Category Archives: Worth Reading

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

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.

Is There A Social Media Librarian In Your Library’s Future

Academic libraries are leveraging social networks to increase opportunities to connect with students and faculty. Facebook or Twitter are the primary social media tools used for this purpose, but others are exploring how geo-location sites may play into a social strategy. It’s not clear how academic libraries are tackling these new methods of marketing and promoting services and resources. Is oversight for social media accounts and activity assigned to a single librarian? Is the same staff member who oversees marketing and PR taking on social networking? Are all library workers empowered to contribute to the effort? We know little about how social media responsibilities are handled, but it’s unlikely that any academic library has yet to create a dedicated Social Media Librarian position – although whenever I say something like this in a post before the end of the day there’s a comment along the lines of “No you’re wrong – we have a Social Media Librarian here”. With Facebook reaching its 500 millionth member and Twitter members tweeting over 50 million times per day these behemoths can’t be ignored. Corporate America certainly isn’t ignoring them.

Two trends point to a growing interest in taking social network marketing quite seriously. First, many companies that market to consumers are rushing to create positions for social media officers – and that’s at a time when no one is even quite sure what someone in this position even does or what qualifies someone for such a position. But who’s waiting to figure all that out? Not companies like Sears, Petco, Ford, Pepsi and many others. Second, MBA programs are adding courses in social media to provide students with the skills needed to get jobs as social media officers or at least help their future employers create social media strategies. According to the article these courses “focus on thinking broadly about social media, not just Facebook and Twitter. Topics include the underlying psychological and sociological foundations of social media and the metrics and measurement tools for gauging the effectiveness of social media campaigns. Students are required to participate in social media marketing projects for big brands.”

An important point made in these articles is that someone who is merely a user of or participant in social media is not the same as someone who truly understands how to use it in a business or marketing context. Just because you tweet all day and watch lots of YouTube video doesn’t mean that you know how to turn social media into proactive tools for getting consumers excited about your organization and what it offers. For businesses social media is all about influencing purchase decisions. How does that translate to an academic library environment? One way in which academic librarians might become better at using social media to influence library use decisions is to become more adept at using the tools to get user community members to do the work for us – by sharing the word about the library with their friends. That’s what happens when your user community members share your library video with their friends – but you have to know how to get that started. Another is to pay more attention to what is happening in the world of business to learn how companies are leveraging social media. Having said that, I always like to remind my colleagues that saying we should pay attention to what corporations are doing is not a statement that libraries are businesses and should be run like one. Some good ideas emerge from the world of business, and we should pay attention when they do.

Does librarianship, like the MBA programs, need to provide more opportunity for LIS students to gain these skills, and if so how should it happen? I still lean on the side of not dedicating entire courses to social networking and media tools. There are too few courses LIS students get to take, and they can learn about the mechanics of social networking tools on their own time. Perhaps what is needed is a course dedicated to library marketing and promotion. Marketing and promotion appear to be the primary reasons to use social media in the context of library operations. If that’s the case we should be educating LIS students how to leverage social networking and media tools to create more library awareness and to get the community to spread the word. That seems like a sensible way to introduce these increasingly important skills for the Social Media Librarian.

Add Cyberwar Contingencies To Your Disaster Plan

Two new reports from ACRL serve to remind the academic library community that our future is increasingly one based on digital collections and a virtual presence. Both the Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025 and the 2010 Top Ten Trends in Academic Libraries point to the importance of paying attention to our external environment and the ways in which it could impact on our operations and services. The short-term view in the latter report makes multiple references to digitization projects and an increasingly electronic collection; that’s certainly what many of our user community members want us to offer. But the former report points to one scenario that may come to pass well before 2025, that should concern all of us who acknowledge our growing digital future.

Of the scenarios that the majority of the respondents thought were both possible and likely to happen sooner rather than later, the likelihood of disruptive cyberwar, cybercrime and cyberterrorism was among the top four. Any one of these different forms of cyber attack has the potential to cripple a largely digital academic library operation.
cyberwar

The same week the 2025 report was issued, MIT’s Technology Review for July/August 2010 featured an article on the dangers posed by cyber warfare:

Ingenious solutions are multiplying, but the attacks are multiplying faster still. And this year’s revelations of China-based attacks against corporate and political targets, including Google and the Dalai Lama, suggest that sophisticated electronic espionage is expanding as well. “What we’ve been seeing, over the last decade or so, is that Moore’s Law is working more for the bad guys than the good guys

So what does all of this mean for academic libraries? Clearly we are poorly positioned, as are our institutions, to have much impact on the growing possibilities for global cyberwar. Even Google, with all of its resources, was breached by cyberattacks from China. Russia lives under constant threat of cyberterrorism from its enemies. The United States is taking this so seriously that it just appointed a general who will focus entirely on preventing cyber attacks and developing a strategy for engaging in global cyber warfare.

So at best we need to be aware and alert, and add this new and challenging threat to those other ones in our disaster plans. What would we do without access to our digital resources? How would we communicate with our users and each other? How would we support both on campus and off-campus faculty and learners if there was an extended loss of connectivity, files, networks or other essentials of our digital age? Just as with all those disasters for which we prepare in our plans, be they fire, floods or worse, we all hope they never come to pass. But be prepared we must.

Finally, the threat of cyber war and terrorism should bring attention to the value academic libraries provide to their communities as stewards of the print institutional collection and experts in locating information in those collective assets. The challenge of balancing growing print collections and diminishing space already moves us toward growing our digital materials. There are many good reasons to maintain strong print collections, and the potential for a total network collapse should remind us that doing so is just one of our many important responsibilities.

Do Open Academic Libraries Need Academic Librarians

I started the day by doing a quick dive into an open course on education futures. Open courses are nothing new. MIT began offering them some time ago, and a number of institutions have followed suit. This one caught my attention because it was being offered by two education gurus in a totally independent setting. I was curious about the curriculum and the platforms they were using to offer the course (a combination of elluminate for live sessions, drupal for the website and discussion board, blogs, etc). It looks pretty interesting, and what’s of greater interest is how easy it is becoming for anyone with access to open technologies to create a course and open it up to the world. Of course, such courses offer no credit, lead to no degrees, and have no accreditation – but that’s not the point. If you want to join a learning community and expose yourself to new ideas, the open course is a perfect way to do it. If people want to create something and share it with others, the tools to do so are now available – and I think we’ll be seeing many more examples of the open movement in unexpected ways.

What about an open academic library? That’s not “open” as in “our library is open from 8 am to 10 pm today”, but rather the library isn’t open, so the users decide to create their own library and open it others who want what the library offers when the library is closed. That sounds sort of messed up, but that’s exactly what is happening at the California State University, Los Angeles, where budget cuts have forced the academic library to close several hours earlier than in the past. According to this Los Angeles Times article, when budget cuts forced the library to begin closing at 8 pm, the students felt left out in the cold. They needed a communal space for quite study, computer access, photocopiers, and those other amenities (e.g., printers) the academic library offers – and they wanted it at least until midnight. So these enterprising students created an open library by bringing their own chairs and tables, jerry-rigging some electrical power, and they were in business – and they set it up right outside the library and appear to be attracting some crowds.

The actions of the students sends a powerful message to the campus administrators. Academic libraries are sacred campus space that provides students with the facilities and amenities they need for learning. On the other hand it does raise the question of what our role is in supporting student success. If the students can create their own open library without academic librarians, what does that say about our added value? Many academic libraries already offer 24-hour study spaces that are either unstaffed or staffed only by student workers or security personnel. Academic librarians need not always be physically present to make an impact on student learning. And you can make the case that while the students are contributing the physical elements of the library, the academic librarians designed the online research environment that the students may use at their open library. There’s clearly more to the library than chairs, tables, and computers. And while the article doesn’t comment on it, there may be CSU, LA librarians available via chat or text message to help students at the open library. Librarians or library school students could volunteer to stop by the open library and offer their services.

The open academic library at CSU, LA is more about, as one student is quoted in the article, “resistance” to an administrative decision to close early. I suspect it isn’t the start of a trend. But there’s no question that the field of higher education is ripe for open initiatives, and with respect to the academic library – at least for its most basic physical study functions (books? media? students could bring their own and share them I suppose) going “open” is a distinct possibility. I think we would certainly want to support an open academic library. If MIT can continue to function as an “admissions” only, tuition-based university at the same time it offers an entirely open campus, then it seems the traditional academic library and its open counterpart could certainly co-exist.

Washington Post Improves Its Higher Ed Coverage

When I last wrote about newspapers that are at the top of my list for best higher education reporting I did mention the Washington Post. However I noted that “The Post has been a consistent performer over the years although I have noticed a decline in the number of higher education articles being reported in the last year or so.” The Post was certainly trailing behind a number of other papers.

That seems to have changed over the last few months. The Washington Post has definitely strengthen their coverage of higher education – although there is a not-quite-unexpected focus on the DC region. Two new blog/columns are helping the Post pack a punch. Daniel DeVise’s blog “College Inc.” is about the business of higher education – and I like that – but I think you’ll like it too even if business isn’t your thing. College Inc. is just solid reporting and commentary on new developments in higher education. And you’ll probably like the variety of the coverage over at Campus Overload, Jennifer Johnson’s blog covering life on campus. Both bloggers do a good job of picking up on new reports about higher education.

You can find all of the higher education news from a dedicated page on the Washington Post website.