Posts Tagged 'librarians'

The once and future librarian

I had the pleasure of participating in a Faculty symposium on the future of academic research libraries hosted at McGill University today. The event was live-streamed, and the video is now availablewill be available from McGill Library soon – I’ll add the link here when it is up. I encourage you to watch the full video, because the other talks and the question and answer session was terrific.

Below is the text from my portion:

It is an honor to be here and to be included in this panel of really smart insightful people who care deeply about the future of higher education and the future of academic research libraries.

I have to be honest though, it is not really very good timing for me. The thing is, earlier this week we buried my brother-in-law, Alfredo “Freddy” Cordero Jr. — A sweet kind soul, whose life was both harder and shorter than it should have been.

And I wondered whether I should mention something so personal in a talk like this, but I’m a long-time feminist who believes that the personal is political is professional … and back again.

So this weekend, while I was writing this talk, my wife was writing a eulogy for her brother.

And that certainly felt like a very strange and uncomfortable juxtaposition, until I realized the extent to which our grief and grieving served to crystallize just how important and precious the past can be, and likewise how fragile and uncertain the future.

That certainly feels like a good perspective to keep in mind as we talk about the future of research libraries.

And if you’ll indulge me one more connection – Freddy grew up in Bridgeport Connecticut, which is the largest and also one of the poorest cities in Connecticut.

The Bridgeport Public Library plays a vital role in the lives of Bridgeport’s residents, and its motto is “A gathering place for the entire community”, and its mission statement includes the assertion that “we believe that libraries can change people’s lives and are a cornerstone of our democracy”.

I think all libraries (public and academic research libraries) can and should aim for the same impact —
to be an inclusive gathering place, to change lives, and to advance democracy.

In the case of academic libraries, we are and should always be a safe, multi-disciplinary, information-rich gathering place for members of our communities.

We do and should always aspire to have transformative impact – on students of course, but also on faculty – by providing expertise, tools, resources, and services that inspire new kinds of research questions and that serve as catalysts for experiments in new forms of pedagogy.

And we do and should always take seriously our role in producing informed citizens who participate in their own governance through the democratic process.

There are lots of ways to think about the future of libraries, and plenty of questions to tackle within that topic:

  • what will the right mix of print and digital resources be in 5 years, in 10 years? (the correct answers to that one are “I don’t know” and “it depends”)
  • what should a physical library look like as more and more resources are available and used in digital rather than physical format?
  • what’s the next big technical breakthrough that will transform how people discover and access information?

These are all great questions that highlight important ways to think about the future of libraries. And I’m glad my colleagues on this panel are going to address most of them.

The topic I’m going to talk about is the kinds of expertise that will be needed in the great research libraries of the future.

And I want to suggest that the expertise that will ensure that the future academic library continues to be a central part of the research and teaching life of a university is similar to the expertise librarians already bring to the table – we just might need more of it.

Now, I have to take a short and I suppose slightly dangerous detour to define what I mean by librarian.

Urban Dictionary definition of Librarian

Urban Dictionary definition of Librarian

It is tempting to use this urban dictionary definition of Librarian, but let me at least add to that definition.

I want to talk about the human capital inherent in library organizations – the distinct expertise, skills, perspectives, and values that people who work in libraries contribute to the academy. And I use the term Librarian to describe those people – the people who work in the library organization and contribute to the core missions of the library.

To refer to a broad range of people who work in a library as librarians – regardless of their job title or credentials – is actually fairly controversial, so let me be clear about one thing. I use the term in this more inclusive way not to devalue the library degree or those who hold it in any way at all — I use it rather to value the range of degrees, skills, talents and experiences needed to make information accessible for current and future scholars.

And I do this because I chose to believe that professional respect is not a limited resource; and I believe a more expansive understanding of who a librarian is and what academic librarians do to advance research and teaching is critical to a robust future for libraries and for higher education.

OK – back to this idea of the once and future librarian – my bottom line is that the future of libraries depends on librarians – a diverse, highly skilled, values-driven set of people who collaborate across and within institutions to support, create, and inspire the very best of current and future scholarship and teaching — And who do so with from a distinct and important perspective.

Let me talk a little about my own journey into librarianship as a way of highlighting some of the ways I had to learn to think differently as a librarian — ways of thinking that make librarians key to not just collecting, preserving, and providing access to scholarship, but to producing and shaping it as well.

I moved to Stanford in the late 1990s, after 3 years on the faculty at West Point, to pursue a PhD in sociology, with the sort of vague intention of pursuing a regular faculty position when I finished.

But Stanford and Palo Alto are expensive places to live, so I immediately got a part-time job working in the library and I worked in the libraries throughout my graduate career.

By the time I finished my PhD I was recruited into a full-time position in the libraries as the social sciences librarian, and for me that turn made sense. I realized I could have greater impact on scholarship & on the future of higher education and scholarly communication thru a career in libraries than I could have as an individual scholar.

As I made the transition from preparing for a career as an individual scholar to a career in librarianship, I found that being an academic librarian require a change in perspective.

My academic background was and is very useful; but being an effective librarian has required more than subject matter expertise, it has required a change in perspective.

New perspective as librarian

New perspective as librarian

In the most general sense, I would say that the librarians I have worked with operate at a different level of analysis than do most individual faculty members. So, for example, as a PhD student, you are expected to become an expert in a discipline, with a solid grasp of the seminal works and main journals of your field.

As a librarian, I needed to think in much more multi-disciplinary ways. And as I built and maintained collections in several disciplines, I couldn’t afford to select for individual authors — I had to learn the publishing landscape for each discipline so I would know which publishers were strong in what fields; who published quality journals at reasonable prices, and who published monographs in fields that were most active at my university.

I learned how important metadata is … to just about everything libraries do. And I started thinking less about specific books and articles and more about the scholarly communication ecosystem as a whole – and how it was changing and should change to support new modes of scholarship and to allow for open access to the scholarly record. And, I had to start taking a much longer view of both the past and the future.

It is this distinct set of perspectives that means librarians have been working on and thinking about issues like open access, metadata, data privacy, and digital preservation for much longer than most in the academy .. and certainly for longer and with more rigor than most outside the academy.

This was never more evident that when Google Vice President Vint Cerf made big news by talking about how worried he is that the digital documents and images we are all creating now will disappear as software and hardware becomes obsolete. When news about Vint Cerf’s fear of a digital dark ages reached the library community, our collective reaction was best summarized by Dorothea Salo – one of librarianship’s most insightful voices.

Salo took to twitter to explain that librarians had been thinking about digital preservation for a long time already — and that Cerf needn’t worry because we had already built digital repositories, and workflows, and access systems for preserving digital artifacts.

We teach personal digital archiving classes, we create standards, and we have built the capacity to not just store, but to truly archive – for the long-term – the digital artifacts of our culture and of scholarship. That’s our job and its the kind of thinking and work that is a distinct strength of librarians. We think about the long-term future of the past, so that scholars and students can use it in the present.

At many universities, libraries and librarians have been supporting digital humanities research, GIS and data visualization, technology-enhanced pedagogy, and sound data management practices for a very long time. Today’s librarians have expertise, skills, and perspectives that are absolutely critical to the changing research and teaching needs of today’s faculty and students. And any vision for the future of research libraries needs to include ways to highlight and maximize the contributions of library experts to research and teaching.

Since it is free, I will leave you with some specific advice:

One major challenge for most academic libraries I know is a lack of awareness of the expertise that libraries and librarians have to offer. Every library survey I have seen – from multiple universities – shows that over 80% of faculty and students at any given university are very satisfied with their libraries and their librarians.

That’s great of course; but those same surveys (plus plenty of anecdotal evidence) reveal that high percentages of faculty and students are likewise unaware of the full range of services and expertise their libraries and librarians have to offer.

So my first bit of advice is that you should ensure that your vision for the future of research/academic libraries prominently features librarians – both symbolically and literally. Design spaces and services that showcase the full range of expertise of your librarians.

And no, I don’t simply mean ensure that the reference desk is visible from the entrance. If you want a truly great library, you have to design spaces that emphasize that librarians have expertise in a huge range of areas vital to scholarship and teaching – from data and metadata, to digital preservation, to publishing, to online learning, to software development, text-mining, project management, and yes even reference.

Ensure your library is designed to make library experts visible and accessible to scholars and students. Include in your designs plenty of information and technology rich environments for faculty and students to collaborate with library experts.

My second bit of advice is that you recognize that the best future we can imagine (for higher education or for libraries) is likely to come from more diverse and inclusive conversations than the ones we usually have.

And I mean more diverse along all the usual axes of diversity that we think of – race, class, gender, sexuality; and some that we sometimes forget – conversations that include a range of neurodiversity, and that include people with different physical abilities and disabilities.

And when we are having local conversations – about the future of our own academic institutions and our own libraries; we still need to be very deliberate about including as many voices as possible.

For example, if we really want to understand how students use library spaces; and what’s missing from library spaces that students find frustrating; I think we would do well to talk to the library support staff who work the late evening shifts.

If we want to understand how our print collections really get used – and here i’m talking about the full range of uses, not just what gets officially checked out —we ought to talk to the library staff who re-shelve the books and keep the stacks maintained and in order.

But of course, my whole point is that the future of libraries is about much more than finding the right balance between print and digital; or designing the right kinds of study and collaborative spaces for students — those are important parts of it; but I challenge you to imagine a future library where every scholar and every student has the maximum opportunity to work with experts in the library who bring unique skills and knowledge that could jumpstart new research and transform learning.

I said at the beginning that the future is incredibly fragile, uncertain and nearly unpredictable. But the one thing that I am certain of about the future is that it will be better through radically inclusive collaboration.

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.

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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.

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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.
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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.



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