Category Archives: Graduate Students

The New York Public Library Central Library Plan and its Critics

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Polly Thistlethwaite, Acting Chief Librarian at the City University of New York Graduate Center Library.

NYPL made public its general plans for Reimagining the 42nd St. Schwarzman Building (now called the Central Library Plan or CLP) in February 2012 following December 2011 publication of Scott Sherman’s alarm in the Nation. Sherman condemns the plan as costly and ill-conceived. He alleges repeatedly and sensationally (e.g. on the WNYC Leonard Lopate show) that NYPL seeks to construct “a glorified internet café” to replace the closed book stack below ground level. Sherman’s compatriot Caleb Crain also blogs against nearly everything the CLP represents, with special focus on the MaRLI pilot program. Crain fears that loaning NYPL research library books to vetted scholars may someday deprive someone of quick onsite access to a desired title. NYPL’s new lending practice is undemocratic, he argues, on that account. NYPL’s President Tony Marx has responded to CLP criticism on Leonard Lopate’s show, in the Huffington Post, and in Inside Higher Education. There is new detail in Frequently Asked Questions about the CLP on the NYPL site.

Critics express anxiety about the CLP’s return of the SIBL and Mid Manhattan libraries (and their readers) to the NYPL Schwarzman Building. Moving books from the NYPL book stack to the New Jersey RECAP repository, critics fear, means books will be only inconveniently retrieved for on-site examination in Manhattan. Writers seeking texts and solitude in the Main Library will be forced to mingle with the non-writerly public under conditions unconducive to writerly activity. Scholarship will fail. Novels will not be written. Civilization will suffer.

These are visceral reactions to shifts in scholarship already well underway. Readers steadily consult a variety of digital and physical formats, and readers and scholars themselves intersect and overlap in non-exclusive combinations. Libraries must reconfigure to deliver and to preserve a changing mix of media to a changing mix of readers and scholars. Google Books, Hathi Trust, and other world repositories offer growing caches of resources already and perpetually available online. Digital delivery allows anybody to get more, faster and cheaper, than from print-only, building-bound physical volumes. Souped up printers like the Espresso Book Machine can supply print copies for those who want them. NYPL and academic interlibrary loan systems can, with adequate support, turn around requests for PDF articles and book chapters within hours. It is impossible to retain every book for retrieval for onsite only use from a closed, environmentally unstable book stack, and at the same time perpetuate and avail a first-rate research collection.

Leading research libraries, including NYPL, already hold a substantial portion of their holdings off-site (also see the British Library, The Center for Research Libraries (CRL), Harvard, Columbia, NYU). No research library, no matter how magnificent, is able to collect everything. There is too much. All research institutions rely on resource-sharing and lending networks; retrieval and delivery systems are crucial to even the largest collections. The CLP adds an open, circulating collection where there is currently none. Selected special collections and heavily-used scholarly resources remain at the Main Library. Repeatedly requested works stay onsite within reach by NYPL scholars. In addition, the CLP improves retrieval service for every reader. Online retrieval requests made before 2.30p.m. are promised by opening the next day, an improvement over the onsite paging service in place now. Rather than doubt the NYPL’s capacity to provide this delivery, we must insist on it. Weekend retrieval is important, and NYPL says Saturday deliveries are possible. But to insist that all scholarly materials be retained in Midtown, just in case promised deliveries fail, is to subvert the mission of the NYPL and to undermine real improvements in space and service.

The MaRLI program affords CUNY faculty and graduate students unprecedented access to local research collections. About 1/3 of MaRLI registrants are CUNY affiliates, the largest class of NYPL registrants. MaRLI offers longer loan periods than CUNY now provides, and the prospect of resource-sharing among NYU, Columbia, and NYPL libraries and their faculty and grads is the most democratic gesture under discussion. Should the institutions agree, a request for a NYPL title unavailable from RECAP could be satisfied for an identical copy from the NYU or Columbia cache. CUNY researchers would continue to tap CUNY libraries and a substantial Interlibrary Loan network. Books are durable objects intended to be loaned, pored over, and shared. With the exception of certain singular, fragile, or expensive titles, books collected by the NYPL research collections are not irreplaceable. A book’s value is realized only if it is read. To encase a book, to leave it undisturbed, to restrict its distribution, is to deny its purpose. Books are built to circulate.

CUNY scholars will gain from the CLP call for expanded 2nd floor scholarly study space and longer hours (til 11 p.m. – better than the current 8 p.m.). NYPL’s Wertheim Study hosts around 300 vetted scholars, 1/3 of whom are CUNY grads or faculty, and a smaller number of Cullman Fellows and Allen Room scholars. Tourists and branch library borrowers will not be herded from the lower levels toward them. The CLP offers scholars and writers more room and more time to work alone or together, but different classes of library users needn’t mingle unless scholars decide to break for coffee or tourists put cameras down to settle in the Rose Reading Room. Thankfully the NYPL, like every other library, will offer vended caffeine shots, but the CLP doesn’t replace the reading rooms with an internet café. That scholars mix it up with the hoi polloi, just a little, in a few spaces, is hardly a detriment – it’s a gift to scholarly life. The New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan, embracing a future mix of readers and reading material, promises that the world’s premier urban library will continue to shape and reflect the city’s cultural capital.

Searching the Library Website and Beyond: A Graduate Student Perspective

This month’s post in our series of guest academic librarian bloggers is by Julia Skinner, a first year Information Studies doctoral student at Florida State University. She blogs at Julia’s Library Research.

I just finished my MLS, and one of the issues raised frequently both in and out of the classroom was how to get college students and researchers to use the library website. Academic librarians I’ve talked with have spent hefty amounts of time (and money) designing sites that meet the self-described needs of patrons, but still find most of the searches that guide students to library resources to be coming from Google. I decided to take a look at my own search habits to get a sense of how, from the graduate student perspective, these tools might be employed, and hopefully generate some discussion about searching on the library website and beyond.

Like many other people, I usually do a quick Google search on my topic early on in the research process. This isn’t necessarily to track down every resource I would be using, but it does give me a general sense of what’s out there on my topic beyond the realm of scholarly materials. Since my own work relies heavily on the journal articles, scholarly monographs, primary sources, and other reliable sources, I feel like seeing what people have said outside the ivory tower can be a good way to give myself some perspective about how my topic is thought of and applied elsewhere. Most of the time, like for my research on Iowa libraries during WWI, there’s not much. But sometimes this search helps me find something useful (for example, in my recent work writing chapters for an encyclopedia on immigration, I was able to find information about nonprofits serving the immigrant community and some news stories.)

Obviously, the university library is still my go-to source. Journal articles, ebooks, not to mention circulating and special collections, are all where the meat and potatoes of my bibliography can be found. I love that many libraries are putting these collections online and purchasing more digital subscriptions (especially in the winter when I have a serious sinus infection and am locked in my house trying to work!) Sometimes, I find these resources through Google Scholar, but most of the time, it’s through searches within the library’s resources. This is especially true for journal articles, which I’ve found Google hasn’t really nailed yet when it comes to bringing desired results from a simple keyword search (I know, it’s a lot to ask, and hence why I love the library site!)

One tool I use heavily is Google Books. Not everything is on there, and most of the things that are have a limited availability (i.e. a preview where only some pages are available) but I have saved countless hours by doing a keyword search in GBooks to get a sense of what’s out there that mentions or is relevant to my topic, but maybe isn’t something I would have grabbed while browsing the shelves. I can then go track down the physical book for a more thorough read, or if I am able to access all the information I need from the preview I can just use it as a digital resource. Some other useful documents are in full view as well: many public domain items, including some ALA documents, can be found there.

Of course I don’t just use Google Books and assume that’s all there is. I also track down public domain titles on sites like Open Library and Project Gutenberg, and approach them in the same way. It’s a great way to get that one tidbit that really pulls an article together, and I usually find that some of those works don’t overlap with the offerings I find in the databases the library subscribes to. I will sometimes use different search engines, search a variety of fields, do Boolean search, etc. all of which helps me extract more little nuggets of information from the vast world of material related to any given topic. Even though I’m an avid Googler, I use library resources just as frequently. I remember speaking with a student a few years ago who could not find anything on her topic through a keyword search, and assumed there was nothing out there on that topic. I was amazed that she hadn’t even considered the university library’s website or physical collections before throwing in the towel! It makes me wonder how many students feel this way, and how we as LIS professionals and instructors can help effectively remove those blinders.

One thing I think will be interesting in the coming years (and which is a great thing to get input about from academic librarians!) is learning more about search habits among undergraduates. I’ll be TAing for our MLIS program this semester, so I’ll be working with students who are my age, getting the degree I just recently obtained, who are tech savvy and knowledgeable about search. What happens when I TA for an undergraduate course? Is sharing my search strategies helpful for papers that only require a handful of sources, and don’t require you to look at a topic from every imaginable angle? I argue that teaching search as something done in as many outlets as possible has the potential to make students better researchers, BUT only if that goes hand in hand with instruction on critically evaluating resources.

Without that, one runs the risk of putting students in information overload or having students work with sources that are irrelevant/untrustworthy. I’m a big fan of helping students recognize that the knowledge they have and the ideas they create are valuable, and it makes me wonder if building on their current search habits in such a way that encourages them to speak about the value of those sources, the flaws in their arguments, etc. will help promote that. I remember having a few (but not many) undergrad courses that encouraged me to draw upon my own knowledge and experience for papers, and to critically analyze works rather than just write papers filled with other peoples arguments followed by I agree/disagree. I feel like teaching is moving more in the direction of critical analysis, and I’m excited to see the role that librarians and library websites play!

This Librarian’s Blog Name Says It All

In a recent Sudden Thoughts and Second Thoughts I asked – in a not so direct way – what ACRLog readers wanted us to write about – and a few of you shared your thoughts – though I really didn’t expect that. One comment in particular stood out and I wanted to share it with ACRLog readers. This one comes from Elizabeth, who writes:

I’m a newly graduated LIS student trying to break into the world of academic librarianship. I’m having an extremely hard time getting interviews, so I would love a little real-world advice. Most of my classmates are still unemployed, so I know there are many of us out there who love some first-hand advice on getting a job and what being an academic librarian is really like.

What made me most want to mention Elizabeth’s comment was the name of her blog, which tells you everything you need to know about her situation and her interest in the topic: The Adventures of an Unemployed Librarian.

Just the fact that we have a new-to-the-profession colleague coming up with a blog name like that should somehow concern us. It’s encouraging to know we have enthusiastic folks who want to break into our world of academic librarianship, but it’s disappointing that we have so little to offer them. Let’s see if we can help Elizabeth and her classmates by responding to her two questions: (1) advice on how to get a job and (2) what it’s like to be an academic librarian.

My not-so-original primary piece of advice is to start getting library experience early and often in your developing career. Take advantage of every opportunity to land an internship (in the Philadelphia region several academic libraries offer them) or possibly a part-time position. It may offer only limited professional experience, but more importantly you’ll be getting exposure to the environment and people. You need to start building your network early. If your region has any sort of local library association for academic librarians (in the past the Philadelphia region has had a number of informal groups that were not affiliated with ACRL) try to get involved – or at least attend meetings. It’s a good way to start connecting with other academic librarians who can provide advice and support. In my academic libraries course (which I’m unfortunately not teaching for the first time in seven years – being replaced by a full-time faculty member – for now) my project assignment requires the students to get out to academic libraries to interview librarians. If Elizabeth had an assignment like that at some point in her LIS education I don’t think she’d be asking, post-graduation, what it’s like to be an academic librarian. Our future professionals should be finding out the answer to that question while they’re in the LIS program. Meredith gave some advice that could help with respect to positioning yourself for letting potential employers know who you are and what you’ve accomplished in your career path to date. I advocate starting a portfolio of your work early on in graduate school, and keeping it up to date and accessible to potential employers.

Elizabeth, if you and your fellow unemployed students have heard all that advice before, you have my apologies for my failure to provide enlightenment. Let me see if I can do better on your second question. I could go on for several thousand words on what it’s like to be an academic librarian. In fact, I have. My first piece of advice is to take a look at an article I wrote a few years ago titled “Passion For Academic Librarianship: Find It, Keep It, Sustain It–A Reflective Inquiry”. PORTAL: LIBRARIES AND THE ACADEMY 3(4):633-642, October 2003. I think it will give you my perspective on what it’s like to be an academic librarian. But there are many perspectives, which is why you can help yourself by using time you may have now to go to academic libraries in your area to meet and talk with academic librarians. I know this sounds like an awkward thing to do, but I’m sure most academic librarians would be glad to have a cup of coffee with you and tell you about their job and their take on the profession. Try not to be totally random though; try to get recommendations from an experience colleague. So if you have any contacts in your area (if you don’t get in touch and perhaps I can find a good one for you) ask that person for some advice on good folks with which to chat.

A final thought about Elizabeth’s blog. I think it can help to have a thoughtful blog. As a potential employer I might like to see if someone is intellectually curious, and what sort of issues they are thinking about through the posts they write. If a potential job candidate is expressing an interest in academic librarianship, how is that reflected in their blog posts? I’d consider re-thinking the title of the blog. It might be better to have something with a more positive spin that reflects an interest in academic librarianship. What about “The Adventures of a Future Academic Librarian”? Or if you are really interested in what it’s like to be an academic librarian, start writing some profiles of academic librarians and what they do. Call the blog something like “What it Means to be an Academic Librarian”, and use it to learn about the profession as you explore the issues of the day.

What other advice do ACRLog readers have for Elizabeth and her classmates?

ProQuest Creates A Q&A Community For Grad Students

Most academic libraries target their information literacy efforts to the undergraduate population. There may be an assumption that graduate students are well equipped to meet the demands of their research assignments. But I suspect that most of us know, at least anecdotally, that graduate students need just as much help, and possibly more, than the average undergraduate. But given staffing constraints it can be a real challenge to meet the needs of graduate students who may be struggling with research and navigating the library’s e-resources.

Though it’s not specifically geared to research, a potential source of help may be a new online community for graduate students call GradShare (in beta of course). According to an interview with a GradShare spokesperson that appeared in the Wired Campus blog “Gradshare will become a way for graduate students to use peer mentoring to get answers to questions that they’re either not comfortable asking their advisors or unable to ask their advisors.”

What I found interesting is that GradShare is a creation of ProQuest. Given their role in the dissertation publishing process, it would seem ProQuest has a strong connection with graduate students. There is no advertising in this community which is good because it wouldn’t feel right if there were ads for ProQuest products all over the place. There is also an institutional tie in. A college or university can join the network and then make available its resources for their students. So far about 20 IHEs are listed as members. Grad students can select their institution, get access to dissertation guidelines for example, or see a list of their library’s databases on a particular subject area. As you might expect, ProQuest databases are prominently featured.

GradShare strikes me as a potential channel for academic librarians to further extend their reach into our students’ social network spaces. If GradShare takes off and achieves popularity, given that it’s a Q&A service first and foremost, I would hope that ProQuest would offer librarians more opportunity to get involved. Why not have academic librarians answering grad students’ questions about research? Why not allow the grads to access the name of their library’s subject specialist for their discipline? Take a look at GradShare to get a sense of how our community may be offer value in that social space. These days we need to take advantage of any and all opportunities to connect with our students wherever they may be going for research advice and assistance.