Category Archives: Top Issues

For postings related to ACRL’s “Top Issues Facing Academic Libraries” (2002).

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 Burkhardt addresses library food policies, space design, planned abandonment of outdated formats and services, and adapting to change through the lens of Taoist philosophy, which he summarizes as, “instead of struggling against everything all the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.

The Age of Big Access

This month marks the second in our new series of guest posts from academic librarians around the biblioblogosphere. October’s post is from Iris Jastram, the Reference & Instruction Librarian for Languages and Literature at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. She also blogs at Pegasus Librarian.

While we were all busy wondering what it means to be a librarian in the Age of Google, we got flanked. This is not the Age of Google after all. That was just a distraction — a clever and dazzling light show. Meanwhile, behind the curtain, a totally different age was gathering itself: The Age of Big Access.

We saw and were outraged by Elsevier’s extortionist tactics. You know the story: our scholarly communities can’t function without these journals. We needed to provide access, Elsevier knows we needed to provide access, and so we have no leverage. The part of our librarianly DNA that is hardwired to provide access and further scholarly pursuits kicks in and overrides everything else.

We saw and were outraged by OCLC’s revised Use and Transfer guidelines. Sure, we could decide not to hand the record over to OCLC, but then the other systems that we really do need (such as ILL) wouldn’t work as well. We couldn’t lend our items, which means we couldn’t build up credits, which means that we couldn’t afford to borrow as much. Our scholarly community would suffer. We need to provide access, OCLC knows we need to provide access, and so we have no leverage. That librarianly DNA kicks in again.

We saw and were outraged by EBSCO’s increasing holdings of exclusive rights to periodicals, often offered through increasingly obscure EBSCO aggregators. But we need to provide access, the journals know it, they contract with EBSCO to get as much out of EBSCO as they can, we have no leverage. That blasted librarianly DNA keeps kicking in.

We saw and were outraged by Nature Publishing Group’s price hikes, made public by the University of California system when that system announced a boycott (PDF) of all of Nature’s periodicals and Nature-related activities. How dare Nature sell our own work back to us at such a price, we asked. Because we need to provide access to these things, Nature knows it, and so we have no leverage. Is there any way to amputate DNA?

We saw and were outraged by OCLC yet again when a lawsuit reminded us just how often we have no choice of vendor now that OCLC controls our cataloging, ILL, and to a lesser but growing extent, our catalogs. Apparently librarianly DNA loves these parasitic relationships around providing access.

And weren’t we just talking about how we’re no longer gatekeepers now that there’s so much free information out there? What about information overload and result fatigue? Have we wondered and worried about our futures so long that the future got written by big corporations in the business of selling us access, and selling it to us again, and then selling it to us again?

As usual, Barbara Fister is way ahead of me with her Liberation Bibliography manifesto. But what about me? I don’t have an activist bone in my body, but surely recognizing that I’m living the wrong future must have some effect. Surely there’s a place for instruction librarians in this alternate future.

I was pretty comfortable with my role as an instruction librarian in the Age of Google. I’m totally at sea trying to figure out my role as an instruction librarian in the Age of Big Access.

Latest Ithaka Study On Faculty – A Small Step Forward

Today we learned from both Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle that the Ithaka Group released their Faculty Study 2009. I’m not going to write about the latest report in any great detail. You should read what these other sources had to say about it, and take a look at all the comments (I left one at the IHE article which had the more provocative title). If you want to know what I have to say about the report, you can take a look at the ACRLog post I wrote about the same report released last year that featured data from 2006. In that post I wrote:

But why are we only considering the role of the academic library as gateway, archive and buyer? I would argue this report needs to add a new dimension for faculty to consider – the academic library’s role as learning center and instruction partner.

A comment came from none other than Roger Schonfeld, who authors these Faculty Survey reports. In response to my post he wrote:

I’ve made a note of your suggestion that we add a question about the learning partner role should we pursue a 2009 faculty survey. Through other research areas and our affiliated organization NITLE, we have an ongoing interest in the support of teaching and learning, and these surveys could do a better job of addressing these interests.

That’s certainly not a promise, but I was encouraged by the comment. So how did Schonfeld and his Ithaka colleagues do in adding some questions for faculty about the library’s instructional role? I have yet to give the report an in depth reading, but I was pleased to see one chart (figure 9 on page 13) that asked faculty to rate the role of the importance of the library for “teaching support”. They write:

Almost three-quarters of humanities faculty indicated teaching support is a very important role of the library, while a notably lower share of social scientists and scientists saw teaching support as very important. Is this role really most strongly valued by humanists and if so why? Alternatively, is there some reason that perceptions vary so significantly? As numerous libraries have invested in building information commons over the past decade, are there alterative or additional teaching roles that would be valued by social scientists and scientists?

As far as I can tell – and correct me if you find otherwise as you read the report – there is nothing else beyond this in the report about the teaching role of the librarians. But when you compare it to the 2006 report, this is a nice step forward. I can only hope that Schonfeld and colleagues will work on developing a more robust section on the teaching and learning role so that we can also learn how faculty respond to our efforts, along with those sections on materials and scholarly publishing.

So how do we respond to the news in the latest Report that in some ways the library and librarians have a diminishing role for faculty across the disciplines? I’ve been sharing my ideas since the last Report on things we can do to put less emphasis on the “gateway, archive and buyer” roles on which these Reports focus. I think we academic librarians would agree that while those roles are all essential to how we support our communities, they are the passive ways in which we do so, and there is so much more we do – in an active way that is ignored by these types of reports – which are unfortunately the ones that get the attention of academic administrators. To get a sense of what I’ve been writing in response take a look at this and this – and heck – share them with an administrator so they know that we academic librarians are thinking about these issues and have lots of ideas for how we can be much more – when it comes to faculty – than just gatekeepers, archivists and buyers. Chime in on what you think we can do – and what you are already doing – to make faculty aware of how we can contribute to student learning and their research success.

Two last items:

1) What’s with IHE and the Chronicle. I thought it rather odd that neither article about the Ithaka Faculty Survey featured comments from an academic librarian. Excepting the IHE article offering a comment from Mary Ellen Davis of ACRL, you would think we have nothing to say about the report. Now maybe both reporters did interview academic librarians and the quotes didn’t make the editor’s cut, but I suspect there is diminishing interest in what we have to say.

2) This blog is one of the only ones I came across that mentions the Ithaka Report, but perhaps others will chime in on it.

Chance To Influence Next Generation Higher Education Administrators

I was intrigued by this new initiative created by the folks at Inside Higher Ed and the Association for the Study of Higher Education. It allows anyone to submit a 1,000 word, well-researched and documented essay on any news story published by Inside Higher Ed. While some essays must be based on a set of pre-selected stories, others can be proposed by potential authors. Because the content is targeted to faculty and graduate students in higher education administration programs, as well as current higher education administrators, this seems like an excellent opportunity for academic librarians to share their perspective on library-related news stories and essays that appear in Inside Higher Ed. Doing so could help to influence and shape how future higher education administrators perceive the academic library.

All too often when these stories appear, be they informative or controversial, librarians engage in discussion among themselves on their discussion lists and twitter feeds, or they leave insightful comments to the stories, but rarely is there any organized follow up. In the end those who need to hear what we bring to the conversation most likely never have that opportunity. This new program changes that. Take for example two recent IHE articles, one a news item on “bookless libraries” and the other an essay on “Reviving the Academic Library“. Both generated considerable discussion in the library community, but who knows what message reached the academic administrators who decide on the library budget or whether or not to commit funds to a new library facility.

What do these essays look like? If you go to the detailed information page there is an example that provides a good picture of what’s expected. In addition to the essay authors should develop a set of questions that faculty could use to lead a discussion on the topic. Academic librarians should keep this new program in mind for the next time that Inside Higher Ed publishes an article or essay that could use a balanced and authoritative response from our profession. To not do so allows authors who may have an outdated interpretation or inaccurate understanding of the mission and operation of the contemporary academic library to unduly influence the thinking of academic administrators.

Academic Librarians Are Not Salespeople – But They Should Be

Have you seen the latest set of “Provocative Statements“ from the 2009 Taiga Forum yet? The statements were released a few weeks ago, and I think there’s been little discussion about them thus far. By contrast the first set of provocative statements generated in 2006 created a great deal of discussion. So far I think only this blogger has discussed the statements, and the lack of attention strikes me as odd. Perhaps this year’s crop of statements are just a bit less controversial than the ones produced in 2006. For example, one of the most provocative of the 2006 batch stated:

there will be no more librarians as we know them. Staff may have MBAs or be computer/data scientists. All library staff will need the technical skills equivalent to today’s systems and web services personnel. The ever increasing technology curve will precipitate a high turnover among traditional librarians; the average age of library staff will have dropped to 28.

Compare that to one of the 2009 provocative statements:

libraries will provide no in-person services. All services (reference, circulation, instruction, etc.) will be unmediated and supported by technology.

Keep in mind that all those statements are prefaced with “within the next 5 years”. Even looking back to 2006 it’s highly unlikely any academic librarians believed we’d all be gone by 2011. But the value of Taiga’s provocative statements isn’t their predictive value. Rather it’s in their ability to get librarians thinking about and discussing how it is possible we can even be making such suggestions, and what it is we need to do to shape our own preferred future rather than submit to the outcomes the statements suggest. I can recall several regional conferences that based some sort of activity or discussion on the 2006 statements. I doubt that will repeat for the 2009 statements. I’m not sure why. The 2009 statements are worthy of discussion, but perhaps in our current state of financial crisis academic librarians are simply fixated with budgetary issues.

So what does any of this have to do with this post’s title? Well I participated in this year’s forum (now that I”m an AUL I’m a member of the tribe), and with colleagues I helped to shape the statements. Somewhere during the discussions one of the participants said something along the lines of “Academic librarians are not good salespeople.” I can’t quite recall how that came up but it struck a chord with me because I’ve thought the same exact thing for quite a few years. Frontline librarians need to do more than just respond when the end users are looking for information. They’ve got to be out in the field spreading the word, and making the sales pitch for why the library’s resources are vitally important to the teaching and learning process.

Here’s an example. I was at a meeting last week of our Distance Learning Advisory Group. Our leader asked me to say a few words about how the Library supports online learners – and where we need to improve. As I finished one faculty member blurted out “I had no idea I could do at that with your resources.” How many times does that happen? Too many. We’re also doing LibQual+ and there are far too many comments with suggestions for what the library should be offering – that we’ve already been offering for two or more years. They don’t know it. There’s a disconnect. On the other hand we’ve got 35,000 students, over 1,000 faculty and 12 reference librarians. That’s a whole lot of sales calls for everyone. So we’ve got to figure out how to be a truly effective salesforce. Maybe this new book will give me some ideas for better marketing and promotion methods.

To tell the truth the best library salesperson I ever worked with wasn’t a librarian. At a prior job the instructional technologist who helped our faculty learn the courseware system and other learning tools was far more effective than any librarian at getting our faculty to integrate the library into their courses. He’d be telling them about all the technology tools, and then he’d slip in “Well you are going to integrate the library databases in here, right?” And from there he just did a good sales pitch and then the librarians took over and closed the deal (it’s as simple as ABC – Always Be Closing!). Maybe the next set of Taiga provocative statements will include “Within the next 5 years all librarians will work strictly on commission earning revenue everytime one of their clients searches a database, acquires an article through interlibrary loan, or requests an instruction session.” With the way our economy is going, who knows.

I hope you’ll take a look at the 2009 statements and share your thoughts. As an added bonus you can see some of the slides used for the 5-minute lightning round presentations made at the forum (each statement was presented by a forum attendee). I presented for statement #5 and the slides are there.