Tag Archives: clir

Why All The Fuss Over PhD Academic Librarians

While no one has called it Trzeciakgate yet, I can’t help but see some similarities between what’s happening now with his presentation at Penn State University and the whole Michael Gorman firestorm (then labeled “Gormangate”) of 2005. Are you too new to the profession to remember Gormangate? You can read all about it here. Suffice to say that he said a few things that were considered controversial (and just plain insulting), and quite a few librarians took it personally – and reacted swiftly and loudly. If you want to quickly catch up on who’s contributed to the Trzecial controversy as well as its origins, this post at Sense and Reference sums things up nicely. An alternate opinion was offered over at On Furlough. I guess we like to have a nice, juicy controversy every now and then – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

What’s brought about the attacks on what Trzeciak had to say? He stated that at McMaster, where he is the Dean, his plan is to limit the hiring of traditional MLS librarians while focusing more on hiring PhD subject specialists and information technology professionals. Claiming that you think PhDs can do library work better than professional librarians is apparently the library profession’s equivalent of grabbing the third rail. The reaction to Trzeciak’s vision is not unlike that of a politician who talks about cutting social security or Medicare. While the level of negativity was mildly disturbing to me, I did appreciate that many positive and encouraging themes and ideas about the value of academic librarians emerged from the conversation.

I guess what I found most surprising about all the hostility towards Trzeciak’s ideas is that a good part of what he said is hardly new, innovative or revolutionary. It appears that some academic librarians are unaware that CLIR has since 2006 offered a program that systematically creates positions in academic libraries – and not just ARLs – for PhD holders who have decided they want a career in a library. I reacted to this program here at ACRLog when it was first announced. It’s called the CLIR PostDoctoral Library Fellows Program, and it basically offer instant access to library positions for the Fellows – and it’s a highly competitive program. If you are a PhD who’s facing a depressed job market in your field, a career in academic libraries may look downright inviting.

So while Trzeciak is perhaps the first Library Dean who has publicly commented on the merits of this program and sees it as a potential blueprint for future staffing in academic libraries, he’s hardly the first one to hire non-MLS PhDs to take positions that MLS holders would have filled in the past. Looking back, some, not all of the CLIR Fellows go on to earn the MLS, and they’ve made good contributions to the library literature.

As Lane Wilkerson wrote in the post mentioned above:

So, Jeff Trzeciak, if you can find PhDs who would rather work in a library than as teaching faculty in their subject areas, more power to you. But, I doubt that’s going to be the future of librarianship.

Well guess what? Trzeciak doesn’t have to go very far to find those PhDs. With the support of the CLIR program, they’re lining up for jobs in our libraries – and getting them while MLS graduates sit on the sidelines. I don’t think it’s going to be THE future, but it’s going to be an unavoidable consequence of a future in which library deans will be looking for ways to incorporate new skill sets into their organizations. If you want to better understand why this happening, perhaps you ought to read Jim Neal’s article on “feral librarians” if you happened to miss it when first published in 2006. You can attack Trzeciak’s ideas if it makes you feel better, but he’s hardly the first to promote these them, and he won’t be the last.

Real Faculty In Our Minds Alone

Late last week a number of library news sources pointed to the release of report from the Council of Library and Information Resources called “No Brief Candle: Reconceiving Research Libraries for the 21st Century“. The report contains eight essays that identify challenges facing academic libraries, and it offers a number of recommendations for change that may help to ensure the future relevancy of academic librarians. Library Journal described the report as “Harnessing the insight and experience of some two dozen stakeholders…the report offers a forceful call to action, and a penetrating take on the forces shaping the future of libraries and the academic enterprise”. I believe this report’s themes and recommendations will be somewhat familiar to ACRLog readers because we, and you through your comments, discuss and debate them here.

As I scanned the report I found something of interest in the article titled “Groundskeepers, Gatekeepers, and Guides: How to Change Faculty Perceptions of Librarians and Ensure the Future of the Research Library” by Daphnée Rentfrow, a former CLIR Fellow who has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. In this essay Rentfrow takes on some familiar themes of how to improve collaboration with faculty and obtain more professional recognition within the academic community. As to her qualifications to write an essay on these matters she describes herself as:

someone who finished a doctoral program at an Ivy League university without once meeting my subject specialist (or even knowing what one was), as someone who taught courses without conferring with a librarian and who never encouraged undergraduates to do so, and worked on a thematic research collection without thinking of metadata or preservation until I had a panicked reason to, I also know fairly intimately the failings of, let’s say, “public relations” and “outreach” that afflict academic and research libraries.

You may find what Rentfrow has to offer useful to improve your own public relations and outreach efforts with faculty. But something that caught my attention in her essay was this footnote:

By “faculty,” I mean non-librarian teaching faculty and scholars. While some universities offer librarians faculty status, while some librarians consider themselves members of the faculty, and while some librarians have Ph.D. degrees, anecdotal evidence shows that students, parents, faculty, and even university administrators rarely consider libraries [NOTE: not a typo - it actually says "libraries" not "librarians"] to be “real” faculty, or even intellectual peers. This problem of image is one of the biggest challenges facing the profession.

One of the reasons I found this footnote of special interest is because I took quite a bit of heat from several ACRLog readers when I explored similar themes in a post I called “What It Really Means To Be A Faculty Member“. Instead of just referring to “anecdotal evidence” I pointed to some real differences between what librarians do and what faculty do, particularly as our roles relate to student interaction. Perhaps the point is that it might not matter what we do or don’t do, because as Rentfrow points out as far as the rest of academe is concerned academic librarians are faculty only in their own minds. It seems I made the error of stepping directly on the landmind that Rentfrow tiptoes around.

You might conclude that Rentfrow adds nothing new to this debate, and if you read the essay you’ll see that it is about much more than this issue. Yes, we all know that as far as many “real” faculty are concerned we are nothing more than academic support staff no more deserving of faculty status than instructional technologists or IT support specialists. It may also be familiar territory to point to our profession’s failure to promote the ways in which we are equal to the real faculty and worthy of their respect and collaboration. But given my own attempt to inject some hard to accept reality into this discussion of academic librarians as “real faculty” I have to appreciate Rentfrow’s own honest approach and her admission that some of what she has to say will “offend some readers.” She writes:

Having experienced both [PhD and MLS education], I can understand why a scholar would bristle to be told that a librarian has an equal understanding of the rigors of scholarship and full course-load teaching. But I also understand that the average faculty member is largely ignorant of the changes that have affected modern librarianship in recent decades and the ways these changes (should) affect scholarship and teaching.

It may all come down to a question of what’s most important to academic librarians. Is it being recognized as a real faculty member and being deemed their equal? Or is it doing whatever it takes to work with faculty to partner in helping students achieve academic success regardless of what our status is in the academic community? No instructional technologist, learning center professional or IT specialist I’ve ever met seems as remotely concerned about their academic status as are academic librarians. They aren’t busy trying to establish their equality with faculty. But what I do see is that they are busy spending lots of time collaborating with faculty helping them to improve their pedagogy, their use of technology and their ability to bring the two together in connecting with students. Can you say the same for the academic librarians at your institution?

My apologies to Rentfrow for reducing her well-written piece to a few statements about academic librarians and faculty status. You should take a closer look at Rentfrow’s recommendations (63-64) as well as the overall set provided in this CLIR report (pgs. 10-11). I’m not sure they will resonate with frontline librarians and other library workers. I think they will seem either unoriginal, too ivory tower or simply too vague (e.g., “The functions of libraries must be aligned with the core mission of research and education at the institutional level. We need to create professional and practice layers that enhance research and teaching across disciplines”). As with the Ithaka report discussed last week there needs to be more attention paid to the integration of academic librarians into the teaching and learning process. This recommendation of Rentfrow’s expresses it best:

Librarians should work with departments and teaching centers to nurture the idea that the library is a part of all teaching initiatives on campus.

That seems eminently practical and of value to faculty and students – no matter what our status is.

Research Has The Power To Enhance The User Experience

Editor’s Note: Today we bring you a guest post from Ms. Valeda F. Dent, Associate University Librarian, Research and Instructional Services at Rutgers University. In this post Ms. Dent shares a report from a recent program held at the Council for Library and Information Resources (CLIR) on December 12, 2007. The ACRLog blog teams thanks Ms. Dent for her contribution, and invites our readers to share their conference and workshop experiences.

“I’ve become conviced that many innovative ideas fail to be commercially successful beacuse we haven’t understood the role of design. Design isn’t decor. At Stanford, we teach ‘design thinking’- that is, we put together small, interdisciplinary groups to figure out what the true needs are and then apply the art of engineering to serve them. Only by combining design and technology will we create innovative products and services that can suceed.” This quote was made by Hasso Plattner, cofounder of SAP, perhaps one of the largest software companies in the world, and founder of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, during a recent interview with Newsweek magazine (December 10, 2007, pg. E6). As I read his interview it occured to me that although he was primarily referencing innovation in terms of his own industry, his idea could apply to any area where products and services are created to meet the needs of a user population. Like libraries.

Plattner’s interview made me think about a symposium I had attended earlier in the week, sponsored by CLIR. “The Architecture of Knowledge: How Research Programs and New Courses are Built“, featuring presentations by three prominent scholars about the resources and methods they used to conduct original research, and how their work eventually had a profound impact on the development of courses, digital products, and related research areas. Although the work that each discussed was very discipline-focused, there was a common theme – how their research created or enhanced the user experience in some way.

Nancy Foster, lead anthropologist for the University of Rochester’s River Campus Libraries, described the library’s approach to designing better user experiences. This ethnographic study of user patterns and behaviors was the most direct, and stands out as a great example of design thinking – inclusive teams working on gathering information about how users work, then leveraging that information to design a better space to discover, study, find and use resources, and connect with others. Highlights from Nancy’s presentation included a hand-drawn diagram made by one of the student participants in the study, depicting his “research process”. This low-fidelity user feedback tool was jam packed with cues about how this student worked – the fact that the current paper he was working on was stored in more than one location, the fact that his anxiety was greater at the beginning of the research process, the fact that he spent time working in his department, at his home, and in the library, the fact that new paths or ideas might spring up at any time during the research process. The Rochester study showed us some ways that librarians might take this kind of rich data and transform it to facilitate a better experience for the user.

Stephen Nichols, a French professor at Johns Hopkins University, talked about the beginnings of the Roman de la Rose digital library project. This project, whose goal is to digitize numerous medieval manuscripts of Roman de la Rose and make them available via a digital portal is a great example of how a digital collection might create a better user experience by locating the manuscripts digitally in the same space. Previously, this type of manucript comparison would be difficult for a researcher to undertake, as the manuscripts are scattered far and wide. Christiane Gruber, a scholar and Art historian at Indiana University, talked about her work with Islamic manuscripts, and how she gained access to texts and images at institutions throughout the Arab world, sometimes with great difficulty. Her work, which she has made available through her teaching, digital collections, articles, and manuscripts, has the potential to provide other researchers access to material previously unavailable.

In each of these cases, the role of the library (either the local library or libraries abroad) and librarians were clearly seen as critical to the success of the projects, and to making the research more broadly available to users. The symposium was well-attended and generated a good deal of discussion and feedback from the audience. Although mostly informational, I can say that what I learned informed both the way I continue to think about the creation of research, how this work can in turn impact the user, and the role of librarians in helping scholars make connections between their work, the academy and the public.