Monthly Archives: May 2009

Innovation Moves Our Profession Forward

In a previous post I had a some fun pointing out some obsolete tools and technologies that were no longer important to the work of librarians. You must have had some fun with it as well. That post remains the most commented on one we’ve written here at ACRLog. Readers shared examples of their own obsolete equipment, technologies and techniques. By looking back we collectively measured the great leaps and bounds by which our work has evolved. We might likewise measure our progress by examining how innovation has changed what we do and how we do it.

Knowledge@Wharton published their list of the top 30 innovations of the last 30 years. I was struck by the ones that dramatically transformed my work since I first entered the profession in 1978. What didn’t I have then? No computer (#2). No Internet or Web (#1). No email (#4). No cell phone (#3). No GUI (#21). How did we ever manage? Just those few innovations alone have revolutionized and forever altered librarianship. Sorry gaming librarians – video games didn’t even make the list – but social networking did (#20).

At its most basic and fundamental foundations the library is about acquiring, storing, organizing and disseminating information/content. Every one of these functions is radically altered by just these four innovations. It is difficult to even imagine what new and future innovations will change our work in the next 20 or 30 years. Perhaps in just the next 10 years we’ll see as much innovative technology change as we did in the past 30. Electronic ink and foldable computer screens. Personal intelligent assistants. Advanced virtual world simulations. Ubiquitous VoIP integrated into digital technologies. Oh yeah, flying cars! These and other technology innovations stand poised to even more radically change the nature of library work. Well, maybe not the flying cars. There’s much to look forward to in our profession and the ways in which we’ll harness the innovations of the future to better serve our user communities.

Faculty Blog Round-Up: The Publishing Cycle

Over at Edge of the American West, UC Irvine English professor Scott Eric Kaufman has a bit of a rant about both the delay and format of the January issue of the journal of the Modern Language Association.

Cheer up, SEK; it could be worse.  The anonymous Lumpenprofessoriat tells a tale of woe, with an eventual happy ending, about a much longer submission-to-print process.

On the other hand, Eszter Hargittai, currently a Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, writes at Crooked Timber about “Peer Review at Record Speed” – refuting the Facebook-grades correlation in a peer reviewed, open access publication in just a couple of weeks.

The enormous variation in these stories complicates everything we do, from collection development to instruction to supporting scholarly communications.  The need for speed, especially among those on the tenure-track, might be an untapped reservoir of support for open access online publishing. 

PS – Just in case you were feeling under-appreciated, see why mathematician Rudbeckia Hirta will never leave the academy. 

Enjoy the holiday weekend!

Making the Most of It: Professional Development Between Jobs

Robin Brown is not one to let an opportunity slip past her. In addition to experience working as an editor, a librarian, and recently earning a master’s in history (with a history of technology slant – how cool is that?) she is now pinch-hitting at an academic library after a full-time position evaporated. In a comment to a previous post here, she had some ideas that were so inspirational and timely that I asked her to write a guest post. Thanks for sharing these strategies, Robin, and let’s see how others answer the two questions she poses. – Barbara Fister

Professional Development Between Jobs

by Robin Brown

I am an experienced academic reference and instruction librarian. I was released during a round of funding cuts on December 31. The first 5 months were easy because I needed to finish my history degree, including a thesis. Now that I have my second Masters, it gets a lot harder to stay on task. What follows are some ideas I’ve generated to keep moving forward while the job market warms up.

Publish. I’m fortunate that I have just finished several months of full time research, during which I made contacts that have led naturally to some publishing opportunities. I’m working on two different articles that are more less derived from my thesis. I’d like to have at least one ready in time for ALA. Continuing to write is not only about qualifying for a tenure track position, but also persisting in my self identification with the academic community.

Service. I connected with the Director of the New Jersey Historical Commission through my research. He has offered me a chance to do some research and grant writing on a volunteer basis. I am on the Professional Development Committee for NJLA. I also give service within my community. This is about keeping my people skills sharp and learning to do new things.

Keep reading. Two tangents in this category. One is to read library blogs whenever I have a minute, looking for new trends. Because one of my concentrations is in public affairs, I also read news sites regularly. The other tangent is the old fashioned stack of books that accumulated while I was in the end stages of my thesis. I read mostly history and public affairs. It’s actually been kind of weird to once again have permission to read widely. Years ago I read Reading and the Reference Librarian: The Importance to Library Service of Staff Reading Habits and it changed my whole approach to this area of public service.

Tinker. I am geeky enough that I like to play with new computer toys. I believe it is critical for libraries to continue to master technological trends if they are to stay relevant. High on my tinker list is screencasting software. One of my questions to the community is … what would you tinker with if you had the time?

Conferences. I went to NJLA the day after I turned in my thesis! Besides the way cool timing, it was a great opportunity to hear about what’s going on. I think the highlight for me was Marie Radford’s presentation on the Reference Revolution. I am going to ALA. I’m really looking forward to it as a wonderful opportunity to see friends I made in Anaheim last year, and some great opportunities to continue to learn.

1. Have I missed anything?
2. What would you do if you had the time?

Thinking About the Future

As the end of the semester rolls around I’ve been sorting through the evaluations that we ask our English Composition I students to fill out at the end of their required library session. I was scrolling through the spreadsheet of student responses the other day and one in particular jumped out at me: “How will this help us in the future?”

It’s often said that there are no bad questions (and I agree), but there are also some really good questions and that’s one of them. Why DO our students need what we teach them in a library session? How will they apply what they’ve learned in our classes to their lives in the future?

I spend the first part of my classes trying to emphasize that information literacy and the research skills they’ll begin to learn in college are transferable knowledge. I give them concrete examples of the relevance of information literacy to their careers (preparing for job interviews, staying current in their fields, etc.) and their lives beyond college (finding health information, moving or traveling to a new place, etc.). I’m at a college of technical and professional studies, and planning for their future jobs is always on students’ minds.

I also point out that becoming a proficient searcher is relevant to their work here at college, when they’ll need to search for library materials, and for searching the internet (again, both in college and in their everyday lives). I stress that different questions require different information to answer, and the importance of evaluating information, especially on the internet but also “traditionally” published information.

Our time in the library sessions always seems too short, but I feel like I do a reasonably good job of explaining the relevance of research skills and information literacy to the lives of our students both in college and in the future. So, what happened in that class? Did the student come to the session late, or sleep (or web surf) through the beginning, when I usually cover these topics?

Or are the reasons I give to students not compelling enough? Maybe they’ve heard it all before, that every subject they’re required to study is relevant, and since they haven’t actually gotten to their post-college careers and lives it’s not real for them yet.

Whatever the student’s reason for asking the question, it’s still a good question. I’ve written it on a post-it and stuck it above my computer monitor so I can keep it in mind when thinking about the future of our information literacy and instruction program, too.

The Organization of Information

My husband (a philosophy professor) and I (a librarian and former bookstore manager) just finished cataloging our entire book collection into LibraryThing.  You can only imagine the number of bookshelves in our house, right?  For Valentine’s Day I gave him an LT lifetime subscription and he gave me one of their CueCat scanners, and we spent several days scanning, adding, and tagging with reckless abandon.  (This really does relate, I promise!)  I’ve mentioned before that I work at a “one person library”, so even in the time between semesters I have to keep the library open, cooling my heels in a mostly empty building.  Sure, a few students come in to check email or Facebook, but in general the month of May is Very Slow, especially for someone who likes to stay busy.

By now I’ve caught up with all my work, and I’m starting to invent projects.  I’ve read several books that faculty have recommended to students, the better to talk about them when students have questions.  (I just finished 1776 by David McCullough, and am currently plodding my way through A History of the American Revolution by John Richard Alden.  McCullough is a much more entertaining read, if you’re curious.)  I’ve done some book shifting to make the shelves more balanced, in the hope that my miniscule book budget for next year will actually get passed.  I finished the dreaded Professional Development Plan.  I’m pondering articles I’d like to write but wonder if I can ever get them published.  Unfortunately though, since I work a ten-hour day, I run out of library-related projects fast.  So I’ve started to get creative.

The one thing my position doesn’t have me doing is the cataloging, which of course is what I *would* be doing in a perfect world.  So I came up with another great idea – not precisely work related but close enough for my purposes.  I decided to add Library of Congress call numbers to all of our books in LibraryThing.  I don’t have access here to OCLC’s Connexion or Cataloger’s Desktop, but what the heck.  There are plenty of free resources at my disposal.  And I do want to stay reasonably current with the cataloging trends, because someday, somewhere, I’d really like to get back into tech services full time.  My husband, who actually organizes his philosophy books by *author’s birthday*, thinks I’m nuts.  But I’ve actually been enjoying myself immensely.  It hones my research skills when I run across a title I’m not familiar with.  It encourages me to familiarize myself with the Library of Congress online catalog. It makes me want to take some of the cataloging seminars offered by Lyrasis!

So, two questions I’d like to offer up:
1) When you hit a down-time (if you ever hit a down-time), how do you keep yourself busy?
2) More importantly, how do you keep current in an area where you don’t spend your day-to-day time, but would if you had your choice?