Thursday, April 27, 2017

There's gonna come a time when the scene will seem less sunny

Yesterday, American Libraries tweeted a link to a release with the headline "ALA, ACRL oppose FCC plans to roll back net neutrality." I went on a rant about this on Twitter last night, but I wanted to take some time after I'd cooled off to write more about why this release upsets me so much.

I am glad that ALA took the time to go on the record about how damaging the decision to roll back net neutrality will be. Julie Todaro, ALA President, is quoted as saying
"Now that the Internet has become one of the primary mechanisms for delivering information, services and applications to the general public, and the primary means for doing business, it is especially important that commercial Internet Service Providers not be able to unilaterally control or manipulate the content of these communications. Those with information needs should not have to have their search delayed while companies with deeper pockets pay to have their content delivered first."
And she's right. The rollback of net neutrality has far reaching implications for the work that librarians do.

What is baffling to me--and frankly extremely upsetting--is why ACRL is the only division named in this release. Why was it named at all? Or if it was to be named, why were other divisions and roundtables excluded from being named in the release?

Net neutrality is not just an issue for academic librarianship. It's an issue for public libraries, too. And it's not just an issue for people in research and instruction. It's an issue for people involved in the building, describing, and preservation of digital content. And it's certainly an issue for the library technologists among us.

Let me be clear on my position: net neutrality is an issue that touches each and every division and roundtable within the American Library Association.

Let me also be clear about this: the naming of ACRL in the release replicates the pattern I see happening within ALA. It is a problem to me--and I say this as a librarian working in a university library--that academic librarianship seems to have a larger voice than any other constituency within ALA. Yes, there are divisions that represent the interests of other constituencies, but it seems like while all divisions within ALA are equal, some divisions are more equal than others.

And to some extent, I get why academic librarians have a slightly louder voice. Academic libraries, generally speaking, have larger professional development budgets. And service in professional associations is often required for tenure & promotion.

But I also see places within ACRL where academic librarians are trying to replicate structures that already exist in other places within ALA. For example, ACRL has a Technical Services IG and there have been rumblings at various points in time about turning it into a Section. It seems inefficient at best and problematic at worst to create a home for Technical Services within ACRL when an entire division exists within ALA related to Technical Services work.

I think the unspoken truth--thought not always unspoken--is that ALA members believe that ACRL has a certain amount of prestige that other divisions do not.

Having said all of that, I do believe that ACRL is an important division within ALA. And division-specific releases are both appropriate and necessary in cases where an issue focuses on a single area of librarianship. But this isn't the case with net neutrality.

I would've preferred for the release to made at the ALA-level so that the entirety of the Association could've spoken with one voice on an issue that has the potential to impact our lives and the lives of those we serve so greatly. There is nothing in that statement that was inherent to academic librarianship and no one from ACRL leadership was quoted in the release. So why not make a statement on behalf of the entire Association and call it good? I mean, I don't imagine that the LITA Board is sitting around cheering the rollback of net neutrality.

I hope that other divisions will make statements on their on behalf to also express their opposition to the rollback of net neutrality. And I hope that ALA will think more in the future about how it looks to its membership when one division is elevated over others in cases where it's more appropriate to speak with one voice.

Stay positive,
Erin









Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday jams (04/21/2017)

It's Friday. Time for some Friday Jams, friends of the Unified Library Scene.

Big Boi released a couple of tracks from his upcoming album, which are both awesome and worth a listen. Head over to Brooklyn Vegan if you're interested in hearing them in one place. After hearing "Kill Jill," I headed over to YouTube to listen to some of my favorite Outkast songs. So let's celebrate Friday by enjoying a couple of tracks from Outkast.

This one.





And also this one.



Have a nice weekend!
Erin

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

It's like a dead-end when a road map is useless

One thing I like to talk about over here at Unified Library Scene headquarters is the value of well-formed metadata. Because I'm a cataloger, I'm often looking at the idea of well-formed metadata as it relates to the library catalog. But I think that well-formed metadata has value outside of the cataloging department as well. I was interested to read this post on OCLC's Hanging Together blog about how the changing landscape of metadata creation and remediation requires an emphasis on new skill sets for both early career and incumbent metadata creators.

I was especially interested to think about the Hanging Together blog post in relationship to this post from Ithaka S+R which highlighted aspects of their 2016 US Library Survey. Figure 1 of this post addresses the functional areas of the library to which library directors at baccalaureate, masters, and doctoral academic libraries indicated they would add positions over the next five years. At doctoral institutions, nearly 70% of respondents indicated they would be adding positions related to "specialized faculty research support (digital humanities, GIS, data management, etc.)."  At masters institutions, this functional area was significantly smaller at about 25%. At those institutions, the area that stands to see the greatest amount of growth in the next five years is "instruction, instructional design, and information literacy services" at nearly 40%.

If you go back to the 2016 US Library Survey, you can see a table that corresponds with this one. In this table, library directors at masters and baccalaureate institutions indicated which functional areas they would be reducing employee positions. It will probably not surprise you to learn that technical services, metadata, and cataloging was the highest vote getting functional area at about 25%. In fairness, this was down from close to 30% in 2013.

While it's worth noting that the responses for added and reduced positions aren't exactly one-to-one since there isn't data on which functional areas library directors at doctoral institutions would target for position reduction. But I suspect, anecdotally anyway, that technical services would be what they chose were they to have been queried.

The Hanging Together blog posts indicates that managers are looking for people to work with metadata who understand how information is organized rather than being skilled at working with a specific schema. The post also suggests that those of us who are interested in helping to recruit and retain the next generation of metadata creators "should promote metadata as an exciting career option to new professionals in venues such as library schools and ALA's New Members Roundtable." The author goes on to state that "emphasizing that metadata encompasses much more than library cataloging can increase its appeal, for example: entity identification, descriptive standards used in various academic disciplines, and describing born-digital, archival, and research data that can interact with the semantic Web."

While some of the tasks the author outlines in their post can be directly mapped to the faculty research support described in the Ithaka S+R survey, much of it still maps directly into functional areas of the library that may be cut in the next five years. And while many of the respondents to the Ithaka S+R survey indicated that they have a commitment to reskilling staff and reallocating them to different areas of the library, it's no wonder that people who understand metadata concepts and have technological skills are choosing careers in industries outside of librarianship--a problem that the Hanging Together post points out.

The disconnect between the need to recruit and retain people who can create well-formed metadata and the fact that these positions are some of the first to be targeted for elimination in academic libraries is one that needs to be addressed. After all, some of the emerging faculty support services rely upon well-formed metadata to be successful. I hope that connecting the dots is the first step in facilitating this difficult but necessary conversation.

Stay positive,
Erin


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

All I do is keep the beat and bad company

So, last week I wrote about the Ithaka S+R US Library Survey 2016 and the importance of charting a course for the future that is built upon listening to your library's various constituencies and understanding the needs and values. After reading that report and writing that post, it was interesting to read in Inside Higher Ed that Ithaka S+R is partnering with OCLC to work on a project that looks at the relationship between university success and library success.

As someone who is about to start graduate school to study higher education, I have developed a keen interest in the idea that the library plays an important role within the campus community. So I was interested to read this part of Ithaka S+R's release on the project:
"it [a discussion of the future of libraries] often proceeds without reference to the universities of which they are a part. We contend that the most important long term influence on the library is the requirement placed on it by changing patterns of research and learning. The changing patterns, in turn, are shaped by the focus of the university and the direction it is taking."
I am interested to see higher education and librarianship put into conversation in this way because I think it draws explicit lines where there may only be implicit ones.

What gave me pause is the research question at the center of the project: what happens when libraries differentiate themselves in terms of services, not collection size; are there multiple models of success?

I think this is a fair question to ask, and I am curious to see what Ithaka S+R and OCLC find. How would our libraries be different if we thought more about the services we offer our user communities instead of the number of volumes in our collection. I think that collection size does not necessarily directly correlate with value or relevance to the user community. And while our collections are important to the people who use our libraries, they are not necessarily the first or only concern. So if the decision-makers in libraries only think of their library in terms of the number of volumes it holds, they may be missing out on making important connections with user communities. And, as the release on the project points out, a change in the patterns of research and learning on a campus can significantly alter how a library presents itself in order to response to that change in patterns. That is, in some ways the library of today looks different than the library of tomorrow will.

But what gives me pause about this question is that it surfaces a thing that often happens in libraries. Decision-makers in library seem to frame a conversation that puts collections and services at odds. Because space in a library is finite, short of the funds to undergo a building project, a choice must be made about how space is allocated: collections or services? How many new services and spaces can we offer our user communities, one wonders, if we clear our libraries of the collections they don't seem to want to use? So we clear our our stacks, either moving things offsite or withdrawing them from our collection. And we tell a story to our users about the value of the collections we have to offer them.

The collections in our libraries are not the enemy. And creating a false choice between collections and services is not the best way for a library to become more valuable to its user communities. Decision-makers have to balance the need to have a thoughtfully curated collection and the need to offer services that are relevant to the user communities that their libraries serve. Choosing to focus their efforts mostly on building a large collection is as unhelpful as choosing to focus on building a suite of new, cool services. The strength of a library, it seems to me, is at the intersection of thoughtful services and an intentionally built collection.

So yes, let's stop thinking that our value is tied up in the size of our collections. Let's weed our collections thoughtfully and relocation our collection when we need to make space for something new. But let's also stop think of our collections as the enemy of progress within our libraries and of engagement with our users.

Stay positive,
Erin


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How it feels when we fall, when we fold

The Ithaka S+R US Library Survey for 2016 was published yesterday and if you're a person who works in academic libraries, it is definitely worth a look. What caught my eye was a chart fairly early in the document--Figure 4. Figure 4 compares the responses of library directors and faculty members to the following question: How important to you is it that your college or university library provides each of the functions below or serves in the capacity listed below? 

What emerges when you look at that table is that what library directors see as valuable roles for the library to play don't necessarily converge with what faculty members see as valuable roles for the library to play. I suspect this isn't surprising if you work in an academic library.

I noticed that the categories that received a larger percentage of positive responses from library directors seemed to be centered around they ways in which the library helps develop information literacy skills in undergraduate students how the library supports faculty with teaching and research activities. And the single category that received a larger percentage of positive responses from faculty is centered around the library paying for resources in all formats.

While I am wary of asking charts to do things they are not intended to do, it is interesting to see these different visions of the library juxtaposed.

Academic libraries invest a lot of resources into marketing and outreach in an attempt to sell our campus communities on the library services that I mentioned in the earlier paragraphs. We set up departmental office hours. We print flyers and create digital signage to market the services no one seems to know about no matter how often we remind them. We hold open houses. We have orientation sessions for new students and faculty. We try, through marketing and outreach, to get other people as excited about this version of the academic library as we are.

And we wring out hands when our efforts don't cultivate new relationships or lead to the more widespread adoption of new services.

This is not to suggest that these outreach efforts are misplaced. Teaching faculty aren't a monolith and some of them are as excited about our vision of the academic library as instructor of students and supporter of faculty activities. Some of our teaching faculty colleagues are, indeed, our strongest supporters and our best allies. And it is absolutely true that the best way to establish new relationships with teaching faculty by way of a satisfied faculty customer.

But I do wonder how much of our marketing and outreach efforts could be better spent by listening to our teaching faculty colleagues on our own campus and developing a shared vision of what the library on our campus should be--even when that vision isn't exactly what we think it should be.

Creating conversations between the academic library and its user communities is really challenging because it asks us to stop putting our vision ahead of the needs of our user communities. And when the vision that is reflected back to us by our user communities is not where we think we should be heading, we have to decide whether to chart a new course or not. It's scary, we think, because our user communities don't understand the history of the academic library. It's scary, we imagine, because our user communities couldn't possibly know what they need better than we do.

But in the end, the way to build an academic library that is not only useful on a campus but creates experiences for our user communities that is transformative is to listen far more than we speak.

What is one way that you can listen to your user communities about the library they want and need? Tell me in the comments!

Stay positive,
Erin