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.

What Makes A Good Academic Library Director

I’m sure we all have our own ideas about this topic, and you may have previously followed the research of Peter Hernon, Ronald Powell, and Arthur P. Yolung on the attributes of library directors (a book, several articles in College & Research Libraries and one in Library Journal).

Although it’s just one of several topics discussed in this podcast that features Susan Perry and her work with the Council on Library and Information Resources and the Mellon Foundation, Perry comments on her view of core competencies for academic library directors. Here’s what makes her list of core competencies for library directors:

* understand web page development
* expertise with digital assets management
* ability to work with scholars and students to make the right information accessible
* ability to work well with information technologists (e.g., campus computing)
* ability to mentor others (help them keep up with latest trends)

Clearly the focus is the technology aspects of library leadership, and in the podcast there is a fair amount of talk about scholarly publishing as the issue of the day. I would have liked to hear more about the role of user education for library technology , and how the library director can set the stage for it to be integrated into the curriculum. From my perspective, a critical attribute for library directors (moreso for colleges and small universities than research libraries) is the ability to integrate the library into the curriculum, and that only happens when the director, working collaboratively with library staff and other academic support professionals, is able to connect with faculty and encourage them to integrate library resources into their coursework.

By the way, the podcasts created by EDUCAUSE are among the easiest to take advantage of because you don’t even need to download them. Simply click on the play button on the page and the podcast will begin. Of course, there is also a link to the mp3 file for those that prefer to download the podcast.