Category Archives: Worth Reading

For postings that mention a good article, book, study, etc.

The end of the book as we know it, and I feel (mostly) fine.

I’m packing for an upcoming vacation and assembling my reading material. In addition to a backlog of unread New Yorkers, I’ll bring novels (mostly new fantasy and speculative fiction) that will keep me company in airports and at the lake. I’m trying to spend as little money as possible, and so I’m gathering Kindle books borrowed from friends, Kindle and ePub books borrowed from our local public library, and one eagerly awaited 561-page print book from my library’s collection.

As a librarian, I’m comfortable navigating the library eBook universe (or is it a minefield? asteroid belt? black hole?) for personal reading. Not all of our patrons find it easy, and not all libraries can make eBooks available to the extent that they would like. The subject inspires great pride in libraries, prejudice against publishers, common sense, and passionate sensibility –

  • In June, the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported that 12% of Americans who read (and what percentage of all Americans is that?) have borrowed ebooks from their public libraries, but half of those surveyed didn’t know that libraries offered that service. Those who do borrow ebooks from public libraries report frustration – with limited selection, long waits, and incompatible formats. If more patrons are going to use ebook lending services, we’ll have to have better relationships with publishers, and more titles and formats available.
  • New York Times financial columnist Ann Carrns describes her experience trying to save money by borrowing ebooks from her local library. She reports many of the same frustrations as the subjects in the Pew survey, but had more success when she stopped searching her library’s ebook collection for known items and instead browsed what titles were available. (I have also found this a great way to discover new authors, if you have patience to wade through the dross.)
  • Patrons are frustrated because, according to Barbara Fister, “large trade publishers think sharing is a bug, not a feature.” Ebook publishing models don’t value the culture of collaboration and cooperation that libraries are built upon. Academic libraries may have a slight advantage here, since we tend to work with academic and nonprofit publishers, who, like scholars, “think sharing is pretty much the point of publishing.”
  • Are we better off with ebooks or without them? Librarian in Black thinks we should break up with ebooks, because they are a bad boyfriend: “Libraries and eBooks aren’t shacking up anytime soon, not for real…not as long as publishers continue to falsely view us as a threat instead of a partner.” In contrast, Steven Harris argues that our relationship with print books is just as dysfunctional and codependent.
  • Is this the end of the book as we know it? Or do ebooks represent reading’s future? Speculative fiction has always contemplated the death of the book, according to English professor Leah Price, but “what [writers] never seem to have imagined was that the libraries housing those dying volumes might themselves disappear.” Let’s hope they’re right.

No Sentimental Farewells From This Blogger

Going back to March 15, it was a really busy time for me between then and ALA Annual. Here’s a rundown to give you a better picture:

  • Presentations to students, faculty and library staff at the LIS schools at the University of Missouri and IUPUI
  • At the end of March, a paper and CZS presentation (see “Five Quick Tips for Your Flip”) at ACRL
  • In early April I visited Rice University in Houston and then went to Austin to present at the Texas Library Association
  • A mid-April keynote for the annual meeting of the Maryland Congress of Academic Library Directors
  • A closing keynote for the Michigan Library Association‘s Academic Division the first week of May
  • Mid-month I gave the closing keynote for the Amigos Virtual Conference 2011 – no travel involved
  • Later in the month I visited the libraries at Duke and UNC, and then gave the I.T. Littleton Lecture at NCSU the next day
  • Moving into June I spoke at the SLA annual conference, delivering at one of their “spotlight sessions”
  • With ALA coming up I shifted gears to finish up preparations for a full-day workshop on “presence” that I co-delivered with Brian Mathews
  • I finished up the spring (now summer) presentation schedule with a talk at the AALL Annual Conference (like SLA – also in Philadelphia)
  • Somewhere in there I managed to write my weekly “From the Bell Tower” columns, and on occasion post to various other blogs. With no let up in my regular job duties, I greatly appreciate having supportive colleagues who make it possible for me to occasionally maintain a hectic professional speaking schedule.

    If you’re a regular reader of ACRLog you know it’s generally not my style to go on about myself, my work or professional activity. Whether it’s this blog, Facebook, Twitter or Friendfeed, you generally won’t find me suffering from BTY Syndrome. But this is one time when I do want to share that I can get myself into a fair amount of work. Now, it’s likely to get busier. That means some change is in the picture.

    What else happened? I was elected vice-president/president-elect of the Association of College & Research Libraries. It was a great thrill to learn I had won the election, and I’m looking forward with great enthusiasm to contributing to ACRL’s future in this new leadership role. As with any association leadership position, it requires a significant time commitment. I’m already involved in recruiting colleagues to lead or serve on committees, reviewing the work plans of the multiple committees for whom I serve as the ACRL liaison, and contributing to the agenda for ACRL’s fall planning meeting. I believe that ACRL is the professional family for academic librarians, and it’s a family where I belong.

    I’ve been asked more than a few times how this new responsibility affects my role as an ACRLog blogger. Put simply, I’ll be winding it down over the next few months. Not only will I have less time for blogging (and I do want to try keeping up my other blogs as much as possible), but I want to be even more clear about the division between my role as an ACRL board member and an ACRLog blogger. Even though ACRLog has the obligatory disclaimer, I want to eliminate any possibility that what I write as a blogger and vice-president/president-elect would be interpreted as ACRL’s position or policy. Since I started writing here at ACRLog, only once has someone suggested that a post was a statement of ACRL’s policy concerning an issue. With over 500 posts in those years, most of you ACRLog readers clearly understood that my views and opinions were mine and mine alone – no reflection on ACRL. That’s good, but now it has to be even better. And the best way to achieve that is to take a hiatus from blogging at ACRLog during my three-year term.

    Will I be signing off with a sentimental farewell of a post? Probably not. You’ll just be seeing less and less of me here, until some future date when I’d hope to contribute a blog post or two again – and I imagine a break between us won’t be such a bad thing. After over 500 posts you are probably getting a little tired of what I have to say anyway. On the other hand, you know it’s hard for me to shut up. If I’m blogging about academic librarianship it will likely be in the role of ACRL vice-president/president-elect, with a new blog or at an existing ACRL communication vehicle. The good news is that ACRLog has a good core of bloggers, and we’ve probably done a better job than any other blog of inviting guest bloggers to participate with ACRLog. I know that ACRLog will continue to be one of the best blogs focusing on academic librarianship. That said, I’d love to see a new blogger or two join ACRLog, and help to sustain it. If you think you have what it takes, can post on a fairly regular basis (two to four times a month) and are willing to share your opinions and ideas – this might be the blog for you. If you are interested, you know where to reach me. Maura Smale, who has been contributing regularly to ACRLog for a while now, and who has done a great job with our guest series highlighting academic librarian bloggers, will take over some of the occasional coordinating responsibilities here at ACRLog.

    Helping to start ACRLog and working to sustain it since October 2005 has been one of the highlights of my professional career. It will be tough to walk away from it…wait a minute…no sentimental farewells. Heck, you know what I mean.

    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.)

    The Academic Librarian’s Identity Conflict

    Just exactly what role do we play in higher education? Where do we fit into the structure of colleges and universities? On a day-to-day basis I suspect that most of us don’t think about this question. We identify ourselves within the structure of our own academic library organizations: cataloger; reference librarian; bibliographer. Our identification may also be shaped institutionally: professional staff; administrator; faculty. But when we attempt to identify ourselves on the industry level, where we sit becomes less concrete.

    Identify is important to our sense of self-worth and self-esteem. When our identify is called into question, we may feel threatened or less secure about our standing in the organization. While in our library organizations we have a fairly specific identity, within the grander scheme of higher education academic librarians – no matter what their position or title – tend to get grouped into one of two categories: administrator or support staff.

    Most academic librarians working elsewhere than the administrative office do not think of themselves as administrators. You teach a few dozen instruction sessions a year, and that makes you an instructor – not an administrator. You say you have faculty status and that makes you a faculty member – not an administrator. When you work at the reference desk you help students with their assignments which is another way of helping them learn – definitely not administrator territory. I agree with you. Front line librarians spend considerable time on non-administrative matters that would be identified as “teaching” or “instruction”, whether it happens in a classroom, at the answer desk or in a hallway. But when national data about higher education are collected and reported, we tend to be grouped in with administrators or support staff – not instruction staff.

    Consider the July 2010 report from the Delta Project,a non-profit organization that studies college costs and accountability issues, . In examing trends in college spending between 1998 and 2008, there are data in the report worth reviewing. One of the findings that received the most attention in the popular press was the growth of funding for student services. One expert, Richard Vedder, in his reaction to the data referred to it as the “country clubization” of higher education – too much money is being spent on amenities to attract students while instruction suffers. But when one examines the data it’s clear that while spending for student services has accelerated in the past few years, the vast majority of college expenditures go to instruction – for which spending has remained fairly static.

    I wanted to learn what the Delta Project report had to say about academic libraries. Unfortunately there’s nothing specific there. I did learn that academic libraries are not considered part of instruction when it comes to where the money goes. Rather, the library is grouped with “academic support”, which many faculty and higher education analysts consider to all be part of administrative expenditures. Here are the scope notes directly from the Project Delta report:

    Instruction: Activities directly related to instruction, including faculty salaries and benefits, office supplies, administration of academic departments, and the proportion of faculty salaries going to departmental research and public service.

    Academic support: Activities that support instruction, research, and public service,including: libraries, academic computing, museums, central academic administration (dean’s offices), and central personnel for curriculum and course development.

    Admittedly, academic support doesn’t sound all that nefarious. We know that “administration” has taken on fairly negative connotations in higher education, particularly from the faculty perspective. And if it hasn’t just yet, a crop of new books about higher education that arrived in 2010 will do even more to paint academic administration as a glutton hogging on tuition and growing itself at a pace that is difficult to rationalize. One of these books, in particular, Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, has received significant attention, particularly in the mass media. In varying articles and interviews, Hacker and Dreifus, share their thoughts on what’s wrong with higher education. While they take faculty to task in a way that’s reminiscent of Profscam, they make it clear that the rampant and unchecked expansion of the administration is causing great harm to higher education. It’s hard to deny the racheting up of college administration:

    In 1976, for every 1,000 full-time students, there were 42 professional administrative staff members, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2008, the most recent year available, there were 84. At the same time, the number of full-time faculty members for every 1,000 students has declined, from 65 to 55, due to the greater use of adjuncts and teaching assistants.While fewer undergraduates are being taught by full-time professors, the number of administrators keeps growing.

    They also point to questionable administration positions they’ve identified in their research: vice president for student success, residential communications coordinator, credential specialist, dietetic internship director, director of active and collaborative engagement, and coordinator of learning immersion experiences. They’re not saying these folks have no purpose, but they question whether the positions are truly fundamental to the mission of higher education or are simply evidence of out-of-control administrative hiring. What might they say about academic library positions such as “director of scholarly communications” or “coordinator of assessment”?

    Do academic libraries contribute to the administrative bloat in higher education? Whether academic librarians are administrators or instructors is perhaps not as important as how we demonstrate that we are fundamental to the core mission of our institutions – to educate the students and promote research and discovery that benefits society. With the exception of perhaps a few well-resourced institutions, I believe it is difficult to make a case that academic libraries contribute to administrative bloat. We certainly have our share of assistant deans and department heads, less so in college and small university libraries, but even many of these individuals are doing practical work that enables the library to serve its mission of supporting teaching, learning and research, along with programs and events that contribute to the cultural and intellectual heritage of our institutions.

    Front line librarians and other staff may view what happens in the administrative office differently, and any new hire of an administrator rather than a practitioner may be perceived as administrative bloat. The bottom line as I see it is that academic librarians do little to contribute to the administrative bloat described by Hacker and Dreifus, but rather are victimized by it because when our institutions add more vice-presidents, program coordinators and just about anything that isn’t instruction or in direct support of instruction, it drains resources away from academic libraries and hampers our ability to perform our mission.

    So what do Hacker and Dreifus have to say about academic libraries in their book? Actually, nothing. I read the book and there are no substantive references to academic libraries. In a way, given the overall tone of the book, I suppose that’s a good thing. But it might have been helpful for the authors to have visited and studied some of our academic libraries (they visited many of our institutions in researching the book). What they could have learned and what they might have said about all the things academic librarians do to contribute to student academic success, may have shed some additional light on our role in the academy and the resolution of the identity conflict.