Friday, December 16, 2016

Friday jams (12/16/2016)

Let's be real here. For a variety of reasons, this year has been a real mess for nearly everyone I know. Over here at Unified Library Scene headquarters, we've been holding it together the best way we know how. And in some ways, it feels like we're all just throwing ourselves toward the end zone, hoping that the ball crosses the pylon as we face plant into the astroturf.

Anyway, I hope that you have the opportunity to end the year with the opportunity to rest and reflect in whatever way seems most helpful and restorative to you.

Please enjoy this jam that comes from the newly release A Tribe Called Quest album as the last Friday Jam of 2016.

Stay positive,

ps--When I mentioned Friday Jams yesterday on Twitter, Rachel posted this. So let's all take a moment to allow Luscious Jackson to fill us with holiday cheer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

You're all alone and so peaceful

So, I want to talk about our tendency as librarians to over-market our services as a substitute for listening to what our users really need from us.

An opinion piece on Forbes' site discusses the how a combination of Big Data and information literacy can create a more informed citizenry--one that can identify fake news when it sees it. It's not an objectively terrible take on the idea of fake news and what can be done about it. There is a part that gave me pause, though. The author begins the closing paragraph of his article by stating "...we see that fake news exists because as a society we have failed to teach our citizens data and information literacy."

I feel like Michael Bluth speaks for all of us here...

Okay, but also yes.

I should start by saying that I believe that librarians have thought a lot about what it takes to create information literate people. I should also say that I believe that those among us who have taken on reference and instruction roles go about the business of creating information literate people in really thoughtful ways. If you want a thoughtful take on information literacy in an age where people believe that truth is relative, I highly recommend that you take a look at what Kevin Seeber has to say about how creating information literate people is more complicated than just teaching people that this source is good and that one is bad. I think that Kevin makes a well-reasoned, thoughtful argument. You should read it.

As a metadata creator, I spend relatively little time thinking about information literacy and about creating information literate people. But I do spend a lot of time thinking about whether (and how) our collections and services resonate with our user communities. I feel like one of the things that librarians do when confronted with a message like the one in the Forbes article I linked to is freak out and double down on their outreach and marketing efforts. If people can't see how hard we're working on [insert a topic here], that's a failure on our part to market our services well. We must not be doing a great job of making people aware of our tools and services, librarians think. so we need to work harder to connect with people. But sometimes the answer isn't another research guide or more table tents. Sometimes people don't notice the work being done by librarians on [insert a topic here] because we believe we know better than our users what they need to be successful.

Librarians talk a lot about The Future of Libraries: how can we invent our collections, services, and tools to maintain our relevance? I would argue that the best way for us to meet the future is to stop acting like gatekeepers of information in both a literal and figurative sense and to start spending more tine in conversation with our user communities learning more about their needs and thinking critically about how we can meet them. Having those conversations means having conversations with the people who are your most regular customers and those that you feel most comfortable around. But having those conversations also means talking to people who never set foot in your doors and those who make you feel the most uncomfortable. And most importantly, listening to your user communities likely means that the decisions you make will go against what you believe as a self-appointed gatekeeper.

I get why it's easier to choose yelling louder and louder over listening. It's easier and more comfortable and it allows us to remain comfortably in this notion that librarians know best. But the louder we yell, the more we become background noise. So let's stop yelling and start listening.

Stay positive,

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

It's gonna have to get a little bit heavy

I didn't submit this anonymous tweet to the LIS Grievances bot, but I could have.
There is an oft-quoted aphorism about metadata: Metadata is a love note to the future. It's a great idea, right, that the metadata you create will help future generations access information? But I think that we do ourselves a great disservice when we don't acknowledge that well-formed metadata is really the best kind of love note to the future.

I think the problem with not being able to see the future is that it can lead us to make choices that make sense in the moment. It's easy to say that the feelings that catalogers have about poorly-formed metadata spring from a misguided place filled with artisanally created catalog records. It's easy to say that catalogers are perfectionists who have trouble accepting "good enough" records that get the job of discovery done. It's easy to say that the catalog is a place where we can cut corners because the catalog has less to do with the library user's experience than, say, the physical space. But saying all of those things can be problematic in the long run.

When decide that metadata creation isn't a task worth doing well, we're not writing a love note to the future. We're writing it a passive-aggressive note.

When we place value on quantity over quality or bottom-line over long term investment, we're making it more difficult for those future generations to access information in our libraries.  When we accept poorly-formed metadata into our systems, we are creating a future where people we will likely never meet will have to remediate our metadata in order to make it usable. We are suggesting that it's fine to kick the can down the road, as the saying goes, to let someone else deal with it rather than taking the time to do things right the first time.

I should be clear about one thing. Vendors aren't inherently the villains in this story. Sometimes because of lack of staffing or money or expertise, a library has to outsource some of its cataloging to someone else. And whether we like to acknowledge it or not, those records we download from our bibliographic utility of choice are technically from a vendor. So whether you're downloading records from a bibliographic utility, sending pockets of your collection to be cataloged, or receiving MARC record with your newly purchased material, the fact that you're getting your metadata from a vendor isn't the problem. The problem comes when the records we receive have poorly-formed metadata and we either don't remediate it or don't demand that vendors create metadata that is up to our standards.

So it's time to acknowledge that simply creating metadata to describe a resource alone isn't a love note to the future. If we truly want to write a love note to the future, we should decide in the present that well-formed metadata is something to which we're willing to dedicate sufficient staff and financial resources.

Stay positive,