Posts Tagged 'research'

Hack the library

This is the text of a talk I gave at a recent MIT Libraries all-staff meeting to introduce the recommendations in the preliminary report from the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of Libraries. A colleague suggested I share the notes more broadly, as she considered it not just a rallying call for the MIT Libraries community, but also a good recap of the core themes in the report. I gave this talk about a week before the report was released. 

I am very excited to have this chance to start sharing with you the results of our nearly yearlong engagement with the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of Libraries.

What this community has done in convening this Task Force, soliciting the input we got, hosting the range of conversations we had, and really listening to our community, is remarkable, and honestly unheard of in my experience of academic libraries.

The very fact that the 30 members of the Task Force, and the literally hundreds of other members of our community spent their time, energy, and brain power developing a vision for the future of research libraries and producing a set of recommendations for MIT to move us toward that future is amazing. We had faculty from all 5 schools (over 20 faculty in total), plus students and staff, thinking about, talking about, and ultimately writing about libraries since October.

Their engagement, and frankly their confidence in us to realize the bold vision they have laid out for us, is a testament to all the work that all of you have done to earn their faith, respect, and enthusiastic support. Everything you all and your colleagues have done made the work of this Task Force possible and is the enabling lifeblood that runs through this report.

I know you all have been waiting for this report for a while now, we have been in a state of transition and a state of preparing and building our capacity to enact a new vision and new strategic priorities for some time; and I want to thank you for your patience and say that I hope you are as certain as I am that it has been worth the wait.

Working with this Task Force to gather input, to really listen to the community, and to try to synthesize and make sense of everything we heard, and everything we collectively know and think and want out of libraries and higher education has pretty much consumed my time and my energy and my soul for the last 10 months. This has been the most intense, hardest, and most important work I have done in my library career to date. 

And this kickoff with you all is perhaps the most important step now that the report is so close to approval and public release. We are the ones, collectively, who are going to make the vision and recommendations in this report a reality. This report confirms that the MIT community expects big things from us; and I for one wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Barry Bonds hitting one into McCovey Cove, by Chris Bourg

To use a baseball analogy, with this Task Force and this report, we are swinging for the fences. But I’m a San Francisco Giants fan, and I had the privilege of watching Barry Bonds in his glory years. I watched him swing for the fences in games where he only got 1 pitch to hit; and still he connected more than any other player in history. If you want to hit a homerun, you have to swing for the fences. (I may have also adlibbed something about this report being “research library on steroids” to complete the analogy-although I still choose to believe Barry never knowingly used steroids.)

For the less baseball obsessed amongst us, I’ll say that this is our moonshot. And really a moonshot is a better analogy, because hitting a home run, as majestic as that is, is a solo act. Getting to the moon though, that’s a team effort.

And like a moonshot, this vision we have in front of us only gets off the ground once you all are invested in it too. And to get there, I know you all need time to think about it, talk about it, ask questions about it.

Certainly your expertise and your experience and your ideas on how we can move these recommendations forward will be crucial. We need to, and will, have conversations about where we start, what we need, and success will look like – in short, medium and long term. We also need to ask questions together, come to a shared understanding, and develop a shared sense of excitement and commitment. The impact of the Task Force and the report will be realized through your engagement.

You have all, I hope, read the Executive Summary by now; and you know even from that, that the Task Force has painted a high-level aspirational, but not vague, future for us. One of the most inspiring sub-texts of the report and the conversations in the forums we held and in the Task Force meetings themselves was the confidence our colleagues throughout the Institute (faculty, staff, students, and alumni) have in us; and their desire to collaborate with us as partners in providing the content, tools, services, expertise, spaces, and technologies needed to do what MIT does best – advance knowledge, educate students, and solve the worlds biggest problems.

I believe this report goes well beyond any other strategic plan or library vision I have seen, in that it recommends that we not just respond to changes in scholarship and teaching, but that we become a platform through which research, teaching, and learning is transformed.

Let me talk a little about the Task Force’s process and the vision and recommendations in the report.

First, the Task Force had a number of passionate conversations where there was some pretty vigorous disagreement on a range of topics, such as:

  • the relative role of digital versus print collections,
  • the degree to which MIT & the MIT Libraries should push Open Access for all scholarly publications,
  • the degree to which MIT ought to prioritize our obligations to a global community versus our service to the on-campus local community.

These and other topics inspired some heated debates and were the source of some tensions in the Task Force … but ultimately, we found remarkable levels of agreement around a common set of principles and values. That consensus formed the basis for the vision and set of recommendations that ultimately landed in the report. The values that animate the vision of the Task Force are things like the importance of the advancement of knowledge, privacy, openness, service, innovation, and support for diversity in all aspects of our work.

As the executive summary makes clear, the Task Force articulated a vision of a future where access to information is ubiquitous and open. The Task Force and the folks we talked to envision a world where data and knowledge and scholarship flows freely, and where anyone can access it, share it, contribute to it, and exploit it as needed. They want libraries to build and maintain that world, and collaborate with others to build it.

Through all the different opinions and approaches to the future of libraries, the Task Force was united in affirming that at their core, libraries have always been about sharing information, providing community spaces, and preserving knowledge. In the report, the Task Force sketches a vision for what those functions could and should look like in a truly networked, fully digitally enabled world.

This image of the open dome is the key illustration of the new vision of a research library that fully exploits technology to operate as an open global platform.

global-platform

We want the libraries to be that platform in a physical and a networked digital world, and we seek collaborators from within MIT and throughout the world to help us build that platform.

This platform idea, which is both a set of networked repositories of content, metadata, tools and services, and a set of physical spaces, services, and human expertise; is symbolized by the iconic MIT great dome, and it rests on a set of pillars. Those pillars represent community, discovery, stewardship, and research.

The vision and the recommendations are all based on the shared mission and set of values that the Task Force agreed on — MIT’s and librarianship’s values of openness, service, advancing knowledge, innovation, and diversity.

There are recommendations associated with each of the pillars.

Let’s start with Community and Relationships. The Task Force report calls on us to think of our community and our relationships in global terms, and to think of our spaces and our services, especially our educational role, as open and integrated into the full life of our communities.

Recommendation 1: The Task Force asserts that the MIT Libraries must be a global library serving a global university and its audiences. The MIT Libraries should conceive of the communities they serve as concentric circles, from the closely affiliated circle of current students, faculty, and staff to increasingly larger circles of cooperating scholars, MIT alumni, participants in MITx classes, the local Cambridge and Boston community, and the broader global community of scholars.

Recommendation 1 says that we need to think of ourselves as a global library for a global university; and that we should think of our audience in terms of concentric circles – striving to provide as much access as possible to people in all circles.

This recommendation came about in recognition of the way MIT scholars work – both the fact that they frequently work from remote locations all around the globe, and the fact that they collaborate with other scholars, formally and informally, from all over the world. As MIT seeks to take on research questions and grand challenges that are global in nature, MIT faculty need to be able to easily share articles and data and access with colleagues who are not officially part of the MIT community. The Task Force recognizes that all scholarship is better when more people can participate, and opening up access as widely as we can helps move that vision along.

The value of openness also came up in discussions of the library spaces – we heard over and over how much the MIT community appreciated that our libraries, unlike many other private university libraries, are open to the public. Students spoke of the libraries as a “haven” on campus; faculty and staff described our spaces (and their vision for renovated spaces) as intellectual and social gathering spaces. And one department head told me that she credits the library for their best graduate student yield in years, because they held their graduate student reception in the library during preview weekend.

Recommendation 2: The Task Force recommends that the Institute create a new planning group to make specific recommendations regarding the redesign of the MIT Libraries’ physical spaces, reflecting the vision and themes of this report.

Recommendation 2 is about bringing focused and expert attention to developing a vision for library spaces that fits our vision for the library more generally. There is early support by the administration for convening this space planning group; and I think we will be able to make progress there rather quickly.

Recommendation 3: In supporting the research and teaching mission of MIT, the Libraries will provide educational opportunities to equip MIT community members with essential skills and habits for critically and effectively using information. It also will teach them the skills required to responsibly generate new knowledge and to create the platforms, systems, and networks to disseminate it, guided by the values held dear by MIT and by the library profession.

Recommendation 3 goes beyond usual information literacy roles for librarians, and recognizes that both our expertise and student need is much more complicated than how to search. Students at MIT are more than consumers of information.  As individual creators of knowledge, they need to understand patents, standards, copyright, trademarks, regulations and all the rules of engagement in the global landscape where commerce, academia, and research take place.  In addition to creating new knowledge, students are also actively developing apps, algorithms, platforms and tools that enable dissemination, sharing, and consumption of information by others – it is essential that MIT students critically understand the impact and social consequences of technical choices and design decisions.

This recommendation validates much of what we are already doing, and gives us the support and mandate to do more; and to really do some interesting and innovative things with our instruction program.

The Discovery and Use section of the full report is the most detailed, and not surprisingly, the most technical.

Recommendation 4: In support of the MIT mission and values of openness and service, the MIT Libraries should be a trusted vehicle for disseminating MIT research to the world.

In Recommendation 4, the Task Force is saying they expect us to continue to be the primary trusted dissemination platform for OA articles, but/and also calls on us to expand that to include taking responsibility for openly providing rich, comprehensive, well-described, and well-structured data that will fuel an ever-evolving scholarly ecosystem. In the Task Force discussions with faculty, many scholars talked as much about wanting to discover people and ideas as they did about wanting to discovery articles – even, especially people & research happening right here at MIT. They want the libraries to take responsibility for collecting and providing access to all kinds of research outputs. The Task Force recognizes the importance of having a repository of information about MIT’s research efforts, with carefully curated links to its resources, authors, contributing organizations and topical areas; and they are signaling their support for the libraries leading those efforts.

Recommendation 5: The MIT Libraries will provide comprehensive digital access to content in our collections and/or content needed by MIT’s global community by expanding our capacity to acquire and make available born-digital content, and by embarking on an ambitious project to digitize much of our analog collections.

Recommendation 5 came out of some of the most passionate debates the Task Force had. There were members of the Task Force who do everything online, and who believe that better technology and changing user behaviors and expectations will make the need for print materials go away sooner rather than later. Other members were just as passionate about the need for tangible materials for some kinds of learning and some types of research. But, even those who make heavy use of print resources also need online access to digital resources. Eventually we all agreed that in an ideal world, everything would be available in digital form; and some things would also be available in physical formats.

It took a bit of data to help some members of the Task Force see just how much of the scholarly record is actually not digital, or not digital in accessible, findable formats.

Although I like to refer to Recommendation 5 as our “Digitize Everything” mandate – it is actually considerably more nuanced than that. Yes, it does call for an ambitious digitization project, but/and it also calls for efforts to ensure our digital collections are available in minimal computing environments and in formats optimized for text-mining and other computational analyses.

Recommendation 6: Through interdisciplinary institutional and external partnerships, the Libraries should generate open, interoperable content platforms that explore new ways of producing, using, sharing, and preserving knowledge and that promote revolutionary new methodologies for the discovery and organization of information, people, ideas, and networks.

Recommendation 6 follows from 5. It isn’t enough to just digitize everything – we have to then create and maintain open, interoperable, and networked platforms of content so that we aren’t simply creating new silos of digital content. The content platforms we create have to work with existing digital libraries, and have to be open so that scholars can be creative in how they access, discover, and use the content. Many members of the Task Force were most excited about the prospect of the libraries building and expanding its content platforms so that new kinds of discovery tools could be built – ideally by and for scholars, reflecting scholarly needs and academic values. While many faculty rely on third party tools like Google Scholar, academia.edu, Mendeley and the like; they see the long-term value and benefits of such tools emanating from within academia – where there is a commitment to sustainability and a history of trust.

Recommendation 7: The Task Force recommends that the Institute convene a new Ad Hoc Task Force on Open Access to review the current MIT Faculty Open Access Policy and its implementation with an eye toward revising and expanding current policies and practices, where appropriate, to further the Institute’s mission of disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible.

Recommendation 7 reflects the high level of interest the Task Force heard from faculty, students, staff, post-docs and others in Open Access. At almost every meeting we had, someone asked “what are you going to do about OA?” or more pointedly “what are you going to do about the publishers?”

The Task Force wisely realized that while the libraries have significant interest in and expertise in facilitating open access to scholarship, MIT’s OA policy is a Faculty policy, and any revisions to it must come from an MIT coalition much broader than the libraries.

On to recommendations in the area of Stewardship & Sustainability. Our responsibility as the long term stewards of scholarship, and especially of the Institute’s memory, is ever more important and we are being called upon to expand and accelerate our leadership in developing sustainable models in digital preservation.

Recommendation 8: Through its archival programs and practices, the MIT Libraries will serve as a durable, trusted repository for research objects produced at MIT and the metadata associated with MIT scholars and scholarship, as a continuation of their mission to serve as the “Institute’s memory” and record of research and learning.

These recommendations reflect the dual ideas that the library has to continue to serve as the Institute’s memory, and that long-term stewardship of records, manuscripts, data, articles, and other kinds of research objects is a real and pressing challenge in a digital age.

Scholars are putting their papers up on personal and department websites, and sharing their data and graphs on commercial sites like Mendeley and Figshare. While these are expedient short-term solutions that work well enough for an individual scholar, the Task Force recognizes that the Institute and academia in general is best served when the libraries are the trusted long-term repository for the scholarly record. Our challenge in accomplishing this recommendation is as much an organizational and a resource one as it is a technical one; but having this kind of a recommendation from the Task Force provides a strong organizational mandate to build on.

Recommendation 9: The MIT Libraries should continue to actively engage with and, in many cases, provide leadership to collaborative global efforts to develop viable models and systems for the long-term stewardship and preservation of digital research.

Recommendation 9 says we can’t do this alone, and provides us with the encouragement to continue to lead where we have the expertise, and to partner and collaborate with promising coalitions that are working on the hard problems of digital stewardship & preservation.

Recommendation 10: The Task Force recommends that MIT establish an Initiative for Research in Information Science and Scholarly Communication, based in the MIT Libraries, to enable bold experimentation and to serve as a hub for best-in-class research on the great challenges in information science and scholarly communication.

Recommendation 10 is where the Task Force signals just how serious they are about this vision.

Much of what we want to accomplish in building and sustaining a library that operates as an open global platform requires significant investment in research, development, and experimentation.

An Initiative for Research in Information Science and Scholarly Communication would accelerate progress on a number of key issues of importance to scholars and practitioners at MIT and across the globe.

An initiative of this kind would leverage several strengths of MIT and the MIT Libraries to achieve significant progress in interdisciplinary, applied research, and experimentation in information science and scholarly communication.  MIT Libraries have a uniquely close relationship with the MIT Press, an existing research program in information science, a donor-funded Digital Sustainability Lab working on solutions to digital content management challenges, and access to scholars and students doing groundbreaking work in relevant fields at MIT.

The Task Force imagines research projects that draw on local and external expertise in, for example, brain and cognitive science, media arts and design, computer science, and business modeling.

I think that the big message from the Task Force report is that Libraries have always been the platform upon which new knowledge and understandings are built; and that even, especially at a place like MIT, libraries remain a central part of the scholarly ecosystem and have a crucial role to play in transforming research and learning in a digital age. There is also a recognition in this report that the work we are being asked to do is hard, and that in many cases the models don’t yet exist. There are gaps in the knowledge needed to advance some of recommendations – so the libraries also have to be a home for research and development.

At its core, this report is an affirmation that libraries and our collections are for use – that is the root of our conception of the library as a global platform. This report and the vision it promotes is an invitation – we are inviting MIT and the world to hack the open global platform that is our library.

We are all are part of that invitation – with this report and starting with this conversation, we are all being invited to invent the future, to build the components (technical, social, educational, political) of a global library, and to simultaneously hack the library in exciting, clever, productive, and creative ways.

Batter up!

 

a dissertation finds her readers

By now, I hope y’all have heard of SocArXiv, a new open social science archive. I think it is one of the most promising new projects in open access scholarship right now. Of course, I’m a bit biased, being on the Steering Committee and all. But the fact that this was started by social science faculty who immediately reached out to the library community for collaborators, is a big part of why I find this whole endeavor so promising. This isn’t one of those “build it and they 1 will come” archives. This is a “they built it and want us to partner with them” archives.

But a funny thing happened on the way to open social science. When SocArXiv did a soft launch on the OSF platform, I uploaded a few of my own papers. I posted an OA article from Code4Lib that I wrote with Bess Sadler (Feminism and the Future of Library Discovery). I also posted an unpublished manuscript (Bowling with Veterans) that I had submitted to a top-tier sociology journal in 2000 or 2001. It got rejected back then, but in a very gentle and helpful way.  I got 2 incredibly supportive and helpful reviews, and a letter from the editor with strong encouragement to submit to a more specialized journal (military sociology is still not very popular in mainstream sociology). I revised it some, but then abandoned it to finish my dissertation. It’s a good paper, and I was happy to finally have somewhere to put it.

But the really interesting thing is what happened when I published my 2003 dissertation (Gender Mistakes and Inequality) on SocArXiv.

It got read. A lot.

In fact, it has been downloaded 160 times so far,2 making it the most dowloaded paper on SocArXiv right now. Before SocArXiv, I’m not sure anyone outside my committee and a few generous colleagues had read it.3 It has been cited once, albeit by a colleague who was just a year or two behind me in graduate school, so it was pretty easy for her to discovery it.

I actually like my dissertation, and I used to wish I had gotten it published in the traditional way some time closer to when I finished it. But I was a year into my new career in academic libraries by the time I finished the dang thing, and I just never did find the time or energy to revise it to make it suitable for journal submission. But lo these many years later, my dissertation has found her readers. 4

Aside from the ego boost, I actually think this is a great example of the power and usefulness of open access archives. I hope those folks who have downloaded it find useful ideas to build on in it. That was really all I ever wanted–for my dissertation to be useful. But to be useful, it needed to be read; and to be read, it apparently needed SocArXiv.

___________

  1. “They” being shorthand for faculty, who we are often told don’t want OA, or don’t care. Obviously some don’t; but some do. Coalition of the willing and all that.
  2. I know reading and downloading aren’t the same. Whatever.
  3. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t “peer reviewed”. It was reviewed by an all-star committee (Ridgeway, Tuma, Olzak, Jost). Karen Cook and Shelley Correll also read drafts and gave me feedback.
  4. Why yes, I am invoking Ranganathan
  5. And yes, I did just gender my dissertation. But I might be mistaken.

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.

Some research on gender, technology, stereotypes and culture

Leading up to the Leadership, Technology, and Gender Summit, my colleague-friend Jennifer Vinopal and I have been collecting sets of recommended readings to help frame the conversations. We tried to find readings that address most of the topics outlined in What are we talking about when we talk about Leadership, Technology and Gender, while also keeping the list to a reasonable length and making sure the readings were accessible to all. It is a great list.

Here are some additional recommended readings that did not make the list for LTG, but which I think are critical to understanding the scope of the challenges involved in tackling the problems of gender and technology. Most of them are paywall, which sucks.*

“Do Female and Male Role Models Who Embody STEM Stereotypes Hinder Women’s Anticipated Success in STEM?” Sapna Cheryan, John Oliver Siy, Marissa Vichayapai, Benjamin J. Drury and Saenam Kim Social Psychological and Personality Science 2011 2: 656 originally published online 15 April 2011 DOI: 10.1177/1948550611405218

Abstract
Women who have not yet entered science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields underestimate how well they
will perform in those fields (e.g., Correll, 2001; Meece, Parsons, Kaczala, & Goff, 1982). It is commonly assumed that female role models improve women’s beliefs that they can be successful in STEM. The current work tests this assumption. Two experiments varied role model gender and whether role models embody computer science stereotypes. Role model gender had no effect on success beliefs. However, women who interacted with nonstereotypical role models believed they would be more successful in computer science than those who interacted with stereotypical role models. Differences in women’s success beliefs were mediated by their perceived dissimilarity from stereotypical role models. When attempting to convey to women that they can be successful in STEM fields, role model gender may be less important than the extent to which role models embody current STEM stereotypes.

“STEMing the tide: Using ingroup experts to inoculate women’s self-concept in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).” Stout, Jane G.; Dasgupta, Nilanjana; Hunsinger, Matthew; McManus, Melissa A.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 100(2), Feb 2011, 255-270. doi: 10.1037/a0021385

Abstract
Three studies tested a stereotype inoculation model, which proposed that contact with same-sex experts (advanced peers, professionals, professors) in academic environments involving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) enhances women’s self-concept in STEM, attitudes toward STEM, and motivation to pursue STEM careers. Two cross-sectional controlled experiments and 1 longitudinal naturalistic study in a calculus class revealed that exposure to female STEM experts promoted positive implicit attitudes and stronger implicit identification with STEM (Studies 1–3), greater self-efficacy in STEM (Study 3), and more effort on STEM tests (Study 1). Studies 2 and 3 suggested that the benefit of seeing same-sex experts is driven by greater subjective identification and connected- ness with these individuals, which in turn predicts enhanced self-efficacy, domain identification, and commitment to pursue STEM careers. Importantly, women’s own self-concept benefited from contact with female experts even though negative stereotypes about their gender and STEM remained active.

“Math–Gender Stereotypes in Elementary School Children” Dario Cvencek, Andrew N. Meltzoff, Anthony G. Greenwald Article first published online: 9 MAR 2011 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01529.x

A total of 247 American children between 6 and 10 years of age (126 girls and 121 boys) completed Implicit Association Tests and explicit self-report measures assessing the association of (a) me with male (gender identity), (b) male with math (math–gender stereotype), and (c) me with math (math self-concept). Two findings emerged. First, as early as second grade, the children demonstrated the American cultural stereotype that math is for boys on both implicit and explicit measures. Second, elementary school boys identified with math more strongly than did girls on both implicit and self-report measures. The findings suggest that the math–gender stereotype is acquired early and influences emerging math self-concepts prior to ages at which there are actual differences in math achievement.

“Ambient Belonging: How Stereotypical Cues Impact Gender Participation in Computer Science” Sapna Cheryan,Paul G. Davies, Victoria C. Plaut and Claude M. Steele. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol. 97, No. 6, 1045–1060 DOI: 10.1037/a0016239

People can make decisions to join a group based solely on exposure to that group’s physical environment. Four studies demonstrate that the gender difference in interest in computer science is influenced by exposure to environments associated with computer scientists. In Study 1, simply changing the objects in a computer science classroom from those considered stereotypical of computer science (e.g., Star Trek poster, video games) to objects not considered stereotypical of computer science (e.g., nature poster, phone books) was sufficient to boost female undergraduates’ interest in computer science to the level of their male peers. Further investigation revealed that the stereotypical broadcast a masculine stereotype that discouraged women’s sense of ambient belonging and subsequent interest in the environment (Studies 2, 3, and 4) but had no similar effect on men (Studies 3, 4). This masculine stereotype prevented women’s interest from developing even in environments entirely populated by other women (Study 2). Objects can thus come to broadcast stereotypes of a group, which in turn can deter people who do not identify with these stereotypes from joining that group.

Other great resources include:
Women in Computer Sciences: Closing the Gender Gap in Higher Education from Carnegie Mellon University

Starting in 1995, we have engaged in an interdisciplinary program of research and action in response to this situation. The research effort has been to understand male and female students’ engagement — attachment, persistence, and detachment — with computer science, with a special focus on the gender imbalance in the field. Students in the study have been interviewed once per semester about their family and schooling history, experiences with computing, feelings and attitudes about studying computer science. The goal of the action component has been to devise and effect changes in curriculum, pedagogy and culture that will encourage the broadest possible participation in the computing enterprise.

In part as a result of our efforts, the entering enrollment of women in the undergraduate Computer Science program at Carnegie Mellon has risen from 8% in 1995 to 42% in 2000

Reading list for MIT Open CourseWare course “Gender and Technology”:

Course Description
This course considers a wide range of issues related to the contemporary and historical use of technology, the development of new technologies, and the cultural representation of technology, including the role women have played in the development of technology and the effect of technological change on the roles of women and ideas of gender. It discusses the social implications of technology and its understanding and deployment in different cultural contexts. It investigates the relationships between technology and identity categories, such as gender, race, class, and sexuality, and examines how technology offers possibilities for new social relations and how to evaluate them.

* If you need access to any of these articles for your personal non-profit, educational use, contact a librarian near you ;-)

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.

Why I’m Leaning In with library colleagues

We started a Lean In Circle at Stanford Libraries recently, and while I am very excited about it, I am well aware that the whole Lean In thing has its critics. Some of the most compelling criticisms of Lean In I’ve read to date are:

Even though Sandberg goes to great lengths in both the book and in her talks to add all the right caveats about how not everyone wants it all and that’s OK, and to applaud those who are working on the structural side of the problem; I feel that her rhetoric often displays a kind of tone-deafness to those with different goals and values, and/or those who lack the privileges of class, race, and sexual orientation that she enjoys.

So why am I so excited to have started a Lean In Circle at Stanford that I even agreed to gush about it to the San Jose Mercury News? Well, some of the answers to that are in our Stanford Libraries news article about it:

Although librarianship is a female-dominated profession, women are still under-represented in leadership positions relative to their numbers in the profession. This is especially true in senior leadership roles at top research libraries. Moreover, as libraries become more digital and more reliant on technology expertise, our organizations are affected by the well-documented problems of gender inequality in the technology industry.

We at the Stanford University Libraries believe that our organization and the library profession at large are most effective when all of us are able and encouraged to contribute based on our skills, talents, passions and ideas, not based on our gender. Providing opportunities like the Leaning In @ Stanford Libraries Circle is one way we are activating that belief: by empowering and equipping our staff to talk about and overcome the obstacles we all face in the workplace and at home.

Lean In circles are kinda like a book club, but with a focus on equipping and empowering people to combat gender inequality and bias as they encounter it. They can be mixed gender groups, but we decided that our pilot group might work best as an all-female group. Our group decided to meet on a monthly basis, alternating between Educational meetings and Exploration meetings. At the Educational meetings, we will employ a flipped classroom approach. Before the meeting, each of us will watch one of the 20 minute videos from the Clayman Institute for Gender Research’s Voice & Influence curriculum. We will then use our meeting time to discuss the topic raised in the video and practice putting what we have learned into action. At the Exploration meetings, group members will share real-life challenges with each other, providing us all the opportunity to learn from our diverse experiences and insights.

I get that branding our Circle with the Lean In brand implies a certain level of agreement with Sandberg’s perspective; but I can tell you from our experience so far that the women in our group are too smart to buy into anything so uncritically. We’ve already had some great discussions of the many criticisms of Lean In, and I am certain we will continue to explore a wide range of perspectives on the issues. While we certainly could have started such a group before Sandberg came along, the sad fact is that we didn’t. The whole Lean In phenomena provided not only the impetus for the group, but also a layer of legitimacy that forestalls any open questioning of why we’re even talking about gender.

Sandberg’s book tells her story and provides her advice. Our Lean In Circle allows all of us to tell our own stories, so that each of us can take what we want from each others’ experiences. But more than just providing a forum for women to support and validate one another, it provides a space where we can learn together what social science research has to say about how gender and gender bias affect individuals and organizations, and what we can do about it individually and as leaders in our organizations.

Do I think Lean In circles are the answer to sexism and gender bias in the workplace? Nope. But I do know that for the women in my Lean In circle, having a supportive network where we can discuss our own diverse goals and how gender affects our ability to reach them is very much appreciated. And having the enthusiastic support of senior leadership to do this is incredibly powerful.

We have 14 women in our initial group, and every one of them is excited and grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this. We also have dozens more men and women who want to participate in subsequent groups. Sheryl Sandberg certainly didn’t invent the idea of women and our male allies forming supportive networks, but at this moment in time she has sparked a renewed interest in it and support for it. And despite (or maybe because of) my concerns that Lean In misses lots of marks; I’m not willing to pass up this chance to facilitate just such a group with some of the awesome colleagues I have at the Stanford Libraries. And that is why, with all kinds of conflicting, complicated thoughts and feelings about it, I’m willing to Lean In with my colleagues and see what we can accomplish.

My short stint on the JLA Editorial Board

In the Fall of 2012, I was persuaded by Damon Jaggars to join the Editorial Board of the Journal of Library Administration. This week, we all resigned.

When I was asked to be on the board, I warned Damon that I had actually never published anything in library literature, and that I was generally critical of the quality of much of the literature in the field. He convinced me this would be a chance to do something about it, and that he had some good ideas for publishing a quality product. Damon is a pretty persuasive guy, and I figured it was time for me to stop grousing about the problems with library literature and try to be part of the solution. So I signed on.

Later, Damon asked me to write an article about our Library Concierge project for JLA, and again I said yes. When Damon contacted me later with an actual deadline for the article, I told him I was having second thoughts. It was just days after Aaron Swartz’ death, and I was having a crisis of conscience about publishing in a journal that was not open access. Damon reminded me (gently) that not only had I agreed to write for JLA, but I was on the Editorial Board, so this could be a problem. More importantly, he assured me that he was working with Taylor & Francis to try to get them to adopt less restrictive agreements that would allow for some form of Creative Commons license. He told me his strategy was to work from within to encourage change among publishers. Once again, Damon’s power of persuasion worked.

So, I worked on the article, and just recently submitted it. In the meantime, Damon continued to try to convince Taylor & Francis (on behalf of the entire Editorial Board, and with our full support), that their licensing terms were too confusing and too restrictive. A big part of the argument is that the Taylor & Francis author agreement is a real turn-off for authors and was handicapping the Editorial Board’s ability to attract quality content to the journal. The best Taylor & Francis could come up with was a less restrictive license that would cost authors nearly $3000 per article. The Board agreed that this alternative was simply not tenable, so we collectively resigned. In a sense, the decision was as much a practical one as a political one. Huge kudos to Damon for his persistence, his leadership, and his measured and ethical stance on this issue.

So, if anyone has an opening on an editorial board of a journal with less restrictive author agreements, I just so happen to have some free time. I’ve also got a fairly decent article about our Library Concierge Project all ready if anyone wants to publish it.

(3/23, 5:43pm, Edited to correct some spelling and add a link. CB)

 

The great librarian identity crisis of 2013

Recent events, such as the hiring of Dan “not a librarian” Cohen as Founding Executive Director of the Digital Public Library of America and the elimination of faculty status for future librarians at the University of Virginia, have given new life to old debates about who gets to be called a librarian and just what a librarian is anyway. As someone who is on record as being a fan of “feral librarians” (being one myself), and not a fan of faculty status for librarians, some might expect me to be gloating right about now. By all accounts, Dan Cohen seems to be an excellent choice for the DPLA job, and I think the UVa decision is ultimately a good one. But rather than gloating or doing some sort of “I told you so” dance, I find myself earnestly trying to understand why some in the library profession find moves like these troubling.  And I mean that in a “trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes” kind of way, not in a “what are they thinking?” kind of way.

In Still further beyond the cave, Natalia Cecire writes about the seemingly endless conversations that attempt to define and therefore delimit the boundaries of digital humanities as “The Mistaken Conversation”, had at the expense of “The conversation we might have instead [that] could involve looking at great work that’s happening now and talking about what makes it interesting.”

I certainly think we could say the same about the conversations about librarian status — wouldn’t we be better off talking about the value of the work done by those who work in libraries, regardless of degrees, job titles, or faculty status? (Note that I am fully willing to implicate myself in perpetuating some of the mistaken conversations). And yet, we keep having those conversations; and I think Cecire is really on to something when she notes that “the gatekeeping impulse has a great deal to do with a desire to preserve the field …as a site of virtue.” She is talking about digital humanities when she notes that the discourse of the field has a heavy ethical tone, with emphasis on norms of democracy, collaboration, equality; but the notion really resonated with me with respect to policing the boundaries of librarianship. As I’ve noted earlier, much of the objection to “feral librarians” has to do with a fear that we have not been socialized properly into the norms and values of the profession. (Side note, if you wonder why some find the term “feral librarian” offensive, go read “Raised by wolves”, where James Neal, University Librarian at Columbia, coins the term … yowza!).

I haven’t thought it all through yet, but it does seem to me that the angst about librarianship is about defending the virtue and value of the profession and the professional credentials. Libraries of all kinds are under huge pressures (even from within) to defend their value, and I can certainly see where the hiring of outsiders for big library jobs and the loss of faculty status might feel like additional signs that the value of libraries and librarianship is in question. And I am definitely on board with defending the value of libraries and the work that we do, and I have been known to get defensive myself when people who aren’t members of my profession try to act like it.

But I wonder if there is a way to “change the narrative” (hat tip to Bess Sadler for the phrase). What if the story was that the work libraries do is so important and so cool that everyone wants a piece of it? Or that libraries are such logical places for a broad range of services and resources that of course we need to hire folks with a broader range of education and skills and talents? And in terms of faculty status, I love what Deborah Jakubs had to say on an earlier post:

…librarians are learned and talented and bring skills and attitudes and services to the university that most regular faculty both admire and need. So rather than constantly trying to compare ourselves to faculty, and often coming up short, let’s celebrate the differences and complementarity.

Kumbaya, my friends … and not in a bad way.

More faculty survey results, plus the survey instrument

Tools

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


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