Let’s Get On The Right Train Right Now

After an EDUCAUSE session last week a colleague asked if I’d read the column in the latest issue of EDUCAUSE Review (n-d ’05) that “slammed” libraries. Fortunately I was at the one place where finding a copy of ER is not a problem. Paul Gandel’s piece, “Libraries: Standing at the wrong platform waiting for the wrong train” doesn’t quite slam academic libraries, but he does take them to task on two counts: hastening their own marginalization and failure to innovate. It’s a good read, and it’s important for authors to send a call to arms when change is imperative. But when it comes to spotting trends it seems Gandel is late arriving at the train station. Pointing out that academic libraries are suffering from a case of diminishing relevance and innovation is nothing new. Bell and Shank have written in depth about marginalization issues and authors as diverse as Coffman, Tennant, Pace, and others criticized librarians and our system vendors for lacking innovative.(note – registrations required to view some links)

Gandel wouldn’t be the first author to make points made previously by others, and sometimes there is no harm in reminding us we need to do better. He is also writing for a different audience – our IT colleagues. Where I do find fault with his article is that it identifies problems but offers no solutions. Granted, this is just a two-page article, but surely there can be a better balance between what’s wrong and how we fix it. Lack of innovation? Has Gandel walked through the poster sessions at an ACRL conference? Has he joined or visited an online learning community where academic librarians are exploring cutting edge ideas? If he had I think that instead of implying that Amazon and Google offer models we should adopt, he’d be identifying solutions that promote better user education programs and the integration of library resources and services into those places where learning occurs. Yes, we absolutely must rethink our policies and procedures for digital environments. There’s no question we must offer systems that balance ease of use and sophisticated algorithms that yield high quality results.

To truly avoid, as Gandel puts it, “being rendered obsolete in an increasingly digital world” we all need to work hard at putting ourselves and resources where the learning is happening. If we do that it should help our faculty and students to make better use of our collections and reference services – two areas that Gandel finds particularly problematic. I agree with Gandel that our old “just put it out there and hope they find it” model of librarianship needs improvement. But there are many librarians that are advocating change as well as libraries that are innovating so they can avoid being marginalized. I encourage Gandel to discover them. When he does I hope he uses his space in ER to share this information with his IT audience. He should encourage them to work with the campus library to make sure it is technologically well equipped to support the library’s effort to achieve relevance and sustainability in the digital landscape.

Right And Wrong In Cyberspace

EDUCAUSE ended with a lively session about ethical behavior in the digital world. It could have gone on for hours – and I would have listened to the four experts for that long. Clearly, we are in unknown territory, and the experts covered the spectrum from defending censorship and banning resources when it is for the greater good to allowing a free for all in cyberspace environment to allow for a “re-norming” of ethical behavior. While the discussions about the new nature of public information (we need to realize that so much of our lives is now publicly accessible – what’s on your web site?) and privacy/security of information were good, I think the most challenging issue for the panelists was their discussion of plagiarism. Clearly, cheating is never right, but the real issue debated was the use of detection software – there are many ethical issues here. As one speaker asked, “Why do we treat students as potential criminals?” Unfortunately, other than a comment from an audience member, little was said about plagiarism avoidance as a solution to the “countermeasure” war. The most salient point I heard was from the speaker who said that with respect to the ethical issues discussed, we have already lost the current generation (I assume he means millennials) – they are set in their ways. We could debate that but I think you know what he means. If they think it’s all right to plagiarize, illegally download, or practice other ethically questionable behavior, no faculty member or librarian will likely change their attitudes. He said we need to start educating the next generation, or at least have an educational system in place so that we can begin to create the necessary cultural change that will perhaps instill more ethical behavior in cyberspace. Hmmm, offer user education to create cultural change. That sounds like a familiar theme with respect to the changing culture of student research. Is it too late to reach the current generation with user education? I think not, and maybe that’s a debate for another day. The complete post is not there yet, but it appears someone will be blogging this session at the EDUCAUSE site – should you want more details.

Risk or Reward in Google Print?

First, authors sued Google over their library project. Now it’s publishers’ turn, according to an article by Scott Carlson in the Chronicle – “5 Big Publishing Houses Sue Google.”

When Google first announced their library project I figured this was an interesting way to call the question: what does fair use really mean in a digital age? Google believes not only that this project would be good for the publishing industry, but that it’s within fair use. Jonathan Band agrees in an ARL report – but clearly the old concept of “copy” needs tweaking in a digital era. These will be precedent-setting cases to watch.

Academic librarians tend to frame our understanding of – and conflicts about – intellectual property around issues of scholarly communication. But as Nancy Ramsey points out in a New York Times article, “The Hidden Cost of Documentaries,” the implications for culture are far wider and more complex. We need to be aware of copyright issues beyond scholarly communication. Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture and Siva Viadhyanathan’s Anarchist in the Library are interesting approaches to the big picture.

Incidentally, Lessig’s book is free online from his site; Vaidhyanathan’s is full-text searchable through Google Print and Amazon. So far, civilization as we know it hasn’t fallen as a result. And it didn’t stop me from buying both in print.

I can’t help wondering – if lending libraries were invented today, would publishers lobby to delete the “first sale” doctrine from copyright law, arguing it enables a harmful form of organized piracy?

Academic Libraries As A Source Of Dynamic Stability

Dynamic stability was the theme of Karen Holbrook’s, OSU President, keynote address this morning at EDUCAUSE. She emphasized that as IHEs grow more sophisticated in their technology they must retain and be guided by their core values. I think academic librarians have heard that message before in our own literature and conferences. In many ways the talk was complimentary in many ways of academic libraries – without specifically mentioning them. There were many examples of ways in which the academic library can contribute to and further the realization of core values on every campus. However, at the end of her talk, Holbrook became direct about the enduring value of libraries. She finished her talk with a great tribute to the OSU libraries and OhioLink. It was great for all of the IT folks to hear librarians be described as “leaders in creating a digital future.” But Holbrook pointed out its about much more than digital assets. She mentioned that OSU is renovating their library and said, “We want our library to be a place that pays tribute to books and the pursuit of human knowledge – and we still need books. We want a library that brings people together. Libraries are the best example of dynamic stability – constantly changing but always a stable source of help within our institutions.” (note – I had to get that quote quickly so it may not be quite exact – but it’s close). What a great way to start the day!

“Every Campus Library Is At Risk To Google” Says McNealy

I attended the first keynote address at EDUCAUSE this morning. Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, had some interesting things to say. His themes illustrated how interconnected the higher education and computing industries are, and that globally these two can advance education. He said we have moved from the information age to the participation age. It’s no longer about retrieving information on the net, but about everyone and everything happening in a participative community. He said “It’s about contributing via social networks.” This resonated with me because I’ve been thinking that academic libraries need to figure out where we fit into this participation age. Sure, we’re blogging at our libraries, but how do we create communities in which our faculty and students participate. For the most part, I doubt they even read academic library blogs or contribute to them. We need to get integrated into the blogging and wiki activity that is happening in the classroom. We are already doing this to some extent within courseware, but we need to explore these frontiers further. What didn’t resonate with me was McNealy’s statement that “every library on every campus is at risk to Google. The digital natives are on Google so fast that they don’t even know there is a library.” I wish I could have handed him a copy of the Chronicle’s special report on libraries from a few weeks ago – they are giving them out at the Chronicle booth in the exhibit hall. Like many IT experts, I don’t think he has a real clue about what’s happening in academic libraries – but let’s not deceive ourselves that we have no competition. My favorite – his top ten list of excuses for not handing in homework in the digital age. It included, “My cut and paste keys on the keyboard are worn out” and “I plan on open sourcing my homework from the kid next to me” – good stuff. If you want to follow more of what is happening at EDUCAUSE (beyond my occasional posts) there is lots of conference blogging and podasting to be found on the EDUCAUSE site.