Is “content I can access” just my institution’s JSTOR modules, or does it include “current issues” links for titles in my institution’s JSTOR modules, and, if so, are all of these indeed titles I have full-text access to through my institution’s current subscriptions? Good question. Do the “links to external content” mean just current issues and, if so, are they current issues for just titles in my library’s JSTOR modules, or for those in all JSTOR modules? I have made notes to ask JSTOR these questions when they get back to me about why the heck my openURL button doesn’t appear in results with the other “access options” for articles outside our JSTOR modules, but most users don’t even realize JSTOR has modules, and likely will not be able to understand what these two limiters mean, even after they’ve done a search.

So, what is JSTOR thinking? It seems like they are trying to move the archive towards being an expanded content platform in order to become an expanded platform for discovery, but have skipped some vital steps along the way. Let’s not forget, JSTOR has no administrative module, it has certainly not fully implemented openURL (as this platform upgrade shows), and though it does offer COUNTER Journal reports, it still offers no COUNTER-compliant statistics for sessions and searches.

—–

I think Amy has nailed it by describing this as a fundamental shift from journal archive to “discovery platform.” I don’t know how your users will respond, but I predict mine will be confused and unhappy – at least until they get the hang of manually selecting “content I can access” every time they search. (There is no option for libraries to set that as a default.) Much as I respect JSTOR, I’m not looking forward to the questions we’ll be getting.

What do you think?

Illustration courtesy of autumn_bliss.

Is There A “Rescue Plan” At Your Library

There are two kinds of academic librarians. The ones who immediately knew what this post is about, and those who have no clue. Until a short while ago, I’d have put myself in the latter group. That was before I attended this conference session on the topic of staff development. The speakers demonstrated a method for getting staff engaged in discussions about non-technical matters in the library – what you might call the soft skills needed to succeed with community members and colleagues while being able to skillfully defuse difficult situations.

So the conversation turned to an experience nearly everyone who has worked in public services – or at a public service desk – has had: the difficult patron [Personal Note: I'm not a big fan of the phrase "difficult patron" but that's the terminology used by the session presenters; many of us prefer not to use it but on the other hand it offers a convenient and perhaps less derogatory way to refer to this particular individual]. It could be the person who always has a problem, the person that wants to get into an argument with you, the person who never stops talking to you and doesn’t pay attention to your need to get work done, or perhaps it’s all of the above. There are any number of strategies for dealing with these situations. But up until then I had not heard of the “Rescue Plan”.

I don’t think you’ll see the Rescue Plan mentioned much in the library literature. The goal of the Rescue Plan is to extricate yourself from a situation involving a difficult patron by pre-arranging a diversionary or escape tactic with your colleagues. It might work something like this:

The patron who just wants to talk to someone: “Say, did you happen to hear about [insert news or sports topic]. Isn’t that something else. I remember about twenty years ago…”

Librarian trapped by Difficult Patron: Sees colleague walking by and gives the secret signal for a “rescue” [eye wink, hand gesture, raises a designated book, etc.]. A variation might be having a speed dial on the phone that calls the back room.

The patron who just wants to talk to someone: “That was when the police officer asked me why I had left my house keys with Uncle Joe in the first place…”

Librarian trapped by Difficult Patron: “Oh look, my co-worker needs to talk to me” – or some variation on that where the person making the rescue comes out to the desk and says something along the lines of “The boss needs to talk to you” or “You have a student asking for you on the phone in the back room” or anything that creates an interruption that forces the difficult patron to stop their assault.

What surprised me is the number of librarians who claimed to use the Rescue Plan or a variation on it at their library. What further surprised me is how many of them thought this practice was a great idea for dealing with the difficult patron. I’ve been in these situations myself. I know it can be stressful, frustrating and difficult all at the same time. I can understand the circumstances that would motivate a library worker to want to flee the difficult patron, but as I listened I couldn’t help but feel something wrong about this disingenuous tactic. I have to believe we can deal with these situations in a more positive and productive way.

A more honest and forthright way to tackle this particular patron would be to have a designated person, perhaps the director or department head, take the patron aside for a private conversation. This presents an opportunity to calmly explain that public service workers have jobs to attend to, and even if no one is asking them for help at the moment they may have a project to work on – and that it’s inappropriate behavior to socialize with them for an extended length of time (be specific – e.g., no more than a minute or two is acceptable). Explain that others who need help may avoid the service area if they see someone else there talking to the library staff member.

You may disagree with my suggested strategy for any number of reasons, one of them being that trying to have a rational conversation with some difficult patrons just isn’t an option. No matter how patient and understanding you try to be it just fails to get them to change their behavior. That’s when more stringent measures are needed, such as referring the patron to the library user’s code of conduct and indicating that failure to comply could result in being banned from the library. Another challenge might be that the library organization lacks strong leaders who are willing to tackle these challenges in a transparent and open way, and who are content to let the Rescue Plan do their job for them. Despite some of the challenges it presents I think my approach, in the long run, is more likely to solve the problem by meeting it head on.

Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve primarily worked on the front line, and I know how challenging it can be to work with the public, especially when in difficult budget situations we may have fewer staff, more hours on the service desk and a greater amount of stress. Used sparingly, I can understand the attractiveness of the Rescue Plan. Used excessively I can see potentially troubling cascading consequences. But as I listened to the conversation about the Rescue Plan I couldn’t help but feel that deceptive measures are best avoided. They may work a few times, but will likely fail to resolve the original problem in the long run.

What do you think? Is the Rescue Plan a legitimate strategy for dealing with difficult situations, or are we better off to confront the difficult individual (or group) directly? Can you share an entirely different strategy that has worked for you and your colleagues in these situations?

Is A Response Even Worth Our Time

A Facebook friend messaged me to say “ACRLog needs to take this on”, in reference to this comment associated with a Slate piece on why tenure should be abolished. Andrew Sullivan who blogs for The Atlantic shared a few paragraphs from the Slate piece with his readers. It generated a fair number of comments in favor of and against tenure. No one in the academic librarian community seemed to care much about the original piece or the bulk of the comments until one of them attacked our right to have tenure.

My personal inclination is to ignore this comment completely. What I would like to take on is why academic librarians get their panties in such a twist so worked up about this sort of thing? This is an off-the-cuff comment to an opinion piece. It’s not like it’s a well researched, well thought out essay in The Chronicle that might actually dignify a response. For all we know the comment is from a disgruntled librarian who got turned down for tenure and now holds a grudge against librarians who have tenure. Are we so insecure about our professional status and our right to claim tenure status that we have to defend it against every feeble critique. And what’s the point of doing so anyway? Is there anything any of us could write that would change the commenter’s mind – or the mind of anyone who’s against tenure? We’ve all seen dozens of impassioned arguments for and against tenure. Have you ever read a single response or comment along the lines of “What you had to say actually made me change my mind on this issue”? I sure haven’t.

You answer, “but Steven, we should respond not to change this writer’s mind, but to make sure that all the other people who read it know that tenure for librarians is a good thing – and that we conduct really valuable research and that we are really, really busy helping faculty and students and that we really deserve tenure – and that if nothing else we have to correct misstatements and attack outright lies”. I understand that argument – we want the truth to be known. But who is it that we are so worried will read this tripe and believe it? Our faculty colleagues? Our academic administrators? Do we have so little faith in their ability to think critically about the issues that we feel the overwhelming urge to offer up a counter-argument? Do you think your provost will be swayed by this comment’s exquisite logic and well documented arguments? “Hmm, according to this anonymous comment, our librarians don’t have anything to do now that all research can be done with Google. Why did we let them have tenure in the first place? Maybe we should rethink that.” I’m sure that’s how it’s going to go down. Didn’t this article convince us that our academic administrators really do like us and that they have our backs – or are we going to let our inferiority complex get the best of us once again?

My preference is to just ignore this negativity all together. Rather than taking the time to write an impassioned essay defending an academic librarian’s right to tenure (which has already been done anyway) or justifying why we deserve to have our jobs, I suggest we all put our effort into doing what we do well every opportunity we have which is making a difference in our academic communities in service to our students, faculty and staff. If we do that well I think we’ll have no reason at all to constantly allow ignorant fools to push our buttons and manipulate us into responding just the way they know we will. So get your panties untwisted take a moment to think about this and then get back to work.