Posts Tagged 'technology'



Gender issues panel

So I agreed to be on this panel about Challenges of gender issues in library technology that is happening in an hour or so. To be honest, I’m more than a little nervous about it. In between the time I said yes to the panel and now, ALA issued a Code of Conduct (Yay!), and there were some reactions. I really hope the panel doesn’t end up being just a big debate about the Code of Conduct. The challenges facing libraries in terms of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and a whole host of other problems that are cause and consequence of a profession that is nearly 90% white and over 80% female are complex and go way beyond codes of conduct. I hope the conversation is as complex and wide-ranging as the issues are. The structure of the panel is such that each of the panel members gets 3-5 minutes to say something about the issues, then we open up for questions. Since I have been known to ad-lib a bit, here’s what I intend to say:

I come at this topic from a slightly different angle – I’ve never worked directly in library technology (or technology at all for that matter); but I did spend 10 years in the Army before my library career, so I do know something about working in a male dominated profession with a distinct kind of masculine culture. In addition, much of my PhD work in sociology centered on gender and sexuality, and I’ve done a bit of research on leadership and organizational diversity. Finally, I’m a senior leader at a pretty big research library – where we consider ourselves leaders in digital library innovation and where we aspire to leadership in terms of promoting gender equity in library technology.  I’m proud to say that we are working towards creating an organizational environment where everyone can thrive both personally and professionally. We aren’t there yet, I doubt we or anyone else will ever get there, but we have done some effective things that I’m rather proud of.

As many of you know, the Stanford University Libraries issued a statement last year encouraging our staff to attend only those professional conferences that had anti-harassment policies or codes of conduct. More importantly, we encouraged our staff to exercise leadership in their professional organizations by advocating for and helping create codes of conduct for conferences that did not yet have one. The story of our stance is a deceptively simple one – it started when I asked some of the women who work in library technology jobs at Stanford what the leadership team at Stanford could do to support them. One of the first and most consistent things these folks suggested leaders could do was to support codes of conduct so that all people might feel safer and more welcome when attending important professional development events. So that’s what we did.

And again, I’m incredibly proud of the stance we took, and of the fact that Stanford librarians have indeed been instrumental in promoting codes of conduct for several library & library-related conferences.

But as important as codes of conduct are, they are only one piece of what needs to be a persistent, multi-faceted approach to ensuring that not only white women and women of color, but also all people of color, trans people, queer people and other marginalized and under-represented people are recruited, mentored, retained, and supported in our profession.

We are a painfully homogenous profession – librarianship is overwhelmingly white and female, and library technology is overwhelmingly white and male. Gender bias and imbalance is a problem; but so too is racial underrepresentation. Librarianship didn’t just end up so white by accident, and it won’t change without radical and active interventions.  And I think we need to stop throwing our hands up and declaring it a “pipe-line” problem, and we need to throw our collective professional weight and expertise behind addressing those structural pipe-line problems.

And no, I don’t have specifics right now; but I know that there are people who have been working on this and who have experience and expertise to share, but whose voices we have not prioritized or amplified.  We need to do our research and we need to listen and learn.  And I trust that if we made social justice a true priority of librarianship – and not just one of our core values that we trot out from time to time – we could make some headway on creating & sustaining a more diverse workforce across libraries and library technology. But honestly, at some point we probably need to stop talking about it, and start listening and then start doing.

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

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 fastcompany.com – 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.

We’ve come a short way … and don’t even think about calling me “baby”

I was doing a bit of research and found this quote that sounded both very dated and sadly, not so dated. So I paired it with two more recent quotes, offered here without further comment.

Women are quite generally acknowledged to work under a handicap because of a more delicate physique. This shows itself in less ability to carry calmly the heavy burdens of administrative responsibility, to endure continued mental strain in technical work or to stand for a long period.

~ Salome Cutler Fairchild, “Women in American Libraries”, Library Journal, 29, 1904. Quoted in Still a Man’s World by Christine L. Williams.

So my best guess, to provoke you, of what’s behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people’s legitimate family desires and employers’ current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination.

~ Lawrence Summers, Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce, January 2005

Programming is a very modal activity. To be any good at it you have to focus. And be very patient. I imagine it’s a lot like sitting in a blind waiting for a rabbit to show up so you can grab it and bring it home for dinner.There is specialization in our species. It seems pretty clear that programming as it exists today is a mostly male thing.

Dave Winer, Why are there so few women programmers?, Scripting News, August 19, 2013

A queer, feminist agenda for libraries: Significance, relevance and power

Bess Sadler and I are slated to present a paper on Feminism and the Future of Library Discovery at the Feminisms and Rhetorics conference here at Stanford next month. It has been really interesting to think about how to present these ideas to a primarily non-librarian crowd. Bess is doing most of the real work, but I promised to try my hand at providing some context in an introduction. This is super drafty, so comments very welcome.

~~~~~~~~

Libraries have never been neutral repositories of knowledge. This will likely strike many, particularly scholars working in feminist and/or queer theory traditions, as a not particularly novel or insightful claim. I expect that most will readily concede that libraries surely reflect the inequalities, biases, ethnocentrism, and power imbalances that exist throughout the academic enterprise. What may not be as obvious is the degree to which libraries contribute to bias and inequality in scholarship; and conversely the amount of power and responsibility libraries and librarians have to promote a more inclusive version of the scholarly record.

Libraries exercise considerable influence over the diversity (or lack thereof) of scholarship primarily through choices we make in fulfilling our primary missions of collecting, preserving, and providing access to information.

Collection development decisions have profound impacts on who and what is represented in the scholarly and cultural record. The decisions we make about whose archives to collect and preserve, and what books and journals to buy, are inevitably biased, based as they are on some combination of the judgements and interests of individual libraries and librarians, and on those same librarians’ sense of the tastes and needs of our patrons. Besides the obvious impact on the kinds of resources available to current scholars, our collection development decisions also impact the marketplace for scholarly publications. Libraries have historically represented a significant market for scholarly books coming out of university and academic presses, so budget-based decisions that reduce the numbers and types of monographs we purchase are likely to influence the kinds of authors and topics that presses are willing to publish.

Libraries collect — and therefore publishers publish — books by authors and about topics that are deemed to be novel and important, and that are expected to be heavily used by others. But those evaluations don’t happen in a vacuum. Like nearly every evaluative decision humans make, decisions about the quality and value of research and writing are riddled with biases and are made through lenses of power. These decisions then become self-perpetuating through a vicious cycle by which publications are judged by the reputation of the publisher and by how many major research libraries hold a copy of the publication. But conscious attention to collecting more diverse literatures, authors, topics and archives will only get us so far towards a more inclusive and feminist agenda for libraries.

As Hope Olsen’s work on critical feminist approaches to knowledge organization demonstrates, libraries also exert tremendous control over how books and other scholarly items are organized and therefore how, when, and by whom they are discoverable. As an example, librarians determine the primary subject classification of a book, which in turn determines the book’s call number and physical placement in the library stacks. Hierarchical classification schemas marginalize certain kinds of knowledge and certain topics by creating separate sub-classifications for topics such as “women and computers” or “black literature”.

books on gays in military

Shelved together in Green Library. One of these things is not like the others

The power of library classification systems is such that a scholar browsing the shelves for books on military history is unlikely to encounter Randy Shilts’ seminal work Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the US Military, because that book is sub-classified under the subject “Minorities, women, etc. in armed forces”.  In my own library, that means the definitive work on the history of gays and lesbians serving in the armed forces is literally shelved between Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star and Military Trade, “an edgy, enlightening, and richly entertaining collection of voices with a passion for servicemen”.  Over in the military history section of the stacks, you won’t find any books devoted to the service of gays and lesbians. You will however, find exactly 4 pages on “gays in the military” in A People’s History of the U.S. Military: Ordinary Soldiers Reflect on Their Experience of War, from the American Revolution to Afghanistan (emphasis mine). The scant 4 pages on gay military service literally starts at 1993, as if gays didn’t serve until Bill Clinton noticed them.

In our presentation, we argue that without an explicit feminist and queer agenda, these same processes of exclusion and marginalization will play out in our digital library and online discovery environments.   A queer feminist rhetoric and agenda for the future of library discovery would leverage technology to promote the feminist and queer values of plurality, participation, advocacy, ecology, embodiment, and self-disclosure. These qualities are described in Shaowen Bardzell’s “Feminist HCI: Taking Stock and Outlining an Agenda for Design”.
~~~~~
This is where Bess will take over and actually talk about things like hacker rhetoric, online archives and discovery tools, assumptions of neutrality in relevance algorithms, the importance of having diversity in the coding community, etc.

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.

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

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 Library Website, Part 5: Continued improvement

Launching our awesome new library website 3 months ago was a huge milestone, which I have bragged about extensively.  But that certainly was not the end of the redesign project. I think it is safe to say that a decent website is never really “done”; and an awesome site like ours remains awesome through constant attention, improvement, and evolution.

In September, we* responded to early feedback about the need to increase the visibility of key content by highlighting ejournals and by using Top Hits and keywords to boost selected key content in the search results. We also improved the content creation process for library staff, and responded to over 200 feedback emails from patrons and staff. Consistent with our committment to transparency in every aspect of this project, we published a detailed list of our September accomplishments on our blog.

Screen shot of Integrated chat icons for reference and subject librarians

Integrated chat icons for reference and subject librarians

In October, we integrated the LibraryH3lp chat tool throughout the site, added an Events stream, created a staff directory page based on an automated feed from the Stanford directory, continued to improve the content creation experience, and formed a Web Steering Committee. Whew — busy month! Again, all of this is detailed on our blog.

Our branch libraries continue to work on moving their individual branch site content into the new environment (kudos to our Music Library for being the first branch to complete the transition) and subject specialists continue to create Topic and Course guides. In the coming months, our plans include enhancing our collections, research services, department, and news pages; continuing to migrate legacy content; and exploring mobile options.

* Note that by “we”, I mean the Rock Star team that has made all of this awesomeness happen; with special props to Stu Snydman, Jennifer Vine, Sarah Lester, Ray Heigemeir, Jon Lavigne, and the team at Chapter 3.

Awesome Library Website, Part 4: Reviews are in!

If you are tired of hearing me brag about our Awesome Library Website, here is a sampling of what others are saying:

Lorcan Dempsey of OCLC does a fantastic job of describing 2 main goals of our site:

  1. Highlighting Library space as a service
  2. Providing “full library discovery

Thanks for the excellent and insightful review, Lorcan!

We have also been getting plenty of feedback via our Feedback link/email:

  • Kudos to the team. This is an enormous project and your dedication and diligence has produced a vastly superior site that all of us can be proud of and on which our patrons can find what they need.
  • New site looks great!
  • Subject: The new website… Tell us: …is great!
  • I think my first favorite feature of the new site is the single search box, and its common-sense display of results from a variety of sources.  Because I’m vain, I just searched some words from the title of my one-and-only academic publication, and loved seeing SearchWorks results alongside site-search results (from my Person page).  I can imagine an actual patron doing this with an actual search, and stumbling upon an actual subject specialist with common research interests.  Very cool!
  • I like it, although I haven’t put it to too much use yet. I look forward to becoming more familiar with its features.
  • i love your site
  • I actually love a lot about your site – kudos!

From Twitter:

  • @calfano27: Congrats to all who put together the awesome new Stanford libraries website :) Super shiny
  • @pantheon_drupal: That’s one fine lookin’ library site! Congratz to @chapter_three and SULAIR on an amazing launch – http://t.co/z0cwHMze
  • @miriamkp: Nice. Nothing extraneous. RT @StanfordLibs: Our new website is live today — check it out and send your feedback: http://t.co/3pGP2Uv8
  • @erikoomen: checking the new Stanford Universitiy Library website http://t.co/7EtqSk92 #nicework #goodpractice
  • @ccthompson: I love the Stanford University website. happily taking notes on the user interface! ‪http://library.stanford.edu
  • Plus loads of tweets and Re-Tweets linking to the new homepage and/or to specific pages within the new site, including tweets in Japanese, French, and Spanish.

From Facebook:

Here’s one of my favorite new links from the new website: Places to study – http://library.stanford.edu/using/study Brilliant idea to include this!


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