Category Archives: Worth Reading

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

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.

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.

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.