Top Stories of 2005 For Academic Librarians

What’s a better way to spend the next to last day of the year than to review some of the news and developments of interest to academic librarians that transpired in 2005, and develop a list of the top stories. So here are the ones we came up with for your consideration – in no particular order.

Google Book Search and Open Content Alliance– We didn’t have to do a Lexis/Nexis search on this one to see what story got the most news coverage. This was big news any way you look at it. The story first appeared in the January 7 issue of the Chronicle, it kept gathering momentum all year, and it’s ready to roll into 2006.

Blackboard Merges With WebCT – If your institution has a courseware system it’s probably one of these two. Will this blockbuster deal make this merged product more hospitable to library resources? Time will tell.

Information Literacy Backlash – Also on January 7th the Chronicle Review gave us Stanley Wilder’s piece on “Why Information Literacy Makes All The Wrong Assumptions”. That created quite a firestorm of conversation, much of which concluded that it was Wilder who was making the wrong assumptions. But let’s give him credit for going public (big time) with his contrarian views; he gave us something to think about.

Emerald Pulls A Fast One – Journal publisher Emerald was caught with its pants down when Phil Davis, life-sciences librarian at Cornell, published data that showed he found issues from different Emerald titles that were complete copies of one another. This story actually broke in the Chronicle in December 2004, but much of the controversy played out in 2005. Thanks Phil for keeping these guys honest.

Ilene Rockman Passes Away – We lost one of the giants of our profession when Dr. Rockman passed away on November 26. Her contributions to academic librarianship will not be forgotten.

The Bookless Academic Library – The University of Texas got lots of media attention when they announced plans for a revamped undergraduate library with clusters of computers, a coffee shop, comfortable chairs, 24-hour technical help – and NO BOOKS. Ok, so 90,000 volumes were just being shipped off to other campus libraries, but you would have thought it was the day that print books died.

Katrina Devastates Gulf Coast – Hurricane Katrina’s fury brought death and destruction to this region, and our academic library colleagues there faced severe problems. Our community quickly responded with offers of help, and discussion list communication that kept us abreast of how valued colleagues were managing in the aftermath of Katrina.

All Hail The Chair Of Information Literacy – Purdue University’s library system announced the creation of an endowed chair in information literacy. Is it the start of a trend? Not just yet, but perhaps we’ll see more of this in 2006.

Virtual Conferencing Makes A Splash – It’s always big news when ACRL has its national conference, and plenty of news was made back in April in Minneapolis. But perhaps the biggest news was the simultaneous virtual conference that ACRL ran for the first time – and the first of this type we can recall for any ALA division. Where do you plan to be on April 20 and 21, 2006 when ACRL (with CNI and EDUCAUSE) hosts its first completely dedicated virtual conference? This IS the start of a big trend in continuing professional development for academic librarians, but will ACRL committees finally get to use ALA’s online community software in 2006 for virtual meetings? One can only hope so.

Can UKU With All This Tech Stuff – Blogging, RSS, news aggregators, podcasts, SMS, screencasts, vlogs, social bookmarking, folksonomies, tagging, personalization, Web (and Lib) 2.0, semantic web, institutional respositories, open source, vertical search…Had enough new technology stuff to learn about yet? Better hang on – 2006 is sure to be even wilder. (UKU = You Keep Up)

Talkin’ ‘Bout The Generations – The “Millennials” seemed a part of almost every academic library meeting in 2005 thanks to major articles and essays on the subject by authors such as Richard Sweeney and Joan Lippincott. Easily adapted into broader discussions of the library as place, the evolution of public services, facilities management, and information literacy instruction, we can only assume that we will continue “t-t-talkin’ ’bout my (or maybe your) generation” into 2006.

Getting Savvy To ID&T – Over 100 people attended an ACRL-sponsored pre-conference on instructional design and technology at ALA annual 2005, and ALA and ACRL promise major publications in this area in 2006. Increasingly popular technologies such as “clickers” and courseware provide increasing opportunities for academic librarians to become integrated into campus-wide discussions of teaching, learning, professional development, and management of instructional technology resources.

“Perceptions” Report Is Eye Opener – So we suspected that most college students go to the Internet first for their research, but OCLC’s “Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources” report really drove home the harsh reality of how far we need to go to get back on the information seeker’s radar screen. Maybe it wasn’t all bad news as college students certainly seemed more aware of and apt to use their academic library. We’re sure to be talking more about the library brand and the implications of this report.

And finally, the biggest of the big academic librarianship stories in 2005:

ACRL Debuts Its Blog – Well, we may be just a tad biased in our opinion of the importance of this one. But let’s give our ACRL leadership some props for recognizing the time was right for a blog targeted to the interests of academic librarians, and throwing their support behind ACRLog. Thanks guys!

The ACRLog blogging team hopes you enjoyed our top stories of 2005. Yeah, we probably missed something so feel free to add to the list with your comment. The entire blogging team appreciates your enthusiastic response to this blog, and we look forward to continuing ACRLog in 2006. We hope all of our readers have a great new year! See you in 2006!

Our Assumptions Require Caution

One benefit of the semester winding down is the opportunity to catch up on readings and podcasts. EDUCAUSE produced several from the latest conference of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI). One worth your 30 minutes is a chat with Susan Gibbons, Assistant Director for Public Services and Collections at the University of Rochester. She talks about some of the technology they are experimenting with at UR’s Library, which does seem to be developing a culture for cutting edge resources and services.

One of the trends discussed is the personalization of library services. Gibbons mentioned giving students the ability to add reviews to catalog records, and to receive book recommendations from the library based on borrowing patterns. I ask if students really want that sort of thing. Let’s say the typical undergrad borrows several books to write a paper for a required class. Will they appreciate receiving announcements a semester or two later for new books based on a topic they have no intention of ever researching again? Maybe we need to first determine if anyone wants that sort of service. Just because Amazon does it doesn’t mean we should. Turns out the students pretty much ignored these services, and Gibbon says “We were surprised they didn’t jump on this.”

The dangers of assumptions about what we think the user community wants – versus what they really need – is made again when the talk turns to institutional repositories. Gibbons says “We thought our faculty would just add stuff, but they don’t.” They thought faculty would be compelled, for one reason or another, to self archive their content, but “faculty don’t yet see the benefit”. So the job becomes figuring out how to get users to actually use these services. Maybe we need to be more focused on figuring out what users want and need, and then making it available to them.

That’s where this interview gets even more interesting, because the folks are UR are doing just that. Seems they got a grant that allowed them to fund an anthropologist to study the work flows and behaviors of faculty and students to determine what services would really support their work. Gibbons makes a great point about WIIFM. Faculty will use our services when we can clearly demonstrate WHAT’S IN IT FOR THEM. She says that if it gets their research more citations, if it gets them more recognition, and more visibility – they will use the repository. This information is coming out of the anthropologist’s research into where the users go, what they do, how much time they spend on different projects, etc.

It’s a shame we can’t all conduct our own anthropological studies of our user communities. It sounds like an excellent idea that could help us to target our resources into focused services that we know our users want and away from those that we develop based only on our assumptions about what they need – particularly when those assumptions are based on business models and commercial activity that doesn’t necessarily translate well to our academic libraries. Give this podcast a listen and see what you think.

ALA Forum on Education for Librarianship

ALA President Michael Gorman will be sponsoring a “Forum on Education for Librarianship” at Midwinter. From the Midwinter catalog of events:

Forum on Education for Librarianship
Friday, January 20, 2006, 1:00 -5:30 pm
Location TBD

ALA President Michael Gorman invites library practitioners, educators and students to participate in a half-day forum to explore the big issues in library education: What is the nature of the profession of librarianship and what does the 21st century librarian need to know? How do we translate this understanding of our profession into a meaningful LIS curriculum? What are the implications for ALA accreditation? Presentations on these hot topics in LIS education will be followed by participant discussion and feedback. This is your opportunity to make your voice heard on an issue of vital importance to the future of our profession.

You may register using the online registration form at There is no fee to register for this event.

I won’t be able to attend, but I hope someone will and will mine it for issues related to academic and research librarianship that can be blogged.

Libraries Not Alone In Competing With Internet Services

There’s been no dearth of articles in the mainsteam media and in our own literature over the last two years about how Internet services (a generic term for you-know-who) are eating academic libraries’ lunch. To a large extent much of what’s being said is true. Most members of our user communities no longer routinely make the library portal their first stop when they need information, whether it’s for ready reference or more in depth research. But perhaps we don’t need to be the first stop, but just one of the stops that should be made. Perhaps we need to focus more on how we influence our user community to think of the academic library as a stop that’s worth making. And if we can learn from the lessons of others who are in situations similar to our own, then we may find ways to create that influence. But where are such case studies to be found? How about the newspaper industry.

I draw your attention to an op-ed article in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. Like libraries, the newspaper is being portrayed as the 21st century equivalent of the buggy whip maker. It’s a dinosaur soon to be extinct, and who will really miss it because no one really makes use of it any more anyway. Sound familiar? While I’m not sure about the presentation of data that suggests that the Inquirer is actually more heavily read than thought, I think there are some points made here to which the academic library community should pay attention. First, newspapers are realizing that Internet services are eating their lunch, and they are doing something about it, mainly having their own competing Internet presence. Well, academic libraries are way ahead of them. We’ve been on the Internet pretty much since day one. Somehow we failed to make ourselves essential and indispensible to our user communities and they went elsewhere. But we do have an Internet presence and we need to continue to capitalize on that.

The second, and more important observation, is that newspapers are continuing to be relevant to their communities because they are effectively influencing how people think and act. This article clearly demonstrates how the Inquirer rallied individuals to create change in their communities through reporting, editorials, and partnerships within the community. If we look at our academic user communities as a newspaper sees its readership community then we might find some parallel ways to reach and influence their thinking and action. One of the primary ways we can do this is through user education. Whether it happens when a librarian speaks to students directly or when a faculty member has integrated the library into the fabric of the course, it’s an opportunity to influence a member of the user community. Beyond that, like newspapers, academic libraries can create partnerships with other academic units to allow for more opportunities to reach the user community. Newspaper editors appear to be savvy in identifying issues of relevance to their communities where they can get involved. That may be a strategy worth studying more closely.

In the good old days academic libraries could sit back and focus on building and organizing collections while waiting for business to come through the door. Just as newspapers can no longer count on everyone picking up a newspaper on their way to work, academic libraries can no longer afford to wait for the user community to acknowledge our resources and services. We need to pay more attention to industries in situations similar to our own, and identify strategies that will allow us to be more influential in getting our users to think about all their potential options when they have an information need – and how we can be at or near the top of their decision tree when the search process begins.