All posts by Marc Meola

Do You Have The Tao In Your Toolkit?

In his blog post, The Tao of Librarianship, Andy Burkhardt reminds us how we can apply the ancient wisdom of Taoism to library policies and services. Burkhardt addresses library food policies, space design, planned abandonment of outdated formats and services, and adapting to change through the lens of Taoist philosophy, which he summarizes as, “instead of struggling against everything all the time, Taoism states that humans should try to see how things actually are and live in harmony with them.”

Another more colloquial way of stating this is the expression, “go with the flow.” Going with the flow is more commonly associated with surfers and hippies than librarians. Traditionally as a profession we tend toward rules, policies, standards. We prefer to “get things under (bibliographic) control.” A tweet at a program at ACRL 2011 put it this way: “Control freak streak runs in the profession. Sadly, yes. #lettinggo #acrl2011.”

Burkhardt is right to suggest that Taoist principles could help us more effectively deal with the change in our world and in our libraries. In addition to the areas that Andy brings up, Taoist ideas can also be useful when it comes to collaboration within and outside the academic library. In their ACRL 2011 program, Letting Go: Giving Up Control to Improve First-year Information Literacy Programs, librarians Meghan Sitar, Cindy Fisher, Michele Ostrow, of the University of Texas Libraries explain the difficulties they faced and the concepts they had to embrace in order to give up control and collaborate with other faculty and professionals on campus.

One of the more beautiful metaphors in Taoism is the admonition that we should be like water, fluid and responsive (Tao 8). Is your library frozen like a glacier or flowing like a mountain stream? Are you part of the ice jam or part of the break up? Have you come to terms with your inner control freak? As a profession, how can we become less controlling, and what should we let go? Can the principles of Taoism help us?

There are many translations of the Tao Te Ching. An interesting one is The Tao of Leadership by John Heider.

Who Reads and How?

Barry Cull, Information Services Librarian at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, has written Reading Revolutions: Online digital text and implications for reading in academe, a valuable review article on reading research that investigates important questions and provides a corrective to the idea (we’re looking at you NEA and Steve Jobs) that “no one reads anymore.”

Cull defines reading in a way that is useful for academic librarians. He includes not only leisure or literary reading, but also reading done for study and work, such as reading done by students and academics. Thank you Barry Cull! This is the main type of reading that our users do and one of the main reasons that academic libraries exist. When we look at studies on reading, we need to remember to focus on this type of reading and not simply literary or leisure reading.

As far as who reads, Cull quotes sociologist Wendy Griswold, who notes that we shouldn’t expect a majority of people to be readers anyway. In fact throughout history and across cultures reading has always been the practice of a minority. Griswold:

Only in a small portion of the world (northwest Europe, North America, and — somewhat later — Japan) and only for a brief period of time (mid–nineteenth to mid–twentieth century) was reading the standard pastime for the middle–class majority. The more typical situation is the one that is increasingly the case today: readers are an elite group that holds disproportionate political, economic, and cultural power. To recognize this as a fact is neither to decry the elitism nor to celebrate the avidity of committed readers, but it is to gain a clearer sense of where the practice of reading stands now and in the foreseeable future.

Cull makes a distinction between sustained in-depth reading such as following a narrative or closely analyzing a text, and cursory reading such as reading traffic signs or news Web sites or e–mail messages or tweets or text messages. Cull states that although in–depth reading can take place with either printed or digital text, in reviewing the research he finds it to be “a contemplative cognitive activity somewhat at odds with the Internet’s zeitgeist of immediacy.” Meaning, it can be really hard to focus on reading that scholarly monograph or research article when the tempting distractions of email, facebook, twitter etc. are constantly available in the next window.

Is facilitating sustained in-depth reading the core mission of academic libraries? Do we need to help students be aware that some electronic media often get in the way of that mission? Will there always be a minority “reading class” that reads voraciously and omnivorously, regardless of hardware or format? Do they in fact have disproportionate power? How is the activity of reading different in print and electronic formats and what implications are there for how we design our spaces and services?

(Unbeknownst to Steve Jobs, I read Cull’s article on an iPod touch.)

Collaboration In Librarian Scholarship Part II

Thanks for all the comments on my earlier post How Do We Evaluate Collaboration in Librarian Scholarship?

Here’s what we came up with at my place of work as a revision (still a draft) for our disciplinary standards for Librarian scholarship. We wanted to honor both sole-author and collaborative works:

“First or sole-authored works are highly valued but the nature of work in librarianship is often collaborative. Collaborative scholarship between librarians within the field of librarianship and interdisciplinary collaboration between librarians and scholars in other fields is common, encouraged, and highly valued. The sole-authored work is not necessarily the benchmark…but multi-authored works require the candidate to document the extent of their contribution and the nature of the collaboration.”

If anyone else has statements addressing collaboration in their campus documents and is willing to share I’d be interested to see them.

For more on collaboration, the first article below documents the increasing collaboration in librarian scholarship over the years, and the second has some good advice for how to document collaboration so that it can be evaluated.

Alice Harrison Bahr and Mickey Zemon, “Collaborative
Authorship in the Journal Literature: Perspectives for Academic Librarians Who Wish to Publish.” C&RL 61 (2000): 410-419.

Elizabeth G. Creamer, “Promoting the Effective Evaluation of Collaboratively Produced Scholarship: A Call to Action” in Advancing Faculty Learning Through Interdisciplinary Collaboration, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 102, Summer 2005.

How Do We Evaluate Collaboration in Librarian Scholarship?

Librarianship is a collaborative field. We’re always trying to collaborate with someone–teaching faculty, IT people, students, even (gasp!) other librarians. In terms of librarian scholarship, co-authored and multi-authored works are common if not the norm.

When it’s time to evaluate multi-authored works for reappointment, tenure and promotion, how do we estimate contribution and assign credit? Does a co-authored work “count” as half of a sole authored work? Is someone who has a lot of multi-authored works “padding” their CV, or are they master collaborators? When writers collaborate, are they merely dividing the labor, or has some synergy occurred and have they produced something that neither could have produced on their own? Do we need to be doing more to promote and reward effective librarian collaboration in scholarship?

My College Advice? Learn How To Do Research

The New York Times recently asked 7 academics to offer advice to students entering college. If they had asked me, my advice would have been to learn how to do research, to practice it, and get really good at it.

Of course, as an academic librarian, I may be biased. But as someone whose academic interests tilted toward some not so obviously useful humanities disciplines, the one practical life skill I’m supremely grateful to have is the ability to find and use information. Try going on a job interview without researching the employer and you will not get the job. Try buying a house or a used car without doing research and you will pay more than you should. Try raising a child without being able to research everything from health issues to schools and you’ll be even more lost than most parents. In almost everything I do, I continue to be surprised at how crucial information is to getting a good outcome. If you spend the time and have the patience to ferret out a small but crucial bit of information, you will often find that you will get the job, get a better price, and have better experiences.

Having access to a college or university library is a great privilege; its power has changed many lives. When I was 18 I thought I knew everything. Then I walked into my university library and looked up. “Oh my god, I don’t know anything!” I realized. I’ve been trying to catch up ever since.

Or, as a poster to McSweeney’s puts it: Dudes! Did You See The Library They’ve Got Here?

I tell you what, though, dudes—you only get a chance like this while you’re in college. After we graduate, we’ll have to figure out how to fit studying into our work schedules, make time to get to the city library branch and its crappy little collection. Yeah, while I’m here on campus, my life is totally going to revolve around that library.