Peering at the Library from the Outside

[Note: I am pleased to introduce Lanny Arvan, my colleague at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who sometimes comments on ACRLog and who is always one of my top choices for a Friday afternoon coffee to explore issues related to higher education, libraries, education technologies, campus politics, and other important topics. We shared the experience of the Frye Leadership Institute in 2003. We don’t always agree – but that doesn’t worry us much. I hope ACRLog readers are as challenged by Lanny’s perspective as I am. Lisa Hinchliffe]

Peering at the Library from the Outside
Lanny Arvan

An economist is a surgeon with an excellent scalpel and a rough-edged lancet, who operates beautifully on the dead and tortures the living.
Nicholas Chamfort (1741 – 1794)

I’m an economist. I’m also a learning technologist. This bit is about how I see the Library dilemma. In my learning technology role I’ve been on a variety of committees with Librarians and have participated with them in writing several different white papers on new Library services and on new partnerships where the Library is a player. I know our world views are far apart. Perhaps we can bring our perspectives closer together.

Economists maintain two different approaches in thinking about dynamics. One is Hysterisis – the entire time path until the present matters. The other is Markovian; all that matters is the current state. From what I know about Librarians, the vast majority of them both believe in and practice seriously hysterisis about their Library work. The rest of us, however, are Markovians, particularly with regard to our own publishing and information needs.

This post was motivated by another, written by Dorothea on talking about institutional repositories and that they are broken. I served on a committee for my campus institutional repository before the project got off the ground and during the gestation of the then fledgling pilot. I can report faithfully that all the Librarians in the group had what seemed – to me at least – a bizarre fascination with preservation. That was their raison d’être and how they saw what the repository brought to the table regarding digital publishing.

As a sometime creator of digital information, my interest is elsewhere – on discovery. I want others to find my stuff and then I want them to think it is important – but I do recognize the later is my problem as the writer/creator. Should it also be my problem to become expert on making my stuff discoverable? Why can’t I get consultation from Librarians on a do-it-right approach to getting others to find my stuff? Specifically focusing on repositories, do they help with that and in a way that’s obvious to me?

My current understanding of the discovery issue is that it is complex and idiosyncratic to the particular researcher/creator. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, even if there are guidelines for good practice. Metaphorically, consultation of the type I have in mind means the Librarian comes to me. That is what I need. For it to occur more broadly, with my need simply as a way to introduce the broader concern, we should have Librarians as consultants acting in a distributed manner across the disciplines. The Librarians would work as collaborators with the researcher/creators on the end-to-end strategy for managing their personal collections. Making the content discoverable would be a big part of the strategy.

Instead, in what I read about where Libraries should be heading, in writings by Librarians themselves, there is, first, the discussion of the Library as a place within which scholars accumulate and, second, the discussion of the importance of the digital collections Libraries provide. My needs as creator of information aren’t really addressed with either of those. Why not address the need to make my work discoverable? Indeed, why not make that the centerpiece of what the Library does?

So, Librarians, consider yourselves lanced. I hope it isn’t too painful and further that the outside in view helps inform where indeed you do head.


On the heels of the successful Five Weeks to a Social Library and the Learning 2.0 from Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County with its 23 Things, we also have at least two examples of academic libraries organizing their own 2.0 events/series. Check out the Library 2.0 Conference at The Ohio State University Libraries, and Mlibrary2.0 and 13 Things from the University of Michigan Library. With access to all of this, making your own AcademicLibrary2.0 workshop series will be far less work than it otherwise would be. Don’t have money to bring in all the speakers? A big thank you to our colleagues for recording and making available so many of the sessions they have sponsored! Use the comments to tell us about your AcademicLibrary2.0 efforts!

m-Libraries Conference

Wow. About time.

Those were my two immediate reactions upon seeing the announcment for “The First International m-libraries Conference” that “aims to explore and share work carried out in libraries around the world to deliver services and resources to users ‘on the move,’ via a growing plethora of mobile and hand-held devices … bring together researchers, technical developers, managers and library practitioners to exchange experience and expertise and generate ideas for future developments.”

A quick look around any library, shopping mall, airport, coffeeshop, grocery store, etc. and we see that library users are often on the move with mobile information devices. Yet – most of our resources and services are either place-bound or they are digitally available but assume a computer screen – not a cell phone, blackberry, or PDA. Have you ever looked at a library website through a mobile device web browser? I have. It wasn’t pretty. Forget getting to any of the licensed content.

I hope this is an area of quick and determined action for libraries but, even if not, the conference sessions look intriguing and may spur some new areas of activity.


The Only Laptop in the Room (and a Worthwhile Keynote Paper)

I’m not certain what I think it means but … I am attending this conference – The Student as Scholar: Undergraduate Research and Creative Practice – and am the only person I see with a laptop in the sessions. So different than presenting at ACRL and other recent library conferences where the blog posts about my presentations were posted to the web by attendees before I gathered my things up and left the podium. I sometimes wonder if librarians make too much of our willingness to embrace technology and use it to our advantage but then …

In any case, let me use my laptop to your advantage – take a look at the keynote – From Convocation to Capstone: Developing the Student as Scholar. Some interesting ideas and obvious connections to information literacy. I particularly think that academic librarians might benefit from becoming familiar with LEAP: Liberal Education and America’s Promise and especially the report College Learning for the New Global Century.

Library Video

Like many others, I enjoy the videos that libraries and librarians (and sometimes our users) are posting to YouTube here and here and here are some of my favorites. The possibilities for connecting with students through video capitalizes on the rich visuals a library environment provides. The past two years, we’ve had a chance to build a partnership with the Housing unit in Student Services on our campus and produce a video for outreach to new students. As former ACRLog-er Scott Walter is right to remind us, Student Services professionals are natural partners on campus and share some similar challenges and approaches with us (on Facebook, Scott has recently formed the “Student Services in Libraries” group).

Some readers may have attended the panel I gave with colleagues Meg Burger and Susan Avery at the ACRL National Conference in Baltimore where we were able to give people a sneak-peak at our not-yet-released “Explore the Undergrad Library” commercial that we produced with the Housing unit. So many people asked for the link when it was posted and asked that we share it more broadly. For a variety of reasons, we can’t put it on YouTube or other similar site, but it is now online from the Housing website and will be sent to all first-year undergraduate students as part of a DVD introducing academic and students services on campus (view Windows Media Player or view Quicktime).

Anyone else have something like this they are willing to share? Use the comments and tell ACRLog about it!