Monthly Archives: October 2010

Experience vs. Reality

Last week I was at the ARLIS/NA Midstates Chapter fall meeting, graciously hosted by Chapter president Rebecca Price and the University of Michigan Libraries. In a panel discussion, Ray Silverman (director of the Museum Studies program at the University of Michigan) and Jennifer Gustafson (Practicum Coordinator for the School of Library & Information Science at Wayne State University) talked about the relationship between the digital and the real and its impact on museums as well as libraries.

Museums, they said, are getting away from the object and moving towards the experience, and they discussed The Henry Ford (no longer the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village) as an example. There, a $32 admission fee provides access to a range of experiences, from riding in a Model T to playing historic baseball.

Libraries, however, are also moving this direction. A great divestiture of physical collections is underway in the wake of our shift to the electronic and in preparation for – what? Several librarians at the conference discussed the wholesale de-accessioning of visual resources collections, something that has been underway for years now. Tony White, director of the Fine Arts Library at Indiana University, talked about the demise of the branch library and how he fears his library (now that it has absorbed the Visual Resources Center) may not be freestanding for much longer. Price brought up the de-duping proposal being discussed by the CICs: it begins with journals, but ends, we imagine, with thinner and more mobile physical collections, cooperatively owned, and research libraries whose floors of stacks have been transformed into flexible learning commons designed to hold the experiences of different audiences – first-year students, graduate students, faculty.

This is not only going on in the ARL libraries of the world – in my own mid-sized academic library we recently closed a branch (our science library) and have undertaken, along with other Ohio academic libraries, a massive deduping project, beginning with journals.

And what about roles? Silverman pointed out that as museums shift to providing experiences, curators actually become more like librarians, who have traditionally been less focused on collecting objects (though collect we do) and more on helping people. And White predicts that librarians’ roles as collection specialists will become a thing of the past as consolidated collections require less distributed expertise. Several weeks ago I blogged about this very future for electronic resources, though the reality on the ground right now makes it seem rather distant.

Ironically, Silverman predicted a “re-discovery of the real” – that the object itself will become more important than it’s ever been. But “the books are going,” as Price said. For libraries, what form will that object take when the books are gone? Will we create experiences with our special collections? Prize the digital object instead of the physical? Remember, for many, libraries’ brand is still books, and some people still want them, just like some museum-goers still want art. It would be awful to re-discover this reality only after the books are gone.

Earning Full Citizenship: A Response To “Seeking Full Citizenship”

Editor’s Note: ACRLog is pleased to offer a guest post on the long-debated topic of the appropriateness of tenure for academic librarians. In this post, Karen G. Schneider, Director of the Cushing Library at Holy Names University, responds to an article that appears in the September 2010 issue of College & Research Libraries titled “Seeking Full Citizenship: A Defense of Tenure Faculty Status for Librarians“. Many thanks to Ms. Schneider for her contribution to ACRLog.

“Seeking Full Citizenship” (Coker et al., College and Research Libraries, September 2010) notes that faculty status for librarians has been discussed for over a century. Nothing said in that article or this response will abate that discussion. But I knew I had to wade into these muddy waters when I opened an electronic copy of the article and searched its text, confirming my suspicion that nowhere in this article does the word “student” arise.

Any argument for a change to my status or the status of those I manage has to first meet this very high bar: does it work toward the higher good of the institution we serve?

As a library director (my third time in this role, though the first time in academia), my first priority is service to our institution—not just the library, but the entire campus, and by extension, all of higher education and librarianship and beyond. Every student who walks through the doors of this university deserves the very best service our library can provide, and that is our true north, the direction in which our compass-arrow quivers. Even our service to faculty, which we also take very seriously, is an extension of that primary responsibility to students (and I am betting my institution’s faculty would agree with that statement).

Therefore, by this standard, any argument for a change in status to a major demographic in higher education would presumably, at some point, explain how this change benefited the institution it serves—not as an ancillary outcome, but as a central transformation. Yet in “Seeking Full Citizenship,” the argument that there is a relationship between “elevated professional status and effectiveness in the discipline” went entirely unsupported. (And are we really so needy for proof that we are “real” academics that we must use phrases such as “elevated professional status”?)

Instead, “Seeking Full Citizenship” focuses on academic freedom (“[t]he primary protection that tenure gives all tenured faculty members”), job security, the ability to purchase risqué books (I can do that too, by the way), and (between the lines) the assuagement of our personal insecurities about rank and class.

Academic freedom may indeed serve a higher good by exposing our academic communities to ideas that might otherwise not have a voice, therefore contributing to the benefit of our students, faculty, and society–but “Seeking Full Citizenship” doesn’t make this argument. It’s all about the personal advantage of academic freedom—an argument largely unpersuasive to anyone outside the library itself.

I must also shake my head at the solipsism of an argument that ignores the growing tenure crisis in higher education today. As “Seeking Full Citizenship” acknowledges, tenure for librarians really only gained steam in the mid-1970s, a time when the non-tenured teaching workforce began quietly but rapidly growing. Leave it to librarians to embrace a system at the very moment in history when it is shaking itself apart.

Nowhere in this discussion does the article acknowledge the trembling faultlines of the lopsided two-tier system that divides the teaching ecology between the dwindling percentage of tenured faculty—with their viable salaries, benefits, and job security—and the adjunct, graduate-student, and non-tenure track workforce that now supplies over 70 percent of the actual teaching in higher education. No solution has emerged, but there is at least tentative consensus in higher education that the current model is not sustainable.

Then there is the question of where we fit in the larger higher education ecology. The very title of the article is a rather telling admission of class anxiety, but it also begs the question: if untenured librarians feel like second-class citizens, what does that make the other workers in higher education? If there is truly an argument to be made for “elevated professional status and effectiveness in the discipline,” why not align with the academic majority—“Allons enfants de la Patrie!”–and advocate for better pay, benefits, and working conditions for all who serve institutions of higher education in such critical roles? Are these employees not our brothers and sisters, and does a rising tide not lift all boats?

Furthermore, much as I respect and enjoy the contributions of our tenured faculty, in terms of the library’s strategic vision, it is highly advantageous to be a peer with the other non-faculty academic staff, all of whom play central roles in the work of recruitment, retention, revenue generation, strategic direction, information technology, infrastructure management, and the other services and initiatives that keep a university as an entity fueled and on-track. That peer relationship is crucial for achieving our objectives, particularly in an environment of competing priorities. I would be embarrassed to learn that my peers in other departments had stumbled across an article insisting that librarians, lone among the academic bureaucracy, are endowed with numinous, ineffable qualities that justify their “elevation” to faculty status.

Finally, as long as I’m setting myself up as a piñata for faculty-status advocates, I will admit that the lack of faculty status at our library was one more selling point for taking this job. Having had experience in other academic environments, I was seeking an environment where I “interview for my job every day,” as one of my peer department heads puts it, and where others are equally challenged toward excellence. The very point of tenure is to make it “purposely difficult” (in the words of the American Federation of Teachers) to remove an employee—a limitation I did not want (not even for myself), and one that in fact steered me toward one position over another.

However well tenure has worked for the teaching profession, it is a questionable model for modern library administration—not only for individual libraries, but for our profession as a whole. I admit to a fondness for the romantic vision of the librarian-scholar steeped in contemplative and scholarly activities, but the reality is that the shape-shifting changes that have happened in librarianship in the last two decades mean we are all running startups, and we need all hands on deck for our organizations to continually reassert our relevance while we undergo (and ideally, lead) the massive shift from print to digital and from a focus on collections to a focus on services. We need to come to work every day driven by a sense of urgency and a push toward immediate excellence; we cannot afford anything less.

If your library has faculty status, so be it; I am not advocating the dismantling of any system in place—in any event, I predict the larger forces at work in higher education will take care of that. But not long ago, when asked how her library had moved from stodgy to innovative over a decade, a colleague responded, “Tenure was eliminated.” This is anecdotal evidence, but no worse than what is forwarded for the other side of this argument in “Seeking Full Citizenship.”

When I hear new librarians arguing for tenure status (and I was once one of them), I wish I had a time machine to push them twenty years forward for a week, where as administrators they will be coping with the outcomes of the system they helped create. At the very least, I carry this message from the future: you’re already a full citizen—now do everything you can for the rest of your career to warrant that status.

1. U.S. Department of Education, NCES, 2007 Fall Staff Survey, quoted in American Federation of Teachers, “Academic Staffing Crisis,” http://www.aft.org/issues/highered/acadstaffing.cfm

2. American Federation of Teachers, “The Truth about Tenure in Higher Education,” http://www.aft.org/issues/highered/truthtenure.cfm

3. For a cogent argument that tenure status is also a poor fit for librarians because our work organizations are team-based, see Steve McKinzie, “Tenure for Academic Librarians: Why it has to Go,” Against the Grain, September 2010, p. 60.

Seat Saving At Library Conferences! WTF?

So I’m at the Library Assessment Conference in Baltimore, my first time attending this one. Assessment is on my portfolio at work, so with it being so close by, I was glad to have the opportunity to attend.

Twice already today I came into the meeting room, not late or anything. I like an aisle seat if possible – which is not uncommon. Lots of seats were taken, but more than once I came across an open seat – or so I thought. Turns out someone got there before me, threw their stuff on the chair, and claimed their stake to it. I would politely ask someone nearby, “Do you know if anyone is sitting there?” and the answer was usually “I think so.”

I know that lots of seat saving goes on at graduations and movies. But library conferences? I haven’t encountered much of that before. I don’t know about you, but in general seat saving is not cool. You’ve probably had the experience where you see a row of open seats and then you head there only to find someone else got there before you, threw their jacket or book on the seat, and then just took off. Hey, if you want the seat, take it and stay there. I’d like to go off and get a cup of coffee or talk to my friends too, but if I want a good seat I try to get there early and then I wait – in my seat.

If you happen to be a chronic or even occasional seat saver, give it some thought the next time you stake your claim. At least check out some of the rules of engagement to make sure you are following the proper etiquette. Next time I might just move your stuff over to that chair right in the middle of the row. What about you? Have you encountered seat saving at library conferences? What do you think? Do we need a seat saving ban?

Technical Drudgery Revisited

On October 7, NISO sponsored a workshop in Chicago called “E-Resource Management: From Start to Finish (and Back Again).” In the opening keynote, Norm Medeiros of the Tri-Colleges (Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore) asked what value electronic resource management (ERM) systems bring to libraries. His answer? Not much, yet.

If what your library needs most is a data warehouse for e-resources information, Medeiros said, you should not purchase an ERM. An Access database or other homegrown solution will work just as well, with less cost in both dollars and staff time and expertise for implementation. He said that libraries with large, distributed staffs, decentralized environments and the need to manage higher-level tasks or functions need these tools most – but that they are mostly failing at those very functions for those very libraries.

Medeiros listed functions he wanted ERMs to perform, most of which involve being able to re-use data with flexibility and fluidity to eliminate the need for duplicative systems and “technical drudgery”: he thinks ERMs should allow for global updating, incorporate a knowledgebase, be interoperable with other systems, and store data and generate reports. He stressed that managing workflow and communication are the biggest e-resource management challenges and no existing ERMs really meet them effectively.

For a while now I’ve thought that OCLC’s interlibrary loan software ILLiad would make a great model for an ERM. It combines a knowledgebase (patron data and lending library information as well as WorldCat bibliographic data) and data tracking and reporting (statistics about requests, patrons and expenditures) with a web-based workflow management portal that allows staff to see at a glance the status of all the library’s active borrowing and lending requests. Staff in different physical locations have access to all the data they need. Each task in the process – from the submission of a request, to searching, copyright clearance, requesting, re-requesting, and fulfillment or cancellation, with all the capability to communicate with patrons, staff and other libraries in between – is defined, and as one process is completed, the software automatically pushes the request on to the next step in the workflow. Libraries have ILL down to a science, and, even without ILLiad, libraries don’t lose requests, can be reasonably sure of responding to them within a certain time frame, and can measure and predict their costs and workloads with accuracy.

Why does interlibrary loan work so efficiently while electronic resources management is still such a mess? Are e-resources really that much more complicated? Think of all the variables involved in an interlibrary loan request – a patron, a source (database, bibliography), local ILS’s, borrowing libraries, lending libraries, student workers, consortia, scanning software, legal issues (copyright, licensing), the postal service, language barriers… And let’s not forget – much of the work now involves digital objects, not paper: interlibrary loan departments, while they still deal with physical objects, have successfully migrated to working in an electronic environment with electronic resources when possible. What have we figured out about ILL that we can’t seem to about databases?

I keep coming back to that idea of a knowledgebase. We have them for e-journals, but, for databases, every library is still creating its own. Vendor contact information (especially support websites and e mail addresses), information on where and how to download usage statistics, information about MARC record availability, customization options, etc., should come with the system – I shouldn’t have to enter it into my ERM the first place or update it ever. Such a knowledgebase should also include information about databases – titles, descriptions and urls. There should be no need for every library to separately maintain urls to all our EBSCO databases, for crying out loud. We don’t do this for e-journals – why are we doing it for databases?

The same thing goes for data sharing. This summer I looked at all the ARL libraries’ websites to find out how they were managing public displays of their databases (A-Z lists, subject lists, and full resource records). Most libraries use homegrown systems to generate the webpages that contain this information, not vendor-supplied ERMs, though many of the same libraries have purchased ERMs. Exporting data in a shareable format from most vendor software requires complicated workarounds which even then don’t guarantee it can be used where it’s needed. Most libraries maintain double sets of data about their e-resources because they lack systems that allow data to be used and re-used as necessary.

Why are we stuck in this place with e-resources management while resource sharing is light years ahead? Maybe because creating a patron- and library-ready knowledgebase of databases would require competing vendors to work together (gasp) when what they really want to do is each create their own products to get a piece of the library automation pie. Resource sharing works because libraries believe in working together. As long as libraries keep feeding Audrey II, we’re never going to get the collaboration from vendors we need. And even though OCLC has been accused of anticompetitive business practices, you still have to admit that the system libraries have created through OCLC for resource sharing is one of the best and most cooperative things we have.

Lately I’ve been engaging in a lot of the “technical drudgery” Medeiros decried, entering all the administrative information about our databases and their vendors into the data warehouse that is our ERM, mostly because I’ve discovered I’m spending way too much time trying to track this information down when I need it. I have admin info in there, stats info, vendor info, database info, tutorial info – you name it. I’d be happy to send it to anyone who wants to re-code it into XML so we can re-deploy it and everyone can use it. But you’d have to get it out of my ERM first.

Why I’m Not In The Mood To Celebrate Open Access Week

It’s Open Access Week, a time to “present the individual and collective benefits of free online access to research”. It’s a time to celebrate the many accomplishments and progress made on the scholarly communications front. And some of those accomplishments are indeed significant: SPARC; OA resolutions at a growing number of institutions; NIH policy requiring the public sharing of taxpayer-paid research; the possibilities for FRPPA; expanding numbers of open access journals; a growing number of fringe faculty who are speaking up about the inequities and failures of the current journal publishing system. There is some cause for optimism. There’s a lot going on this week based on my visit to the OA Week site. You can even buy an OA t-shirt.

So excuse me if I’m not in the mood to celebrate. I’m feeling frustrated. What else can you feel when the system is broken, you know that system must change, but there is little incentive for those perpetuating the system to change it for the better. This might be the first time I’ve posted about scholarly publishing (I have shared thoughts about the textbook publishing system here). Scholarly communications is in my current work portfolio and I take it seriously. But it is one small part of a much larger set of responsibilities for projects and initiatives across the spectrum of public, research and instruction services. So I’m hardly an expert, and compared to others I haven’t the time to dive deeply into all the issues and conversation. At best, I’m simply on the front lines trying to promote new possibilities in scholarly communications.

A few months ago I visited colleagues at another ARL library. At some point the conversation got around to scholarly communications and open access. I asked what they were working on, and how they were trying to create change on their campus. The response was something along the lines of “We tried all that a few years ago, and quite honestly none of our faculty showed any interest in changing their scholarly publishing behaviors. So now we’re just putting our energy elsewhere. When they are ready to change we’ll be here waiting to support them”. I wonder how many others have reached the same point.

To better understand our academic departments and their needs, I have an ongoing project of visiting department chairs (a few each semester). We simply have a discussion about their department, the library and how we might better serve their faculty and students. Our head of reference and instruction attends as well as the librarian who is the liaison to the department. Sometimes the chair invites other faculty or possibly a student to attend and participate. It is always a good conversation, and we learn quite a bit from each other. But when the conversation invariably turns to scholarly communications, I tend to feel more like a traveling salesmen speaking to a potential customer who really wants to get away from me. I wouldn’t even dare show my faculty colleagues something like this – as helpful as it may be – for fear of never being taken seriously again.

The good news is that most of the chairs and faculty I encounter are aware of the open access movement. Most aren’t really paying it much attention. I bring up the benefits, talk up the importance of public access – and remind them about our own walled garden. No one is opposed to open access publishing, they just don’t want to be the ones doing it. As I’ve now heard more than once, “I’m all for providing public access to my research, but what matters most – more than the possibility of thousands of hits on Google – is knowing that the 200 people that matter the most in my discipline read my article in our most prestigious journal – and that’s not going to happen if I publish in an open access journal in my field.” They also remind me that our institution’s tenure and merit process are quite clear about the importance of publishing in top tier, high attention-attracting journals.

I know there are some interesting new ideas about open access floating around out there, and Barbara mentions some of them here. Dorothea Salo shares some as well in an informative podcast interview with Roy Tennant. For much of the conversation Salo expresses her frustration with our lack of progress in creating change. Some things are beyond our control, but in other ways we can do better. For example, she says that we are at fault for poor communication that fails to make faculty aware of “the very real inequities and difficulties that their own behaviors cause.” Well, when I try do that I hit the brick wall of having faculty point at the current system, and acknowledging that it may be broken but they don’t want to be the ones to change it because it will potentially cost them their chance at tenure, a thousand dollar merit increase or a promotion to a more prestigious university. The Tennant-Salo interview ends on a more hopeful note with Salo seeing some signs that higher education (faculty bloggers, the occasional essay in IHE or the Chronicle) is starting to question the current system. I am feeling less optimistic.

These ideas are worth reading and thinking about, but any new ideas for fixing the broken publishing system must take into account the disciplinary prestige factor. If it fails to provide an adequate substitute for it, then the majority of faculty will not buy into that new system. My hope now is that the best prospects for widespread change in the scholarly publishing world will have to wait until the current crop of millennial students are the dominant faculty. I have to believe the current generation of college students, with their better grasp of a social Internet, will refuse to support our current closed system. The other scenario for change is something we recently had a glimpse of in this article that discussed the impact of shrinking library budgets on scientists’ access to the journal literature. When our academic libraries no longer have the funding to sustain the current system, except perhaps for the few elite institutions that could afford it, faculty may then take notice that the current system is broken. They may then be motivated to accept that an open access journal could meet their need for prestige and merit.

I find all this particularly frustrating because I am a believer in the power of design thinking to help us come up with solutions to what is referred to as a wicked problem – something with no obvious or possible solution because the problem is ambiguous and shifting in nature. In an essay I wrote about design thinking I used the scholarly communications crisis as my example of the wicked problem and how we needed to turn option A and option B – neither of which solves the problem – into the more workable option C (a process referred to Roger Martin as “integrative thinking“). But I fail to see how even a design thinking approach can get us out of the scholarly publishing mess if the players in the system, as currently structured, mostly fail to acknowledge that we’ve got a wicked problem. In order for a design thinking approach to work we need to agree that there is a problem, and then we can begin to go through the process to identify a solution. I continue to get the old “it is what it is” response, as if this is the way it has to be and there are no possible solutions worth exploring.

Despite my current frustrations over the difficulty in getting faculty excited about the possibilities for change in scholarly publishing I’m not about to give up on it entirely. That’s not just because it’s part of my job, but I inherently believe it’s the right position to take on the issues. I hope that when I next post about scholarly communications I’ll have more reason to get in the spirit of Open Access Week.