Posts Tagged 'library services'

The Neoliberal Library: Resistance is not futile

Here is the text of the talk I gave at Duke University Libraries on January 14. As usual, the questions & discussion were better than the talk. Also, please check out the partial list of sources for this talk.


As a Duke alum, I really wish I could ease into this talk with tales of roaming the stacks in Perkins way back when.  But unfortunately, they would be just tales … and rather tall ones at that. I have to admit that I just didn’t spend much time in the library as an undergrad. I just wasn’t that kind of student.

I was here from 1983-1987, or as my classmates and I refer to it – the time of Johnny Dawkins, Jay Bilas, Mark Alarie, Tommy Ammaker and Danny Ferry. I spent way more time in Cameron and in Krzyzewskiville than in Perkins.  I guess I’m just a late bloomer when it comes to my love of libraries.

The first Krzyzewskiville, 1986. From Kimberly Reed's Krzyzewskiville Collection

The first Krzyzewskiville,
1986. From Kimberly Reed’s Krzyzewskiville Collection

I actually thought about using this talk as a way to share some ideas about how academic libraries could reach students like me … but I’m not sure I have any ideas that Duke isn’t already implementing. I love the Crazy Smart campaign, the Library Party, and the awesome study breaks you all host.

So I really don’t have anything to say to y’all about how to get students like me to use the library.  I’m certain that if I got a second chance to be a Duke undergrad, I would hang out at the library all the time – heck, I want to hang out here all the time now. And just in case there is anyone here who was part of the library back in the 1980’s, trust me when I say it was me, not you.

So I know the topic is “Research Libraries and different clientele”, but I hope you will indulge me as I take this topic in a perhaps unexpected direction. In some ways it would be easy to use the topic to talk about how we ought to design our services and collections to serve the different needs of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty — even alumni and donors and the general public.

Another obvious direction for this talk, especially given my interest in diversity and social justice, would be to talk about different clientele in terms of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender and other forms of social difference. After all, librarianship remains nearly 90% white and over 80% female; while the projected college student population for 2021 is expected to be 58% white, and 58% female , with 17% of students being African American, 17% Hispanic, & 7% Asian/Pacific Islander.

So it might be easy to talk about how librarianship needs to address it’s own lack of diversity if we want to have any hope of reflecting and serving an increasingly diverse clientele.

But I decided to take the topic in a perhaps unexpected & decidedly more theoretical direction, because I think the future of research libraries depends on librarians making conscious choices about what a library is and who and what we serve.

So let’s talk first a bit about the whole notion that libraries, and universities, have clients – a concept I am frankly not very comfortable with and would like to challenge a bit.

It is true that our students, and their parents, are in fact increasingly approaching college with the expectation of gaining the marketable skills and credentials they need to compete in the job market.  Faculty mostly see us as their buying agent – they want us to provide access to the research materials they need for their research and they then want us to buy their books and the journals they publish in.  The university administration wants us to run ourselves more efficiently (“like a business”), and in some cases want us to find ways to turn some of our services into cost-recovery or profit centers.

The current reality for many research libraries certainly lends itself to thinking of our users and stakeholders as clients or even customers. We have the goods and services they need, and the whole system works best when we find the most efficient way to deliver those goods & services. And, of course, since everyone knows that academia is hopelessly inefficient; we must look to the business world for models of how to best serve our customers and to the “start-up” culture of silicon valley to learn how to innovate.


Shenanigans, by flickr user binkmeisterrick

Well, if you have read any of my previous writings, you know how I feel about that.  I call shenanigans on that approach to libraries and the future of libraries. It is a philosophy that is (sometimes consciously, sometimes unwittingly) steeped in neoliberalism, and it embodies a definition of libraries that is at odds with my understanding of the core values of our profession – values like Democracy, Diversity, the Public Good, and Social Responsibility.

So what I really want to talk about is my belief that Neoliberalism is toxic for higher education, but research libraries can & should be sites of resistance.

To do that, it would probably be good to define neoliberalism. What is neoliberalism?

There are plenty of definitions – but I like this one from Daniel Saunders, who defines neoliberalism as “a varied collection of ideas, practices, policies and discursive representations … united by three broad beliefs: the benevolence of the free market, minimal state intervention and regulation of the economy, and the individual as a rational economic actor.”

Neoliberal thinking emphasizes individual competition, and places primary value on “employability” and therefore on an individual’s accumulation of human capital and marketable skills.

A key feature of neoliberalism is the extension of market logic into previously non-economic realms – in particular into key social, political and cultural institutions.

We can see this when political candidates promote their experience running a successful business as a reason to vote for them, and in the way market language and metaphors have seeped into so many social and cultural realms.

For example, Neoliberalism is what leads us to talk about things like “the knowledge economy”, where we start to think of knowledge not as a process but as a kind of capital that an individual can acquire so that she then can sell that value to the market.

This is where I pause to ask if you have heard the joke about the Marxist and the Neoliberal? The Marxist laments that all a worker has to sell is his labor power. The Neoliberal offers courses on marketing your labor power.

The Neoliberal joke

The joke about the Marxist & the Neoliberal

So OK, Neoliberalism is a thing, a pervasive thing, and it includes the extension of market language, metaphors, and logic into non-economic realms – of special concern to us is the extension of neoliberal market frameworks into higher education and into libraries.

And it is really important to remember that one of the really insidious things about ideologies as pervasive as neoliberalism is that we barely notice them – they become taken for granted the way a fish doesn’t know it is in water, or the way many of us Dukies assume an obsession with college basketball is normal.

Obviously, I think this is a bad thing – not the obsession w/ college basketball, of course — but  the neoliberal encroachment on education.

I am one of those hopeless idealists who still believes that education is – or should be – a social and public good rather than a private one, and that the goal of higher education should be to promote a healthy democracy and an informed citizenry. And I believe libraries play a critical role in contributing to that public good of an informed citizenry.

So the fact that the neoliberal turn in education over the last several decades has led to a de-emphasis on education as a public good and an emphasis on education as a private good, to be acquired by individuals to further their own goals is of particular concern to me.

In the neoliberal university, students are individual customers, looking to acquire marketable skills. Universities (and teachers and libraries) are evaluated on clearly defined outcomes, and on how efficiently they achieve those outcomes.  Sound familiar?

We can find evidence of this neoliberal approach in plenty of recent trends in higher education – which are almost shocking in how blatantly they rely on a market model of education. The penetration of neoliberal thinking in higher education is so pervasive that it is no longer just market metaphors – colleges recruit students with blatant appeals to their economic self-interest and the mainstream argument for a strong education system is that it is an economic imperative – that we, as a nation, must invest in education in order to compete as a nation in the global economy.

As an example – This very recent article on – Does Ikea hold the secret to the future of college? – reads almost like a parody of an unabashed, uncritical, unselfconscious neoliberal approach to higher education.

In discussing his enthusiasm for bringing his special brand of for-profit eduction to Africa, one educational entrepreneur explains, “There are a lot of young people in Africa who could be Steve Jobs”.  It is no mistake that the justification for bringing “higher education” to Africa rests on the image of one of the richest & whitest men in America — someone who also happens to be a college drop-out, by the way.

In the article, the founder of First Atlantic University freely admits that he started this for-profit, blended learning institution in Africa as a solution to the hiring problems that his microelectronics firm is having. The real problem here is not that this dude has created a for-profit job training program that provides not only direct financial benefit to him but also provides a pipeline of future employees trained to meet his company’s labor needs … the problem is in calling that education instead of job training.

But it isn’t only the new for-profit universities that privilege corporate interests and the production of new workers.

All across the spectrum of higher education, including at institutions like ours, resources are shifting towards standardized market-driven curricula and programs and towards producing not the next generation of critically engaged citizens but rather the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Research libraries are, of course, not immune to the effects of neoliberal thinking and policies. I see it seeping into just about everything we do, and I hope we can talk about where you all see it (or not) and what we might do to resist it.

So, let me seed the conversation with a few of my own observations about the neoliberal influence on various areas of research libraries.

In terms of instruction & reference, neoliberal thinking tells us that information literacy provides students with a discrete set of skills (which we can easily measure and assess) that will help them on the job market.

Neoliberal thinking tells us a successful reference “transaction” provides the patron with the most efficient answer to their immediate information need. Neoliberal thinking mocks the idea that library instruction and reference might be about encouraging students to think critically not only about their own information consumption but also about the whole system of knowledge creation & access, and about who controls how we search and what we find. Neoliberalism scoffs at the idea that librarians ought to encourage browsing and serendipity and other forms of “inefficient” research and learning.

Neoliberalism frames this as a contrast between giving patrons what they want vs what giving them what we think they need. That formulation is a rhetorical strategy that makes librarians sound like condescending bunheads who aren’t hip to what the kids need.

What I want to suggest is that we can and should resist that rhetoric – both because it is incredibly sexist and ageist and because the tension is not between what our patrons ask for and what we want to give them; the tension is between a neoliberal, transaction model of library services and a model based on the mission of promoting critical thinking and equipping students to interrogate power and authority.

Neoliberalism has also really seeped into the way we think about collection development. We have become obsessed with measuring the value (defined almost always in terms of use only) of every item in our collection so that we can pare down our collection to its leanest, most efficient form. We are assigning actual dollar values to how much it costs to keep a book on a shelf, so that we can prove how much money our shared print storage programs save us … with no real consideration given to the non-monetary benefits of having large world-class print collections, on many topics and in many languages, in one location.

In many cases, we’ve also turned over collection development to the market by signing on to Patron Driven Acquisitions programs that essentially signal that we trust the free market to build our collections.

Neoliberalism has affected library staffing models as well. Whatever you think of faculty status for librarians (and my thoughts on that issue are constantly evolving), there is no denying that the erosion of faculty status and job security for librarians is tied to the same neoliberal emphasis on cost-cutting that is leading to the adjunct crisis across higher education.

Finally there is our obsession with assessment, and with justifying everything based on statistics and ROI or Return on Investment. I actually have a whole talk on why the ROI paradigm is a bad fit for libraries, so let me just say that it isn’t assessment per se that is a problem in libraries – it is the fact that we rarely measure things that actually matter (or should matter to us), and we rarely know how much of what we are measuring we are looking for.

But I guess the real question is Where should we go from here?

Dog in truck asks Where now?

Where now? Photo credit Katie Young & Liz Gaudet

I’m not entirely sure, but like any good entrepreneur, I have a 3 step plan to get us started.

The first step is awareness. I urge librarians to critically examine the philosophical underpinnings of our own policies and programs. Read the works of critical scholars who call attention to the “scourge of neoliberalism” affecting higher education and ask yourselves where is that manifest in my own work?

Where is it manifest in the work of the thought leaders of librarianship – those who offer roadmaps for the future of academic libraries that involve thinking like start-ups and ceding responsibilities for general collections to the marketplace?

Step 2, if you agree that the values of librarianship compel us to resist the corporatization of libraries, is to find allies – amongst our own profession and across the academy. This is both harder and easier than one might think. Quite frankly, precious few of the dominant voices in academic librarianship speak from a progressive, critical, radical stance. I suppose in some ways that is to be expected – voices of resistances rarely emanate from the center. But once you decide to actively seek those voices, it doesn’t take any exceptional library sleuthing skills to find them. You can quite literally google “progressive librarian” and you can find both a journal and a tumblr by that name. “Radical librarians” turns up some great stuff too. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Library Juice Press, which is publishing top-quality work by and for librarians who want to engage in a more critical analysis of our profession and our institution, and who want to engage in a radical praxis of librarianship based on commitment to democracy, social justice, diversity and social responsibility.

Step 3: Do something. Collect archives simply because inclusion and social justice demands that works and archives of marginalized peoples are just as important (perhaps more so) as those of prominent, mainstream men and organizations. Sneak a little critical thinking into your information literacy sessions or reference encounters. Try something wildly inefficient and with no clear economic benefit.

In other words Resist – It is not futile!

Jean-Luc Picard as Locutus after Borg assimilation.

Jean-Luc Picard as Locutus after Borg assimilation, from Wikipedia article on Borg (Star Trek)

So to try to tie this all back to the original topic – Research Libraries and different clientele – I guess my whole point is really that we ought to
reconceive of our clients as not simply the undergraduates, graduate students, or faculty around us. Let’s start thinking about social justice as our client, or democracy, or an informed citizenry; and then let’s consider how our priorities and way of working might change as a result of that kind of thinking.

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.

More faculty survey results, plus the survey instrument


Tools of the Trade, flickr user John of Austin

In our recent Faculty survey we asked what kinds of scholarly materials, what kinds of experts, and what kinds of tools were important to faculty in doing their research.

In terms of tools; “search tools, databases, and websites” are important (rated Important or Very Important) to over 90% of all faculty — which is not particularly surprising.

The next most important kind of tool were “bibliographic management tools” — which are important to 71% of Science & Engineering faculty, 52% of Social Science faculty, and 47% of Humanities and arts faculty. “Specialized or customizable software” is important to 62% of Social Science faculty and 50% of Science & Engineering faculty — but only to 25% of Humanities and Arts faculty. Specialized computing infrastructure is important to 46% of Science & Engineering folks, but only 30% of Social Scientists and only 15% of Humanists.

So, to summarize, books (print and electronic) and e-journals are important to everyone, experts with scholarly & technical chops are really important to humanists, data and methods experts are important to social scientists, and specialized tools and infrastructure are important to science & engineering folks. Stay tuned for additional multivariate analyses, and analysis of the 147 pages (w00t!) of qualitative data.

In the interest of sharing and transparency, I am also making a short version of our survey instrument available here (PDF), under a CC-BY license. If any of you decide to use any of the same questions, please let me know — it might be very informative to pool data and see what kinds of differences we might find across institutions — after all, I’m on record as claiming that libraries aren’t all the same, and that big research libraries are different from other academic libraries. It would be fun to test those hypotheses with comparable data from other institutions.

What kinds of experts are important to Faculty?

In an earlier post about our recent survey of Stanford faculty, I wrote about the kinds of scholarly materials faculty rated as Important or Very Important to their research. In the same survey, we asked faculty “How important is support from the following kinds of experts for your research?”; followed by a list of 5 different kinds of experts. In general, it is the Humanists and the Social Scientists who are most likely to say support from various kinds of experts is important to their research. The Humanists are most likely to say “Staff with both technical and scholarly expertise” and “Reference or Research Librarians” are important; while Social Scientists are most interested in support from experts in emerging areas of library services–such as programming, GIS and statistical analysis, and metadata support. Specific results summarized below:

  • Overall, 64% of faculty rated “Staff with both technical and scholarly expertise” as Important or Very Important. There were big disciplinary differences, however, with 81% of Humanities & Arts faculty rating the combination of scholarly and technical expertise as Important or Very Important, compared to only 58% of Social Science faculty and 46% of Science & Engineering faculty.
  • “Reference or Research Librarians” are likewise Important or Very Important to a much higher percentage (81%) of Humanities & Arts faculty than to Social Science (56%) or Science & Engineering (35%) faculty.
  • Social Scientists are slightly more likely to say that “Programmers, Database Administrators, or Web Developers” are important to their research, with 55% of Social Science faculty rating such experts as Important or Very Important, compared to 45% of Humanities & Arts faculty and 41% of Science & Engineering faculty.
  • Social Scientists are also more likely, by a rather large margin, to say that “Statistical, GIS, or other kinds of methodology or software specialists” are Important or Very Important. Over half of the Social Science faculty (52%, to be exact) said such experts are important, while only 14% of Humanists and 27% of Science & Engineering faculty said so.
  • “Data managers, archivists, or metadata specialists” are also important to a higher percentage of Social Science faculty (46%), than Humanists (27%) or Science & Engineering faculty (21%).

My big take-aways are that we ought to be hiring or developing humanities and social science librarians with strong scholarly and technical expertise; which for the social scientists ought to include strong statistical and methodological training. Hmm … seems I may have said that before.

Statistical software consulting in Green Library at Stanford.

Statistical software consulting in Green Library at Stanford. Photo by Chris Bourg

Stanford announces prize for innovation in research libraries

Today Stanford University Libraries announces the Stanford Prize for Innovation in Research Libraries – SPIRL, an award that is intended to recognize and celebrate individual research libraries for sustained and significant innovation in any operational area. Nominations with documentation may be made by institutions or individuals and are due by 15 January 2013.
I often brag about all the awesome innovative things my colleagues here at Stanford Libraries make happen, but I/we are well aware that research libraries and librarians across the world are doing amazing things. I’m thrilled that we will be identifying and celebrating the innovative programs happening in other research libraries. The prize is open to any and all areas of research library operations, including (but not limited to):

discovery & navigation; reader & research services; publishing; metadata development, adaptation, sharing, and harvesting; acquisition and processing of library materials in any/all formats, digital and physical; collection development and management including various forms of efficient storage & retrieval; preservation and archiving, digital and physical; marketing and public relations; staff training & development; fund-raising and asset acquisition; organizational development; assessment and re-engineering of practices; standards development; digitization and provision for user adaptation of digital information objects; course and learning management systems/services; knowledge management; outreach, bibliographic instruction, information heuristic instruction; and reader/user assessments and surveys.

Rare book digitization at Stanford Libraries

Rare book digitization at Stanford Libraries, photo courtesy of Stanford Digital Production Group

You get the idea … we really are looking for nominations from all corners of the research library world. Basically any significant innovations that “have measurable impact on the library’s own clientele as well as the potential for influencing the practices and/or standards of research librarianship generally.” Note that while appropriate use of technology is assumed, the prize is not inherently about technology. For example, if Stanford Libraries’ programs were eligible (we are not, for obvious reasons), our Concierge Project would be just as competitive a nomination as our rare books digitization program.

Nomination are due on January 15 — please help us spread the word. I can’t wait to see what sorts of innovative stuff comes our way.

Awesome new library website, Part 2: The multiple stakeholders challenge

One of the biggest challenges of a library website project (maybe any website project) seems to be figuring out what gets top billing. Top billing in this sense usually means front page.
Our library website has many different types of users and a seemingly endless number of stakeholders. One of the best and most common ways to account for multiple users/stakeholders is to develop personas, which we did early on in the project.

Developing the right personas is only half the battle, though. The real challenge is figuring out how to balance their sometimes conflicting needs. There is simply not enough room on a website (at least not on a well-designed one) to put all your users’ main needs on the front page.

Stanford University Libraries website

Screen shot of ribbon, with Collections panel highlighted

One really clever and elegant way our awesome design team came up with to meet this challenge is the central ribbon on our new site. Clicking on any of the central ribbon items does not take you away from the homepage – it simply changes the content on the bottom half of the homepage. It basically allows us to have multiple views of our homepage — 5 different views without scrolling, but we can add as many panels as we want after the scroll. I love it.

Of course, the real test will come once we go live and start to get actual user behavior and feedback, but I’m feeling very confident that our folks came up with a really smart solution to an often vexing web design challenge.

Defining Public Services for large research libraries

For the meeting of the ACRL Public Services Directors of Large Research Libraries Discussion Group at ALA Annual this year, I volunteered to kick off a discussion on how we define “public services”. The topic got listed on our agenda as “Defining Public Service in Large ARL Libraries”, which makes it that much more interesting for someone from Stanford to lead the discussion ;-).

Here are my notes so far (meeting starts in 3 hours):

How should we define Public Services for ARL institutions?

While I’m not one to avoid controversy, as the only non-ARL institution in the group, it would take far more hubris than even I can conjure up for me to suggest how public services ought to be defined for the rest of you. So what I will do instead is talk about what I want out of this group, in the hopes that enough of us have similar aspirations for this group that we can reach some consensus on our boundaries and our value to one another.

There are literally hundreds of conversations, meetings, presentations, discussion groups at every ALA convention related to public services, so the big question for me is what is the unique value of gathering as Heads of Public Services at Large Research libraries? Or what could be our unique value?

For me, the unique value is in talking to peers – peers in terms of kinds of institutions (research libraries — very, very large research libraries), and peers in terms of scope of responsibilities.

With that in mind, I think for large research libraries public services are research services; and as AULs, or directors, or whatever our titles are, we should be talking at the strategic level

Rusty spoon

Rusty spoon from Flickr user Quasimondo

What does that mean? One thing it means, is I don’t want to spend an hour talking about laptop lending policies – which is what happened at my 1st one of these, and I wanted to gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon. I don’t want to talk about course reserves, or how to staff the reference desk, or text-a-librarian services. And, yes, I’ll say it — I don’t particularly want to talk about undergraduates — not in this group. Again, there are hundreds of other groups and places where we can talk about library services for undergraduates. But this is the only group with a focus on publics services for research.

Some things I do want to talk about:

  • Digital humanities support—what are you doing, where in the organization does it happen, how are you coordinating it and sustaining it?
  • What skills, education, knowledge do you expect from your subject librarians and how is that reflected in hiring, professional development, etc.?
  • Data support – not just data management plans, but actual data acquisition, management, analysis, publishing/sharing, and preservation.  Big data. Confidential data. Proprietary data.
  • What is the changing (or not) relationship between collection development and research support at your institution?
  • GIS support, visualization tools, the creation of online exhibits and archives, online collaborative research environments
  • Support for creating digital data – how do you support faculty who want to do text-mining on set of print materials not yet digitized? What is the service model? What is your funding model?
  • What is your experience in negotiating with vendors to give researchers specialized access to data?
  • What are you doing about providing information and options/platforms for alternative publishing models for scholars?
  • What are some successful models for providing reference and instruction for graduate students? How many of you have subject librarians teaching or co-teaching in methods classes (in humanities and social sciences especially)?

Bottom line is I want this group to focus its discussions and sharing on our unique challenges as AULs at research-intensive universities – which as far as I can tell is RESEARCH SUPPORT. There are hundreds of other groups and sessions and sets of people I can talk to about teaching, about information commons, and reference, and course reserves, and all manner of support for undergraduates. And god forbid I even need to talk to someone about laptop lending policies, it doesn’t have to be someone at a research library. But, this is the only group that shares my focus on supporting scholarly research.  For me personally, I need that kind of group – I need a place I can go where we can wrestle together with the changing nature of research and the role libraries and librarians can play.

I think I’ve become a Feral Humanist

This morning, I had the pleasure of giving the opening talk at the ABLD/EBSLG/APBSLG Joint Meeting being hosted here at Stanford. I don’t often get the chance to give a “think piece” sort of talk, so it was actually both challenging and loads of fun to prepare for. The theme of the conference was Business Library ROI: Measuring Usage and Identifying Value, so I decided to talk about my concerns with the ROI framework, calling my talk How ROI Killed the Academic Library: A Cautionary Tale.

My final slide. Pretty hokey, huh?

A funny thing happened as I wrote the talk … I realized that I very well may have become a Feral Humanist. I ended up talking about books, and archives, and even serendipity. I blame my humanities colleagues, at Stanford and on-line. You know who you are. Feel free to read the full talk and judge for yourself. Or, just take a look at my concluding remarks:

Perhaps I have presented an overly romantic, even mystical portrait of academic libraries – and at a time when libraries and higher education are under the gun to get practical. But what I am suggesting is that if we don’t defend the hard to define and even harder to measure qualitative importance of libraries, who will?

And, I suspect that many of you probably agree with me, at least in principle, that universities ought to have great libraries, with expert staff and awesome collections and a range of services in support of teaching and research. But of course, we all face constraints in the forms of budgets, space, and competing priorities.

So, yes, by all means find good ways to measure our contributions to the aims of higher education. But also, please, take opportunities to evangelize on behalf of the immeasurable impact of libraries – make sure your administration knows that there is value in books that aren’t read, in data that hasn’t been used yet, in archives yet to be discovered, and in the mere fact of great libraries.

Proposal for Combined Sciences Library at Stanford

Stanford University Libraries has developed a Proposal for a Combined Sciences Library at Stanford (PDF). This library would combine the collections of Falconer Biology Library, the Swain Chemistry & Chemical Engineering Library, and the Mathematics & Statistics Library.

The combined science library allows for a stronger and deeper service program than is possible with separate facilities, as well as a collection more appropriate for faculty and students in these disciplines, who are primary users of digital collections. The library will provide a broad set of services and collections to support research and learning, with a focus on user services and outreach, and will embrace the move to digital collections and data services while providing access to physical collections. Perhaps most importantly, the library will foster a sense of community within the developing quad.

In the interest of transparency, we are sharing the proposal widely. Included in the proposal is a detailed, creative and data-driven vision for physical library spaces, as well as a great discussion of trends in use of online journals versus e-books. Some key points from the proposal:

  • the three central elements of the new library program are collections, services and staffing, and user space.
  • We anticipate a 75% reduction in on-campus physical collections in the combined science library.
  • the use and acceptance of eBooks has been increasing, as more and more titles are available as eBooks.
  • The reduction in on-campus physical collections and the consolidation of physical branches in the combined science library will allow a redesign of the staffing model, reducing the number of clerical and paraprofessional staff and increasing the number of professional staff. This change in staffing enables us to fundamentally change the nature of the library service, increasing the nature and extent of the services we can provide to faculty and students.
  • Survey data, focus groups, usage data and comments from users all reinforce the fact that there is strong need for library space for quiet study and quiet small group collaboration.

While we are aggressively soliciting feedback from Stanford faculty, staff, and students; I’m also interested in comments and reactions from colleagues and other Feral Librarian readers. What do you think?

Library Concierge Project: Session 1

Our Library Concierge Project is now in full swing, and we have completed our first training session(s).

Despite some concerns about the appropriateness of the term Concierge, we stuck with that name for a couple of reasons– first, staff were already using the term; and second, no alternate term emerged as a clear front-runner (insert Republican primary joke here). So, the project is officially known as the Library Concierge Project (LCP).

We decided to set up a Library Concierge Project site in CourseWork, Stanford’s primary course management system (based on Sakai). I really wish I could give public viewing rights to the project site, but all of CourseWork requires Stanford authentication.

Key elements of the project and the project site are:

  • Sign ups: Over 250 staff members (about 65% of our total staff — everyone from Subject Specialists to catalogers to mailroom clerks to system administrators to …. you get the picture) have joined the site and are participating in the project. That figure alone is pretty exciting to me. Yes, we have made a big push among staff and managers about how important this is, and how valuable it will be; but I’m still extremely pleased that such a large number of our staff are participating in something that is not explicitly required. We are running at least 3 sessions for every training topic, with max enrollment at each session capped at 50 (so that we can use our own instruction room, and to maintain the possibility of interactive sessions). The Sign up tool allows us to require folks to sign up for one of the sessions and ensure we don’t exceed the Fire Marshall’s posted room capacity limits.
  • Course Materials: For each session, we can add supplemental materials and presentation slides. For example, the next topic is Copyright and Intellectual Property Issues, so we have already linked to the 2011 Charleston Conference “long Arm of the Law” presentations. We are posting all presentation materials on the site after the sessions as well; so we will are building up a nice repository of materials. Future new staff will be able to go back and review old session materials when they arrive.
  • Session Videos: We are committed to filming every topic and streaming the video on our project site. I want to share as much as I can about this project with a very wide audience, so despite the fact that I hate how I look and sound on video, here is an 8-minute clip I uploaded to YouTube of me introducing the Concierge Project and our goals. Unfortunately, I am the only 1 mic’ed up, so there are moments where I nod along knowingly to answers and comments you can’t hear. At the end of the clip, the camera guy’s cell phone rang — which was ironic given how important he told me it was that I take my iPhone out of my pocket during the presentation.
  • Chat Room: We used the Chat Room to provide a backchannel for online discussion and questions during the sessions. Any questions or comments in the Chat Room that don’t get addressed during the session are answered later in the Forums.  For Session 1, the Chat Room was pretty active with a great mix of comments, questions, and answers — it was a great way to have people talking to each other (which is one of the implicit goals of the project).
  • Forums: We are hoping that the Forums will turn into a rich source of conversation and peer learning in between the monthly sessions. We already have over 70 messages in the Forums, so we seem to be off to a decent start.

Because we are using CourseWork so extensively for the project, and because CourseWork support is part of Academic Computing Services, with is part of SULAIR (the acronym for our full organization: Stanford University Libraries and Academic Information Resources); we included an overview of CourseWork in our introductory session. Future topics are likely to include:

  • Copyright, Intellectual Property and Licensing Issues for Libraries
  • Numeric and Spatial Data support
  • Digital Humanities Support
  • Special and regular collection development
  • Multi-media and other technology support
  • All about e-books
  • Digitization programs (Google, HathiTrust, plus our in-house programs/projects)
  • Instruction and reference
  • All about Technical Services

We are actively soliciting topic suggestions from our staff, and expect the list of topics to keep us busy with this for some time to come.

Responses to the project from our staff have been primarily positive, with suggestions for additional topics and requests for examples of good Concierge moments. One staff member asked me if we could keep a public tally of Concierge moments — my response so far is to post them in the Forums for all to see and celebrate. We may also start a Concierge of the Month award of some sort. It really is quite satisfying to be working on a project that is generating such interest and feedback from staff; and which I firmly believe will ultimately benefit our patrons.
So, please wish us continued luck, and stay tuned for more news as the project rolls along.

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