Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

How Usage Shapes Technology Application

Scanning the October 2010 issue of The Charleston Advisor I came across a review of the web-based movie making site called Xtranormal. Even if you didn’t know that name, you’d instantly recognize one of the movies created on the Xtranormal site. The review, by Ellen Metter is well done, and seriously considers the value of Xtranormal for instructional movie making by librarians. However, between now and when the review was submitted a few months ago, I wonder if any academic librarian is still seriously considering using Xtranormal to make a library-related video. The problem is that the software has become the leading contemporary technology for mocking, ridiculing or just plain bashing just about any topic you can imagine, from following printing instructions in libraries to tea party followers. It’s practically synonymous with sarcasm. You’ve probably seen most of the “So you want to be/go….” series – all incredibly sarcastic.

At this point I am wondering if any academic librarian would use Xtranormal to create an instructional video. If you did, would anyone take it seriously or would you be hoping that your target audience is woefully unaware of how Xtranormal is being used by the masses. What I find interesting is how the crowd is shaping the use of and perceptions surrounding this particular technology. I’m sure there are lots of well thought out Xtranormal instructional productions on there, but at this point would anyone take seriously these animated characters? I think not. What do you think? Still willing to use Xtranormal for serious learning or waiting for the next best thing?

No Library-Related Articles in The Chronicle’s Top Ten

Whenever there is a library-related article in the Chronicle I like to keep tabs on the “most read” and “most e-mailed” sections. To me it somewhat indicates the degree of interest in reading about library issues, and usually the library articles are highly read and e-mailed. Quite often these articles are at the top of the chart for several days. That’s why I was surprised to find that not a single article about academic librarianship made it to the top ten most read Chronicle articles for 2010. You academic librarians need to start reading the Chronicle a whole lot more.

Here’s How It Works People

I was amazed and astounded to learn that nearly 50% of the librarians who submitted proposals for the poster sessions at ACRL 2011 included information about their institution or library – and in some cases even named names – in the proposal. Over 400 proposals for posters were submitted and 160 were accepted. The selection committee members were puzzled by the unexpected high occurrence of librarians who didn’t appear to understand the concept of blind peer review. Yes, you do submit your contact information during the submission process, but that doesn’t mean you should include it again in your actual proposal. The two get kept separate so the reviewers won’t know who is submitting the proposal or where it’s coming from (and folks, we often know each other just by the names of our libraries). If there is any profession that should have a firm grasp of how blind peer review works, it ought to be us guys. Let’s see if we can do a better job in 2013. BTW, proposals were not eliminated or penalized for mentioning an institution or library. Next time, ACRL may not be so kind.

Wanted – Young Librarians Only

Perhaps you share my concerns about the future of professional library associations like ACRL. So any study that offers recommendations for how to retain existing members and recruit new ones should be of interest to us. So I was eager to read a new report from a group seeking to encourage member engagement. While this Task Force idea is a good one, I can’t say the same for the name. The ALA’s Young Librarians Task Force has issued the report that repeatedly refers to “young librarians” as it discusses ways to encourage them to become better advocates for ALA and the profession. There is one reference to “new/young” members, which to me is the sensible way to present this demographic. A case of ageism? Anyone who’s been teaching in an LIS program in the last few years knows that we still have a fairly sizable contingent of mid-life career changers entering this profession. To organize a Task Force around “young librarians” seems likely to dis-engage anyone over the age of 25. What age is young anyway? Can I be on the task force if I’m over 30? To be slightly cynical, I guess that if an association is going to throw time and effort into a recruiting campaign it is better to focus on young people because the older ones will die sooner – meaning less lifetime dues. If ALA signs up a 25 year old and retains them over 40 years – well that sure does add up. So perhaps I’m nitpicking a bit here, but in an organization that is perhaps the most politically correct on the planet, you have to be wondering why they decided on this name.

9 thoughts on “Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts”

  1. From “We Must Stop the Avalanche of Low-Quality Research,” number 9 on the list of most read Chronicle articles:

    In addition, as more and more journals are initiated, especially the many new “international” journals created to serve the rapidly increasing number of English-language articles produced by academics in China, India, and Eastern Europe, libraries struggle to pay the notoriously high subscription costs. The financial strain has reached a critical point. From 1978 to 2001, libraries at the University of California at Los Angeles, for example, saw their subscription costs alone climb by 1,300 percent.

    Fair point Steven, but surely an article about research output is library-related.

  2. After reading what you said about the poster session proposals, I had to go back and take a look at mine because I couldn’t remember what I had said. Fortunately, I didn’t mention my institution or library in my proposal – phew! (And my proposal was accepted, btw.)

  3. Ok, I’m guilty of naming names and institutions in my poster proposal (which was accepted.) And I feel slightly shamed by your post.

    However, I would counter-argue that naming people and institutions is not uniformly frowned upon in blind reviews. If you submit an article for blind review, they do not expect you to edit your entire article/book/etc. into a pool of vagueness for the reviewers to wallow through. And as librarians (I would hope, at least) that we are hyper aware of the need to cite our sources and give credit where credit is due.

    Additionally, I have previously submitted proposals to ACRL which are directly copy-pasted into the Events Schedule without a chance for me to edit them. So, now, when I write descriptions, I’m very careful to make sure that they’re written in a format that I would not be embarrassed to see in print. Though this is a separate issue, perhaps — that it should be more clear that a proposal should have a “schedule” blurb AND a “pitch” blurb.

  4. Were you in a bad mood when you wrote this post? What happened to “incorporating failure”? (see: )

    You’re spot-on with your critique of Xtranormal — I never liked them in the first place, and yes, they’ve been co-opted for sarcasm. Please, let’s stop using them before they become the next 2nd Life.

    But that’s where I stop being entertained by your sarcastic post. Perhaps young (yes, actually under 35, not young-in-the-profession) librarians really need their own special task force to recruit them. There’s also NMRT for those of you who hate outreach to the exclusively young. If the young NEED specialized outreach to convince them to join, the last thing ACRL should be doing on its blog is pissing them off.

    As for your, can I say it?, b*tchy slam of ACRL conference program submissions… could you please quote where the instructions mention that this is to be submitted for a “blind” review?

    p.s. There was a typo in the poster proposal submission form: “revelance” is not “relevance”

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the post Bill. Appreciate you pointing to the typo in the form, but I can’t claim responsibility for that – I’ll mention it to the ACRL folks when I get a chance. Since you asked I’m usually in a pretty good mood most of the time, but I guess my attempts at sarcasm don’t always work for everyone. I think most folks who’ve read the STST know I’ll use it to have a little fun at the expense of colleagues – but I think they also know I’m not being all that serious – most of the time. BTW, designing intentional failure into an instruction session is not the same as including a fail. I’m not suggesting folks shouldn’t experiment in their instruction. I’m sharing a view and raising a question. If I’m wrong about something, I’m glad to have readers tell me why. So if there are folks getting great results with Xtranormal, I’d love to hear about it. But given what I wrote about in the intentional failure post, I’m not sure how including an Xtranormal video would lead students to learn from making a mistake.

  6. As a co-chair of the Young Librarians Task Force, I want to assure you that we do not intend to exclude anyone based upon age. All librarians who share our concerns are invited to participate in our group space on ALA Connect, attend our meetings, and contribute to the larger conversation about making ALA more responsive and welcoming. Members of the Task Force represent a wide variety of ages.

    We decided on “young” for a couple of reasons:

    * Improving the organization’s responsiveness to one group will improve its responsiveness to all groups, resulting in a better organization for everyone.
    * “Young” will help us identify needs specific to people who are first-career library staff who have little experience as workers in general, library-related or not.

  7. As the co-chairs of the ACRL Poster Sessions, we would like to address Steven’s point. It is true that 47% of the proposals identify either their institution or themselves in some manner in their proposal. With such a high percentage of proposals in this category, clearly there was a disconnect between the instructions and the proposal submission form. As you can see from the Proposal instructions page , it does specify “ACRL 2011 is a blind, peer-review process. Please do not identify presenter and institution names in your proposal.” The Conference Planning committee has discussed this and brainstormed ways to prevent confusion for 2013. That review committee should notice a significant difference in the number of proposals where identifying information is included.

    That being said, we agree with Miriam that as presenters, we do want to share specific information in our proposal abstracts in order to attract an audience. We have seen this already in proposal submission process. For LOEX this year, I (Merinda) was granted the opportunity to keep my abstract as written or to edit it. That was a friendly gesture and I appreciated it. This is something we can take to ACRL as a suggestion for next time.

    And for those of you who have not served on an ACRL conference planning committee (and we highly encourage you to consider serving!), this is how the process works. We received 420 poster session proposals. The committee broke into groups and each group was assigned a range of proposals to review, based on a rubric that was developed by the committee as a whole. Each proposal is assigned a number by the electronic review system and we see the program title, the proposal description and the learning outcomes. Unlike smaller conferences, there isn’t an easy mechanism for editing 420 proposals for identifying information; hence, the reason for asking you to leave out your identifying information. We then meet as a group to go over the proposals and choose the top rated ones. And we do discuss proposals in-depth; sometimes an individual committee member sees something that the group does not.

    And finally, on to the most important point: why blind, peer review? ACRL is a competitive conference, as you all probably know (If your poster wasn’t chosen this time around, don’t despair! Get advice from a trusted colleague and try again). Blind, peer review is meant to ensure not only a fair process but also to elevate the prestige of *your* work. A poster is not just a poster; it allows the presenter to share an idea or research project that contributes to our profession. Remember, there are librarians looking for ways to meet tenure or continuing appointment standards and having a successful peer-reviewed poster proposal accepted at a conference like ACRL will support their case.

    We have chosen an amazing group of posters for 2011, and we hope you will visit the poster session area when you are in Philadelphia for the conference. See you there!

    Merinda and Trevor
    Co-chairs, ACRL 2011 Poster Sessions Subcommittee

  8. Laurel – thanks for your response with additional information on how the name for the group evolved. I never doubted that the group would be off limits to anyone of a certain age. That’s just not the ALA way. However, I still find it a questionable choice of committee name.

  9. Thanks to Merinda and Trevor for providing additional insight into the poster paper selection process at ACRL 2011. I’m especially glad you pointed out that the instructions make it clear that it’s a blind, peer-review process. I’m glad to hear the committee will have some specific recommendations for the ACRL 2013 conference that will help to make the proposal writing instructions more clear.

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