12/16/2011 Although a more generalized article for all libraries, I thought it worthwhile to include. From
It’s Not About the Books Libraries, technology, information, story
Recently I read Steven Johnson’s Where good ideas come from: the natural history of innovation. It’s a fascinating book, full of anecdotes about Charles Darwin and MIT’s Building 20. Johnson uses Darwin’s life and work to highlight his main themes and uses coral reefs as an metaphor for “ideas ecosystems”, but of course I couldn’t help thinking about how libraries can use his ideas in the way we build and run libraries.
Throughout history libraries have been highly effective as what we might call idea storehouses. Universities and schools have been highly effective as idea communicators. But, particularly at a time when many are questioning the relevance of libraries (thinking in terms of the ‘storehouse’ model), might we develop libraries further asidea factories? The place you go to generate ideas in the first place?
Johnson highlights what he considers to be the essential ingredients of an idea-generating environment: liquid networks, slow hunches, serendipity, error, exaptation & recycling andplatforms. Let’s explore what these mean in practice, and how libraries can encourage them to become idea generation spaces.
The concept of liquid networks is what in other contexts is called cosmopolitanism or multiculturalism. Someone with liquid networks mixes with lots of different types of people, picking up ideas and practices they would not encounter in a mono-cultural, small network. The concept of ‘liquidity’ is important, because it comes with a related idea of ‘idea spillage’. When the physics department and the School of History share a tea-room, ideas will ‘spill’ from one to the other, potentially leading to completely new concepts or discoveries.
In public libraries at least, we like to think we naturally encourage ‘liquid networks’ and ‘spillage’ because we are open to anyone. But is this really true? Is your library open at times that are convenient to a range of people? If you are only open 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday, your library is ensuring that full time workers will rarely mix with retirees, the unemployed or students. Is your library really welcoming to all, or is it always full of middle-class educated people looking for the latest Booker prize winner?
Citizens, no less than guests at a party, need ‘hosts’ to show them how to come together. – Alain de Botton
If you want to ensure your library encourages liquid networks, you need to go out of your way to ensure spontaneous (and planned) encounters between different types of people occur. Should you be running programs where students teach computer skills to retirees and learn in turn about gardening, or crochet, or small engine repair? Could you run a hotrod-themed poetry slam night and attract two different interest groups? Do you simply need to extend your opening hours? Could you run an ‘investor club’ where local business-people meet young people with ideas for start-ups? Even something as simple as ensuring your library is easily available as a place for clubs and hobby groups to meet will help make your community a place where ideas can happen – Johnson tells us that inventors are more likely than others to have a large number and wide range of hobbies.
One of the things that intrigued me about Johnson’s descriptions of effective ‘liquidity’ is that if networks are too open it actually detracts from successful idea-generation. Anyone who works in an open-plan office knows what he means. He cites MIT’s Building 20 as the perfect balance. Buliding 20 is famous for being the home of an abnormally high number of successful new concepts, ideas and discoveries. Johnson argues that this is because it was always considered a ‘temporary’ structure and thus when researchers and students felt the need to internally reconfigure their working space (eg by knocking out or buliding a wall, or running a cable from one office to another) they simply did it, often without worrying about asking permission or having to get professional workmen in to do it. This meant that although researchers still had their own offices to develop their ideas and work in some quiet, they could easily adjust the workspace as needed.
For libraries, this gives us something to think about during major renovations or new builds. Many libraries, particularly those built since the 1960s, are an open-plan design. This is great for showing of airy and light-filled architectural masterpieces, but is also the genesis of the daily struggle librarians have trying to reconcile the differing needs of mature-age students and self-directed learners in study areas with boisterous storytimes. A mix of shared and fit-for-purpose spaces may be best for generating ideas.
In my own library service, as in many others I know of, we constantly struggle to balance the requirements of a twenty-first century information service with the physical restrictions of 1970s-era buildings. Library managers need to ensure that the architect’s brief includes a requirement to build flexibility in to the design right from the beginning. The ability to run cabling through the ceiling or floor (or along tracking) easily to anywhere in the building is essential. But try to think about building flexibility in to the building in other ways as well. Can you easily put in or take out internal walls if necessary in the future? Could you put all your shelves on castors so they can be re-arranged on a day to day basis for events? Could you use the same space for events in the evening and study space in the day time? Or vice-versa? No doubt we’ll be using technology in 20 years that doesn’t even exist now. Your building is likely to last longer than your career – ensure that it’s just as flexible as you will need to be.
The slow-hunch is the opposite of the ‘Eureka moment’. Johnson argues that most good ideas are actually ‘slow hunches’ that eventually come together in a coherent argument, rather than sudden flashes of insight. Slow hunches need to be nurtured since they are easily crushed by the business of normal life, but also by lack of support and insufficient information to back them up.
Libraries can help with slow hunches by doing what we have traditionally done best – providing a wide range of information sources on a wide range of subjects, sensibly organised and easily available. This allows people with hunches to develop them further.
Serendipity is a popular concept in libraries at the moment, but mostly in the area of recreational reading. Mostly the work is being done in the form of ‘face out’ displays to encourage readers to choose books they wouldn’t have looked for, but surely we can do better than this. In the developing digital environment, the challenge will be to avoid simply trying to replicate the ‘serendipity’ possible when library patrons are ‘in the stacks’ looking for something. Physically browsing for a title and finding something else unexpected does have its romance, but too many authors have waxed lyrical about why this means libraries should never throw out books or go digital. It means nothing of the sort. Donald Barclay wrote provocatively about this last year in an American Libraries article – “The myth of browsing”. Barclay points out that the idea of browsing in academic libraries is fairly new in historical terms, and not nearly as ‘serendipity friendly’ as its supporters claim. What all this means is that we need to think about new ‘born digital’ ways to provide a superior serendipity service. Neither ‘searchability’ nor ‘browsability’, but something else. The recent focus on Discovery Layers is a step towards this, but I suspect the current batch will be seen as a bridging technology while we work out how to really solve the problem.
Johnson’s chapter on error is particularly challenging for libraries. One of the things we prize above all else is accuracy. Whether it’s the obsession with ‘reputable sources’ or the anal-retentive stubbornness of the average cataloguer, the whole profession of librarianship is based on accurate organisation. When it comes to encouraging new ideas, however, it turns out that a few mistakes along the way are often the key to ultimate success – taking the example of evolution in the natural world (as Johnson continually does), without error in DNA replication we would all still be single-celled ocean creatures.
The idea that we should deliberately produce more errors in the way we organise libraries is not necessarily one I endorse. In my experience errors in the library catalogue are more likely to obscure information and ideas than generate them. Perhaps all we need to consider here is whether our collection development policies are flexible enough. Where is the line between different interpretations of the world and material that is simply wrong?
There is also a link here to serendipity. If your cataloguing staff have made a mistake and given a book the wrong call number, it may well be discovered by a bunch of people who otherwise would never have seen it. Maybe we should simply worry less.
Exaptation (and recycling)
Exaptation is the act of using something designed to be used in a completely different way. Johnson gives the example of Gutenburg using wine-press technology to create the printing press. He goes on to use some other literary examples, such as the detective genre emerging from a few minor characters in early novels.
Exaptation is the pointy end of ‘good ideas’ and is fostered by the previously mentioned factors – people serendipitously coming across information through their diverse, liquid networks are more likely to develop slow hunches resulting in the exaptation of an existing technology or idea into a new one – possibly as the result of a mistake when trying to build something else!
For libraries, we can foster this by working on the previously mentioned aspects, as well as ensuing that our libraries are full of information (or access points to information) on a wide range of existing technologies and ideas. In other words, the best thing we can do to encourage exaptation is probably to keep doing what we do best. Developing depth of collections is important here too – it’s not enough to know the basic overview of a concept, if you’re going to develop it into something else you probably need to know the detail.
The concept of recycling is also important. In the natural world, the simplest form of exaptation is found in the idea of ‘waste as food’. Whether it’s a coral reef or the Serengeti Plain, this is the foundation of all eco-systems. McDonough and Braungart write about remaking human manufacturing processes to follow this principle in their excellent book Cradle to cradle.
For libraries, the important thing here is not really the recycling of physical matter (although I thoroughly endorse this) but rather ensuring the recycling, recirculation and re-use of ideas. Science, the humanities and literature are no less prone to trends and fads than any other area of human endeavour. Libraries must ensure that we don’t limit our range of materials and information to just what is popular right now. This is the flip side of the desire to be ‘responsive to our community’. The community might be demanding lots of novels about teenage vampires, but that doesn’t mean you throw out all your copies ofCatcher in the Rye.
Platforms allow a common framework upon which new ideas (or species) can be tested and developed. Soil is a platform. Forests are a platform. So too are cities, nation-states, universities, languages, laws and so on. Johnson writes about ‘platform stacks’, whereby a series of platforms build upon each other. (He claims this is a common term in sofware development, alas the hive mind of Wikipedia refers only to a solution stack.) Recently I saw a presentation on libraries in Timor Leste. Part of the presentation talked about how Australian librarians were training Timorese library staff to use the Browne System for keeping track of library loans. I’d never heard of it, probably because Australian library circulation systems have been mostly computerised for my entire life. Why would they use the Browne System when they could use one of the many computerised library management systems that exist? Let’s look at some of the ‘platform stack’ required:
Library Management System
Electricity distribution network
Electricity generation plant
Unfortunately for Timor Leste’s libraries, everything we take for granted in Australian public libraries in terms of our circulation systems ultimately sits atop the platform ‘electricity generation plant’. Timor has limited and unreliable electricity generation. Thus, they rely on a different platform stack:
mathematics and spoken language
Right at the beginning of Where good ideas come from we explore the concept of ‘the adjacent possible’. In a platform stack what is possible is determined by what is adjacent to where you are at a given time or place. ‘Web 2.0 discovery layers’ are an adjacent possibility (or a reality) in Australian libraries. In Timor, this possibility is not adjacent – they don’t have reliable electricity and the number of internet connections is miniscule.
For libraries in Australia and other nations lucky enough to have reliable electricity networks and highly developed technologies, thinking about platforms in the context of idea generation is more complex. How many platforms will you stack underneath or on top of your library platform? This might mean you have a collection in a range of languages, but might also include greater use of online communications tools like Twitter and Formspring. Can you use platforms such as Meetup.com to organise and market your events? How does the range of ‘platforms’ available to your potential patrons affect who has access? Are you on a good public transport route, or do people need to own a car to get to the library? Do you have multilingual staff? Do you provide programs in a wide range of formats, or are they all ‘talking heads’ events? Are there services you’d like to offer but you need to go one step back and collaborate with others to build the platform first?
A final question, which I hope to explore in a future post, is how libraries themselves can operate as an ‘open platform’ encouraging new ideas, new thoughts, experimentation and innovation. Whilst the traditional role of libraries includes aspect of this, with modern technologies a wide range of new possibilities has emerged.
If we, as librarians, consider all these ideas we can transform our libraries into idea factories – the modern-day equivalent of the sixteenth-century coffeehouse. Instead of being defensive about the role of libraries, we can develop an exciting story to tell funders and decision-makers – the library as an engine for innovation. I’m excited about the possibilities. http://itsnotaboutthebooks.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/return-of-the-coffeehouse-how-to-turn-your-library-into-an-ideas-factory/
12/14/2011 From INFOdocket:
New (Full Report): Redefining the Academic Library: Managing The Migration to Digital Information Services
Posted on December 13, 2011 by Gary D. Price
by Education Advisory Board
For University Leadership Council
A few weeks ago we provided a link to a summary of a session at the Charleston Conference where findings from the Education Advisory Board report were shared. The summary was written by Don Hawkins for The Conference Circuit blog.
12/03/2011 From a recently discovered blog called the Musings about librarianship Keeping track of interesting and cool ideas that might be used by libraries for benefit of users
we have an article about librarianship and libraries:
Friday, November 25, 2011
Recently I noticed a couple of interesting comments to the blog post, in particular Veronica Arellano’s which lead me to her A Crisis of Our Own Making (sidenote, she has a great blog, you should subscribe!).Librarians are worriers, and one thing we like to worry a lot about is the future of libraries.Veronica Arellano however thinks that we should stop writing about it. Why? She gives several reasons in “A Crisis of Our Own Making” but concludes with“Writing about the ‘crisis’ in libraries tries to elicit change out of fear, rather than a desire to better serve our communities. By continuing to write our own obituaries, we are dissuading enthusiastic, forward-minded young scholars, technologists, and community leaders from entering the profession by painting ourselves as stuck in the past and obsolete.”
She has a point too much negativity in particular obituaries type predictions can be self-fulfilling.
Earlier this year, I understand a retiring and very senior library administrator locally made a prediction at a library conference/talk that libraries would be extinct in the future (or words to that effect, he may have been referencing this extinction timeline that predicted libraries would be gone by 2020). I wasn’t present but I understand from a librarian who had just joined the profession and who was present, that it was (obviously) utterly demoralizing to hear.
That said, I am not sure if this sense of doom and gloom is not automatically sensed by new recruits anyway though having it said so bluntly is stunning. For example, at my very first local library talk/seminar almost 4 years ago, a very distinguished speaker (non-librarian) picked up on this and remarked on the “sense of defeat” he sensed from librarians.
So yes, we need to be careful not to drive away young, passionate people in our profession by being too negative.
That said, I do not totally agree with Veronica, that the problems and dangers facing librarianship is always totally exaggerated, everything is fine and dandy and that it’s just a “Crisis of our own making”.
Yes there is plenty of talent in the library world (including Veronica herself), librarians who recognize what is not working and are trying to change things but that does not change the fact that many things need to change and the way isn’t always easy (definition of a crisis?). I would argue most of the people writing on these issues are indeed the forward thinking ones working to change things, after all the first step to changing things is to recognize there is a problem. Arguably though some of the ones making such apocalyptic statements are playing devil’s advocate.
Nor I am sure if I agree with her assertions that the ones who point out problems facing libraries are simply targeting practices (e.g physical reference desks that are not used) that most libraries are abandoning or better yet have found good solutions to them.
It is also not true I feel that solutions have not being proposed though some solutions such as embedded librarianship, creating collaborative learning spaces in libraries and reinventing librarianship in general are so radical it is not easy to implement without a lot of risk taking and bold leadership.
Also I worry some of the issues faced by libraries might be far bigger. Take the scholarly publishing crisis and licensing of ebooks for libraries, these are HUGE problems that cannot be easily solved and thus far I am not very optimistic about any of the proposed solutions. I believe these issues and others (mass adoption of ebooks for one) will have a great impact and will have the potential to disrupt libraries in the coming decade.
Maybe it is simply a case of half empty vs half full. Librarians of the later view, like David Lankes affirm that the best days of librarianship are ahead of us if we can but seize the opportunities and make the change, but note the conditional (if we can…)
David Lankes also wrote about this issue about predicting doom in “Beyond the bullet point: Don’t be the mud”
“Understand if you are a librarian today, these students revere you. They want to be you. You are a role model. I know it’s not your job description, but it’s true. So every snarky comment and your foreboding sense of doom, it has an effect. I am begging you to expand your sense of professional responsibility to mentorship.”
“As librarians we can and should argue about the shape of the future. We can and should have honest and heated debates on where we want to go now. But if you are convinced that you are the last generation of librarians, that the field is going away, then get on with it and let the folks seeking a better tomorrow get to work.”
But what about those of us who worry that we might be the last generation of librarians if we don’t change drastically? Should we get out of the way? There are many others like myself who are nervous, recognizing the challenges and threats facing libraries and that this is a critical period facing libraries.
But what unites both the half empty and half full librarians are that we both recognize that radical change and shifts to our libraries work are coming if libraries are to survive (or does anyone disagree with this?). But perhaps this simple division is too simple.
Meredith Farkas has written about a Library 2.0 idea adoption spectrum, describing Librarian attitudes towards adopting new technology, from one extreme “Twopointopians” who love everything 2.0 to the other extreme “alienated”.
Similarly, attitudes towards the future of libraries, perhaps call it a expected library future spectrum? range from librarians who think we are doomed no matter what and should prepare to bow out ( er library-apocalypse prophets??) to a midground “Lankesian” view that the best days of librarians are ahead of us if we , all the way to those who think libraries are not at risk and don’t need to do much but can just continue the way things were always done.
It is a difficult balancing act, try too hard to point out problems and perhaps need for radical change and you run the risk of sounding too negative or defeatist. Some writers might have perhaps gone too far in trying to shock others in our profession into activity (e.g Academic Library Autopsy Report, 2050 and Libraries are Dying (And That’s A Good Thing) )
But equally, thinking that everything is fine, and business as usual, always choosing the options with the least risk (when there is no such option in fact) will suffice is equally perhaps a recipe for disaster.
Imagine a young potential librarian-to-be contacts you and asks you for advice on whether he should enter the profession. What picture of librarianship should you paint? I believe it would be irresponsible not to at least mention the challenges and potential stumbling blocks that libraries are facing in the future, so they will know what they will be up against.
For the record, I don’t think libraries are definitely doomed to extinction, but there is much to be done and the library world needs passionate and energetic librarians to fight for the future of libraries and the last thing we need is for recruits to come in because they think libraries are a soft option or because the job outlook is stable.
Future Ready 365 Are You Ready Today?
Posted on 20 November 2011.
by Joseph Kraus, Rocky Mountain Chapter, Physics-Astronomy-Mathematics and Science-Technology DivisionsCollaboration has been a big buzzword in the library literature lately. Well, maybe I see that buzzword just because I have been training myself to see that concept in library articles, blog posts and reports. I am one of three editors for the blog, Collaborative Librarianship News at http://collaborativelibrarianship.wordpress.com/. This blog provides news and links to information concerning collaboration and cooperation in libraries of all types. Valerie Horton, Robin Hastings and I have been doing this since the journal Collaborative Librarianship opened its doors in January of 2009.
When it comes to collaboration, I agree with Stephen Abram when he noted that “cooperation is simple; collaboration is hard since it hits so many of those human hot buttons that generate emotional intensity—territorialism, ego, identity, sharing, power, etc.” (http://collaborativelibrarianship.org/index.php/jocl/article/view/50). True collaboration means that the staff of a library may need to give up some control of an aspect of their work. Collaboration with other types of organizations and people in other fields will require the staff to trust that the other organization or group will support a service that is no longer offered by library employees. Or, the collaboration may provide enhanced services that the library couldn’t have done without collaboration. In the end, some aspect of the work could have formal contracts between the library and the other organization so that the services and tasks are spelled out.
Some examples of collaboration could include:
- Public library collaboration with a middle school
- Academic library collaboration with the Anthropology Department to develop museum displays
- Corporate library collaboration with the R&D Department
- Library/vendor collaboration
- Government information center collaboration with the IT Office on a specific project
What does this have to do with being future ready? As libraries and information centers continue their transformations, collaboration of all types and flavors will be even more important for the sustainability of the organization. The skill we all should have learned in kindergarten, “plays well with others,” continues to be a crucial skill.
Joseph Kraus is currently the Science & Engineering Librarian at the University of Denver (DU) Penrose Library. DU is a medium sized private university in Denver, Colorado. He is active in the Physics-Astronomy-Mathematics and the Sci-Tech Divisions of the Special Libraries Association (SLA). He has written numerous articles and has presented on topics from Library2.0 resources, unconferences and collection development.
In an earlier article on embedded librarianship:
Posted on July 18, 2011.
by Amy Maule, Oregon Chapter, Competitive Intelligence and Information Technology Divisions
At our annual conference last month, Thomas Friedman talked about the challenge of standing out in a world where potentially thousands of people are ready to do your job better and for less money. Employers aren’t looking for someone who can DO the job, they’re looking for someone who can invent and reinvent the job based on the needs of an evolving organization.
His statement really hit home for me. I work with a small consulting team at a major engineering firm doing primary and secondary source research, writing, editing, information and document management, a bit of intranet support, and whatever else comes up. I see my job as a kind of extreme-embedded-librarian gig, but my business card says “Analyst,” and my coworkers couldn’t care less about librarianship. My boss recently told me that I’m appreciated most for my adaptability–I’m always ready to learn a new skill or contribute in a new way. I’m constantly inventing and re-inventing my job.
For example: Earlier this year, I helped a co-worker with some statistical research, writing and editing of a report for the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. A few months later, we were asked to do similar analysis of a specific site in the province. Because I had helped write the previous report, I was asked to co-author the second report, which included a trip to Newfoundland for in-person site analysis. The initial report opened the doors for exciting travel and more direct project involvement.
I’m sharing my experience with you because I’ve learned that being Future Ready can mean more than staying on top of new technology or developing the skills needed to run the library of the future. It can mean thinking outside the library and inventing and reinventing yourself as a professional. The skills that make you a good librarian could help you to stand out elsewhere in your organization–you just need to reinvent your job in a way that lets you shine.
Here are my tips for being Future Ready in the uncertain climate of today’s special libraries:
- Look for ways to use your skills outside the library. You might discover that skills we take for granted will set you apart in other groups.
- Think about how you can adapt your skills set to contribute in new ways.
- Do even the most routine tasks quickly and well, because sometimes the little things lead to big opportunities. (But do have boundaries. I only make coffee when I’m hosting an SLA event!)
- Worry less about whether the bosses think libraries are valuable. Make sure they know that you are valuable.
- Stay actively involved in SLA. Contact with like-minded professionals is even more important when you’re venturing into unexplored territory!
I hope that next time you browse the job listings or ponder ways to advance with your current employer you’ll remember that in addition to being a librarian, you are a highly skilled, adaptable professional. There are great opportunities for enthusiastic, creative, organized people like us inside the library and out.
Amy Maule is most recently known to her coworkers as a “Business Location Analyst” for CH2M HILL’s Industrial & Advanced Technology group. She worked in public, academic, law and corporate libraries prior to becoming embedded in an engineering consulting team. Amy is also president elect of the Oregon Chapter of SLA.
and in the spirit of collaboration this article from Information Tyrannosaur
Top of the Information Food Chain–
- Posted by Andy Burkhardt
- November 15, 2011
On Friday I was at the LJ/Temple Library Future Symposium. I was on a panel with some great folks about bridging the culture gaps in our libraries. Courtney Young, our moderator framed the panel in terms of misunderstandings, and I found this to be really enlightening. Many of the problems we face when groups interact with one another, whether it’s the library vs. IT, change agents vs. resistors, or librarians vs. students, stem from these groups having different perspectives and a lack of mutual understanding of those perspectives.
Let’s take change agents vs. resistors as an example. For this example we’ll use changing the food policy as the conflict (though any change could be substituted here). On one side, you think that the food policy is outdated and that food and drink should be allowed in the library. On the other side there is a group resistant to this change who believe that it shouldn’t change. In order to get past this, there needs to be clear understanding on both sides.
You should first try to understand the other person’s perspective. And don’t just pretend to listen while dismissing what they say in your head. Pay attention and genuinely understand their concerns. Are they concerned about damage to the books or computers? Are they concerned with messes? Are they concerned with the smell? These are all genuine concerns and should be (and can be) addressed. Get to the bottom of why they are resisting the change. When you understand concerns you can then address them.
Then you need to communicate clearly to them why you think the policy should change and make sure that they understand your concerns. Do you think it will create a more welcoming environment? Do you see it happening other places (bookstores, etc.)? Are your users asking for it? Make a clear case for why you think the change is necessary. In discussing the change and coming up with solutions together make sure that their concerns are addressed. You can say something like, “I understand you are concerned with damage to our collection. I don’t want anything to get ruined either. Do we think that will happen a lot though? It seems like Barnes and Noble is not concerned with food or coffee ruining their merchandise. And at home I drink coffee and read books all the time. Does the benefit of making the library more comfortable and welcoming outweighs the risk of a few damaged books? Is there a way that we can limit damage while still allowing food and drink?”
Too often we assume that something is obvious or that someone is just obtuse when in reality we just have differing perspectives. The above approach might work and it might not, but it will be a lot more effective when we try to understand others and address them in terms of their concerns instead of only ours.
10/30/2011 The Ames Tribune reports on how the Iowa State University is making adjustments to their library to keep up with 21 century.
ISU’s library reinvents itself for the digital age
By Amy Vinchattle/Ames Tribune
Tanya Zanish-Belcher, head of Iowa State University’s Special Collections Department and the University Archives, shows Margaret Stanton’s death mask at Parks Library on campus.
By Hannah Furfaro
Published: Sunday, October 30, 2011 12:10 AM CDT
Tucked behind closed doors on the fourth floor of Iowa State University’s Parks Library, Margaret Stanton’s original death mask and Jack Trice’s last letter are housed in boxes among other seemingly inconspicuous files and books.
In temperature-controlled conditions, these rare items are among thousands of artifacts and manuscripts filed in sealed envelopes and bins in ISU’s special collections department. The department includes floor-to-ceiling compression stacks that open and close to reveal 55,000 rare books, 3,000 artifacts and every piece of material ever published by ISU.
To the average library frequenter, visits to the special collections department may be nearly as rare as the items it contains. But according to Tanya Zanish-Belcher, head of special collections at ISU, the number of visitors to the department’s reading room and requests for electronic special collection materials is significant.
“When we average our visitors for our reading room, we average between 150 and 200 visitors a month,” she said. “We also receive a lot of electronic requests and that averages between 200 and 300 requests per month.”
Zanish-Belcher said it’s the department’s goal to make photographs of all ISU’s artifacts available online, but said even if they are available, many researchers and students will still visit ISU to see the originals.
She also said despite her five-person staff’s goal to digitize as much material as possible, they continue to receive between 500 and 700 cubic feet of new paper and artifact material each year.
“You can see we are a little tight for space,” she said. “It is funny that with all the electronic (material) it really doesn’t help our space issue. In fact, we’re just taking up more electronic space.”
The special collections department is a microcosm for a broader trend happening at ISU’s Parks Library and public university research libraries nationwide, according to David Gregory, ISU’s associate dean of research, access and administration.
Instead of replacing patrons’ use and the library’s need for physical space, digital resources are simply growing alongside academic libraries’ role as a place to collaborate and conduct research, Gregory said.
“At the same time that people are preferring electronic formats over more traditional media, they continue to come to the library,” he said, noting use of ISU’s library has doubled over the past five years. “We suspect for other reasons, and that’s to do collaborative study. But, it’s still a social and cultural hub for the university.”
The debate over the relevance of academic research libraries in the digital age isn’t new. In the mid-1990s, scholars were already beginning to discuss the merits of digitization versus physical content.
Since that time, card catalogues have become all but extinct, authority over virtual content has disappeared and expansion of online resources has surged.
At ISU, out of its nearly 117,000 journal subscriptions, more than 100,000 are electronic full-text editions. Between 2010 and 2011, the library’s e-book collection jumped from 40,000 to 250,000 books.
However, while demand for e-books and digital access to journals is growing at an exponential rate, the number of ISU’s physical books continues to dwarf its collection of electronic texts. ISU’s physical set of books still ranges between 2.5 and 2.6 million titles, or 25 miles worth of book stacks.
“In that context, we have about a quarter of a million e-books,” Gregory said. “I think a lot of people think as electronic media become available and users can access them anywhere, anytime, then the need for library space diminishes. In fact, that’s not true.”
In light of the growth of online resources, some wonder whether traditional research libraries are still relevant. In many ways, sentiments for the touchable versus the digital are split along generational lines.
However, among students at ISU, opinions are a mixed bag.
Gerrit Hansen, a senior studying industrial technology, said he “barely ever comes to the library” unless he is meeting a group for a research project.
“I prefer to study at home,” he said. “I use online journals but (not many) e-books. I prefer hard text books, but I buy them online.”
ISU sophomore Dylan Suhr said he spends hours at a time by himself or with friends studying at the library each week. He said he prefers flipping through the physical pages of a book rather than clicking through a digital version online.
“I like going here because I get a lot of stuff accomplished instead of being at home,” he said. “If I’m online looking at something I usually tend to be on Facebook or ESPN or other websites. I like the books, and I actually use them quite often.”
Another student, ISU junior Emily Gardner, said she prefers physical books but has never checked one out from ISU’s library.
She said many students don’t pay attention during ISU’s required half-credit library course and said this is the “biggest reason” why students never really learn how to navigate the library. At ISU, both online and shelved resources are methodically catalogued in an online database.
“People just blow through and don’t pay attention. I know I didn’t,” she said. “I think people still don’t necessarily understand exactly how to utilize the space that is here … If I understood better how to find what I was looking for, I would check things out more.”
While space continues to be a valuable commodity at ISU’s main library, preserving virtual content has created a new crop of challenges for ISU’s librarians.
The digital landscape is constantly in flux and according to Gregory, there is currently no widespread, viable plan for archiving digital content and guaranteeing it is readily available on the most up-to-date digital reader or computer software.
“We have a long tradition of preserving paper and other types of formats and even things like microfilm,” he said. “It will be a challenge to ensure that content that is either born digital or has been digitized is actually preserved over time in a manner that it will still be usable three years from now, five years from now or 50 years from now.”
The shift in ISU’s e-resource based technology has also caused ISU to overhaul the way librarians approach their work. In the past few years, ISU’s reference area has become the “help and information” desk and is now jointly staffed by traditional librarians and information technology specialists.
Taking a “full service approach,” the help and information desk employs individuals who help students with everything from embedding video in PowerPoint presentations to locating specialized online journals.
“When it comes to information, there’s certainly a lot more information available to use every day,” said Greg Davis, assistant director for library information technology at ISU. “One of our biggest challenges is how to keep on top of that. How do we help our patrons find that one article they really need? How do we help them shift through this enormous amount of information that’s out there to get down to the pieces that are their biggest benefit?”Davis said the help and information desk deals with many e-resource questions each day and said many students bring in their personal laptops or tablets looking for help sorting through ISU’s numerous online databases.
While access to electronic resources is increasing, “that doesn’t make it easier to find what you’re looking for,” Davis said.
The challenges for academic libraries are many, but Davis said finding ways to deal with limited physical space and the cost of digitizing content is important to the communities they serve.
“We have over 250 computers in the (Parks) Library and anyone can walk in and use them,” he said. “Although there’s a lot of technology out there and a lot of people have Internet at home, there’s still a lot of people who just don’t. There’s still a digital divide in Iowa communities and the library is really the only place a lot of people have to go to get access to that.”
Hannah Furfaro can be reached at (515) 663-6918 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This morning at 10 am Eastern the FCC announced a new initiative aimed at closing the digital divide (access to broadband the necessary technology) and address digital literacy issues. Connect to Compete is
A private and nonprofit sector partnership to promote broadband adoption and improve outcomes in disadvantaged communities.
I missed the live broadcast so as I looked over the website and the announcement from the Knight Foundation I grew increasingly concerned about the lack of mention of public libraries! How could they not know we’re at the front line of all of this! And, as you know, I’ve been awaiting more information on the Digital Literacy Corps since I read about the idea in the National Broadband Plan.
That’s why I was very grateful to find a pdf of the remarks. I’ve pulled out the sections regarding libraries but I strongly urge you to take the time to read the whole thing and become familiar with the Connect to Compete initiative.
On Digital Literacy Corps:
And building on a big idea developed in the National Broadband Plan, we’re proposing to work with America’s schools and public libraries to launch a Digital Literacy Corps to help promote and teach digital literacy.
Digital literacy refers to the basic skills necessary to seize the opportunities of broadband Internet – how to use a computer, navigate the web, or take actions like preparing and uploading an online resume, or processing a basic Internet transaction. If you’re not digitally literate you’re at a significant disadvantage in the workforce. 50 percent of today’s jobs require some technology skills – and this percentage is expected to grow to 77 percent in the next decade.
In the coming weeks and months, we are going to work with schools and libraries and tap their experience and wisdom to develop the best ways those institutions can help to close America’s digital skills gap.
I can’t wait to see how this plays out! I hope it is the form of true interaction vs the DigitalLiteracy.gov initiative that just encouraged librarians to dumb information into a website.
For millions of Americans, libraries are the only place where they can get online. For millions more, libraries are an important complement to at-home connectivity, and they remain, as they always have been, a trusted resource in communities.
During the day, libraries have become job centers and librarians career counselors – and after school a place where many students go to do homework online. Last year, more than 30 million Americans used library connections to seek and apply for jobs, and 12 million children used them to do homework. Millions of others are using library connections for health information.
Hallelujah! So great to this recognized outside of a library community based report!
Many –but not enough – of America’s 16,000 public libraries have become vital centers for digital literacy.
We’ve done a damn fine job, if I do say so myself, given the economy and the shocking budget cuts we’ve faced, thank-you-very-much.
Librarians are helping meet some of the vast need — and I applaud them. But according to a recent Gates Foundation-funded survey, only 38% of all libraries offer a basic digital literacy class. In rural areas, in places like West Virginia, it’s only 25% of libraries. That’s a big missed opportunity. We should aim to double those numbers. The E-Rate program – one of our most successful programs – connects schools and libraries to the Internet. Senator Jay Rockefeller, the great champion of E-Rate who, along with Senator Olympia Snowe and others, created the program, once said, “Our classrooms and our libraries are often the only way that our children and citizens can tap into the wonders of computers and the links to a vast world of information and knowledge. We want schools to be a place where children delve into computers. We want libraries to be vibrant centers of learning for families.” In that spirit, we plan to launch a proceeding to explore how the E-Rate program can expand access to digital literacy training at more public libraries and schools across the country and,
ultimately, forming a Digital Literacy Corps.
A good start would be some funding for:
- technology can’t learn the latest and greatest unless you have it yourself,
- staff training so everyone is comfortable with new technologies
- adequate staffing so that all staff can attend training without worrying about being understaffed
- a long term plan that acknowledges that staff training will need to be on going and that technology will need to be updated yearly, not every five years
Working with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), including its Director Susan Hildreth, who’s here with us today, a Digital Literacy Corps could help Americans, young or old, English- or Spanish-speaking, get the skills they need to find and apply for a job, to access educational classes, find health care information, and utilize e-government resources, helping accelerate e-government and reduce spending on paper.
Hurray for IMLS!
Microsoft has announced it will build a state-of-the-art online digital literacy training center, with videos and other easy-to-follow content, so if you’re in a city without an in-person digital literacy class, you can still log-on at a local library, school, or other community center and get the skills you need.
oooooh fancy. Can’t wait to see what this includes. Apple products?
To help close this gap, Microsoft, beginning in 15 states over the next three years and quickly expanding nationwide, has announced it will work with its partners to deploy training in Microsoft Office through its retail stores, local schools, libraries and community colleges.
This announcement is only the first step in a very long road. Each of these initiatives and partnerships must be set in place and functional, and the US already lags behind in internet adoption and digital literacy. We have a long road ahead of us but acknowledging the import role of libraries, currently and in the future, shows we’re on the right path.
9/19/2011 From comes this treatise on libraries of today and tomorrow. In addition Publishers Weekly online has added a libraries page. Check it out!
In the digital age, libraries and publishers face a social reconstruction
By Peter Brantley
Sep 16, 2011
A few years ago, I opened the proceedings of a summit that brought together publishers, technologists, funders, and librarians by ripping the cover off a paperback book. I was attempting, feebly, to make a point about the inviolability of books. Having once worked in the mass market division of a major trade publisher, I knew that the life of a mass market paperback was often Hobbesian: brutal and short. Nevertheless, my actions gave me pause.
Today we are living in this incredible moment when we are all tearing off the covers of books. We look inside to see how they are written (by authors), produced (by publishers), and placed in the market (by distributors and retailers). Often, we realize that although much of the work of making books has not disappeared, it has been digitally shifted, and the organizational fabric of publishing is being rewoven before our eyes. The functions a publisher performs; what a book looks or sounds like; how books are authored; how authors make a living: all are changing.
When technology disrupts culture, the impacts reach far beyond economics. The book as we have known it—an object of a certain size, rectangular form, and weight—was an industrial product resulting from a set of complex economic, legal, and social relationships. What we can do with books is wrapped in a collective understanding that has been constructed through the work, and often the struggle, of women and men over many decades. It is because of that social understanding that I found it hard to tear the covers off a paperback; it is the reason why the burning of books is an act commemorated with plaques and ashamed solemnity.
It is also what makes libraries possible. These organizations, wildly irrational in economic terms and massively underwritten by public resources, acquire the world’s literature and then make it continually available, without discrimination, through free circulation. Through libraries, we optimistically assert that knowledge uplifts us all, and that our culture becomes richer when it is shared. The famous inscription on the main branch of the Boston Public Library, “FREE TO ALL,” is true in the instance, but only because we all make contributions towards its realization.
We are now engaged in acts of social reconstruction. Just as digital networks have forced us to deeply question the role of publishers, they also force us to reconsider the role and purpose of libraries, which developed in the modern era around the presumption of the Industrial Age book right along with publishing. A library fills many needs in its community; it is an after-school day care and gaming center, an employment hall and meeting space, offering shelter and privacy. It has also been a place with shelf upon shelf of CDs, newspapers, magazines, and books. Indeed, our understanding of libraries is so bound up in the physical world that their presumptive value has most often been measured through a single proxy: how many books they hold.
As books now flow onto the network, libraries no longer need to place them on their shelves nor do they need to buy copies of every book for each neighborhood served. From a purely technical perspective, there need only be one global digital library.
The economic and social issues, however, are rather more difficult. The value of libraries should not be measured in economic terms alone, but economic considerations must not be disregarded through an embrace of principles orphaned from their social context. What kinds of libraries are desirable, and what they mean for communities, for privacy, and for law: we must decide these all again. Fundamentally, the library must redefine its virtue for publishers and authors, and for citizens and politicians, in the midst of a world economy with significantly dampened public investment.
This is a discussion we must all have together. Our future library will be the product of a shared struggle. Factions will not always agree; our arguments may be vehement. Yet if we communicate with respect and without fear, then our hope for a future with greater access to more information, for more people, and with more participation, may be realized.
How we envision a literate and informed society determines how we make our laws and shape our covenants. We must choose with care, brick by brick, the height of the walls that we place around the sharing of our knowledge and culture. In the choosing we will define our libraries, and ourselves, in a digital age.
Peter Brantley is the director of the Bookserver Project at the Internet Archive, and a PW contributing editor on library issues.
08/28/2011 From ALA News comes this ten year study on Academic Libraries–Good news!!!
Ten-year study shows increased need for academic libraries
Tue, 08/23/2011 – 10:28
Contact: Cathleen J. Bourdon
Office for Research & Statistics (ORS)
CHICAGO - The need for libraries on college and university campuses has increased, according to a new study released by the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Research and Statistics.
In “Trends in Academic Libraries, 1998 to 2008,” researcher Denise M. Davis analyzes data from the Academic Library Survey administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), identifying changes in the number of academic libraries, circulation and reserve collections, interlibrary loan transactions and documents received from commercial services, public serve hours, volumes held and added, library staffing, library expenditures, electronic services and information literacy activities.
“The impact of technology and maturation of the Internet as the conduit for information delivery has not reduced the need for library space but, in many respects, has increased that need,” Davis reports. She added that the data indicate greater investments in collections and services. “Even with increased virtual reference and information services, up 52.4 percent from 1998, use of academic libraries rose during the 1998-2008 period.”
The report provides an informative look at how the academic libraries continue to provide valuable resources to their community through technology and increased service hours despite a loss of non-librarian staff.
NCES, in collaboration with the academic library community, conducts a biennial survey that captures information about libraries in all degree-granting colleges and universities. Data analyzed in this report are drawn from the NCESAcademic Libraries series public use data for 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008.
“Trends in Academic Libraries, 1998 to 2008″ is available as a PDF download at http://www.ala.org/ala/research/librarystats/academic/index.cfm.
The Office for Research and Statistics provides leadership and expert advice to ALA staff, members, and public on all matters related to research and statistics about libraries, librarians, and other library staff.
8/24/2011 For a response to the article from the “Krafty Librarian below see the Librarian’s page
8/22/2011 From InsideHigherEd. com we get the following depressing but fixable and not surprising data with possible solutions:
What Students Don’t Know
CHICAGO — For a stranger, the main library at the University of Illinois at Chicago can be hard to find. The directions I got from a pair of clerks at the credit union in the student center have proven unreliable. I now find myself adrift among ash trees and drab geometric buildings.
Finally, I call for help. Firouzeh Logan, a reference librarian here, soon appears and guides me where I need to go. Several unmarked pathways and an escalator ride later, I am in a private room on the second floor of the library, surrounded by librarians eager to answer my questions.
Most students never make it this far.
This is one of the sobering truths these librarians, representing a group of Illinois universities, have learned over the course of a two-year, five-campus ethnographic study examining how students view and use their campus libraries: students rarely ask librarians for help, even when they need it. The idea of a librarian as an academic expert who is available to talk about assignments and hold their hands through the research process is, in fact, foreign to most students. Those who even have the word “librarian” in their vocabularies often think library staff are only good for pointing to different sections of the stacks.
The ERIAL (Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries) project — a series of studies conducted at Illinois Wesleyan, DePaul University, and Northeastern Illinois University, and the University of Illinois’s Chicago and Springfield campuses — was a meta-exercise for the librarians in practicing the sort of deep research they champion. Instead of relying on surveys, the libraries enlisted two anthropologists, along with their own staff members, to collect data using open-ended interviews and direct observation, among other methods.
The goal was to generate data that, rather than being statistically significant but shallow, provided deep, subjective accounts of what students, librarians and professors think of the library and each other at those five institutions. The resulting papers are scheduled to be published by the American Library Association this fall, under the title: “Libraries and Student Culture: What We Now Know.”
One thing the librarians now know is that their students’ study habits are worse than they thought.
At Illinois Wesleyan University, “The majority of students — of all levels — exhibited significant difficulties that ranged across nearly every aspect of the search process,” according to researchers there. They tended to overuse Google and misuse scholarly databases. They preferred simple database searches to other methods of discovery, but generally exhibited “a lack of understanding of search logic” that often foiled their attempts to find good sources.
However, the researchers did not place the onus solely on students. Librarians and professors are also partially to blame for the gulf that has opened between students and the library employees who are supposed to help them, the ERIAL researchers say. Librarians tend to overestimate the research skills of some of their students, which can result in interactions that leave students feeling intimidated and alienated, say the ERIAL researchers. Some professors make similar assumptions, and fail to require that their students visit with a librarian before embarking on research projects. And both professors and librarians are liable to project an idealistic view of the research process onto students who often are not willing or able to fulfill it.
“If we quietly hope to convert all students to the liberal ideals of higher education, we may miss opportunities to connect with a pragmatic student body,” wrote Mary Thill, a humanities librarian at Northeastern Illinois. “… By financial necessity, many of today’s students have limited time to devote to their research.” Showing students the pool and then shoving them into the deep end is more likely to foster despair than self-reliance, Thill wrote. “Now more than ever, academic librarians should seek to ‘save time for the reader.’ ”
Before they can do that, of course, they will have to actually get students to ask for help. That means understanding why students are not asking for help and knowing what kind of help they need, say the librarians.
“This study has changed, profoundly, how I see my role at the university and my understanding of who our students are,” says Lynda Duke, an academic outreach librarian at Illinois Wesleyan. “It’s been life-changing, truly.”
Exploding the ‘Myth of the Digital Native’
The most alarming finding in the ERIAL studies was perhaps the most predictable: when it comes to finding and evaluating sources in the Internet age, students are downright lousy.
Only seven out of 30 students whom anthropologists observed at Illinois Wesleyan “conducted what a librarian might consider a reasonably well-executed search,” wrote Duke and Andrew Asher, an anthropology professor at Bucknell University, whom the Illinois consortium called in to lead the project.
Throughout the interviews, students mentioned Google 115 times — more than twice as many times as any other database. The prevalence of Google in student research is well-documented, but the Illinois researchers found something they did not expect: students were not very good at using Google. They were basically clueless about the logic underlying how the search engine organizes and displays its results. Consequently, the students did not know how to build a search that would return good sources. (For instance, limiting a search to news articles, or querying specific databases such as Google Book Search or Google Scholar.)
Duke and Asher said they were surprised by “the extent to which students appeared to lack even some of the most basic information literacy skills that we assumed they would have mastered in high school.” Even students who were high achievers in high school suffered from these deficiencies, Asher told Inside Higher Ed in an interview.
In other words: Today’s college students might have grown up with the language of the information age, but they do not necessarily know the grammar.
“I think it really exploded this myth of the ‘digital native,’ ” Asher said. “Just because you’ve grown up searching things in Google doesn’t mean you know how to use Google as a good research tool.”
Even when students turned to more scholarly resources, that did not necessarily solve the problem. Many seemed confused about where in the constellation of library databases they should turn to locate sources for their particular research topic: Half wound up using databases a librarian “would most likely never recommend for their topic.” For example, “Students regularly used JSTOR to try to find current research on a topic, not realizing that JSTOR does not provide access to the most recently published articles,” Duke and Asher wrote in their paper, noting that “articles typically appear in JSTOR after 3-5 years, depending on their publisher.” (JSTOR was the second-most frequently alluded-to database in student interviews, with 55 mentions.)
Years of conditioning on Google had not endowed the Illinois Wesleyan students with any searching savvy to speak of, but rather had instilled them with a stunted understanding of how to finely tune a search in order to home in on usable sources, concluded the ERIAL researchers.
Regardless of the advanced-search capabilities of the database they were querying, “Students generally treated all search boxes as the equivalent of a Google search box, and searched ‘Google-style,’ using the ‘any word anywhere’ keyword as a default,” they wrote. Out of the 30 students Duke and Asher observed doing research, 27 failed to narrow their search criteria at all when doing so would have turned up more helpful returns.
Unsurprisingly, students using this method got either too many search results or too few. Frequently, students would be so discouraged they would change their research topic to something more amenable to a simple search.
“Many students described experiences of anxiety and confusion when looking for resources — an observation that seems to be widespread among students at the five institutions involved in this study,” Duke and Asher wrote.
These results can be taken in a positive light: as the library building has receded as a campus mecca, librarians have often had to combat the notion that online tools are making them irrelevant. The evidence from ERIAL lends weight to their counterargument: librarians are more relevant than they have ever been, since students need guides to shepherd them through the wilderness of the Web. Indeed, students who had attended library orientations or tutorials showed more proficiency than those who had not.
There was just one problem, Duke and Asher noted: “Students showed an almost complete lack of interest in seeking assistance from librarians during the search process.” Of all the students they observed — many of whom struggled to find good sources, to the point of despair — not one asked a librarian for help.
In a separate study of students at DePaul, Illinois-Chicago, and Northeastern Illinois, other ERIAL researchers deduced several possible reasons for this. The most basic was that students were just as unaware of the extent of their own information illiteracy as everyone else. “Some students did not identify that they were having difficulties with which they could use help,” wrote anthropologist Susan Miller and Nancy Murillo, a library instruction coordinator at Northeastern Illinois. “Some overestimated their ability or knowledge.”
Another possible reason was that students seek help from sources they know and trust, and they do not know librarians. Many do not even know what the librarians are there for. “I don’t think I would see them and say, ‘Well, this is my research, how can I do this and that?’ ” one senior psychology major told the researchers. “I don’t see them that way. I see them more like, ‘Where’s the bathroom?’ ” Other students imagined librarians to have more research-oriented knowledge of the library but still thought of them as glorified ushers.
“Librarians are believed to do work unrelated to helping students,” wrote Miller and Murillo, “or work that, while possibly related to research, does not entitle students to relationships with them.”
Co-opting the influence of professors
In lieu of librarians, whose relationship to any given student is typically ill-defined, students seeking help often turn to a more logical source: the person who gave them the assignment — and who, ultimately, will be grading their work. “[R]elationships with professors … determine students’ relationships with libraries,” wrote Miller and Murillo. “In the absence of an established structure ensuring that students build relationships with librarians throughout their college careers, professors play a critical role in brokering students’ relationships with librarians,” they wrote.
Because librarians hold little sway with students, they can do only so much to rehabilitate students’ habits. They need professors’ help.
Unfortunately, professors are not necessarily any more knowledgeable about library resources than their students are. “Faculty may have low expectations for librarians, and consequently students may not be connected to librarians or see why working with librarians may be helpful,” wrote Miller and Murillo.
Several recent studies by the nonprofit Ithaka S+R have highlighted the disjunct between how professors view the library and how the library views itself: library directors see the library as serving primarily a teaching function; professors see it above all as a purchasing agent. Miller and Murillo heard echoes of that in their study. “I think that what happens is the librarians know how to search for sources, but sometimes don’t know how to do research,” one anthropology professor told them.
Professors are usually willing to try to put students on the right path. However, “a student will not necessarily succeed in research if he or she relies on the professor alone,” wrote Miller and Murillo. “… [Some] faculty members seemed to assume that students would pick up how to do library research, or that a one-shot instruction session, which at times professors erroneously assumed students previously had, would have been enough.”
This finding resonated with the librarians gathered here in Chicago. “Students do enough to get by,” says Lisa Wallis, a Web services librarian at Northeastern Illinois. “If they aren’t told to use [specific library] databases, they won’t.” And many professors, like many librarians, overestimate the research fluency of their students. For example, a professor might tell students to find “scholarly sources” without considering that students do not actually know what a “scholarly source” is, says Logan, the Chicago reference librarian.
At DePaul, “One of the professors said, ‘You mean they come to the library without the assignment?’ ” says Paula Dempsey, the coordinator of reference services there. “Yes. Yes, they do.”
Heather Jagman, a coordinator of library instruction at DePaul, described this as the “curse of prior knowledge” — a phenomenon to which both professors and librarians are vulnerable. Teaching and library faculty are likely to have been exceptionally skilled researchers as undergraduates. Career academics might have a hard time putting themselves in the shoes of a student who walks into the library knowing practically nothing.
Pragmatism vs. Idealism
Part of the challenge for faculty in learning to serve students more effectively might be adjusting their expectations to the realities of what students already know — and can be reasonably expected to learn — in the space of a given assignment, says Thill, the humanities librarian at Northeastern Illinois.
In her contribution to the ERIAL tome, called “Pragmatism and Idealism in the Academic Library,” Thill wrote about the tension between library pragmatism — the desire to satisfy the minimum requirements of a research assignment — and library idealism, which glorifies the tedious unearthing and meticulous poring-over of texts. Unsurprisingly, most students tacked toward pragmatism, while “librarians and professors [repeatedly] wished that students could invest more time in contemplation and discovery, painting an idealized portrait of students leisurely wandering the stacks or pensively sitting down to await inspiration.”
Her findings, based on open-ended interviews with 30 faculty members and nine librarians at Northeastern Illinois and DePaul, pointed to the tension between the idealized view of academic research and the practical matters of deadlines and other limitations — a tension librarians often have to resolve. If a student needs sources on a topic but does not know how to retrieve them, does the librarian find the source for him? Does she nudge him in the right direction but make sure he finds it himself? Librarians often have to walk that line between giving a person a fish and teaching her how to fish, proverbially speaking, says Thill. And the answer can rightly vary based on how quickly she needs a fish, whether she has the skills and coordination to competently wield a pole, and whether her ultimate goal is to become a master angler.
“Obviously I’m not saying we just have to be paper pushers — just pushing out whatever it is the student wants,” Thill says. “But I think that, in general, we make decisions assuming that everyone is a career academic.”
This is treading on treacherous ground, and Thill knows it. The debate over whether librarians should be complicit in students’ efforts to “satisfice” — that is, do what they can to get by and graduate — can be a contentious one, since it runs to the root of what the library (and higher education in general) is for.
“To be honest I was almost afraid to write this paper,” she says, sitting in a conference room at the Northeastern Illinois library. “Whenever I talked to people about what my paper was about, they got their backs up.”
Thill says she does not think “satisfice” should be a dirty word. In her paper, she points to a 2008 NASPA Foundation study that indicated only 6 percent of college students earn a degree because they “like to learn for learning’s sake.” Back at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Logan mentioned the fact that a growing proportion of students are adult learners and first-generation students with jobs and family obligations. If these students are trying to “satisfice,” it probably isn’t so that they’ll have more time to goof off, she said.
There is also the somewhat dissonant fact that despite what the Illinois institutions now know about their students’ poor information literacy skills, many of those students have continued to pass their courses and eventually graduate. “I think we definitely saw that students are managing to get through without the level of certain research skills that we would like to see,” Asher told Inside Higher Ed.
“It’s not about teaching shortcuts, it’s about teaching them not to take the long way to a goal,” says Elisa Addlesperger, a reference and instruction librarian at DePaul. “They’re taking very long, circuitous routes to their goals.… I think it embitters them and makes them hate learning.” Teaching efficiency is not a compromise of librarianship, adds Jagman; it is a value.
Librarians and teaching faculty certainly have an obligation to encourage good, thorough research, says Thill, but they also have a responsibility to serve students — and that means understanding the limitations of library idealism in practice, and acting pragmatically when necessary.
This article comes from the blog the Wikiman.
The future of libraries is all about people, isn’t it?
Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?
I think we can all accept that people have become very important in librarianship. It is the people who make the difference between the library and the internet, the people who add the value which makes libraries more than a warehouse full of books, it is the people who teach and educate and train users, it is the people whose visions inform the new directions libraries are taking.
At SLA2011, a lot of people said “There are loads of presentations, across loads of chapters and divisions – but it’s the people who that you really want to focus on. The value lies with the individuals.” The tweets emerging from ALA11 seemed to indicate the same things – @JustinLibrarian saying “What I learned at #ala11: sure, exhibits and panels are great, but the true power of the organization is in people” for example.
I think that while we can accept this as true, it doesn’t seem to have penetrated the deeper professional psyche as to what libraries are, and what they are for. When there are grants or external funding, they seldom get spent on people. When there are marketing campaigns, they rarely feature the people. (Library marketing books often talk about The Four Ps of marketing. Guess what – none of them are People.) When there are cuts, it’s often the people who go first. It’s still the resources which are king in libraryland, and I’m not sure this will work as well in future.
At his spotlight session during SLA2011, Stephen Abram said the key thing about all the new tech changing the way we all work is not the technology itself, but about representing our role (as information professionals) within that technology. Which is to say, we’re the people who can make it work for our patrons and customers. We need to remind people more explicitly that the value lies with us – each particular ‘us’ that works at each specific library. Stephen later pointed out to me that automated process are increasingly common, so eventually we could keep libraries open but get rid of almost all staff – but they will find it a lot harder to do that to us if we can successfully emphasise more clearly the role of the individuals. We know that our value lies in our expertise, but does our approach to marketing, funding, finances etc really reflect that? We’re still promoting books and databases most of the time.
So if we position ourselves as experts in new trends and technologies per se (rather than just, for example, a guru in a certain area such as micro-blogging) then when the technology goes mainstream, people will know to come to us for help and further information. It’s not about saying “Hey the library is an expert in FourSquare!” – it’s about saying “The librarians know about new trends and technologies, come to us and we’ll guide you through it!” and then when FourSquare (or any other geolocational social media app, or anything else) goes mainstream, our patrons and customers already have as in mind as potential experts. Like so much of what I write about on here, it’s about positioning ourselves successfully within the wider global narrative.
A more personality driven approach to promoting librarians, as opposed to just libraries, is needed.
Thinking Ahead: Trends and the Future of Libraries
is the title of an excellent SlideShare program to show to librarians and staff. Here is the link. Take a look
View more presentations from Stephen Spohn
From the Chronicle of Higher Education Blog Brian Mathews discusses what academic libraries need to do
When talking about the library remember N3P3: an advocacy talking points framework for academic libraries
June 5, 2011, 11:50 am
It seems I’ve been advocating defending the concept of the academic library lately. Different people respond to different attributes, so I’ve developed this framework to help express the narrative. I call it N3P3.
- NATURAL. A natural place where scholars gather. They offer the materials, tools, and learning spaces that enable people to access, discover, use, and share information.
- NURTURING. A nurturing environment that promotes academic success. Librarians and staff are there to provide assistance with research and technical support. The space also promotes collaboration, enabling peer-to-peer mentoring and group work.
- NEUTRAL. An open and inviting destination on campus. It encourages exposure to interdisciplinary encounters and freedom to relax and reflect. Everyone is welcome to use the library.
- PRODUCTIVE. An atmosphere that generates active learning energy and advances the desire to develop intellectually, socially, and culturally. It also places students in close proximity to people, tools, and resources that will enable success.
- PRESERVATION. A safe house for historical and cultural scholarly record. Libraries collect and maintain useful information in print, digital, and a multitude of other formats. They also provide digital access to the most current research in every field.
- PEOPLE-ORIENTED. A place where people congregate and connect with information and each other. Historically libraries have been collection-oriented, but that is changing. The value now is the relationship that people experience using the full suite of spaces, services, materials, and tools available to them. Libraries about about people and helping them accomplishment their academic pursuits.
This framework doesn’t cover every topic or every circumstance, but in a pinch it helps get the conversation going. I typically watch for areas of interest and then focus in on those themes.
For example, if a person seems interested in the preservation aspect then I talk about the archives in our special collections, our digitalization projects, how we’ve engaged courses in this regard, or about our conservation efforts.
If they are interested in learning spaces, then I emphasize technology, group collaboration, and the ongoing evolution from the lone scholar to the team-based approach to learning.
What I like is that it’s a simple, flexible, easy to remember framework: N3P3. It works with large groups or one-on-one conversations. It can be broad or very detailed. It enables me to customize or ad-lib as necessary. It can be a 5 minute or 55 minute conversation. And lastly– people seem shocked that I don’t focus on just books– that’s what they expect to hear about– so when I talk about all these other qualities they get excited. Always leave them wanting to learn more about the library!
The Proverbial Lone Wolf Weblog brings this wonderful presentation with dialogue and graphics:
The Future of Librarianship…06.22.11 Just click on the link below for a wonderful interesting, entertaining experience
“What do we want? People make things happen.”
A comprehensive article of the importance of the library on the success of students of higher learning
The murder victim? Your library assumptions. Suspects? It could have been any of us.
In the Library with the Lead Pipe is pleased to welcome guest author Derek Rodriguez. Derek serves as a Program Officer with the Triangle Research Libraries Network where he supports collaborative technology initiatives within the consortium and is project manager for the TRLN Endeca Project. He is a Doctoral candidate at the School of Information and Library Science at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is the Principal Investigator of the Understanding Library Impacts project.
Value for money in higher education
‘College Money’ by flickr user omarhabayeb
These are challenging times for colleges and universities. Every week it seems a new article or book is published expressing concerns about college costs, low graduation rates, and what students are learning. We also don’t have to look very hard to find reports computing the economic benefits of a college education to individuals. Clearly, U.S. colleges and universities are under pressure to demonstrate that the value of an undergraduate education is worth its cost.
Graduation rates are important measures. Personal income is certainly a measure that hits home for most of us during these difficult economic times. However, stakeholders in higher education have had their eyes on a different set of metrics for many years: student learning outcomes. A recent example is A Test of Leadership, better known perhaps as the Spellings Commission report in which the U.S. Department of Education raised concerns about the quality of undergraduate student learning. The report called for measuring student learning and releasing “the results of student learning assessments, including value-added measurements that indicate how students’ skills have improved over time.”  In recent years, higher education has responded with new tools to assess and communicate student learning such as the Voluntary System of Accountability.
As colleges and universities grapple with this challenge, academic libraries are also seeking ways to communicate their contributions to student learning. The recently revised draft Standards for Libraries in Higher Education from the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) signals the importance of this issue for academic libraries. The first principle in the revised standards, Institutional Effectiveness, states that:
“Libraries define, develop, and measure outcomes that contribute to institutional effectiveness and apply findings for purposes of continuous improvement.”
And an accompanying performance indicator reads:
“Libraries articulate how they contribute to student learning, collect evidence, document successes, share results, and make improvements.”
While libraries have made significant progress in user-oriented evaluation in recent decades, libraries still lack effective methods for demonstrating library contributions to student learning. Unless we develop adequate instruments (and generate compelling evidence) libraries will be left out of important campus conversations.
In this post I review current approaches to this problem and suggest new methods for addressing this challenge. I close by introducing the ‘Understanding Library Impacts’ protocol, a new suite of instruments that I designed to fill this gap in our assessment toolbox.
The challenge of linking library use to student learning
Demonstrating connections between library use and undergraduate student achievement has proven a difficult task through the years. Several authors have suggested outcomes to which academic libraries contribute such as: retention, grade point average, and information literacy outcomes. I review a few of these efforts below.
Retention is a measure of the percentage of college students who continue in school and do not ‘drop out.’ A handful of studies have investigated relationships between library use and retention. Lloyd and Martha Kramer found a positive relationship between library use and persistence as students who borrowed books from the library dropped out 40% less often than non-borrowers. Elizabeth Mezick explored the impact of library expenditures and staffing levels on retention and found a moderate relationship between expenditures and retention. Several authors report a different ‘library effect’ on retention: holding a job in the library. This finding is supported by evidence that holding a campus job, especially in an organization that supports the academic mission, is related with “higher levels of [student] effort and involvement” in the life of the university and should logically lead to increased retention. Those of us who have worked in academic libraries have probably observed this mechanism at work with students we have known.
However, I believe relying exclusively on this measure is problematic. First, numerous factors influence retention and it can be difficult to isolate library impact on retention without extensive statistical controls. Second, retention is an aggregate student outcome; it is not a student learning outcome. Retention is an important metric in higher education and we should seek connections between library use and this measure, but it does not satisfy our need to know how libraries contribute to student learning.
Grade point average
Several authors have attempted to correlate student use of the library with grade point averages (GPA). Charles Harrell studied many independent variables and found that GPA was not a significant predictor of library use. Jane Hiscock, James Self, and Karin de Jager, among others switched the dependent and independent variables in their studies and found limited positive correlation between library use and GPA. Shun Han Rebekah Wong and T.D. Webb reported on a large-scale study with a sample of over 8,700 students grouped by major and level of study. In sixty-five percent of the groups, they found a positive relationship between use of books and A/V materials borrowed from the library and GPA.
However, GPA-based studies have their problems. As Wong and Webb note, studies that use correlation as a statistical method cannot assure causal relationships between variables; they can only show an association between library use measures and GPA. As the old adage goes, ‘correlation does not imply causation.’ Do students achieve higher GPAs because they are frequent users of the library? Or do students who make better grades tend to use the library more? Without adequate statistical controls it is impossible to conclude library use had an impact on GPA. Also, as noted by Wong and Webb, it can be difficult to gain access to student grades to carry out this type of study.
Information Literacy Outcomes
Information literacy outcomes assessment is the most fully developed approach we have for demonstrating library contributions to undergraduate achievement. Broadly speaking, information literacy skills encompass competencies in locating and evaluating information sources and using information in an ethical manner. Instruction in these skills is a core offering in academic libraries and findings from Project Information Literacy suggest there is still plenty of work to do! ACRL has also created a suite of information literacy outcomes to guide the design and evaluation of library instruction programs. Numerous methods have been used to assess information literacy skills including fixed-choice tests, analysis of student work, and rubrics.
It is tempting to rely solely on student achievement of information literacy skills to demonstrate library contributions to student learning. However, a recent review of regional accreditation standards for four-year institutions suggests there is uneven support for doing so. Laura Saunders found three of six regional accreditation agencies specifically name information literacy as a desired outcome and assert the library’s prominent role in information literacy instruction and assessment of related skills.  Others rarely use the term “information literacy” in their standards. Instead, competencies such as “evaluating and using information ethically” appear in these standards as general education outcomes to be taught and assessed throughout the college curriculum. In part, I think this reaffirms for us that many in higher education associate information literacy outcomes with general education outcomes such as critical thinking.
While it may be encouraging for information literacy outcomes to be integrated into the college curriculum, I think this poses real difficulties when we attempt to isolate library contributions to these outcomes. If information literacy and critical thinking skills are inter-related, how are we to assess one set of skills, but not the other? Heather Davis thoughtfully explored this issue in her post “Critical Literacy? Information!” finding that these competencies are intricately related and it is extremely difficult to teach (and assess) them independent of one another. If information literacy skills are taught across the curriculum, when, where, and by whom should they be assessed? Where does faculty influence stop and library influence begin?
Information literacy outcomes are integral to undergraduate education, but these are not the only learning outcomes that stakeholders are interested in. And information literacy is not the library’s sole contribution to student learning.
I believe we need to shift course in our assessment practices and tackle ‘head on’ the challenge of connecting library use in all its forms with learning outcomes defined and assessed in courses and programs on college and university campuses. We should also link our efforts to the learning outcomes frameworks used in the broader academic enterprise. Broadening our perspective will provide a better return on our assessment dollar.
Where to begin
We can improve our ability to detect library impact on important student learning outcomes by carefully choosing our units of observation. Fortunately we can look to the literature of higher education assessment for clues. My conclusion is that a one-size-fits-all approach to assessment is not likely to work for higher education or for library impact. Instead, our instruments should respect differences in students’ experiences. We should focus on the ‘high-impact’ activities in which faculty expect students to demonstrate their best work. Capstone experiences and upper level coursework within the academic major seem to fit the bill for four year institutions.
The academic major
Students majoring in the arts and humanities, the sciences, and the social sciences acquire different bodies of knowledge and learn different analytical techniques. We also know that learning activities, reward structures, and norming influences vary by discipline. This suggests the academic major plays a significant role in shaping expectations for student learning outcomes and the pathways by which they are achieved. Shouldn’t student information behaviors vary by academic major as well? Our assessment tools should be sensitive to these differences.
The capstone experience and upper level coursework
Capstone courses are culminating experiences for undergraduate students in which they complete a project “that integrates and applies what they’ve learned.” I think we should be studying information use during these important times for several reasons. First, there is ample evidence that the time and energy students devote to college is directly related to achieving desired learning outcomes. Students who work hard learn more. Furthermore, students exposed to high-impact practices such as capstone experiences are more likely to engage in higher order, integrative, and reflective thinking activities. Finally, there is strong evidence that student learning is best detected later in the academic career.
If faculty expectations are at their highest and student effort is at its peak during the capstone experience and in upper-level coursework, shouldn’t studying student information behaviors during these times yield valuable data about library impact?
Speaking the language of learning outcomes
Assessing information use during upper-level and capstone coursework in the academic major is only part of the puzzle. We also need to link library use to student learning outcomes that are meaningful to administrators and policy-makers. I’d like to share two frameworks for student learning outcomes which I think hold great promise.
The Essential Learning Outcomes and the VALUE Rubrics
The Association of American Colleges & University’s (AAC&U) Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) project defined fifteen ‘Essential Learning Outcomes’ needed by 21st century college graduates such as critical and creative thinking, information literacy, inquiry and analysis, written and oral communication, problem solving, quantitative literacy, and teamwork. These outcomes are applicable in all fields and highly valued by potential employers. A companion AAC&U project called VALUE (‘Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education’) generated rubrics that describe benchmark, milestone, and capstone performance expectations for each outcome. These rubrics are intended to serve as a “set of common expectations and criteria for [student] performance” to guide authentic assessment of student work and communicate student achievement to stakeholders.
Some student learning outcomes are discipline-specific. For instance, one would expect students majoring in chemistry, music, or economics to acquire different skills and competencies. A process called Tuning is intended to generate a common language for communicating these discipline-specific outcomes. First developed as a component of the Bologna Process of higher education reform in Europe, Tuning is a process in which teaching faculty consult with recent graduates and employers to develop common reference points for academic degrees so that student credentials are comparable within and across higher education institutions. Expectations are set for associate, bachelor, and master degree levels. Generic second cycle or bachelor degree level learning expectations as defined by the European Tuning process are noted below. Recent work funded by the Lumina Foundation has replicated this work in three states to test its feasibility in the U.S.
Subject-specific learning expectations for second cycle graduates
- Within a specialized field in the discipline, demonstrates knowledge of current and leading theories, interpretations, methods and techniques;
- Can follow critically and interpret the latest developments in theory and practice in the field;
- Demonstrates competence in the techniques of independent research, and interprets research results at an advanced level;
- Makes an original, though limited, contribution within the canon and appropriate to the practice of a discipline, e.g. thesis, project, performance, composition, exhibit, etc.; and
- Evidences creativity within the various contexts of the discipline.
The VALUE rubrics are currently being evaluated in several studies and colleges and universities have begun using them internally to articulate and assess student learning outcomes. While the Tuning process hasn’t yet ‘taken off’ in the U.S., the Western Association of Schools and Colleges recently announced a new initiative to create a common framework for student learning expectations among its member institutions. As colleges and universities experiment with and adopt these frameworks, we should incorporate them into our library assessment tools.
New tools for generating convincing evidence of library impact
As part of my doctoral research I created the Understanding Library Impacts (ULI) protocol, a new suite of instruments for detecting and communicating library impact on student learning outcomes. The protocol consists of a student survey and a curriculum mapping process for connecting library use to locally defined learning outcomes and the VALUE and Tuning frameworks discussed above. Initially developed using qualitative methods the protocol has been converted to survey form and is undergoing testing during 2011. I illustrate how it works with a few results from a recent study.
A pilot project was conducted during the spring of 2011 with undergraduate history majors at two institutions in the U.S., a liberal arts college and a liberal arts university. Faculty members provided syllabi and rubrics regarding learning objectives associated with researching and writing a research paper in upper-level and capstone history courses. History majors completed the online ULI survey after completing their papers.
First, students identified the types of library resources, services, and facilities they used during work on their research papers, including:
- Electronic resources, such as the library catalog, e-resources and databases, digitized primary sources, and research guides.
- Traditional resources, such as books, archives, and micro-formats.
- Services, such as reference, instruction, research consultations, and interlibrary loan.
- Facilities and equipment, such as individual and group study space, computers, and printers.
The forty-one students who participated in the pilot project collectively reported 590 types of library use during their capstone projects ranging from e-journals, digitized primary sources, books, archives, research consultations, and study space. Electronic resource use dominated, but traditional resources, services, and facilities made a strong showing.
Students then identified the most important e-resource, traditional resource, service, and library facility for their projects and when each was found most useful. At one study site over 60% of students said library-provided e-resources were important when developing a thesis statement. And 90% of students said both library-provided e-resources and traditional resources were important when gathering evidence to support their thesis. Over 80% of this cohort reported library services were important during the gathering stage. These services included asking reference questions, library instruction, research consultations, and interlibrary loan. These data help link library use to learning outcomes associated with capstone assignments and to the VALUE and Tuning frameworks.
Students reported next on helpful or problematic aspects of library use. For instance, students at both study sites extolled the convenience of electronic resources and the virtues of interlibrary loan, while several complained of inadequate quiet study space and library hours. Information overload and ‘feeling overwhelmed’ were also frequent problems. Time savings and ‘learning about sources for my project’ were mentioned often in regard to library services.
A series of open-ended questions ask about a challenge the students faced during the project. Almost fifty percent of the student-reported challenges were related to finding and evaluating sources and almost as many were related to managing the scope of the paper and issues with writing. Faculty and librarians can ‘drill down’ into these rich comments to understand challenges students face and shape collaboration faculty-librarian collaboration to meet the needs of future student cohorts.
Open ended questions also elicit powerful stories of impact. When asked what she would have done without JSTOR, one student replied:
“I honestly have no idea. I may have been able to get by with just the books I checked out and Google searching, but those databases, JSTOR specifically, really helped me.”
I hope these glimpses of recent pilot study results demonstrate the value of focusing our attention on important and memorable academic activities in students’ lives. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods helps us understand how and why libraries support students when the stakes are highest. Authentic user stories coupled with links between library use and student learning outcomes serve as rich evidence of library impact to support both advocacy efforts and internal improvements.
The Understanding Library Impacts protocol is not designed to assess student learning; teaching faculty and assessment professionals fulfill this role. The protocol is intended to link library use with existing assessment frameworks. ULI results can then be used in concert with other assessment data enabling new partnerships with teaching faculty and assessment professionals. For example:
- The AAC&U Essential Learning Outcomes map well to general education outcomes at many colleges and universities. The protocol’s use of the VALUE rubrics creates a natural vehicle for articulating library contributions to these outcomes.
- Understanding Library Impacts results may also integrate with third-party assessment management systems (AMS). As Megan Oakleaf noted in the Value of Academic Libraries Report, integrating library assessment data with AMSs allows the library to aggregate data from multiple assessments gathered across the library and generate reports linking library use to a variety of outcomes important to the parent institution.
It is critical to find ways to connect library use in all its forms with learning outcomes important to faculty, students, and stakeholders. Doing so will bring the library into campus-wide conversations about support for student learning.
Thanks to Ellie Collier, Hilary Davis, and Diane Harvey for their comments and suggestions that helped shape and improve this post. Thanks also to Hilary and Brett Bonfield for their help preparing the post for publication. I also want to thank the librarians, faculty members, and students at the study sites for their support and participation in this pilot study.
1 The costs of attending college continue to outpace standard cost of living indices. From 2000 to 2009, published tuition and fees at public 4-year colleges and universities increased at an annual average rate of 4.9% according to the College Board, exceeding 2.8% annual average increases in the Consumer Price Index over the same period. College Board. Trends in college pricing (2009), http://www.trends-collegeboard.com
3 See for instance, Carnevale, Anthony P., Jeff Strohl, and Michelle Melton. What’s it Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors. Georgetown University. Center on Education and the Workforce, 2011, “The New Math: College Return on Investment.” Bloomburg Businessweek, April 7, 2011,http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/special_reports/20110407college_return_on_investment.htm, and “Is College Worth it? College Presidents, Public Assess, Value, Quality and Mission of Higher Education” Pew Research Center, May 16, 2011, http://pewsocialtrends.org/files/2011/05/higher-ed-report.pdf.
4 U.S. Department of Education. A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education. Washington, D.C., 2006, 24.http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/hiedfuture/reports/final-report.pdf.
5 The Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) was developed by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (NASULGC, 2010a). Created to respond to demands for transparency about student learning outcomes from the Spellings Commission, participating VSA institutions agree to use standard assessments and produce a publicly available College Portrait which provides data in three areas: 1) consumer information, 2) student perceptions, and 3) value-added gains in student learning. See Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. Voluntary System of Accountability, 2011, http://www.voluntarysystem.org/ and Margaret A. Miller, The Voluntary System of Accountability: Origins and purposes, An interview with George Mehaffy and David Schulenberger. Change July/August (2008): 8-13.
6 American Library Association. Association of College and Research Libraries. Draft Standards for libraries in higher education, 2011.http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/standards/standards_libraries_.pdf
9 See for instance Powell, R.R. “Impact assessment of university libraries: A consideration of issues and research methodologies.” Library and Information Science Research, 14 no. 3 (1992): 245-257 and Joseph R. Matthews, Library Assessment in Higher Education.Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2007.
12 Rushing, Darla & Deborah Poole. ‘‘The Role of the Library in Student Retention,’’ inMaking the Grade: Academic Libraries and Student Success, edited by Maurie Caitlin Kelly and Andrea Kross (Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2002), 91–101; Stanley Wilder, ‘‘Library Jobs and Student Retention,’’ College & Research Libraries News 51 no. 11 (1990): 1035–1038.
13 Aper, J.P. “An investigation of the relationship between student work experience and student outcomes.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (New Orleans, LA, April 1994). ERIC document number, ED375750.
15 Hiscock, Jane E. “Does library usage affect academic performance? A study of the relationship between academic performance and usage of libraries at the Underdale site of the South Australian College of Advanced Education”. Australian Academic and Research Libraries, 17(4), 207-214, 1986; Self, James. “Reserve readings and student grades: analysis of a case study.” Library and Information Science Research. v. 9 (1), 29-40, 1987; de Jager, Karin. “Impacts & outcomes: searching for the most elusive indicators of academic library performance.” Proceedings of the Northumbria International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries and Information Services: “Meaningful Measures for Emerging Realities” (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, August 12-16, 2001).
17 Head, Allison. J. & Michael B. Eisenberg. “Finding Context: What Today’s College Students Say about Conducting Research in the Digital Age,” Project Information Literacy Progress Report, The Information School, University of Washington, 2009. http://projectinfolit.org/pdfs/PIL_ProgressReport_2_2009.pdf
18 American Library Association. Association of College and Research Libraries. “Information Literacy Outcomes” American Library Association. Association for College and Research Libraries. “Information Competency Standards for Higher Education,” 2000. http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency.cfm
22 See for instance, Chatman, Steve. “Institutional versus academic discipline measures of student experience: A matter of relative validity.” Research & Occasional Paper Series: CSHE.8.07. Berkeley, CA: Center for Studies in Higher Education (2007).
24 Pace, C. Robert. The undergraduates: A report of their activities and progress in college in the 1980′s Los Angeles, CA: Center for the Study of Evaluation, University of California, Los Angeles, 1990; Pascarella and Terenzini, 2005.
27 Association of American Colleges and Universities, College Learning for the New Century A report from the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’s Promise, Washington, DC: AAC&U, (2007) http://www.aacu.org/leap/index.cfm; Association of American Colleges and Universities. The VALUE rubrics, 2010.http://www.aacu.org/value/rubrics; Rhodes, Terrel, ed. 2010. Assessing Outcomes and Improving Achievement: Tips and Tools for Using Rubrics. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
30 See Adelman, Clif. The Bologna Process for U.S. eyes: Re-learning Higher Education in the Age of Convergence. Washington, DC: Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2009 for an overview. The Bologna Process refers to an ongoing educational reform initiative in European Higher Education begun in 1999 as a commitment to align higher education on many levels. Clif Adelman writes that the purpose of this initiative is to “bring down educational borders” and to create a “’zone of mutual trust’ that permits recognition of credentials across borders and significant international mobility for their students” (p. viii). A current, yet incomplete, Bologna initiative is the creation of three levels of qualification frameworks for the purpose of assuring students’ college credentials from one country are understandable in another. The Tuning process is the narrowest of the three frameworks focused on specific disciplines. A similar process is underway in Latin America.
32 See for instance, Indiana Commission for Higher Education. Tuning USA Final Report: The 2009 Indiana Pilot, 2010. http://www.in.gov/che/files/Updated_Final_report_for_June_submission.pdf
34 Collaborative for Authentic Assessment and Learning. American Association of Colleges and Universities, http://www.aacu.org/caal/spring2011CAALpilot.cfm and VALUE Rubric Reliability Project. American Association of Colleges and Universities, http://www.aacu.org/value/reliability.cfm
36 Western Association of Schools and Colleges. “WASC Receives $1.5 Million grant from Lumina Foundation”, May 18, 2011, http://www.wascsenior.org/announce/lumina
37 Oakleaf, Megan. The Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2010 .http://www.acrl.ala.org/value/
38 Rodriguez, Derek A. “How Digital Library Services Contribute to Undergraduate Learning: An Evaluation of the ‘Understanding Library Impacts’ Protocol”. In Strauch, Katina, Steinle, Kim, Bernhardt, Beth R. and Daniels, Tim, Eds. Proceedings 26th Annual Charleston Conference, Charleston (US). http://eprints.rclis.org/archive/00008576/(2006); Rodriguez, Derek A. Investigating academic library contributions to undergraduate learning: A field trial of the ‘Understanding Library Impacts’ protocol. (2007). http://www.unc.edu/~darodrig/uli/Rodriguez-ULI-Field-Trial-2007-brief.pdf;
I think that this article speaks for itself from The Atlantic 6/15/2011
Moving Towards a Physical Archive of the World’s Books
JUN 7 2011, 1:10 PM ET12
JARED KELLER – Jared Keller is an associate editor for The Atlantic and The Atlantic Wire. He has also written for Lapham’s Quarterly‘s Deja Vu blog, National Journal’sThe Hotline, Boston’s Weekly Dig, and Preservation magazine.
Internet Archive, a digital repository, wants to collect and preserve a copy of every single book that’s ever been published
My love for books comes from a story of their utter destruction.
As an adolescent, my father made an effort to turn me on to Ray Bradbury by screening the 1966 François Truffaut film adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, set in a dystopian future where possessing books is a criminal offense. Apart from the enduring irony of a society where firemen are dispatched to set fires rather than extinguish them, one scene has stayed with me since that initial viewing. Oskar Werner — in the role of the former fireman and now fugitive Guy Montag – escapes to the countryside and finds himself among a group who have memorized entire books, preserving them orally until the law against books is overturned. ”Are you interested in Plato’s Republic?” asks Granger, the leader of the book-loving vagabonds, pointing Montag towards a young woman. “Well, I am Plato’s Republic,” replies the woman. “I’ll recite myself for you whenever you like.”
“Now here’s Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte,” Granger continues, gesturing to his fellow “Book People.” “And here’s The Corsair by Byron. She used to be married to a chief of police. That skinny fellow is Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Now where’s Alice Through The Looking Class today, she should be somewhere about. Ah … now there’s The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. He ate his book so they couldn’t burn it.”
While we understand the need to manage physical holdings, we believe this should be done thoughtfully and well.
Bradbury’s Book People are the equivalent of a literary Noah’s Ark, living repositories relying on the oral tradition that preceded bound books to safeguard works of cultural significance. And they are far from fictional characters.
The Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library with the Wikipedian mission of “universal access to all knowledge,” has offered free storage and access to digitized music, movies, websites and nearly three million public domain books since 1996. In May, the Archive turned its focus offline, towards the preservation of physical reading materials. The aptly-named Physical Archive to the Internet Archive, a prototype facility devoted to the long-term preservation of physical records, launched last Sunday in Richmond, California. Materials are stored in 40-foot shipping containers, modified for secure and individually controllable environments of 50 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit and 30 percent relative humidity and designed to keep out undesirable pests.
On the Internet Archive’s blog, founder Brewster Kahle compares the Physical Archive to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault as “an authoritative and safe version of crops we are growing.” Saving physical copies of digitized books might at least be seen in a similar light as an authoritative and safe copy that may be called upon in the future:
Digital technologies are changing both how library materials are accessed and increasingly how library materials are preserved. After the Internet Archive digitizes a book from a library in order to provide free public access to people world-wide, these books go back on the shelves of the library. We noticed an increasing number of books from these libraries moving books to “off site repositories” (1 2 3 4) to make space in central buildings for more meeting spaces and work spaces. These repositories have filled quickly and sometimes prompt the de-accessioning of books. A library that would prefer to not be named was found to be thinning their collections and throwing out books based on what had been digitized by Google. While we understand the need to manage physical holdings, we believe this should be done thoughtfully and well.
Two of the corporations involved in major book scanning have sawed off the bindings of modern books to speed the digitizing process. Many have a negative visceral reaction to the “butchering” of books, but is this a reasonable reaction?
While no crushing yoke of political censorship or governmental censorship has made literature and criticism a dying medium, physical books are running into trouble in the digital age. A recent reportby the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) recently reaffirmed what any casual Internet observer recognizes as fact: that information-seeking behavior is constrained by the convenience of tracking down resources. A Google-generation untrained in the art of deep archival research is likely to have less patience in tracking down that hard-to-find translation of Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius’ De Jure Belli ac Pacis should a digitized scrape of the tome not appear in the first few pages of Google or JSTOR results. And as demand for physical books drops, so does usage: thousands of books spend hours, untouched and unread, in musty basements. Atlanticcorrespondent Yoni Applebaum noted a new trend towards “deaccessioning” of newspapers — the transferring of newsprint to microfilm — in 2001, along with an unintended consequence:
In 1997, Columbia celebrated his 150th birthday with Joseph Pulitzer Day, complete with cake and speeches. Our library houses a significant portion of his papers, including an extensive collection of documents relating to the World.
If you go to Butler Library, you may search the shelves for hours, but you will not find the New York World. Gone are the bound volumes, preserving the faded newsprint upon which Pulitzer’s fame and fortune were founded. No more are the beautiful color advertisements, the full-page illustrations in a dozen fantastic shades, and the promotional inserts on hard stock. They were “deaccessioned,” in the technical jargon of the library trade, and replaced with grainy black-and-white images on microfilm. A half-million pages of newsprint were discarded for a few drawers of film in small cardboard boxes.
Columbia was hardly the only library to junk its newspapers. In fact, almost every major research library in America did the same. Along with them went nearly a million books, all destroyed in the name of preservation.
While reams of microfilm have been replaced by crowded avenues of servers, the principle remains the same: as the written word moves online and print libraries are in lesser demand, the economic incentives to preserve and maintains extensive collections wane.
Kahle’s comparison to the Svalbard Seed Bank may be more indicative of the Physical Archive’s real utility. While concentrated server farms may be better homes to the digitized sum of the world’s cultural and literary knowledge than libraries to their physical counterparts, a single phenomenon — an electromagnetic surge in the earth’s atmosphere, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster or even a spilt coffee cup — could instantly hasten the evaporation of our literary cloud. One need not be a bibliophile like myself to recognize the potential importance of this project: should our digitized world of knowledge and information suffer such a drastic reduction in the vein of Fahrenheit 451, it should be comforting to know that the Internet Archive has Book People in California ready to preserve and protect our literary history.
Image: The book stacks at The British Library, via SteveCadman/Flickr.
To talk about the future we need to look back and see from where we have come and what is coming ahead
Contemporary Learning Made Real: Throwing out 100 Years of Tradition
Posted on May 8, 2011 by pamelamoran
I had a chance recently to visit the new School of Medicine at the University of Virginia with a team of educators with whom I work. We went in search of the learning studio which has garnered a great deal of media coverage and which I discovered, not from local coverage, but through a post at the FischBowl, Karl’s blog. It seems ironic that I’d traveled virtually to a Colorado post to discover a gem of a learning treasure in my own backyard. After reading the post, I googled more information and then had one of those experiences in which I thought, “Why am I not talking with my son’s roommate, a member of the medical class of 2014?
“Simulation Center work
Here’s what I discovered from online research, chat-time, and the visit. The radical innovations touted in articles about the School of Medicine are the real deal. This is not your family doctor’s medical school. The transformation of this program cuts across learning spaces, curriculum, teaching, learning project work, assessment and grading, and learning technologies, all of which have been integrated into a learning system designed to engage medical students in high levels of Bloom’s thinking processes. The end in mind? The program’s designed to create physicians who serve patients well. Here’s an image that the staff uses to illustrate their prescription for educational change:
NxGen Curriculum: Across the board, sweeping changes have been made to the curriculum by abandoning the discipline-in-isolation model that has held sway for well over a hundred years in medical schools. Instead, the UVa medical school faculty now integrate content relevant to the practice of medicine, discarding discipline-based content that’s not connected to serving patients. The days of students following a prescriptive series of courses in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and so on are over, beginning with the current crop of first-year students. As the associate dean indicated, “We want to cull from disciplines the clinically relevant components that are important to take care of patients.”
Teaching: The planning committee realized that a change in curriculum had to be accompanied by a change in teaching practice. The new case study approach parallels its use in other graduate programs such as business and law. A key to why this approach both challenges and engages can be found in the push of student learning teams to apply, synthesize, analyze and evaluate while pulling relevant content from the integrated content curriculum. The days of eight-hour rote learning lectures have been abandoned in favor of patient-based case studies that are staged inside a learning studio for four hours at a time. Professors facilitate singly or in teams, pausing to teach more informally from a central location. When students spend time in more of a presentation format, they interact using strategies such as think-pair-share. Teaching in this model represents a flipped classroom approach with learning of relevant content assigned for work outside of class time.
Learning Work: The new learning model promotes increased engagement and interactive learning whether working with “standardized patients” in the Clinical Skills Center, learning skills using full body, high-tech mannequins in the Simulation Center or analyzing cases with team members in the learning studio. Why? The Associate Dean of the School of Medicine says that medicine is best practiced in a team rather than as a solo practitioner model, a shift born from research using patient diagnostic data.
The faculty also noted in making the change from lecture to learning work that the majority of students were not participating in lectures, often skipping them and learning content outside of class anyway. Survey data collected in 2008 by the medical faculty led to the conclusion that changes in pedagogy had become critical to engaging students. It seems to be working as one first-year student described her reaction to this new model,
“ Interactive learning here facilitates long-term learning. Applying our learning helps us take it to the next level.”
Assessment and Grading: The faculty also have moved from assessments of mainly rote learning to a more balanced assessment system using case studies as a key component of summative assessments, in particular. Students take formative assessments online every other weekend with a final online assessment at the end of each unit of study. Daily online quick checks of content learning take about five minutes at the beginning of class. Each assessment garners points towards a performance-based grade based on standards. Variables that once were used to accrue credit (behavior, attendance in lectures, etc.) no longer are counted in the new standards-based grading system. Students who do not master expectations have the opportunity to study and retake tests. This mastery system is designed to promote successful learning among all students, not failure.
Learning Technologies: Learning through contemporary technologies is ubiquitous in the School of Medicine. Students use personal response systems to provide feedback and respond to questions during their work with faculty. The central lectern demands that faculty use multiple technologies for demonstration purposes, to share case work from any of 30 student teams (6 each), or for assessment. Faculty considers PowerPoint to be a dead presentation approach that “depresses” learning rather than engaging learners. In the two practice centers, Simulation and Clinical Skills, the use of work stations allow faculty to watch or guide teams working with either living “standardized patients” or high-tech mannequins and provide students with real-time performance feedback. In fact, the simulation centers are so realistic that the “docs in training” respond physically (heart rate and blood pressure) similarly to actual practice.
Paper texts are a thing of the past for these medical students. Digital content is available from publishers as well as created by faculty. Students and faculty favor the use of web resources such as 3-D anatomy because 3-D resources are better representations of the body than cadavers, an old technology learning tool.
Learning Spaces:The new School of Medicine represents a holistic approach to learning. Students access multiple spaces; the simulation centers, learning studio, a state of the art learning auditorium, and a lounge space complete with gaming capabilities as well as a baby grand piano.
The learning studio represents a significant transformation from lecture halls of the past. It’s borrowed from the TEAL model put into place at MIT to reduce failures in freshman physics. Students work in teams at round tables (the associate dean says round tables support team learning while square tables separate students) that allow each team to project from a tablet PC onto one of several drop down screens around the circumference of the round room.
A high-tech lectern sits in the middle of the room and any time faculty use it, they teach to multiple presentation spaces, not a dominant teaching wall. Often, faculty co-facilitate learning studio work, sharing their cross-disciplinary expertise.
Faculty development: A new curriculum taught in very different learning spaces, using new technologies, demands new pedagogical approaches. The associate dean talks of the old lecture model as one of “egocentric control.” He shares when he was a student that the days of textbook reading, lecture, and memorization demanded a lot of repetitious work, but not a lot of brain power. He sees the work of students in this year’s class as being far more rigorous than the work he did as a student or assigned as a faculty member. At the same time, the highly motivated group of young people in this first-year class already have impressed faculty members and older medical students with the quality of their questions and depth of knowledge. One lab supervisor commented,
“The questions that these students ask blew me away. I would never have been able to formulate a question like they were asking when I was a first-year medical student.”
For teaching faculty to undertake shifts in teaching practice, assessment and learning expectations, they’ve engaged in over 160 hours of pedagogical coursework. The staff admit it’s been a challenge for some. However, the faculty’s work as learners alongside medical students reaffirms Jefferson’s vision of an Academical Village as well as that of the associate dean who’s led the transformation of UVa’s medical education program, “Here students, residents, practitioners, and teaching docs are all defined as learners.”
My Impressions: I feel as if I’ve seen the near future of what education can be. The medical faculty planners at the University considered the art of possibilities and have taken the risk to create a system of radical innovations in medical education. They did it because they believe it’s what contemporary medical students need today to become the practitioners of tomorrow. They threw out 100 years of tradition and in doing so have created a cutting edge model for both higher education and secondary schooling.
The learning studio looks more like an elementary classroom than anything else. The student lounge reminds me of a photo from the Mozilla offices in California. The auditorium’s set up as a working space, not a listening place. And, the simulation centers remind me of the doctors’ offices, emergency rooms and surgical centers we all have occasion to visit. It’s rigorous and relevant learning that feels like the real world of medicine.
This shift did not come cheaply for the University in staff time, new facilities, or learning resources. However, the investment seems well worth the costs of educating these first-year medical students. I’d like to see this kind of investment in transforming education across America. This kind of learning does not come cheap, but it’s learning to hold dear. Imagine if the billions being spent by the USDOE could support this kind of innovation work. Imagine Technology Enhanced Active Learning(TEAL) in secondary classes everywhere. If the top 1% medical students who attend UVa and the top 1% math-science majors at MIT need this kind of learning, isn’t it a no brainer that all kids would benefit?
Educator in Virginia, creating 21st c community learning spaces for all kinds of learners, both adults and young people
6/10/2011 A Slideshare presentation called:
Future Ready: Academic Libraries on the Edge
Stephen Abram, MLS
Yale Library Research Education Symposium
New Haven, CT
June 9, 2011
The link to the presentation is below:
American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy came out with a lengthy report on the future of our libraries, librarians, technology, patrons and physical space. The entire report is at the link below:
Checking Out the FuturePerspectives from the Library Community on Information Technology and 21st-Century Libraries
“The Office for Information Technology Policy advocates for public policy that supports and encourages the efforts of libraries to ensure access to electronic information resources as a means of upholding the public’s right to a free and open information society.”
It has been a big topic of discussion about the future of all libraries but academic librarians are particularly interested in the topic of academia
Taiga by the Tail | Peer to Peer Review
Barbara Fister, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN
Jun 2, 2011
|Photo by Debora Miller|
An organization of associate university librarians, the Taiga Forum, has organized an annual conference at which they create a list of “provocative statements” about what libraries will look like in five years. They are pretty on target—not in their predictive value, but in their ability to provoke.
This year, they open with a statement that within five years library organizations will flatten. We’ve been hearing this for years, but their notion of flat is a bit more drastic than the usual elimination of middle managers and creation of teams. No, the entire university structure as we know it will “dissolve,” and as a result “libraries will have less autonomy and librarian roles will have been subsumed into other parts of the university.”
This is a reframing of an increasingly common idea that librarians should be working with faculty, not students, that we should be involved in their research process more fully, not just providing faculty with finished publications, and that our offices should be located in academic buildings other than the library. As another statement says, liaison librarians will be involved in creating and curating “institutional content” instead of buying stuff other people produce.
I’m not sure if anyone has warned the faculty that we’re moving in just down the hall, or whether they’d welcome us showing up in their labs, ready to help them produce “institutional content.” They produce knowledge to advance their discipline, not their employing institutions. If the pace of the open access movement offers us a measuring stick, this transformation of librarian roles will not come in five years, and it won’t be librarians holding things back. Even more unlikely is the idea that faculty will be happy to give up office space to a librarian.
Besides, does it make sense to shift our focus from students to faculty when the growing majority of faculty are adjuncts, hired only to teach and without research expectations? A lot of them don’t have offices; imagine how they’d feel if we got a room with a desk and they didn’t.
If librarians were able to move out of the library, though, there will be uses for our vacated offices. Another statement predicts that complementary programs will move in, either by invitation or by invasion. “Librarians will not be able to play the ‘library as place’ card without opening up their spaces to complementary programs.” I’m not aware of libraries using a “place” card to fend off writing centers and tutoring programs, though maybe some are but are simply too embarrassed to confess to such a counterrevolutionary impulse.
Even if we’re making room for squatters, we should still have lots of room to spare since “all library collections, systems, and services will be driven into the cloud.” We’ll keep a few books, because people are sentimental, but they’ll be used only for decoration. I seriously would not want to discuss that prediction with faculty. They might barricade themselves in the library to rescue it from us. Whoever came up with the notion that they would be fooled into thinking the library is still a sacred space by building a Potemkin village of decorator bookcases has not felt the wrath of faculty aroused.
We won’t need room for new books, because in five years only a few “designated” libraries will build collections. The rest of us will just fulfill orders as patrons express needs. I’m not sure who will designate the last libraries to collect, and I’m not sure what not building collections means; is it that librarians won’t be building collections in favor of patron-driven acquisitions? Or does it mean that we won’t expect to get the item back once it’s purchased? I don’t think that’s wise, but I’m old-fashioned that way. So is my chief financial officer. He has this thing about stewardship.
Provoking a response
Responses to this year’s set of statements have been mixed, some librarians saying “what’s new? We’ve heard all these before, and we’re doing half of them already.” Others point out that the first batch of “in five years” predictions didn’t come true, so why should we go into blogging overdrive to respond to the latest?
However we respond, the statements have succeeded by definition. These aren’t predictions, in spite of the “in five years” wording. They are simply (according to the introduction) intended to provoke conversation. But there’s a subtle difference between being “provocative” and merely “provoking.” These statements do provoke, but not always constructively. What really gets under people’s skin is the aggressive and almost hostile wording of the statements.
What are we to make of the tone of this statement? “Successful libraries will have developed rolling plans for staff reallocation, elimination, and retraining. Unsuccessful libraries will have failed to root out resistance to change, driving out their best and brightest.” To be a successful library, you must have a purge. Resistance is futile. Besides, if you resist, you have demonstrated you aren’t one of the cool kids. You’re fired!
The fact that the authors are library administrators affects how they are read. These statements reek with disdain for the everyday work of librarians and their lived experience. Indicating your employees are mostly worthless is not usually the best way for administrators to gear up for a challenging future.
Back to the future of libraries
But gruff criticism of the state of libraries is not new. One curmudgeon chastised the profession for being a haven for misfits and hapless booklovers. “Broken down ministers, briefless lawyers, unsuccessful school teachers, and physicians without patients, especially, are desirous to distinguish themselves as librarians . . . A mere bookworm in charge of a public library, who has not the qualities just named, is an incubus and a nuisance.”
An incubus and a nuisance? Now, that’s provocative.
In the same publication, we find the claim that libraries need to be more than a warehouse for books: “The growth of college libraries does not contemplate the accumulation of large quantities of strictly ephemeral books, and yet many which are very useful for a time are eventually left behind by the progress of the sciences. Some of these, like the moraines along the path of a glacier, are valuable to mark the progress of thought and discovery; but many of them mark nothing in particular but the bookmaking spirit of their authors.” Take that, you hoarders.
And it seems Nicholas Carr wasn’t the first to worry about increasing shallowness. “In the multiplicity of subjects to be studied and things to be learned, we grow impatient. Turning over books leisurely and brooding over subjects till one grows familiar with the great authors of the past, and learns to love them, is seldom indulged in. The daily or weekly newspaper is ever before us. If this and succeeding generations fail to produce scholarship commensurate with their advantages, will it not be largely due to the frittering away of time which might be spent on good authors over short and carelessly written paragraphs on insignificant current events?”
These all come from a report on the state of libraries published by the federal government in 1876. We librarians are, apparently, a chronically dissatisfied lot, and we’ve been harrumphing about the same things for over a decade, now.
By the way, I learned about the 19th century report from a member of the Library Society of the World. For their more visionary, if not hallucinogenic, provocative statements, check out some of their ideas.
Barbara Fister is a librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN, a contributor to ACRLog, and an author of crime fiction. Her latest mystery, Through the Cracks (see review), was published last year by Minotaur Books.
Also from Library Journal, what do the circulation trends tell us about the future of libraries?
Print on the Margins: Circulation Trends in Major Research Libraries
Rick Anderson, Associate Director for Scholarly Resources & Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City Jun 1, 2011
Everyone knows, or assumes, that use of academic libraries’ physical collections—especially of printed books—is dropping. It’s been a topic of discussion for years, and statistics bear out the conventional wisdom: the 2007-08 statistical report of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) indicates a 26% drop in initial circulations for its member libraries since 1991, while the National Center for Education Statistics’ 2006 report on academic library data reports 144.1 million circulation transactions among academic libraries generally, down from 229 million reported by that agency in 1992—a decline of 37%.
Reading behind the numbers
Standard circulation figures don’t tell the whole story, however. Raw traffic and usage numbers do matter, but more important to the future of libraries are trends in the behavior of individual library users.
It’s possible to tease out those trends from the available data but only if we control circulation figures for changes in the size of user populations. In other words, knowing how many books circulate in a given academic library is important, but since it’s the behavior of individual patrons that will determine the future of libraries, it’s much more meaningful to know how many books the average patron checks out.
At most academic institutions, enrollment tends to rise over time. If enrollment rises while circulation numbers remain the same, then the borrowing behavior of individuals is not actually remaining the same—it’s declining.
With these issues in mind, the data for this study were collected as follows:
- Initial circulation data were gathered for each ARL institution beginning in 1995 and ending in 2008 (the most recent data available as of this writing)
- Full-time student enrollment numbers were gathered for the same years
- For each year in the study period, initial circulations divided by full-time students yielded a per student circulation rate
- For each ARL institution, the annual numbers describe a circulation rate trend for the period 1995-2008.
There is not room in this article for a full presentation of all the data, but a spreadsheet with the complete dataset is publicly available. All circulation and enrollment source data are taken from annual ARL statistical reports.
Table 1 (see below) presents three data points for a handful of ARL members (a complete table representing all ARL institutions is also available). The first data point, labeled “% Change (Raw),” indicates the change in initial circulation numbers between 1995 (or earliest available date, as indicated in parentheses following the library name) and 2008. Initial circulations are used because total circulation figures would include renewals, and the purpose of this particular study was to look only at changes in the average number of items checked out per student over time. The second data point, labeled “% Change (Rate),” indicates the degree to which the number of circulations per enrolled student has changed between 1995 (or earliest available date) and 2008.
The third data point indicates the difference (in percent) between the previous two numbers. So, for example, the University of Houston, TX, saw a 54% decline in initial circulations between 1995 and 2008; however, the rate of decline in initial circulations—the decline in the number of initial circulations per enrolled student—during that same period was 64%. In this case, the decrease in circulation rate is 19% steeper than the decrease in raw circulations.
Moving beyond circ
What do these data tell us—and what do they fail to tell us?
While the percentage of change for each column is interesting, perhaps the more compelling data point is the difference between the raw number and the rate. In a few cases, there’s hardly any difference: when adjusted for enrollment, the University of Cincinnati’s circulation decline steepens from 63% to 67%, for example, and MIT’s goes from 56% to 58%. However, in most cases the difference is significant, and in quite a few it’s dramatic. The University of Alabama saw a decline of 31% in initial circulation transactions during the period studied; the adjusted rate of decline, however, is 50%.
Even greater differences can be seen between the raw and controlled circulation data reported by Columbia University (-16% vs. -50%), the University of Illinois at Chicago (-52% vs. -80%), and, most dramatic of all, the University of California, San Diego. There, shallow circulation growth and exploding enrollments have created perhaps the most misleading raw circulation figures of all: initial circulation transactions there have increased by 13% since 1995; however, the number of initial circulations per student has dropped during the same period by 35%. Controlling for enrollment reveals dramatic percentage differences between the change in raw circulation and the per student rate in quite a few cases: UCLA (233%); UC-San Diego (369%); Oklahoma (414%); Pennsylvania (600%); and, most spectacular of all, Johns Hopkins (617%). Not all of these percentage differences represent huge disparities in real numbers, of course—the 600% difference at the University of Pennsylvania is between a 1% increase and a 5% decrease over the period examined—but where large differences exist between apparent and actual circulation trends, they illustrate a real problem with at least one of our traditional measures of library use.
Clues to change
This discussion raises a question, though: Why does per student rate matter more than raw circulation figures? One could argue that circulation is circulation and what keeps a store in business is the amount of merchandise sold, not the number of customers doing the buying. The problem with this view is that it ignores the central importance of individual behavior to the future of libraries. If the average user in 2008 checked out 80% fewer books than the average student in 1995, then there is an important message in that fact for libraries. If enrollment drops, students won’t magically start checking out more books.
Even the specific, individual numbers themselves are not accurate representations of the actual circulation behavior of any typical student: the circulation figures reflect the behavior of faculty members and (in many cases) members of the general public as well, which means that they are artificially high as far as student behavior is concerned. What matters to the future of each library is not so much whether the “typical” student checks out 55 or 58 books per semester but whether the number of items checked out is growing or shrinking and how quickly. What this study seeks to measure for each institution isn’t the exact amount of per student circulation at each institution in any given year but rather the rate of change over time in the number of average per student circulations—in other words, the shape of the curve rather than the exact height of the curve.
It’s also important not to misunderstand the significance of circulation numbers. A library that circulates fewer books isn’t necessarily doing anything “wrong,” nor is it necessarily serving fewer patrons or offering its patrons less service. Actually, a library that moves large amounts of its collection online is likely to see drastically fewer physical circulations even as it fosters greater use of the collection overall by making it available more easily, remotely, and around the clock. Exposing the real extent of circulation declines in ARL members isn’t just to sound an alarm about decreasing use of print collections but rather to expose more fully the shape of changes in patron behavior. Those changes have generally been more radical (in many cases dramatically so) than an examination of the raw circulation figures alone can reveal.
The data in Table 1 strongly suggest that the trend away from print books is even more pronounced than we’ve often understood or assumed. But for each individual library, the trends in the world at large matter less than the trend in that institution. These data, which are general and leave many, many other variables unexamined, should prompt a broader and more rigorous study at each individual library.
|Rick Anderson (email@example.com) is Associate Director for Scholarly Resources & Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake Cityhttp://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/newslettersnewsletterbucketacademicnewswire/890835-440/print_on_the_margins_circulation.html.csp|
Today and the Future of Academic Libraries
From Baby Boomer Librarian Blog
Friday, April 01, 2011