Last week, I was at the 15th Annual International IT Management Conference. The final session was about what the conference attendees should do first thing on Monday once they got back to the office. One of the points made during the session was that people in IT need to “understand their iceberg” meaning that they need to understand the invisible issues that are creating problems in moving forward. According to research by Pink Elephant, these issues constitute the top 10 causes of resistance to improvement efforts.
What was interesting about these points is that it most of them also apply to libraries. The same basic attitudes, behaviors, and cultural elements that impede IT also are present in librarianship and are getting in the way and impeding progress there too.
These issues are:
- The belief that a tool solves all problems. Consider how often we implement a new tool, piece of software, or hardware and expect it to completely solve a problem without any effort on the part of the organization to change or adapt. Clearly, that is not a strategy for success.
- Plan, do, stop is an approach that is indicative of no real commitment to an improvement culture.
Addressing these issues isn’t something that is going to happen in a month or even a year. However, the first step is acknowledging which of these issues are prevalent in your organization and beginning to work on solutions to address them today. That’s the first thing I’m doing tomorrow.
One of the major issues facing academic libraries today is how we demonstrate our relevancy. In this blog post, Why you should listen to librarians about copyright, Nancy Sims in her Copyright Librarian blog makes a number of important points that, while not explicitly posed as relevancy issues, are all directly related to demonstrating relevancy in today’s environment. What is particularly important about Nancy’s post is that it is based on actual research. While some may argue that the research is flawed because it is based on a convenience sample, nonetheless the research that was done demonstrates an important point, which is that librarians do tend to know more about copyright than teaching faculty and librarians can be very helpful when trying to navigate through the difficult issues related to the use of copyrighted material in courses and other educational environments.
For the most part, I agree with Barbara Fister in her recent blog posting The Great Disconnect: Scholars Without Libraries. Our continuing reluctance to embrace open access publishing is slowly killing our academic enterprises. The cost of journals, which perhaps are an outmoded concept in and of themselves, continues to increase at a pace that is unjustifiable given advances in technology and the rate of inflation.
On the other hand, I’m not sure that articles like this do anything to meaningfully change that dynamic. “Why?” you may ask.
It seems that a great deal of traction in the open access movement is lost by the religious fundamentalist approach that is generally taken. The basic jist of this argument is that, “I’m right, you’re wrong and implicitly stupid for not seeing it my way. Because of your stupidity, you are destroying western civilization.” While this might be emotionally satisfying to the person making the argument, it doesn’t do anything to advance the argument. We know from many sociological and psychological studies that this type of argument just turns people off and can, in fact, entrench people even further in their current beliefs.
Perhaps a more useful approach would be to demonstrate the benefits of open access and how it benefits both researcher and institution. If these benefits can’t be demonstrated, then perhaps some rethinking needs to be done.
This analysis from Inside Higher Ed about a comic (that has gone viral) on how bad university websites are points out just how disconnected many academic websites are from their user communities. I don’t think there is much to add to the analysis except for considering how disconnected many library websites may be from their user communities. In particular, what are the library equivalents on the left side of the Venn diagram that need to be replaced by library services more representative of those on the right side of the diagram?
A couple of things on the left side come to mind immediately: the welcome from the director, the slide show of empty computer labs, “news” items that are really marketing pieces with no relevance to services or collections. Some of these things should be on the website but just not on the front page. On the right side, many of the items listed for the university site are also valid for the library: calendar/hours, address and phone number, maps, reserve reading lists, direct seemless access to all resources and not just the catalog.
Last year I attended the Cornell Institute for Computer Policy and Law and while the institute was quite good, the only session of any note on academic libraries was lacking as it was more about preserving the existing order (and stereotypes) than exploring what really needs to change to ensure that academic libraries have any significant relevance in the future. So, I was very glad to see that this year’s session on academic libraries was much more progressive and forward looking.
In the session entitled The Future of the Academic Library: Space, Digitization, Access, and Curation in the New World of Information (available via streaming video), Susan Perry pointed out 10 major issues libraries need to consider as they plan and develop services. While the entire list of issues can be found at Tracy Mitrano’s post The Future of the Academic Library – Law, Policy — and IT? so I’ll emphasis just a few of the major points that I think are particularly cogent along with some of my own comments:
- Within ten years, most academic information will be available in digital format, so the need for space for collections really will markedly decrease;
- Librarians today need to be: intellectually curious, collaborative, technologically sophisticated, good teachers, and adaptable because things are changing to quickly to not be all of these things;
- While the Open Source movement is making many learning materials and computer applications freely available, maintenance of the applications requires staff. It is completely unreasonable to think you can build an infrastructure based on open-source without developing the necessary skills within your staff to maintain these applications;
- Digital asset management and production is the name of the game for the archives of the future;
- Helping students find and evaluate accurate information is probably the most important roles for librarians now. In order to do this librarians, instructional technologists, as well as faculty, must work together.
In this latest report from OCLC Research, A Slice of Research Life: Information Support for Research in the United States, Susan Kroll and Rick Forsman paint a rather bleak picture for libraries as part of the research process. In many ways, the authors discuss and reemphasize many of the points that have been made in several recent studies. For example, the authors find that the “relationships between researchers and traditional library and university support for research have shifted radically.” Additionally, the concept of “satisficing” (accepting an adequate answer or solution over an optimal one) now clearly extends into the research process itself. More troubling for libraries is that the authors find significant evidence that researchers use online tools and commercial services that are discipline-specific in lieu of the more generic tools provided by university libraries. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem that current efforts by libraries to devise new services to manage research data have helped researchers much as they still feel overwhelmed by the disorganized and increasing accumulations of “relevant” data in their fields. Most troubling for libraries is that the authors did not encounter a single respondent in the study who had visited a library for help or assistance while performing their research. The authors state that “researchers do not realize what expertise librarians have to offer their users, are uninformed about services offered, and have little idea what the library might do in the future.” Consequently, the study respondents “did not see libraries as having much to offer in any of these areas as researchers require practical evidence of direct value” and libraries have not provided that to the respondents’ satisfaction. Clearly if libraries are going to maintain any relevancy in the academic arena, they will have to do a better job of providing expertise and services that are relevant to researchers.
Rob Weir’s post today about using library experts in a different way than traditional bibliographic instruction is a breath of fresh air although the basic idea isn’t really new. As he correctly points out, library orientation/instruction sessions are generally boring and pointless exercises. They often attempt to tell people too much in a context that does not relate the information to anything that is really meaningful.
In his post, he suggest that faculty should be doing something different and something that anyone who sees the future of libraries would agree with. The basic jist of what he is doing is:
- Integrate library “instructional” components into the actual content of the course
- In the first go around in the library, just have a 10-minute talk on the importance of journals, how to find them, and how to differentiate an academic journal from a mass audience publication then have the librarian give the students their business card. That’s it – no database demo or other long-winded explanations.
- Have the librarian work with the faculty member to develop a meaningful followup assignment such as locating “a journal germane to their field, read an article, and review it.”
- Follow that up with a conventional assignment such as creating a working bibliography for the project.
- A few weeks later, have the faculty member bring the students back to the library for a quick explanation of what databases are and why they’re essential. Ask each student to state their project and have the librarian offer initial thoughts of a database they might want to consult. Have the students find a database and give them an assignment of “Why My Database Rocks, and Why it Wobbles”
- Finally, have an archive day where students briefly learn about what your university archives may contain. Again, this session is a quick 10 to 15 minutes at the most.
- After midterms, convene the classes in the library and conduct “coaching sessions” where the librarian is in a role of coach, sounding board, content-checker, and occasional cheerleader.
What is the advantage of this approach? Perhaps most importantly it would make the library actually relevant to students. From the library’s perspective, this approach is more likely to meet the goals set up for our information literacy programs. While this approach may be a radical departure for some, it’s something that is long overdue.
Both iPads and e-Book readers have received a lot of press lately. In this article from Knowledge@Warton, the authors pose the question will tablets close the book on e-Readers? and make a convincing case for device convergence. What is especially interesting, however, are the comments to the article. Even though e-Readers have only been in existence for a few years, the dedication some people have to their preferred platform is quite amazing and it would appear that the dedication to those devices is clouding their perceptions on how things could change very quickly again.
In the June 15th edition of CIO magazine, Jeanne Ross discusses some merging aspects of information technology we all should consider. Although the advice to “ignore the technology” is subject to misinterpretation and somewhat naive, the basic metaconcept stands – information technology needs to be about how an organization functions as an enterprise. One off solutions that optimize small pieces of the organization will not work in today’s environment. We need to look at things holistically and work to develop systems from that perspective.
This, interestingly, is where the whole “heroes are bad” idea comes into play. According to Ross, we used to say “do something brilliant and whatever the customer wants.” This created a culture where IT people would perform heroic feats to get things done but that doesn’t work anymore. Heroism is too unpredictable and tends to “just mess up everybody else.” If we do things well in the first place, heroic behaviors will become a thing of the past.