Arriving about fifteen minutes after the start of the Instruction Sessionâ€™s discussion on teaching methods, I found they were already turning folks away. The room was busting at the seams with librarians at roundtables deep into discussions about issues related to teaching and learning and the role of librarians in that process. Hmm. I suppose we need to further debate our instruction role, and whether itâ€™s got a future. But I digress â€“ and I expect weâ€™ll have a report on that session from an attendee â€“ so more on that session later.
Since I was already at this hotel I found another session to join. So I headed off to the Heads of Public Services for Large Research Libraries discussion group. The fact that Iâ€™m neither a Head of Public Service or working in a research library didnâ€™t make this session any less interesting. In fact itâ€™s always a surprise to sit in on a discussion where you are an outsider, and hear that the â€œbig issuesâ€ in another segment of academic librarianship have much in common with your own. One of the recurring themes was marginalization. Do our users need us, and do our current service structures make sense for them? I also sensed an identity crisis of sorts. Parts of the discussion kept coming back to a critical question for all of us. What does public services mean to the library organization and academic institution, and what does it mean for our users?
Jumping into the discussion I asked if there was an identity crisis in public services. I mentioned some ideas I picked up at the OCLC seminar on â€œExtreme Makeover for the Libraryâ€ that was largely about re-branding the library. Perhaps, I suggested, public services needed to remake its brand. After all, does the phrase public services mean anything to a user or an academic administrator. Isnâ€™t public services a thing â€“ a conglomeration of different departments â€“ rather than the educational product it is designed to deliver. It may be helpful to read this brief essay by Clayton Christensen (disruptive technologies) about designing services that target the job that users want to accomplish (successfully completing an assignment) rather than the users themselves (e.g., undergrads). Maybe it shouldnâ€™t be public services. What about â€œlearning supportâ€ or â€œeducation and research managementâ€. At least one person commented that there was no identity crisis, but I think more than a few thought the idea might be worth further exploration. Could be public services may be in need of a makeover.
As a member of the planning committee for ACRL’s 13th National Conference, to be held in April 2007 in Baltimore, I spent time at this ALA Midwinter conference at various conference planning meetings. Although the Minneapolis conference in 2005 will be tough to top, this great group of conference planners, led by the always dynamic and enthusiastic Mary Reichel, will be working hard to deliver an even better conference experience for attendees. In particular, the planning group is looking at ways to improve two events that were the source of some discontent at the 2005 conference. Clearly, the poster sessions were way too crowded owing to many presenters and a lack of space, and that is definitely being addressed for Baltimore. In addition, the workshops are incredibly popular but often all of those who want to attend just can’t get into the sessions. The committee is considering ways to allow for more attendees to get to the workshops. There is still a long way to go until we get to Baltimore, but this conference appears to be in very capable hands.
I attended OCLC’s “Extreme Makeover” seminar on Friday, here at the ALA midwinter conference. It was definitely a worthwhile event even if it wasn’t exactly geared to the academic library segment. Still, I picked up a few good ideas I’ll be thinking about for my library. I won’t go into great detail about the session because the folks over at It’s All Good have lots of detailed notes on what each speaker had to say.
The final speaker Antony Brewerton is known for the marketing campaigns he does for his library. But as the only academic librarian (and only true librarian) on the bill, he did little to connect reaching users to collaborating with faculty. It’s great to have fancy brochures of the type shown from his library, but if we do a good job of connecting with faculty and encouraging them to drive students to the library’s resources through assignments and associated instruction opportunities, I think that will go much farther in helping academic libraries reach their user community – and avoid marginalization and irrelevance – something that was mentioned more than a few times in this symposium.
Let’s hope OCLC keeps offering these good programs at ALA events.
I participated in the ACRL/NY Metropolitan Chapter’s symposium yesterday on “Connecting With the Net Generation,” at Baruch College in Manhattan. A highlight of the day for me was an opportunity to meet Joan Lippincott, Associate Director of the Coalition of Networked Information. It also reminded me that I had wanted to encourage ACRLog readers to listen to a podcast interview with Lippincott that was recorded at this year’s EDUCAUSE conference. It’s 30 minutes well spent. If podcasts aren’t your cup of tea just yet (although this is a good time to try one) that’s no problem. You can still read what Lippincott has been writing about the netgen and how libraries can do a better job of making the right kind of changes that will help us better connect with our students. Lippincott had a good article in Library Journal‘s October 1, 2005 issue. That article contains a link to another of Lippincott’s must reads, her chapter “Net Generation Students and Libraries,” in the EDUCAUSE publication Educating the Net Generation, edited by Diana G. and James L. Oblinger.
What I really liked about Lippincott’s presentation on netgen learners yesterday is that while she presented a number of suggestions about what academic libraries could be doing to better serve or reach the Millennial generation, she made a point to tell the attendees, “I realize that many of you are not going to rush back to your libraries to make all these changes, but if you can just accomplish one or two of them it may help to make a difference.” I think it was great for her to acknowledge that many of us are in situations where we have many pressing issues to deal with, often with limited or shrinking resources, but to encourage us to attempt creating change – slowly. This is a refreshing change from other library pundits who come up with clever catch phrases that ultimately ring hollow and perhaps do no more then make front-line librarians feel badly that they aren’t changing quickly enough, that their systems stink, that their programs aren’t hi-tech enough, or any of the other things you read that fall into this category of non-help (you can read more about this in a Library Journal “Backtalk” column). We need more speakers who come from a non-library situation who will stand up and give us sensible advice.
I spoke about Googlelization and Google Migration and my presentation materials (slides, websites of interest, and handout) are available at my website if you are interested.
That’s the title of a provocative presentation made by Gregg Silvis, of the University of Delaware Library systems office, at the annual PALINET meeting. I made a reference to this program in an earlier post, and I finally attended last Monday. Silvis began with a retrospective of OPAC development, and reminded everyone of how much maintenance work legacy catalogs used to require. You may date yourself if “filing above the rod” actually holds some meaning for you. Our catalog history is largely one of massive duplication of effort. Even though bibliographic networks and library automation eliminated many forms of duplication, to this day thousands of academic libraries duplicate effort when they maintain their local OPAC. Silvis’ radical solution to the duplication is to forego all local loading of catalogs, and instead use WorldCat as a shared, universal OPAC.
Silvis acknowledges that his vision for the OPAC is conceptual and short on specifics. His immediate goal is to share the idea with colleagues for feedback and refinement. He also reminds us there is more to library systems than the local OPAC; acquisitions, serials, and circulation are largely local entities and need to remain that way. But he clearly demonstrated how much of the information provided in the OPAC is available through WorldCat records. Among the advantages are a standardized and better interface than most OPACs. A uniform OPAC could allow for the display of only local holdings when desired. Challenges include a host of serials issues, potentially incomplete holdings information, and an inability to manage item specific information such as special collections material.
While it’s an idea that clearly needs more work it is not without merit. If we could manage to centralize the primary types of information into a national OPAC, it would indeed eliminate vast amounts of duplication conducted at local libraries. Those now performing that work could shift to public services where more outreach is needed, or could focus attention on local collections where backlogs exist, such as the archives or special collections. Clearly there are significant stakes in such an idea for OCLC and library automation vendors. While some pundits are calling for a radical re-thinking of the OPAC interface, this idea goes beyond that in many ways. We don’t necessarily need an OPAC interface that supplies a “Google experience” for library users. It may be we need one that just provides consistency. Silvis says he plans to give the presentation a few more times, and to continue gathering feedback from academic librarians that will help to refine the concept. I encouraged Silvis to turn the presentation into an article. It seems like an idea worthy of reaching a wider audience.