Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Now That You’re Finally Retiring

When it’s time for me to retire, in, oh, 20 years or so, I hope some young whippersnapper librarian will ask me what the meaning of librarianship is. Well, if it evers happens I hope I can come up with some good advice like David Bishop did for this brief article. Bishop is the University Librarian at Northwestern University and he’ll be retiring soon after 40 years in the field. So what sort of advice does Bishop have for those of us who won’t be retiring anytime soon. Among his pieces of advice:

  • Be prepared to be flexible…the biggest job librarians will be facing is changing the expectations of libraries…My concern is that many libraries have to change and change quickly in order for provosts and the general public to see the relevance of libraries in the age of Gooogle.
  • How does Bishop think we can maintain that relevance? He recommends accelerating the acquisition of electronic content, providing community space in the library, be an integral part of teaching and help faculty and students to learn the new ways of working. Gems of wisdom? You be the judge. But I think this is good basic advice for developing and sustaining a position of relevance. Academic libraries are not immune, says Bishop, to going out of business. Well, not if I can help it – at least not for another 20 years.

    It’s Time For Serious Games

    There are certainly divided opinions about the value of electronic gaming for learning and their role in academic settings. How one feels about this issue could depend on the kind of games that could be used in educational settings. To advance higher education’s understanding of gaming a new effort called the Serious Games Initiative has just started becoming more widely known. The goal of the site is to focus on games that explore management and leadership challenges facing the public sector. Part of the mission of the site is to bring together the gaming industry with education, training, health and public policy for greater productivity. The site seems more like a series of blogs (that haven’t been updated since June) than background information or analysis about the use of games for serious applications. I plan to keep an eye on the site. I suspect that the influence of gaming for education is only going to grow.

    Down With Engines, Up With Portals

    Must be the time of year for search engine usage studies. I just came across another one contained in the Annual E-Business Report produced by the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan. This one’s main finding is the U.S. residents are less satisfied with traditional search engines, but happier with portals like AOL. The findings on user preferences for different engines with respect to customer satsifaction is of mild interest, but what I really wanted to know – and what this news item didn’t discuss – is what is it about the portals (AOL is mentioned specifically) that makes customers more satisfied. I’m about to launch a portal for our business school students and faculty, and it would be helpful to know what features of portals are most appreciated by users. My portal attempts to gather all our relevant business databases, links to Internet resources, special resources pages (e.g., SWOT research, company research, etc.), and course-specific research guides into a single home page. We will be testing another portal as well, hoping that it will satisfy our users by saving them time and making it easier to choose from among research options, and if these prove successful we’ll create additional portals for our other programs. I hope to learn more about portal development and what makes them work well for users.

    One Blogger’s Take on MySpace/Facebook

    If you enjoy the debates about social networking software and what stance academics should take on these new social networking communities, I think you will enjoy this blog post by Matthew Williams (I Am Matthew Williams and Your Are Not). Williams takes to task those faculty who either disregard or complain about sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Their main complaint says Williams is that faculty see social networks as distractions to learning. He claims they need to explore ways in which they can allow their students to play a more integral role in the course rather than just being passive participants. I don’t doubt there are quite a few faculty examing how they can create more opportunities for their students to participate more actively in their courses. Can a faculty member go so far as to give more of a social network feel to his or her course? I’m sure we’ll see more of them giving it a try.

    Update on OPML

    A few months ago I shared some experiments I was doing with “reading lists’ using OPML technology. At that time I offered a reading list for higher education news resources. Since then I’ve created a unique page on my web site to hold different reading lists. The newest reading list will faciliate the addition of Google News resources. If you want to keep up with Google you might find the reading list a very convenient option for adding selected Google “keep up” blogs to your news aggregator. The page also contains instructions on how to use the reading lists. Give it a try.

    Do Academic Librarian Searches Take Too Long?

    Without knowing much about the average length of a job search in academia, I wonder if, as Todd Gilman claims, job searches for academic librarians do take an excessively long amount of time to complete. Gilman has authored a series of career-oriented articles (sharing his experiences as a Ph.D. migrating to a career in academic librarianship) for the Chronicle, and in his latest one he takes academic librarian search committees to task for failing to complete their work in a reasonable amount of time – which should be one semester according to Gilman. In his Chronicle piece Gilman provides a laundry list of offenses that search committees, personnel librarians and library directors need to avoid. When they don’t, says Gilman, top candidates are likely to reject the position in disgust.

    One point I can’t argue with, and would encourage all search committees to do more of, is the need to maintain regular contact with job applicants. It should be relatively easy to create a distribution list (using BCC: to avoid anyone spotting e-mail addresses of others) for the candidates, and simply provide them with a status report on the progress of the search every few weeks or at least alert candidates to those times when the search is bogging down – for whatever reason. That would certainly alleviate some of the anguish of the “endless searche” problem Gilman describes.

    Please share your “endless searche” stories here – as a comment – or provide your tips on how to avoid them from happening. Were you ever so disgusted by a search process you encountered that you decided to withdraw from the search? Let us know.

    Where Is Your Library Link And What Does It Say About Your Institution

    There was an interesting thread on COLLIB-L on Tuesday the 18th about the institution’s home page and the place of the link to the library on that page – or its lack of presence . It began with one librarian reporting her institution was about to makes some changes to its web site and its intention to “demote” the library from a prominently placed link on the home page to simply being included in a link to academic units. What advice, this person asked, could we give to help in making a case for keeping the library link prominently placed on the home page. After some practical suggestions, such as gathering page view data to show the library’s importance to the community, were offered the exchange morphed into a debate of sorts on the need for an obvious library link on the institutional home page.

    I observed there were two different perspectives on the function of a library link on the institution’s home page. Was the link needed for prospective students or current students? There was a general consensus that the institution’s home page was perceived by the administration as a marketing resource for prospective students and their families. From that perspective, why is a link to the library needed to promote the institution? Surely our marketing colleagues would rather see links to student blogs or campus amenities. You could make a case that a prominent library link is a symbolic gesture that communicates to prospective students that the library is still “the heart of the campus.” Or you could make a case that the library is more important to prospective students than previously imagined. I suggested making that case for the library link by pointing to a report mentioned previously here at ACRLog that documented the library building was ranked highly among factors prospective students using in making their college decisions. If the building is important to students then it may be having a library link on the home page does make a significant contribution to the marketing effort – as well as a statement about the institution’s commitment to important values.

    But if our concern is the current student what is the real value of a link on the homepage? Shouldn’t we have better ways to get them to our resources. Think about it. If a student wants to use a library database, navigating to it from the institution’s home page could mean 4 or 5 clicks which is too many. I suggested getting an INFO domain (e.g., http://yourlibraryname.info) and then spreading the word to use that domain name to quickly get to the library (e.g., http://gutman.info – note that you need to create a redirect to the actual URL of the home page). Another option could be to create a set of portals (see a prototype here as an example) for your different schools or majors that is truly focused on the information needs of those students. If we create something of value that saves students time and energy they’ll take notice and you won’t have to worry about them finding the link to the library on the university home page. As far as saving the student time and giving them convenient tools to work with, Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, gave a good suggestion when she shared a link to her library’s customized toolbar. This is a great idea, though there’s a bit of effort involved in creating the customized toolbar, but if you can get students to integrate the library into their web brower, who needs a link on the institution’s home page. You can contact Lisa directly if you’d like a copy of a handout about the toolbar created for a poster session.

    Chris Olson, of Chris Olson & Associates, would argue that even with these tools and specialized applications, having a link to the library on the institution’s home page was a marketing opportunity for gaining students that the institution would throw away by eliminating the link to the library. Sharing her marketing savvy, Olson wrote “it’s not about visibility…it’s not about making it easy for students to find the library. It’s about positioning the library in a business context and using business/bottomline-oriented arguments to convince people of the library’s value.” She added that just arguing that the library deserves to be on the home page isn’t sufficient, but that we should argue that presenting it there makes good business sense. Sounds like that argument could appeal to business-oriented administrators. But do we have the research or data to support the argument? Tom Kirk, library director at Earlham College, also brought up the value of examining web site data, but made the observation that data alone would hardly yield the information we need about student behavior in using institutional and library web sites. Until we do know more about how students use our web sites, Tom said, we may be unjustified in arguing for what belongs on a home page. As for alternatives, Tom suggested that many of our institutions have specialized portals for communicating with current students and faculty, where a more prominent library link could be placed. He also suggested that having the library under “academics” has “become a de facto standard alternative to a link on the home page?” So if they do move your library link from the home page to academics, don’t take it too badly. Dan Gjelten, Director of Libraries at the University of St. Thomas, brought the voice of moderation to the discussion by reflecting on the tensions between campus web site as marketing space and information resource. He argued that it needs to be both but that the emphasis probably needs to be on attracting new students. He said, “It is a big world wide web and it is many things to many people. I believe there is room enough for all of us.” So perhaps there is a way we can figure out how to share the institutional home page space in a way that is mutually beneficial for the library and institution. Dan also referred the list to a new ECAR report (note – your organization needs to be a member to view online) on how the University of Toronto addressed the challenges of creating an institution-wide web space to better serve the academic community. It could be that report has some information that will help to better define how the library contributes to the institutional web site.

    In the end, while the consensus on the list was that academic librarians should advocate for a library link on the institution home page – if for nothing more than purely symbolic reasons – it may be that we are lacking a strong argument backed by data for why the library deserves to have link space among the valuable web real estate that is the institutional home page. For us it seems to boil down to a set of psychological (you really love us, don’t you), sentimental (we are the “heart of the campus”, right) and territorial (we deserve this space because we’re more important than…) needs that demand we have a presence on the institution’s home page. All the arguments aside, I still think (and many of you would no doubt agree) that it makes a nice institutional statement when there is a prominently displayed library link on the home page. But in the age of “marketing trumps all” thinking and the need to provide a user experience, we may find ourselves having a tough time making a case for the library link on the institution’s home page.

    Welcome AASL Blog

    ALA issued a news release today indicating that the American Association of School Librarians launched a permanent blog. Apparently AASL previously only did a conference blog. The blog team here at ACRLog welcomes AASL blog to the ALA family of blogs. What other divisions have them? I know that PLA and LITA have blogs, but I don’t think there are any others just yet. I’m sure that other divisions are planning them as I write this.

    It would be great if all the ALA associated blogs could offer a uniform URL. We use www.acrlblog.org, but that is by no means a standard. I think it would be smart to have a common syntax along the lines of: www.divisionabbreviationblog.org (as in www.aaslblog.org; www.litablog.org, etc.). The URL for AASL blog is quite different. While I’m on wishing for things that will probably never come to fruition, how about a link on ALA’s home page for “Read ALA’s Division Blogs” – where you can find links to all of them.

    Non-Librarian Professionals Making A Difference

    The first night of class I tell my academic librarianship students that the key to learning about academic libraries is getting out and going to academic libraries and talking to the people who work there. I learned how true that is last week when I visited two different academic libraries. On Wednesday I was treated to a guided tour of the library at Wright State University by Stephen Foster, University Librarian. The full-scale replica of the Kitty Hawk hanging in the library’s atrium is certainly unique, but that wasn’t the highlight of the tour. While there are lots of great folks working at the WSU library one of their stars isn’t a librarian at all. Vishwam Annam is a web developer for the library, and I was duly impressed by some of the innovative work for which he’s responsible.

    The next night I visited the library at the University of Pennsylvania. I always take my students there for the grand tour. It gives them an opportunity to see some of the behind the scenes action, and get to know a few more library practitioners. I’ve been at Penn’s Van Pelt Library many times, but this was my first chance to see their new information commons which was smaller than I expected, but impressive none the less. I think what my students enjoyed most was our post-tour demonstration of and discussion about Penn Tags. This innovation would probably be impossible if not for the non-library professionals who do the web programming. We learned that the Penn Tagging that’s integrated into the catalog isn’t actually in the catalog, but is just a layer on top of it that’s the result of AJAX programming. Pretty amazing stuff. We also learned Penn’s Library is unveiling a new look home page next week that appears to be heavily influenced by a company whose name begins with a “G” – take a look.

    You probably read Jim Neal’s article about “feral professionals” that points out that it’s increasingly becoming a necessity, not a luxury, to have non-librarian professionals within the academic library organization. Based on the experiences of the two libraries I visited last week I can clearly see the importance of having web programmers on staff. The real problem is that the vast majority of academic libraries won’t be able to afford it – or be willing to commit to the change. The large and mid-sized university libraries seem to have the staffing flexibilities to add a range on non-librarian professionals to their staff. Small universities and colleges will be hard pressed to do the same, but perhaps they can develop some strategies to share ideas and resources for utilizing the talents of our non-librarian colleagues.

    Wouldn’t it be great to be able to spend a few days each month just visiting different academic libraries. It’s always a learning experience.