Friday, December 16, 2005

Holy Smokes!

What a day. First, the New York Times story that, as Times columnist David Brooks said on Lehrer tonight, is the kind of story that "makes your eyeballs drop out." And then the vote. Enough republicans to ensure that the reauthorization won't fly, not today.

Now what we all want to know is why the Times held the story for so long.

To drag this back to the topic of this profession of ours, I'm becoming more and more convinced that, though librarians need to be activists when it comes to scholarly communication, we have just as important a role in understanding and responding to media of all kinds. The fourth estate is in pretty shabby condition these days, and it's too important to ignore.

PS: Russ Feingold is my hero.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Patriot Act Showdown and More...

Looks as if renewing the Patriot Act is running into some significant bipartisan opposition. Now that there's the threat of a filibuster there seems to be some interest in putting off the reauthorization vote since they may not get enough votes in the Senate to overcome the resistance.

Hey, the House just agreed with John McCain that we shouldn't torture prisoners. At this rate I'm beginning to think anything can happen.

And now for something completely different - Nature has just reported that the Wikipedia has some mistakes in their articles on science. The real surprise is that they found the Encyclopaedia Britannica has nearly as many.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Multi-Tasking Ourselves to Death?

Minnesota State University, Mankato got written up in Wired for their new addition to the gym: surf the Web and answer your e-mail as you work out.

For another take on multi-tasking, see this story written while sitting in a college lecture hall. It's part of a week-long series, Slate Goes to College. I've heard librarians complain about students doing their e-mail during library instruction sessions; this is a little more extreme.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Google + LC = World Digital Library

CNN posted a story today about Google giving $3 Million to the Library of Congress to build a "World Digital Library" that Librarian of Congress James Billington said would be, "an attempt to go beyond Europe and the Americas ... into cultures where the majority of the world is."
The story references the American Memory Project that LC has been working on for some time. I can say from personal experience that American Memory is an amazing digital resource. I used it last semester to search the Library's collection of Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper of the U.S. Armed Forces during the Great War, for a project on Camp Libraries. If the proposed World Digital Library turns out as well as the American Memory Project and really does have the global focus Billington describes, I'm excited for the research opportunities it will provide us and our patrons.
An interesting tidbit hidden in the article says Google will, "work with the Library of Congress on developing standards for indexing the digital collections ..." I'm curious to see how this will develop and to see what effect, if any, Google's influence on this project will have on the way we are currently cataloging and indexing digital materials.


Monday, November 21, 2005

Holding the Line on the PATRIOT Act

Whiplash. That's what it feels like to hear on Thursday it's pretty much over and the PATRIOT Act will be reauthorized, warts and all. And then for a bipartisan handful of senators to do the right thing and refuse to be rushed - once again - into legislation that gives federal law enforcement too much power.

As an editorial in the LA Times says, Congress gave the executive branch the benefit of the doubt when the law was passed. They haven't proven that this set of laws is effective or that they will use it responsibly. Though the Senate's modifications are minor, they are at least symbolic.

I was trying to keep an eye on this developing story when Jane Kirtley came to campus Thursday to speak as part of our involvment in The September Project. Interestingly, though she spoke about the PATRIOT Act, she also spent a lot of time on the various ways this administration is drawing the blinds on government activities. An example: under Attorney General Janet Reno, information requested under the Freedom of Information Act was released unless there was a compelling reason not to. John Ashcroft reversed that formula: information would not be released unless there was a compelling reason to let it out. Fascinating that a government that wants to know so much about us is resisting efforts for the public to know about their activities. Which makes a certain amount of sense when you consider how embarrassing so much of it is.

Though librarians' involvement in PATRIOT Act activism revolves around sections that affect libraries and privacy, we have a broader role to play in defending access to information and the freedom to read. All of which makes it interesting to be in the profession these days, when those principles are so challenged.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Using copyright to squelch speak--even speech we don't like

Here's a fascinating article at Wired. Seems that the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association are using their copyrights to force the Kansas State Board of Education to change its curriculum standards--because the NAS and the NSTA do not endorse the Board's inclusion of "intelligent design" in the state's science curriculum. As much as I disapprove of teaching intelligent design in the classroom, the author of this article points out that copyright was not intended to squelch speech or "bring people into line." Librarians, copyright scholars, and other interested parties should oppose the NAS and NSTA's actions here.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Distance Blues

A graduate of an online program published her thoughts about it in Library Journal. She argues that for a variety of reasons its better than a traditional degree program. On the other hand, she reports that there seemed to be quite a bit of skepticism among hiring libraries.

I shoud dig around and see if there are any reports with more actual data comparing online and traditional LIS programs -- after I've had more coffee. Yesterday was one of those days: meetings scattered throughout, followed by an evening shift at reference until 10 p.m. and now I'm trying to wake up for an 8 a.m. meeting... all of which probably betrays my inability to manage my calendar more than anything else.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Oxford Guide to Library Research

It's finally here! I received my personal copy of the revised Oxford Guide to Library Research (3rd ed.) today. Yay!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Libraries in the digital world

Looking for a two-page summary of the challenges that the Web is presenting to the library and its traditional roles in collection development, preservation, and reference? Print out this article from that latest issue of Educause Review that's making the library blog rounds (for example, see here).

All the News That's Fit to Shrink

Newsprint has risen in price - one of those odd details that can alter (literally) the shape of things to come. According to the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal will start lopping off a column to save money next year, shrinking the paper by 10%; the New York Times will use lighter-weight newsprint (and lay off a bunch of reporters). This may hasten the market for new technologies for reading comfortably without using paper. Just one more pressure point on the troubled Fourth Estate.

There was an interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed a while back on how much more expensive it is to go after facts than to express opinions. And (with a touch of nostalgia) the essayist looks back on an era when news, opinion, and entertainment were more distinct. I'm leery of "golden age" nostalgia, but I do worry when good papers cut back on their news operations. Because, as Spiked points out, it's awfully easy to go wrong when you don't check the facts.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

New blog

Barbara is now blogging at the Association of College and Research Libraries blog, ACRLog. The blog's focus: "Blogging by and for academic and research librarians."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Blogs and usability

Here's a good article titled Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes, by Jakob Nielsen. I especially appreciate mistakes 4 and 9.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Possible correlation between citation and cost of content

Citation studies as of late indicate that freely available content, such as open access journals on the Web, is heavily cited. Others have observed that free content online can drive sales of physical facsimiles. (Consider this article about the National Academy Press published in 1999.) The studies conclude that, since such information is simply more findable and accessible than costly print or electronic journals online available in library databases, it is easier to cite.

Such a pattern appears to hold for another form of information: New York Times opinion columnists. The New York Times, in an effort to collect some revenue from the traffic to their Web site, decided recently to charge for "premium" content, including their columnists. I was disappointed, because now I have to read Maureen Dowd through Lexis-Nexis.

New York Times columnists are commonly cited by bloggers. But as this graph on the Daily Kos Web site indicates, these columnists are now being cited less after the New York Times started charging.

This is not surprising. Can a blogger realistically expect his or her audience to pay to read a column to which the blogger is responding? True, I cite the Chronicle of Higher Education all the time, but many of this blog's readers (I think) are librarians and students who have access through their respective institutions.

Note: The Daily Kos's source, BlogPulse, is admittedly opaque. Apparently BlogPulse is a blog search engine with tools that presumably can count the number of keywords occurring in blogs over a certain period of time.

The nature of Truth and the definition of Authority

Librarians and others are currently debating the nature of truth and the definition of authority on the Web4lib listserv. "Authority" is a standard criterion used by librarians in evaluating information and reference sources. But what is authority? Is it "findability," as some suggest, or does "objective" truth contained in a tome grant it authority? Read along by subscribing or browse the October archive (subject: Authority + Wikipedia ). Here's the article that set off the debate.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Still gagged...

The Supreme Court denied the ACLU's appeal to lift the gag order on the Connecticut library system served with a National Security Letter mentioned here earlier. So while eventually the courts may rule in the library's favor, it may come too late for them to comment on their experience of the law before it's reauthorized. It's all very Kafkaesque.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Librarian stereotypes

There is a hilarious posting at Bookslut today:

Today's librarians aren't all old women with glasses and their hair pulled back in buns, reports the AP. Also, today's police officers aren't all fat Irish guys who swing their night sticks jauntily about while giving shiny pennies to street urchins and telling them to stay out of trouble. And today's newspaper reporters don't have cards that say "PRESS" stuck in the bands of their fedoras, and almost never say "What a scoop!"

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Libraries in the Chronicle

Lots of interesting stuff about libraries and librarians in the current issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. One that I particularly like is by Elizabeth Breakstone - "Librarians Can Look Forward to an Exhilarating Future" (or, as it's slugged on the main page, "Enough With the Stereotypes.") It's a great piece, and if you don't subscribe to the Chron you can get the article from the "Scholars' Bank" at the University of Oregon, an interesting example of an institutional repository that makes faculty publications available in a free, open access model.

Breakstone thinks there's too much anxiety in the air about the future of libraries, and in communications with the general public that leads to either Michael Gorman-like dismissal of technological developments - or too much hype that devalues traditional formats. There's a middle ground:
"For new librarians like me, technology is second nature. We use instant messaging, record our lives and discuss our work in blogs, and include Google as one of the many tools in our arsenal. We're early adopters and explorers. At the same time, many of us are positioned squarely between generations that grew up with print resources and the generation growing up immersed in technology. We understand the utility of the traditional and the potency of the new."
But she also raises some very important concerns:
"I worry about the economics of scholarly communication -- the combination of plummeting library budgets and skyrocketing journal and database prices. I fear that leasing digital collections of material, rather than owning them, will leave librarians dependent on the long-term benevolence of corporations. I worry that the so-called graying of the profession isn't actually opening up new jobs but is creating empty positions in libraries with tight budgets looking for ways to cut back. I suspect the jobs that do exist will continue to pay poorly, forcing some librarians to enter the corporate world in search of a better living."
Tell you one thing - these are all important challenges, but with people like Elizabeth Breakstone entering the profession I'm confident we'll thrive, and so will those who depend on libraries.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Whom to help first?

Imagine, at the reference desk, you receive reference questions from the following individuals at the following locations through the following "channels," all within ten minutes of each other:

1) An e-mail reference question from a student studying abroad in Germany.
2) A walk-up patron who traveled 20 miles to use the library's collections.
3) A telephone call from a faculty member at home.
4) An instant message (virtual reference) from an administrator in his or her office.

There is some debate about whom to serve first and why. Many people would be inclined to say, "Help the walk-up patron first. After all, she/he made the effort to visit the library, so he/she deserves to be served first."

However, I have to agree with the LibrarianInBlack and others, that "synchronous" reference questions should be handled in a first-come, first-serve fashion. ("Synchronous" meaning a "live" or "real-time.") Thus, if I am helping a patron via chat (instant messaging or some other virtual reference mechanism), I should finish helping that patron if another walks up during the reference interview. Or, if the phone rings at that time instead, I would answer the phone, explain that I am helping another patron at the moment, and could I please call back just as soon as I am done? Asynchronous questions (in this case, e-mail), can be answered when time permits (but, of course, in a timely fashion).

I think our profession's Code of Ethics provides guidance on this issue. We can't discriminate patrons based on their preferred mode of communication; librarians must provide "equitable" service. And, as one reader of the LibrarianInBlack notes, some of those people who can't make it to the library might not be there for a good reason. For example, a person calling from home might be disabled.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Other perspectives

Radical Reference has been previously mentioned in this blog. In order to give some air time to other perspectives in library politics and collection development, I am posting links to two recent articles that, I should say, don't represent my own personal opinions. I think it is fairly safe to assume that they also don't represent the political opinions of (dare I say) most librarians.

Banned Books Week: Smoke screen of hypocrisy

The Loneliness of a Conservative Librarian (subscription to the Chronicle of Higher Education is required; visit a library for access)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

a blow for civil liberties - a win for transparency?

The court decision that found in favor of a librarian and the ACLU who argued that those affected by National Security Letters issued under the PATRIOT Act should be allowed to talk about it has been overruled by a higher court on one matter. The lower court judge gave the government a stay until Sept. 20th to argue that secrecy should be maintained while the case is decided. The higher court extended the stay and is giving the case an expedited appeal. So mum's the word. Except ...

The court itself has revealed who the plaintiff is! According to The York Times "A search of a court-operated Web site offered a pointer to the plaintiffs' identity. There, a case numbered 3:2005cv01256 is listed under the caption, 'Library Connection Inc. v. Attorney General.'" Gee, does this mean the court should be thrown in the slammer for violating the automatic gag order?

The stay will continue as the government appeals the lower court ruling. So though we know who's involved, that party still can't talk about it.



Thursday, September 15, 2005

Finally Posting

Well, here I am: finally coming up for air to write a post about my first few weeks as an MLS student. Life here in Chapel Hill and with SILS is going well. Since I probably have not been in contact with many of you reading this for a while, a brief update on what I have been doing since arriving in Chapel Hill in mid-July.

Mid-July? Yes, you read correctly. One of the best moves I made last summer was when I responded to a fellow SILS student's posting to the new student listserv asking for a cat sitter for a month while she was doing some traveling. Getting to the area a month before most students are heading down is a great idea, especially if you are in my position (homeless, jobless, and clueless). Within three weeks, I had found a place to live and a temporary research assistantship in the Botany Section of the Couch Biology Library. Getting to know the area, and more importantly, the bus system, before being caught up in the whirlwind of classes, studies, work schedules, meetings, and (gasp!) social endeavors (yes, there is life in grad school) is making my transition from undergrad to grad school much smoother. Now that school and work have started, I'm just too busy to get on the wrong bus...

Speaking of work: as you probably know, jobs/internships/assistantships are just as important to an MLS student as great classes and good grades. An employer is going to be more interested in the combination of the MLS degree and on-the-job experience than just the degree alone. When you look for that perfect assistantship, it doesn't hurt to be creative, and it also doesn't hurt to do a little networking: I found my (fantastic!) assistantship in the Botany library through going to a SILS happy hour less than 48 hours after leaving Minneapolis. Believe me, that was difficult: I am not in the habit of going to a bar by myself in a town I am unfamiliar with to meet people I do not know. But being shy/intimidated by library science students is about as logical as being intimidated by librarians. After learning about the open position in the Botany library by word-of-mouth, I contacted my present supervisor and got an interview. The opening ended up never getting officially advertised because there was enough interest generated through word-of-mouth, so I owe my opportunity to gain experience in a specialized branch library (and in a science library, no less!) to a great extent to socializing/networking with other students. Plus, they are fascinating, fun people.

When I'm not working on special projects in the Botany library, I am taking classes in Reference, Collection Development, Information Ethics, and Cultural Institutions (note: I will try to update the link to the current Information Ethics syllabus when I can, and the other two classes are taught by a professor who has not posted syllabi on the web). Reference and Collection Development are, as yet, the only two of my classes that have begun yet: Cultural Institutions begins this Saturday, and Information Ethics will begin in October (to allow time for students participating in an international education program to arrive at UNC from Copenhagen and Singapore). I am enjoying my classes so far, and am very much looking forward to the others starting.

Wait, wait! There's more: however, I have run out of time for going into detail about what we are covering in class, how I am getting involved with student organizations, and current issues and discussions that are buzzing around SILS right now. Stay tuned for a bit more detailed news in the near future!

Should librarians be worried about John Roberts?

Roberts Admits He's Not 'Up to Speed' on First Amendment.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

PATRIOT Act decision

Hot off the press: a Connecticut judge has ruled in favor of a librarian served with a National Security Letter under section 215 of the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act, saying the built-in gag order is a violation of the first amendment right to speech. The ACLU took on the case for a member of the American Library Association. This is the second time courts have ruled the NSLs unconstitutional.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

libraries and conversation

Joan Bechtel made an argument in College and Research Libraries back in the 1980s that conversation was an apt paradigm for libraries. ("Paradigm" was a big word then - maybe “metaphor” is more accurate.) I’ve always found that idea compelling. And now we’re doing it consciously in the library.

The September Project is a world-wide movement to open libraries for conversations about citizenship and democracy. We’re participating this year, along with over 600 libraries in 31 countries, and I’m excited about it. It’s interesting to see how varied the projects are – and the interesting riffs libraries are taking on the theme.

Take a look at the September Project blog if you get a chance – it’ll make you proud of the profession, whether you’re in it yet or not.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Cool new OCLC toy

OCLC has developed a cool interface for browsing classified collections. Try it out.

I'm surprised more online library catalogs don't have this same functionality, whether they use Dewey or LC. People with vague information needs depend on browsing, and such an interface should be easy to program and include as an alternative interface to any catalog system.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Three weeks later...

Wow. Where has the time gone? I started my new job on August 15th and already it is Labor Day. Where to begin?

First, my colleagues at my new job are absolutely wonderful people. They are warm and friendly. They are passionate about their chosen profession. If any of them read this blog, I want to thank them for tolerating my interruptions and persist questions over the past three weeks. They have been patient and helpful and always answered with a smile.

Second, I now possess a real degree of authority and decision-making responsibility. In my previous position, the librarians occasionally solicited my opinions about collection or IT issues. Now I am the one making decisions. For example, already on my first day my colleagues delegated to me the decision of whether or not to keep the previous edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music.

I am finding myself busier than ever. I arrive most days between 8 and 8:15am and often am still in my office long after 5pm. One night I was in until 11pm. Mind you, I am not complaining, but there always seems to be more things to do in a day than there are hours for. It will be challenging, therefore, to keep up with personal professional development activities, such as reading the professional journals and library blogs. My technical services professors warned us that once we started our first professional positions we would find that we have little time for such activities and simply time for reflection. Indeed, I am finding this to be the case. I will have to work harder to accomplish this.

Since my position is "instruction/reference librarian," a lot of my job is building relationships. For collection development and library instruction, I am the library's liasion to the departments of music, history, religion, and church professions, as well as the administrative offices of the campus pastors and the ELCA's local synod office, among others. I have spent a lot of time meeting people around campus, such as at the fall faculty workshop or in a department faculty meeting. I have mailed letters of introduction to all faculty in my departments, letting them know who I am and outlining my general responsibilities. I also included my business card and to the academic departments I mailed "profile" sheets with hopes to better learn my assigned faculty's research interests and teaching areas. I still have a lot more hands to shake, but all of those I have shaken so far have been those of friendly, interested, and interesting people.

Already I'm trying to get involved in the campus community. I contacted one of the campus pastors and volunteered to read one of the readings at the service on the second day of fall workshop. (I read from Isaiah.) The new band director and I connected at the new faculty orientation, and before I knew it, I was in a practice room getting my embrochure in shape to join the band for their opening convocation performance. It was a lot of fun playing in an ensemble again. It has been three years. I then attended the opening faculty recital. The energy and enthusiasm of the faculty performers and the students in the audience was impressive and inspiring.

These are some top-of-my-head thoughts. Hopefully in the weeks ahead I can share some more thoughtful, organized impressions. But what is most important to me is that I am having fun, loving what I am doing, and working with outstanding colleagues. I am learning a lot and hope to contribute to this learning community of which I am a member and in whose mission and purpose I strongly believe.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

gag me?

Good timing!

Michael Gorman said recently that nobody had challenged the portion of the PATRIOT Act that applies to libraries (Section 215). Well - now they have.

According to a story in Wired, a library in Connecticut (with the ACLU) has filed suit against Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, claiming the actions of the FBI are unconstitutional and asking that the built-in gag order be lifted so that we can talk about what is involved. Given the push to reauthorize this section before the sun sets on it in December, this suit may bring some attention to the issue at a critical moment. Interestingly, the court papers show what's involved - the Department of Justice insisted in redacting much of the documentation.

By the way, if you're on campus on September 12th, we're having the first event of several for our part of The September Project. At 7pm on the first floor of the library several faculty members will discuss the implications of the government's response to 9/11 from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. And there's more to come throughout the fall. I'll post a link to what's up on campus soon.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Empty? Deserted? uh, no, actually ...

The Christian Science Monitor has a piece on the University of Texas's decision to move 90,000 books from their Undergraduate Library and replace them with computers. It sounds like a terrible move, but the fact is the UGLI, as it was known when I was in their MLIS program long ago, was a very small collection, hand-picked for providing somewhat canned materials for a required composition course assignment. A lot of students preferred to use the main library, which is still there with its millions of volumes.

There is always a Sophie's Choice tone to these pieces - what's it gonna be, books or computers? Scott Carlson's famous "Deserted Libraries" story sparked a lot of controversy when it was first published in 2001, but it's the headline that sets off the alarms. In reality, the piece presents a range of issues and talks about libraries that are anything but deserted.

Both stories are about a changing persception of the library as place. Scott Bennett's report on libraries as learning commons shifts the focus from either/or to both and from information to learning. And that makes a lot of sense.


challenging issues

There are signs that book challenges are on the rise, part of a cultural shift to the right (or at least, to some segments of the right feeling their oats). Focus on the Family is one organization pushing for more activism by parents in the books that are assigned in schools. There will no doubt be more press coverage and debate when Banned Books Week rolls around, September 24th - October 1st.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Yes, I'm still here...

Hi, everyone. I'm still alive. :) I started my first professional position in an academic library last week, and I'm having a great time. When I have some more time, I'll try to summarize the events and my impressions of the past several days.

Friday, August 19, 2005

interested in the public interest?

Here's another piece on librarians' activism in legal and political matters. One important role librarians have is ensuring that the public interest is protected in areas of privacy, freedom to read, and culture, and that sometimes means going up against tough opponents. For some reason, it often surprises people that we can be a bit pushy about things that matter to us.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Patrons and Patriots

Michael Gorman has some things to say about the Patriot Act - boiled down to one word: Kafkaesque.

There's a fascinating article in First Monday by Joan Starr that goes over the history of librarians' responses to national security threats.


Monday, July 18, 2005

"Research at Risk"

One of my library heroes, Thomas Mann, has published a new article in Library Journal.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Environmental scans

The library literature that I've read on strategic planning stresses the importance of determining the external factors outside of the library that may influence future library users, collections, and services. OCLC, a major player in the library world, published a document in 2004 titled 2003 Environmental Scan: Pattern Recognition. As the introduction states, the purpose of the study "is the identification and description of issues and trends that are impacting and will impact OCLC, libraries, museums, archives and other allied organizations, positively and negatively. ... The scope... is the social, political, economic and technological spheres in which [these] organizations operate." It's a fascinating document, and a "must read" for librarians and library administrators.

Right now, environmental scanning is being discussed in a blog written by three OCLC staff members, It's all good. You can read part one here and part two here.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The ethics of academic librarianship

At the ALA Annual conference last month, I attended a session that explored the ethics of academic librarianship. It was a wide-ranging discussion, and there were few answers to many of the ethical quandaries that librarians face everyday in the college or university. At the present, the library profession is guided by the American Library Association Code of Ethics, the Library Bill of Rights, and the Freedom to Read Statement. I keep a copy of the Library Bill of Rights and the Code of Ethics taped on the wall near my computer so they are always in view.

One of the ethical dilemmas that was mentioned involved equitable service. As one of the speakers asked, do we really provide equal levels of service to college or university library users? For example, suppose you are helping someone at the reference desk, but then you receive a call from the college president's office, requesting some reference assistance. Would you finish helping the patron you are currently working with, or would you give preferred treatment to the president? The president, after all, influences college policy and makes decisions that directly affects the library. But according to the first part of the Code of Ethics, librarians provide "equitable service policies" "to all library users."

These and other issues are challenges librarians face everyday. It is important that we reread the Code of Ethics and other such documents frequently to remind ourselves of the basic principles that we as the profession have agreed should guide our behavior and services.

wiki mania

I am tech savvy person. I started using an RSS reader over two years ago before it really became a "big" thing both in the tech world and among the general public (and I'm not sure really how pervasive RSS is among the general public). I studied computer science in college and worked for three years in the college IT department. However, I have a healthy skepticism when new technologies are introduced. One such technology is the wiki, the technology that drives the Wikipedia.

Some librarians in the library blog community are known for their tech enthusiasm (they shall remain nameless here). And wikis are really big among these bloggers right now. These bloggers have mentioned two new library wikis that launched this week: Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki and

The former I see as having a definite purpose and potential. It reminds me of the Association of College and Research Libraries Instruction Section's PRIMO project. "Best practices" Web site and articles seem common in the library world.

As far as the latter wiki, I don't understand what it is for or about. Is it trying to be an Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science or an Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science or something more? Or is this simply a demonstration of "technolust"? That is, is this an example of a wiki set up just because it's the hip new cool tool/toy of the moment?

Sharing library tips

In recent blog posts over the past two days, non-librarians are sharing their library advice. LifeHacker has a post on How to finish library books on time. Ask Metafilter had a recent question about the best way to handle a lost library book.

I really like the Ask Metafilter site because users can submit questions about virtually any topic and receive lots of valuable answers. Many of these are questions that reference librarians simply can't or won't answer: questions that involve personal opinions or recommendations or speculation--basically questions that may not have an "answer" or a source to which librarians can point patrons to.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The "i" in IL: internet or information?

This recent CNN news item covers a new standardized test that has been getting a fair amount of coverage in the press lately. Some librarians think it's a good idea to have some sort of assessment tool that goes beyond how to use libraries and can be applied in various settings. Others worry that if information literacy is conflated with tech skills we'll fail to keep our eye on the ball. And still others (like me!) wonder if multiple choice testing isn't too blunt an instrument for assessing something as complex as mastering the art of inquiry. Still, there are several on-the-ball librarians who are working on this project so I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

The real surprise to me was Dominc Basulto's take on the issue. He thinks librarians are trying to "own" information and be gatekeepers of what will be considered legitimate--and this test is just one more manifestation of our worst control-freak impulses. Though I initially thought "huh? librarians as censors? Where is that coming from?" But on further reflection I do think the word "literacy" carries with it some very odd, controlling baggage. And we do tend to use scare tactics in "selling" information literacy as a cause. Careful with that information! It might explode!!


Saturday, June 18, 2005

Notes from ATLA, Day Two

Friday was another busy day at the ATLA conference. I first went to a session titled "'Treasures Hid in the Sand': Finding Information for Religious Studies Research in Electronic Non-Theological Resources." The presenter, Judy Clarence, instruction librarian at California State University East Bay, demonstrated how to find information for religious and theological studies research in a number of different library databases, ones we might not normally think of. For example, Agricola, the primary database in agriculture, contains many citations related to church work with the hungry. CINAHL (Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health) provides access to some literature on spiritual care and chaplaincy. GenderWatch and Ethnic NewsWatch contain information about religious topics with emphases on gender issues and ethic and minority groups. (Ethinic NewsWatch is particularly useful because one can narrow search results by ethnic group.) As a final example here, ABI/Inform, the major database in business, provides access to literature on church management and fundraising. Clarence's session showed once again the importance of cross-disciplinary database/index searches in comprehensive research.

The second session I attended was a talk by Anne LeVeque, who is currently employed by the Congressional Research Service. Anne explained that librarians for the CRS work exclusively for members of Congress, not the general public. She gave examples of broad types of issues she regularly researches. Many of these are obvious: faith-based and community initiatives, church-state issues, evolution, school prayer, public displays (the Ten Commandment, for example), inaugural traditions (e.g, with respect to the Bible and prayers), demographic questions (e.g., "How many Presbyterians live in my district?"), world religious traditions, holiday traditions, ecumenical/interfaith relations, cults, and bioethics (abortion, stem cell research, and end-of-life issues). She receives everything from simple and quick ready-reference questions to those that take days to research. (If providing reference services to members of Congress sounds interesting, the CRS currently has job openings!)

I then heard Libby Peterek, a recent graduate of the School of Information at the University of Texas-Austin, speak about information retrieval strategies. She focused mostly on RSS. (Her presentation is online.)

RSS is not new to me: I've used RSS for over two years. It is my primary means of news gathering. I subscribe to over 155 RSS feeds through my Bloglines account. I won't explain what RSS is here (google it), but I agree with Libby that it is a form of information retrieval. I had previously thought of RSS simply as a form of "push" content, but I read an interesting essay today by Kevin Hale, who argues quite persuasively that RSS is actually the next paradigm in search. However, I didn't agree with everything he wrote (e.g., "Google is essentially a library").

The final session I attended was about OpenURLs. Andrew Keck from the Duke Divinity School library explained what OpenURLs are and how they are implemented. (Keck was quoted in a recent Library Journal article about the use of iPods in libraries.) For those of you who know what OpenURL is, it is now officially a NISO standard. Essentially, OpenURLs are links between electronic resources. In a library database, an article citation which may actually be included in full text in another database is linked to the full text via an OpenURL. This assumes that the two databases are OpenURL-enabled and the library has an OpenURL server. OpenURLs are big time-savers for users and greatly increase access to a library's full text holdings.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald Norman

I recently read Donald Norman's book, The Design of Everyday Things (the first edition was titled Psychology of Everyday Things). Norman is an expert in product design, and is currently Professor of Computer Science, Psychology and Cognitive Science at Northwestern University.

Why I mention this book now and in this blog is because, in the ATLA conference hotel, I became flustered with my room's clock radio. It has an "Auto / Off / On" switch and a wheel labeled "Off Buzz/Volume" with a small right triangle nearby. I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out whether "Auto" or "On" turned the alarm on. Similarly, I couldn't tell immediately what "Off Buzz" really meant and which way to turn the wheel for a loud alarm. I finally gave up and used by cell phone alarm.

Was I stupid or was this a case of bad design? In cases like this the product is almost always at fault, Norman would argue. The clock radio labels weren't intuitive (what do "Auto" and "Off Buzz" really mean?) and the clock didn't provide me with clear feedback as to whether the alarm was actually set or not.

His book illustrates a number of very basic design principles that can apply to almost any product. Consequently, I'll never look at light switches, doors, car radios, telephones, stove tops, and public restroom faucets in the same way ever again. (Yes, doors.) In fact, I'm starting to see design flaws in almost everything around me! While his book focuses on physical objects, many of his design principles can apply to computer interfaces, including library catalogs, electronic journals, e-books, and databases. Some of his principles include: provide the user with feedback, use natural mappings/mental models, use constraints, bridge the gulf of execution and the gulf of evaluation, use forcing functions, and in cases where good design cannot be implemented, use cultural standards. All of these principles are clearly defined and illustrated in the book. Recommended. It is also a title on Josh Kaufman's Personal MBA program book list.

The study and application of good, user-centered design principles to computer interfaces and products and other technology is the focus of human-computer interaction (HCI) research. Some library schools, like the School of Information at the University of Michigan, offer HCI specializations.

WorldCat and the RLG Union Catalog

Any serious library researcher has probably either used WorldCat or the RLG Union Catalog to track down the location of books in other libraries. Both WorldCat and the RLG Union Catalog are union catalogs. The Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science defines union catalog as a "list of the holdings of all the libraries in a library system, or of all or a portion of the collections of a group of independent libraries, indicating by name and/or location symbol which libraries own at least one copy of each item."

Both of these catalogs, until recently, have only been available to library users who have been fortunate enough to be members of libraries that have paid for access to them. However, substantial subsets of both catalogs are now freely accessible and searchable. Although these two tools have been available for months, only recently, in my opinion, have they become truly usable.

The first is Open WorldCat, a program that "makes records of library-owned materials in OCLC's WorldCat database available to Web users on popular Internet search, bibliographic and bookselling sites." As the program's Web site explains,

A Web user visits a site such as Yahoo! Search or Google and enters a search phrase that matches the title of a library-owned item. The returned search results include a link to the Open WorldCat "Find in a Library" interface, where they can enter geographic information that helps them locate the item at a library in their city, region or country.

However, standard Google and Yahoo! searches didn't always display the book results at the top of the list, making them hard to spot in the usual list of thousands of Web sites for any given search. Relatively new search tools make direct searching for books in these search engines easier. Of particular note are a Yahoo! toolbar for the Internet Explorer browser and a search extension for the Firefox browser.

Now, almost all 58 million records in WorldCat have been made available to Google and Yahoo! for searching.

The second tool is RedLightGreen, which I consider to be the most innovative and helpful.

RedLightGreen helps you locate the most important books and other research materials in your area of interest, and find out whether what you need is available at your favorite library.

For the longest time, I had no idea exactly what RedLightGreen was searching. Yes, it helps you locate books and other materials, but which books? Their FAQ now explains that, "RedLightGreen's database is based on the RLG Union Catalog. ... Currently, RedLightGreen's database is the books portion of the RLG Union Catalog." You can read more about the contents of the RLG Union Catalog here.

RedLightGreen provides a helpful Google-style search interface (a single box). Alternatively, a Firefox search extension is also available (click on "Information for Librarians" in the upper-righthand corner).

Why I think RedLightGreen is innovative is that it provides the familiar, single Google-style search box, but after presenting you with the results of a search, suggests subjects to search. By clicking on a subject, RedLightGreen then displays all the books categorized with that subject. I believe that these subjects correspond to Library of Congress subject headings from database's respective catalog records in the RLG Union Catalog. (Example: a search for "cookbook" suggests "cookery," which is a Library of Congress subject heading.) Searches like these bring together all works categorized by the subject, without you needing to worry about thinking of all possible synonyms that are usually required for a complete keyword search. My explanation probably does not do the subject search justice; just try it out.

Another innovative feature is that RedLightGreen will create citations out of your search results and will save the citations so that you can easily create a bibliography. You can e-mail the citations to yourself or display them in a print-friendly format. This can be a big time-saver for students and reduces a bit of stress they usually feel trying to get everything formatted correctly.

Yet a third feature is that RedLightGreen provides you links from the records to booksellers should you wish to buy the books. Links to table of contents are also available for some records.

I think these efforts to make the union catalogs freely accessible and searchable in these ways do two things. One, they make library materials more accessible than ever. No longer is it only possible to find books in a library catalog. WorldCat is now indirectly searchable through everyone's favorite and easy-to-use search engine. Not only library books in search results remind people of the value of books in research, but these tools should bring more people into the library. Librarians can feel more at ease that what they thought was a threat to the library is actually helping to bring users back to it. Two, the innovative approaches to book searching, as demonstrated by RedLightGreen, should lead to easier-to-use library catalogs. People like an uncluttered, single-box search interface. RedLightGreen demonstrates that such an interface can work for a library catalog, while providing power users advanced searching tools/options that don't get in the way of the basic user. (I asked an Endeavor representative at the ATLA conference if they were considering such an interface for their Voyager library catalog product. She said they were!)

Note: Both RedLightGreen and Open WorldCat (through Google and Yahoo!) display advertising.

Privacy and Google Print

A contract between Google and the University of Michigan released publicly on Friday contains no provisions for protecting the privacy of people who will eventually be able to search the school's vast library collection over the Internet.

Google announced plans late last year to digitize and index as many as 7 million volumes of material from the University of Michigan to make them searchable on the Internet as part of its Google Print service, a searchable index of books.


The American Library Association code of ethics recommends that libraries preserve the privacy and confidentiality of library users and recommends they ask third-party partners to retain the same degree of protection, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director for the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom. "Access should be anonymous," she said.

Read more about the exact nature of the privacy concern in this article posted at CNET.

How to Become a Librarian

A new article in Library Journal.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Notes from ATLA

Day 1 of the American Theological Library Association annual conference has just concluded. It was a good day. The opening plenary speaker was Nancy Pearl, the author of Book Lust: Recommended Readings for Every Mood and model for the Librarian Action Figure. Her talk was titled "The Pleasures and Perils of a Life of Reading." She was hilarious and kept everyone in stitches throughout her hour-long speech. What struck me as most interesting was what she identified as the perils of a life of reading. They included:

1. Never learning how to pronounce the words we read. After all, if we read to ourselves all the time, there's no pressure to check pronunciations of unfamiliar words. The examples she gave included "segue" and "fugue." For the longest time, she said, she pronounced segue as "sagooee."

2. Being too lazy to pick up the dictionary off of the bookshelf to look up unfamiliar words. When we're settled and comfortable in our chair reading a good book, who wants to interrupt the flow to get that heavy thing off of a high shelf?

3. Never knowing for sure if our memories are actually ours. She related a story in which she had told her daughter that she had gone to her junior prom. Nancy's daughter asked, "Mom, are you sure you went to your junior prom?" Nancy proceeded to explain to her daughter that, yes, she had gone to prom with a guy named Monk and even described her dress in detail. Then there was a long silence on the other end of the phone. "Mom," her daughter said, "that story is from a book we had both read." Sure enough, Nancy checked the book her daughter had said the story was in, and there was the Monk and the prom dress, exactly how she had described.

While I have yet to suffer from peril number three, I am guilty of perils one and two. It is very comforting that I can identify with someone who is an avid reader and fellow librarian.

After Nancy's talk, the exhibits officially opened. Then, I attended one of the many concurrent sessions. It was a roundtable discussion about the format/design, audience, and value of pathfinders. "Pathfinder" has a number of definitions. One of the session's handouts included three definitions. Two of the three that I most identified with included:

A guide designed to assist the user in researching a particular discipline or topic. A pathfinder identifies key subject headings related to the topic, important reference books, periodical indexes, journals and other resources available at the local library. Sources on the World Wide Web are usually also included. Pathfinders can be printed or available online.


A library pathfinder is a document that serves as a map and guide to bibliographic research on a specific topic. (See:

Participants mentioned that pathfinders seem to be most successful when they are compiled in consultation with faculty. Students like to know that the list of sources has been "approved" or "recommended" by professors, and may be afraid to use sources that they perceive as not receiving such approval. One participant explained that dropping a draft of a pathfinder in a professor's mailbox for review is like dropping something into a black hole. She instead visits faculty during their office hours to discuss sources that should be included and to develop annotations explaining each resource.

I pointed out, though, that pathfinders are both a blessing and a curse. Students like the lists (if they know about them, and can find and understand them). The lists reduce library anxiety by presenting a small, "digestible" universe of library resources with which to begin a research project. However, students may be afraid to venture off of this list, thus limiting their searches to a few resources while many potentially rich sources in the library go unused. This leads to a flaw with lists of sources that Thomas Mann pointed out in Library Research Models. People tend to forget the sources and at the same time don't learn of a constructive research process. Thus, pathfinders fail as an instructional tool (obviously) unless there is some effort to convey a procedure or method. But, as one participant wisely pointed out, librarians have to assure students that if they feel like they have a method that they should not be limited by what a pathfinder or tutorial might suggest to them.

One participant wondered if there was a compilation of particularly outstanding pathfinders. By this time in the discussion, the terms "pathfinders" and "online tutorials" were being used synonymously. I suggested that the participants check out the Association of College and Research Library's Instruction Section's PRIMO project. PRIMO "is a means to promote and share peer-reviewed instructional materials created by librarians to teach people about discovering, accessing and evaluating information in networked environments."

After this discussion, I attended a vendor product talk. In this case, the vendor was Thomson-Gale describing their resources in religious studies and philosophy, including the new second edition of the Encyclopedia of Religion. The vendor representative also addressed the criticisms of the New Catholic Encyclopedia and mentioned the upcoming update to the Encyclopedia Judaica, which is set for publication in late 2006.

This evening, I went on one of the "hosted excursions" to the Austin Museum of Art. The current primary exhibition is a series of photos by Annie Leibovitz.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

But will it get through the Senate?

House votes to limit Patriot Act rules on library records

June 16, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The House voted Wednesday to block the FBI and the Justice Department from using the anti-terror Patriot Act to search library and book store records, responding to complaints about potential invasion of privacy of innocent readers.

Despite a veto threat from President Bush, lawmakers voted 238-187 to block the part of the anti-terrorism law that allows the government to investigate the reading habits of terror suspects.

The vote reversed a narrow loss last year by lawmakers complaining about threats to privacy rights.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

ATLA conference

Professional associations provide excellent networking and continuing education opportunities. I encourage library school students to join one or more professional associations. One such organization I belong to is the American Theological Library Association. This is a particularly good association for LIS students to join. ATLA provides $500 travel grants to 10 student members every year for attendance at the annual conference. (I have been fortunate to receive one of these grants for two consecutive years.) Also, the number of annual conference attendees is small enough that it's possible meet just about everyone there. The attendees are really friendly and are very welcoming of students. Last year, I had the chance to meet ATLA board members personally and to dine with one of them at the closing banquet. I met many theological library directors and was even offered jobs!

I leave Wednesday for this year's annual conference, which is being held in Austin, TX. There are lots of interesting speakers on the program. Nancy Pearl, the author of Book Lust: Recommended Readings for Every Mood and model for the Librarian Action Figure, is the opening plenary speaker. Lindsay Jones, editor of the second revised edition of the Encyclopedia of Religion (published this year by Macmillian Reference USA), will speak on Saturday about this work, which is considered to be the foremost reference work in the field of comparative religion. There will also be sessions on everything from e-books, OpenURLs, and information overload, to information literacy, contemporary religious fiction, and the care of CDs and DVDs. It looks like it's going to be a great conference!

Monday, June 13, 2005

"What to Ask Your Interviewer"

The newest issue of was posted today. One of the article is about questions to ask prospective employers. As I had mentioned in a previous post, I had found this to be a helpful article: Biggs, D.R., et. al., Proactive interviewing [strategies for the assertive job hunt]. College & Research Libraries News no. 1 (January 1987) p. 13-17.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Recommended readings for new academic librarians

Did you just graduate from library school or get your first academic library job? Be sure to check out the article, Ten must reads for new academic librarians, in this month's issue of Reference Services Review (vol. 33, no. 2, pages 228-234).

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Giving away a book... increases sales?

From Scholarly Communication, a newsletter prepared by University Librarian Paula Kaufman:

One of the most interesting presentations at this fantastic conference was given by Eve Gray, of Eve Gray & Associates. Gray was asked to study the publishing strategy of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in South Africa. This research institution had a traditional strategy of publishing lots of research books, and selling them. Gray convinced them to change their strategy­to give away all their research books for free online, and offer a high quality print-on-demand service for anyone who wants the paper version. The result: "the sales turnover of the publishing department has risen by 300%." As she concluded her presentation, "giving away books and lead to an increase in our book sales." There's much much more in her interesting analysis. She has generously offered it for downloading. Here's the press release. Lessig Blog 5/27/05

I seem to remember that this was similar to the case with the National Academies Press. Unfortunately, I cannot find or recall a citation at the moment.

Insider Higher Ed

Today, two interesting articles about libraries appeared in the RSS feed to Inside Higher Ed, the delightful new competitor to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The first article, The Joy of the Stacks, discusses the University of Chicago's library expansion plan. The vision is to keep as much of the collection under one roof as possible. This is a notable step in the other direction in the academic library community, since remote storage facilities are all the rage these days. Those interviewed in the article talked about the somewhat romantic notion of serendipitous discovery in the stacks, which often isn't possible or allowed in remote storage facilities. (For more on one type of remote storage facility--known as the print repository--here.)

The author of the other article, Silence in the Stacks, bemoans the lack of lengthy discourse in the academic library blogosphere. Where are the voices, he asks, expounding upon the issues of the day? It is true, there are many blogs about librarianship, but the few that are most well known are generally technology-related (e.g., Library Stuff [which should be renamed RSS Stuff] and The Shifted Librarian). There don't seem to be blogs in which lively debates over intellectual freedom or classification are raging, specifically in a college or university context. Steven Bell, one of the people interviewed, reacts to the article here.


If you're wondering if librarianship might be a tad too traditional or tame for your tastes, check out what Radical Reference has going on at the American Library Association annual meeting this month.


Monday, June 06, 2005

Library Research Models, by Thomas Mann

I just finished reading Thomas Mann's Library Research Models: A Guide to Classification, Cataloging, and Computers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). It is an outstanding book, one I recommend for all library students and librarians. I wish my reference professor had assigned this as a text!

Mann, who is currently (as far as I know) a reference librarian at the Library of Congress, describes a number of different library research models, including: specific subject or discipline model, traditional library science model (classification scheme, vocabulary-controlled catalog, published bibliographies and indexes), type-of-literature model, actual-practice model, and computer workstation model. He notes the limitations and powers of each approach, and he concludes the book with a cumulative methods-of searching model that uses most of these models to account for the weaknesses of the others. If you want a comprehensive approach to your next massive research project, Mann provides it!

Along the way, he made a number of excellent arguments. The first is that most people believe that the organization of information in the library consists of the classification scheme alone. Thus, people assume the only way to access the information in a library is to find the call number or class where a certain subject might be and browse around that area in the stacks. Unfortunately, this is a deficient assumption. As Mann and critics of classification schemes point out, one book can address many subjects. So, where does a book go then? Similarly, a book addressing one subject can address many different aspects of it. Which aspect should be be brought out in its class assignment? Given these probelms, a person browsing the stacks may be missing several relevant books if he or she restricts the search to one class area in the stacks. Nevertheless, classification is important, as it provides a library user access to the full text of the library's collection. Mann provides examples of information that cannot be found through a library's catalog or various bibliographies and indexes, but only through browsing in the book's of a library's collection.

Another argument he makes is the controlled vocabulary used in the library's catalog is a powerful mechanism for providing access to information. Specifically, controlled vocabulary provides predictability and serendipity. Yes, that's right. Mann provides innumerable examples to show this. He rightly criticizes information scientists who insist that keyword/postcoordinate searches have made controlled vocabulary irrelevant. As we've discussed in this blog, "tagging" has become popular. However, tagging lacks authority control and the syndetic structure of thesauri and books of subject headings, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings, and thus lacks the full predictability of formal controlled vocabularies.

Mann describes another aspect not emphasized in research or in library science education: the importance of bibliographies and indexes. He notes that the Library of Congress classification places encyclopedias and other guides to the literature in the A class (these works, he says, serve as a "table of contents" to everything after it, that is, works in the B through V range). Class Z includes bibliographies and indexes. These are at the end in the classification scheme; they serve as an index to everything before it. Mann explains how to find bibliographies, both in the catalog and in the classification scheme, and, again, provides illustrative examples of the usefulness of these works.

If there are powerful, traditional approaches to finding information during the research process, why don't we use them? There are many reasons. Mann speculates at length. One reason is that methods courses in graduate work tend to focus on discipline or subject specific resources (often in the form of lists), instead of library research approaches. Library science education, on the other hand, tends toward the type-of-literature model. Students in a LIS reference course, for example, learn about specific almanacs, atlases, encyclopedias, etc., without learning how to find them more generally, for any subject, using a library's controlled vocabulary. Reference course work in specific areas, such as government information or science, is actually a combination of the type-of-literature and the discipline/subject models. This has been the case, in my experience. If I were to teach a course in general reference, I would definitely assign chapters 3-5 in this book! (These chapters cover the library science model: classification, controlled vocabulary, and published bibliographies and indexes).

Another reason why many of these approaches aren't used is due to what is known as the Principle of Least Effort. Mann refers to this principle repeatedly throughout the book and wrote a chapter on it. We are comfortable chatting with our fellow students or coworkers and asking for good articles or books they may have read or seen, or simply looking at the footnotes of one or two articles we may have happened across in a simple keyword search of some particular database.

Mann's reliance on controlled vocabulary could be considered one of the book's weaknesses. Yes, it is important for finding information in the library, but it is difficult to teach. I would guess that most librarians would not feel comfortable teaching the LCSH! Also, most people loathe to consult the big red LCSH books, but, at the same time, there isn't an easy way to browse them online. Even the LOC's authorities Web site isn't as easy as browsing the LCSH books, in my opinion.

Another criticism of the book may be that it is a systems approach to research. That is, the book emphasizes the systems of research rather than the user. Well, that may be, but Mann does acknowledge the weaknesses of these research models and the systems they use. He also acknowledges that they take some learning. But, especially for print resources, how else is a user to find information in the library? There's been lots of research done on information seeking behavior, but few if any of these studies have suggested real changes to the current library organization model of classification, a vocabulary-controlled catalog, and indexes and bibliographies. If I'm wrong on this, please let me know!

In spite of these possible criticisms, this book helped me see the organization of library information as a whole (classification [browsing], vocabulary-controlled catalog, bibliographies and indexes). This book has me looking very much forward to an update of Mann's other book, which will be released later this year: The Oxford Guide to Library Research.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Browse This

Google Print finally has a site of its own. Though still labeled a "beta" version, it's only recently that the books digitized through Google had their own search page (like Google News or Google Maps). At first glance, the bulk of books are publisher-supplied, not part of their library digitization project. But so far, results suggest for now it may have a higher percentage of scholarly content than Amazon's Search Inside does.

Another interesting development - OCLC has made Open WorldCat searchable through Yahoo, Google, or Firefox toolbars. Each works a bit differently, but it means your browser can easily chase down whether a particular book is available in a local library or not.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

News items

Lots of interesting news today.

These readers are all ears. An article about audiobooks and the industry's award, the Audie. The winners are announced Thursday.

U.S. Book Production Reaches New High of 195,000 Titles in 2004; Fiction Soars. [Link courtesy of the ResourceShelf.]

A new review of Google Scholar. [Link courtesy of the ResourceShelf.]

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Poetry and philosophy

Although this isn't really about libraries per se, I think you readers in library land might be interested in this news item. Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has vetoed a bill that would have established the post of Minnesota state poet laureate. MPR has more.

His primary objection is ostensibly the slippery slope argument:

"Even though we have a state 'folklorist,' I also have concern this will lead to calls for other similar positions," Pawlenty wrote in letter accompanying the veto. "We could also see requests for a state mime, interpretive dancer or potter."

After I alerted my friends about this, one of them informed me that a Gustavus professor has proposed that communities consider appointing philosophers laureate.

I did some scrounging around in some library databases and discovered that the city of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, appointed a philosopher laureate in 1991!

Friday, May 27, 2005

"What should I take?"

So, you've been accepted into library school. Now what? Since master's programs are typically shorter than undergraduate programs, each and every class you take counts. But if you're unsure what sort of library you would like to work in or simply unsure what courses to take, might I suggest a basic outline from an editorial written by American Library Association President-Elect Michael Gorman. He proposes the following:

Michael Gorman, "What Ails Library Education?" Journal of Academic Librarianship 30(2) (March 2004): 99-101.

One reason why Gorman came up with this list is because he's concerned that there is no national core library science curriculum. Yes, master's degree programs are accredited by the American Library Association, but library students often have great leeway in choosing their entire course schedule. Thus, employers are unsure what their hires know and don't know. Gorman's tentative list is based on his library experience and what he believes defines the professional librarian and what he or she should know.

His list is focused exclusively on libraries and librarians, and their operations and activities. Note that this list does not include things like "Web page design." While technology is important, it is not something that stands on its own. The best library science programs integrate "technology" (how-tos, planning aspects, etc.) into core library coursework.

To translate this list into a course schedule, I have matched it with courses from an actual course catalog (in this case, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign):

Of course, if you do know what sort of library you would like to work in, you would take the relevant courses. For example, if you were interested in being a children's librarian, you would take courses in children's literature and storytelling.

If you're about to enter library school and are wondering what might be involved in some of these courses, I have provided links to the syllabi of some of these courses, all at the University of Illinois:

Monday, May 23, 2005

Where I Work

I work in Central Reference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Here are some photos of the Reference Room:

(These photos are courtesy of some gentleman by the name of Oldtasty.)

The Venerable Readers' Guide

For years, high school and college students have used the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature, one of the most well known periodical indexes.

However, as more and more (especially) academic libraries provide access to large article databases, such as Expanded Academic ASAP (InfoTrac) and Academic Search Elite/Premier (EBSCO), they are choosing to cancel their subscriptions to Readers' Guide, whether they be print or electronic. There is some justification for this. Readers' Guide only indexes some several hundred magazines and journals, whereas Expanded Academic and Academic Search Elite provide full text access to several thousand publications, many of those which are indexed by Readers' Guide.

"Opponents" of Readers' Guide will often scoff at defenders of this venerable work, accusing them of not "letting go" of a standard reference work that is now, in their view, past its prime and supplanted by other databases/indexes.

That may be true, but I had a real reference interview in which I, a reference assistant at a major research university, was unable to help the patron because the library had no indexes to the magazines he was searching. Specifically, the patron wanted to find articles in Teen and Seventeen magazines. According to Ulrich's, these two magazines are indexed by Readers' Guide, but not by Expanded Academic or Academic Search Elite. While we do have older Readers' Guides, we cancelled our print and electronic subscriptions last year, so the patron couldn't use them to find more current articles.

Do I have a point in all of this? Well, for one, Readers' Guide is still useful for providing access to more "popular" magazines. And, two, considering replacements for standard reference sources involves some amount of study and comparison. For example, here are the source lists to Readers' Guide (electronic edition), Expanded Academic ASAP, and Academic Search Elite. As you will see, indeed, the latter two resources do not index Teen and Seventeen!
I just returned from a great conference, WILU 2005 - a Canadian version of LOEX. What an alphabet soup, eh? They're both annual conferences on information literacy--or whatever you call that thing we do when we try to help students and faculty make the most of information resources in their college education. (I'm ambivalent about the phrase, as you can tell from the talk I gave there, but it's currently what is most in use. )

One of the great things about the conference--apart from the interesting presentations on everything from media literacy to GIS--was the warmth of the hosts and the interactions of the 150 attendees. And it made for a terrific crossroads. Shiela Webber and Bill Johnston came over from the UK to talk about their take on information literacy. Canada makes for a great mixing-chamber for North American and UK ideas.

I mentioned how great the planning was - librarians even rose early and painted the canon for us! No, it's not a strange giraffe, it's the "Kaliedoscope" conference theme. Students at Guelph use the canon (pointed always at the President's office) as a form of expression. Gee, reminds me of a certain Gustavus tradition . . .


All in all, a great conference and one I'd recommend to anyone interested in Information Literacy. Next year's will be held at Acadia University in Nova Scotia.

One other interesting thing--that relates in a way to the importance of media literacy becoming part of information literacy: during the conference, Canada was going through an amazing political crisis. The Conservative party aligned itself with the separatist Bloc Quebecois and came very close to toppling the goverment. Only the defection of one Convervative member to the Liberal camp and a single tie-breaking vote kept the goverment from falling. Did this make news in the US? A few column inches in the International section of The New York Times, but otherwise barely a peep. Which is, frankly, a sad comment on the state of the news media.


Sunday, May 22, 2005

Libraries: Books!

The latest issue of American Libraries (May 2005) features an interview with librarian and readers' advisor Nancy Pearl, author of such books as Book Lust and model for the Librarian Action Figure.

She makes some provocative comments:

The library community is finally getting wise to the fact that libraries, especially public libraries, are not just about information access, but about helping people find good books to read--for their leisure time and for the recreational learning that goes on in many people's lives.


If you kept track of the number of times a librarian is asked how to build a website versus how many times they're asked to recommend a good book, you'd find that many more people ask the latter than the former. Yet we routinely teach master's students [in library science] how to do the former, while for the most part ignoring the latter.

I've selected these quotes because, once again, I want to highlight the fact that librarians need training in readers' advisory and that librarianship isn't about technology--it's about people and information (still mostly books). As I mentioned in a previous post, I have about four years experience in IT and an undergraduate minor in computer science, but when I had fellow students ask me what classes to take in library school, I always discouraged them from taking courses on Web page development and the like. Yes, basic Web publishing skills are almost a necessity these days, but they are not unique to librarianship, and can be learned in community college or in workshops and tutorials. If you are a library school student, avoid these classes and instead spend your time and mental energy on unique skills and knowledge to the profession of librarianship. This includes readers' advisory.

Please read my earlier post about readers' advisory for a definition and a bibliography.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Provocative Quotes

Steven Johnson, in his book, Everything Bad is Good for You, wrote,

Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying--which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical soundscapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements--books are simply a barren string of words on the page. . . .

Books are also tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or herself in quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. . . .

But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can't control their narratives in any fashion--you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. . . . This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they're powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it's a submissive one.

(As quoted in "Brain Candy," by Malcom Gladwell, The New Yorker, May 16, 2005, pgs. 88-89.)

Dr. Arthur Aufderheide of the University of Minnesota Duluth and author of The Scientific Study of Mummies, has said, "All knowledge is connected to all other knowledge. The fun is in making the connections."

(As quoted in "The Mummy Doctor," by Kevin Krajick, The New Yorker, May 16, 2005, pgs. 66-75.)

A Library School Commencement

I graduated on Sunday, May 15, 2005, from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. GSLIS held its own commencement program, separate from the university-wide ceremony. (See the commencement program.) I guess now, officially, in the eyes of the library profession, I am a "real" librarian! The ceremony was held in the University's Smith Memorial Hall. My class's commencement speaker was Mary Dempsey, the commissioner of the Chicago Public Library system. (She is currently serving as Chicago's interim chief procurement officer). Yours truly was awarded the school's Bryce Allen Award for Reference Services. The ceremony was followed by a reception in the University Library's Marshall Gallery. Overall, a pleasant afternoon.