Programs for academic librarians at Annual

It’s hard to believe that ALA Annual has snuck up on us again, but here it is coming up this week! For those of you who will be joining the ranks in Mickey Mouse’s hometown, ACRLog has put up a new page on our site with a concise (ish) listing of all the programs that are relevant to college and university libraries.

And for those who may be interested, I hope to see you at the University Libraries Section Program, “R U Communicating? Speaking the Language of Millennials,” which I’ve been planning along with some other great ULS folks. I’ve got to say, I had no idea how much work and energy goes into planning these events until I found myself on the other side of the fence. I have a new respect for the programs now…

Hope you have a wonderful conference!

The education vs. indoctrination debate

I’m the RSS reader type who subscribes to a little bit of everything and then doesn’t really pay attention to which is which when skimming through the feeds (let’s just say “detail oriented” doesn’t go on my resume). Yet somehow in the melee of my reader, the Digital Reference blog keeps getting my attention. It’s not that Stephen’s posts are particularly controversial, but he just keeps hitting topics in a way that sparks my mind into motion. Most recently the one that got the wheels turning was “Referring patrons to open access resources.” Here’s what he had to say:

As I’ve been reading up on open access journals and open access archives (AKA open access repositories), I’ve been wondering to what extent I have been intentionally and unintentionally guiding patrons to these resources. I have to admit that I can’t remember a time when I explicitly referred a student to search for content in an open access archive or suggested they use a tool to locate articles in OA journals.

What got me in this paragraph was the “I have to admit” part, the feeling that this post is somehow an apology for not directing students to OA databases first. If that’s something to be sorry for then I’d better get in line, because I’ve never deliberately led a student to an OA resource. In my opinion, that would be something like suggesting a book on their topic because it was a nice color. Sure, I enjoy looking at a book with a pretty cover, but I’m sure as heck not going to select (er, judge) it on that point.

So here we go, into the “education vs. indoctrination” debate. Do we push tools and resources because we want to teach students to believe what we believe, or because they deliver what the student wants? Seems like a no-brainer, but even so early in my career I’ve been in a few situations where I wrestled with that question — such as the young boy who came in when I was at the public library and asked for books that support his pro-life opinion (can you have politics at 10?). I can remember some passionate debates on the subject in library school, and the issue reaches into all of higher education. Do a search on “education and indoctrination” anywhere you like and you’ll immediately find yourself in the thick of it. For instance, consider this comment in a Chronicle article by Jonathan Malesic entitled, “The Smell of Indoctrination in the Morning”:

In graduate school, I once overheard one teaching assistant tell another that she wanted to try to make her students into liberals before it was too late. Now, I think that having a few more liberals around, especially if they were strategically placed in swing states, would be a great thing for the republic. So in one sense, I sympathize with that TA. But I also know that to make students into liberals is an essentially illiberal act.

The fuzzy part of the issue is the question of where that line between education and indoctrination actually lies. Is it like pornography: you know it when you see it? Maybe. Or it could be even more tenuous and grey; an ever-shifting line that challenges us on a daily basis to uphold our own democratic values. It’s our privilege as librarians to know what the best information sources are, and to know what sources make for a healthy future of information. It is our challenge to communicate that knowledge to others. But is a reference interview the place to do so?

What do you think? Do you recommend resources based on need and relevance to the reference question, or do other factors come into play? In what circumstances do you (however subtly) push your values out to unsuspecting students? It’s a question worth asking ourselves periodically, and trying to measure how close we stand to that shifting, grey line.

The lure of the local (library association)

Americans are mobile by nature, and American academics are even more so. Simply to change jobs most of us would need to relocate to another city, if not another state. This mobility has been on my mind recently because this year, for the first time, I became significantly involved in my local library organization. It is the first time I have felt moved to become locally involved because it is also the first time I have been in a job and a town where I can picture myself happily remaining long-term, even forever.

I’m “borrowing” this post title from a fascinating book I read a number of years ago by Lucy Lippard, an art critic who wrote about the ways that we construct our identities from our surroundings. She writes:

Our personal relationships to history and place form us, as individuals and groups, and in reciprocal ways we form them. Land, history, and culture meet in a multicentered society that values place but cannot be limited to one view.

Many of us underestimate the reciprocal relationship between ourselves our our places, and relocate often enough that we lack the opportunity or desire to gain a deep knowledge of the place where we live NOW. This applies to everything around us: the landscape, the people and friendships we form, our local history, and the organizations to which we dedicate our time and skill.

Participation in a national organization such as ACRL is extremely valuable — I would be the last person to argue otherwise — but participation in a local library association is arguably even more important. On the local level we gain essential historical knowledge of our place; we develop relationships with the people who keep the libraries of all types in our area running; we learn the ways of the institutional, regional, and state boards that determine our funding. Most importantly, on the local level we can share the skills and knowledge we have gained from our national involvement to empower and improve the libraries in our region. We can collaborate and build our local communities together.

So perhaps my blog post has turned treatise, but I have come to see local participation as a privilege and a duty. I have been fortunate in the opportunities I have been offered within ALA and ACRL, and will continue to enjoy my national participation. Yet we are also physical people living in a physical places, and our identities are being formed around us. “Where are you from?,” asks everyone we meet at our national conferences.

What I say to that question is “Boise State University in Idaho.” But in truth my answer varies by the day, for each day I learn more about what it means to live and work as a librarian in Idaho, a place unique from any other. In our globalized world, living in the local is a whole new way of being, and one that brings unexpected rewards.

Think you know Wikipedia? You might… or you might just think you do

Up until about two weeks ago, I was a Wikipedia snob. I thought that I knew what it was and how it worked. I had looked at the site, browsed through a few entries, and edited a couple of test pages anonymously to see how easy it was to screw with the entries. I had read a few articles & blog posts (including in ACRLog) that were skeptical about the site. I would say things like, “Sure, Wikipedia has its place. Just leave it at home.” In my opinion, Wikipedia was a project of the unwashed masses who had no idea what real information was.

I thought I could sum up the complex creature called Wikipedia in a few dismissive phrases, but I was wrong. I think differently now.

After sitting in on a workshop with an inspiring colleague — Glenda Phipps from the Miami Dade College Libraries — I find myself actually excited about Wikipedia. Better late than never, thank you Glenda. As she worked through her informative talk about the site, I surfed. I hit the “Random Article” link over and over again just to see what would come up. And after a while, dense as I am, it began to dawn on me: this thing is incredible. The energy and care and passion that have gone, and continue to go, into creating this open, free, public encyclopedia… wow. I mean, where else can you find so many people who are so passionate about knowledge? (A library, perhaps?)

True, it is not an authoritative resource. There will always be a debate about its reliability, and it is my prediction that no one will ever solve that problem with Wikipedia. So don’t think of it that way. Think of it as an ever-evolving massive collection of popular knowledge. And give it a chance.

It might help if I mention here a few things I have recently learned about Wikipedia that helped to change my opinion:

1. Anyone who creates an account can also create a “watch list” of entries that you have created or otherwise feel some ownership of. So if somebody makes a change to one of those entries, you’ll get an alert.

2. Those who have (like me and Alexander M.C. Halavais) tested the system by purposefully adding misinformation have found that our planted errors are corrected quickly.

3. It’s fun! Go ahead, try it. Search for an entry on something you care about. If it already exists, add your knowledge. If it doesn’t, create it. Then see what you think about Wikipedia.

The honeymoon is over, now the marriage begins…

Last week was the start of my second semester as a university librarian. Having barely surfaced from all the work associated with ALA Midwinter (and with still quite a few things on the to-do list I brought home), I could’ve used another month of calm before the current storm. But that is not the academic librarian’s life, I find!

The nice thing is that over the break I got to see a number of projects from the fall pay off. We launched a new library front page (no small thing!!) with a design that my colleagues and I spent many long hours drafting and revising. I attended my liaison college’s start-of-semester meeting and was pleased to realize — by running into them there — that I am succeeding in building relationships with faculty members in my departments. I put up my first exhibit, a tie-in to Focus the Nation (in which my campus is participating), with the generous help and contributions of several colleagues.

At the same time, I’m finding that the shine is off a little. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my job, but I’m starting to see more reality and less honeymoon in my library. I’ve had a few minor interpersonal conflicts to smooth out, and I’ve seen obstacles appear in the path of some projects or directions I want to pursue. Where before I had this big smile plastered on my face all the time, now the smiles come and go. Perhaps the contrast is more distinct after coming back from two days of Emerging Leaders activities in Philadelphia. That experience made me feel ready to take over the world, but of course the world is not particularly receptive to being taken over.

I’m not unique here, and I don’t claim to be. It’s not as if my experience is unusual; many people go through this sort of honeymoon-to-reality phase in work, in marriage, and in other types of relationships. We start out and everything’s new, exciting, full of promise. We project our hopes and ideals for the relationship onto the other person or organization, and over time slowly start to realize that what we imagined is simply not the truth — and it doesn’t have to be. It can be even more exciting to shed those honeymoon imaginings and get to know the reality behind them.

I was just reading a 2004 article in the Chronicle on this topic, and the columnist had a very savvy perspective:

My hiring honeymoon died fast, thank goodness. I found out that just because I was the center of attention for a few months did not mean that the program or the university would perpetually revolve around me. I found that when I bellyached less, and instead offered practical and measured solutions for real problems, administrators looked more favorably on the requests I did make. And I found that respect came to me from doing my best at everything I could do and admitting what I couldn’t do.

Between the lines in Mr. Perlmutter’s article I’m hearing a few reminders: first, to be a team player and to give as much as you take; second, to be rational instead of emotional; and third, to be patient. None of these things are always easy, but together they contribute to far deeper and more lasting relationships.

So come back to me, lottery-ticket feeling. Because I’ve hit the point now where I need to figure out how I fit into this organization, and how it fits me. As I move forward, I vow to keep those three reminders in mind. A honeymoon is a wonderful thing, but ultimately I’m committed to a long, happy marriage.