U of California Joins Google Library Project

It’s been in the air ever since a campus newspaper broke the story – but now it’s official. Another library is partnering with Google to add library books to Google Book Search.

Like the University of Michigan, UC intends to include in-copyright books. In the official press release, Brian Schottlaender, University Librarian at UC San Diego, makes a case for storing a copy digitally that has overtones of Doublefold-style alarm bells.

“Tens of thousands of volumes entrusted to our care are printed on acid-rich paper and are crumbling into dust. In fact, all our holdings are chronically at risk, residing as they do in seismically unstable California.”

“Anyone who doubts the potential impact that natural disaster can have, need look no further than the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina on our sister libraries in Louisiana and Mississippi. Digital copies tucked away safely in a preservation archive would have saved those libraries — and indeed, the world — from irrecoverable loss.”

But a more positive case is made for joining the project.

“The academic enterprise is fundamentally about discovery,” said John Oakley, chair of UC’s systemwide Academic Senate and a UC Davis law professor. “We contribute to it immeasurably by unlocking the wealth of information maintained within our libraries and exposing it to the latest that search technologies have to offer.

“In this new world, our faculty, staff and students will make connections between information and ideas that were hitherto inaccessible, driving the pace of scholarly innovation, and enhancing the use that is made of our great libraries.”

Though UC already is participating in the Open Content Alliance, a collaboration that includes Yahoo and the Internet Archive, a story in the LA Times points out two reasons to join the Google project as well: it will scan in-copyright books and promises to move ahead much more quickly.

And then there’s another possible motivator that Tom Peters alludes to in his excellent round-up in ALA TechSource: simply longing to be part of the exclusive G5.

Summer Project Leads To Some Old Gems

For academic librarians the summer means time to get to projects that go untouched during the academic semesters. One of my summer projects is an attempt to get the hundreds of article printouts I have collected over the years into my RefWorks space. My assistant is helping me in this endeavor, but it’s required me to pull the articles out of their file folders, assign them to a RefWorks folder, and attach some descriptors to each that I hope will enable me to retrieve them at some future point. The work has mostly gone quickly, but every now and then I come across an article that requires a second look and a new reading – which of course slows things down. Here a few good examples, and what I find these ones have in common is that they discuss issues or make suggestions that still hold up well. You might say that in some ways they were ahead of their times.

Ken Kempcke. The Art of War for Librarians: Academic Culture, Curriculum Reform, and Wisdom from Sun Tzu. Portal: Libraries and the Academy V2 N4 (2002) 529-551.
Kempcke raises a number of good questions about why our efforts in collaborating with faculty haven’t resulted in better integration of information literacy into the curriculum, and more equal status with faculty. He writes:

Collaborative efforts are important. But let’s not be so busy patting ourselves on the back for something that should be part of our everday job that we lose sight of our larger goals…We must make IL skills unquestionably as important as writing, speaking, math and science skills.

This is just one of many good observations and suggestions. I didn’t recall reading this one when it first appeared but I have no doubt it influenced some of my own thinking about blended librarianship as a strategy for better integrating the academic librarian into the teaching and learning process.

Steven Stoan. The Library as an Instrument for Teaching and Learning. Presented at the Council of Independent College’s 2002 Workshop on the Transformation of the College Library.
Stoan, Director of the Drury University Library, is a College Libraries Section colleague and seeing this paper again reminded me of how impressed I was by the writing and ideas the first time I came across it. It dwells on a number of themes related to collaboration and improving the quality of student research. He writes:

Librarians must also be brought along, since such changes would involve significant new roles for them and alter their work environment and job expectations considerably. The college administration might have to take a hard look at staffing patterns as librarians assume new responsibilities. In short, the new collaborative model would move the library away from the traditional reactive, bibliographic instruction model that fit in with the traditional lecture approach to education. It would require that library instruction be integrated with certain coursework in a more seamless way in which the instructors and librarians would share responsibility for creating the learning environments that would accomplish desired information literacy outcomes.

Since this was written many more academic libraries are making the transformative changes suggested by Stoan, but going back and reading it again is a good reminder of why we are making these changes and why we must continue to do so.

James Rettig. “Technology, Cluelessness, Anthropology, and the Memex: The Future of Academic Reference Service.” Reference Services Review V31 N1 (2003) 17-21.
It’s almost impossible to read something by Jim Rettig and not be impressed by the breadth of his knowledge and expertise in the field of reference service. Now I see why I held on to this one in particular as it offers some early expressions of the simplicity vs. complexity conundrum with which academic librarians must cope. Rettig notes the changing values of the “Net Generation”, their desire for immediacy, and their cluelessness about information’s complexity. He writes:

Students are naive or clueless about the complexity of information even as they trust information they retrieve or that is pushed to them in ways consonant with their values of immediacy and itneractivity…Nevertheless, many students recognize quality information when they see it; they just do not know how to search for and retrieve it. All of this can work to our advantage and theirs.

But where this article really shines is in it’s suggestion that “we need to become expert anthropologists of our user communities.” This certainly predates the work being done at the University of Rochester, which now includes an anthropologist on their library team so they can do exactly what Rettig suggested – “learn their information-handling habits”. I can’t quite say how this paper has impacted on the future of reference librarianship, but it is a good reminder that in whatever ways it changes it must remain user-centered.

Gary Hamel and Liisa Valikangas. “The Quest for Resilience.” Harvard Business Review September 2003 pp. 1-13.
If you don’t care much for applying business concepts to library leadership then just skip this one. But if you want some insight into coping with ongoing technology change and how academic libraries might avoid being marginalized this one is worth a read. Hamel and Valikangas write:

Strategic resilience is not about responding to a onetime crisis. It’s not about rebounding from a setback. It’s about continuously anticipating and adjusting to deep, secular trends that can permanently impair the earning power of a core business. It’s about having the capacity to change before the case for change becomes desperately obvious…It must begin with an aspiration: zero trauma…The goal is an organization that is constantly making its future rather than defending its past.

I don’t know about you but this strikes me as being eminently applicable to the position that academic libraries find themselves in at this very moment.

These sorts of articles lack the nuggets of practical, how-to advice found in the standard “here’s how we did it good at my library” type article. But what they do incredibly well is get us thinking about our position in the higher education enterprise, and how we can remain relevant to our user community. Even in the summer as we rush to complete projects for the beginning of the fall semester it is important to be inspired and to think about where our libraries are headed – and how the library team will get there. What’s lurking in your file cabinet?

WorldCat is Open for Searching

WorldCat has launched its freely-accessible beta, a move that will give the public access to our library holdings without having to go through a library’s subscription version. It has the simple interface of Google, the look of Amazon without the ads, and an easy way to see which libraries in your neighborhood have the book you’re looking for. It also has code you can put on your own page to offer a search right there – handy for bloggers and anyone else who wants a library search handy on their site.

This seems to me a stunningly smart move – finally. Making the “find in your library” link available (for some books) through search engines was a good move, but for the casual searcher the link tended to be buried, not on the first page of search results. Linking it from Google Book Search was also a good move, though publishers who submit their work generally only have booksellers linked from their content and last I checked Google will only say they’re considering adding the library link. (It’s quite likely publishers don’t care for the idea.)

But here’s a question for academic librarians: how do we use this? It doesn’t have the advanced search options of our subscription WorldCat, and the free site points this out.

Many of our member libraries let you search WorldCat from their own Web sites or from inside the library using the FirstSearch reference service. Although the basic identifying information you’ll find on this Web site can fulfill most needs, WorldCat at your library includes extra features such as advanced search and “similar items” capabilities, as well as published reviews and excerpts to help you better evaluate an item.

But it is a version our students will be able to use anywhere after graduation. What will you do?

Truth In Advertising – Lies We Tell Our Students And Faculty

Back in June I started writing something for possible publication elsewhere (I thought it might work as an Library Journal “Backtalk” column), but other things came along and I never got back to it. I was originally inspired to write after watching a video of a presentation by marketing guru Seth Godin . Godin is perhaps best known for his book titled “Purple Cows“, and a newer one called “All Marketers Lie”. You can find the video at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6909078385965257294 . I didn’t think of it until recently when I read this essay by Gerry McGovern titled “Truth Sells on the Web.”

You see, the piece I originally started writing was about this same theme – being honest with your community. How did I come to that? It began with Godin discussing how products are traditionally marketed – mostly with lies. I wrote:

Grodin explains it is not about the product, it’s about the story marketers sell people that makes them believe they need the product. So the market leader is often the one who tells the best story – even if it masks the truth. At least that’s the paradigm that has worked in the past. That’s not what made Google a huge success. Google is wildly successful because they give people their own story to tell. They give people something to talk about. Every Google user loves to tell a story about something they found with Google that was impossible to find anywhere else. Why do you think Google came up with the idea to feature librarians in a movie? To celebrate our genius? Heck no! It’s to demonstrate that the most reliable, dependable researchers on the planet have great stories to tell about Google, and if these people who have access to more information than anyone else can tell better stories about Google than any of those other information resources they use then so can anyone else.

So what does this have to do with our user communities, and McGovern’s essay? It’s about being honest with them. In the past I’ve discussed something I call Googlelization. By this I mean actions librarians and our associated information vendors take to make our electronic resources look, act, and feel more like Google. It makes good sense. If our library users prefer Google when they search for information, then it follows they will like our library resoruces better if they too are just like Google. We see this all the time in the world of consumer products. If one company makes a product, an SUV, frozen food, whatever, its competitors will imitate that product in hopes of attracting more customers and making more sales. Put another way, we want to give our user communities a Google experience in hopes of luring them back to the library. When librarians decide that imitating Google is the way to get students and faculty to use the library’s databases, web site, and other electronic resources, they are telling a lie.

The reason it’s a lie is because the user has only been given a Google façade. What lies behind the façade is nothing like Google. Instant gratification is not always a given. Instead of constant simplicity there may be some complexity. Instead of things being completely obvious and transparent, choices may need to be made among subtle shades of gray. And when all we do is imitate search engines the biggest lie we present is to create a mirage for the library user that no critical thought is required. When you think about it that is no different than any other marketer who lies about their product so consumers will think they need it because it will make them attractive, smart, healthy, etc. But the truth is that research (“re-search” – first you search, then you search again – it requires time and thought*) may indeed require some critical thought. Why are we afraid to tell the truth?

That’s where McGovern comes in. In his essay he tells those who develop web content that it’s better to be honest with your community even if it may cause some pain or cause you to look worse than your competitor. As an example he identifies firms that allow poor reviews of their products to co-exist with the good ones. Knowing that the reviews come from typical users and not marketers, people would be rather suspicious to find nothing but glowing reviews. McGovern says:

Much marketing and advertising is about association. We see cool, happy and beautiful people using a particular product. The association is that if we buy this product we too will become cool, happy and beautiful.The Web is different. Not totally different, but different all the same. The Web is where people go to be informed. We’re on the Web because we don’t believe the hype, because we want to get some more facts. We’re driven by logic not by impulse.

Honest websites are not better because they are morally superior but because they are more believable and trustworthy. The customer has matured. The customer is better educated, better informed.

Why does any of this matter? It matters because academic librarians exert great effort to create information environments that help our user communities achieve success in resolving their information needs. It matters because we operate a learning enterprise, and getting exposed to reality and authentic practice is critical to deep learning. Rather than trying to steal or copy Google’s story we need to create our own story. That’s the story I call the library experience. It will start by telling the truth about the potential complexity that can accompany research. We will tell people it may take them longer than 60 seconds to find valuable information. We will tell them our library databases are not the same as Google instead of trying to pull the wool over their eyes with a Google search box. What we can learn from the Googles, Godins and McGoverns of the world is that we need to honestly tell people our story and in turn give them a story to tell others. We can give them an experience they’ll want to tell others about. We can’t succeed by trying to copy what Google does. It’s just never going to happen. Let’s instead commit to telling the truth and learning how to create a good story about it. It’s time for some truth in advertising in academic libraries.

* I give credit to Susan Cheney, a colleague at St. Joseph’s University, for sharing this with me

When Students Promote The Library

I’m getting more interested in exploring ways in which we can take greater advantage of “word of mouth” marketing on our campus to get our students to pay more attention to our library resources. At least one recent article pointed out that libraries need to do more to make our library resources more visible to the user community. Put that together with a chart from OCLC’s College Student’s Perceptions of Libraries and Information (go to page 21 of 100) report that indicates that the college student’s number one source for learning about electronic information sources is “friend”, then it’s not unreasonable to conclude that to reach students you need to be integrated into their informal networks – and no – Facebook doesn’t cut it because students don’t take your profile seriously and its not word of mouth unless students are hearing it from other students.

So I was interested to come across this article, written by a student at Dennison University, that basically says everything (well, some of the good stuff) that we’d like students to know about using the library’s electronic resources. So how do we get students to read something like this or better yet create this kind of content on their own – or with our support. I don’t doubt that there are students just like this author on all of our campuses who would be willing to share their success stories and endorsements of the library’s resources if we could develop good strategies for tapping into the content and distributing it to other students. For example, how about livening up the tepid library blog by featuring posts from students about their positive library experiences – and even negative ones too just to show were open minded and listening. As one recent article described it we need to encourage our students to be our “library ambassadors” .

I will be putting out feelers with students on some of these ideas in the fall semester, and if you are too – please share what you’re working on with ACRLog.