Monthly Archives: June 2009

Faculty Blog Round Up: The Mark Taylor Op-Ed

It’s been over a month, and the faculty blogosphere is still buzzing about Mark Taylor’s New York Times editorial “End the University as We Know It.”  That’s not too surprising, since Taylor called for, among other changes, abolishing both departments and tenure.  ACRLog blogger Scott Walter linked to the editorial here right after it was published, but I’d like to highlight some faculty reactions now that bloggers have had a chance to mull it over.

Michael Berube, a literature professor at Penn State, points out at Crooked Timber that it’s one thing to complain about the bureaucracy of departments, but the intellectual rigor of disciplines is a virtue, and Taylor is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Timothy Burke, a history professor at Swarthmore, blogs at Easily Distracted about the need for either some concrete, implementable plans, or a more tentative tone.

And a new group blog in queer studies, the Bully Bloggers, has a series of posts taking issue with the market-based measures Taylor adopts: Jack Halberstam, Eng-Beng Lim, Miranda Joseph, Brian Eugenio Herrera, and Lisa Duggan all participate in this critical dialog.

Jose Marichal, political scientist at California Lutheran, takes a more sympathetic stance towards Taylor, comparing his vision of conceptual problem-focused studies to Web 2.0.

Religion scholar Brad Johnson writes as a colleague of Taylor’s, reading beyond the text of the op-ed to argue (implicitly counter to Berube) that specializations would still thrive in the kind of complex system envisioned by Taylor.

Finally, Peter Levine, philosopher and director of Tufts’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, imagines a college curriculum set up along Taylorist lines with a focus on civic engagment.

Could we create a library for a university as Taylor envisions it?  What about mandatory retirement for librarians?  Are we prepared to catalog and preserve non-traditional dissertations?  How would you develop a collection for cluster of conceptually-based inquiries that shift every seven years?

Being A Good Research Partner

Some academic librarians do quite well as solo researchers and writers. Others find they are more productive when they team up with one or more colleagues. Each method has its pros and cons. Going solo you can set your own pace, do things the way you like, and need only to push yourself. It minimizes the compromises and concessions one makes when working with others. But working alone can be, well, lonely. Inviting colleagues to join in a project adds a degree of camaraderie to the project. More brains create more possibilities. Most importantly perhaps, in working with others we can push them and they us to complete the project.

I’ve published and presented using both approaches. At this point in my career I tend to favor collaborating on research with colleagues. Essays or opinion pieces just work better as solo efforts, but I find it more pleasurable to have a partner for a research project. And quite frankly, between work and other responsibilities it can be a challenge to find time for all the activity good research requires – and that’s true for potential partners as well. Working together we can likely complete a project that neither of us could achieve alone. I think that’s particularly true of conference panel presentations where we do our planning and work virtually, and then make it happen live.

If you do work with colleagues, and especially if you are leading the project, it’s important to remember there is a difference between service and servitude. Project leaders must strive to create a balance between taking personal responsibility for tasks and delegating responsibilities to others. He or she must avoid dumping work on colleagues that may be thought beneath themselves or that they think is not worth their precious time. I got to thinking about this after reading a faculty member’s blog post in which she complained about a senior research partner who expected her to do all the work. She wrote:

It smacks of servitude, though, when one person tries to get others to do the work: “You’re so organized; can you contact these 200 people and find out X?” or “You’re so good with computers; can you look up this information and get it back to me?” or “I’m so busy right now with some writing; can you do X for me?”

This inappropriate behavior is avoidable whether working on a joint research project or a panel presentation. The best approach is to create an understanding at the start of the project about the roles and responsibilities of each participant. For example, identify who’s going to be responsible for data collection, who will do the literature search, and who will do what writing. As with any team project, get a sense of who is strong in what skill areas and then allow partners to play to their strengths. If someone is less comfortable with writing, he or she can take responsibility in some other area. Sometimes at the beginning of a project the exact nature of the work isn’t quite clear, but there is always plenty of work to do . In that case the leader needs to delegate work with fair and reasonable judgment. And team members must speak up if they feel they are being unfairly burdened with project tasks.

The key to keeping a research project team from disintegrating is to remember that each of us needs to be willing to take on our fair share of the work. We must avoid taking advantage of our colleagues. The team leader must be willing and able to do any task he or she requires of others. When approached this way, all the partners work together in service to each other. Remember that your research colleagues are your partners and not your servants.

Explaining Authority (Part 2)

After writing my previous post, our library director brought this report to my attention: “The Changing Nature of Intellectual Authority” by Peter Nicholson, presented at the 148th ARL meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, May 17-19 2006. Apparently I was “scooped” by a good three years, as the ideas in the report are similar enough to my own (albeit worded more eloquently) that I should have been aware of and acknowledged it. Better late than never, right?

One way of thinking about the problem of authority that Nicholson suggests, and which Emily described in my post’s Comments using slightly different terms, is that there are various species of information, with differing niches. For example, when you have a ‘good enough’ mentality, wikipedia is usually fine, but there are other times when you will demand and value peer-reviewed sources.

And so I have begun to think that when librarians teach information literacy, the underlying question to encourage students to ask should be “Why was this information generated?” That can be unclear, so the question becomes “Why COULD this information have been generated?” It is easy to become paranoid when searching for this answer, but I like to think that misinformation is usually caught, and when it is not, it is a source of outrage, or at least newsworthy.

Deliberate propagation of misinformation is greeted with protest rather than resignation, at least in this country. Whether we work in information professions or not, everyone is responsible for paying attention, and because of the abundance of critical minds, we can count on someone to call out untruths, mistakes, biases, and sinister influences.

As Nicholson points out, institutions suffer as a result of a breakdown in rules about authority. I do work for an institution, with all that implies. As I proceed blithely ahead, attempting to teach students information literacy and how to use the traditionally accepted, scholarly resources that the library provides, perhaps I will best serve them if I bear all of the above in mind. I should be pleased if they are skeptical of me and my message. At least, if students stop to consider where information I recommend is coming from, they can take personal responsibility and have a personal stake in the information they choose to rely on.

If I can make all this clear in my library instruction sessions, while still being relevant to the task or assignment at hand, I will consider my job well done.

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P.S. The next post will be my last as a First Year Academic Librarian here on ACRLog. Technically this should have been my final post, but the administrators kindly granted me one extra.

Odds & Ends & Useful Bits

Consider this post to be a little bit like that drawer in the kitchen where you put things because you don’t know where else to put them: buttons, an odd shoelace, a dead battery that may need recycling, that gadget that sculpts cucumbers into fancy shapes that you got for Christmas fifteen years ago, that piece of something that might be important if you only knew what it fell off of.

First of all, in re David v. Goliath, the ludicrous lawsuit by Reuters against Zotero for allegedly “reverse engineering” Endnote in order to make it possible to import and export citations between programs was dismissed by a judge. This is good news for innovation. More from the Jester, and a hat tip to Inside Higher Ed, which points to a good Crooked Timber piece on the suit.

A question raised on the Infocommons list struck me as a good example of how quickly things have changed in libraries. Not too long ago librarians debated banning cell phones in libraries. Now the question is whether to provide recharging stations. Once the question was posed, a certain amount of cognitive dissonance ensued. Joan Lippincott clarified the original poster’s intent by pointing out that a university in the Netherlands provides lockers with outlets where students can recharge their equipment while in class; another poster pointed to high-speed charging kiosks in airports. In any case, I found myself bemused by how quickly libraries adapt to changes that to some librarians seem at first antithetical to libraries and even, perhaps, civilization as we once knew it.

Finally, the useful bit: remember those preprints C&RL makes available online months before publication? You don’t? Well, here’s a refresher. Go to ACRL Insider and choose the tag or category “C&RL Preprints.” You’ll find articles that won’t see print for months. Be the first kid on your block to read about how professional education prepares academic librarians who go on to tenure track positions in a study by Rickey Best and Jason Kneip. Or read Kara Malanfant’s analysis of how the University of Minnesota Libraries are employing liaison librarians in discussions about scholarly communication.

Also at Insider you’ll find the contents of C&RL online, but it’s limited to members only, and further limited to members with the patience to log on and the ability to remember their password. Note to authors: for God’s sake, post your stuff online if you want it read, blogged, discussed, circulated. You can do that; the American Library Association is OA Green. While you take a few minutes to post your articles, hum to yourself “it’s not easy being green” – and then feel good that you did your professional bit for the cause, just like those U of M library liaisons.

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

This has been an interesting first year for me, and certainly not what I expected.  I’ve learned a lot about bureaucracy, and how to make the best of a clunky administrative system.  I’ve learned that what a librarian requests and what the library actually receives can be two vastly different things.  I’ve learned that without a library director to “go to bat” for you, you have to be very persistent to accomplish anything that requires permission or approval. And I’ve learned that working as a one-person-library is stressful, mind-warping, challenging, and tons of fun.

As a library student, I dreamed of helping students with complicated reference questions, and rabbit-trail search quests.  I dreamed of becoming proficient in the myriad databases and technological bits that the library utilizes. Ultimately, though, I dreamed of being a Tech Services librarian and working with collection development and cataloging.  I never dreamed I’d become a computer instructor, assisting students as they struggle with Blackboard or formatting an English paper.  I never dreamed I’d become a printer technician, troubleshooting and solving issues because it’s so hard to get the service guy to come to this campus.  I never dreamed I’d stand in front of a classroom full of bored students and get them (well, at least *some* of them) excited about library resources.  And I certainly never dreamed of doing any kind of presentation at a professional conference.

But upon reflection, some of my best memories from this year are just those things I never dreamed I’d do.  I’m an introvert, and getting in front of a class terrified me.  But it was fun!  I really got a kick out of seeing the “ah-ha moment” in a student’s eyes, as the complicated procedure about sending attachments suddenly becomes crystal clear.  Granted, I still don’t love the bureaucracy, but I’ve learned to worked the system and now I can repair my own books and do my own collection development and make most of the day-to-day decisions that impact everything that goes on in this space.  I get the reference questions and the database questions and the citation questions.  I’ve presented a poster session at the Alabama Library Association conference.  I’ve encouraged some new readers, and found some new authors for my “we love books” crowd.

I think I’d still like to go into tech services, but now that I’ve been an “everything librarian” for a year, I’d have to have a position where I can spend time with students too.  Because I’ve realized that the students are what make the job unexpected, intriguing, frustrating, and completely worthwhile.

So thanks for letting me post here this year as a First Year Blogger – this too has been a great learning experience.  I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the blog, and I know I’ll be back for regular visits to see what hot new topics are being discussed!