Monthly Archives: February 2011

Working Together: Tips for Vendors

When I was in library school, Lynn Wiley (who was at that time head of interlibrary loan at UIUC) said something about library vendors that made a big impression on me. She said that vendors are our partners – we could not do what we do without the content and service products they provide, and they could not do what they do without us, either – we provide an audience, an infrastructure, and end-user education for them. Throughout my career, first as an interlibrary loan librarian and now as an electronic resources librarian, I have let this idea be a guiding principle for me. I sincerely try to take time to talk to my sales and service reps and respond when they contact me, and one of the major reasons I never miss an ALA is because I feel like it’s essential for me to spend time on the exhibit floor touching base with vendors and publishers to learn what’s new. I easily get 100 e mails a day because I try to sign up for every vendor update list I can – it’s my job to know about database upgrades, downtime, content changes, etc., and I try to be conscientious about passing that information on to my colleagues. I have learned so much about what’s going on in the information services industry, and – just as importantly – what’s going on with other libraries in my region and in the country from my vendor contacts, and I truly value my relationships with them.

I don’t know how many librarians approach their relationships with vendors this way, but I imagine lots of us do. However, some vendors make my job easier – others don’t. I try to remind myself that sales reps are working in the business world, not the world of academia, and they have MBAs and quotas and deadlines that are probably getting harder to meet as our budgets shrink. I try to be forgiving when I feel like they’re pestering me, and remind myself they’re just doing their jobs. But a recent trial has produced a sales rep who’s really trying my patience by calling once a week, pressuring me for a decision, and sending “follow-up” e mails to my department chair and even dean. I have tried to respond to her queries with helpful information about our process and where we are in it, but I’m finding myself hoping sincerely our collections librarians decide not to buy this product because I don’t want to end up in a long-term relationship with this vendor at all.

So as spring trial season begins, I would like to offer some tips for vendors who want to partner with librarians and make our jobs easier, because making my job easier is the best way to ensure my long-term good will and a mutually beneficial relationship.

  1. E mail is the best way to reach me. I have probably been sitting at my desk in my office by my phone less than a dozen hours in the last two weeks. Instead of in my office, I have been at the reference desk, in a million meetings, and doing research for a conference paper I’m presenting this month. In those dozen hours at my desk I was working hard in software I can’t access wirelessly or from home. Getting a phone call during that time from a vendor who wants to sell me something is just poor timing for the vendor. A lot of times when I’m at my desk I don’t even answer the phone unless the call is coming from someone on campus for this very reason. E mail me. I hate the phone, it’s a terrible way to reach me, I don’t necessarily get to check my voice mail every day, and I will respond to your e mail.
  2. Libraries are on an annual budget cycle. That’s right. We usually make major purchasing decisions twice a year – once at the end of the calendar year (because we love those end-of-the-year deals vendors offer) and once in the spring, before the fiscal year begins in July. We may trial your product at any time, but we are only likely to make a purchasing decision one of those two times. Thus, while vendors may feel pressure to get us to make a decision, we feel no pressure at all, because we know the money doesn’t exist until the new budget cycle starts and now, with all the cuts going on, budgets never even come out on schedule, so we’re always behind. Therefore the decision process is long, is often delayed, and will not happen until the last possible moment. I do not tell my colleagues in reference and collection development when we need to get something. They tell me. They set the schedule. No matter how often you call (or, preferably, e mail), that schedule will never be in my hands.
  3. Make sure I get information I need. I think vendors should start combining sales and service. Maybe some do. But I feel like sales reps who want to sell me something are always figuring out how to contact me, while service information like database updates or downtime or content changes – vitally important information that I need to receive – often doesn’t get to me, or isn’t released in a timely manner. I have signed up for every e mail list I can, and every time we purchase something new I make a point of contacting the vendor and asking to be added to the list of people to receive technical and content updates, but I still feel like I have trouble getting that information. Vendors: libraries are truly interested in service and content. If you provide me with great information about that in a timely way, I am way more likely to listen when you have something new to sell.
  4. Make my job easier. I want to promote your products. There is nothing I would like to see more than our usage statistics for databases rise. Send me posters, pens, binder clips. The latest update to the OCLC Perceptions survey tells us patrons notice in-library flyers and promotions. If you send them, I’ll put them up. If you send me information in e mail, I’ll forward it to my subject liaison colleagues. If we buy something new, offer an in-person training or webinar for our librarians – I’m likely to take advantage of it.
  5. Inform me! I want to know what other libraries are doing, and I want to know where you think information services are going. What trends are you noticing in use statistics, in patron queries, in research patterns? Vendors have rich data and wide contacts. If you share that kind of information with me, I’ll eat it up, I promise, and I’ll listen to you when you have something to tell me.

If any vendors are reading this they might be thinking, well, what’s in it for me? I hope they think that my good will and influence with my students and colleagues is reward enough, because I certainly don’t have direct purchasing decision-making and I am not a subject liaison and I can’t guarantee we’ll have any money any time soon. Which is another problem, perhaps, with the way e-resources librarians’ jobs are structured, and perhaps a topic for another post.

Lifelong Learning? I Need A Real Job.

Academic librarians connect with students during their college years in different ways, but we often know little about what happens to them once they depart our halls of learning. Sometimes we do keep in touch with those we met as students, possibly just by being Facebook friends, or a stronger friendship develops. Perhaps you’ve had that experience more than I have, although even in my own big city I’ve run into students I’ve known, and it’s rewarding when I discover they are establishing themselves as working professionals in their chosen careers.

In one less fortunate situation I kept contact with an MBA student who helped the library with a focus group project. This student was bright, articulate and just the quintessential go getter. I thought for sure he would have no problems with career success. However, for at least the next year after he graduated I continued to run into him in the campus fitness center. Month after month he told me how frustrated he was with his job search, and how he even began to question whether pursuing the MBA was a good choice. It was equal parts sad, depressing and frustrating to see this once vibrant and energetic student in such a state. I have not seen that student for a few months now, and I hope that’s because he finally found a job – or it might be that his access to the campus fitness center expired and that he cannot afford the monthly alumni fee.

That’s why watching “A Generation Lost in Space” was a challenge to view all the way through. It really brought back memories of my own encounters, and raises questions about what we can do as academic librarians to help our students acquire the skills that will help them get that first big career opportunity.

A Generation Lost in Space: Overeducated and Underemployed in America from Nick Padiak on Vimeo.

I would imagine that many academic librarians are already doing what they can to provide their students with resources and assistance to help them as job seekers. Likely strategies could include:

* creating resource guides specific to using library research tools for job research

* collaborating with colleagues in the career center to make sure they are aware of all the great tools we have for competitive intelligence research – and knowing that they are pointing students to them

* organizing library sponsored workshops on doing company and industry research that is job oriented

* allowing alumni to access business research resources on site (when allowed by licenses)

* providing one-on-one career research consultations with students

These are tremendously challenging times – as the video documents – for students heading out into the job market, especially when the students are graduating with less marketable majors. As academic librarians we often state that our mission is to provide students with lifelong learning skills – and that is often found in our mission statements or our information literacy goals. Granted, lifelong learning skills should be about more than finding a job. Those are important skills that will help students when they inevitably do find a satisfying career in their desired profession, and it will help them to keep growing and preparing them for future careers – among other things – such as being effective and productive community members.

When I see a video like this one and through personal encounters with students, I cannot help but feel we need to be doing more than talking about delivering lifelong learning skills (which always strikes me as somewhat ambiguous and impossible to measure or evaluate), and figuring out what more we could be doing to help our students have the best possible edge in a highly competitive job market. We can say that our job is to help them succeed academically during their time in college. What happens after that is not our responsibility – and given the nature of our work I’d agree with you. I’m just asking if there is more we can do. I do know that when I encounter our graduates who are feeling overeducated and underemployed, I am not about to ask how those lifelong learning skills are working out for them.

Whither the Research Paper?

I teach a 3-credit information literacy course at my college, and the research paper I assign is a large portion of students’ grade for the class. The assignment is divided into multiple scaffolds: a research proposal, an annotated bibliography, a first draft (which includes one class session spent peer reviewing), and the final paper. Students are encouraged to write on any topic relevant to the course content — information and media literacy — and they have generally had no trouble picking a topic that interests them. Paper topics have ranged from privacy issues on Facebook, to the copyright implications of sampling in popular music, to the changes in written English with the popularity of text messaging.

Despite the assignment scaffolds, their evident enthusiasm for their research topics, and their general success in finding appropriate sources (on which we spend lots of time in class), some students have real trouble completing the paper successfully. Certainly that’s due in part to prior experience — most students in the course are in their 1st or 2nd year at the college, and have not had the opportunity to write many research papers at the college level, if any. Many of them dislike writing and feel that it’s extremely difficult (in that I reassure them that they’re most certainly not alone). Some do fine in the literature review section of the paper, but most falter when it comes to synthesizing the information to present their own ideas or conclusions.

The research paper is also a challenge for me, as I know it is for other instructors. They’re very time-consuming to grade, especially taking the time to track down students’ sources to scan through alongside the papers. While completely plagiarized or purchased term papers are the most spectacular examples of academic dishonesty, in my experience the improperly paraphrased paper with few (if any) in-text citations is much more common. Casual conversations with faculty in other departments as well as this post from the University of Venus blog on Inside Higher Ed let me know that I’m not alone in these experiences.

I could ask students to present the results of their research and the conclusions they’ve drawn as a video, podcast, or some form of multimedia project. But the course is writing-intensive, so even without a research paper students are required to complete a fair amount of writing for the course. And there is an assignment in which students work together in groups and present their research projects to the class using a blog and a Powerpoint presentation that they’ve created.

It’s true that some of our students will go on to graduate school, and for them the process of writing a formal academic research paper is invaluable training for what’s to come. But what about those who don’t go to graduate school — what does writing a research paper accomplish for them?

I’m stuck on this question because in my gut I feel that yes, the research paper is a valuable assignment for all students. But the justifications that come to mind most readily have to do with the value of writing in general: writing helps us think through issues thoroughly, forces us to make choices about what’s important about the topic, and improves communication skills, which are critical to any career.

I’m not teaching the course this semester, but I’ve been thinking on ideas for next semester, strategies to use to help students work on their summarizing skills and ability to synthesize material from multiple sources. But I still find myself questioning the research paper assignment. Should all college students have the experience of writing a formal academic research paper? And, if so, why?

After The Values Study

ACRL has received a considerable amount of positive feedback about the Values of Academic Libraries Study. Perhaps you’ve had an opportunity to catch one of the presentations about the study that Megan Oakleaf, author of the study, or ACRL President Lisa Hinchliffe, have conducted at a number of different conferences.

At the Midwinter conference, during a meeting of ACRL’s Leadership Council (the Board, section chairs, and other miscellaneous representatives), a question was raised about what we do next with the Values study, or rather what comes after the study. If anyone at the meeting had a good idea, he or she chose not to share it because there were no responses to the question – and perhaps folks just had not yet had much time to give thought to that particular question. The study provides abundant information, from a mix of qualitative and quantitative studies, to help academic librarians provide evidence of the ways in which our libraries make valuable contributions to student and faculty success, and help to improve higher education. But the report itself is not a research study that provides concrete documentation of the value of academic libraries. What it does well is provide ammunition for library leaders who will want to argue for the value of academic libraries, and use it to make a case for institutional support. So the question about what comes next – what more can be done to create a strong connection between academic librarians and the value they provide – is a good one. I suspect ACRL is already cooking up some plans for next steps to extend the “value of academic libraries” initiative, but I’m not sure what they are.

As I’ve been thinking about this “what comes next” question, two possibilities have come to mind. I continue to believe that some of the most essential areas in which we can demonstrate the value of our work are student retention, persistence to graduation and student success beyond graduation. How do we connect our contributions to these higher education performance issues? I wanted to share some thoughts about this, and would like to hear what you think might make a good follow-up to the values study. One inspiration for a next step is the recently released book Academically Adrift that has created quite a stir in higher education circles with its finding that for many of our students there is little learning in their four years of college. The findings are based on data collected from a sample of 2,000 students from 24 four-year colleges. The students took standardized learning assessment tests three times during their college years.

That approach could offer some possibilities for a next step. With enough grant money a sample of students could be tracked in order to assess changes in their research skills. As seniors would they still be starting their research at Google? If asked, to what extent would they point to the librarians at their institution as playing a role in their academic success? Did the librarians have any impact on their ability to stay enrolled? The authors of Academically Adrift are already moving on to the “next step” in their research on student learning, and they’ll be looking more closely at alumni and what happens after college. Targeting alumni might even work better as a way to document the value of the academic library. If asked, what would alumni have to say about their library experience? I could see that as a more qualitative study, interviewing alumni to get more in depth information about their library experience, what value it provided and whether it was making a difference for them in their careers (assuming they’ve started careers).

A few colleagues and I previously did some quasi-experimental research on the use of LibGuides and whether, by examining the annotated bibliographies produced by the students in control and experimental groups, we could ascertain if the LibGuides made a difference in the use of library resources. While it was difficult to determine if higher quality work could be attributed to having access to the LibGuide, one thing we did notice is that there were clear outliers within the study groups. Some students performed far better, and perhaps that’s not unusual in any academic setting. Looking specifically at library research skills though, especially evaluation of content, what leads some students to excel? Another possible follow-up to Values Study could track the outliers into their post-graduate years to determine whether or not they still use their learned library skills in the workplace – and can any post-graduate success with work that involves research and/or writing be attributed to library research skills education. If we could link library research skill building with positive post-graduate or career performance that could definitely speak volumes about the value of academic librarians. There’s no question that these types of research projects are involved, somewhat complicated and almost a full-time job in themselves. That’s where ACRL’s connection with LIS educators to conduct the research makes good sense.

I’m not sure what will come after the Values Study. Given its success and value as a starting point, there is strong support in the library community for further research into the value of academic librarians and their libraries. In this post I focused on student retention and persistence to graduation. The Values Study also points to the academic librarian’s contribution to faculty research and productivity, as well as institutional prestige. There are important areas too for “next steps” research. ACRL is open to ideas for what comes next. Let ACRL know what you think would be a good next step. A great idea for what comes after the Values Study could come from anywhere in our profession.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

How Usage Shapes Technology Application

Scanning the October 2010 issue of The Charleston Advisor I came across a review of the web-based movie making site called Xtranormal. Even if you didn’t know that name, you’d instantly recognize one of the movies created on the Xtranormal site. The review, by Ellen Metter is well done, and seriously considers the value of Xtranormal for instructional movie making by librarians. However, between now and when the review was submitted a few months ago, I wonder if any academic librarian is still seriously considering using Xtranormal to make a library-related video. The problem is that the software has become the leading contemporary technology for mocking, ridiculing or just plain bashing just about any topic you can imagine, from following printing instructions in libraries to tea party followers. It’s practically synonymous with sarcasm. You’ve probably seen most of the “So you want to be/go….” series – all incredibly sarcastic.

At this point I am wondering if any academic librarian would use Xtranormal to create an instructional video. If you did, would anyone take it seriously or would you be hoping that your target audience is woefully unaware of how Xtranormal is being used by the masses. What I find interesting is how the crowd is shaping the use of and perceptions surrounding this particular technology. I’m sure there are lots of well thought out Xtranormal instructional productions on there, but at this point would anyone take seriously these animated characters? I think not. What do you think? Still willing to use Xtranormal for serious learning or waiting for the next best thing?

No Library-Related Articles in The Chronicle’s Top Ten

Whenever there is a library-related article in the Chronicle I like to keep tabs on the “most read” and “most e-mailed” sections. To me it somewhat indicates the degree of interest in reading about library issues, and usually the library articles are highly read and e-mailed. Quite often these articles are at the top of the chart for several days. That’s why I was surprised to find that not a single article about academic librarianship made it to the top ten most read Chronicle articles for 2010. You academic librarians need to start reading the Chronicle a whole lot more.

Here’s How It Works People

I was amazed and astounded to learn that nearly 50% of the librarians who submitted proposals for the poster sessions at ACRL 2011 included information about their institution or library – and in some cases even named names – in the proposal. Over 400 proposals for posters were submitted and 160 were accepted. The selection committee members were puzzled by the unexpected high occurrence of librarians who didn’t appear to understand the concept of blind peer review. Yes, you do submit your contact information during the submission process, but that doesn’t mean you should include it again in your actual proposal. The two get kept separate so the reviewers won’t know who is submitting the proposal or where it’s coming from (and folks, we often know each other just by the names of our libraries). If there is any profession that should have a firm grasp of how blind peer review works, it ought to be us guys. Let’s see if we can do a better job in 2013. BTW, proposals were not eliminated or penalized for mentioning an institution or library. Next time, ACRL may not be so kind.

Wanted – Young Librarians Only

Perhaps you share my concerns about the future of professional library associations like ACRL. So any study that offers recommendations for how to retain existing members and recruit new ones should be of interest to us. So I was eager to read a new report from a group seeking to encourage member engagement. While this Task Force idea is a good one, I can’t say the same for the name. The ALA’s Young Librarians Task Force has issued the report that repeatedly refers to “young librarians” as it discusses ways to encourage them to become better advocates for ALA and the profession. There is one reference to “new/young” members, which to me is the sensible way to present this demographic. A case of ageism? Anyone who’s been teaching in an LIS program in the last few years knows that we still have a fairly sizable contingent of mid-life career changers entering this profession. To organize a Task Force around “young librarians” seems likely to dis-engage anyone over the age of 25. What age is young anyway? Can I be on the task force if I’m over 30? To be slightly cynical, I guess that if an association is going to throw time and effort into a recruiting campaign it is better to focus on young people because the older ones will die sooner – meaning less lifetime dues. If ALA signs up a 25 year old and retains them over 40 years – well that sure does add up. So perhaps I’m nitpicking a bit here, but in an organization that is perhaps the most politically correct on the planet, you have to be wondering why they decided on this name.