Posts Tagged 'librarians'

Mentors, gender, reluctance: Notes from Taiga panel on leadership at ER&L

As part of Taiga’s efforts to engage in broader conversations with a wide variety of librarians and library communities, I agreed to be on a panel about Leadership at the recent ER&L conference in Austin TX (YeeHaw!). I had a great time with colleagues Damon Jaggars from Columbia University and Kristin Antelman for North Carolina State University both in planning for the panel and on the day of.

Below are my edited notes from my portion, where I talked about mentors, gender, and reluctance/skepticism about moving into formal library leadership positions.

When the 3 of us first starting planning this panel, part of what I volunteered to do is talk about talking about leadership … which sounds really meta, but is really just about how and when and why and with whom you might want to talk to about your interest in library leadership.

Everyone knows good mentors are important – and I want to put a plug in for informal mentors. Some organizations have formal mentorship programs and that’s great, but many successful leaders talk about the important role of informal mentors on their success.

How do you find an informal mentor or mentors?

My colleagues may suggest different strategies, but I’ve found that being active on social media and reading library blogs makes it easier for you to “meet” people whose work and/or career you want to emulate or at least who you might want to learn from. Interact, comment, RT, ask questions. Talk to speakers after talks, even if you don’t have a question – tell them what you liked about their talk, why it resonated. Then later, ask to have coffee w/ them.

You don’t have to formally ask them to be your mentor, but you can tell them what your career aspirations are and ask for some advice. Honestly, most of us are egotistical enough that we are flattered when someone asks for our advice.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret – it isn’t really any advice you get from formal or informal mentors that will pay off.  It is the connection you have made. The adage about it not being what you know but who you know has an element of truth in it. One of the most influential articles in sociology is all about the strength of weak ties. In that research Mark Granovetter shows how it is our weak ties, our acquaintances, not our closest friends or family members, who are most likely to help us get the best jobs. The connections we make at conferences and on social media are exactly the kinds of weak ties that will pay off in helping us find and get the next job.

(Insert abrupt transition here)

And now I want to talk about gender.

Women are less likely to express career ambitions than men, and whatever you think of the advice in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, the research she cites makes it clear that women are (in general, and mostly white women) less likely to engage in the kinds of behaviors and activities that promote their own career advancement, and no wonder …

There is ample research showing that ambition and/or engaging in a range of leadership behaviors (speaking first, speaking confidently, taking charge in leaderless groups) is more likely to be viewed harshly for women, but positively for men.

Sociologist Joan Williams has distilled a huge amount of the research on women and work into a summary of some basic patterns of biases that women face, along with some suggested strategies:

  • “Prove it again”: This pattern refers to the fact that women encounter harsher standards than men, and that women’s success is more likely to be attributed to luck than to competence. Some suggested strategies are for women (and male allies) to vouch for each other and to publicly praise and celebrate each other’s success. Williams suggests that women “form a posse”. Another recommendation is to engage in “gender judo” – that is to adopt a mixture of feminine and masculine behavioral styles. Gender judo is also the recommended strategy for mitigating the effects of “The Tightrope”.
  • “The Tightrope” refers to the fact that women are rarely seen as both competent and nice, so they are forced to walk a tightrope between the two, trying to hit just the right balance to ensure they succeed at work. An additional strategy suggested for this challenge is that women strategically say “no” to some of the “housework” tasks women are typically and disproportionately asked/expected to do (bring the snacks, remember the birthdays, etc.).
  • Another well-documented pattern of discrimination women face is “The Motherhood penalty” – women who are mothers are judged as less committed AND less competent than childless women & than fathers. Williams suggests that an effective strategy to counteract the assumptions behind The Motherhood Penalty is for individual women to be explicit about their own goals & family decisions – whatever they are — and when people question your commitment to either work or family or both, to respond that the choices you are making are working for you (assuming that they are).

Now, to be honest, – Despite the fact that there is apparently some research showing that these strategies are effective (I’m guessing especially for white, straight, cis-gendered women in professional jobs), I’m not super comfortable with the focus on individual rather than organizational or institutional responses to gender bias and other forms of inequity in our organizations.

But … institutional change is slow and hard. And I suspect some combination of individual, organizational, institutional, and societal level strategies is required. And, one potential strategy for making our organizations more inclusive is for more men of color, more women, more people from underrepresented groups of all kinds, to assume leadership. Especially if those people are committed to a more diverse and equitable profession and organization.

And that brings me to my final point – I want to finish this up by talking to those of you who don’t want to be in library administration – especially those of you from underrepresented groups – and people of color and even white women are underrepresented in leadership in libraries relative to their numbers in the profession.

How many of you want to be a “leader” in the library world but can’t picture yourself as an AUL/AD or other high-level administrative leader in libraries? How many have mixed or negative feelings about being a library administrator, and have no desire to ever be a UL? (Note: LOTS of hands shot up).

Do any of these reasons resonate? (Note: Lots of head nodding during this roll call of reasons librarians are reluctant about moving up into formal administrative leadership positions).

  • I don’t want to deal with all “the politics”
  • I don’t want to be “the man”
  • I don’t want to have to compromise my values
  • I could never handle all the bureaucracy and I don’t want to deal w/ budgets
  • I want to have a balanced life

And what I want to say is that I get that … I really do… and I’m not going to tell anyone to Lean In when they want to Lean Out. I say Lean whatever way you want … AND I want to leave you with this thought:

If all of you who don’t want to play politics, who don’t want power & influence to change your values, and who want to have a healthy work life balance shy away from leadership positions; it might mean that you are leaving the leadership of our profession in the hands of those who aren’t concerned about those things …

 

The unbearable whiteness of librarianship

Yep, I’m still harping on that theme of the stark lack of diversity in librarianship. For a profession that claims Diversity as  a core value and declares that “We value our nation’s diversity and strive to reflect that diversity by providing a full spectrum of resources and services to the communities we serve” to be so lacking in diversity is embarrassing.

How far from reflecting our nation’s diversity are we in terms of credentialed librarians? Using the ALA Diversity Counts data and comparing it to US Census data for 2013, and US Census projections for 2060, it is clear to me that we are nowhere close.

There are a few different ways to illustrate the disparities between the racial make-up of credentialed librarians and the current and future US population.

For the visual crowd, a simple bar chart comparing percentage of librarians by race (2010, based on ALA Diversity Counts data), with percentage of US population by race in 2013, and projected percentage of US population by race in 2060:

Bar chart of Racial composition of Librarians vs US Population (2013, 2060)

Racial composition of Librarians vs US Population (2013, 2060)

For those who like pie (and who doesn’t like pie?) try these:

Racial composition of librarians, 2010, pie chart

Racial composition of librarians, 2010

Racial composition of US population, 2013, pie chart

Racial composition of US population, 2013

Projected racial composition of US Population, 2060, pie chart

Projected racial composition of US Population, 2060

Another way to grok just how far we are from reflecting our nation’s diversity is to engage in a simple statistical thought experiment about what it would take for us to achieve a racial composition that reflected the US population. Let’s look at the total number of credentialed librarians as reported by ALA, and see what those numbers would look like if our racial composition reflected our nation:

Total credentialed librarians (2010, ALA Diversity Counts): 118,666

Total White librarians: 104,392
US Census data tells us that whites make up 63% of the US population, so if librarianship reflected the nation’s diversity, there would be only 74,760 white librarians, or nearly 30,000 fewer white librarians than our current numbers.

Total African-American librarians: 6,160
The US Population is 15% African-American, which would translate to a total of 17,800 African-American librarians if we were representative. That’s 11,640 more African-American librarians than we have currently.

Total Latino/a librarians: 3,661
A representative librarianship would be 17% Latino/a, which would equal 20,173 Latino/a librarians, or 16,512 more than our current numbers.

Total Asian/Pacific Islander librarians: 3,260
Asian/Pacific Islanders make up 5.3% of US Population, so we need 6,289 Asian Pacific/Islander librarians, or 3,029 more than we currently have, to be representative.

Total librarians of 2 or more races: 1,008
People of 2 or more races make up 2.4% of the US Population, which would equal 2,848 librarians or 1,840 additional librarians of 2 or more races.

Total Native American (including Alaskan Native) librarians: 185
The US Population is 1.2% Native American (including Alaskan Native), meaning a representative librarianship would include 1,424 Native American (including Alaskan Native) librarians – an increase of 1,239 over current numbers.

Here’s a table comparing the actual racial composition of librarianship with a hypothetical world in which we “reflected our nation’s diversity”, with an extra column to show the sheer change needed to get there:

Racial composition of librarians vs Representative librarianship

Racial composition of librarians vs Representative librarianship

Another way to look at it is to consider a 10 year plan to diversify librarianship. Even pretending that the US population would wait for us to catch up (i.e. if the racial composition of the US stayed steady) we would need to replace nearly 3,000 white librarians every year with over 1,000 African-American librarians, 1,650 Latino/a librarians, 300 Asian/Pacific Islander librarians, 180 multi-racial and 120 Native American/Alaskan Native librarians. A 5 year plan would require double those numbers.

This is not all I have to say on this topic, but it is all I got for today.

P.S. This post is not about the gender disparity in librarianship. That is a whole other topic, and not the one I’m talking about here. Please don’t ask me about gender here. Pretty please.

Working on the “pipeline problem” in librarianship

The lack of diversity in librarianship is stark and well-documented. Before speculating on how to change things, it seems wise to document efforts already in place. Below are some of the efforts I know of to increase diversity in MLS/MLIS programs – in other words, efforts to deal with the “pipeline problem”:

Project IDOL (Increasing Diversity of Librarians):

a collaboration between the Wayne State University School of Library and Information Science and theHistorically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Library AllianceWSU SLIS and the HBCU Library Alliance have received funding from the IMLS Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program to increase the diversity of the library profession.  In this 3-year project, the two partner organizations will recruit, mentor, and provide an online Master of Library and Information Science degree to 10 students from historically underrepresented groups in order to achieve greater diversity among practicing library professionals. SLIS will provide the education with its online MLIS format and the HBCU library alliance will assist with recruitment and retention through mentorship of the selected students by library professionals with senior level experience and prior mentorship training.

LAMP (LIS Access Midwest Program):

The LIS Access Midwest Program (LAMP) is a regional network ofacademic libraries and information science schools dedicated to promoting careers within the field of library and information science (LIS). The program accomplishes this goal by encouraging promising under-graduate and incoming graduate students to participate in activities and events designed to increase their awareness of the profession and provide support for subsequent graduate studies in library and information science. LAMP specifically seeks to encourage the participation of students from statistically and historically underrepresented populations in LIS.

i3 (iSchool Inclusion Initiative):

The iSchool Inclusion Institute (i3) is an undergraduate research and leadership development program that prepares students from underrepresented populations for graduate study and careers in the information sciences. Each year 20 undergraduate students from across the country are selected to become i3 Scholars. Those students undertake a year-long experience that includes two summer institutes held at the University of Pittsburgh and a year-long team research project. Although an intensive and challenging program, i3 prepares students for the rigor of graduate study and research in the information sciences. The U.S.-based iSchools value the preparation provided by i3 and actively recruit i3 Scholars to their graduate programs.

Knowledge River:

Knowledge River is a Tucson-based educational experience within the School of information Resources and Library Science (SIRLS) that focuses on educating information professionals who have experience with and are committed to Latino and Native American populations. Knowledge River also fosters understanding of library and information issues from the perspectives of Latino and Native Americans and advocates for culturally sensitive library and information services to these communities.  Since its inception, Knowledge River has become the foremost graduate program for training librarians and information specialists with a focus on Latino and Native American cultural issues. To date, over 145 scholars have graduated from this program. This was and still is a nationally unprecedented milestone that can be attributed to the outstanding support that scholars are provided with.

I’m still pretty new to looking at, writing about, and trying to work on diversity and social justice issues in/of/for libraries, and I confess that I didn’t know about these programs until recently. I thank my twitter colleagues for keeping me honest and informed. If there are programs designed to recruit, retain, and support librarians from underrepresented groups that I’ve left out, please let me know.

I also have to add that although these programs all sound fantastic and deserve support, even combined they barely make a dent in the overall whiteness of librarianship. Also, most of these programs are grant-funded. What would it take to get permanent funding for a really big, consequential diversity initiative in librarianship? I guess that is the big question.

Lack of diversity by the numbers in librarianship and in book stuff

When we talk about diversity and social justice in libraries and librarianship, it is good to know exactly what we are dealing with:

Initial thoughts and feels from #taiga9

Well, that was intense; and I am exhausted.

I’m actually writing this on the plane on the way home to my wife, my kid, and my dog; and I may well decide to publish without editing as a way of capturing my own immediate, raw thoughts and feels about the Taiga Forum we just had. These are going to be my personal opinions, and I have no idea whether others on the Taiga Steering Committee share them — which is why I’m posting them here and not at Gentle Disturbances. We will be posting the notes and speaker slides and stuff over at Gentle Disturbances in the coming days.

In many ways, I’m feeling pretty proud of the work my colleagues and I did in planning and hosting the Taiga 9 Forum on Diversity in Academic Libraries. Our speakers were fantastic – I have nothing but love for Christine Williams, Courtney Young, and Mark Puente.  Ditto for Dale Askey and Jenn Riley for joining me on our morning panel; and for Amy Kautzman for kicking things off and Susan Parker for being our facilitator.

The overall discussions throughout the day were good, and I was especially impressed with the honesty and humility displayed by many who spoke up. I am especially happy and deeply grateful for the fact that the event brought people together in a room for a day who might not otherwise have connected. I have personally already reaped many benefits from new connections with some incredible people – many of whom have restored shored up my faith in the future of libraries & librarianship as radical forces for social justice.

All of the above is true; and at the same time, there are plenty of things I’ll want to do differently next time:

  • I think calling the forum Diversity in Academic Libraries contributed to a struggle I had (and many shared) with the fact that our conversations tended to stay at the personal level and we had a very hard time acknowledging and talking about systemic, structural inequalities. I’m thinking a title like “Social Justice & Libraries” would be better. Suggestions welcome. Note that I don’t think the title of the forum was the only thing that kept us from tackling structural inequality and privilege, but it didn’t help.
  • The physical set-up of the room was not good for group discussion. We had rows of chairs and a packed room. Next time, we need more space, probably tables for small groups, and structured opportunities for people to talk in smaller groups.
  • I really wish I had come to the event much more solidly prepared with some ideas for concrete action that might come out of the event. I wanted to be open-minded about that part; but truthfully that is no excuse for not having done some hard thinking ahead of time on tangible outcomes.
  • We had a keynote speaker and two panels. While we had decent diversity amongst those on the stage (a few too many of us white women, IMO), what I didn’t realize (but should have) until someone pointed it out, was that the keynote speaker and the morning panel were all white, and our only speakers of color constituted the afternoon panel. Yep – I put together an agenda on diversity that had segregated speaker panels. WTF was I thinking? That damn sure won’t happen again.
  • I’m still wrestling with the frustration voiced in Eternally at the Starting Line #taiga9. I think the gist of the frustration is captured by the question “How effective or useful is a forum on diversity if most/many participants do not have a basic grounding on the relevant topics?” I actually have no idea how many of our participants have a basic grounding in the topics, but I didn’t think that the conversations we had were dominated by the kind of counter-productive “stopping so privileged people can get educated on racism, sexism, ableism, classism, etc.” dynamic that often accompanies these topics. That crept in, but I don’t think it was pervasive.  But of course, that’s just my perspective; and it is a biased and privileged one. Others may well have experienced it differently and that’s valid.
  • It is no surprise that people came to the discussion with different levels of prior engagement with the issues, and that makes these conversations difficult and understandably frustrating for many. There absolutely are people who are still at the starting line, but/and I truly believe they want to move forward.  And I think it is important to provide spaces for them to do so (we’re librarians – we want to encourage learning, right?).  But no forum or event can simultaneously be a “Privilege & Inequality 101” classroom, and a space for organizing and acting. In hindsight, a clearer articulation of the goals of the forum might have helped with this. I wanted to do ALL THE THINGS, I guess.
  • I think I’m going to want to send out a list of readings ahead of time if/when I plan another event on these (or maybe any) topics. Better yet, start a list and ask those who are coming to the event (and others) to help build it (turns out I don’t know all the answers – or all the research).
  • Finally, next time I’ll stop saying “I’m not a hugger” every damn time I hug someone. I think if you hug more than 5 people in a day, you might be a hugger. I blame @tressiemcphd.

There’s probably lots more, but these are the thoughts and feels that are on this plane with me right now.

(Note: If anyone thinks this is me beating myself up, don’t. This is just me trying, ever so imperfectly, to learn out loud.)

Curiouser and curiouser: Librarianship in Wonderland

I was invited to give a talk to the Education and Outreach librarians at Dartmouth College in honor of the 10 year anniversary of their Education and Outreach Program.  Text and some of the slides from the talk are below:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Laura asked me to talk today about how librarians need to position themselves in the evolving landscape of higher education. What a great topic — broad enough that I get to be a bit creative, but specific enough that to ensure that I focus.  Best of all, it is an important topic and is an issue I spend considerable time thinking about.  I appreciate the opportunity to try out some ideas about the enduring role of librarians in a rabidly changing world, and see what resonates.

The landscape of higher education is certainly evolving – at what can sometimes feel like a dizzying pace. It seems as if we just got used to the impact of the internet, when along came mobile & cloud computing, the open access movement, big data, and MOOCs.

There have been too many major changes in higher education that have affected libraries and librarians to list them all — but there are certain signals of change that stick with me as watershed moments.
Slide02

For example, when Google Books released its mobile app in 2010, we at the Stanford Libraries were pretty happy to see that our 1920 edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was 1 of the 3 sample books that readers received automatically when they downloaded the app. This book was scanned by Google as part of the audacious mass scanning project we embarked on with Google and 4 other libraries back in 2005.  And now this classic piece of literature was available to everyone, for free, to read on their cell phones. In many ways, this milestone represented a real triumph for the classic mission of libraries – providing access to information to as many people as possible. But it also marked another chapter in librarianships’ own adventure into a future that can seem  curiouser and curiouser by the day.

Lately, I find myself sympathetic to Alice’s bewilderment at the wholly unfamiliar antics and abilities of otherwise familiar things — Cheshire cats, talking playing cards tasked with painting rose bushes, and of course, that talking rabbit who’s constantly checking the time.

I also find it rather too easy to relate to Alice’s consternation at her own constantly shifting size in relation to her surroundings.

If we go back just 15 years to the birth of Google itself, it sometimes feels like we’ve been falling quickly down a rabbit hole, where suddenly libraries are bookless, classes don’t require classrooms, and students are running around – White Rabbit-like – reading books on their phones.

Slide06

And the role of the librarian in this wonderland of higher education can sometimes seem outsized and radically more important than ever before, while at other times we seem in danger of shrinking from view so dramatically that we may fade from the scene altogether.

Now, I don’t want to imply that librarians are scared little girls overwhelmed by an unfamiliar landscape they don’t understand and can’t control. That is far too gendered for my political tastes, and a far more passive view of librarianship than the one I embrace. But I do think there are some lessons for us (and for our patrons) in how Alice navigates the strange world she finds herself in.

Alice’s experiences are curiouser and curiouser to her, but she herself also becomes curiouser and curiouser throughout the story – trying new things, asking plenty of questions, and maintaining a healthy skepticism when things get especially absurd or unjust.

For most of the story, Alice is actually directing much of her own adventure and controlling her own size by choosing when and what to eat and drink and by learning through trial and error what works – a drink of potion to shrink, a bite of cake to grow, and a bit of both sides of the mushroom to get to just the right size.

Alice asks for help from others she encounters on her adventure, willing to learn from a talking mouse and a hookah-smoking caterpillar.

She gamely joins the Queen’s croquet match—even though it features flamingos for mallets, live hedgehogs for balls, and doubled-over soldiers as wickets.

Alice more than holds her own throughout the adventure.  Even in this strange world she shows the courage to call things as she sees them—declaring the mad-hatters tea party “the stupidest tea-party ever”, and standing up to a Queen intent of chopping off heads for any reason at all.

Like Alice, I believe that librarians are more than capable of navigating this new and changing and sometimes unfamiliar landscape; and that we can and do figure out how to be the right size depending on the context and the task at hand. We do this by embracing the adventure and by remaining curious.

And by curious I mean to invoke both senses of the word – curious as in eager to learn, and curious as in unusual or unexpected.

Before I go too far down the rabbit hole with this analogy, let me just make my point as plainly as I can:

In the evolving landscape of higher education, I believe the enduring mission and role of librarians is to remain curious and to inspire and facilitate curiosity in others.

I will freely admit that this is hardly an original thought. Those of you who read library blogs might be familiar with a blogger who goes by the pseudonym, the Library Loon. The Loon teaches in an MLS program, and in a recent blog post titled “The one skill”, she declares curiosity and the ability to satisfy that curiosity as the essential skill that all information professionals ought to possess.

More specifically, she talks of actionable curiosity in the face of novelty – that combination of desire and ability to respond to new things and to changes in the landscape with an open and teachable attitude.

Not unlike Alice’s attitude as she wandered through Wonderland, talking to animals, having tea with rabbits, gamely trying to solve unsolvable riddles, and playing croquet with playing cards.

I love this direct privileging of curiosity as the essential trait for librarianship.  The context of our work both within libraries and within higher education has changed dramatically over just the last 15-20 years, and the pace of change shows no signs of slowing down. It is hard to argue that the one enduring skill that will serve librarians well in the face of constant change is an eagerness to learn.

And, I want to take it a bit further, and suggest that for librarians who work directly with patrons, especially with students, it is not enough to possess this trait ourselves – I think it is our calling and perhaps our unique duty to model intellectual curiosity and to actively seek to pass it on to the students we encounter.

This emphasis on curiosity matches well the philosophy that guides much of what we do at Stanford – when asked in an interview for the Discovery Channel’s Curiosity project to define a Great Library, my boss, University Librarian Michael Keller noted that a great library is not necessarily one with a great big collection, but is one that stimulates curiosity and inspires the imagination.  Each library, he says is an opening point to a vast literature which is (hopefully) available somewhere. It is the librarian’s duty to open the doors to that vast world of information for those who seek it.  It is also our privilege to inspire in others the desire to seek and explore the world of resources provided by the vast network of libraries across the globe.

Let me pause here and acknowledgement that this whole talk may be an exercise in preaching to the choir.

Obviously, the importance of intellectual curiosity is already part of your culture here at Dartmouth – I love the fact that your website declares that the library is where intellectual curiosity is rewarded. And I love that part of your library vision statement is to inspire personal transformation.

Although Dartmouth and the library here are undoubtedly special, you are not unique in a focus on the importance of intellectual curiosity.  Many selective schools, like Dartmouth and Stanford, look for signs of intellectual curiosity during the admissions process. Many more include promoting intellectual curiosity as one of their goals – usually alongside other grand overarching and  transformative goals such as encouraging open-mindedness & an appreciate for diversity, fostering critical thinking skills, and developing the ability to communicate clearly and persuasively.

The bad news part of this story is that there is plenty of research suggesting that colleges are actually not doing a very good job at accomplishing any of these goals.  In the 2011 book Academically Adrift, the authors present fairly compelling evidence that most students show little to no gain in critical thinking, complex reasoning or written communication skills during college. Former Harvard President Derek Bok made similar claims in his 2007 book Our Underachieving Colleges, and again in his newest book Higher Education in America.  Although he doesn’t specifically address curiosity, Bok notes that undergraduates are not learning as much as most people think they are, and that students are making only modest progress in acquiring the key intellectual skills of critical thinking, writing, and analysis of problems.

Moreover, most students approach college as a primarily social rather than academic experience; while many of their parents and much of the American public see college as primarily serving a more narrow credentialing or job training function, rather than an expansive intellectual one. Increasingly, what students want from their undergraduate experience is marketable skills and the credentials they need to secure a decent job in today’s economy. And who can blame them?

So, in some ways, attempting to inspire intellectual curiosity in our students might seem like a fool’s errand. They aren’t really looking to be inspired; perhaps especially by librarians of all people; and even when we try, the likelihood that we would truly spark the intellectual imagination of any given student is pretty low.

Maybe I’m an idealist (actually, there’s no maybe about it, I am on record as a hopeless idealist), but I‘m arguing that we should do it anyway. We all know that it does actually work sometimes.  Many of us can perhaps point to a particularly compelling past experience with a library or librarian as part of what inspired us to careers in librarianship.  And I’m pretty confident that we all have at least one story from a student who was truly inspired by their encounter with a librarian.

I suspect I’m not the only one who prints out and keeps emails from students like this one:

I especially want to thank you for introducing me to the wonders of the library. Seriously, I never realized ever in my life how satisfying and fun it could be to do research. I would look for one book and end up coming out with five every time I went to the library. Thanks for helping me develop the skills I need for research in the future.

I don’t really believe it is a fool’s errand to seek to inspire intellectual curiosity and excitement about learning in our students. I do believe it is hard, and I suspect we succeed less often than we want to, but more often than we know.

So how do we do that? How do we inspire and facilitate curiosity in our education and outreach efforts with students?

First, I think we need to nurture and cultivate and indulge our own curiosity. And of course, that is one of the things that I love about librarians – they are some of the most curious people I know. But/and, like the Library Loon says, we have to be willing to enact that curiosity in the face of new and novel ideas and technologies. Like Alice, we need to react to a world that will continue to become curiouser and curiouser with the spirit of an adventurer.

Slide16

It might be a good time to point out that Alice willingly followed the rabbit down the hole because she was getting restless sitting on the bank with her sister. She tried reading over her sister’s shoulder but found a plain old print book to be a bit boring. She imagined that a book that was more than just words on pages might be more engaging.  Then she sees a talking rabbit with a pocket-watch, and she follows after him with “a burning curiosity”.

I think some of the best things librarians can do for the profession and for our patrons is to stay a bit restless, to imagine new modes of conveying information, and to pursue new ideas, new technologies, new ways of teaching, and new forms of scholarship with a “burning curiosity”.  I’m not suggesting we follow every new trend in higher education blindly – for me, curiosity is most effective when tempered with a healthy dose of skepticism. An eagerness to learn about something new doesn’t have to imply an eagerness to adopt it.

So the first step in inspiring curiosity is to stay curious ourselves.

The second step is to be explicit about communicating to students how much fun research and learning can be.  I’d like to encourage us to be unabashedly enthusiastic about what we do and about the joy and delight that often accompanies the pursuit of an intellectual question.  Many of today’s students may not want to hear it; some of them may think we’re crazy or giant nerds or both; but some of them will be inspired.  Teach to them. Focus on those students – the ones open to inspiration. And realize that we can’t know ahead of time which students will be the ones.  Show all of them through your own honest enthusiasm how exhilarating it can be to start with an idea or a question and to develop strategies to discover and evaluate information pertinent to that question.  Demonstrate curiosity.  When a student asks a tough reference question; or even one of those impossible ones where they believe in the existence of some data or resource that we know doesn’t exist, respond with “Well that’s an interesting question – tell me more about why you’re curious about that?”

A few months ago, my colleague Kelly Miller at UCLA shared with me a handwritten thank you note she received this June from a graduating senior who wrote “you were the first person to show a real interest in my research question and you made me believe it was important.”  Again, I know it doesn’t happen often (especially the handwritten note part!), but we can and do inspire students to indulge their curiosity. And I believe that the more explicitly we make that our intent, the more often it will happen.

So, to wrap it up – how should librarians position themselves in the evolving landscape of higher education? My own curious dream is that we position ourselves as champions of curiosity.
Slide17

Sometimes scholars do tell us how the library impacted their work

Thank you

If only scholars thanked those who contributed to their work …(Thank you by Avard Woolaver)

Like all of higher education, libraries are under increasing pressure to demonstrate their value by showing how our collections and services impact the teaching and research missions of our institutions. I have argued before that a Return on Investment approach is a bad idea, and that the value of libraries is both very real and very hard to measure. And more recently I put out a plea for us to stop equating frequency of use with importance when it comes to library resources.

One major problem with almost all of the ways we try to measure the impact of our resources is that our measures are poor proxies for what we are really trying to assess.  Even citation analyses aimed at measuring how much of our holdings are cited in dissertations and faculty publications produces a sloppy and imprecise measure of actual impact. Putting aside the issues of drive-by citations, coercive citations, and negative citations; it is also the case that scholars get materials from many sources besides the library. A citation to something in our collection is not a reliable indicator that the scholar used our copy of the item in their research.  So, citation analyses are likely to overestimate the impact of our collections. Moreover, citation analyses provide no means of assessing the impact of our staff and our services.

Wouldn’t it be great if scholars would just tell us straight up when our collections, services, and staff contributed in tangible ways to their research? I mean, what if they just outright said things like:

The friendly staffs at Green Library, Crown Law Library, and Cubberley Education Library were also invaluable.

~Richard Cottle in Stanford Street Names, 2005

Many, many thanks for the guidance and invaluable resources provided by Maggie Kimball, Stanford University archivist, Dennis Copeland, director of the California Collection at the Monterey Public Library, … Joe Wible, head librarian at Hopkins Marine Station’s Miller Library; Neal Hotelling at the Pebble Beach archive …

~Susan Shillinglaw in A Journey into Steinbeck’s California, 2006

Obviously scholars do acknowledge the impact of libraries on their work — they do so in the acknowledgements sections of their books. In my opinion, acknowledgements provide the most direct measure of the impact of library collections and services on research.

If you want to hear more about how the amazing Jacque Hettel and I are analyzing acknowledgement data, come hear our snapshot talk at DLF.   Jacque has created a text corpus of acknowledgements of Stanford libraries from books published over the past 10 years. We are busy analyzing those acknowledgements to understand which library departments get the most shout-outs (hint: Special Collections and InterLibrary Borrowing are in the lead) and whether there are disciplinary differences in whether scholars acknowledge the library generally and/or whether they single out specific individuals. We also plan to explore those acknowledgements that mention multiple libraries as a way to visualize networks of libraries across disciplines.

If we really want to know how our libraries impact scholarship, we should be paying careful attention to what scholars actually say about us when they are acknowledging those people and resources that contributed to their research.

A kinder, gentler Taiga

A few months ago I agreed to join the steering committee of the Taiga Forum. The Taiga Forum is perhaps best known for its (in)famous Provocative Statements, which have not been universally well-received by the library community. In fact, I have been a bit critical of past Provocative Statements myself.

So, why would I agree to join the steering committee? Because I do believe in the potential of a group of AUL/ADs from across types of libraries and across functional areas to make meaningful contributions to the key conversations about libraries. I want there to be a forum for AUL/ADs to engage with one another and with the broader community of folks who care about higher education and the role of libraries. I want to be part of a thriving community of practice, made up of leaders from different types of libraries and spanning every functional area within libraries. And I decided that if I wanted something like that to exist, I ought to be willing to try to make it happen.

I am excited about the launch of the new collaborative Taiga blog, Gentle Disturbances (for an explanation of the title, see my initial post); which I see as a sort of library version of the Scholarly Kitchen (but with better gender balance). While the members of the steering committee have all committed to blogging regularly on topics we hope will spur productive conversations, we also hope to have plenty of guest bloggers from the broader community of library (and library-related) leaders.

I am also pleased that Taiga is looking to engage with the library community in a more diverse set of venues–expanding beyond our current presence at DLF Forums and at ALA meetings to include other relevant major conferences and meetings. My goal is that Taiga will provide programming and conversations that are useful not only to the AUL/AD community, but to the broader community as well. To do that, we need feedback and input from everyone, and we need to be willing to listen and to engage.

I am convinced that the members of the steering committee are all committed to a new, more interactive approach to leveraging the perspectives of the Taiga community for the good of libraries.  But we do need your help — if you are going to ALA, please consider dropping by our “happy hour” on Friday, June 28 between 2pm and 4pm at the M/X bar in the Hyatt Regency at McCormick Place (next to the McCormick Place. North Building).  Please also follow us on twitter, follow the blog, and leave your comments over there.

Libraries and the public good

just got back from a fantastic visit with the Penn State Libraries, where I had the chance to give a revised version of my Beyond measure: Valuing libraries talk. If you want to watch the Penn State version, I’m told the video will be up for a little while (I suggest fast-forwarding past me talking so you can get to the part where the Penn State folks have some great comments and questions).

In this version of the talk, I expanded a bit on the ALA Core Values I talked about by adding some stuff about Democracy and the Public Good. Here’s the new intro:

I want to start out by being very clear about where I’m coming from and who I am – this talk is motivated by a deep and abiding belief in the transformative power of higher education, both for individuals and for societies, and an equally firm conviction that in a healthy democracy, education exists outside of and separate from market forces. While I’m sure some, maybe most colleges and universities, and their libraries, could be run more efficiently, I categorically reject the argument that they should be run like a business. Businesses are run with the intent of producing profit – a private good, while education is intended to produce an educated society – a public good. The original goal of education as a social institution in this country was to produce an informed citizenry who could participate in their own governance through the democratic process. I still believe in the importance of that goal, and I likewise believe that Libraries contribute to that public good, and should be run and judged accordingly. In terms of library values, democracy is about an informed citizenry and about the rights of citizens to both free expression and to access to the free expressions of others. Dictionary.com tells me that public good refers to “a good or service that is provided without profit for society collectively.”

So again, as we face pressure to run our libraries more like a business, it is critical that we remember the difference between public goods and private ones, and between societal motives and profit motives. If we truly believed in libraries as Public Good, I suspect we would more quickly reject the “run libraries like a business” rhetoric.

I tried to weave the themes of democracy and the public good throughout the talk, and used some Penn State examples this time, but otherwise the talk is pretty similar to the earlier version, so I’m not going to bother posting the text here. I also talked about less formal acknowledgements, using a great example from Kelly Miller at UCLA. Kelly had recently shared on Facebook a quote from a hand-written thank you note she got from a graduating senior: “You were the first person to show an interest in my research. You made me feel like my work mattered.”  That kind of note is a way better testament to the value (and values) of librarians than reference stats could ever be.

I started thinking about the public good aspect of libraries and higher education after watching Tressie McMillan Cottom talking about for profit colleges on Dan Rather and on MOOCs and For Profit Universities at UC Irvine. If you care about the future of education, you should be paying attention to what Cottom is saying.

For me, thinking about libraries and the resources and services we provide as a public good, contributing to an informed citizenry, has been very powerful. That night I sent a note to our awesome government documents librarian James Jacobs and asked him to put together a blog post that might help readers make some sense of the conflicting accounts and opinions on the NSA data gathering story. I think the resulting post on history and context to the NSA leaks provides a great example of a way libraries and librarians can actually enact those values of democracy and the public good. I think our internship program for first generation college kids is another example. Hosting a reading for the new independent journal As/Us, which highlights the work of women of color, indigenous women and other underrepresented writers, was a way of enacting our commitment to diversity.

The truth is, preparing for and giving these talks has made me much more conscious about trying to find ways to act on the values that drew me to a career in higher education and libraries in the first place. Maybe the rest of y’all do that kind of stuff all the time, but I’m finding that I need a little reminder and a little inspiration. So consider this fair warning that I’m probably going to keep on being corny and talking and thinking about values for a little while longer. I definitely need to continue to wrestle with the idea of libraries and higher education as a public good. The PSU crowd asked some very good challenging questions that have really got me thinking.

Beyond measure: Valuing libraries

This is a longer read than usual, but here is the text and some of the images from the keynote address I gave at The Acquisitions Institute 2013.  The slides are available too (PPT download), but aren’t very informative without the text.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I asked Stacey and the rest of the planning committee what I should talk about, they assured me that I didn’t need to talk specifically about acquisitions, which is good since I’ve never been an acquisitions librarian.  In fact, in my first job as a subject librarian for social sciences, I got in trouble with the acquisitions department because I was a complete slacker about reviewing the books on my approval shelf.

So anyway, the planning committee suggested that I talk about the big picture, the library landscape in general, maybe addressing key trends affecting libraries.  And that is what most conference keynotes do these days — they talk about changes, in higher education, in the expectations of patrons, in teaching, learning, research; and then lay out some ideas about how we should respond.  But I know that Susan Gibbons, the University Librarian at Yale already covered that ground in what looks like an excellent keynote here last year; so it seemed risky to try to follow that.

Now, I also talked to some key informants, folks who are veterans of the Acquisitions Institute, and they told me that this is actually a very, very practical group. They warned me not to get too theoretical or abstract, since you all actually really like to hear very practical talks, with real concrete ideas you can take back home. I was told I should keep things pretty real if I wanted to keep your attention.  I was kind of hoping great slides with awesome images would do the trick, but apparently y’all expect some substance too. Good for you.

But practical — well I appreciate that, and I suspect that many of my colleagues and friends would say I am a very practical, task oriented, no-nonsense kind of person… but I have to be honest with you that the issues I’ve been thinking about the most, and that I think libraries and librarians need to think about more, are pretty theoretical. In fact, I may as well admit up front that a not so subtle sub-theme running throughout this talk is the fact that I think libraries could use a little more idealism right now. So, if you will indulge me in a bit of lofty idealism, I promise some pretty good images, a cat reference, some zombies, and even a few practical ideas towards the end.

So let me give you a little roadmap of what I intend to talk about:

Slide01

Beyond measure: this will be a central theme running through my talk, so I figure I should explain what I mean by it right up front. I believe that the value of libraries is beyond measure in the sense that the impact of our collections, our services, and our people — and in fact, the impact of the very existence of libraries — is very real and is also very, very, very hard to measure.

I also think recent trends towards measuring everything and relying on metrics (usually business metrics) to defend our value is actually likely to contribute to a further diminishing of our true value to our institutions and to society in the long-term.  I am worried that some of what we are doing now to try to measure and/or increase the value of our own individual libraries may actually contribute to a devaluing of libraries writ large.

What do I mean then, by Valuing Libraries? I want to use the phrase “valuing libraries” to mean 3 things:

  1. The first way I mean it is as an encouragement to libraries and librarians to assert the core values of librarianship and the valuable role of library in democratic society.  This theme is about story telling and about taking charge of our own image and message; and it is about being willing to be idealistic in our attitudes, our actions, and our messages.
  2. A second meaning for me of the phrase valuing libraries is the way in which we express those core library values in the work we do and in how we do it.  It is about highlighting the ways in which our values animate our work and the choices we make; and it is about a call to re-inject the core values of libraries and of our parent institutions into our work and our decision-making. It is also about making sure our core values inform our approaches and responses to changes in higher education and to new kinds of teaching and new forms of research and publication.
  3. Finally, I’m going to talk about valuing libraries in the sense of assessing the value of libraries; And while I just said that I think it is nearly impossible to measure our true value and impact, I’ll share with you a couple of ideas we are playing with at Stanford that I think could be pretty cool.

How are libraries valued, and what can we do about it?
It is a peculiar time for libraries right now with respect to our social image. On the one hand, all sorts of smart and cool and famous people are willing to publicly proclaim their love of libraries — usually expressed as a love of books, or of quiet spaces, or of magical reference librarians; while on the other hand, plenty of folks are privately or publicly wondering whether we really need libraries anymore.

An example of this is the recent op-ed piece by Michael Rosemblum where he basically trashes libraries in the Huffington Post, saying he doesn’t need libraries anymore. But a counter to that is the fact that within 24 hours some energetic librarians set up a tumblr account in response to Rosemblum’s nastygram, where people are sharing stories of how libraries changed their lives.

A few months ago, Joyce Carol Oates declared her preference for print books on Twitter by claiming that “ebooks are to actual books as pictures of cats are to actual cats curled & purring in your lap as you read”.  That tweet was retweeted wildly by librarians across the twitterverse, who I think saw it as a sort of rallying cry for the value of libraries as the last bastions of a print culture holding out against the onslaught of inferior digital texts.

And then there is the oft-repeated quote from award-winning author Neil Gaiman proclaiming that our value lies in being better than Google because we always get the right answer — frankly an impossible standard and a compliment that I fear does libraries more harm than good.

Slide04

I’m afraid that relying on a positive social image based on the idea that print books are better than ebooks and reference libraries are infallible is not only doomed to failure; but also grossly undersells the vast array of things libraries do to bring value to our communities and to future generations. This is one of those “with friends like these  …” kinds of situations

Speaking of friends — how many of you have friends who make comments or ask questions about libraries or librarians that make you cringe?

These are some of my favorites:

  • Now that everything is online, do we really need libraries?
  • I’d love to be a librarian … you must get to read all day, right?
  • What do you talk about at a library conference? The Dewey Decimal System?

Like I said, it is a weird time for libraries right now in terms of our social image. While I think that most people have an overall positive impression of librarians and fond, perhaps nostalgic feelings about libraries; there is a profound lack of understanding about the range of what libraries and librarians really do. And since libraries rely on others for our funding, that is a precarious position for us to be in. Like I said, we have an image problem, and I think it would behoove us to take charge of our own message.  I also think it would be wise for us to resist the urge to couch our message in the easy metric of value — i.e. libraries are such a great value — and instead to develop messages that connect the values of libraries and librarianship to ideals that resonate with our publics.

How many of you were at ACRL and heard the keynote by punk icon Henry Rollins?  Rollins, was the lead singer in an influential early punk-rock band, he is an activist, an actor, a radio host, and an author.  He also describes himself as “rabid collector of other people’s stuff” — in other words, he’s an amateur archivist.  In the early days of the punk rock movement, he collected and saved copies of flyers, and posters and recordings because he knew no one was saving this stuff and he wanted to ensure the cultural record contained an accurate accounting of this chapter in music and social history.  In many ways he gets the value of libraries and archives.  At ACRL,  Rollins spoke passionately about the role of libraries in ensuring that people have access to information because information allows individuals to make good decisions and to do good things.  And then he told this audience of librarians and archivists that “What you do is the definition of good. It’s very noble and you are very brave.” I would like to encourage us to take that as both a compliment and as a challenge. A compliment to the work we do and are doing, and a challenge to continue to conceive of and to talk about our work in terms of brave, noble acts that contribute to the common good.

Slide06

I love that Rollins is defending libraries not because he loves the smell of old books, or because a school librarian taught him a love of reading when he was a young lad — not that there’s anything wrong with that. But what I love is that he is defending and celebrating libraries because he thinks libraries play a vital role in a democratic society. That is exactly the kind of value-laden story we need to be telling.

We are all on the hook to persuade others to continue supporting libraries — libraries as a concept worthy of support, and libraries as individual entities providing specific, unique, valued kinds of support in communities they serve.

In other words, I am calling for us all to engage in more ideological rhetoric and to tell stories about not just our value but also our values.

And I use the term story purposefully.  Because slogans are great, and data is fantastic; but there is ample evidence to suggest that storytelling is the path to persuasion.

If we are going to tell value-laden stories, we have to be clear what our values are. This is where ALA comes to the rescue.

ALA adopted 11 Core Values of Librarianship  in 2004. 
I promise I’m not going to talk about all 11. In fact, my original intention when I outlined this talk was to talk about 3 of them –Diversity, Preservation and Social Responsibility.  I spent some time at West Point, where the values of Duty, Honor, Country are kind of drilled into you; so I was looking for a nice triplet of values that would resonate in a similar way.

So anyway, I really did intend to talk about 3 of our values, but as I kept working on the talk, it kept being mostly about Diversity. So that’s the value I’ll focus on — in part because it is one that resonates with me, and in part because I hope that talking about diversity in terms of acquisitions and collection development highlights an area where libraries and librarians have the unique capacity and the unique responsibility to embody Rollins’ challenge to be brave and noble and to do good in the world.

ALA describes our core value of Diversity thus: “We value our nation’s diversity and strive to reflect that diversity by providing a full spectrum of resources and services to the communities we serve.”

So here is where I’m switching to the 2nd meaning of Valuing Libraries — the idea that the work we do is or should be driven by our values, consciously and aggressively — In this case the value of reflecting diversity in our resources and services.

There are many ways in which the value of diversity is relevant to the work we do, but for
 this audience, seems appropriate to talk about how our acquisitions and our collection development policies and practices can and should be leveraged to reflect, promote and embody the value of diversity.

My central question here is -What would a collection development program that was brave and noble and based on a deep commitment to diversity look like? 
I can tell you what I don’t think it would look like –
I don’t think it would be based on popularity, I don’t think it would eschew books on obscure topics written for niche audiences, and I don’t think it would relegate the least used items to off-site storage.

Slide09

Selecting based on use strikes me as an essential passive collection development philosophy.  It is ceding our role in promoting diversity, and it is saying that we are OK with the scholarly and cultural heritage we preserve being decided by popularity contest.

And not just because any individual library doesn’t collect the rare, the obscure, and the small market stuff.  Because I know many of you believe that someone (and by someone, most librarians mean the big libraries like Stanford, Yale, Harvard, Michigan, etc.) will collect it and through the magic of  shared print agreements and InterLibrary Loan, every book will somehow find at least one home and be preserved and available to all.

But we also have to think about the opportunity costs of libraries no longer buying niche titles. Opportunity cost is a term from micro-economics that refers to the costs of choices we don’t make.  In the days when library budgets were a bit fatter, and academic libraries were ranked almost entirely based on the number of volumes on shelves, there was a sort of collections arms race that ensured that there was a reasonably healthy market for most scholarly publications. But if libraries commit to only buying those titles likely to be most popular, then we eliminate the market for less popular books. We need to be very cognizant of the fact that we are not passive players in the publishing ecosystem. We can’t just sit back and buy books based on popularity or presumed popularity and pretend that those decisions don’t affect the kinds of books that get published, the kinds of topics that get studied, and the kinds of authors that get book contracts. I’m not an economist, but it is clear to me that shared collecting programs will limit demand in a way that it is bound to effect supply. If publishers know that only books destined for heavy use are likely to be purchased by more than a handful of libraries that is absolutely going to affect what they are willing to publish.

I’m arguing then, that we need to aggressively collect diverse literatures, on niche topics and by authors from underrepresented groups, not just so that our individual collections reflect our stated commitment to diversity; but to ensure that diverse voices get published and are heard and have an enduring place in the scholarly record.

As a sociologist, I just know too much about the role biases and stereotypes play in a wide range of decisions to trust that a free market approach to collection development will result in that full spectrum of resources we say we value. One of the most consistent and conclusive findings in the field of social psychology over decades of research is that stereotypes and biases affect our perceptions and evaluations of others (often unconsciously) in a incredibly wide variety of settings. I have no doubt that those biases creep into not just our selection decisions, but the reading decisions of our patrons as well.

Because let’s just be very, very blunt here — when we talk about not “wasting our money and our space” on obscure books no one will read, we’re not just talking about books on minute aspects of ancient Sumerian culture. No, we often use examples like “poetry by Irish-Puerto Rican lesbians” or “studies of hegemonic masculinity in Hawaiian cock-fighting”. I get to use examples like these because my wife is a proud Irish-Puerto Rican and I’m mentoring a PhD student whose research is, in fact, a study of hegemonic masculinity in Hawaiian cock-fighting culture. My point here is that focusing on what is popular and heavily used almost always means leaving out works by people of color, by indigenous peoples, by women, by queer people, and just generally by people who are not like us.

But this isn’t about calling for a kind of affirmative action plan for collections development; it is really about recognizing and embracing our role in representing and shaping the scholarly conversation — now and for future generations.

In response to a draft of this talk that I shared with her, my colleague Bess Sadler called my attention to the Catch-22 happening with Wikipedia right now, where a group of people who care about inclusiveness are trying to ensure that women scientists are represented in Wikipedia. There is a well-documented problem of female scientists being overlooked in science reporting, so a set of folks are trying to turn this around by writing Wikipedia entries on female scientists. But the articles keep getting deleted because the scientists in question aren’t considered “significant” enough. Why aren’t they considered significant? Because women scientists are often overlooked in science reporting and writing — because they are considered insignificant!  It really is an insidious cycle.

Bess goes on to lament that “The majority-rules structure of wikipedia editorial policy makes me despair of ever seeing this resolved.”  But then she actually poses a way out, when she went on to write: “It seems to me that libraries, where we have the option of doing conscious collection development, are an opportunity to broaden the voices that get recorded in the historical record.”

This is one of those places where I can brag about the fact that Stanford Libraries are trying to do something about this.

We recently completed a multi-year international collaboration on a project  to produce a digital version of the archive of eighteenth-century Italian scientist, Laura Bassi. Making these archives available on the open web, to researchers across the globe helps insure that her accomplishments are documented and that her contributions to physics and other scientific fields are not overlooked. What we chose to collect, and what we chose to digitize has consequences for how fields of scholarship are represented and understand by today’s scholars.

Another story on this point comes from a forum I attended in November on the Global Dimensions of scholarship and Research Libraries, 
Laurie Patton, Dean of Arts and Sciences at Duke University and a scholar of South Asian history, culture, and religion, gave a talk titled “If my library had the book, sir …”  The title comes from an incredibly compelling story that  illustrates another part of my point. The story goes like this:

At a conference on South Asian history and culture, a Hindu scholar from a small college in India gave a paper on family relationships in Vedic texts. At the end of her talk, she was criticized by a western scholar for not referencing the most recent publication from America on her topic.  The Hindu woman explained calmly that her College’s library could not afford to buy the book saying “if my library had the book, sir … i would have cited it. But that book would have represented too high a percentage of my library’s budget”.

In telling the story, Patton concludes that  “The imbalance of intellectual resources is endless, partly because libraries in Europe and America have not bought Indian vernacular language works, and partly because libraries in India cannot afford to buy books produced in the West. “

But the story actually has a sort of happy ending — the Hindu scholar eventually published a book on her topic, in which she carefully explained how western scholarship on the subject was lacking because it failed to account for all the research coming out of non-western countries.

Scholarship and research have the power to advance our knowledge and understanding of the world, but any given scholar can only build on the information and prior research that is available to her. This means the role of the library is pivotal.

We have enormous power over the direction scholarship takes by selecting whose shoulders future scholars will stand on. And not to get too Spiderman on you, but with that power comes responsibility. Responsibility to live up to our values, and resist the urge to let use and popularity drive all of our collection decisions.

So what and how we collect affects what gets published and therefore what gets collected and preserved. Our decisions have consequences beyond our local collections and our local communities, and we are not passive players in the eco-system of academic publishing.

If we just give the patrons what they ask for, we are not only abdicating our professional judgment, but we are also, in my opinion, missing a really important opportunity to enact our stated values.

As we think about ensuring a diverse collection, it is also critical that we recognize that books are not just for reading anymore. The rise in digital humanities and text mining research means that books and the words within the books (and the words in journals and newspapers and all kinds of text-based forms) are now being used as data by scholars. The best scholarship is done when the corpus of data being used  is as representative and complete as possible.

The kinds of research questions that can be asked by today’s scholars because the words in the books have now become data, can only be answered because of the sheer size and comprehensiveness of the corpus.

For example, there is a graduate student at Stanford who is using a dataset of Portuguese language publications in the public domain from Google Books and from HathiTrust as a means of tracing the evolution of Brazilian Portuguese, and therefore contributing to our understanding of how languages change and evolve.  I suspect many of the books that are part of his dataset have rather dismal circulation histories.  Frankly, our old Portuguese language books have never really been our hottest sellers.

But the point is this — If libraries like Stanford had only collected and preserved books with immediate and measurable use, the ever growing corpus of digitized texts would be even more skewed and biased than it already is.

Another way we need to be sure we enact our values is in the agreements we sign for digital content. The content we acquire is for research, and today’s research methods include text-mining and other digital humanities methodologies. We absolutely have to negotiate contracts that include the right for libraries to download content and make it available for scholars to text mine.  A colleague of mine pointed out to me just this week that unless you are willing to walk away, you’re not negotiating, you’re simply having a discussion. The willingness to walk away from a contract is what makes it a negotiation. A willingness to do so in defense of values of access, diversity, preservation, and social responsibility would also make it very brave.

There are other ways we can influence how our collections get used, and what circulates. 
Again, we are not passive players here — we have the ability and the responsibility to influence the outcomes.

For example, at Stanford, and at many of our peer institutions, we are running out of space for collections on campus and are wrestling with developing guidelines for what stays on campus as part of our core campus collection and what gets sent to off-site storage, where items are usually available for paging only, but not for physical browsing or for immediate access. As far as I can tell, almost every major library is using circulation as their main criteria, meaning that the books that have low circulation stats are sent to storage, while more heavily used books get the prime on-campus real estate.

I wonder if we might have that backwards.

Now I know it is not very cool anymore to talk about browsing and serendipity, but I’m going to talk about it anyway. I often hear people say they don’t believe in serendipity, which I find sort of puzzling.  Serendipity is not like Big Foot. Accounts of serendipity are verifiable and well-documented.  You can’t really not believe in it. Serendipity actually exists and actually happens. People really and truly do find unexpected books by browsing in book stores and in library stacks. But I will admit that serendipity is probably not how people find the most popular, most heavily used books — those are the books people already know about. So why not use that prime browsable real estate for books that would most benefit from browsing? What if we let patrons request the heavily used books online — and let them discover the hidden, underused treasures in our collections by wandering the stacks?

There are other ways we could encourage and influence broader, more diverse use of our collections.

For example, we do a small topical book display at our main library every month. We give this display a prime location on the 1st floor, very close to the entrance. We pick a topic and pull about 30 books from the stacks to put on display. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how the topics or the titles are selected for display — I suspect it is highly idiosyncratic based on the tastes and sensibilities of the librarian in charge of that month’s display.

This past month, our display was all about Zombies!  I decided to look at some circulation statistics to see whether our display affects circulation. Of the 28 zombie books on our display table, 18 of them were checked out during the month they were there. That’s a 65% circulation rate. In 1 month. Now, I know you’re thinking, well sure … everyone loves zombie books.  But another key stat here is that 8 of those 18 titles that circulated had never circulated before.  And some of them have been sitting on the shelves for over 10 years without circulating.

So here’s an idea — what if we selected some titles to put on display precisely because they never circulated? Imagine a display  that combined popular titles with low use titles? I’m thinking we could call it Hot Titles and Hidden Gems — because who doesn’t like finding a hidden gem?  We are going to try that back at Stanford soon, so stay tuned to see how it works.


But, as I emphasized earlier, I’m not sure use alone — especially of zombie books — is such a great way to measure the value and impact of our collections.

When we look at Stanford Libraries’ circulation numbers, the Lord of the Rings DVD set would seem to yield the highest return on our collection investments – since it is our most heavily circulated item in the last 5 years.  But one clear pitfall of using circulation as a key measure of value is that such an approach would lead us to overvalue Lord of the Rings and undervalue collections like our historical newspapers or our various microfilm collections. But I think we need to consider not just raw use, but the impact of use.

If we care about actual impact on research, we might want to look at historian Richard White’s  recent book Railroaded, a Pulitzer finalist book described as “A myth-shattering book that shows how reckless but influential railroad corporations in the late 19th century often profited by failure as well as success.”  Many reviewers also note that White’s careful analysis of this historical period holds some valuable lessons for our current economic times.

White relied heavily on archival materials rarely used by others, and on dusty reels on microfilm that he may well have been the first to pull out of the file cabinets.   The centrality of the archives to White’s research is acknowledged, quite literally, in the beginning of the book where he thanks Stanford University Archivist Maggie Kimball, and the head of our Media Microtext Center, Jim Kent.

White goes on to note that “a great part of the pleasure of writing this book has been the time it allowed me to spend in the archives. The paradox of archives is that there, among the relics of the dead, the past seems most vital and alive.”  And this was way before our Zombie exhibit!

I love that this example also highlights the long-term nature of library-related research, and the often delayed impact of our efforts.Books take a long time to write and the delay between research and eventual publication is usually many years. In this case, Maggie and Jim, the librarians acknowledged in this Pulitzer finalist book, had both long since retired before the publication of Railroaded.

This example also hints at an alternate measure of the value of libraries and librarians.
 I would argue –actually, I have often argued — that acknowledgments of libraries and librarians in published materials constitute one of the most powerful and direct measures of our impact on scholarship.  And I’ve been thinking for a while that it is something we should try to figure out how to do.

So, in preparation for this talk, I asked one of our awesome new librarians, Jacque Hettel, how she thought we might be able to do something like this.

acknowledgements

And as a proof of concept, she came up with this comparison of mentions of Stanford Libraries vs mentions of UC Berkeley Libraries in book acknowledgments over the last 10 years, based on searches in Google books and Google Scholar.  Now Stanford v. Cal is kind of a big rivalry, so I’ll be honest that I was hoping the data would show a more profound Stanford advantage, but that’s OK. 
There are all kinds of caveats to this data.  Two of the most obvious are that Google is not a comprehensive dataset, and that the search terms we used probably didn’t capture every mention of either library and certainly didn’t capture every mention of librarians from each school.

None the less, I think there is considerable potential here in developing an alternate metric for assessing value and certainly for telling stories about our value and even our values.

And there is so much more we could do with a dataset of acknowledgements — one of the things I noticed in reading through the Stanford acknowledgements was that some authors acknowledge just the library, while others, like White, acknowledge librarians by name. I wonder whether there are certain disciplines more likely to benefit from personal interaction with librarians than others?  We could certainly compare the content of acknowledgments by subject as one way to learn more about that.

The other thing that stood out to me in the text of the acknowledgements was the number of times multiple libraries are acknowledged, and the number of times InterLibrary Loan departments and staff are thanked.  Jacque is already talking about gathering this kind of data for a larger set of libraries and developing a network diagram to visualize relationships between libraries, authors and subjects.
And then of course, there is the fact that these acknowledgements tell true stories about the value of libraries to scholarship — I suspect we are likely to find a way to incorporate these true stories into our website and other outreach materials.

Here’s the part where I promised I would throw in a practical idea or two, so here they are:

  1. Consider keeping your low use books on campus, and highlighting them as Hidden Gems to see if they find users
  2. Collect and analyze your library’s acknowledgements, and use them in outreach and public relations efforts – I promise you that you will find some great stories.

Speaking of acknowledgements, let me finish up by acknowledging the colleagues who helped me put together this talk.  I’m fortunate to work with a whole team of rock stars back at Stanford, and these particular stars deserve special recognition for their help with this presentation:

Let me also acknowledge that it is clear from the talk titles on the agenda for this conference that some of what I have said would fall under the category of preaching to the choir. It is clear that many of you are thinking about some of the same issues I’ve talked about and are looking for new ways of asserting and measuring our value.  I’m really very excited to hear the  rest of the presentations, and expect that there are some great conversations to be had.

Finally – I will admit to being especially intrigued by the Angry Birds presentation coming next and also happy that I got to go first — who wants to follow a presentation on Angry Birds?  But, I do want to offer a response to the question “Should we collect Angry Birds?”

A medieval studies scholar at Stanford recently tweeted this gorgeous image from a manuscript in our collection, with the note “this is the original Angry Bird”. So my response to Should we collect Angry Birds? is Of course we should — we always have!

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