Nominations Sought for ALA Intellectual Freedom Award

We recently received an email from the ALA Intellectual Freedom Round Table letting us know that nominations are open for the John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award. See below for more details — please consider nominating yourself or others.

Dear Colleague,

When you think a champion of intellectual freedom, who comes to mind? Do you know someone personally or professionally who deserves recognition? If so, please consider nominating that person (or organization) for the ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Round Table’s John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award. Past recipients range from Amnesty International (for their approach to Banned Books Week), public librarians who organized book clubs for students to read books with “more mature themes” than they were allowed to read in school, individuals who returned censored art work to galleries from which they had been removed, to a bookstore refusing to breach the privacy of their patrons. For details about these and other award winners over the past four decades please see the Immroth Award recipients list.

For more information about the award in general, please see the press release about the extended deadline (now February 14, 2014) for the next award.

Nominate your intellectual freedom champion by February 14, 2014, here!

Jean Caspers, Chair
John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award Committee

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Clearinghouse Makes It Easy To Track All The Rankings

When I last wrote about rankings I mentioned the growing number of different higher education rankings, everything from the top green campus institutions to the best party schools. I actually had no idea how many different rankings there were, but now I can find out much more easily. The Institute for Higher Education Policy has created a new clearinghouse on higher education rankings. Not only does it include rankings for US higher education, but it is international as well. My scan of the US rankings suggests that the focus is on academic quality, rather than a truly comprehensive listing of every ranking list on all dimensions of the higher education experience (e.g., the party school ranking isn’t anywhere to be found here). So this is a good start but I’d urge the IHEP folks to broden their definition of higher education rankings to make this list a true one-stop shopping location for all things “ranked”.

Library Budget Blues

In my routine foraging for higher education news items for Kept-Up Academic Librarian it seems the number of articles about the impact of the global financial meltdown on higher education has skyrocketed. The pain is being felt across the board. Whether it’s endowments evaporating, donations drying up, inability to provide financial aid, building projects hitting the skids or students dropping out the news is all bad. I imagine we are all getting the bad news on our own campuses (Pennsylvania IHEs that receive state funds are losing 4.5% of their funding) and hearing it from our colleagues. Mark Herring, Dean of Library Services at Winthrop University shared the bad news that PASCAL, Partnerships Among South Carolina Academic Libraries is in dire jeopardy. It’s budget was cut 90% this year and the prospects of reinstating it are grim at best. I’ve heard from at least two colleagues that they expect there will be layoffs at their academic libraries. I used to be at a private institution. While the tuition-driven budget was lean the lack of state funding meant state budget cuts didn’t affect us. But with so many students likely to face difficulty getting tuition loans, even the tuition-driven institutions could be badly affected in this economic crisis. It’s likely to get worse, but those of us who have been around for a while know that these downturns are cyclical. Things will improve eventually. For now, we are all likely to feel some pain.

Open The Library Up Now!

Ever worry that students will be up in arms over your decision to shut the library early the day before a holiday or when you close the doors when the rest of the campus has the day off? Well at Whitman College the Library closed early, at 10 pm, the night before Fall Break. Two students who weren’t happy about that took direct action and went right to the President’s house. They knocked on his door at 10:45 pm to complain. Guess what happened? The library re-opened at 11:15 pm. What did the president have to say? “Amid the challenges of higher education these days, it gives me great pleasure to know that our students have their priorities straight.” Nobody asked the librarians at Whitman College what they thought of it. (Reported at Inside Higher Education on Oct. 13, 2008).

They Finally Took My Advice

By now you have probably read somewhere that the American Library Association has made several of its publications more freely available. Both the current issue and archives of American Libraries and the weekly newsletter AL Direct have been set free of their shackles. No longer must a librarian (or anyone for that matter) be an ALA member in order to view full text in these two publications. I bring this up primarily because of a post I wrote on January 11, 2006 titled “ALA – Set This Newsletter Free“. It took ALA a while but I’m glad they finally took my suggestion. I guess if I’m going to criticize ALA when I think they need to change, I should also applaud their efforts when they do.

A Hybrid ALA For 2015

Like many ALA members I focus most of my participative energy on my division and section. Prior to the Annual Meeting in Anaheim I paid little attention to ALA’s exploration of e-participation. What I did learn at the conference is that an official Task Force on E-Participation has produced a report that makes recommendations to the association related to this issue.

Even though I had no access to that report or much in the way of information about this initiative I was invited to speak at the official ALA Forum on E-Participation, for no more than five minutes, about my experience with e-participation within ACRL. After delivering my remarks members of the audience, mostly ALA councilors, could comment (and unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to respond). I was surprised by the number of folks who had real concerns about opening up ALA to e-member participation. There are some hurdles to jump, but there are people who want to participate as e-members and we have the technology to make it possible. Does ALA have the will power to change? I wrapped up my 5 minutes by urging ALA to adopt its own “put-a-man-on-the-moon” initiative. I challenged ALA to become a totally hybrid organization by 2015. That means 50% regular member and 50% e-participation members, as well as a Conference that offer 50% of its programming to remote participatnts using distance learning or webcasting platforms.

Here’s a fact that must be faced. If the LIS program where I teach a course is at all indicative of where LIS education is at or where it is headed, we are largely talking about an e-learning environment. At Drexel University, where I teach a course (both online and F2F), currently 70% of the students are enrolled as online participants. So if ALA supports e-learning for our future librarians, why are we even discussing the feasibility of e-participation? If an electronic environment is good enough for learning to be a degree-bearing member of this profession at an ALA accredited program, why would it not be a good enough way to participate in the same organization?

Since his presidential initiatives webpage identifies “New technologies, new ways of communicating, open new opportunities for members to make the most of their ALA experience” as one of his top initiatives, I expect Jim Rettig, ALA president for 2008-2009 will move the association further along in the direction of making e-participation a reality for more ALA members. That could mean more virtual members on committees, ensuring ALA has the right technology to support robust virtual meetings, partnering with companies that can make ALA programs accessible to virtual participants, developing a sensible dues structure that makes virtual membership affordable and any number of strategies that can make ALA a truly hybrid association.

At the memberships meetings on e-participation individual commenters spoke on the need for keeping any and all meetings open and accessible to members (there seems to be a fear that virtual meetings will lead to more secrecy and lack of participation but my experience has been that e-meetings are more open and allow for greater attendance), expressed concerns that the technology will inhibit discussion and allow the more technology-adept participants to control discussions (again, if anything, my experience has been that attendees are much more likely to participate virtually – and let’s face it – strong personalities can easily control and influence F2F meetings), and shared fears that e-participation will lead to the demise of ALA.

I stand behind my statement that anything you can do in a F2F meeting you can do in a virtual meeting – including voting. Granted, we sacrifice non-verbal communication to some degree (with webcams we can support video participation), but both F2F and e-meetings have their tradeoffs (e.g., high cost of conference attendance versus ease and affordability of e-participation). My feeling is that if you look at the overall tradeoffs between a traditional F2F ALA and a 21st century hybrid ALA, I strongly believe every library worker has far more to gain from a hybrid ALA than he or she stands to lose from moving to an e-participation future.

ALA needs a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) and the time is right for shifting directions to a hybrid association by 2015. When you examine all the factors that support e-participation – costs and hassle of air travel (sure to get even worse); rising costs of conference housing and meals; environmental impact of conference travel; waves of e-graduates from LIS programs – it looks more and more like the best decision. Of course, for 2015 the conference location is San Francisco, a city ALA has bypassed for many years. It may be hard to for ALA members to pass up a chance to go to San Francisco. But San Francisco or no, let’s hear it for “Hybrid by 2015”.

Attempt at Midwinter

In youthful naiveté, I assumed being a new member of the profession (and ALA) that I would just go to Midwinter, attend some stuff, get involved, etc. My brother moved to Philadelphia a few months ago so it sounded like a great time to make a visit to him and attend my first ALA conference as a professional. So why do I get the feeling I’m not actually invited?

ALA does make a big deal about saying that Midwinter is for “handling the business of the association” so I wasn’t in the dark about that; I just somehow assumed that by being a member I was therefore a part of said “business.” Now, I’ve never been to Midwinter of course, but it seems from looking at the bits of program information I can see online that there are plenty of meetings going on hosted by various sections – but am I allowed to go to any of them? I am a member of ACRL of course, and even of a specific section as well, but I’m not even sure if anyone would let me in the doors of their business meetings. Would it be a waste of my time (and travel budget) to go at all?

Again, I’m new here, so I’m still figuring out how all this works. But it does seem to me that more could be done to encourage new members to get involved. I have received a newsletter and invitation to events from my section (thanks, LES), but I don’t really know if I would have anything else to go to if I made the trip. From this distance it almost seems like Midwinter is an exclusive club closed off with bouncers and a velvet rope – Sorry, Josh, you’re not on the list.

I joined ALA and ACRL as a new professional specifically because I wanted to get involved. I’m aware that there are grumblings in the blogosphere (and regular-sphere) about how ALA doesn’t actually return any real benefits to its members, and I’m also aware of the discussions of how virtual conferences and committee participation need to be embraced by the Association. I’m not old and cynical enough about the profession to think things like Midwinter are pointless yet – I’m here, I’m new, I have energy, and I’d like to get involved, so why is that so hard to do? It took a good deal of poking around to even find the ACRL New Member Wiki, which did have some decent information, but I feel like all the Associations could do a better job of telling their new members (once they’re in the door) how exactly it is they can really get involved. Perhaps a more pointed email could be sent to new members describing the workings of the Association, how committees are structured, what they do, how to get involved, and what exactly goes on with the “business” of Midwinter. I feel like I know nothing about what I can do at this conference, yet it’s the only one I can go to this year (Anaheim? Are you joking?)

So, seasoned friends, should I bother taking the train (12 hours, though it is my preference) down to Philly? Will you let me lurk in your meetings or will beefy librarians toss me out on my ear? I have this platform to query the ACRLog readership, but what about the rest of the MLS class of ’07 that has the enthusiasm but no clue how to get started?