Tuesday, December 12, 2006

New Media Literacies

In a fascinating new report from the MacArthur Foundation's "Building the Field of Digital Media Learning" titled Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, the authors describes how the Internet enables a new "participatory culture" that requires the knowledge of certain skills.

The authors define participatory culture as "a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one's creation, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices. [It] is also one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another..."

The report outlines several forms of participatory culture, including affiliations (memberships in online communities, like Facebook and MySpace), expressions (production of new forms, like mash-ups and modding), collaborative problem-solving (creation of "new knowledge" through Wikipedia and alternative reality gaming, like Second Life), and circulations (podcasting and blogging).

While "one-half of all teens have created media content" and "one-third of of teens who use the Internet have shared content they produced," the authors believe there is "the need for... pedagogical intervention..." One of their concerns, for example, is "the transparency problem": "The challenges young people face in learning to see clearly the ways that media shape perceptions of the world."

In response, educators are encouraged to teach a number of skills to the young, including play, performance, simulation ("the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes"), appropriation ("the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content"), multitasking, distributed cognitition ("the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities"), collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, and negotiation ("the ability to travel across diverse communities").

I wonder, though, if "participatory culture" is a really new concept. While the Internet certainly provides the means for more widely disseminating information, I wonder if it really provides lower barriers to civic engagement. In fact, the Internet allows us to find people more like ourselves and shields us from dissenting points of view. When I specifically choose what feeds/blogs/Web sites I want to read and what online social communities to join, all specifically tailored to my own interests, I am less challenged by dissenting views and less likely to engage the other in the public square, whether that square is online or outside.

Many of the "new" skills educators are encouraged to teach are, in my humble opinion, developed through a solid liberal arts education. They are also the same or similar to those explicated in various information literacy competency standards. For example, the report's definition of networking ("the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information") is basically the American Library Association's definition of information literacy.

Overall, these are minor criticisms, and I am not done reading the report. I look forward to finishing it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Google's and Microsoft's book search services

Setting aside the concern of information monopolies, Google Book Search and Microsoft's Live Search Books have been really helpful for me. For example, last night a student needed help with the microfiche machine: she was trying to read John Rankin's Letters on American Slavery, a title included in the well known Library of American Civilization microfiche series. The problem is, the work is over 100 pages long and we charge ten cents per photocopied page. Who wants to read a lengthy book like that at a microfiche machine? I knew the book was written well over a century ago (1833) and probably owned by a research library, so I searched Google Book Search to see if it had been digitized and is available online. Sure enough, it is. (I'm not linking to it because I haven't figured out Google Book Search's permalink structure yet.) Needless to say, the student was overjoyed.

I also used Google Book Search recently for a personal project. I was reading James Beard's book American Cookery. The book contains a bibliography of old American cookbooks he had consulted. I found many of them online. Old cookbooks are fascinating, sexist reading. They include the following:

Beecher, Catharine. Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book. New York 1846. 293 pp. The 1850 edition is online.

Chase, A. W. Dr. Chase's Recipes. Ann Arbor 1866. 384 pp.
The 1860 edition is online.

Cornelius, Mrs. Mary. The Young Housekeeper's Friend. Boston 1846. 190 pp.
The 1868 edition is online.

Harland, Marion. Common Sense in the Household. New York 1881. 546 pp.
The 1874 edition is online.

Peterson, Hannah Mary Bouvier. The National Cook Book. By a Lady of Philadelphia, a Practical Housewife. Philadelphia 1856. 301 pp.
The 1866 edition is online.

Webster, Mrs. A. L. The Improved Housewife. Hartford, Connecticut 1852. 236 pp.
The 1851 edition is online.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


This week's American Libraries Direct (an e-mail news service for American Library Association members) includes information about ALA scholarships available for library-school-bound students. The same issue points out a Comparison Guide to Distance Ed Programs that provides basic information for 21 programs.

Oh, and it also links to a silly rap video on YouTube - The Chronicles of Libraria.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

LJ Free to LIS Students

Just noticed this invite in Library Journal's Academic Newswire. They'll give you a year's subscription to Library Journal free (if you're in the US). Only looks as if you have to print out the form, get an envelope and stamp (how old-fashioned) and get it mailed in by the end of the calendar year.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

What Do New Librarians Earn?

Library Journal has published its latest salary survey - and found we've broken a barrier. The average starting salary has topped $40K for the first time. Other findings - 25% of LIS grads found a job before graduation and over 90% of grads had jobs in some sort of library agency. The average job search, however, was four months.

Who's earning the most? "Positions in database management, for solo librarians, and in usability testing helped drive the rise in overall average earnings." But tech services and serials positions actually earn less than previously.

Not everyone's broken the 40K barrier. One of the disturbing findings of the annual report:

Women still eclipse the LIS professions, comprising 85% of the graduate pool reporting employment status. In 2005, the gender gap persisted and even widened. Average starting salaries for women have yet to reach $40,000. They reported an average of $39,587 for 2005 (2.28% increase—less than $1000—from 2004), and this increase was significantly less than that experienced by their male counterparts. Men garnered an average starting salary of $42,143 (a 4.49% increase from 2004), which is 6.46% higher than women’s starting salaries.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

They didn't teach me about this one in library school...

Last night the circulation supervisor walked up to the reference desk and told me in a low voice about something disturbing she had seen outside. Someone had placed a dead raccoon right outside the entrance to the library! The raccoon was dressed with a scarf and a pair of sunglasses, and a cigarette was hanging out of its mouth. To its left was a cardboard sign that read, "Will work for food." The whole situation sounds funny, I suppose, but it was also a bit disturbing and I was really not in the mood to deal with it. I called the library director at home for her advice. She told me to call campus security. An officer arrived 15 minutes later and called it an act of vandalism, so he alerted the cops. A city police officer arrived soon after to photograph the scene. One of the two men removed the animal from the premises.

What is your craziest library story?

Public libraryland

As many of you know, I am an academic librarian. However, I recently stepped into the public library world. Last week I was hired as the Sunday Library Supervisor at my local public library. I will work 12:30-5PM every other Sunday at this library serving as the librarian-in-charge and reference librarian.

It's been a fascinating experience so far. The reference and circulation desks are combined, so there's a lot of traffic. I check out books and check them in, too. I sign people up for computer use. I had my first fiction readers' advisory questions ever, as one elderly woman asked me to help her find read-alikes for the author Lauraine Snelling and one girl wanted stories about Halloween. And I have to get comfortable with the Dewey Decimal System!

I'll keep you informed about more of the differences that I notice as I work more. I also hope to comment on how this experience will improve the service I provide in the academic setting.


I'm on a committee at work that is developing a plan to weed our library's collection of about 300,000 or so volumes. We need a systematic weeding program because we're running out of space. But besides opening up shelf space for new and more relevant library resources, a well weeded collection also can increase circulation. After all, with all the older, unusable things removed from the mix, it's easier to find the good stuff.

It goes without saying, but librarians don't like to throw books away. However, if a librarian takes a reasonable 20 minutes evaluating each volume (checking core lists, bibliographies, total copies in WorldCat, etc.), he or she will need at least 11.5 years. There must be a faster way.

There is! As a undergraduate liberal arts college, our primary weeding criterion can be use. Since my college is not a major research library, there isn't an expectation that we'll keep everything. As such, we librarians simply need to determine what books are being used, and withdraw the rest. And there will be evidence of such use on the date due slip or in the library system.

Also, using use as the primary criterion, we librarians avoid the problem that is encountered when using publication date to evaluate books: accidentally weeding those classics in a discipline published years ago. If a work is truly a classic, one would hope that faculty and students are using it!

We knew that we want to weed at least 10% of our collection, but we needed to determine a definition of "use" for our collection so removal at the shelves can be fast and efficient. So, we selected a statistically significant sample of 500 books (+/- 4.3% error, 95% confidence level). We recorded each book's last checkout date. We discovered that the bottom 10% of our collection last circulated before 1983. If the committee settles on the 10% figure, we'll be able to use this date as our test for each volume.

Yes, the system is not perfect: What about those books that were purchased 5 years ago but have not circulated? What about books in series, where one book was loaned, but none of the others? Or what about books that are used in-house and are never stamped with a due date? What about the books everyone is checking out, but are simply out of date?

Weeding is not perfect; accidents will be made. But a vast majority of things removed are never needed again. And more shelf space and an increase in general circulation are definite benefits.

We haven't started withdrawing anything yet. We just finished our sample and are trying to decide if we want to weed 5%, 10%, 15%, or all the way up to 30% of our collection. Whatever we decide, we have data to let us know when that bottom 5 or 20% last circulated, and at the same time have a convenient rule that staff can apply at the shelf to decrease the time agonizing over individual titles and increase the time we spend providing service at the reference desk, teaching in the classroom, or selecting new relevant information resources. Needless to say, we are excited to begin!

NOTE: For those of you who know where I work, our committee's work is in progress and our plan has yet to be approved by our library's faculty. Thus, the details described here are unofficial and are subject to change!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

ALA Report on Diversity

There's a report out on the diversity (or lack) in the profession, reported in today's via Library Journal's Academic Newswire. It has some interesting and sobering implications for folks entering the profession.

Though there are a lot of librarians nearing retirement, we aren't doing a great job of making room at the table for newcomers. The report says

. . . it is clear we are not integrating our MLIS graduates into library employment. With few staff of retirement age leaving the profession, entry-level positions that should be available to graduates are not. Upper and mid-level staff are not moving up or out, thereby stifl ing vacancies at many levels of library employment.

Looking at the numbers of graduates in years 1999–2000 and 2000–2001, it is clear that individuals under age 35 reporting employment in the Libraries and Archives industry is lower than it should be . . . not only are ALA accredited degrees on the decline, but enrollment is rising steadily. The profession hasn’t seen such low ALA accredited graduation rates since the early 1980s.

So if I'm reading this correctly, people who start LIS education are not finishing at the rate one would expect, and people who become librarians often leave the field. Clearly, if we want to have a healthy profession, we need to work on having have better entry points and stronger career ladders. We worry that technology is going to render us irrelevant - but I'm more concerned that we aren't thinking hard enough about how to support new members of the profession.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Bad Blogger!

I've been neglecting this blog for the past month, but not because anything's wrong - it's just so right that we've been really busy in our library.

We started the year with a new Website design (that we're still tinkering with - thanks, Alec, for your help this week!), a cool new toolbar, a database-driven program for our electronic resources, and a crash course for faculty in some of the new things we've added to the collection.

Instruction's hopping, too, with quite a few faculty scheduling multiple sessions. It's great to have more than a fifty-minute slot to try and cover what is a truly complicated process. And I'm teaching a new first term seminar - challenging, but a chance to get more insight into students' lives and challenges.

All of which is great, but time consuming. I'll try to check in more regularly, now that the first beginning-of-term rush has settled down.

Monday, October 02, 2006

New peer-review concept

Wired has printed an AP story on new peer-reviewing publishing systems in the science community. In a way, I am surprised that these ideas haven't been tried before. There are many social networking sites that work in a similar way (I am thinking about Digg). But I wonder, do scientists have lots of free time to be doing free-lance review work?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

eBook readers

Sony has finally released their eBook reader into the US market. Electronic paper, anyone? Read about it and an alternative at MetaFilter.

Although a bit dated (2001), simply the best article about the important legal and cultural issues related to eBooks is Clifford Lynch's The Battle to Define the Future of the Book in the Digital World.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Interesting Job Opportunities

The field of librarianship is full of interesting, unusual job opportunities. Consider this one at Guantanamo Bay, for example.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Open Sources

Here's a cool idea! Make searching better than Google by having a real, live person help you! Wow that's innovation! That's really forward-thinking! That's really ... exactly what libraries do, and have done for years. By phone, by chat, in person. Whatever works.

Why is it that so many people still don't think of the library when they get frustrated doing a Web search? I guess that's what the OCLC Perceptions report was all about - though it annoyed me when I read it, thinking they were dismissing people's genuine interest in books.

I wonder if the problem isn't that libraries are local, and Google is everywhere, always? So many libraries have scaled back on hours and can't answer reference questions exept for the few hours a week they're open - unless they pay to be part of a chat reference service, which costs money and hasn't, so far as I know, been widely adopted by users enough to make a strong case to the bean counters who closed the library in the first place.

If we can't be there to provide reference on line or in person, or are only there thirty hours a week, most of them when people are at work, we'll have a hard time convincing people helping them find information is what we do.

Gee, maybe this guy's idea makes sense after all ....

Friday, September 01, 2006

E-Government and Libraries

Here's an interesting article in LJ about how essential libraries are becoming not just as sources of government information but as places where people participate in government. And man oh man, are there a lot of implications! Not only resource issues (how will we afford to replace those old computers?) but service and education issues (how will we help that little old lady learn how to sign up for their benefits? Or how do you help your patrons apply for FEMA relief if your library has a hole in the roof and no power?) The recommendations are sound, but what a lot to think about!

And how ironic that while libraries are becoming essential for two-way communication with government, there's legislation in the works that is designed to turn off social networking sites in libraries.

You can't have your space, but we won't talk to you unless you do it online. Sincerely, Big Brother.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Attending Library Conferences

I am excited to be attending my very first Minnesota Library Association Annual Conference this year. I will be volunteering for all three days of the conference, but will also get to attend any conference sessions that don't interfere with helping out.

Does anyone have any tips for attending professional conferences like this? Is there anything I should know/be prepared for before I go?

I'd love to hear any tips, advice or anecdotes people have to share.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Not About Libraries, But . . .

. . . it's still big news. A district court says the NSA can't wiretap Americans without judicial oversight. It's unconstitutional. And it's gotta stop. Right now.

Whoa! (Literally.)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

AOL Explains Why Privacy Matters

The AOL flub of releasing searches has made me think more about the reasons librarians care so much about privacy. The New York Times tracked down a little old lady who liked conducting searches for herself and friends but is naturally disturbed that her curiosity has now become a public plaything.

And apparently identifying and speculating about the people behind the data is a common sport now that it's out there - see Boing Boing for an example.

I've heard so many people say "I don't care if anyone knows what I'm reading," usually while giving me a look that says "you librarians are so persnickity and paranoid." Well, they might care if they had some personal unhappiness to deal with - and providing information in whatever form to help people out in such situations is what libraries do. Our patrons deserve a chance to think in private.

Though AOL's breech of their customers' privacy is outrageous, it might have given librarians a powerful new example to use when arguing for privacy.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Do Searches Take Too Long?

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education asks why the process of hiring an academic librarian takes so long. Steven Bell at ACRLog recaps the article and asks for reports from the job search front. A few months from job posting to hire is par for the course.

It seems inexcusable to me to fail to inform candidates of the progress of a search, but finding the right match is a big decision - for the hiring institution as well as for the applicants, so I'm not too surprised it takes time.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Changes at the Library of Congress

Controversy related to proposed changes by the Library of Congress has been simmering in the academic library community for months. The controversy is now breaking into more general academic news sources. Today's article in Inside Higher Ed does a good job summarizing the issues without overwhelming readers with complicated jargon. One of the major sticking points is that "catalog records for new books will no longer indicate if they belong to a series." Anyone who has done any amount of serious library research would realize what a devastasting problem that would be. While I agree that changes are certainly needed to enable the library world to respond faster to a rapidly changing information environment, LOC's unilateral approach violates one of the field's most sacred values, collaboration. Arguably, their changes, while an attempt to increase access to library materials by making them available sooner through various streamlined processes, paradoxically hinders access, which is another library value. It will be interesting to see what the response will be from disciplines in the humanities, which especially depend on traditional print library resources.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Free WorldCat!

WorldCat is going to be free to the world! According to this story in Information Today, it will go live sometime in August.

So what? You may ask. Or even, What the heck is WorldCat and why is she so excited about it? This is the mega-catalog of over 70 million book records shared by libraries worldwide. When their "find in a library" program was announced I thought it was cool, but the links to library availability weren't easy to find in a general search, and it was only a miniscule mere 3-4 million records. "Why not make the whole thing free and searchable in one place rather than hidden among a billion bookseller links?" I wondered. Well, finally OCLC will do that. Previously the only public access has been through libraries subscribing to it as a database, just another hard-to-figure-out database among dozens.

I'm excited! And it sounds as if the interface could do some very innovative things. It will be terrific if people can hop on the web and find out what's available in area libraries without having to go to specific library sites and figure out their various catalogs. If we want people to find us, we should be as easy to use as ABEbooks and Amazon. Because we know from their experience people really do want books.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Finding the Right Match

There's an interesting post over at librarian.net ("putting the rarin' back in librarian") about the Canadian effort to recruit people into the field. Not just any people, but those who will bring the leadership skills and creativity the profession needs. There has been some controversy over a US federal grant intended to bring more people into the field by getting more PhDs who can teach in library schools - and since there are always librarians who will complain about their education being a) boring b) irrelevant c) too easy d) too theoretical, including the past president of the American Library Association, Michael Gorman, cranky comments come up a lot in blogs. (Michael Gorman comes up a lot too, but that' s another story.)

The Canadian effort, though, is smart in that it doesn't focus on a supposed shortage (which is a hard argument to swallow for young librarians who don't find jobs as easily as they were led to expect as geezers like me fail to drop by the wayside) but rather on the value of the profession and finding people who are a good match for its challenges.

I must be a geek (and a nerd), I enjoyed library school, especially the theory. But the fact is if you're a librarian you're going to be learning for life, so don't expect a measily year of graduate study to be anything but the beginning of your education. That must be why I like it so much!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Jimmy Carter on freedom of information

He may not have been a great president, but he's an excellent elder statesman. Read Jimmy Carter's op-ed on free access to government information.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Disciminating against homeless patrons?

Yikes. Would any of our public librarian readers/writers like to respond?

Community College Librarianship

I was recently speaking with a peer in my library program who said she heard taking her first librarian position at a community college made it more difficult for a friend to get a position in a traditional academic library later. Has anyone else heard about or had experience with this? I would be interested to know since this seems to be a growing area of librarianship.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Pentagon funding academic research to limit Freedom of Information Act

Arguably one of the most important laws related to access to information is the Freedom of Information Act, which celebrated its 40th anniversary on Tuesday, July 4, 2006. (A neat coincidence.) You can read about your rights under the Act here. So, isn't it ironic to learn that the Department of Defense is now funding a study to a tune of one million dollars that will find ways to limit the law?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Letters We Hope We Never Receive

Now that there's no real point in gagging "John Doe," the FBI has dropped its objection to speaking out. If you're wondering what a National Security Letter looks like, now you can see one.

Better yet, the feebs are dropping the request for the library records. Sometimes you can fight city hall. You just can't talk about it without a fight.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Distant View

If you're considering library school, you may be in a situation (due to work or family commitments) that make it difficult to move in order to pursue an LIS education. This spring, Laura MacPherson, who just graduated from Gustavus and is entering the field, conducted a literature review of distance education options in LIS education. Though there is a lot of criticism of the effectiveness of distance ed generally, she didn't find anything in the research that suggested distance ed in and of itself was a bad option for the field of librarianship. Faculty are working on ways of giving it a personalized, human touch; employers are not generally discriminating against graduates of distance programs, and students are largely pleased. One finding that was especially interesting is that most LIS programs today blend traditional face-to-face instruction with aspects of distance ed - so that when employers were asked whether they were leery of hiring grads of distance programs, many found the question impossible to answer; in most cases their recent hires had all taken distance courses.

Laura recommends a book edited by Daniel Barron, Benchmarks in Distance Education: The LIS Experience (Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2003). She calls this the "ultimate source" on distance ed in library education. This collection of essays addresses a wide swath of issues of interest to students thinking about a distance program and for teachers embarking on teaching this way. It's pricey - you may want to look for through your library!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Four librarians who were served with National Security Letters and placed under a gag order are finally free to speak up - once the "danger" of discussing the PATRIOT Act before its reauthorization had passed the government decided not to fight against their challenge of the gag order. (Hey, they might lose, and then where would we be? Able to talk first-hand about a controversial law? Horrors.)

See articles in the Boston Globe and The New York Times.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Book Expo America

I just got back from attending my first BookExpo America, the big trade show put on by the American Booksellers Association. It was remarkably different than attending an ALA conference in both format and intent. While the librarians tend to focus on continuing education, favorite authors and upcoming product lines and new books, the booksellers were out there making deals, parading their latest writers and giving aways TONS of free books and other merchandise. It was clear that money was the name of the game in every aspect. Individual librarians like myself were completely ignored by vendors as we wandered up and down the massive convention center. That was sort of refreshing, as it made for carefree browsing, and sort of sad, as it was clear that our role in getting books to readers was considered unimportant in the publishing world. Not even lip service was paid during the enormous banquet hall meals (terrible and virtually non-existant food, by the way....the librarian crowd would never put up with that) during which prominent authors spoke about their upcoming books. Prominent at BEA means, best-selling, by the way, and not award winning or literary. It was pretty freaky to see Barack Obama share the podium with Amy Sedaris and John Updike. HUH? That too, was vastly different than ALA where speakers are given an hour or so to share themselves rather than just 15 minutes to tell you to buy their next book. In all it was a fascinating experience, but ultimately unrewarding, as getting a free book from an author is not nearly as satifying as hearing him/her speak from the heart.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Peer review patents

Copyright, trademarks, and patents are ways that the government regulates information. In order to tackle the huge backlog of patent applications, the US Patent and Trademark Office will be launching a pilot of a public "peer review" patent system. The goal of the project is "to ensure that patent examiners will have improved access to all available prior art during the patent examination process." There's more here and here. [Via BoingBoing.] If I understand the concept correctly, it's ingenious. I can't wait to see how it works out.

"Traditional" media appear to be struggling...

One of librarianship's research concerns is information-seeking behaviors. It appears that two popular ways of seeking news information (newspapers and cable news) are becoming less so, as some speculate that more people turn to the Internet for news information.

Newspaper circulation declines 2.6%...

Median age of Fox News and CNN viewers is over 60...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Geek or Nerd?

Rory Litwin has a thought-provoking piece over at Library Juice.
Perhaps the most pressing issue facing librarianship is one that is unlikely to receive serious scholarly attention. It is, to put it simply, a battle presently being fought between two camps of librarians. Some may cite generational conflict as the primary conflict in librarianship today; baby-boomers representing traditional knowledge of librarianship as well as bibliographic knowledge, and GenXers representing facility with technology. There is some truth to that picture, but it is primarily a distraction from the real conflict. That conflict, I submit, is the battle between geeks and nerds.
It's half tongue-in-cheek, but made me think. I'm not at all convinced this is generational - or, at least the young librarians I know are hardly uncritical about technology, even if they're more up-to-speed with it than some of us (ahem). And there are a number of gray-haired academic library directors who I've speaking at conferences about the latest technology as if its a religioud sacrament.

I also think this may be a dichotomy that's more likely to apply in large and/or academic libraries. It's my impression that public librarians are less interested in technology or bibliographic knowledge than they are in people and their needs. (Am I being a romantic, Charlotte?)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Here we go again: Congress readies broad new digital copyright bill

Librarians have numerous concerns about new copyright laws and regulations. Will they inhibit library preservation work? Will they have a chilling effect on the creation of new works? Will they take away the rights we already have? Etc., etc., etc. (Be sure to study the issues in library school.) Congress is at it again. Read up and speak out.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Day in the Life

Ria Newhouse is a young librarian who's on the cover of Library Journal. She describes her life as a librarian in her 20s working at Metro State in St. Paul, Minnesota after a stint as a teen services librarian.

I have learned so much in this job. I know how to chair a search committee, how to cry gracefully (and not so gracefully) in a meeting. I know that librarianship is a career that allows one to eat too much candy. I've learned that if you ask for what you want enough times, you might just get it. I learned that I enjoy teaching, even if it does make me nervous.

There are different kinds of lessons, too. I can be both professional and personal at the same time. It's a hard balance to maintain, but it's something I'm good at. It's okay to have a heart, to show some emotion, to say what you think, and to wear a skirt that buttons up the side. I've learned that I am provocative, smart, funny, and quite sassy. I am a valuable part of this profession and a day in my life is something I would never want to miss.

(For the record, I've been to a lot of library meetings and though they've been stimulating, frustrating, sometimes dull, sometimes contentious, I have never been brought to tears. That's not to say we always agree, but those disagreements are usually the most interesting part.)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Rankings Released

US News & World Report has updated its stale ranking of LIS programs. I'm not sure that's a good thing, since I think the whole rankings game is misleading, but at least we're being as misled about library graduate programs as other grad. programs. Woo-hoo!

Library Journal offers the top ten - or rather, the top seven, with several schools tied for places. And adds a grain of salt or two.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

"Are search engines making students dumber?"

While it is impressive that the concept of information literacy has hit the op-ed pages of the New York Times, the author of the piece discusses it rather clumsily, if you ask me. I'm not sure one can make the cause-and-effect claim that search engines are causing more students to be unprepared for college. Judge for yourself.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Invisible Man

The "new and improved" PATRIOT Act (okay, my tongue is firmly in cheek) hasn't made it any easier for John Doe to talk about the impact of the act. In fact, John can't collect his award for standing up for freedom of expression because standing up can get you arrested, that is if it means anyone can see who you are. Hmm, what if he wore a paper bag on his head? Or what if he came pre-pixilated, like these fashion staements?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Generation Stereotyped

Recent issues of American Libraries and College and Research Library News have both had articles on how to cope with the new generation of librarians. It sounds as if the old guard needs a guidebook. How can we understand these uppity young people? They're so odd. It must be all that multitasking, or is that they love technology?

Or is it that some librarians can't resist classification? By age.

Angel, the Gypsy Librarian, has a long and thoughtful post about all this (which is no surprise; all of his posts are thoughtful). Personally, I think it's time to drop this peculiar form of stereotyping and get on with simply being professionals who respect one another and don't stoop to ageism, e.g. you're young, so likely to rebel; I'm old, so likely to cling to protocol. Ah, baloney!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

New Career Site

According to AL Direct, the new e-mail based weekly news service for American Library Association members, there's a new ALA Website on careers in the field. I'm not sure what to make of this one. It's intended for both paraprofessional and professional careers, which is fine, but the organization would confuse anyone who doesn't know the difference. One page says getting an associates degree is a good idea, then mentions later on the page "Assuming that you have decided a career as a librarian is probably not for you . . ." If you get to this page from the menu, you may in fact have not decided against a career as a librarian.

Seems more than a little confusing to me. The New Jersey site, Become a Librarian, has been around for a while and has quite a lot of good info. It doesn't offer anything for people who don't want to become a librarian, however.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Looking Ahead

There's a somewhat sobering essay in the current issue of American Libraries - on MLS graduates who are looking for work, or those who choose a paraprofessional career path to avoid being overqualified for the job market. The current information about the field in the Occupational Outlook Handbook offers the good news - there will be a lot of retirements - along with the bad news - with budget cuts, some of those positions will disappear.

One thing it's fair to say: it's going to remain an interesting field, full of change and challenges, rewarding for those who are looking for both.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Mentally ill patrons

The big topic at our staff meeting this morning was a recent session at the AkLA Conference about how to deal with mentally ill patrons done by Ron Adler who is the CEO of the Alaska Psychiatric Hospital in Anchorage. Ron used to live in Ketchikan, so we have been well trained by him over the years. What was remarkable about his session, said my boss, was how grateful the other librarians in attendance were for the training and how excited they were to have some new ways of approaching and talking to difficult patrons. There is already talk of having Ron speak at our Juneau conference next year.This is a hugh issue for every public librarian I know and it is something that is seldom discussed or written about in the trade. As with so many library issues, it is sometimes really helpful to reach outside the profession for expertise and guidance. As Michael Sullivan so pointedly reminded us in his talk at AkLA, library school is generally academic librarians teaching other people how to be academic librarians and the "real' world of libraries can be quite a shock for some people. Personally, I could have used a lot more training in personnel management, municipal budgets, grant writing, and story hour techiques rather BRS and Dialog which became obsolete so fast it wasn't even funny!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

New to the Blog

Hi all- my name is Charlotte Glover and I am a youth services librarian at the Ketchikan Public Library in Ketchikan, Alaska. I live 649 air miles north of Seattle. I met Barbara this past week in Anchorage and she thought you all might enjoy having a public librarian participate in your discussions. In addition to my youth services work, I do all of the adult programming for our library, including author visits, book discussion groups, etc. and I host a weekly radio program for adults called "Booktalk" which has run on our public radio station for the past 15 years. Because of that show, I keep a foot in both the adult services world and the children's world, for better or worse. I am really active in my state and regional library associations- mostly 'cause I live on an island and will work for plane tickets- and have held every office imaginable. I am currently serving as the President of the Pacific Northwest Library Association (PNLA) and am really looking forward to being a mentor at their upcoming Leadership Institute in October. Anyway, I'm happy to answer questions, shoot the breeze or tell you what the weather is really like in Alaska.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Conventional wisdom about digital preservation upended?

Roy Tennant, in the lastest issue of Current Cites, highlights an interesting article I hope to read:

Rusbridge, Chris. "Excuse Me... Some Digital Preservation Fallacies?" Ariadne (46)(February 2006)(http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue46/rusbridge/). - In this tenth-anniversary issue, Rusbridge takes on some digital preservation assertions or assumptions that he believes underlies many of the preservation discussions happening today. They are: 1) digital preservation is very expensive, 2) file formats become obsolete very rapidly, 3) interventions must occur frequently, 4) digital preservation repositories should have very long timescale aspirations, 5) 'Internet-age' expectations are such that the preserved object must be easily and instantly accessible in the format de jour, and 6) the preserved object must be faithful to the original in all respects. After arguing with these assumptions, he restates them at the end of the piece as: 1) digital preservation is comparatively inexpensive, compared to preservation in the print world, 2) file formats become obsolete rather more slowly than we thought, 3) interventions can occur rather infrequently, ensuring that continuing costs remain containable, 4) digital preservation repositories should have timescale aspirations adjusted to their funding and business case, but should be prepared for their succession, 5) "Internet-age" expectations cannot be met by most digital repositories; and, 6) only desiccated versions of the preserved object need be easily and instantly accessible in the format de jour, although the original bit-stream and good preservation metadata or documentation should be available for those who wish to invest in extracting extra information or capability."


Catalogablog is pointing to a new paper about "tagging," an issue which I have discussed previously in this blog.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Reliablility and authority

We've discussed the nature of authority and its relationship to information sources last year. It's been a rough year or so for traditionally "trusted" sources of information, as well as the processes for insuring authoritative, reliable information (e.g, peer review). First, the much heralded Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, a traditional reference work, was discovered to be riddled with errors. Then a study showed that a sample of Wikipedia science articles had only a slightly higher average error rate than those same articles in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Now, The Scientist is running an article providing damning evidence that peer review may be (or always has been) broken.

News like this is important for both librarians and non-librarians to know. Librarians have traditionally taught that reference books like the EB and the DNB and scholarly journals are sources of reliable, authoritative information. Reference books, the conventional wisdom goes, are carefully edited and contain entries written by experts. Articles in scholarly journals go through a rigorous, blind review process to ensure the research is original, plausible, and useful. However, the above articles blow down the doors of these quaint, somewhat naive beliefs.

It is never enough to say, "This information is reliable, authoritative, and correct." I really liked Marc Meola's article, "Chucking the Checklist" (alternative link). While he is focusing on evaluation of Web sites, his method of evaluation works in other information contexts. It is essentially threefold method: promoting peer- and editorially-reviewed resources, comparison, and corroboration. While I have just criticized peer- and editorially-reviewed sources, they can be used in conjunction with comparing the information to other sources and finding evidence to back them up.

This week we had a friendly debate in the library about President's Day that nicely illustrates this method of evaluation. One librarian adamantly contended that President's Day was actually the celebration of Washington's birthday. I insisted it was both Lincoln AND Washington's birthdays. (After all, wasn't that what I was taught in elementary school? Had I been living a lie for a large part of my life?) We hit the reference collection. I found three reference books that supported my position. She found one the supported hers. We went online and located the relevant statutes for the State of Minnesota and the federal government. Minnesota's President's Day is a celebration of both; the federal holiday is a celebration of Washington's.

What's It Like to Work as a Librarian?

Jessamyn West describes her work week. Admittedly, her job is not the most typical for librarians, but it does show how varied the work can be.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Keystone Kops, Legalistic Librarians

Here's a bizarre story from the Washington Post (that I found via Boing Boing). County employees hired to patrol public buildings, who happened to be wearing Homeland Security hats, ordered a library patron out of the library for allegedly viewing porn. Busting people for viewing porn wasn't in their job description and they've since been reassigned.

Guys hired to protect public buildings from terrost attacks shouldn't be intimidating library patrons. Good for the library for making that clear. But I find the idea that patrons must be allowed to view porn in a public library because librarians aren't legally empowered to determine obscentity more than a little bizarre. What is the library worried about, a lawsuit? Or are librarians just not trusted to make a call? I'm sure it's not pleasant to approach someone and say "that's not appropriate here," but I wouldn't go so far as to say that would be a violation of the first amendment. An awful lot of Internet porn is clearly porn, and it doesn't take a lawyer to make that determination.

Though I'm against mandated filters (because they don't work well enough to limit their filtering to unprotected obscene speech) I think this approach makes librarians' legitimate defense of free speech seem extremist and ridiculous. Not to mention fairly inconsiderate of the majority of library users.


Raised by Wolves?

There's an essay in Library Journal by James G. Neal, Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian at Columbia University in New York entitled "Raised by Wolves: Integrating the New Generation of Feral Professionals into the Academic Library".

He worries that too many professional positions in libraries are being filled by those without an MLS or who earned the MLS in distance programs, which he feels fail to socialize students to the profession. But he also seems to think these ravenous, uncivilized, unconventional librarians will change things in ways that may be positive. He concludes:

Library professionals prepared and socialized outside the traditional MLS education channel have been “raised by wolves.” They may fit effectively or be creatively disruptive in the transformed libraries we are seeking to create. Either way, they are needed for their important contributions to academic library innovation and mutability. They will grow in their influence and relevance to the future academic library.
I'm not sure that traditional library science programs - which are often based on practical needs and are relatively short in duration (usually one year as opposed to, say, a three-year law school program) ever were that devoted to "taming" students, or that the new access to distance education is really going to bring in "feral" werewolf-like students who chew the furniture and demand to do things differently. To my mind the changes in the profession are more profoundly disruptive than the changes in the students or in who is drawn to the profession. And having earned a degree a couple of decades ago, I'm still learning - so however I was socialized to the profession has undergone a lot of changes.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

American Libraries Direct poll

In the current issue of American Libraries Direct, the survey question is,

Should librarians support the right of newspapers to publish commentary or images offensive to Muslims or other religions?

How should librarians respond, especially given the charged political and religious climate? Interestingly, the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights states,

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgement of free expression and free access to ideas.

Respondents seem to have voted accordingly. At last check, the ayes had it by a margin of 3 to 1.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Crying Game

Michael Gorman, current president of the American Library Association comes in for a regular drubbing by bloggers (well, he did say some rude things about blogging in the past...) but he also has charged library schools with falling down on the job; in fact the ALA's Midwinter meeting had a three-hour meeting about it. I'd love to hear comments from anyone who was there.

Anrew Dillon and April Norris take issue with his stance, saying he's "crying wolf." Caveat Lector has a different take - he just thinks library school core courses are badly taught, especially those that introduce principles of cataloging. He and Jessamyn West think more schools should focus on recruiting and training librarians who can code.

Guess I was lucky. I liked most of my library school courses and even remember some of the assignments fondly - and this was several centuries ago, so those teachers must have been doing something right.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Do (No) Evil

Annalee Newitz, Alternet's "surly media nerd," compares the evils of Microsoft and Google - and concludes they're both creepy. As we discussed here earlier, she believes their defense of privacy is more a protection of their own trade secrets. And she concludes, as many have, that the best way to defend privacy is to avoid collecting all that information about our search habits in the first place.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Implementing an instant message (IM) reference service

After a lot of discussion, the library faculty at my institution decided to offer instant messenging (IM) reference. We started at the beginning of spring semester.

It began when I occasionally forwarded articles about IM and virtual reference to the other librarians. I also brought the topic up in meetings, and we had many a lively discussion about offering reference services through this medium. One issue we discussed was, are IM reference questions less important than in-person questions? I think we ultimately came to the understanding that we cannot judge our users' questions or the means they seek information, but that we should provide the "highest level of service to all library users" and "courteous responses to all requests."

Eventually, the library faculty decided to entertain a proposal for IM reference. We used RUSA's Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference as a model for the proposal. In our discussions and during the drafting of the proposal, I leaned heavily on statistics about IM usage (such as from the Pew Internet & American Life Project) and my own experiences in my previous position.

Since many of the librarians had never IMed before, we all installed Gaim (an IM client that can interface with multipe IM networks) on our computers and practiced IMing among each other for several weeks. I then developed and taught a three-hour IM reference training program for the reference librarians before we went live.

Our IM service is staffed by the reference librarian currently at the reference desk and during the desk's open hours. So far, service has been light, but I believe this is because we have not heavily marketed it. I think eventually it will be heavily used, as it was at the institution I came from.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


The glazed looks... The students IMing during your carefully prepared database demonstrations... An instruction librarian's worst nightmares! How can librarians motivate their students to actively engage instructional content? This issue has produced a flurry of e-mail as of late on the Information Literacy and Instruction listserv. (See, for example, these messages.) The answers have ranged from "give 'em chocolate" (an idea that a good friend of mine challenged) to "let the students teach the class." The consensus, though, seems to be that instructional content must be connected to course content (so students see the relevance of the material) and that sessions must include a healthy amount of active learning (so that students take responsibility for their own learning and "construct" their own knowledge).

In my first several months as an "instruction/reference" librarian, I have been experimenting. Like everyone else, I have had my successes and failures. Here's my general format: Each session includes some brief demonstrations. Then students are turned loose on an "assignment" that requires them to demonstrate their understanding of the material, as well as provide them with some initial sources for their research projects. The assignments are then submitted to me online, where I can provide each student with individual comments. Not only does this give me a chance to make an individual connection with each student, it also helps me assess the effectiveness of my teaching (ostensibly, if students successfully complete my assignments, they have mastered the objectives I set for the session). I also prepare course pages for each class I teach, so students can come back if they forget a resource or strategy I taught during the session. If any of you are interested in seeing my activities and course pages, please e-mail me.

Next week will be busy for me. I'll be teaching a session for the Eastern religions class on Monday, a session for the biblical interpretation course on Tuesday, and a session on finding secondary sources for a history course on Wednesday.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

An online catalog revolution?

Librarian Karen Schneider of the Free Range Librarian and the Librarians' Internet Index has some interesting things to say about North Carolina State University (NCSU) Libraries' new online catalog. The catalog is fantastic. However, I don't agree with the idea of pitching the controlled vocabulary used in our online catalogs. Since our catalogs don't contain the full texts of books, there is no real way a Google-type search could work. Indeed, that is one of the faults of Karen's argument: the online library catalog is not the same thing as "Google, Amazon, A9, AskJeeves, Technorati, [or] Google Book Search." (Google indexes billions of Web pages; my library catalog contains descriptions of a relatively small number of books that sit on shelves.) The controlled vocabulary used in the catalog, in the form of Library of Congress Subject Headings, provides additional searchable metadata and a greater degree of precision to our searches. Sure, the "aboutness" of any information resource is disputable; but generally, LCSH has served me well. The revelation occurred to me when librarian Thomas Mann, in his book on library research, pointed out the problem of a catalog search without standardized subject metadata: Imagine performing a keyword search using the phrase "death penalty. Without controlled vocabulary, you would miss resources that use different terminology, such as "capital punishment."

Yes, catalogs aren't perfect, and I want NCSU's catalog at my library. Subject-level cataloging is horribly expensive. But in a world with varying terminology and catalogs that contain records that are meant to represent physical objects, I think subject cataloging is necessary and will always be with us.

Yes, I'm still here

Hi, all. Sorry for my long absence. Although, I do feel less guilty after reading in another blog several months ago that bloggers shouldn't feel guilty if they don't post in a while. (Sorry, I can't find the citation right now.) :-) Anyway, expect some posts from me soon about:

1) IM reference services. My library recently implemented an instant messaging reference service. Why and how did we do it? Stay tuned.

2) The American Library Association Mid-Winter conference. This was my first Mid-Winter. I'll describe the conference and how to get involved with ALA committee work. It's a great way to meet other professionals across the country and make a meaningful contribution to the profession.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Intellectual Freedom

Intellectual freedom is a major issue for librarians. My graduate school, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, recently awarded its annual intellectual freedom award to John Doe, the individual "whose legal challenge to a National Security Letter requesting library patron records represents an important defense of intellectual freedom." Read more.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Google Defends Privacy (?!?)

The controversy over Google's refusal to comply with a federal subpoena that asks for information that will allegedly help them estimate the amount of porn on the Web and its imperviousness to filters has put information and privacy in the spotlight. Apparently a lot of people are shocked, shocked to realize how much personal information is gathered by Google and other search engines. (Google saves more information than any of its competitors.) I'm not sure if Google's stock price is falling because investors worry they'll lose in court (the government has filed a "motion to compel" - it's worth bearing in mind this is not a criminal investigation but a demand for information to build a better case for a law that has been struck down in the past) or if they're concerned Google's trade secrets will be revealed in the process.

One thing worth pondering: we'd never know about the government's request if Google hadn't said no. If the DoJ truly just wants to understand the extent of porn on the Web, why couldn't they have done the research in the open, rather than secretly with subpoenas?

At least libraries understand the risk of hanging onto personal information, even if tracking people's reading habits seems relatively benign. Yet they have to decide whether adding popular convenience features that suggest books a patron might like or that offer opportunities to share reading lists (a la Library Thing) trump that risk. Personally, I'm fairly knee-jerk about privacy, but I have a feeling that libraries may be growing less protective and more interested in adding the social networking features that are becoming so popular.


Saturday, January 21, 2006

LIS Forum in March

On March 11th New York-area librarians affiliated with Radical Reference are holding a Library Education Forum for library school students and recent grads (though faculty and not-so-recent grads are also invited) to talk over LIS education. Among the questions they expect to discuss:
  • If technology is changing the nature of our profession, how should LIS programs reflect this?
  • Should LIS curriculums be more practical or theoretical?
  • Were there glaring omissions in your education? Are there skills that you have gained after graduating that you wish had been part of your curriculum?
  • What are the profession's core values? How should LIS programs reflect them?
It sounds interesting - so interesting, in fact, that the Librarian in Black hopes someone will host a webcast with participant chat. Stay tuned...


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Information Overload

In libraries we sometimes think the more information the merrier - and then find in a focus group with students that they think we have too many databases. As we add information, we also can lose sight of which information is best for a particular purpose.

We're not the only ones with that problem. In this article in Wired, Jennifer Granick argues that mass surveillance leads to an unacceptable number of false hits. Not only do innocent citizens suffer, the bad guys get lost in the clutter.


Monday, January 16, 2006

What's in a Name?

The image of librarians gets a lot of attention, with librarians frequently upset by the librarian as represented in popular culture. Here's a description of the profession from The Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey - a book about a map thief and about maps themselves that I read over the weekend.
What a vapid job title our culture gives to those honorable laborers the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians veriously called Learned Men of the Magic Library, Scribes of the Double House of Life, Mistresses of the House of Books, or Ordainers of the Universe. Librarian -- that mouth-contorting, graceless grind of a word, that dry gulch in the dictionary between libido and licentious -- it practically begs you to envision a stoop-shouldered loser, socks mismatched, eyes locked in a permanent squint from reading too much microfiche. If it were up to me, I would abolish the word entirely and turn back to the lexicological wisdom of the ancients, who saw librarians not as feeble sorters and shelvers but as heroic guardians. In Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian cultures alike, those who toiled at the shelves were often bestowed with a proud, even soldierly title: Keeper of the Books. (113, Broadway paperback ed.)
This is one of those pats on the back that can make you cringe. Yes, special collections librarians do take preservation seriously, for good reason. But there's a lot more variety in the profession than keepers and preservers of books. The image of "heroic guardian" who saves books from people doesn't make me that much happier than "stoop-shouldered loser" - unless the heroics are tongue-in-cheek.


Friday, January 13, 2006

What are Catalogs For?

There's an interesting thread on the Collib-L discussion list about linking information about books to the catalog. Bill Drew posted some information about the memoir A Million Little Pieces by James Frey; it's veracity was challenged by a blogger, turning it into a big story (even though the Star Tribune scooped the blogger by two years and Janet Maslin seemed to have doubts when she reviewed it for the Times). He's linking this blog entry to the library's catalog.

While an intriguing idea, I'm not sure what to make of it. There are a great many books whose "truthfulness" has been challenged, or which have been found to be plagiarized. Do we "add value" to catalogs by making them interpretive rather than descriptive? (I have to admit, it might make cataloging more fun. It certainly would make it more time-consuming.) Or should we let people draw their own conclusions and assume all books are subject to scrutiny?


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Do Library Schools Need Reform?

A short piece in today's LJ Academic Newswire on the American Library Association's upcoming midwinter meeting. This news item focuses on ALA president Michael Gorman's contention that the master's programs in library science don't do a good job of preparing librarians for the profession and need reform.

It's been a long time since I went to library school, but I have to say among the relatively recent graduates working in our library, I can't say I'm unhappy with the schooling they received. They seem amazingly ready to get to work productively. And while there are things they need to learn on the job - there are lots of things I still need to learn on the job, since the job is always changing.

It will be interesting to see how this debate plays out, though, since ALA accredits library schools so has leverage to make changes.