Coping With The Catered Generation

It was somewhat of a surprise to find an editorial in a metropolitan paper criticizing higher education institutions for pampering and pandering to what they called the “Catered Generation”. But I found it a pleasant surprise. Anyone dumbfounded by a student whose expectations for personalized service were far beyond the norm will appreciate this editorial. It is sparked by an article in the same paper about the shift in orientation programs from basic college survival skills to, well, survival skills for being on your own (sorry, the article is no longer available online but it appeared in the Boston Globe on July 9, authored by Marcella Bombardieri – I found the full text on ProQuest). Here’s an excerpt:

These warnings for entering college freshmen have popped up at area college orientations during the last couple of years. Officials say that they keep adding new “don’ts” partly because the online world has brought new temptations. But they also say they’ve become more intent on reviewing every conceivable danger because today’s college students, known as the millennial generation because they came of age in the 21st century, have been so coddled by parents that many of them lack basic street smarts.

The editorial encourages higher education institutions to stop babying their students and start treating them like adults. That will require all of us who work in higher education to both raise our level of expectations for students and present them with some academic challenges. While it is important to take notice of changing demographics and user expectations, the editorial suggests that we fail our students when we make things too easy for them for fear that their possible failures may do them irreparable harm. Nor does the argument to stop catering to student whims suggest that good customer relations at all institutional service points should in any way diminish.

I can’t help but feel that this coddling mentality has invaded the academic library’s territory to a certain extent. Is seems our profession has likewise become preoccupied with discovering methods to provide students with the lowest-common denominator research tools and the elimination of anything that might be perceived as too complex for fear that students will – what – complain that libraries are too hard to use. Do we fear that students will abandon our resources for the ones that do coddle them by eliminating the possibility of failure? It’s almost impossible with most search engines, no matter how awful your search is, to get nothing in return. You can’t fail. With a library database if you do a poorly conceived search you will likely retrieve nothing – the equivalent of failure. Heaven forbid we might expect someone to show some resolve and actually think about what they did and try to improve upon it – even if the cause of failure is as minor as a mispelled word. Now if our systems don’t have spellcheck and auto-correction that’s a cause to castigate library resources and those who promote their use.

In defense of this generation of students, this editorial and the orientation programs it remarks upon are likely directed to a segment of our students who do get attention for their juvenile behavior and their parent’s meddling ways. To the contrary we help to educate many self-reliant students who show remarkable potential as researchers and adults. While we should not allow generalizations to influence ourselves to think negatively about our current or incoming students, there is some advice worth comtemplating in the editorial. On the simplicity-complexity spectrum we need to avoid drifting too far towards simplicity in an effort to shelter students from the true complexity of academic research. Encouraging students, with support from our faculty colleagues, to engage with primary research materials or higher-level scholarly works will contribute to the sharpening of their minds and better prepare them for the complexity of their post-college lives. Our responsibility, I think, is to play a part in ensuring our students graduate with street smarts for the information jungle. Allowing our students to always play it safe, satisfy for just good enough, and live in fear of encountering complexity does them no favors.

A New Feature At ACRLog – C&RL Previews

College & Research Libraries is the premier scholarly journal for academic librarianship. The arrival of each new issue is one of the quintessential experiences of being an academic librarian. Now academic librarians can learn about the latest research reported in C&RL right here. ACRLog, in cooperation with its sister ACRL publication, C&RL, will now provide previews of upcoming issues of C&RL. You’ll be able to preview the articles and their abstracts right here. The first month we are previewing is September 2006.

We have created a new special feature area for C&RL Previews, and within that area you will find links to the previews.

Please let us know if you would like to see ACRLog offering more support for the delivery of pre-print research in the field of academic librarianship. If so, we can explore additional innovations in this area.

Spending Time, But Not Money

In a New York Times interview, the new CEO of the Borders bookstore chain deftly avoids focusing on the fact the chain is losing money rather faster than expected but mentions this interesting tidbit.

“Our customers on average spend a lot longer in a store than what I’ve been used to,” he said. But, he added, “they like our stores; they’re staying there, but they’re not spending as much as they could.”

Hey, come on over to the library!

Librarians, of course, have noticed there’s a social function that we fulfill – that pays off in ways we don’t have to measure in sales. Though B&N and Borders often get the credit for creating the hospitable book-lined social space, we’re merely rediscovering what libraries have meant to their public for years.

Rory Litwin included an address on this subject in the previous incarnation of Library Juice a few years ago – “The Library as Social Centre” by a fellow Minnesotan, Gratia Countryman.

Many of our libraries are now housed in beautiful buildings, in which case, the building as well as the books becomes a means of social influence. If there is need of a home for social intercourse and amusement, the library may legitimately attempt to furnish such a home within its walls . . . The whole building at all times should be managed in the broadest spirit of hospitality; the atmosphere should be as gracious, kindly and sympathetic as one’s own home. Then do away with all unnecessary restrictions, take down all the bars, and try to put face to face our friends the books and our friends the people. Introduce them cordially, then stand aside and let them make each other’s blessed acquaintance.

This certainly predates the big box bookstore – she delivered this speech at the Minnesota Library Association meeting of 1905!

Remember That ACRL Membership Survey – Part Two

A fair amount of the ACRL membership survey, which ACRLog began sharing last week, reports on resources and services that respondents valued. In other words, what does ACRL offer that is most important to the members. It’s pretty clear that what most members like about being a part of their ACRL section is, well, you! Networking is the highest rated member benefit, and that appears to be the case no matter how long someone has been an ACRL member. ACRL affords academic librarians the opportunity to meet, work, and discuss issues with colleagues. Things get more interesting when respondents were asked about the value of newsletters, e-discussion lists, and conferences. Some real differences begin to emerge among those who’ve been members 11 years or more, and those who’ve been members 10 years or less. There is a clear preference for the newsletter and discussion lists among newer (younger?) members, while those who’ve been members more than 20 years prefer conference programs.

This supports my theory that more mature members of the profession are primarily using traditional keep up methods, such as annual conferences and traditional print journals, while newer ACRL members are preferring the non-traditional forms of communication (although discussion lists are fairly mainstream at this point). This is reinforced by another chart that shows that for members ages 36 and over journals are the second most important member benefit, but for those 35 and under journals are not nearly as important. For everyone, professional development is ranked as the most important part of being an ACRL member, but a much greater percentage of respondents 35 and under rate professional development highly. One way to attract younger, newer members could be to offer more virtual networking opportunities – and perhaps these need to be nominally priced webcasts. These newer members like to network, and they like e-methods for communication, so why not meet their needs with e-networking strategies. ACRL is already exploring this territory with a variety of virtual conferencing and e-learning opportunities.

How about member satisfaction with ACRL customer service? The organization received all time high marks in a number of customer service rating areas. Whether the area was prompt handling of requests for services, knowledgeable staff or professional service between 60% and 70% of members report being “extremely satisfied” with ACRL organizational services. These are, on average, double-digit increases from a 2000 survey, and are almost double what was reported in 1987. ACRL has clearly improved the quality of its communication and interaction with members. And 89% of respondents either “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that they would recommend ACRL membership to library colleagues.

But what are members getting out of their ACRL memberships in terms of particpation in the organization? The highest reported reason for renewing an ACRL membership was “to support the profession”, but does that translate into a highly active membership? Approximately 25% of the respondents reported wanting no involvement in ACRL. For all those that do get involved the number one way in which that happens is at the chapter level where 29% of the respondents reported involvement with their chapter. That was followed closely by section participation. Still, 46% responded that they have no involvement in their local chapter or with any national committees. However the outlook for member participation on several levels is disappointing. When asked about plans to participate in a number of different activities, such as attending the ACRL National Conference, attending ACRL workshops and institutes, and even chapter programs, the numbers are below 2003 levels. For example, in 2003 34% of members indicated they were “very likely” to attend the next national conference, but that falls to 25% for 2006. Even attendance at chapter meetings is projected to fall. The decrease in participation is largely due to financial or time constraints, as 68% and 53% of 2006 respondents said they are unlikely to attend for those reasons, respectively. (NOTE – there are indications in the report that a fairly low response rate to the 2003 survey should be taken into account when comparing 2003 and 2006).

There is a fair amount of detail in the report on how members of different sections responded to the survey questions. The predominant primary section affiliations of the 2006 survey respondents are the University Libraries Section (19%), the College Libraries Section (16%) and the Instruction Section (15%). All sections had at least some representation, except for the Slavic and East European Section, which only had 14 respondents (or less than1%) select it as their primary section. Many sections, such as the African American Studies Librarians and the Women’s Studies Section, for example, had only slightly more representation with 33 and 43 respondents respectively, both only 1%. Thirteen percent of respondents were not involved with any sections at all. Of those who are involved with sections, the most useful benefit by far was networking with peers / colleagues (26%). When examing the cross-tabulations between section affiliation and survey questions, there are few significant sectional differences that truly standout. You could learn that members of the CLS and IS sections report being more active at the chapter level than ULS members or that IS members are much more likely than CLS or ULS members to attend the national conference. These cross-tabulations will likely be of interest to the different sections, and their membership committees can access this report to allow for more a more detailed analysis of the data.

In the next and final report on the membership survey you’ll hear more about how the findings of the survey can inform ACRL about what opportunties it may wish to pursue in improving the association and services offered to the membership, along with some of the final recommendations suggested by the marketing firm that conducted the survey and analyzed the results.

Rice UP Back in Business – But With a Difference

The Wall Street Journal today reports that Rice University is relaunching its university press, on hiatus for the past ten years – as a completely online venture.

Although the new press will solicit and edit manuscripts the old-fashioned way, it won’t produce traditional books. The publishing house will instead post works online at a new Web site, where people can read a full copy of the book free. They can also order a regular, bound copy from an on-demand printer, at a cost far less than picking up the book in a store.

The press will piggyback on Connexions, an existing portal for educational materials described at Creative Commons in a 2002 feature as

an online library of networked content that will allow instructors to pick and choose best-of-breed instructional materials. Experts around the world will develop and contribute modules of information specific to their own expertise. These modules — which may take the form of individual chapters, or even smaller sections of chapters — will act as a giant, constantly evolving library of information that can be tweaked to any given instructor’s satisfaction.

The WSJ seems a little puzzled about the business model behind giving free access to scholarly e-books, and how “open source” could apply to book publishing, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Certainly, allowing full-text access to books published by the National Academies Press has not had an adverse impact on sales of their books – and the idea of letting a POD publisher handle print orders makes more sense than guessing at a print run and crossing your fingers. The editorial costs will remain a large ticket item, but Rice appears willing to absorb it.

The Book Standard has an interesting wrinkle not mentioned in the WSJ story – according to their version, Connexions also envisions being able to produce textbooks with an under-$25 price tag.

Today, Rice also announced an on-demand publishing agreement between Connexions and QOOP Inc., a POD publisher. Through the deal, QOOP will produce textbooks for under $25, and Connexions will get into the open-source textbook-publishing arena.

“Our decisions to revive Rice’s press as a digital enterprise is based on both economics and on new ways of thinking about scholarly publishing,” said Charles Henry, Rice’s vice provost and university librarian.

While the university has not released financial details, including a start-up figure or specifics for how royalties will be handled, Henry said, “Annual operating expenses will be at least ten times less than what we’d expect to pay if we were using a traditional publishing model.”

Interesting stuff – and a new model to watch as scholars, librarians, and university presses find new ways to operate together.