Category Archives: academia

The Library of the Future?

During the closing keynote speech at LITA National Forum this year, Sara Houghton encouraged us to engage in a little thought exercise. She wanted us to imagine the ideal library of the future, without the limitations of what we believe is possible or what we’re currently doing. We should, she suggested, set aside some time to think about what we would like a library to be 20 or 30 or 40 years from now.

There are many different kinds of libraries, and what they’re going to be in the future will be vastly different from each other. My experience has been in academic libraries almost exclusively since I entered college at 18 years old. I’ve worked in academic libraries since 2007, and yeah, I have a lot of ideas about what the ideal academic library of the future should be. I work in technical service (metadata and systems), so I do tend to think about how the background systems will enable public facing services. But here, I don’t want to be limited by what I think the technology can do, so I’m focusing more on what we collectively will do, in the big picture.

To begin, I do believe that the library of the future will still inhabit a physical space. Our libraries will be beautiful, welcoming, well-lit spaces where students will come to work independently and in collaboration with other students. Library spaces will be flexible, to accommodate groups working together and students quietly reading and studying. Our library spaces will still hold physical collections, and patrons will still come into the library to access those collections, though they won’t be as large, or used in exactly the same ways. Our physical collections will likely be historical collections, special collections, and archives. Print collections may or may not circulate, and librarians will be on hand to help students new to primary source and historical collections access and interpret the materials they are working with (for example, historical government documents and maps, which won’t be searchable and manipulable in the same ways students are used to working). Physical collections will more likely than not be unique to a library, and will likely also have been digitized (or be in the process of being digitized).

Reference and Research Librarians will be an important part of the library services, though traditional reference desks may not. Students and researchers will have a relationship with their department’s librarian from the moment they enter the institution, and their librarian will be available in a variety of ways (email, text, chat, or whatever new communication mechanisms pop up) to assist with research, data organization and management, and as a liaison to other key services like writing centers and tutors. Librarians will frequently meet with students and researchers in their offices and in other locations on campus (computer labs, cafes, faculty offices). Librarians will teach information literacy embedded in the curriculum, from introductory composition classes to senior year thesis seminars. Rather than offering one-shot classes and hoping for the best, the information literacy curriculum will be built into the overall learning curriculum, and will expand over the course of a student’s time at the university, teaching the skills needed in a layered and integrated way. Librarians will also offer faculty workshops on data management and data and information literacy. Where possible, librarians will work collaboratively with faculty to enable faculty to teach information literacy to students, in a train the trainer model.

Most current resources will be accessed digitally, including monographs, fiction titles, journals, data sets, current government documents, and reference resources. All members of the university community will read on the digital device of their choice, and digital titles will be available in many formats to accommodate the technology used by the community.

Nearly all academic resources, like University Press monographs, journals, data sets, government documents, and reference sources, will be open access. The digital files themselves will rarely be hosted in the library itself or “owned” by the library, unless the library itself has digitized or published the resource. Users will be able to freely download these resources, read them on their device of choice, and annotate them however they wish. The library will serve as a curator of open access resources. Librarians who are familiar with the school’s fields of study and the resources required for teaching and research will build the library “collections” by curating links to resources hosted elsewhere, and providing access to resources hosted locally.

For titles that are not open access (contemporary fiction and non-academic titles), libraries will purchase (not lease) access to digital files, as well as a copy to be archived locally for preservation. Costs will largely be based on size of institution and download statistics, but cost models will be transparent and consistent. This will not be the bulk of future academic library collection development.

Funds that have previously been spent licensing access to academic journals will be spent instead on funding open access publication. Researchers at a library’s institution will apply for library grants to pay their own open access fees for publication. Libraries will also act as publishers, either in conjunction with a University press or on their own, if their institution doesn’t have an existing press. Libraries will host open access journals that are managed and edited by faculty, and will have publishing departments that acquire, edit, and provide access to journal and monograph titles in an open access model.

Libraries will also be the homes of subject repositories where feasible. Rather than merely collecting research, libraries will become the publishers of research in a global network of open access research publications and repositories. Libraries will also house institutional repositories, although these will focus almost entirely on preserving the administrative records of the institution, rather than the research outputs.

In addition to the Research Services and Publishing departments, libraries will have a Collection and Curation department. These librarians will be responsible for maintaining the physical collections, but also for curating links to appropriate resources. They will be responsible for ensuring access to external servers and managing relationships with other libraries and publishers. Additionally, they’ll be responsible for creating the metadata for locally hosted and published resources, digitizing local resources, and ensuring that access to local servers and digital collections is stable.

The ILS of the future will be almost unrecognizable from its current incarnations. They will integrate resources and metadata from the web, serve local metadata and resources back to the web, and act as workflow managers and statistics gathering tools.

Cataloging will be a very different activity, and will again consist of curating and collecting metadata from around the web to provide access, as well as creating local metadata for digital and print resources, and making it available on the web. Discovery will happen through locally-aware search engines. Users will set a library preference in their browsers or with their preferred search site that will prioritize the resources that have been curated by your library. But most library resources will largely be available freely, so discovery doesn’t necessarily have to happen through the library, and users can decide to prioritize a library entirely separate from their campus.

In the future, academic libraries won’t be stand-alone institutions, providing collections solely to their own patrons. The Library, instead, will be a global network of information, publications, and research, each library contributing to the whole by publishing, digitizing, and creating metadata. Our roles won’t be as gatekeepers, but as creators of scholarly resources and facilitators of scholarly communication. Our local services will consist of assistance to researchers, helping them gather the information they need to do research, and then helping them find the right place to publish it. Libraries, not for-profit publishers and journal aggregators, will power the scholarly communication engine. Our role will be not only to provide access, but to ensure preservation of the scholarly record, in all formats.

Of course there are details that I haven’t covered here. This is, after all, just a thought exercise. But if I were to use this vision as a source for strategic planning, I’d probably think seriously about how the library could become involved in scholarly communication and publishing at my institution. I’d put a lot of energy into re-modeling Research services. And I’d be actively engaged with the library community in building new models for metadata discovery and cataloging that are not based on local systems and local records. I’d apply for digitization grants to start digitizing local special collections. And I’d be actively engaged in global work to change the tenure model and reform copyright.

What is your ideal future library? Are there things in this vision of mine that make you cringe? That you absolutely can’t imagine happening? What do you think we should do now to create the library vision of your dreams?

Supporting Librarians

In a re-cap of a Libraries Rebound event put on by OCLC Research Library Partnership, Jim Michalko briefly mentions that the phrase “embedded librarian” might not be a very good one. He argues that the phrase “enshrines ‘other-ness,'” reinforcing that the librarian is somehow separate. He suggest the phrase liaison librarian instead, but I’m not sure that phrase is any better. I think there is still a separateness implied: the librarian isn’t a key partner, but instead is a middle-man between a researcher and information.

I starting thinking about the role that we want to take on with faculty and with students, and I started to really like the title of Supporting Librarian. Our role is to provide support, both to students who are just beginning to learn about the research process, and to faculty who rely on our collections and our expertise. A Supporting Librarian might work to support a department, a particular course, a particular research project…there are all kinds of ways something like this could be organized. But I think this phrase really highlights the kind of partnerships we are trying to build on our campuses.

What do you think? Do you like being considered an Embedded Librarian or a Liaison? Is there another title that would work to convey the relationships we’re building?

21st-Century Academic Libraries

I just finished reading Checking Out the Future: Perspectives from the Library Community on Information Technology and 21st-Century Libraries, a policy brief from the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy. Yeah, I’m a little late to the game on this one, seeing as it was published over a year ago. There’s not a whole lot that’s new here, but it was good to see it all in one place, summarized and compiled. The essential concepts at the heart of the policy brief are that libraries need to be adaptable and flexible, and that our roles in terms of services, information, and space will be changing. Uh, duh.

That’s a little unfair, because it did give me a lot of food for thought. I guess I have a vision in my mind of what 21st-century libraries should be, and this policy brief helped focus that vision a little bit. I thought it would be fun to lay out some of my nascent ideas here. There are a lot of pieces to this vision, and I’d love feedback and conversation, if people aren’t already tired of having these conversations. I like to think that I’ll expand on some of these ideas in future blog posts, as well, but I’ve learned never to make promises about what I’m going to write in the future.
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Scholarly Communication and Librarians

Convincing faculty of the benefits of publishing through open access sources, or contributing to an institutional repository, is one of the many new challenges facing academic librarians. Faculty outreach has always been a bit of a struggle, but now we’re trying to change a long-standing tradition of scholarly communication, and insert ourselves more visibly into a process where we tended, in the past, to be nothing more than silent collectors (at least, as far as faculty were concerned).

The librarians at UT Arlington have come up with a light-hearted, to-the-point way to convey their message, through video:

Sure, it’s slightly dorky, but I suspect also effective: short, funny, familiar, and straightforward. Definitely an idea to emulate.

Institutional Repositories and Gardening

I love it when my varied interests collide, as they just did when I found these great For the Gardener papers in the University of California’s institutional repository, eScholarship.

These papers were created by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz, my alma mater. They produce a ton of great research around sustainability, agriculture, and eating, a topic that has been of near all-consuming interest to me lately. And this research is available for free through the UC’s institutional repository.

eScholarship is one of the most developed IRs I’ve seen yet, and I often look to it as a model when I’m thinking about IR development. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should. Not only is it a great example of something that I believe is going to be a major part of the future of libraries, but you’re almost guaranteed to find something of interest to read, no matter what you’re interests are.

ASIST08: Evaluating E-Reference: Transforming Digital Reference through Research and Evaluation

There are a lot of sessions at ASIS&T (and probably most conferences) with fairly impregnable titles. I’ve found myself sitting in sessions which were about something very different than I thought. But this session title is pretty straightforward: It was all about evaluating virtual reference services.

Marie Radford (Rutgers University) and Lynn Connaway (OCLC) spoke about a long-term research project currently underway in which they’re evaluating users, non-users, and librarians about their positive and negative e-reference (and non-e-reference, in the case of non-users) experiences. Some key points:

  • Librarians considered relational and attitudinal aspects of the reference transaction as much more important than users did; for users, answers (content) were key.
  • Librarians want to teach and users don’t always want to be taught. It seems, though, that users are more open to instruction face-to-face than virtually.
  • A great suggestion to work through the “don’t teach me” barrier: Provide the requested information, and then ask, “Would you like to know how I found it?” I think this is a GREAT idea, because it sounds almost like you’re offering a secret or something.
  • Oh, earlier, when I noted that relational aspects of the transaction matter less to patrons: That’s not entirely true. They just THINK they matter less, but customer services is still important. It’s just that good customer service can be invisible to users, because they’re able to focus on the answer part.
  • People are willing to wait longer for a subject-specialist.

And of course, all I could think of was my Reference course, in which we pretty much entirely focused on customer service and the theoretical implications of the reference transaction, but in which I didn’t really learn to do what users actually want: provide information. Sigh.

Jeffrey Pomerantz (UNC Chapel Hill—These UNC folks are everywhere!) talked about librarians participating in online answer boards like Yahoo! Answers. He was specifically talking about this Slam the Boards project, which involves, on the 10th of every month, librarians going onto these sites and answering questions. I’m not entirely sure why we’re only supposed to do this one day each month, but it’s an interesting idea. Jeffrey tried to evaluate whether librarians’ answers were better, or more specifically, whether they were rated more highly by question askers.

His conclusion was essentially that it’s really hard to evaluate librarian participation in online answer boards. There are approximately 100,000 questions posted to Yahoo! Answers everyday, their API for culling data doesn’t allow you to pull information for more than 5,000 questions, and as a researcher, one has to rely on users self-identifying as librarians. But his research raised some great questions and thoughts:

  • Are these boards places where libraries should be? Most of the questions are kind of silly, and it doesn’t really seem librarians are making a huge impact
  • In the midst of all these silly questions, there are some serious questions: How do we get the askers of these serious questions to remember their local library (or its online services) as a resource?

Lorri Mon of Florida State University and the Internet Public Library talked about blogging as a reference service, and about users’ needs and use in her area. She mentioned an article I’m going to try to read on the plane tonight: Pomerantz and Stutzman’s “Collaborative reference work in the blogosphere” (2006), and she primarily talked about how students in an online course used blogs and their comment sections to post questions, answer each other, and provide a sense of community.

She pointed out that most libraries are still not using social networking sites, and that of those they are, most of them are using MySpace (ugh). Her research shows that blogs are the most widely used technology tool in libraries, followed by wikis (which are mostly used as behind-the-scenes staff tools, as they are in my library). She talked a bit about the blurring of boundaries between different types of tools (chat embedded in blogs and facebook, chat reference in Second Life). Finally, she raised an interesting question: How is eReference being taught in library schools? Well, I can answer that from my own experience: barely. Sure, I read an article or two on it. But as she noted, there was no hands on experience, or even role playing, and that probably would have been easy to set up and helpful. But I think I already mentioned that I didn’t learn a ton in my reference course.

To close up the session, Joseph Janes responded to all three presenters and brought up some really excellent points. He largely talked about the differences between Yahoo and Google: Yahoo is about community, and Google is about answers. And in that way, Google Reference services makes more sense than Yahoo reference services. He argued that we need some hook into the mass of people with information needs, whether that’s a local hook, a subject-oriented hook, a site-based hook, or something else entirely (though I lean toward a subject-oriented hook and already have started thinking about how that might work. And I think it’s all about search engine optimization.).

Lorri Mon made the comment that “people are looking for their personal librarian,” and I jumped on this one. I’ve talked before about embedded librarianship in the academic community, and I think we need to set each student up from day one of their college careers with a personal librarian. What if we assigned a librarian to students the way we assign them advisors? Subject-specialist librarians could be personal librarians for people in specific departments (for example, when you declare your major, you’re assigned a reference librarian affiliated with that department). I think just the personalization of that, the introduction to a librarian, would make it less intimidating, and would make people think about going to the library for their information needs more readily than they otherwise might.

This was one of the most inspiring sessions I attended, in that I came out of it with ideas, papers to read, things I wanted to experiment with and research. So, thanks to all these great presenters! As though they will ever see my lonely little bloggity blog. :-)

Should librarians hate Wikipedia?

I just finished reading an article in the MIT Technology Review, Wikipedia and the Meaning of Truth, by Simon L. Garfinkel, which brought up what I still consider a pretty touchy subject: What about Wikipedia? Is it an ok jumping off point for research, or should students (and librarians) avoid it at all costs?

Garfinkel argues that Wikipedia is fundamentally changing the nature of truth from an objective reality to something that is reliant on references and third-party sources of information, what the Wikipedia community calls verifiability. He writes, “Unlike the laws of mathematics or science, wikitruth isn’t based on principles such as consistency or observa­bility. It’s not even based on common sense or firsthand experience. Wikipedia has evolved a radically different set of epistemological standards…”

I would argue, though, that as a reference source, Wikipedia’s epistemological standards are the same as any other reference source. Writers of encyclopedias don’t conduct original research, observing phenomena over time to make sure their articles are correct. They rely on vetted research which they can then quote and reference in footnotes and bibliographies. And that policy is Wikipedia’s policy.

Of course, it might be difficult to ensure that every article (how many are there now? 2.5 million?) is cited properly and based on appropriate scholarly sources. But from what I understand, their volunteers do a pretty darn good job of getting inaccurate and improperly cited articles branded awfully quickly.

As a librarian-in-training, I know there are hundreds of other perhaps-more-reliable reference sources out there, and I would encourage any one doing serious research to include those sources. But I have to admit that when I’m looking something up, I often start with Wikipedia. For example, last week I decided that I really wanted to find out more about this Bill Ayres character. The Wikipedia article on Bill Ayres is well-cited (and yes, I checked out a good handful of the citations as well), neutral in tone and information provided (even with all this craziness going on right now), and informative. Sure, if I was writing a paper on Bill Ayres, I wouldn’t stop there, but I sure as heck might start there, and I wouldn’t feel bad about suggesting that jumping off point to a student. But should I?

In all the articles I’ve read about The Big Bad Wikipedia, what I keep reading are lines like Garfinkel’s: “These standards affect students, whose research on many topics starts (and often ends) with Wikipedia.” It’s in the way the starting and ending moments of research are conflated in writers’ minds, if not in students’ actual research processes, where I think the issue of Wikipedia gets muddled.

And maybe I should do some research? Do students’ research processes often end with Wikipedia? Or are we teaching them enough about information and research so they know what they’re doing?

As for Garfinkel’s article, I think his claims are overblown. This is Wikipedia fear-mongering. In my years of research, both as a student and now, as a soon-to-be-librarian, citation was the be all and end all. Good citations are what make your research true. So how is Wikipedia any different?

Students Disappoint Me, Yet Again

Twenty-four students at the University of Central Florida accepted a challenge from one of their teachers to go tech-free for five days. No cell phones, no email, no computers, video games, television, iPods (well, you could use your phone or computer for work or school, but that was it). Only two students made it through the five days. That’s not surprising. Hell, I don’t think I could do it. I’m not disappointed that students found it nearly impossible to leave modern technologies untouched for a week.

I’m disappointed by their weird crap attitudes about it. Few students even agreed to the challenge in the first place. The article quotes one student saying, “Why should I bother? It’s just pointless.” What happened to a sense of curiosity, a willingness to accept a challenge, a desire for experimentation? And students who did agree to the challenge? “This sucks. I better get a good grade.” Really, that’s what you have you to say about this experience? Pretty funny (sad?) to read, too, what the students did to “fill the void.” I especially like the kid who spent an afternoon doing donuts in his car. These are college students, yo. Whatever happened to reading a book?

I don’t know, maybe I’m too harsh. These are eighteen-year-old kids who don’t remember a world without the interwebs. It just seems to me that students should be more interested in something like this, in challenging themselves, in discovering how difficult it really is to disconnect yourself from the things we take for granted. It would be such a broadening experience, and isn’t that what college is supposed to be about? Or is it really just about getting good grades?

I don’t know, I’m kind of tempted to try it myself. In fact, one of my favorite bloggers is doing just that: Inspired by National Turn Your Television OFF week, she has decided to turn it all off. I look forward to hearing about her experience. And you might just hear something similar from me in the coming weeks. (Or, um, not hear anything coming from me, as the case would be.)

Noisy Libraries With No Books?

I’ve been reading a lot about these noisy libraries lately, where people aren’t reading or studying, but are instead playing Dance Dance Revolution, watching movies, and coming for their latest books-on-tape fix. To be honest, I have yet to find myself in a noisy library. Even in the newly redesigned Simmons library (where I go to school), where there is a floor specifically designated as a non-quiet zone, it is still pretty quiet. Maybe that’s just because I’m not hitting up Guitar Hero night.

I’m not going to say that I think libraries are moving in the wrong direction. I understand the need to pull patrons back in, especially when libraries are forced to cut back hours or close altogether due to budget cuts, budget cuts that happen because the tax-paying community doesn’t see any reason to fund them. If you can find a way to bring patrons back, that is terrific. Beyond that, even, I think it’s important that libraries are becoming public social spaces. Our country is in dire need of public social spaces, when there is so little public land left and the only gathering spaces left for people are malls, when even presumed public parks can be copyrighted. I’m very much in favor of the whole “library as space” idea.

I guess there were just a few minor points in Anna Badkhen’s Boston Globe article, “Libraries move with the times, discover niches,” that struck a nerve. Badkhen points out that statistic that only one in four American adults have read a book in the last year. But nowhere in this article is there mention of what libraries are doing to encourage book reading. In fact, one librarian says that they are “stretching the definition of reading,” and that they consider listening to audio books reading. Dude, it’s not. I’m sorry. It’s not reading. When libraries are telling people that it’s ok if they don’t read as long as they listen to a few audio books, part of my soul dies a little bit.

So you know what? Fine, entice people into the library with free movies and dinner and video games and DVD rentals. Those are all great things. Encourage people in your community to make use of the library space in social ways. But damn it, encourage them to read, too! And I mean real books! Start conversations about literacy and why it’s important. Make sure that some of those events you’re drawing people into the library with involve books, and for good measure, start some conversations about the important political and social issues in your community, too. If libraries are going to operate as public spaces, maybe they can also bring civic involvement back to communities. Video games are not the end point, right?